Another Clash Between the Palestinians and Israelis — When Will It End?
At least 130 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air raids on the besieged Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian health ministry, after Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement)—a Sunni-Islamic militant organization dedicated to the establishment of an independent Islamic state in historical Palestine—launched rockets from the coastal territory towards Israel.
The strikes were carried out after Hamas fired several rockets at Israel, following the expiration of the group’s ultimatum demanding Israel stand down forces from the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.
For years, international diplomacy has made fruitless efforts to reach a peace agreement that would put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the creation of two independent states that would live side by side. The last major attempt to achieve a two-state solution (with negotiations led by the U.S.) occurred in July 2013; ended in a stalemate the following April. The geo-politics contained in a would-be deal for peace are complicated at best. The contention revolves around the old city of Jerusalem—sacred for Jews, Christians, and Muslims—which Israel considers its capital, despite not being recognized by the international community.
Last year the Trump administration, with “Deal of the Century” anchored by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, aimed to establish financial infrastructure in the Palestinian territory and economic support to the neighboring areas. It was doomed to fail, since neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments attended the curtain-raising event in Saudi Arabia.
Origins of Present-Day Strife
The disputed land between Israelis and Palestinians has been the scene of tension and violence between Arabs and Jews since the time of the British mandate, which was declared in 1917, ending 400 years of Ottoman rule in the region. With the Balfour Declaration by the English colonial occupant, support was officially given to create a “national homeland” for Jews in Palestine, thus following through with the appeal of the Zionist protagonist Theodor Herzl.
After World War II, with the extermination of six million Jews by the Germany’s National Socialist regime, the United Nations General Assembly approved a partition plan for Palestine. United Nations Resolution 181 called for the partition of Palestine in 1947 between Arabs and Jews; the State of Israel was formally established the following year, though a sovereign Arab state has yet to follow. Nevertheless, the newly formed Israeli nation welcomed 688,000 Jewish immigrants during the first three years, joining the 650,000 Jews already living in Palestine. Simultaneously, about 750,000 Palestinians—or 75 percent of the Palestinian population were forced to leave their homes.
This dismemberment led to a coalition of Arab nations launching an invasion of the nascent Jewish state, setting off the First Arab-Israeli War in 1948. This was followed by a second major conflict, the Suez Crisis of 1956, when Israel, the United Kingdom and France staged a controversial attack on Egypt in response to President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, which was contained wholly within the borders of that country.
The present juridical problem, again, concerns the occupation of the Holy City—one that arose following Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War of 1967. The origin of this conflict was the attack on Israel by Jordan, which occupied the Western Wall and the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, thus preventing any possibility of Jewish access to these holy areas. In 1950, Jordan annexed the territories it had conquered in the 1948 war (namely East Jerusalem and the West Bank), declaring itself “Protector” of the Holy Land. The only countries that recognized their annexation were Britain and Pakistan, while all other nations—including the Arab states—condemned it. In fact, Britain only recognized the annexation of the West Bank.
After its victory, Israel incurred the wrath of the Islamic world and feared another Holocaust: between 1934 and 1945, under Grand Mufti Amin-al-Husseini, the Palestinians enjoyed an unconditional alliance with Adolf Hitler’s Germany. The Israelis eventually took back the holy sites of Jerusalem by force, but inherited a large Palestinian population, which it was unable to expel or absorb. This is the quagmire both the UN and the United States has been unsuccessfully attempting to solve.
In an attempt to divide and suppress the Palestinian movement towards statehood, Israel helped create Hamas. It did so by Israel cooperating with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. This is something the Israelis are still paying a heavy price for.
Can Peace be Achieved?
It is reasonable to assume that peace will eventually be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians, despite both justifying their present positions: the Israelis refusing to surrender its seized territories, including the Golan Heights which was stripped from the Syrians in 1967, and the Palestinian Muslims equipping terrorists to commit suicide attacks against the Jews, as well as inciting hatred towards Jews among their children—the Israelis have also been accused by Human Rights Watch for human rights violations and crimes against the Palestinian people with its random killings of citizens, including women and children.
I myself doubt there will be peace between the two in the foreseeable future. Both believe in the principle of vengeance and retribution: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Of course, this is something the international community does not want to admit.
I wish to make clear that I believe in the legitimacy of the State of Israel. It exists, and that is (as they say) that. It is true that its juridical creation came at the cost of expelling a Palestinian population—which includes Christians—from their land. At the same time, the idea of recalling diaspora Palestinians is as absurd as the idea of deporting Israeli Jews back to Europe.
That being said, if both Israelis and Palestinians want to make peace, they can do so just as Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin did on September 17, 1978, when they signed the Camp David Accords. Both were able to incorporate the teaching of forgiveness and show the world that, since we were created in the image and likeness of God, there must be mutual respect and commitment to safeguarding human life.
N.B. This piece is a restructuring from my article No Prince, No Peace which was published on Crisis Magazine on January 30, 2020.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.