The Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts: hostility in the heart of the Middle East

The Israeli-Palestinian is one of the most violent and complex conflicts in the Middle East, in which its analysis, either in its historical and current context, requires special attention.

In fact, the conflictual nature of the region is undeniable, and has intensified since the 19th century after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. However, the emphasis is not only due to the Middle East be the stage of numerous conflicts, but rather on the importance of the region and these episodes to the international community.

In this regard, the dynamic of the region and its geostrategic position leads the world powers, especially the United States to have not just economic and political interests in the region, but to also make it a priority in their foreign policies. In this respect, the lack of regional leadership makes conflict resolution even more difficult, increasing the “continuing dependence on outside actors” (Acharya & Katsumata, 2011: 46).

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even more so in the current context, it is closely linked to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Even though it lasts since the 19th century, as it has been mentioned already, it has acquired an even more violent side since 1948, with the recognition of the State of Israel as a sovereign state, since “The founding of the state of Israel led to the dispossession of tens of thousands of Palestinians and six major wars” (Cox & Stokes, 2012: 208). However, its “deep historical roots, has been sustained by four types of hostile acts between/among principal adversaries: violence, political hostility, economic discrimination, and verbal hostility/propaganda” (Brecher, 2017: 117).

Benny Morris (2009) reminds us that “since the establishment of Israel in 1948–1949, and more emphatically since the late 1980s, thinking about partition has focused on the possibility of coexistence between a Jewish state, Israel, as territorially defined in the 1949Israeli-Arab armistice agreements, and a Palestinian-Arab state to arise, and a Palestinian-Arab state to arise in the bulk of the West Bank and Gaza Strip” (Morris, 2009: 26-27). An objective that has been revealed to be unreachable.

The conflict has been strongly marked by several wars, of which are the first and second Gaza War, in 2008/2009 and 2014 respectively.

If on one hand, as Ana Santos Pinto affirms, “the argumentation of the Government of Israel is based on two essential principles: [¨the need to] guarantee the Israelis’ security, through the elimination of rockets launch capability from Gaza, by radical group’s militants, in particular Hamas, and the erasure of traffic, via underground tunnels on the Rafah border that divides Gaza from Egypt, and in the fulfillment of these objectives, the main target of Israeli attacks – air and ground – were the Hamas’ militants” (Pinto, 2009: 38) in the first Gaza War. On the other hand, the second Gaza War was perhaps “one of the most destructive full-scale wars in the Arab–Israel PC, in both human casualties and material damage” (Brecher, 2017: 139).

Israel justifies the aggressions, based on “a belief in pervasive Arab hostility to the idea of a Jewish state in the self-designated Arab spatial domain, the Middle East.” Which is related to the “unwillingness to recognize Israel as a legitimate state” (Brecher, 2017: 37) by the Arab states. They also refer to a “continuing threat to Israel’s security/survival arising from the long-term imbalance in key indicators of military capability between Israel and a realistic Arab anti-Israel coalition—size of territory, size of military-age population, vast oil reserves, and consequent financial resources for a military buildup.” (Brecher, 2017: 37). Finally, they appeal to the numerous catastrophes the Jewish people have been through, especially the Holocaust.

Therefore, the Israeli-Arab conflict has become one of the main threats to regional security, having a multidimensional character, that is a religious, political, cultural, economic, and psychological dimension as well as a border dispute. Thus, it is possible to see it as one of the most dangerous strategic challenges in the middle of Middle East, “for those directly involved and for all states in the region who are drawn, to varying degrees, into its orbit” (Halliday, 2005: 307).

One of the powers with the largest involvement with the region and in the conflict, besides the actors directly involved in it, is the United States of America, due to their unprecedented alliance with Israel, which affected the US’ promise regarding the creation of a Palestinian state.

It can be said that the claim by Israel’s people to be the chosen one to lead the Promised Land is “at the expense of the native Palestinians” (Fawcett, 2013: 156).

In the 21st century, the conflict worsened with Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections in 2002, with the opposition by Israel and the US to the results, which in turn supported Israel in its military and economic blockade to Gaza. Following that, in 2006, Hamas won the elections again, which exacerbated the Palestinian sentiment of revolt regarding the “Israel occupation of Palestinian territory and the establishment of illegal settlements, as well as the corruption of the Palestine Authority and Fatah” (Brecher, 2917: 121).

For Brecher (2017), the most viable long-term solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would involve “Israel’s sovereignty over West Jerusalem, Palestine’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem, and a special approach to the Old City”, which “ideally, it should be proclaimed an “International City,” but earlier experience, notably with Danzig during the inter-World War period, demonstrates that this is unworkable in the long run. (Brecher, 2017: 326). Besides that, Israel should also exercise sovereignty “over the Jewish Quarter” and Palestine would exercise theirs “over the Muslim Quarter”, adding in “a referendum in the Armenian and Christian Quarters to discover their preference in terms of association with Israel or Palestine; and “God’s sovereignty” over the Temple Mount/Haram-al-Sharif, governed by an international régime appointed by—and responsible to—the secretary-general of the United Nations. (Brecher, 2017: 326-7).

The resolution of this conflict by using other ways also seems unfeasible. If on one hand, the “division of Palestine in three parts – Israel, West Bank and Gaza Strip – makes little sense in terms of the variety of resources and services: water resources cannot be faced as an artificial division, the aquifers of the highlands of Jew Galilee – Samaria – serve as well as necessarily to the lowlands”, also it can’t “be defined or built separately a logical sewer system on West Bank (nowadays, many cities and Palestinian villages, and industries, they canalize their sewage to water courses that travel down, to the west, Israel and Mediterranean”. Plus, we can’t forget that “Haifa and Ashdod are natural harbors for all Palestine, and the establishment of an identity/political State on West Bank, without these marine sewers, [also] makes little sense”. The various ways that are here referred, is it possible to conclude that “the own shape and smallness of Palestine and Israel’s land (…) – it transforms their division in two states on a clear nightmare and an almost unthinkable event”. (Morris, 2009: 177).

            In fact, the possibility of converging, in one and only State, two nations that live on the territory “it is even more unrealistic and illogical than the geopolitical division” (Morris 2009: 178), considering that besides both language and religion are different, their “cultural and social life, as well as their mentality, are as just as incompatible as their national aspirations”. (Morris, 2009: 178).

            Actually, the differences get more accentuated when mentioned the political status and values defended by both nations, since the “Jewish-Israeli society keeps on being majorly secular with an emphasis on western and democratic values that are not compatible with the autocratic and religious values included on the Arab Palestinian society’s mind set”. Also the fact that “Hamas, an antidemocratic organization, has shown in the taking of the Gaza strip on June 2007 that has no respect for the civilized values accepted on the west (…)”. (Morris, 2009: 186-187). The values defended by each society mentioned are distinct, taking note that “the value placed over the human life and the rule of law (secular) is completely different (…)”. (Morris, 2009: 187).

            During May of 2021, “tensions between Israel and Palestinians spiraled in the recent days”, specifically since the 10th of May, when multiple episodes of extreme violence occurred between Israelites and Palestinians. Tom Bateman, BBC’s correspondent on the Middle East, affirms that “it was the worst violence on Jerusalem in years, with more than 300 Palestinians wounded on confrontations against the Israeli police outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Monday”. Right next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque there was used “stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas” by the Israeli police.

            In fact, “tensions in Jerusalem have flared sins Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinian worshippers on the las Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan”.

            It is needed to add even more the confrontations between the Israeli police and the Palestinian police in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood on East Jerusalem, “with a possible eviction of Palestinian families from their own houses by Jewish settlers”, another reason for why the confrontations continued.

            A few days later, Israeli forces intensified their “air campaign against Gaza strip”, by a “devastating overnight assault by artillery and warplanes aimed at destroying an extensive system of tunnels built by the militant Hamas group to move fighters, rockets and other weapons”. If on one hand Israel has sent air attacks against Hamas, on another hand, there were missiles coming from the Hamas’ side to Israel. The events from that Friday resulted on 135 deaths, on which 129 were in Gaza strip and 9 were in Israel, without counting the “hundreds more injured over five days of fighting”.

            Besides these attacks, others occurred in the rest of the country, taking into account that many “erupted in the occupied West Bank, which had been relatively calm in recent days, with skirmishes in Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarem, and other cities. Even Palestinians were killed in West Bank confrontations with security forces, according to health officials.”. During 10 days of violent confrontations between both nations, Benjamin Netanyahu, current first prime minister of Israel, has justified the Israeli attacks against the Hamas’ group, affirming that “we will not tolerate attacks on our territory, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers. Those who attack us will pay a heavy price”.

            The words of Amo Gilad, “a former head of Israeli military intelligence”, when saying that “Jerusalem Is currently a powder keg that could explode, were clear as water to measure the level of violence that has been generated on the Israeli capital.

            Only after 10 days of violent riots and the death of more than 200 people, were we able to witness a cease-fire, fragile, still ending the attacks by both sides. Under Egypt’s vigilance, that served as a mediator to the end of the aggressions, we could still notice some confrontations “outside the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon between Palestinians and the Israeli police”. However, this cease-fire, had no impact on the tensions between both nations, that stayed aware for new conflicts. It is important to take note that, even though a cease-fire appears in many historic events, “the dispute over land rights in Jerusalem and the absence of a peace process to resolve the conflict. Gaza remains under a punishing blockade by Israel and Egypt”.

            In fact, “the Arab-Isreali conflict has been the most prolonged conflict, as well as the most accentuated as any regional system of  State in development, that has entered in eruption during 5 times on war in 1948 and in limited hostilities on other multiple occasions”, although the “worrying resulted by the military security from the Arab States, on the front line, that were intensified since the inequality of power favoring the Israeli side”. (Korany et al., 1993: 275-276).

             Despite of not having a step up in the process of peace between both nations, the world’s potencies keep insisting on it, since they fear an humanitarian crisis in Gaza to continue worsening, as well as an increasing number of deaths.

            Following this idea, the USA’s president, Joe Biden, has talked multiple times with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his point of view, “Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely” and “to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy”.

            Today, more than ever, “diplomats of Egypt, Qatar and United Nations are intensely working to mediate the agreement between the Hamas and Israel”, trying to avoid another escalate on the violence. Unfortunately, the treaty celebrated on Friday, in Egypt, it doesn’t prevent possible attacks to happened, especially after Benjamin Netanyahu has said that” the reality on the field will defined the continuation of the campaign”, and Taher al-Nono, spokesperson of Hamas, has said that “the Palestinian resistance will respect the agreement as long as the occupation does it too”.

            It is important to take note that, the short duration of the agreements celebrated between the Hamas and Israel on past years, this cease-fire might have an expiration date. However, the duration could also mean an opening for “a long-term treaty negotiation” and principally to give “the citizens an opportunity to regroup and allow the people that were evicted to come back to their houses”.

            There are many aspects that make an agreement between both states to be possible. It is not about an inflexibility of each nation nor the absence of a regional hegemony able to mediate a process for peace: the central focus of the issue is on its own level of extreme conflict in the region, that by itself has shown to have an impact on Israeli’s sense of insecurity changing their extern politic.

            A conflict that has been around since 1948, to not make it even earlier, it means an involvement, not just from both sides of the story, but also from regional potencies as well as the world’s potencies.

(Image Credits: The Economist)

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