Understanding Conflict in the Middle East–Part Two (Resources & Notes)

[Note:  “Most of the Jews who established Israel came from Europe to establish their new country in an area that had been Arab for centuries with no invitation from the Arab inhabitants, the Palestinians, to do so.  The success of the Jewish-Zionist movement owed much to the support it received from Britain earlier in the century, though the 1948 military campaign was fought wholly by Jewish fighters using resources they had largely gathered themselves.  In order to survive, Israel has needed the support of Western nations, principally the United States, for whom Israel is something of a client state, an outpost of the West in the locale where much of the world’s reserves of petroleum is found.

Jews, of course, are descendants of the Israelites, many of whom were driven from their ancient homeland in a series of invasions stretching from the Assyrians in the seventh century B.C. and the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C down to their final expulsion from Jerusalem and environs by the roman emperor Hadrian in AD. 131.  Romans named the area Palestina, in order, as Mordecai Chertoff says, “to erase even the memory of Jewish sovereignty.”  The Latin word Palestina (in English ‘Palestine’) is a derivative of ‘Philistine,’ the name of Israel’s ancient enemies who lived along the Mediterranean coast.  One quickly recognizes the irony in using a word derived from Israel’s past enemies for the people with whom they are now in conflict” (Islam, Christianity, and the West, A Troubled History, by Rollin Armour, Sr., Orbis Books, 2004, p. 148).]

[Note:  “For Muslims, Jerusalem, known in Arabic as al-Quds, ‘the Holy,’ was also a sacred city.  Although the Islamic worlds most sacred center in Mecca, the “sacred sanctuary” that Muslims face five times a day in prayer, Jerusalem was the ‘Remote House of Worship’ to which the Prophet had been miraculously transported one night by God (Surah 17:1).  Following the death of the Prophet in 632, his followers sent an embassy to Heraclius, declaring:

God has given this land as an inheritance to our father Abraham and to his posterity after him. We are the children of Abraham. You have held our country long enough. Give it up peacefully and we will not invade your country. If not we will take with interest what you have withheld from us.

After capturing the city, its new Muslim rulers intervened in the sacred geography of Jerusalem.  On the ruins of the ancient Temple Mount they established a mosque, al-Masjid al Aqsa, and a shrine, the Dome of the Rock.  By appropriating this sacred site of the religion of ancient Israel, Muslims verified their claims on a sacred history that went back to Abraham, who, as the Qur’an taught, was neither Jew nor Christian.  While respecting the earlier revelations of Jews and Christians—the Torah of Moses the gospel of Jesus—Muslims embraced the Qur’an as the ultimate revelation disclosed to the prophet, messenger, and servant of God, Muhammad.  Under Muslim rule, Jews and Christians were in principle tolerated as “people of the Book.”  Having been denied access to the city for nearly five hundred years, Jews were permitted to return to Jerusalem in 638 and reestablish their major yeshiva for training rabbis.  Like Jews, Christians were allowed to practice their religion under Muslim authority, but both were subject to special taxes.  By contrast, Emperor Heraclius marked the loss of Jerusalem by ordering every Jew in his shrinking empire to be baptized.  A religious toleration enshrined in the Qur’an, however, promised to maintain peaceful interreligious relations among Muslims, Jews, and Christians within the world of Islam” (Christianity, A Global History, by David Chidester, Harper One, 2000, pp. 160-161).]

[Note:  The United Nations resolutions regarding Palestine (GA resolution 181 and 194) made allowance for two independent states that were not explicitly divided along ethnic lines or any previously understood borders, which meant that the mandates would still allow for both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to be living in Israel and in the West Bank.]

[Note:  “The emergence of the Palestinians as a separate factor in the Arab-Israeli conflict was one of the most dramatic developments in 1967.  The idea that the Palestinians constituted a distinct peoples is novel.  Never before in Middle East history have the Arabs living in Palestine sought or gained status as a separate and independent state.  Quite the contrary, the Arabs of that region had usually chosen, if indeed they could exercise any choice at all, to claim a major identity:  Muslim, Arab, or Greater Syrian.  Before Israel’s rebirth, Jews and foreigners often used the term Palestinian to denote the inhabitants of Palestine, but rarely had Arabs themselves used that label.  Between 1948 and 1967, the Arabs from Palestine especially the refugees in neighboring countries, had been the most ardent backers of pan-Arabism.  They hoped to end all distinctions between them and the other Arabs whose aid they sought”  (A Concise History of the Middle East, by Arthur Goldschmidt Jr., 7th ed., Westview Press, 2002, p. 23).]

[Note:  “The reality, to say it yet one more time, is summed up in the word—jihad—that Arafat and so many other Arabs have never stopped invoking when speaking among themselves in their own language.  On those occasions they have never bothered to pretend that the formula for peace is a ‘two-state-solution.’  Nor have they had to pretend that this formula represents anything more than a temporary abandonment of the direct military action that failed in five previous wars, or a shift to a ‘strategy of stages’ that will more circuitously and cunningly head toward the same ultimate consummation in the destruction of the Jewish state”  (The Mideast Peace Process, An Autopsy, “Intifada II:  Death of an Illusion?,” by Norman Podhoretz, Edited by Neal Kozodoy, Encounter Books, 202, p. 104).]

[Note:  Israel’s security fence, or wall, sometimes referred to as the security barrier, began to be built in April of 2002 during the administration of Ariel Sharon and during the time of the second intifada.  And even though Israel has claimed that the security barrier is not there for political reasons or there to represent the borders of Israel, the barrier has nonetheless created a controversial issue as much of the “wall” has been built on lands belonging to the Palestinian Arabs.  So it is certainly expected that this wall could become a symbolic structure of growing segregation and apartheid, and so Israel may find itself limited economically in the future (not able to buy or sell) by sanctions imposed upon them within the greater international community.]

[Note:  “On the West Bank side, Israel is building a ‘separation fence,’ which is not really a

fence but a massive concrete wall—about twenty feet high.  This Great Wall (at least the part already built) is itself fenced off with barbed wire and security roads on both sides and studded with pillbox guard-posts for its full length, which is to be more than two hundred miles.  It will cut Palestine in half, north to south—except, it’s not really close to half.  If the Palestinians somehow succeeded in their stated aims—getting Israel to give up all the land conquered in 1967, and going back to the 1948 armistice line (the Green Line, as it’s called here)—the new nation of Palestine would still take in only twenty-two percent of Mandatory Palestine, that is, about one-fifth of the land from the Jordan river to the sea.  And now, with this new wall, Israel is effectively seizing more.  The wall isn’t being built on Israeli land, but on land newly taken from the Palestinians.  For most of its length it runs far to the east of the old Green Line—so it effectively makes Israel bigger.  Where it runs near Jewish settlements it juts out to wall these settlements into Israeli control… where it runs near Palestinian villages, it walls off the village land from the village—or, in the case of seventeen villages (so far), it has walled off the village altogether, into a new kind of no-man’s-land between the wall and what used to be the Green Line” (How Israel Lost, The Four Questions, by Richard Ben Cramer, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004, 2005, p. 67).]

[Note:  “On the Palestinian side, a completely different narrative explains what happened at Camp David.  This interpretation which was prevalent throughout Palestinian society, was that the Israelis came not to negotiate but to make a ‘take it or leave it’ offer, presenting few concessions and enough territory to make a viable Palestinian state.  In this view, Palestinian leaders made many concessions to the Israelis by accepting that two-thirds of the settlers would remain on West Bank territory annexed by Israel, that parts of East Jerusalem would come under Israeli sovereignty, and that the Palestinians would have a demilitarized state.  From their point of view, they had been willing to give up much.  However, most Palestinians believe that Israel offered too little, including a state so truncated that it would not have been viable, and no sovereignty over Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem especially the Haram al-Sharif, the third–holiest place in Islam.  Israelis essentially wanted to dictate their own solutions instead of proceeding to build on what was already achieved at Camp David:  ‘If you don’t accept out terms, there will be no more negotiations.’  In Palestinian eyes, the Israelis believed they had the power to impose their own solution and thought the Palestinians, being weak, had no choice but to accept either Israel’s terms or continuing occupation.  It is clear that, regardless of how spontaneous the intifada was, many Palestinians increasingly believed that only violence could help reduce Israel’s overwhelming power by sending a message that they are not helpless.

The unfortunate consequence was that moderate Israelis and Palestinians went completely on the defensive while the militants on both sides had their say.  Even though polls continued to show that most Israelis and Palestinians favored a compromise peace settlement, most didn’t believe such a solution was likely.  A horrible cycle of violence began, with civilians as most of the victims on both sides.  Two years after the collapse of the negotiations, it was apparent that both sides were in far worse shape than when they had begun and that neither had a unilateral solution”  (The Stakes, America in the Middle East, The Consequences of Power and the Choice for Peace, by Shibley Telhami, Westview Press, 2002, 2004, pp. 119-120).]

[Note:  “The prevailing approach in past peace efforts has been for all sides to take incremental steps, to work on small issues and leave the tough ones like the final status of Jerusalem, to a later date.  The problem is that we will never get to the end if we keep kicking the big problems down the road.  We need to resolve immediately the final status issues:  Jerusalem, refugees, borders, and security.  At this point, it is our only hope of rescuing the two-state solution.  There is no other option.

I have been highly critical at times of Israel’s behavior and intransigence, but it goes without saying that there is plenty of blame to go around on both sides for the failure of the peace process.  Arabs and Israelis need to recognize each other’s respective needs.  A two-state solution is predicated on the recognition by Israelis of the rights of the Palestinians to freedom and statehood and the recognition by Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world of Israel’s right to security.  We have no choice but to live together.  Both sides have a moral responsibility to strive for peace.  They also have a very compelling pragmatic imperative to do so:  the alternative is more conflict and violence” (Our Last Best Chance, the Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril, “A Story of War and Peace,” by King Abdullah II of Jordan, Viking Penguin, King’s Academy, Inc., 2011).]

[Note:  Rhetoric that reflects a bias toward Israelis and Palestinian Arabs can be misleading from an historical point of view, which can in turn affect how people view the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.  To claim that Israelis are “occupiers” is inflammatory and not realistically applicable to them, because from another perspective the term could apply to Palestinian Arabs as well.  Also, it is misleading to claim that the Palestinian Arabs are “indigenous” to Palestine, because the term could also apply to Israelis from a certain historical perspective in regard to viewing Israel as a valid nation-state in the region of Palestine.]

[Note:  “As we have seen, Israel owed its existence in large measure to American and Soviet support for the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution of the partition of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state, and to the superpowers diplomatic and military support for the new state after it was established in May 1948.  Both the United States and the USSR hoped to win Israel to its side, albeit for different reasons.  The soviets were rudely disillusioned when Israel aligned itself with the United States over the Korean War in 1950.  Stalin, moreover had been dismayed at the enthusiastic reception that Golda Meir, the first Israeli ambassador to the USSR, received from Soviet Jews, which awakened the latent anti-Semitic tendencies of the ageing and suspicious Soviet leader and his entourage.  Israel thereafter drifted into the orbit of France, and later Britain, although U.S. economic and diplomatic support continued, albeit at a relatively low level.  As I showed in the preceding chapter, this situation only changed fully after the 1967 war, by which time Israel had become completely aligned with the United States on Cold War and other issues”  (Sowing Crisis, The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East, by Rashid Khalidi, Beacon Press, Boston, 2009, p. 176).]

[Note:  “Now, I want to be clear that the kind of violence that we have been seeing in recent weeks hurts everyone: the innocent victims and their families; the Jewish and Arab residents of Israel; the Palestinians who yearn to have their aspirations realized—hurts everyone.  And this is yet another indication of the folly of believing that efforts at permanent peace and reconciliation are somehow not worth pursuing.  I can’t imagine the notion of just throwing up your hands and walking away and saying good luck.  The current situation is simply not sustainable.  President Obama has said that publicly many times.  I’ve said it publicly.

And it is absolutely vital for Israel to take steps that empower Palestinian leaders to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life for their people on a day-to-day basis. And it is equally important—equally important—for Palestinian leaders to cease the incitement of violence and to offer something more than rhetoric; instead, propose solutions that will contribute in a real way to the improvement of life, to the reduction of violence, and to the safety and security of Israel’s—of Israelis.  Firm and creative leadership on both sides is absolutely essential.  A two-state solution with strong security protections remains the only viable alternative.  And for anybody who thinks otherwise, you can measure what unitary looks like by just looking at what’s been going on in the last weeks.  The United States absolutely remains prepared to do what we can to make that two-state—two peoples living side by side in peace and security—to make it possible”  (Remarks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace by United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, posted by U.S. Department of State, October 28, 2015.]

[Note:  “From its early days, the United Nations has been concerned with the problems of the Middle East.

The fighting between Israel and the Arab states that followed the adoption of the Palestine partition plan by the General Assembly in November 1947, and the subsequent establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948, was halted through a United Nations cease-fire.  Then, following negotiations carried out with a United Nations mediator, armistice agreements were signed in 1949 by Israel and four Arab countries:  Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  The armistice agreements provided for mixed armistice commissions to check on the workings of the agreements, and a United Nations Truce Supervision Organization was set up, with a chief of staff and professional military observers from various countries, to receive complaints of armistice violations, investigate when necessary, and repot as the need arises to the Security Council.

The Conciliation Commission for Palestine, established in 1948 and composed of representatives of France, Turkey and the United States, was instructed by the General Assembly to assist the parties concerned to achieve a final settlement on all questions.  The Commission was also instructed to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and rehabilitation of the Palestine Arab refugees and the payment of compensation for the property of those choosing not to return to their homeland” (Basic Facts about the United Nations, Published circa 1967 by the Office of Public Information, United Nations, p. 17).]

[Note:  Full text of Resolution 181:  Recommending a Partition Plan for Palestine:

A  The General Assembly,

Having met in special session at the request of the mandatory power to constitute and instruct a Special Committee to prepare for the consideration of the question of the future government of Palestine at the second regular session;

Having constituted a Special Committee and instructed it to investigate all questions and issues relevant to the problem of Palestine, and to prepare proposals for the solution of the problem, and

Having received and examined the report of the Special Committee (document A/364) including a number of unanimous recommendations and a plan of partition with economic union approved by the majority of the Special Committee,

Considers that the present situation in Palestine is one which is likely to impair the general welfare and friendly relations among nations;

Takes note of the declaration by the mandatory power that it plans to complete its evacuation of Palestine by 1 august 1948;

Recommends to the United Kingdom, as the mandatory power for Palestine, and to all other members of the United Nations the adaptation and implementing, with regard to the future government of Palestine, of the plan of partition with economic union set out below;

Requests that:

(a) The Security Council take the necessary measures as provided for in the plan for its implementation;

(b) The Security Council consider, if circumstances during the transitional period require such consideration, whether the situation in Palestine constitutes a threat to peace. If it decides that such a threat exists, and in order to maintain the international peace and security, the Security Council should supplement the authorization of the General Assembly by taking measures under articles 39 and 41 of the charter, to empower the United Nations Commission, as provided in this resolution, to exercise in Palestine the functions which are assigned to it by this resolution;

(c) The Security Council determine as a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, in accordance with article 39 of the Charter, any attempt to alter by force the settlement envisaged by this resolution;

(d) The Trusteeship Council be informed of the responsibilities envisaged for it in this plan;

Calls upon the inhabitants of Palestine to take such steps as may be necessary on their part to put this plan into effect;

Appeals to all governments and all peoples to refrain from taking any action which might hamper or delay the carrying out of these recommendations, and

Authorizes the Secretary General to reimburse travel and subsistence appropriate in the circumstances, and to provide the Commission with the necessary staff to assist in carrying out the functions assigned to the Commission by the General Assembly.

B  The General Assembly,

Authorizes the Secretary General to draw from the working capital fund a sum not to exceed $2,000,000 for the purposes set forth in the last paragraph of the resolution on the future government of Palestine.

Adopted by 33 votes in favor, 13 against and 10 abstentions.]    (Understanding Conflict in the Middle East–Part Two)

Books & Blogs

Resurrecting Empire, Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East, by Rashid Khalidi, Beacon Press, Boston, 2004.

What You Need to Know about Islam & Muslims, by George W. Braswell Jr., Broadman & Holman Pub., 2000.

The New Middle East, by Shimon Peres, Henry Holt and Co., 1993.

The Arab World, Forty Years of Change, by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and Robert A. Fernea, Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1997.

–Website:  Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:  “The Future of U.S. Policy in the Middle East,” by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry.

–Website:  United Nations:  UN News Centre:  “UN Chief and General Assembly President call on Israel and Palestinians to Resume Talks.”