Dr. Taut Bataut is a freelance writer interested in current affairs, global politics, and international relations.
This article aims neither to discuss the historical reasons for the conflict between Israel and Palestine nor to suggest a solution to it. It instead argues that a solution, any solution, if and when found, would be an adverse one for the Palestinians because of the vested interest of some Muslim leaders. The historical context and Israeli efforts aside, the growing plight of the Palestinians is primarily a result of weak Muslim leaders and growing Muslim disunity.
The Israeli violence and the US support of it is only an outcome of this. This is the Palestinian problem and this, in nutshell, is the reason for its aggravation driven by Israeli intransigence. Between 600,000 and 750,000 Palestinians either fled, or were driven out of the territory upon which the state of Israel was established in 1948 as a homeland for “all” Jews, and it remains the only Jewish State in the world.
The influence of this Jewish state and of Jews, however, is disproportionately high and runs deep into the fabric of the US and Europe and within international financial institutions. The worldwide population of Jews is around 15 million, of which 7 million live within Israel. The landmass of Israel is only 21,000 square kilometers, and The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) consist of 170,000 active-duty personnel.
Israel, in terms of population and area, is a small country, but because of the support from the US and the West, and due to its fairly rapid economic and scientific development, punches well above its weight in regional and international affairs. On the other hand, there are over 50 Muslim countries in the world who ostensibly vouch to support the other party (the Palestinians) to the Arab-Israeli dispute.
With a collective population of nearly 1.9 billion of these 50, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Lebanon border Israel with a collective population of 170 million, and a land mass of 3.3 million square kilometers. These countries (excluding Syria) have a combined active duty strength of 600,000 defense forces personnel.
In addition to these bordering countries, there are others like Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Malaysia, Kuwait, and Indonesia which are all supportive of Palestine to varying degrees, with religious-minded populations, strong defense forces, and reasonable resources of their own. Anti-Israel rhetoric notwithstanding, the survival of monarchies and governments of most of these Muslim countries is perceived by them to be dependent on the economic and political largesse of the US, West, and international financial institutions.
They are often fearful of evoking the US’s ire and are therefore reluctant to take a strong anti-Israel position, despite their publics’ pressure to the contrary, and despite the potential of their collective diplomatic and military strength. The governments of these countries seized with real politick, do not give voice to the true feelings of their populations, and fail to unite as a bloc to challenge Israeli stance and aggression against the Palestinians.
Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization
The weakness and questionable motives of some of these Muslim Leaders were evident within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) itself. Founded in 1964, PLO grew in strength and reach. However, “since 1973, the PLO conducted a secret dialogue with the US without deferring to the Palestinian people amounting to their virtual betrayal”. (Said K. Aburish, “Arafat-From Defender to Dictator”)
On September 9th, 1993, Yasser Arafat met one of Israel’s longest-standing demands. In a letter to the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the PLO Chairman wrote “the PLO recognizes the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security”. Rabin responded the same day “the government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process”.
Arafat had recognized Israel’s “right to exist” without any Israeli reciprocal recognition of Palestine’s rights. Arafat had granted legitimacy and a right to exist to the very state that had expelled his people from their homeland and refused to allow them to return. He, in the words of Ali Abunimah, in his book titled “The Battle for Justice in Palestine”, “thereby transformed the PLO into a sub-contractor and enforcer for the occupying power from which Palestinians were seeking liberation”.
Another example of the divisions among Muslim countries was witnessed in 1973 when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to impose an oil embargo against America. The Shah of Iran chose not to become a part of it. The Shah was Israel’s chief oil supplier and an avowed ally of the US. In the notorious “Lavon Affair” in 1954, Israeli agents tried to bomb several US government offices in Egypt, in a bungled attempt to sow discord between Washington and Cairo.
Reasons for the Conflict
It is important to understand the Israeli challenges, their mindset, and their perceptions from which stem most current, as well as past Israeli-Palestinian problems. Firstly, Israel worries about the small size of its territory, which it has always wanted to expand and was ultimately able to, post the Arab-Israel wars of 1967 and 1973. Control of Sinai, Golan Heights, Gaza, and the West Bank was an outcome of these wars.
Israel captured Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and drove out 80,000 Syrians from their homes. Now, there are 20,000 Jewish settlers living there. As it is surrounded by larger Muslim countries, Israel, despite illegal annexation of Arab lands has felt threatened, though not as much now as in the past, at the time of Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser, who believed in, and worked towards Pan-Arabism.
Secondly, Israel does not want a single-state solution, as it would lose the Jewish majority to the Palestinians in a liberal democracy. Israel has always focused on maintaining its Jewish entity – the right to exist as a Jewish state and therefore focused on expulsions and blanket refusal to allow any Palestinian refugees to return – ever. This practically means the alienation of millions of Palestinians.
There exist three types of Palestinians. There are the ones who are refugees and live outside Palestinian territories; then there are those who are confined to the West Bank and Gaza; and the third category is those who are Israeli citizens (not nationals) and live within Israel. Israel makes a fundamental distinction between its citizens and nationals. Rights are allocated on the basis of nationality and not citizenship; “Jewish” nationality enjoys a privileged status.
Over the years, several Israeli citizens have petitioned the high court, unsuccessfully, to have the official registration of their nationalities changed from “Jewish” to “Israeli”. The court ruled in the 1970s that “there is no Israeli nation separate from the Jewish nation”. In 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected another attempt by a group of Jewish citizens to have their nationalities recorded in the population registry as “Israeli”.
The court, unsurprisingly, ruled that such a change would undermine Israel’s “Jewish” character. Israel instead wants a two-state solution, so that all Palestinians could be “expelled” and a Jewish entity of the state of Israel could be retained. On July 13, 2013, former Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin issued a dire warning to the Government of Israel: either it would reach some kind of two-state settlement or there would be a “shift to a nearly inevitable outcome of the one remaining reality – a state “from the sea to river”.
The near-inevitable outcome “one state for two nations” will pose an immediate existential threat to the erasure of the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, which would soon have a Palestinian Arab majority. Thirdly, stemming from the foregoing; for a two-state solution, some land howsoever small is required for a neighboring Palestinian state. Where should Israel provide that land to the Palestinians without reducing its own? The land available to Palestine is already shrinking daily, as Israel aggressively escalates its Judaization of eastern occupied Jerusalem.
Fourthly, retaining control of Jerusalem and the holy sites is of utmost importance; Jerusalem is the House of the one God and is significant for all three Semitic religions, of which Islam is the youngest. Simon Sebag Montefiore in his acclaimed book “Jerusalem. The Biography” writes” Jerusalem is the House of one God, the capital of two peoples, the temple of three religions, and she is the only city to exist twice – in heaven and on earth”.
The Fundamentals of Israel’s Strategy
Israeli aim is to extend the limits of the city far beyond historic Jerusalem, incorporating dozens of Palestinian villages. All of this is in direct violation of explicit Security Council orders. Therefore, Jerusalem continues to be both, the essence of, and an obstacle, to a peace deal. To meet the aforementioned challenges, Israel and its international supporters have followed a well-defined strategy that is clearly succeeding, the fundamentals of this strategy are as under.
Maintain Jewish Influence Within the US
Israel has tried and encouraged all Jews of the world to move to Israel under the Israeli “Law of Return”, According to this law, any Jew wishing to come to Israel is granted Israeli citizenship within days. In addition to the “Law of Return”. Israel has learnt to benefit from, what it calls the “dispersion” of Jews across the world. These Jews, who are often in influential positions, support Israeli causes in their respective countries, and spheres of influence.
This, Israel recognizes as a huge advantage. The most effective of these Jews are those in the US, where they strongly lobby for Israel and exercise influence over important policies, like foreign and defence. Since the Jewish lobby also has influence over international and other financial institutions, they are able to nudge or mould US policies as and when required.
Continuous Emphasis on Holocaust
The persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany in between 1933-35, has ingrained itself in the collective Jewish psyche. “This has been used by them as a reference point to transcend the geographical and historical background of the settlers in Israel”, (“The Israeli Mind”; John Laffin). The Holocaust is the cement which strengthens the mix. The same is also used, sometimes disproportionately, to retain international support for pro-Israeli causes.
“Because Jews were persecuted for centuries and many believe they can be safe only in a Jewish homeland, Israel is said to deserve special treatment. This view formed the basis for the original Zionist program, played an important role in convincing the United States and other countries to back Israel’s founding, and continues to resonate today.” (John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy).
While there is no question that Jews were frequently victims in Europe, in the past decades, they have often been the assailants in the Middle East. Their main victims were, and continue to be, the Palestinians.
Economic & Scientific Development
Israel, within a short span of seven decades, has made marvelous economic and scientific progress which has contributed towards the development in the field of defense, agriculture, nuclearization, medicine, and Information Technology. More importantly, Israel is now recognized as a nuclear state, although it follows a policy of “ambivalence”, wherein it neither acknowledges nor denies possession of a nuclear capability.
These economic and scientific developments have led to the dependence of several countries on Israel; a dependence that strengthens Israel’s security. Israel ranks 35th on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index. It has the second-largest number of startup companies in the world – second only to the United States. Intel, Microsoft, and Apple have established research facilities in Israel.
IBM, Google, HP, Cisco Systems, Facebook, and Motorola have also opened R&D centers. Israel’s major trading partners include the US, UK, China, India, Germany, and Turkey, while the European Union is Israel’s largest trading partner. Israel is the fourth largest exporter of diamonds in the world and has a 9.25% share of a global market that is worth $16 billion annually.
Improve Relations with Muslim Countries or Destabilize
It is in Israel’s interest to have instability in Muslim countries surrounding it except those which are willing to “accommodate” it. Egypt was “accommodative”, and the Israeli effort in this regard bore fruit with the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Accord in 1979, brokered by the then US President Jimmy Carter. A decade and a half later, it was Jordan that strived for peace and a Jordanian-Israel Accord was signed in 1994.
Similarly, during President Clinton’s Presidency, Syria and Israel were close to a deal that included the return of Golan Heights to Syria. The deal did not materialize due to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s refusal. Efforts, mostly secret, continued between some other Muslim countries and Israel. These efforts were often led by intelligence agencies and resulted in the improvement of relations without any public disclosures.
Such arrangements divided the Muslim countries with regard to their relations with Israel. A more recent public disclosure of such efforts was the signing of the Abraham Accords between UAE, Israel, and the US – aimed at normalization of relations between UAE and Israel. While this was a public statement, secret backchannels had continued for several years among the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
There are strong indications that Saudi Arabia will follow suit, also through a public announcement sometime soon. Pakistan is also reported to have secretly engaged Israel during former President Musharraf’s time. How sustained these engagements were, and whether these have continued, is however unclear. The public sentiment around whether Pakistan should recognize Israel is clear: Absolutely not.
The year 2020 has been a good year for Israel as the UAE, Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain forged diplomatic ties with Israel. All these accords and attempts at normalization have aimed at improving relations with as many Muslim countries as possible, so as to enhance Israel’s acceptability in the region.
The resultant wedge that this creates within and amongst Muslim countries is a welcome benefit. Those countries which have been reluctant or unwilling to make compromises with Israel have found themselves destabilized and their leaders marginalized or eliminated. Egypt’s Morsi, Libya’s Qaddafi, Iraq’s Saddam, and Syria’s Bashar Al Assad (still in power but only tenuously) are but a few examples.
Israel’s dislike for Iran and its influence in the Middle East is well known, as is Israel’s opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that is, the Iran nuclear deal. “Israel has meddled in Lebanon repeatedly and its WMD arsenal and frequent willingness to use force have encouraged other Middle Eastern countries like Iran to desire WMD of their own”. (The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy; John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt).
One of the major efforts at causing disunity and instability has been through the spread of fear of Iran amongst Arab countries and clandestinely encouraging conflict between the two protagonists. This conflict has taken the form of Iranian proxies – Hamas, Hezbollah, etcetera, fighting in support of Iranian objectives. Without going into the complexities of these conflicts, these are being fought in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Lebanon.
According to John J. and Stephen M. Walt in their book “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy”, “Syria, Iran and Iraq were often at odds with each other, which made containing these states (by the US and Israel) even easier and reduced the need to try to overthrow them”. Wolfowitz, a known Jew, only a few days after 9/11, in a Camp David meeting on 15th September 2001, advocated attacking Iraq before Afghanistan, even though there was no evidence that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks.
This effort at creating instability and disunity creates opposing Muslim blocs, is grave (from the Muslim’s point of view), and is unlikely to go away soon. In a nutshell, no favorable solution, from the Palestinians point of view can be found without the effective support of major Muslim countries.
This support, unfortunately, has diminished over the years. While Israel, due to reasons already mentioned, can act with impunity and disdain with scant regard for international laws and human rights, the Palestinians by themselves cannot match them – neither militarily nor economically.
Successful Assassination Program
Israel initiated an effective assassination program after the killing of its athletes in Munich in 1974, by a group associated with Palestine. “Since World War II, Israel has assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world”. (Ronen Bergman, “Rise and Kill First”). They have developed the most robust streamlined assassination machine in history.
The Prime Minister of Israel signs off on all assassination orders. The Israeli leadership, over time, has felt that assassinations could be used in place of real diplomacy to end the geographic, ethnic, religious, and national disputes in which Israel is mired.
The Rise of Militant Groups
With support only from a few Muslim countries; that too lukewarm, the Palestinians cause necessarily has to be taken up militarily by various militant groups. This has to happen because of the Palestinians own inability to face the might of Israeli Defence Forces with anything other than bare rock throwing. Thus flourish groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.
These groups were preceded by “Fatah” which resorted to violent means to support Palestinian causes in the 1960s and ’70s. The reactions of these militant groups are largely a response to Israel’s prolonged campaign to colonize the West Bank and Gaza and a reflection of Palestinians’ own weakness.
Israel has repeatedly used brute force against Palestinians with tacit (and not so tacit) support of the US, which in each of Israel’s brutal cycles against Gaza and Palestinians, intentionally helped delay UN calls for ceasefire by using diplomatic “tricks”. This gave Israel the much-needed time to cause massive damage to Palestinians’ life and property and to achieve its objectives.
This has happened in Gaza several times, as well as in Lebanon (2006), though the latter was a disaster for Israel. Israeli Defence Forces, however, “pummeled civilian targets across Lebanon and then dumped several million deadly cluster bomblets in the towns and villages of Southern Lebanon” (John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy).
Diplomacy alone is unlikely to succeed against Israel as long as Americans support them. The US support won’t cease as long as the Jewish American lobby exercises influence within the US, especially in the US elections. No US presidential candidate can win without the support of the American Jews as America’s pro-Israel lobby wields inappropriate political control over US policy. Joshua Mitnick reported in “Jewish Week” that all the US presidential candidates in 2007 were seemingly competing to see who can be the most strident in defense of the Jewish state”.
The Muslim Predicament
The Muslim countries have to rally around Palestine and engage Israel en-bloc and not individually. The only countries that make any serious overtures are Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Kuwait. Most others have given in to their myopic interests either by choice or under pressure. This, however, can change in case of repetitive, sustained, or aggravated Israeli violence against the Palestinians.
In such an eventuality, the populations of countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Turkey are likely to rise against their governments, who for no other reason, but for their very survival may resort to unprecedently aggressive anti-Israel stance. This happened in the past in 1973 when King Faisal of Saudi Arabia had to resort to the oil weapon because the Anti-American sentiment had reached a boiling point due to America’s support to Israel.
This also happened at the time of the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Accord to which the Egyptian public at large was opposed. This opposition eventually manifested itself unfortunately in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The aggressive anti-Israel stance under public pressure could bring strained relations of these Muslim countries with the United States. The US’s unconditional and sustained support of Israel could further aggravate these relations
The Solution to the Conflict Between Israel and Palestine
The solution, if any, lies with the United States, and within the US, it lies with the Jewish lobby. On the dissipation or recourse to moral realism of this Jewish lobby would depend the future of Palestine and the region. While there are strong voices within the US criticizing “unconditional” support to Israel, successive US governments have ignored these voices due to reasons of political survival.
For a solution to be just, Muslim countries will have to defer their differences and unite as a bloc rallying in support of Palestine. By relying merely on weak diplomatic tradecraft, the Muslims have been a party to the Palestinians’ deprivation. A united, more aggressive diplomatic front backed by anti-Israel economic, trade, and travel restrictions will have to be affected, if required.
Realism is more moral than idealism. Most Arab states are beginning to be more realistic. This realism, unfortunately for the Palestinians, comes in the form of myopic country interest, rather than the larger Islamic interest. Resultantly, we see several Muslim countries romancing America and Israel. Unsurprisingly, America and Israel joyously hug back. In this unfair world of ours, realism trumps justice.
The Palestine-Israel problem, though an intractable one, can be resolved. The danger, however, is that it may be “resolved” on terms grossly favorable to Israel. With the US acting only as a partial arbitrator and with divisiveness amongst Muslim countries in their approach towards Israel and with only lukewarm diplomatic support from a select few (Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait), the future of Palestine and Palestinians is in grave danger.
Also in grave danger is the physical safety of Masjid-e-Aqsa, as an emboldened Israel may venture into such a despicable action. If this happens, my assessment is that it will be a decision which Israel will rue and which will inflame the entire Middle East and the Muslim world. Ironically for Israel, the very reason, that is, Muslim disunity, which would have prompted Israel into risking such a blatant action, would lead to eventual Muslim unity.
A unified Muslim stand, with support perhaps from China and Russia, could create major, even existential difficulties for Israel. For Pakistan, which, like Israel, was created in the name of religion (Islam), and is an ideological state; the Palestine problem with Al-Aqsa Mosque at its core, should be a much more important issue, more important even than Kashmir.
The Kashmir dispute is only an unsettled agenda of the creation of Pakistan and India, and there are no religious connotations attached to it. Palestine, on the other hand, a land steeped in Islamic history, revered and honored, with Al-Aqsa’s supreme religious significance is, and should be, of greater significance.
It is this significance which binds, or should bind, Muslims to use all available means to find a just resolution, one which protects the sanctity of the Mosque and the wishes of the Palestinian people. This, however, does not mean that Pakistan has to relegate its Kashmir cause; far from it. It only means that greater importance has to be given to the Palestinian cause, greater than what is currently being given.
Viewed objectively, Israel’s past and present conduct offer a little moral basis for “privileging” it over Palestinians. With the current indifferent approach of leaders of most Muslim countries, this privileging is unlikely to change, and unfortunately, there seem to be no real saviors in sight for the Palestinians – not just yet.
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