This article was first published by the Middle East Monitor on 8/3/2016
To Palestinians, the creation of Israel in their homeland in 1948 was a catastrophe known as the Nakba. Not only were they dispossessed of their land but three-quarters of the population was also driven into neighbouring Arab countries by Zionist Jewish terrorism. Since then, the Palestinian refugees have demanded that they be allowed to return home in accordance with international law and UN Resolution 194 but very few have actually been allowed to return by Israel, which now occupies the whole of historic Palestine. The international community has simply stood and watched as Israel has continued to colonise the land and enforce a most brutal military occupation that is designed to make the lives of the indigenous Palestinians who still live there so miserable that they will want to leave.
Arab countries which were naturally sympathetic to the Palestinians’ plight have attempted both through diplomatic and military means to support them in their pursuit of freedom, return and independence but their attempts have largely failed. The last serious military attempt to recapture occupied Arab land was in 1973 when Israel’s occupation was threatened; but for US military support for the Israelis it could have resulted in significant gains. While this was followed by a decision from the oil producers amongst the Arab States to impose an oil embargo on key supporters of Israel, including the USA, this was eventually suspended and the momentum was lost without any real change on the ground.
Instead, it was a unilateral diplomatic move by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to break the impasse that resulted eventually in the 1979 Camp David peace treaty. However, this also resulted in a fatal division in the united Arab front against Israel as well as Sadat’s assassination. Israel went on to conclude a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 and the taboo of direct negotiations with the Palestinians was broken when the Oslo Accords were concluded in 1993. The next most significant development in the search for peace was the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which offered Israel normalisation with all Arab and Muslim countries in return for the end of the occupation of Arab lands and a “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Over a decade later, Israel has still not responded to this initiative.
Even with these diplomatic breakthroughs and a very willing Palestinian partner, Israel has shown little interest in further peace deals, despite its public statements to the contrary. It remains a belligerent colonial state that millions of Arabs continue to see as an enemy. The Palestinians face arguably the worst conditions they have ever experienced both in historic Palestine and in the refugee camps. The situation is particularly desperate for Gaza, which has been under siege for nearly a decade, and for refugees in neighbouring Arab countries. Those in Iraq were targeted after the fall of Saddam Hussein and denied refuge by some Arab countries, resulting in some being resettled in South America. Those in Syria, who in comparison with others had enjoyed a relatively decent existence, found themselves on the move again when the Syrian conflict began in 2011. Many found refuge with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and others made the perilous journey to Europe together with Syrian refugees that resulted in further suffering and, in some cases, death.
The promising Arab Spring, which gave hope to millions, has seen a reversal in almost every country where it took place. Syria, Libya and Yemen are in turmoil, while Egypt has lost its leadership position in the Arab world following the short rule of elected President Mohamed Morsi, and is now colluding with Israel in the ongoing siege of Gaza. The turmoil has been exacerbated by the rise of the so called “Islamic State”, Daesh, which has grown into a monstrous terror entity that is flourishing despite months of bombardment by a loose international coalition and the entry of Russia into the fray. Interestingly, Daesh has threatened almost all neighbouring states, except Israel.
When Israel looks towards its neighbours it claims that it faces major security challenges, making any “concessions” to the Palestinians untimely. However, when one considers the destruction of the Iraqi army following Saddam’s fall and the weakening of the Syrian forces as they fight on many fronts, Israel must view the current situation with some satisfaction, particularly as it sees its old enemy Hezbollah distracted by its engagement in Syria. Even on the political front, the Gulf States have bought into the idea that the real threat they face is from Iran, not Israel, and Israeli officials have been speaking with satisfaction about the “cooperation” and shared interests Israel now has with the GCC countries. If they are being honest, Israeli officials and analysts would agree that the Arabs have handed Israel a dream start to the 21st century.
As such, you would think that Israel would be satisfied with its strengthened security and its military superiority which the USA guarantees will continue, but no. It uses the chaos in neighbouring countries to argue against ending the occupation of Arab land, including the occupied Palestinian territories, as doing so would impair its own security. Instead, it demands that the world should consider the Iranian, Hezbollah and Daesh “threats”.
Israel should be thanking its lucky stars that it is where it is and should be finding a resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians which addresses legitimate grievances and will bring it long term security. It could accept the Arab peace deal, which will also reduce its undoubted isolation. However, there is no sign of this happening. In fact, the talk in Israel is about the annexation of more Palestinian land and that any resolution to the Syrian crisis must “address Israel’s interests and red lines.”
The reality is that Israel’s isolation is increasing because of its continued refusal to end its belligerence along with its growing reputation as an apartheid state in which racism and intolerance towards non-Jews are escalating. Its desperate attempts to combat the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement may be supported by Western governments but the resolve of ordinary citizens around the world to increase Israel’s isolation is growing. It should also realise that unlike the Native Americans or Australian Aboriginals, the Palestinians now almost outnumber Israel’s Jewish citizens and have no plans to capitulate, submit or leave. Its dream start to the 21st century looks set to morph into a nightmare of its own making.
Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He blogs at http://www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.