Political Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism
Political Zionism is a relatively modern phenomenon, which arose in the middle of the nineteenth century as a response to the age-old yearning of Diaspora Jewry to return to the Promised Land, secular nationalism, as well as prevailing anti-Jewish prejudice in Europe, especially in Western Europe. Although Zionism has been prevalent amongst the Jews, the new form of political Zionism was markedly different from traditional Zionism because it was more activist in nature, and took a proactive stance in attaining resettlement in Israel rather than waiting on God. The movement can be traced to Eastern Europe Jews who were suffering from intense persecution and isolation. A pioneer group of students from Kharkov, Russia immigrated to Palestine to establish agricultural settlements. Although their success was limited, they planted the idea of immigrating and forming a Jewish state in Palestine. Theodor Herzl helped in articulating and distilling modern political Zionism although his non commitment to a Palestine home for Jews ensured that he did not have much support, especially from Eastern European Jews. The aggressive resettlement of Jews in Palestine and advocating of a separate Jewish state led to a schism between Arabs and Jews that persists up to now.
Initially, most Muslim Arabs in Palestine saw themselves as Ottoman subjects and did not consider Palestine as a separate land. The emergence of Palestine nationalism can be traced to Greek Orthodox Christians, who considered themselves to be living in a specific place called Palestine, who were the first to oppose Jewish resettlement. Muslims, although tolerant of the Jews, considered them inferior. The immigration of the European Jews into Palestine changed this dynamic as the new settlers from Europe appeared to Muslims as another Western attempt to subordinate Muslims. This aroused the resentment of Muslims, especially when it dawned on them that the Jews wanted to take land that had been in Arab lands for centuries and turn it into a Jewish homeland. The emerging Palestine nationalism was a response to the disadvantage that Muslims found themselves in, and the increasing alienation of land. The suspicion between the emerging Palestine’s and the Jews has poisoned any attempts to form constructive relationships between them, as the Palestinians feel cheated of their inheritance and rights.
Role of Great Britain
British culpability in the Palestine conflict can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century. During the First World War, Britain in order to gain the help of the Arabs inn distracting the Ottoman troops implicitly promised Husayn, the guardian of Mecca some form of Arab independence and promised to block the French influence in the Arabian lands. However, the promises given by McMahon, the British high commissioner in Cairo, were vague and did not specify the boundaries of the envisaged independent Arab countries. Palestine although not specifically included in the proposed independent Arab countries was also not explicitly excluded, making Husayn assume it was part of the deal.
Most of the implicit assurances given to Husayn were repudiated by the Sykes-Picot agreement, which established British and French spheres of influence in the Middle East. This was in complete disregard to Husayn’s opposition to the presence of French advisors. In addition, both the French and British viewed their areas of influence practically as protectorates. The agreement internationalized Palestine, stating its administration will be determined after consultations. Although Palestine had no strategic importance to Britain, as the war progressed, Britain saw the need to gain the support of international Jewry in drumming up support for the war in revolutionary Russia and the US. Thus the Balfour Declaration, which promised a Jewish national home in Palestine, could be viewed as treachery having come after the promises given to Husayn.
Throughout the war and after, Britain repeatedly assured Husayn that Zionist immigration will have no effect on the status quo vis a vis Arab political and economic freedom. After the war, Britain obtained the mandate to administer Palestine solely after the French were unable to guarantee an international administration. Although the British mandate was sympathetic to Jewish immigration to Palestine, the May Day riots of 1921 caused Samuel, the British Palestine High Commissioner to temporarily suspend immigration. Considering that the British mandate in Palestine was to guard the interests of both Jews and Arabs, it is interesting to note that throughout the period of the mandate, the Jewish presence in Palestine increased rapidly and the land problem exacerbated. The British did not do enough to seek and impose a just solution to the emerging Arab-Jew conflict, and in part exacerbated it through policies like partition as proposed by the Peel Commission.
Creation of the State of Israel
The impetus for the creation of Israel can be directly traced to the Second World War. In Germany, Hitler decided to find a permanent solution for those he felt were inferior and did not fit his Aryan vision. Although the undesirables included the mentally challenged, gays, insane, and gypsies, this effort was specifically directed towards ridding Europe of Jews. Hitler set in motion a concerted effort to collect the European Jews, who were then taken into the gas chambers and crematoria for extermination. By the end of the war, over 5 million Jews, representing around two-thirds of European Jewry, had been killed. From early 1942, news of the holocaust in Germany began to filter out. This galvanized international Jewry, especially in the US, which began to collect money to fund the immigration efforts to Israel and to support the arming of Jews in Palestine.
German military action in the Middle East also helped in bolstering the independence movement, albeit indirectly. The British, fearful of a German breakthrough, actively began to recruit Arabs and Jews to fight in the army. The Jews seeing this as an opportunity to arm themselves and also gain valuable military experience enrolled in numbers to the military. The British actions in the Middle East also impressed on the Zionists the need to expeditiously ameliorate their situation, and if possible form their own independent country.
The British declared their support for Arab unity initiatives in a bid to solidify Arab support for British war aims. This alarmed Zionists, who saw it as a direct threat to their sovereignty aims. In addition, the British opposition to refugee immigration into Palestine also inflamed the passions of the Zionists. To better secure their position, the Jews campaigned for and eventually were granted an independent division fighting alongside the British. This gave them an independent armed wing that would prove invaluable in later conflicts. At the end of the war, owing to its weak economy and increasing terrorism from Jews, Britain handed Palestine to the UN. Eventually, the UN approved a partition plan, which Israel used on the 14th of May 1948 to declare its independence.
Changes after the 1948 War
The creation of the state of Israel was greeted by immediate hostility from the Arabs. They immediately declared war on the nascent state, aiming to wipe it out and drive the Jews out. However, these attacks were largely uncoordinated and could not meet the stated objectives. Instead, Israel gave the assorted Arab armies a crushing defeat on all fronts and pushed the boundaries outwards. At the end of the conflict, the borders of Israel had expanded substantially compared to the envisaged borders under the partition plan. The war also gave rise to a problem that exists to this day – dispossessed Israel Arabs. Most of these Arabs were forcibly evicted from their homes and Israel refused to grant them the right of return.
The 1948 war was not a conflict between Jews and Palestinians; rather, it was a war between the Jews and Arabs, who were outraged by the presence of Israel, a country they saw as populated by Europeans, which had alienated traditional Arab lands. Therefore, the Arab rulers saw it as their responsibility to drive out the Jews and restore the Palestinians to their land. The Palestinians were therefore stateless and stayed on the fringes of Arab society as it was envisaged that eventually the Arab armies would drive out Israel, enabling them to resettle in their land. The conflict thus took a pan-Arabian hue, rather than a conflict between dispossessed Palestinians and Jews.
The Arabizing of the conflict has been detrimental to the Palestine cause for long. Palestinians were in limbo as they awaited the resolution of the Israel problem from the Arabs and did not engage in any meaningful contact with the Jews. The Palestinians were also denied rights by other Arab states and were basically housed in refugee camps without freedom. Although the Arab stated intention was to offer a solution for the Palestinians, there has been little done practically for the Palestinians in the realization of their cause for independence.
Significance of the 1967 War to various actors
The outcome of the 1973 war was very significant to later Israel thinking. The victory against the joint Arab armies was being viewed as almost miraculous, reminiscent of Old Testament Yahweh inspired victories. The crushing victory also helped to establish a sense of invincibility within the Israeli psyche. In addition, the victory helped to significantly improve the Israeli security situation. By substantially expanding its borders, Israel felt safer due to the creation of a buffer zone between it and the Arabs. The territory that Israel gained in the war was to give it a strong negotiating position because Israel could now demand significant concessions from the Arabs in exchange for returning of captured territory.
The war was also significant in altering the PLO’s militant strategy. Initially, the PLO had conducted excursions into Israel to plant explosives as part of a terror campaign. After the war, the militancy crystallized as not only a means of raiding into Israel, but also standing up to Israeli raids. This change in strategy helped the PLO to gain recruits who felt that the organization was doing something positive to address their plight. In addition, there was a change in the structure of the PLO militancy, making it more organized, directed, and activist in nature. This helped the organization to wrest control of the refugee camps from Jordanian control.
The war dealt a crushing blow to pretensions of Arab unity, left the Arab armies in disarray, and reinforced differences that existed between the different Arab nations. The defeat led to the toning down of rhetoric against Israel as new leaders emerged in Egypt and Syria. Cold war politics played a role in exacerbating the divisions as soviet Russia and the US sought to strategically influence Middle East politics. This was by entering into pacts to supply arms to those states that were friendly to them. The US aggressively pursued the vanquished Arab nations, offering defense pacts as a means of forestalling increased Soviet influence in the region.
Elusiveness of the Peace Process
The 1973 war opened with a near crushing Arab army victory as they caught the Israelis unprepared, making swift gains in territory. However, by its conclusions, most of the initial Arab army gains had been wiped out and in the case of the Syrian front, Israel had gained extra territory beyond the Golan Heights. The rout of the Arab army for the first time introduced the idea of serious engagement with Israel in the Arab governments who were wearied with war. Initiative for peace was led by Kissinger immediately after the war. His efforts were aimed at securing Israeli withdrawal from some of the territories it had gained in exchange for peace guarantees.
However, Kissinger’s efforts were doomed to failure due to his approach to negotiations. Since he met with the Israelis and Arabs separately, he promised each different outcome for the same set of actions. Therefore, his diplomacy was based on misrepresentation, making it difficult to achieve rapprochement. The end of the 1973 war saw the increase in prominence of the PLO, which was now recognized as a legitimate representative of Palestinian aspirations. This move was in part due to the unwillingness of Arab nations to continue shouldering and actively seeking a solution for the Palestinian refugee problem.
Peace between PLO and Israel remains elusive because of the complex competing interests within the PLO itself and the Palestine population. Progress towards peace had been hampered by the UN Resolution 242, which spoke of the refugee problem but omitted the mention of self-determination. The PLO leadership could not accept the resolution without amendments since such an acceptance could tear it apart. The PLO top leadership itself has also been noncommittal towards the peace process preferring to task minor functionaries to sound out Israel, the US, and Arab nations without ever committing the organization to the process. The biggest impediment, however, has been the PLO’s refusal to explicitly recognize the right of Israel to exist within secure boundaries, preferring to advocate for a free Palestine.
Shift in Center of Palestine Activism
For a long time, PLO activities were centered in Lebanon, from where they organized and carried activities against Israel. Israel determining to incapacitate the PLO infrastructure raided Lebanon and advanced to Beirut. As a condition for cessation of hostilities, PLO agreed to withdraw from Lebanon and move to other Arab countries. A substantial portion of the leadership moved into the occupied territories since they could not get countries of refuge. The presence of the leadership of PLO in the occupied territories shifted the center of the organization’s activities to the territories. Differences in ideology and due to reasons of expediency, most Arab nations were not willing to host the PLO, hence the need to relocate to the occupied territories.
The Intifada was not a planned uprising, rather it was a spontaneous expression of the frustration, anger, and disenchantment that was prevalent in the occupied territories. Originally, the Intifada was not politically motivated although it later had important ramifications in Palestinian politics. The Intifada reinvigorated the PLO, an organization that was fast becoming moribund by giving it an avenue through which to rally opposition to Israeli occupation. Israeli response was to try and crush the Intifada as it felt threatened by the aims of the movement. However, the violence against the Intifada only managed in uniting Palestinians, making their resistance to Israeli oppression more overt.
The Intifada led to the re-establishment of Arafat as a relevant force in the peace process, with Washington directly engaging with him as a peace partner. There were also militant groups, like the Hamas, which were formed as a consequence of the Intifada. These organizations will later have influence in the political direction in Palestine. The First Gulf crisis also led to changes in the Israel-Arab political dynamics. There was a renewed drive from Washington to resolve the Israeli-Arab issue. Arafat had lost credibility in the eyes of Washington after making a miscalculation and supporting Saddam during the Gulf crisis, leading to other Palestinians leading the peace delegation.
Main Obstacles to Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The Oslo Peace initiative that began in the early nineties to find a permanent solution for the Israeli-Palestine conflict collapsed in the Camp David talks of 2000. The Camp David talks were meant to find a settlement for the conflict by outlining a two-state solution. The major points of difference arose from Israeli and Palestinian interpretation of the borders of the proposed state. The Barak offer to Arafat initially carved the Palestine state into three pieces that lacked territorial contiguity. Even when Barak surprised everybody by offering that Israel keep only 9% of the West Bank instead of the 11+% that was initially proposed, there remained problems with interpretation of some draft words like ‘sovereignty’, ‘control’ and ‘authority.’
The question of precisely who owned the Temple Mount eventually led to the collapse of the talks, as Arafat could not commit to the process while that remained vague. Further efforts to resume peace talks were hampered by Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, a visit that was to precipitate the second Intifada. The unofficial Tuba talks tried to revive the peace talks under Clinton’s stewardship but not much progress was made in boundary delineation. However the talks led to Israel and Palestinians agreeing that Jerusalem will serve as a joint capital for the two states.
The second Intifada dealt a serious blow to peace efforts as it hardened anti-Palestine sentiment in Israel and the US. The unqualified support offered to Israel by the White House made it difficult for a credible peace process to proceed. The Mitchell Committee that was looking at the causes of the first Intifada produced a report that was highly critical of the Israeli conduct during the second Intifada, further widening the chasm between Israeli and Palestinian positions. In the Rose Garden Address, Bush openly advocated for regime change as a pre-requisite for peace in Palestine. The Road Map was an attempt to put the peace process back in track. However, Israelis had problems implementing it was performance-based. Although Israel has withdrawn from some occupied territories, the withdrawal was unilateral and the Israeli-Palestine peace still remains a mirage.