Mideast peace process: Hampered throughout history

The Palestine problem remains as intractable today as it was six decades ago.

Nauman Asghar June 01, 2011
The Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal that concluded on April 27, 2011, was a good omen for the stalled Palestine peace process. Both factions displayed commitment to resolve the outstanding issues and reached an agreement on forming an interim government for holding of legislative and presidential elections. But the news of the resignation of George Mitchell as US Envoy in Middle East dashed the hopes of any progress on the peace front.

Mitchell enjoyed the reputation of being a “tireless advocate” of peace, but his extraordinary skills failed in the face of Israeli obduracy. A few days ago, US President Barrack Obama called for a peace plan for Palestine based on the return to 1967 borders. This speech annoyed Netanyahu who has, in no ambiguous terms, rejected Obama's stance.

Unfortunately the Palestine problem remains as intractable today as it was six decades ago. Rather in many respects it has become more complex and intricate. An understanding of the protracted conflict will require answers to two questions.

One, what are the fundamental thorny issues bedevilling the relationship of the disputants?

And two, why have all peace initiatives, undertaken over the past decades, come to naught?

The dispute

The core contentious issues of long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict include the status of East Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, right to return of refugees and appropriation of natural resources.

The territory of East Jerusalem is sacred for Judaism, Christianity as well as Islam. Both Israelis and Palestinians lay claim to Jerusalem as their capital. It came under occupation of Israel after the Six Day War of 1967.

Israel has concerns regarding its religious places present in East Jerusalem, as during Jordanian control, Jews were not allowed to visit Jewish sacred places and a Jewish cemetery was desecrated. Moreover, Israel is also apprehensive regarding the security of its residents as they have been victims of firing from Arab areas many times in the past. The Palestinians also have legitimate grievances regarding welfare of their sacred sites under Israeli control.

During a period spanning four decades, Israel has also established its communities in the occupied territories of West Bank and East Jerusalem. In 2006 a unilateral disengagement plan was mapped out by Ariel Sharon and all settlement buildings were demolished in the Gaza strip. But Israel has pressed ahead with its policy of building settlements in West Bank. Most of these lie in the western part of West Bank and deep into Palestinian territory dividing the Palestinian population.

The settlements are also the cause of great inequalities in access to natural resources between Israelis and Palestinians. Many settlements are built on fertile agricultural lands confiscated from Palestinians or on water resources like the Western Aquifer Basin. The Palestinians consume almost 80 litres per day per person whilst the Israeli settlers consume above 250 litres per day. Israel receives much of its water from two aquifers, Western and North Eastern aquifers, sprawled across the Green Line. The Palestinians want that their society be contiguous and have sufficient resources to have an economically viable state.

It goes without saying that multifarious efforts to promote peace in the Middle East have failed primarily because of mistrust and suspicion existing between the parties. In the absence of mutual trust and confidence, peace remains elusive as the contracting parties succumb to their imaginary lingering fears. Israel views an independent Palestine state as a vital threat to its existence, while the Arabs are under the threat of Al Naqba (the catastrophe). The demagogue and hawkish elements on both sides have missed no opportunity to hamper the steady progress of peace negotiations. At the same time the unconditional support extended to Israel by the West has encouraged the former to adhere to an inflexible, rigid stance. Thus there is need to free the peace process from being hostage to militants’ extremist agenda.

Steps to take

In order to reach an agreement envisioning an amicable solution to the dispute, the leaders of both parties must break their pre-formulated moulds and get ready for out-of-box thinking.

Israel must face the reality of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and get rid of its historical attitude of blindness and denial, as the Palestinians are motivated by the slogan Thaura Hat al Nasr (revolution till victory). Israel must do with the condition of recognition of Israel as Jewish state by Palestinians as a pre-requisite to kick-start the genuine peace process.

The UN resolutions coupled with the Arab peace plan propounded by the Saudi King in 2002 could provide guidelines for future peace roadmap.

The Palestinians should also end all internal dissensions if they want to bring peace to the strife-torn region.

The Obama administration should pressurise Netanyahu government to soften its hard-line stance and push Israel towards two-state solution.
Nauman Asghar An advocate, who is a Rhodes Scholar 2011 from Pakistan. He will start his advanced legal studies at Balliol College Oxford in October 2011.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Tony Singh | 13 years ago | Reply Dear Mr. G.Din, 1. In a state where people are not matured enough to seperate religion from statecraft, will have the consequences as in Israel and Pakistan 2. Israel is not an exception but an aberration. It is a theological state in the garb of democracy. The quality of life only for jews is good, not for the Arabs. And Israeli Jews are people who have not learnt anything from history. In fact they are doing everything to Palestanians as the Nazis did to them, if not more. In that sense they are modern face of Nazi 3. Give a small population 3 billion dollars (as given by US to Israel) a year and it would be a prosperous society. What is big deal about it? 4.By your logic, then Israel has all the rjght to build settlements in Westbank and Gaza because they have accepted the Jews of other nations thereby depriving the native Palestinians of their lands and property. Am I reading you right? (Read what these settlers did to a mosque a couple of days back) It was your opinion that squatters should be dealt with and i agreed. Only in this case they happen to be Jews in Palestanian land. And yes I have as much respect to myself as for others for I do not see the world through religion, but through cold logic.
G. Din | 13 years ago | Reply @Tony Singh: I had promised myself that I would withdraw from this unholy mire but that was not to be so. "..I firmly believe that religion is a personal affair of each individual. " Thank you for letting us know that but, frankly, no one is interested in the personal beliefs of others unless they, in some ways, impacts them in a material way. In spite of your personal belief , Pakistan still came into being, didn't it! Why? Because there were enough people with the opposite personal beliefs. So much for personal beliefs! "However the mixing of religion with polity or statescraft is a recipe for disaster. We have seen this in our own India. Punjab in the nineties and J & K now are the glaring examples. So are Israel and Pakistan." One exception in the list you have provided is Israel. It is a vibrant, strong, coherent democracy to which immigrants from all over the world are still flocking and which is admired and looked upon with admiration and awe. In what way then was the creation of Israel "a recipe for disaster"? Could it have something to do with the "quality" of the people involved? "The Syrians have also resorted to this peaceful protest against the illegal occupation of Golan heights by Israelis. " Please remind yourself that the people Syrians are killing on a continuing basis are those who are seeking to overthrow their own government. The people that were killed on the Syria-Israel border were shot down by Israel for trying to breach the border, as they indeed should have. You have referred to "illegal occupation of Golan Heights by Israelis", Would you care to elaborate on this characterization and especially the illegality of the occupation? Wasn't Israel attacked by Syria amongst others and didn't Syria, as a result of that unprovoked, wanton attack lose the Golan Heights in a fair and square way? Most would say that Israel conquered the Golan in that war. In wars, conquerors are keepers, aren't they? Was Moghul occupation of India "illegal"? "Please in your argument do not bring the mythical events." If you believe the City of David that the excavation under East Jerusalem, that I referred to in my last post, is mythical (i.e non-existent in real terms), may be you ought to make a trip to see and touch and assure yourself of the solid reality that astounding find represents. "Jewish religion got exported to europe," How did you figure that? "How can Indian Jews have more claim on Israeli land than the Arabs and their forefathers born and died there for generations? They are just following the Jewish religion. This is beyond any rationale. If I extend this logic, Muslims of India should have more rights in Pakistan than the Pakistani Hindus or conversely Pakistani Hindus should have more rights than Indian Muslims. What kind of preverted logic is this?" I agree it is not only perverted but totally unacceptable. If you had read my earlier posts a little carefully, I did point out that all citizens in a Democracy are equal, none more equal than the other. Muslims of India should have rights (not more rights) in Pakistan because that state was established in their name. It is quite another matter if Pakistan won't give those to them. It is Israel's right to give rights to every one who is Jewish and rightly so because Israel was established in the name of all Jews and she honours that obligation. Pakistani Hindus shall have rights in India (not more than any others) if they are accepted as immigrants by India, as indeed many of them have been already. "The Isralis are the squatters here and not the Palestinians. And yes all squatterss should be removed from the land they illegally occupy. Period." Please have some respect for yourself!
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