(Written for Prof. Mandaville’s Intro. to International Politics [GOVT132] class at George Mason University.)
“The Promised Land” is what Israelis call the land that is today the nation of Israel, though their Palestinian neighbors would beg to differ. This region of the middle-east has been a hotbed of religious and ethnic conflict for nearly as long as humans have had the ability to write about it, but in these modern times of explosives and firearms the bloodshed reaches levels unfathomable in Biblical times.
Today, the Israeli military is withdrawing from its 2002 reoccupation of several cities in the Palestinian National Authority controlled West Bank, but the region seems little closer to a cease fire, let-alone a lasting peace. This work will explore the root causes of the modern incarnation of this conflict with a brief history, explore how various international players like the United States and various Arab nations have contributed to the bloodshed that is occurring today, and examine if there is truly hope for a peaceful middle-east.
The Formation of the Jewish State, and the Modern Conflict
From 1918 to 1948, Palestine—encompassing present-day Israel—was administered by the British government. Throughout this era, there were numerous clashes between the Jews and the Arabs in the region. Spurred on by anti-semitism in Russia (and later USSR), the Nazi regime in Germany in the late 1930’s and World War II, and by the Jewish-friendly nature of the British rule in Palestine, thousands of Jews from throughout Eurasia relocated to their ancient homeland already occupied by Islamic Arabs.
In the 1940’s the United Nations formulated a plan to end British administration of Palestine, and separate the land into Jewish and Palestinian states. Though this plan was accepted and embraced by the Jewish population, the Arab world was nothing short of outraged at the concept of a Jewish state in the region. When the nation of Israel was formed in 1948, it was immediately attacked by a combined force of Arab nations—Egypt, Transjordan (now called Jordan), Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq—who were successfully repelled by the Israeli forces. This “Arab-Isaeli War of 1948-1949” began a series of conflicts, culminating in the Israeli annexation of the Syrian territory “Golan Heights”, the Jordanian territory “West Bank”, and the Egyptian “Gaza Strip” after the Six-Day War of 1967.
These Israeli military victories and occupations form the basis of the modern incarnation of this conflict. An overwhelmingly poor Palestinian population resides in these occupied territories, while an overwhelmingly Jewish population lives in relative wealth in Israel-proper. These respective sides are encouraged by a strongly-held set of beliefs that they are entitled to the land the other is on, as well as by powerful outside forces.
OPEC and Palestine
Although the Palestinian National Authority is not an OPEC member, nor are their lands rich in oil, the nations of OPEC play a large part in how the world deals with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The “first-world” nations—those in western Europe, and the United States—rely heavily on oil produced in the middle east by Arab nations with governments sympathetic to the Palestinian side, and certainly not especially fond of Israel’s existence. This situation has led to the Palestinian National Authority and the people of Palestine feeling secure enough to engage in acts of terrorism against Israel.
This is evident in the escalations of conflict in 2002, where European powers and the United States—the US having been Israel’s staunchest ally—were hesitant to support the Israeli incursions perused in an effort to control terrorism, some nations even condemning the actions. These nations, though not supporting the Palestinian actions of homicide bombing and similar attacks, are wary of supporting any actions that lead to instability in the middle-east or taking any actions themselves that would cause anger in oil-producing nations.
The United States and Israel
Likewise, the United States has a unique and long-lasting relationship with the nation of Israel which can be traced back to the Six-Day War in 1968, the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Israel, being a democratic republic, could serve as a capitalist bastion in a region of Arab states seen as being very sympathetic to the Soviet Union.
The friendly relations brought on by this and by various diplomatic maneuvers resulted in the United States allowing Israel to make arms purchases from the United States to protect themselves from consistently hostile neighbors, and later American assurances to protect them from invasion.
The United States however, in modern times, finds itself trying to straddle the line between friendship with Israel and good relations with the oil-producing Arab nations of the middle-east, and this ties the American hands to an extent in their dealings with Israel.
The War of Words
The unofficial war between the Palestinian National Authority and the nation of Israel goes beyond the physical war and into the realm of spin. Palestinians attack Israel with suicide/homicide bombers rather than with actual military or traditional forces, leaving the official government to deny that it was involved. The Israelis, meanwhile, demand that the PNA enforce cease fires with no infrastructure to do so with. The rhetoric is so deep that it is simply impossible to determine who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy”.
The Palestinian attacks on Israel target civilian populations, however with the lines blurred between militants and civilians, between school children and terrorists, it is impossible for Israel’s retaliations to avoid the same fate. Both sides claim the moral high-ground, and neither are very receptive to the arguments and points that the other has to offer.
There is no solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that I can offer that has not been offered before. Palestinians must recognize that homicide bombings hurt their cause, not help it, and they need a government in force that can establish infrastructures and bring hope to their hopeless people. Israelis, on the other hand, must take real steps to empower a democratic and independent government in Palestine, and they must withdraw the settlers in the occupied territories.
Neither side is 100 percent in the right, but likewise neither is 100 percent in the wrong. At this point, it is impossible to expel either people from the land Britain occupied so many decades ago—so they must learn to live together as neighbors. Neighbors that do not settle their people on the others land, and neighbors that do not send bombers to kill the others.
But this has been said before, it has been said for decades and yet the Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority remain belligerent and militant. Both parties involved suffer from a habitual stubbornness that prevents them from recognizing the validity of the others existence, and thereby prevents them from truly establishing peace. This stubborn attitude that both sides exhibit ensure that no positive movement will occur, and so long as both sides fail to yield there will be no peace in the promised land.
(2001) “Israel Country Profile.” Economist Intelligence Unit.
(2001) “Palestinian Territories Country Profile.” Economist Intelligence Unit.
Little, D. (1993). “The Making of a Special Relationship: The United States and Israel, 1957-68.” International Journal of Middle East Studies. Volume 25, Issue 4, 563-585.
Masci, D. (1998). “Israel at 50: Can Benjamin Netanyahu solve Israel’s problems?” The CQ Researcher. Volume 8, Number 9.