Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

November 27, 2012

What follows are responses to some of the questions that arise in discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some of these questions reflect biases that impede the understanding of the conflict. 

1. What is the official position of Hamas regarding a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

 As you can read in this Wall Street Journal article, the official position of Hamas as of 2009 is to accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders (roughly 20 % of historic Palestine), which is also the international consensus on how to resolve this conflict.

2. Hamas’ founding charter called for the destruction of the state of Israel and even Hamas’ current position does not officially recognize the existence of the state of Israel. What is the significance of this?

a) Exactly which Israel should Hamas recognize–the original land given to Jews by the UN, the larger territory that Israel confiscated in the 1948 war, or the still larger territory that they have occupied since 1967?  Does it include Gaza, which Israeli does not currently occupy (though it does control) and does it also include East Jerusalem? In fact Israel itself refuses to state what exactly its borders are because doing so would clarify its transgressions of international law. Until Israel clarifies exactly what it is that does, or should, exist it has no right to demand others to recognize its existence.

 b) One should (but so few do) ask the converse question: Does Likud or any of the other main political parties of Israel formally acknowledge the existence of a Palestinian state? Here are some excerpts from the Likud Party platform:

“The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities (i.e. the illegal West Bank settlements, my addition) and will prevent their uprooting.”

“The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel’s existence, security and national needs”

“Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem, including the plan to divide the city presented to the Knesset by the Arab factions and supported by many members of Labor and Meretz.”

So the Likud Party platform is clearly opposed to a two-state solution, to a Palestinian sovereign state, and also to any future peace negotiations with the Palestinians (since East Jerusalem as a capital of a future Palestinian state is non-negotiable for the Palestinians).

It is interesting to note that while the Likud Party platform does not recognize a Palestinian state, Likud is not cast out by the international community as Hamas is. Nor are the Israelis punished or blockaded for electing a Likud government, as the Gazans were. That we can’t see the injustice here tells us something about the ideological system in which we live.

c) The whole issue of “x does not recognize the existence of Israel,” which the Israelis use against Hamas as well as Iran, is really just a ruse, a strategy for demonizing opponents of Israeli policy and distracting attention from what is really important, which is solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas has, while Likud has not, shown a willingness to accept the international consensus of a two-state solution along 1967 borders. 

 3. How much aid does the US give to Israel and doesn’t it also give a lot of aid to the Palestinians?

 This document contains precise government data on US aid to Israel from 1949 to 2013 (See Appendix B). The chart shows that the US gives Israel on average about $3 billion per year in mostly military aid (despite the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons and ranks among the ten most powerful military forces on the planet). 

And as this document indicates, U.S. economic aid to the Palestinians has averaged about $85 million per year since 1993, none of which has been military aid, and much of which has been aid to support a political arrangement, the Palestinian National Authority, to which many Palestinians are opposed, but which has to a large extent worked in the interests of the US and Israel. 

However, when Abbas, the leader of the PNA, defied US and Israeli instructions and sought to attain formal state recognition at the UN, the US punished the Palestinians by freezing its aid. Obama more recently lifted this ban, but still it tells us something about the ultimate purpose of this aid and the strings that are attached to it. More on that can be found in this BBC article.  

4. Do the Palestinians have a right to terrorism? Should they not confine their attacks to within Palestinian territory?

The important question here is “Do the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves?” If we agree that the Palestinians (like everyone else) have a right to self-defense, the question then becomes “What constitutes self-defense in the context of a military occupation of their lands?” In order for Palestinian acts of aggression to be classified as “self-defense” must they be restricted to acts of aggression against IDF personnel in the occupied territories? This link presents a graphic image of the asymmetry between Palestinian and Israeli military forces, which may shed light on this question.

Given this asymmetry, claiming that Palestinian aggression is unjustified unless it specifically targets IDF personnel in the occupied territories is really just another way of saying that the only right to self-defense that the Palestinians have is the right to commit suicide. Is that just?

Terrorists and terrorism should be opposed as a matter of principle, but we should also oppose human rights violations, military occupations, and especially the selective and biased use of terms like “terrorism” and “self-defense.” The standard line that is expressed by the political establishment in the West (especially the US) every time Israel attacks the Palestinians is that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Too few people in the West bother to ask how exactly Israel can be “defending” itself from a population whose land it is occupying. Even fewer people ask the more obvious question of whether or in what sense Palestinians have a right to defend themselves from this occupying force. These are the questions that need to be considered if we are to overcome the standard bias that dominates Western discussions of this conflict.

5. Summary

At the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a fundamental injustice, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, which is obscured by well-funded propaganda campaigns and highly organized action groups that have a harmful influence on western media and politics. One hopes that information such as that presented above can help people to see through the distractions and ideological biases that dominate debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to appreciate the fundamental injustice at the root of this conflict.

Here are two useful websites for keeping track of this injustice:

1. If Americans Only Knew

2. Israel Law Resource Center

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