What is the end game of the current round of Israeli-Palestinian warmongering? Is there a way out of the current spiral of violence?
I remain very pessimistic about the long-term prospects of any reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. Too many people are making too many claims on too little land.
Three of four scenarios I have devised of possible Israel-Palestine relations are all negative.
First, there is the continuation of the current “business as usual” scenario. This is a continuation of the challenges since Israel’s formation back in 1948: times of “peace” interspersed with violence.
The problem with modern urban guerrilla warfare is that it seems to be a war without end. This is very different from, say, World War II, when the European war ended when the Allies reached Berlin and Hitler was dead. Now conflicts just seem to drag on, with dead leaders being replaced by new leaders and the momentum maintained. There is no clear vision of what constitutes “victory”.
Each new round of conflict plants the seeds of the next round. Imagine being a child in Gaza; living through all the current suffering provides an incentive to continue the violence when you grow up – and Gaza has one of the world’s most fertile populations. There are many young people to continue the struggle.
Today’s young Jews will have a similar determination to settle old scores.
Second, the “one Israel” scenario would see the two million Palestinians in Gaza and the three million Palestinians on the West Bank all living within a greater Israel (alongside the 10 million people, 73 per cent of whom are Jewish) all governed from Jerusalem, forming one country.
The long-term threat to the current Jewish majority would come from Palestinian maternity wards. Palestinians tend to have large families and so eventually a majority of the enlarged population would be Palestinian.
Orthodox Jewish families also tend to have large families. Ironically therefore modern liberal cosmopolitan Jews (who tend not to have large families) will find themselves squeezed between two larger conservative Islamic and Jewish religious factions.
This in turn is part of the new trend in Middle East politics: the return of religion. The founders of modern Israel in 1948 tended to be idealistic socialists or at least some form of left-wing politicians, for whom Judaism was a type of personal identity rather than the religious driving force. Now the current government is partly driven by religious Jewish hardliners.
Israel’s political system reflects all shades of the country’s opinion and so most governments have to be coalitions, incorporating members from small parties as well as the large ones. Given their parlous situation, Israelis have to take their politics seriously. Israel is a nation of 10 million prime ministers.
Similarly, the early post-World War II Arab nationalist parties tended to be socialist, such as Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, which became the dominant faction in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
In recent decades, especially since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Islam has become the dominant force in Iranian and Arab political movements. The name “Hamas” comes from the initials of the Islamic Resistance Movement (formed in 1987). Hamas hates the secular PLO, and it fought a brief war against Fatah in 2007 to gain control over Gaza.
Therefore, the disputes between Israel and Palestine are not only over land but also religious interpretation. When it comes to war, truth is the first casualty and God is the first recruit.
The third scenario is the “two state solution”. This was first proposed in 1937, when the UK controlled Palestine on behalf of the Leage of Nations as a “mandate”. Jews were fleeing Hitler’s Europe and some sought refuge in Palestine, which gave rise to social tensions with the Arab population. The British idea was to create two separate countries for the two peoples. A pattern was established: Jews accepted the idea but the Arabs rejected it.
After World War II the UK passed the problem over to the new United Nations, which revived the proposal. The idea has been revived at various times since then but all to no avail.
It is technically still on the table but no party to the conflict is making any serious attempt to revive it. Each time it is revived, there is less land offered to the Palestinians. Hamas is opposed to it entirely.
In the meantime, memories of the 2005 evacuation of the Gaza strip would deter any Israeli politician from creating a two-state solution. In 2005 Israel decided to remove the 8,000 Jewish settlers living in 21 settlements from Gaza, and so pave the way for very limited Palestinian self-government. It was a brutal military operation with many settlers initially refusing to leave.
The West Bank has about 390,000 Jewish settlers, a much larger number. They will not leave voluntarily. Any hard action against them would split any Israeli government that contained the representative of those settlers.
The final scenario is called “milk and honey”, a phrase I have taken from the Old Testament (such as Exodus 3.8). This is an optimistic scenario whereby Israelis and Palestinians somehow find a way of living together peacefully.
Reconciliation between former bitter enemies can take place. Australia and Japan had a very difficult relationship in World War II but Japan eventually became a major trading partner of Australia, and it is now becoming a military ally to confront the Chinese threat. Similarly, France and Germany had fought each other for centuries – and triggered two World Wars – and now are firm allies. Nothing is impossible.
All four scenarios encourage us to think about the unthinkable, and so reflect on the wider dimensions of the current conflict.