© Josh Sager – November 2012
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is undoubtedly an extremely emotional and complicated situation, both for those involved and those who are simply looking in. The Palestinian Arabs have been given a very bad situation: the British Mandate created Israel out of some of their lands, conflict drove them from their lands, they were prevented from integrating into the neighboring countries, and they have been stuck in a powerless refugee classification for decades. The Israelis have faced numerous challenges and have been forced into a very tough situation: from the creation of Israel, the Israelis have faced hostile neighbors, near-perpetual terrorism, a radical right-wing political party, and international censure for events that they can do little to change.
Unfortunately, the complicated nature of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has led to a polarization of the sides and the propagation of many misconceptions surrounding the situation—many people listen only to one side of the story and disregard the other, leading them to consider either Israel or the Palestinians to be completely in the right. In reality, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict involves both sides making extremely regrettable decisions and being egged on by other countries that have an agenda which is contrary to the interests of either the Israelis or the Palestinians.
The Displacement of Palestinians
One of the most contentious aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the perception that Israel displaced the Palestinians and forced them into refugee camps—this is a far too simplistic way of looking at the situation and is a misunderstanding that has led many people to hate Israel for things which simply didn’t happen. While it is true that the British Mandate gave control over some of the Palestinian Mandate to emigrating Jews, it is also true that this same deal created a Palestinian state for those who wanted to leave the new Jewish state. The only reason why this didn’t happen is that the surrounding Arab countries invaded Israel in 1948; this invasion incited Israel to annex strategic portions of land and led the Arab countries to annex the rest of the Palestinian land and to force the Palestinians into refugee camps.
Mahmoud Abbas, the current Palestinian Authority President, had the following to say about the actions of Israel’s Arab neighbors in relation to the 1948 war results:
“The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live in Eastern Europe, as if we were condemned to change places with them: they moved out of their ghettos and we occupied similar ones.”
The “Nakba”, or Palestinian exodus, was a mass-migration of Palestinian Arabs out of the land which would become Israel. The cause of the Palestinian exodus is a subject that has two highly polarized positions: some say that the Palestinian Arabs voluntarily left the country and some say that they were forced out under threat of violence; in reality, the cause of the Palestinian exodus was a combination of both causes and the forcing of Palestinians into refugee camps had nothing to do with Israel.
Before 1947, the Mandate of Palestine—much of which would eventually become Israel—was a British-controlled territory that was inhabited by a mix of Palestinian Arabs and Jews. In 1947, the UN and British government agreed that the Mandate of Palestine was to be the location of the state of Israel. The imminent creation of Israel led to severe conflicts between the native Arabs and Jews (both native and emigrating) in the Mandate of Palestine”. In this conflict, Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Zionist groups (the Haganah) engaged in a series of escalating confrontations and counter-attacks that caused destruction on both sides. This conflict led to numerous Palestinians (primarily the wealthy) leaving the country and immigrating to the surrounding countries.
The escalating hostilities within the Palestinian Mandate continued up until the establishment of the Israeli state and led to a massive flight of Palestinians. While few Palestinians were forced out of the country directly by violence, the threatening atmosphere and the idea of the incoming Jewish state led to many Palestinian Arabs feeling as though they were being physically forced out.
On May 15th, 1984—less than a day after Israel’s creation—Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria invaded Israel with the intent to destroy it and kill the Jewish settlers; this invasion would be known as the “Arab-Israeli War” or the “War of Independence”. After a series of brutal conflicts, Israel was victorious in this war and retained most of its land. By the end of the Arab-Israeli war, the UN estimated that around 711,000 Palestinian Arabs had left the country and were either assimilated into surrounding countries or were forced into refugee camps.
While the stated goal of the Arab League’s invasion of the newly formed Israel was to recapture Palestine for the Arab Palestinians, the results of this invasion were absolutely disastrous for the Palestinians. Not only did Israel capture and hold some land which would have been part of the Arab Palestinian state under the British Mandate, but Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt annexed the remainder of the Palestinian Arab land (Gaza Strip and West Bank) and forced the Palestinians into refugee camps. If this invasion had not happened, the Palestinian Arabs would have had their own state in 1948, as was stated in the original mandate.
Palestinian refugees were denied citizenship by the Arab neighbors of Israel and were forced to become long-term refugees. Contrary to what many people say, Israel had nothing to do with the creation of the refugee camps, nor the inability of the Palestinians to assimilate into surrounding countries.
Until the “Six Day War” of 1967, the Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and West Bank were under the authority of the Egyptians and the Jordanians respectively and were funded by the UN, through their UNRWA program. After the Six Day War was over, Israel annexed these lands and has had de-facto control over both of their borders for much of the time since.
The Palestinians have suffered a great deal from things beyond their control and they, as a people, have my sympathy for their suffering. They have been refugees longer than any other group in modern history—something that is even worse because of the fact that their neighbors could have easily assimilated them and were culturally similar to them, yet refused to let them integrate. The seizure of Palestinian land by Israel, Jordan and Egypt, combined with the unwillingness of these countries to let Palestinians integrate and leave behind their refugee status has been severely damaging to the Palestinian refugees. The Palestinian refugees have been stuck in a no-mans-land and have been unable to secure control over their own state.
The Two State Solution
Starting with the British Mandate, many people have proposed a “two state solution” for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; this simply means that the conflict between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs would best be resolved through the creation of separate sovereign states for both groups. Unfortunately, a combination of wars, terrorist campaigns, and politics have prevented the implementation of a two state solution, thus the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been perpetuated.
In 1948, the British Mandate would have created the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, but the Arab-Israeli war led to the dissolution of the Palestinian State. The Arab League countries attacking Israel during the 1948 war resulted in the expansion of Israel and the seizure of the remainder of the Palestinian land by Jordan and Egypt. When Israel repelled the invading Arab countries, it annexed portions of the West Bank, Gaza, and Northern Israel which were allotted to the Palestinian State—the borders created by this conflict would hold until 1967 and are now considered the template for every modern two state solution. After the Arab-Israeli war, the West Bank portion of the Palestinian state was seized by the Jordanian government and the Gaza Strip portion was seized by the Egyptian government, thus the Palestinian state was never realized and the Palestinians were forced into refugee camps.
In modern years, there have been attempts to create a two-state solution for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but none of these attempts have been successful.
In 1988, the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) attempted to invoke the 1948 British Mandate to unilaterally create an independent Palestine. This attempt to create a two state solution would have drawn the official national borders along the 1948 lines (as agreed upon before the 1948 war). Ultimately, this declaration was unenforceable, as the PLO had no actual authority over land and had no ability to compel Israel to cede land which it captured in the 1948 war. In addition with these problems, many in the PLO and other Palestinian groups were dedicated to the complete eradication of Israel and the capturing of Israeli land in its totality, thus they were unwilling to sign onto this declaration (by using this declaration, the Palestinians would need to legitimize Israel).
In the early 1990s, the Oslo Accords were a series of peace talks that could have led to the formation of a Palestinian state. Based around the 1967 borders, the Oslo Accords involved an agreement that Israel would withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, letting the Palestinian Authority (the Palestinian government) take over in the region and form their own independent state. Despite the fact that the Oslo Accords were signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, the resulting plans were never carried out. During the lead up to the Oslo Accords and continuing past their signature, extremists within the Palestinian population were engaged in a campaign of terrorism against Israeli civilians. This campaign, called the Second Intifada, involved numerous suicide bombings and car-bombings by Palestinian terrorist groups—including Hamas—that continued for years after the peace deal was signed. The Palestinian authorities appeared to be either unwilling or unable to control their extremist population, thus the Oslo Accords began to unravel. With the Second Intifada as a justification, the Israeli political right-wing (including the current Israeli P.M. Netanyahu) not only blocked the withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but also increased the number of new settlers. This progression led to both sides abandoning the Oslo Accords and stopped them from being fully implemented.
The most recent attempts to create a two state solution were during the 2000 Camp David peace talks. During these talks, Israeli and Palestinian representatives attempted to craft an agreement that would enforce concrete boundaries between Israeli and Palestinian lands and would result in the creation of a Palestinian country. Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat refused to accept the Israeli deal, despite the fact that they offered 91% of the land which was asked for. This deal would have created a Palestinian country out of the West Bank, given Palestinians control over the Temple Mount, allowed the Palestinians to create a military and would have enshrined the right of return for Palestinian refugees in the new Palestinian state. Israel refused to give up Jerusalem—the most holy city in the Jewish faith—and several strategic portions of the land which was captured in the Six Day war, but the fact remains that the Palestinians were offered virtually everything that they wanted and they refused. In addition to refusing this offer, Arafat did not present any counter-proposals and eventually, as Palestinian/Israeli violence increased in 2000, the deals fell apart.
This is the first part of a two-part article on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. For coverage of the current hostilities and the reasons behind these conflicts, please come back and read the second half when I post it (at noon tomorrow, 11/15/2012).