The never-ending Israel-Palestine conflict is the most burning geopolitical conflict topic, which now and then erupts like an active volcano. The latest outbreak lies in the coincidence of a Jewish celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem in the brief, brutal, decisive six-day war of 1967, the Islamic month of Ramadan and the eviction of some Palestinian families from a Jerusalem neighbourhood. The world witnessed the latest round of Israel-Palestine violence when bloody mayhem raged through the compound of the Bayt al Maqdis and the Al Aqsa mosque or the Temple Mount, which is the third holiest site of Islam, the holiest site of Judaism and also bearing religious significance for Christianity.
The rioting in Jerusalem, where the Al Aqsa mosque compound is situated, has spiralled into the Gaza conclave, where militant Hamas launched an unprecedented barrage of rocket attacks indiscriminately towards Israeli controlled areas. Israeli Armed Forces replied with an asymmetric response, which mounted casualties in the Gaza strip and multiple high rises getting flattened with Israeli precision weapons. Israel has already claimed of annihilating much of the Hamas top brass in the Gaza strip, but the relentless rocket attack from the Gaza side only ignites the fear of a reincarnation of the harrowing 2014 conflict, where over 2000 Palestinians, including children and civilians, lost their lives. The call for de-escalation is being mounted across the globe, but Israel is pushing to end the conflict only after it is convinced that the threat is neutralized. Israel traditionally banks on the massive support it gets from the USA and other major Western countries, while Palestine relies on the support from Arab countries and non-Arab countries having major Muslim population.
The violent atrocities committed since the beginning of the Israel-Palestinian conflict since 1948 has garnered sympathies for the Palestinian cause across the globe, which often gets shadowed by the gripping Israeli influence intertwined with major financial, media, social media and military corporations. Thus the clash of Israel and Palestinian struggle can often draw parallels from the biblical clash of the David and the Goliath.
The conflict’s root can be traced back to biblical antiquities, which often enthrals people from three major Abrahamic religions, thus creating the base of laying claim from each community on the holy land mired with human blood and tears. The tale of the Jerusalem or, Al Quds in Arabic is told in the Jewish holy book of Talmud or the Torah, The Christian Bibles and the Muslim holy book of Quran, often offering similar narratives. Their claims are fused to the arrival of a Messianic figure at the end of times, each claiming that Messiah will rule on behalf of their respective scriptures and codes, from the throne of Jerusalem at the Bayt Al Maqdis, as noted by Islamic scriptures from Hadith (traditions of Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H.), the site of the Temple Mount as believed by the Jews and Evangelical Christians.
The Jews believe that they are the inheritors of the land of Palestine promised by their Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim P.B.U.H. according to the Quran) and a messianic figure will arrive and establish a kingdom, which will be the real successor of the Israelite Kingdom founded by the King Solomon of the Bible (Sulaiman P.B.U.H. of the Quran), who built the first Temple in 957 BC. The temple is paramount for the arrival of the Messiah. The first temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia in 587/586 BC and the Jewish inhabitants were taken prisoners back into Babylonia. Cyrus the Great facilitated the return of Jewish inhabitants and the creation of the second temple in Jerusalem in 516 BC, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. After the Bar Kokhba revolt’s failure against the Romans in 135 AD, the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem. Since then they have yearned for reestablishing the third temple on the same site that hosts the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
The land of Jerusalem has changed many hands since then. Byzantine Romans ruled over it, and then the Rashidun caliphate conquered it, with caliph Umar allowing the return of Jews in the land, but under Muslim rule. The Muslim control over the land of Jerusalem was subsequently continued by the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Fatimids and the Seljuks. Then Muslim rule was halted by European crusaders in 1099, but they lost to the Kurdish general Saladin in 1187 and since then it was held by rulers practising Islam. The last of them was the Ottoman Empire.
After the defeat of the Ottomans in the First World War, Britain took the control of the land what was known as Palestine under Transjordan. The land had a Jewish minority and a Muslim majority. Amidst the melee of Sykes-Picot, who drew up artificial lines to create artificial nation-states, thus turning the whole Middle East into one giant geopolitical powder keg for the coming days, Zionist Jews upped their lobbying for a separate Jewish homeland. The Arabs however strongly opposed the move.
After the Russian revolution in 1917 and the emergence of Nazism and Fascism in Europe, Jews began to flee persecutions in Europe and began to flock in the land of Palestine. The growing number of European Jewish refugees, who are mostly Ashkenazi Jews lacking Semitic bloodline, led to violence between the Arabs and the Jews, which subsequently grew resentments against British rule.
After the Brits failed to make peace between Muslims and Jews, they declared the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The Arab natives objected and a war followed. Israel defeated a massive Arab coalition army that comprised Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Northern Yemen. More than 700,000 Palestinians lost their homes and became refugees due to that war, till today they call that event Al-Nakba, or “The Catastrophe”.
Israel knew very well that its security was well under threat from the Arab countries, as they were unwilling to rescind hostilities to the state of Israel. The book of Genesis stipulates that the Promised Land stretches from the Nile of Egypt and Euphrates of Syria and Iraq, with Jordan, Lebanon and a chunk of Saudi Arabia in the middle. Keeping in mind the fact of hostilities and biblical promise, Israel waged another war against an Arab coalition in 1967, inflicting crushing blows. The armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan were decimated and had to lose land to Israel. Israel occupied more lands of Palestine, more people became refugees.
After the defeat of Arab countries in the Six-Day War of 1967, many splinter political and militant groups came to the forefront of the struggle for Palestine. In 1968 armed militant group Fatah along with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine got the majority in Palestinian National Council elections and 1969, Yasser Arafat became the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Under his leadership, PLO began using armed violence to confront Israel, often causing civilian casualties. Israel Defense Forces thwarted PLO’s attempt to control West Bank and pushed them to Jordan. After being pushed into Jordan, PLO started to exert its influence in the politics of Jordan, as more than half of the total Jordanian population consisted of Palestinian origins. Sometimes, PLO infiltrated Israeli borders to launch surprise guerilla attacks. As PLO began challenging the Hashemite monarchy through an armed rebellion, Jordan expelled PLO to Lebanon. During the armed conflict, thousands of people were killed, the vast majority of whom were Palestinians.
The PLO received secret support in monetary, weaponry, propaganda, and training from Soviet espionage agency KGB. Establishing base in southern Lebanon, PLO went on to continue its activities, which comprised of suicidal attacks, often targeting civilians. They were also involved in targeting Israelis in Europe. The attacks included the Sabena Flight 572 hijacking, the Lod Airport massacre and the Munich massacre. Rising PLO associated attacks against Israelis prompted Israel to launch military operations inside Lebanon.
Amidst the PLO armed attacks, Syrian and Egyptian militaries launched a surprise attack against Israel, thus beginning the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Egypt made significant gains along Sinai and Syria moved through Israeli occupied Golan Heights within the first 48 hours of the conflict, before Israel started to reverse the initiative. Eventually, the parties of the conflict ended armed hostilities after a Disengagement of Forces agreement was signed by them and a ceasefire took place. This conflict paved the way for the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt, which had significant sway over Gaza.
The Israeli military involvement inside Lebanon began in 1978, which coincide with the Lebanese civil war that began in 1975. It aimed to uproot PLO from Lebanon militarily, but losses of civilian lives prompted the UN to pressurize Israel to pull back. Israel before leaving Lebanon handed over its positions to the Maronite Christian militias, which began acting as Israeli proxies inside Lebanon against Palestinians. Israel again invaded Lebanon in 1982 and ousted PLO from Lebanon. More than 15000 people lost lives in the conflict in 1982, which saw the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacre, where the Maronite militias massacred over 3000 unarmed Palestinians in the presence of the Israeli army.
PLO continued its armed campaign and also initiated diplomatic efforts to establish a Palestinian state, willing to make concessions. On the other hand, Israel encouraged the formation of Muslim Brotherhood leaning Hamas movement to weaken the grip of PLO and Fatah, which dominated the PLO, over the Palestinian political domain. Meanwhile, Israel went on to continue revoking the residency status of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and West Bank and allotting the seized lands to Israeli settlers. Forceful evictions of Palestinian Arabs from their homes led to Intifadas (political uprisings), where thousands of civilians lost their lives. Despite the Oslo Accords making both parties of the conflict reach towards a two-state solution, Israel seems to be relentless in its pursuit of grabbing new lands, which led to the most recent outbreak of violence and rioting in the occupied West bank. The Palestinian Authority has a nominal authority in the West Bank; the real control is with Israel. The Gaza Strip is fully controlled by the Hamas movement after Israel pulled back from the enclave in 2005. Fatah relinquished violent means to establish a Palestinian state after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Hamas continued with its armed resistance, resorting to indiscriminate attacks that cause civilian casualties, to which Israel responded with asymmetric force.
The latest Israeli onslaught on Palestinian civilians in the name of neutralizing Hamas militants has grim prospects of drawing an active or decisive Arab response. After military defeats and going through internal turmoil, the Arab countries are busy putting their houses in order. Egypt and Jordan already have peace treaties with Israel in place, and most recently, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco initiated diplomatic ties with Israel after declaring peace. Syria is reeling from a bloody civil war launched by the Western coalition and can afford little against a modernized Israeli military. A coalition of Arab countries against Israel will mean going against the USA and the West, who are the principal military hardware suppliers of these Arab countries. The USA also exercises the power to freeze investments and other assets of the Gulf countries if they resort to a military option in favour of Palestine, not to mention nuclear deterrence of Israel. These Arab countries are the principal backers of the Fatah movement; Hamas is backed by Turkey, Iran and Qatar, who share frosty relations with the Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia.
It is also unlikely for Turkey to roll up sleeves despite some fiery rhetoric from Turkish President Erdogan, who is obliged to stand up for Israel under the NATO framework. Turkey is enjoying a booming trade tie with Israel. Iran is also unlikely to follow up other than sending some supplies for Hamas, as it has domestic issues to solve and other fronts like Yemen to manage.
Chances of lasting peace for Palestine are very slim, given Israel’s expansionist nature, which was evident since its inception and its history of military campaigns beyond its current borders. Continuous US backing has only emboldened to bend international rules and norms to its will. The USA had given a carte blanche to Israel over the Middle East until the current world order started another reorientation. Russian intervention in Syria after the Arab Spring fallout and a resounding emergence of China has actively changed the Middle Eastern equation. Both these veto-wielding superpowers are challenging the US hegemony in the region and ardent proponent of a two-state solution, with full rights of Palestinian statehood. Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI) offers a window of connecting Arabs and Israelis in a trade corridor, which will minimize the volatilities that envelop the region. The Arabs and other hostile parties will have to accept Israel as a reality for the region, opposing its very presence will only add to the woes of the Palestinian people. Russia’s emergence of a major peace broker in the region has restored parity in the region and favourable for the BRI. A Nuclear Israel’s fervent obsession with the enactment of a Biblical Promised Land, aided and abetted by the USA makes the hope of a lasting Middle East peace only bleak. The only viable initiative of peace now lies with a two-state solution backed up by strong Russian and Chinese initiatives in the region, where Beijing and Moscow will make manoeuvres to minimize the influence of Washington and the West, thus mitigating the risk of hostilities.
Written by Khalid Ibn Muneer