Yes, there will be peace in Israel and Palestine in our lifetime

2016-06-05 13:33

By Rabelani Dagada

In early February I visited Israel along with various other opinion-makers on the Israel Now Economist Tour 2016, funded by South African philanthropists. In the following two essays I will give my assessment of the prospects for peace in that long running conflict.

In this essay, I will refer to Israel and the two Palestinian territories – Gaza and the West Bank - as the region. The State of Israel was established in 1948 and is mainly constituted of Israeli-Jews (about 76%) and Israeli-Arabs (21%). Palestine, which is not yet a sovereign state, is predominantly an Arab nation. The Gaza Strip is governed by Hamas (Palestinian Islamic organisation) since 2006, and the West Bank is governed by Fatah (Palestinian National Liberation Movement). Fatah refers to its governing administration as the Palestinian Authority. Gaza and West Bank are geographically separated from each other by Israel. Before 2006, both Gaza and West Bank were governed by the Fatah and administered by the Palestinian Authority. However, during the free elections in 2006, Hamas defeated Fatah in Gaza and took over the administration.

World apathy towards the region

During the last six decades, the region was always in the top five conflict zones that received international attention. More recently, however, the world has shifted its attention to conflicts in other regions and countries in the Middle East. China, Russia, the United States of America and Europe are mainly interested in gaining energy-rich territories and controlling access to the Middle East. The attention of the developed countries is focusing on the intractable Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and its governance of certain parts of Libya, Syria and Iraq, and the consequent civil war and migration of Syrians to Europe. Russia and the United States are paying particular attention to Iran’s nuclear programme. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is concerned with the Russian interests and de facto dominance in the Middle East, and its ambition to serve as guardian to the countries which were members of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Europe, China, Brazil, Turkey and Russia are concerned about their faltering economic recovery. There is a type of cold war going on between China and the United States regarding the former’s territorial claims of some islands in the South China Sea.  China’s claims have also angered the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.  North Korea has been threatening a nuclear attack against the United States and South Korea. There are global concerns about escalating terrorism and political unrest in some African countries.  Due to the world’s attention being focused elsewhere, Israel and the Palestinian territories will slowly but surely move closer to each other.

Both Israel and the Palestinian territories now have a lukewarm relationship with their traditional allies. The European countries appear to be buying into the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement’s rhetoric. Many Europeans increasingly perceive Israel as an oppressor of the Palestinians and ‘Zionism’ has become a profanity for some.  After the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, Iran increased its financial and military support to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. However, Iran halted its support after the Palestinian administrations in both the West Bank and Gaza refused to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime when the Syrian Civil War started. Hamas also angered Iran by supporting the Syrian rebels. Due to the relationships with their traditional allies becoming strained, Israel and the Palestinian territories will move closer to each other.

Middle East countries are looking after their own interests

Due to their shared Arab race and Islamic religion, Arab countries had historically sided with the Palestinians in their fights with the Jews. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there have been six major wars between the Arab countries and Israel.  In each of these wars Israel has prevailed. Other than some rhetoric and simmering tension between Iran and Israel, one does not foresee any full-scale war between Israel and an Arab country in the foreseeable future. Aside from the Palestinian territories, other Arab countries have lost interest in the differences between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. This was exacerbated by the Arab Spring which led to the removal of the rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The Yemeni leader volunteered to step down under immense public pressure. Countries such as Syria, Iraq and Libya are engulfed in self-destruction and civil war. Iran has been preoccupied with its tensions in relation to the West and the sanctions that were imposed over its nuclear programme. The current Egyptian government is more interested in entrenching itself nationally and quashing the guerrillas intending to capture and govern the Sinai Peninsula.  Egypt and other Arab countries are not providing any financial or material donor support to the Palestinian territories. Moreover, Egypt has completely closed the border with Gaza, thereby blocking the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid. The Egyptian army has also closed the illegal cross-border tunnels that were being used to smuggle goods and weapons into Gaza.

In the absence of financial and military support from other Arab countries, the Palestinian territories will find negotiations with Israel inevitable in order to explore a peaceful solution and the existence of two sovereign states – Israel and Palestine. Israel is tired of wars, violence and being perceived as an aggressor, oppressor and pariah state, and thus she will be willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement. The West Bank is also weary of Israel’s counter-attacks and that is why the Palestinian Authority recently rejected Iran’s offer to compensate families of the Palestinian “martyrs” and those whose homes were destroyed by the Israel Defence Force (IDF).

Your enemy is my enemy

Israel shares some common enemies with various Arab groups and this has strengthened its relationship with them. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation dedicated to destroying Israel and to destabilising the Fatah administration in the West Bank. This has led to the IDF working jointly with the Palestinian national security forces to deal with the emergence and presence of Hamas in the West Bank.

Ironically, Israel, the Fatah administration in the West Bank and the Hamas administration in Gaza regard ISIS as their common enemy. If not for ISIS, the IDF would have quashed Hamas.  Israel’s fear is that if they eradicate Hamas in Gaza, ISIS will move in and pose an even greater threat. In other words, Hamas is the buffer between ISIS, Israel and the West Bank. Although Hamas may still send rockets to Israel, it is rapidly becoming militarily weaker due to the strained relations with Iran and Egypt. Of course, Hamas remains Israel’s enemy, but they are a ‘better’ enemy compared to ISIS. The Europeans are also likely to threaten to stop providing financial, donor, and humanitarian support if the Hamas regime continues to terrorise Israel. The current negotiations between Hamas and Fatah have the potential to lead to constructive agreements. Whereas Fatah accepts the right of Israel to exist, Hamas wants the Jews to leave the region or to be totally destroyed. It is on this basis that the possibility of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas holds great promise for the future of peaceful endeavours in the region and the existence of two states. In some instances, Hamas has softened its rhetoric against Israel. At some point Hamas also denied ever threatening to throw Jews into the sea.

Whereas the governing administrations in both Gaza and the West Bank do not have friends in the Middle East or in any Arab country, Israel has grown closer to the current Egyptian government. Israel is militarily assisting Egypt to crush an insurgency by Egyptian Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula. There are reports that the Egyptian government has instructed the Palestinian leadership to stop the intifada (violent attacks) against Israel. Furthermore, political and trade relations between Jordan and Israel are cordial and mutually beneficial.

Hamas is reportedly preparing itself for a military attack against Israel by digging tunnels and conducting drills by shooting rockets out to sea. One foresees one more military battle with Israel – the last kick of a dying horse before Hamas gives up on military engagements. This will be followed by Israel and the Palestinian leadership sitting down to negotiate. There will be a peaceful solution and two sovereign states (Israel and Palestine) in our lifetime. To be more specific, this will happen during the next ten years. My next essay will deal with the specific actions that must be taken to achieve a long-lasting peaceful solution.

Another version of this essay was published by the Politicsweb.

Dagada is a South African academic, analyst, and consultant. He is on Twitter: @Rabelani_Dagada

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