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Israel And The Palestinians: A Viable Political Solution Remains Elusive

The situation between Israel and the Palestinians has remained an intractable issue since the late 1940’s. There has been no viable political solution, because both sides have allowed a fallacy to continue for 70 years. This is the perspective that the way to peace, is through the establishment of another sovereign state in territory Israel now controls.

A two nation solution would be possible, only if both sides are willing to negotiate based on common interests and the need to establish a framework, for a real peaceful outcome. This does not exist in Israel today. In fact, the Palestinian government will not even fully acknowledge that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state.

It is difficult to enter into a dialogue, when the opposing side will not admit you even have a right to survive. By continuing to hold to this position, the Palestinians have guaranteed that they will likely fail in their goal of statehood.

They are permitted to engage in this hard line view, because they have been on the receiving end of massive foreign aid, from the wealthy oil states of the Persian Gulf and many Western countries.

The Palestinians also have recognized that Israel has always been held to a higher standard of behavior by the international community, than many other nations in the world in similar circumstances. They have used this fact to their best advantage.

Outside the propaganda Palestine alone, is not a workable economic entity. Unless there is substantial investment coming from Israel and outside the area, there is no chance an independent country can survive.

The surrounding Arab states have indulged the Palestinians for nearly three generations in a fantasy. That is resistance and continued violence will move them ever closer, to their goal of a independent country.

Territory held by Israel:
before the Six-Day War (1967) is in yellow.
After the war is in shown in brown
The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt in 1982.

For their part these neighboring nations have already attempted to achieve by force, what they could not accomplish diplomatically. They together launched full scale attacks on Israel that occurred in 1948, 1967 and 1973. There were also a number of smaller conflicts that have occurred as well, in the Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank.

Successive presidential administrations in the United States, have given sustenance to the idea of a two state solution knowing fully well, that it will not come to pass. Each American president in turn promises they will mediate a permanent peace, between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

One of the two closest times that the United States ever got, to broker a peace between the two sides was with the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995.

The core issue of the Oslo Accords was the withdrawal of the Israeli military from Palestinian territories. The plan called for a phased removal and a coinciding transfer of responsibilities, to the Palestinian authorities. The latter would now become responsible for maintaining security.

The Israeli–Palestinian
peace process the Oslo Accords

In the end the effort failed, because the Israelis were expected to surrender control over ever larger pieces of territory, as their citizens continued to being murdered.

One can argue that the Israeli government never had the intention, to fulfill their end of the bargain. However, it politically became impossible as the casualties mounted in the Second Intifada that followed in 2000.

The First Intifada or Palestinian rebellion against Israel, had occurred between December 1987 to 1993.

Yassir Arafat, the leader of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and later the first President of the Palestinian National Authority, would be granted a second opportunity of peace and statehood, at the Camp David 2000 Summit.

Ehud Barak on the left, shaking hands with Yasser Arafat, joined by President Bill Clinton in 1999.

At the 2000 Summit, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak from the leftist Labor Party, would present a new proposal for Arafat. Due to his own political beliefs and the pressure exerted by then President Clinton of the United States, he was willing to offer the Palestinians almost everything they wanted.

Barak offered a Palestinian state in 73% of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian percentage of sovereignty would extend to 90% over a 10 to 25 year period. Also included was the return of a small number of refugees and compensation for those not allowed to return.

The Palestinians would also be permitted a type of custodianship, over the religiously significant Temple Mount. Included would be sovereignty on all Islamic and Christian holy sites and three of four Old City Quarters in Jerusalem.

Arafat foolishly rejected the offer by the Israeli Prime Minister. In addition, he failed to make an immediate counter-offer. The main sticking point for the Palestinians it seemed, was having to give up a portion of East Jerusalem.

During The Second Intifada Israeli soldiers in Nablus, during Operation Defensive Shield

In September of that year, the Second Intifada began.

It was the second major Palestinian uprising against Israel and was a period of intensified violence. By the time it ended in February 2005, near 3,000 Palestinians had been killed, including civilian and military. An estimated 1,000 Israelis and 64 foreigners, were also casualties of the rebellion.

In the end Yassir Arafat failed his people, he would not get another chance.

The failures of the Oslo Accords and more importantly the Camp David 2000 Summit, probably ended the prospect of a two state solution.

Earlier agreements to bring peace with Israel’s neighbors were possible, because there was the political will to achieve these on both sides. The Camp David Accords are a perfect example of this. Egypt and Israel agreed in 1978, to a treaty ending all hostilities.

Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat at Camp David, 1978

The Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin and the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at the time, both recognized the advantages, that would be accrued from a diplomatic deal.

The nation of Israel through the assistance of the American President Jimmy Carter, was indeed able to trade land for peace. In return for the Sinai peninsula and a withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the region, Egypt would resume normal diplomatic relations with Israel.

It was feasible because control of the Sinai, was not crucial to the long term security of Israel.

What helped to facilitate the Camp David agreement especially on the Egyptian side, was the commitment by the United States to provide several billion dollars of annual subsides to both Egypt and Israel. This aid package given in the form of various grants, has continued to the present day.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Vice-President Hosni Mubarak in 1981, on the day of Sadat’s assassination.

The military assistance provided for in credits to purchase American weaponry, has of course been far more generous to Israel than to Egypt.

It is important to note despite doing what he thought was in the best interest of his country, the peace with Israel would end up costing President Sadat his life in 1981. The Egyptian members of the Islamic Jihad were able to assassinate him, during a military parade.

The Sadat assassination has served as a warning to future leaders of the Arab world. The message being making peace with Israel, is at your own peril. So not only will it be politically unpopular with a vocal segment of the population, it may well put your life in danger.

Egypt would also pay a political price in making peace with Israel as well. They went from being the foremost influential Arab power under former President Nasser, to being suspended from the Arab League during the years 1979 to 1989.

Hussein of Jordan
Former King of Jordan

The failure of Camp David in one regard, was not including the kingdom of Jordan in any final agreement. The Carter Administration unwisely believed the claim by President Sadat, that he would be able to get King Hussein of Jordan, to acquiescence to the overall agreement.

Allowing the Egyptian President to speak for the Jordanians, ended any possibility for a larger peace.

The attempt to include Jordan later, was no longer possible. Opposition to the Camp David Accords had expanding enormously in the Arab world. King Hussein at the time, did not want to risk offending powerful neighbors like Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

His caution proved prophetic, when Sadat was killed just three years later.

The Camp David Accords did however, succeed in dissolving the united Arab front of opposition towards Israel. It also allowed Israel to reduce their levels of military alert on their southwestern border.

Map of the Gaza Strip

The participation of Jordan in solving the Palestinian issue remains vital. The 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace has not normalized relations between the two countries, but has reduced tensions.

There are two distinct geographic areas that are populated primarily by Palestinians one is the West Bank, the other one is the Gaza Strip.

The Gaza Strip is roughly 25 miles long and 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide. It comprises a total of 141 square miles or 365 square kilometers. There are around 1.85 million Palestinians residing there, making it the 3rd most densely populated political unit in the world.

Border closures by both Egypt and Israel and the Israeli air and sea blockade, makes movement of the population in and out of the territory nearly impossible.

Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), President of the Palestinian Authority since 2005 (disputed since 2009).

Despite the 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza and the evacuation of Israeli citizens, the Strip remains dependent on their neighbor. The Gaza Strip relies on Israel for its electricity, telecommunications, water and all other utilities.

The Palestinian Authority no longer has any real political power in the Gaza Strip. It has been under the control of Hamas since 2006, after the group won the legislative elections that year. Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist group, dedicated to the liberation of all of Palestine from Israeli control.

The West Bank is geographically surrounded by Israel to the north, west and south. To the east across the river lies the kingdom of Jordan. The area including East Jerusalem, has a land area of 2,183 square miles or 5,655 square kilometers.

There are close to 2,800,000 Palestinians and 371,000 Israeli settlers. In addition, there are about 212,000 Jewish Israelis in East Jerusalem.

Although Israel fully disputes it, the international community at large considers all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal.

City of Bethlehem,in the West Bank

There has been a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 2004, that despite all the events that followed the 1967 war, it has not changed the reality that Israel continues to be an occupying power.

Israel has a population of near 8,656,000. Nearly 75% of the citizenry identifies themselves as being Jewish. About 21% of the population is Arab, with another 4% identifying with some other group.

A number of commentators have suggested that because of the more rapid population growth among the Palestinians, if Israel makes the decision for a one state solution, the Arab portion of the population will eventually overwhelm the segment of the citizenry that is Jewish.

West Bank barrier (Separating Wall) between the Israelis & the Palestinians.

That is if these new citizens would be permitted access to full Israeli citizenship. If the government of Israel fails to offer Palestinians full rights of citizenship, the country in their opinion ceases to be a democracy.

The present stalemate is dangerous as well, because it leaves Israel exposed to the possibility that the international community could eventually force them through economic means or even military coercion, to accept an imposed settlement.

Israel cannot return the entire West Bank, over to a hostile force. It would make the country nearly impossible to defend. At it narrowest point, Israel is only 9 miles wide. Under these circumstances, an invader could easily divide the country into two parts, making a conquest of the country all the more probable.

Location of the Golan Heights on a map.

There are some suggesting that annexation is inevitable. These observers point to the example of the Golan Heights, territory that was seized by Israel from Syria in the Six Days War in 1967.

From the Heights the lower elevations of Israel, are open to mortar fire if controlled by an enemy. As a result,the government of Israel, effectively annexed the area they control in 1981.

Regardless of the change in status of the Heights, the international community has still not accepted the incorporation of the territory into Israel proper, insisting it still belongs to Syria.

When in 2015, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the American President Obama to support the integration of the territory into Israel, the request was refused.

Netanyahu pointed to the horrible actions of the Islamic State and the fact that Syria had disintegrated and was unlikely to be reunified, but he was still rebuffed.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel

Although Israel may receive a different reception now that the presidency of the United States is held by Donald Trump, they cannot be assured of success. Even if he turns out far more supportive of the government of Israel, he will eventually leave office.

Israel needs a long term solution.

Population expulsions however effective, have proved to be retrospectively unpopular on a widespread basis.

The largest forced migration in history, was the experience of what happened to the eastern regions of Germany and remain quite disturbing. Between 7 to 8 million Germans were forced from their homes near the end and after World War II.

The pink colored areas are parts of Germany that would be annexed to Poland after the German population was expelled.

On the threat of annihilation these Germans were forced to abandon property, that may have been in the possession of their ancestors, for over 800 years. The ancestral German lands of Pomerania, Prussia, Silesia and other areas were now considered to be under Polish and Russian administration.

Poland and Russia had no intention of every returning these territories to Germany. To guarantee this, the Germans had to be driven out.

After 5 years, between 12 to 14 million Germans had been forced from their homes, all over Eastern Europe. That this violated international laws and former agreements, as well as new United Nations charter rules mattered little.

However, in the modern era, population transfers would be more difficult to achieve and would lead to an international outcry. So this option is off the table for the Israeli government, even if they wished to pursue it, which is unlikely.

Since most countries are unwilling to receive large numbers of Palestinians if forced or even volunteer migration was enacted, this choice in a nonstarter. This is especially the case given the present European refugee crisis, caused by wars and economic deprivation in other areas of the Middle East and North Africa.

General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the leader of Egypt at present.

The only option therefore, remains a change in borders. Egypt is under the control of a military government. The country has a population of 93 million people. They can easily absorb the less than 2 million Palestinians, that reside in the Gaza Strip that is on their northeastern border.

The only question is what incentives would the country need from Israel and other leading world powers to agree to this action? The country is sorely in need of economic aid and more foreign investment. It is not beyond the realm of possibility, that an arrangement could be made.

It would also permit the Egyptians to effectively deal with the terrorists that reside in the Gaza Strip. These radicals have caused repeated trouble for the government of Egypt.

In the West Bank, a similar deal can be worked out with the Kingdom of Jordan. The country is presently playing host with large numbers of refugees, escaping war in Iraq and Syria.

The population of Jordan is nearing 10 million. It is estimated that as much as 80% of the population, may derive their ancestry from Palestine.

The current King of Jordan is Abdullah II who assumed the throne in 1999.

The West Bank was administered by Jordan already in 1948. The country claims it annexed the territory in 1950. Of course, this action was only recognized by Iraq, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Regardless of that fact, Jordan would subsequently rule the territory from then until 1967.

Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had already been granted Jordanian citizenship as of 1948.

It was only in 1988, that Jordan finally surrendered all claims to the area and then stripped the Palestinians of their previously granted citizenship.

If Jordan was offered extensive financial and foreign economic aid, as well as the promise of more foreign investment for the foreseeable future, would they once again be willing to absorb a portion of the West Bank? It is quite possible.

A Palestinian demonstration against the demolition of the village Susya.

Then the only task remaining would be to divide the West Bank between Israel and Jordan.

Those Palestinians unhappy to be left in Israel of course, would be forced to move across the new border. The remaining inhabitants, would then need to be offered Israeli citizenship and integrated into society as rapidly as possible.

The dream of Palestinian statehood outside of Jordan, would then necessarily have to be denied. However, there are far larger numbers of minorities that have been denied this right. One only has to look at the Kurds just to the north, to see this reality.

The Kurds were promised their own nation a number of times, beginning with the period following World War I. The Kurds may number as many as 40 million individuals, spread out between the nations of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Although they once again are near statehood in both Iraq and Syria, a Greater Kurdistan is still unlikely to come into existence.

Map of the Kurdish languages (2007)

Not all minorities can be accommodated with a country of their own. If the political elites in the West and the rich hard line governments of the Persian Gulf monarchies, really want to end the ongoing conflict in Palestine, this is the workable solution.

As the majority of young Palestinians are forced to turn away from nationalist ideas, that have kept themselves in a state of war and poverty, they can embark on new productive futures. The above proposal is far more kind, then the false hope of a country that has brought them nothing but death and misery.

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