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The Arab- Israeli Conflict Essay

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The Arab- Israeli Conflict

Introduction

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Jordan gained independence in 1947, but ever since, it has been starved from resources by the regional conflict that hit the region. This was characterized by coup attempts, an influx of refugees from neighboring Palestine and internal political instabilities. Israel at large is surrounded by 21 Arabic states, which all support the Palestinian cause thus placing it at a disadvantaged point.  The Arab-Israeli conflict started in earnest in 1948, when the Jaffa headquarters were blown up by Lehi. This was counteracted by a failed attack by the Arab liberation army. This set a precedent of attacks and counterattacks from both sides, which lead to many deaths and casualties especially on the Arabian side (Karsh pp 10-11).

The 1948 conflict was triggered by the Balfour declaration, which sought to settle post world  war II Jews in Palestine. The declaration drafted by the British stated that this would only be done as long as the Jews did not displace the indigenous Arabic population (Brown 4).  Arabs however argued that the more than 1 million Jews that the British intended to settle in Palestine would obviously displace the Arabs.   Going back in time, one realizes that the Jewish occupancy in Palestine has always been a constant fear since the 1880’swhen Palestine was under the Ottoman Empire. These fear persisted even after younger Turks took the reigns of power in the Ottoman Empire (Pappe’ 1). They feared that the Jewish occupation in Palestine would open the doors for Europeans to execute their ambitions in the region.  Despite the opposition, the latter rule in the Ottoman Empire was characterized by political instability and the Zionists were able to lay the foundations of Jewish occupation during that period (Pappe’ 2).

To most Jews, occupying Palestine was tantamount to reclaiming what was historically their land.  This history goes back 7th century, when Arabs conquered Palestine and displaced the Jewish inhabitants, while assimilating the rest into the Arabic culture. There were Jewish and Christian minorities who survived and by the 19th century, the rise of Zionism, which assumed a political and nationalistic approach sought to restore Israel as the home to the Jews. This gave rise to Jewish migration to Palestine (Karsh 19).

            Fast forward to 1946 when the Anglo-American committee recommended thabt 10,000 Jews be allowed to settle in Palestine (Pappe’ 13) and consequently setting off an Arab-Jewish conflict took up a more terse intensity than never experienced before in the constant confrontations between the two parties.  Since Israel was declared a state min 1948, it fought to protect its sovereignty. Palestine on the other hand was fighting off the Israelis on the conviction that Palestine was legitimately an Arabic region. Israel was up against three Arabic forces  namely, the Palestinians, the Arabic  volunteer force and the Six Arabic countries (Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the Trans-Jordan countries) (Karsh 22).

            Despite the larger forces however, the Arabs were less organized than the Jewish group, which had taken up the name Yishuv. The organized movement not only gave the Jewish forces a corporate identity, but also managed to gain enormous support from Israeli sympathizers. The Arabic forces on the other hand failed to integrate into a comprehensive war machine mainly due to the political fragmentation that they faced. This however does not mean that Palestinians were not as competitive in war as the Israelis (Karsh 25). On the contrary, most Palestinians have guerilla warfare tactics, which helped the Arabic side a lot in counteracting any attacks from the Israeli side. In addition, the Arabic side had the Futuwa and Najada, which were paramilitary groups trained in urban guerilla warfare.  More to this the organizational weaknesses was more or less compensated for by the combined forces from the Arabic countries.

            With a full-blown conflict and none of the warring parties ready to give up yet, it took the international intervention for a cease-fire to occur. However, even the cease-fire did not last long and to date, the region still experiences bouts of aggression from either side. Initially, it was thought that the Israeli has, with their smaller army would eventually loose the steam and pull out. However, no one who assumed this had imagined the stubbornness of the 650,000 Jewish populations. Despite their stark inferiority to the Arab countries in terms of territory, demography, wealth, strategic location and the overall quantitative power, the Yishuv did not give in or give up (Karsh 24).

            The peace process started a year later after Israel became an independent state in 1949 by the signing of the armistice agreements (Saunders 8).  This meant that isrealites would occupy the land east of the Jordan River, while the Arabs would occupy the remaining regions in Palestine. However, this did not end the conflict and decades later, both Palestinians and Israelites were living as refugees in Palestine.  This was because each of the two groups felt that they had lost land that held significance to them to the other party.

            The 1967  war that lasted for six days however changed the Israeli-Arab conflict for the worse (Saunders 8). This happened because the Israelis occupied the land west of Jordan, which was anti- armistice lines set up in the 1949 agreements. It also took possession of the Sinai desert, east Jerusalem and Gaza (Guandt 3).  Justifiably so, they argued that the Nazi Holocaust memorial lay in the region and hence it was part of their heritage.  In the process however, more than one million Palestinians were under the Israeli control. The new development presented new challenges for the Israelis. As much as it would have wanted to keep the land, the Israelis knew that they would have to give political rights to the Palestinians eventually and this would eventually transform it to a bi-national state. This meant that the country would most likely face political instability from within, something that most Israelis were against (Quandt 3). With time, and in pursuant of outside pressure that sought an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel agreed to seize its occupation of the Palestinian territory that it had taken up west of Jordan, with the exception of Jordan. Eventually however, Israelis also gave up Jordan (Quandt 4).

 From this stage onwards, the conflict took another turn, with Arabs claiming that Israelis had robbed them their right to belong to Palestine. Israelis on the other hand argued that the Arab world had refused to accept it in the Middle East. This, Israel claimed was the root of the conflict (Saunders 9)

Peace initiatives between 1967 and 1973

As stated earlier in this essay, the Arab- Israel conflict had taken up magnitude proportions thus attracting international interest.  Britain was drawn in the conflict mostly because it was the former colonial master in Palestine, while the US’s relations with the Jews and its influence and interests in the Arab world made the United States a party in the peace process.  USSR, Germany and France were also part of the big powers that took up the matter (Pappe’ 16). Other international organizations in the peace initiative included the United Nations, which took an active role in drafting Resolution 242 as part of the peace process. Resolution 242 was a balanced formula that sought to bring peace between the Arabs and Israel. It however was criticized for not addressing the political participation of the indigenous occupants of Palestine. The gaping omission was most noted by the Arabs, who were however part of the resolution wording team. Resolution 242 stated that Israel should move out of the western side of Jordan, which it had occupied during the war.

The effect of the Arab-Israel conflict was felt in the Middle East. For starters, the Suez Canal had been closed off and nations that benefited by shipping activities in the region lost revenue. The Arab countries also started feeling the pinch of focusing their resources on the conflict (Saunders 11). A case in point is Egypt, whose manpower, energies and other forms of resources had been diverted to the Arab-Israel conflict for the better part of three decades preceding the 1970’s. Egypt was the first Arabic country that

One thing that becomes apparent during this period of negotiations is that the machineries of conflict resolution may look good and promising on paper but may be hard to enact.  The 1967 war was also a hard reality for the Arabs especially because their sense of weakness increased in the eyes of Israel and western forces. Egypt however, saw this as an opportunity to re-group and engage in a war that would restore the dignity of the Arab world (Brown 28).

The formation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), gave the Arabs a common bargaining force, which insisted that they would not deal with Israel directly. They wanted the US, USSR and the UN involved. PLO would not promise that peace would be acquired unless it was the Israelite concessions satisfied the Arabian side. The Israeli’s on the other hand insisted that giving up their occupancy west of Jordan would only be done if Arabs recognized Israeli’s rights to occupy parts of the Middle East and that the Arabs would refrain from further conflict (Quandt 5).

The United States would have the greatest effect on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it too avoided being too much involvement in the process. This was because first, there was no easy position that the US would have taken without hurting relations on both sides of the divide. The 1981 position of the United States however seemed to favor the Israeli side since the super power reversed on her earlier stand that Israeli occupation beyond the armistice lines. Until 1981, the United States was of the opinion that the Israeli occupation west of Jordan was illegal. So strong was her sentiments regarding the same that the country out rightly declined to allocate funds to Israeli’s developments beyond the armistice lives (Quandt 6).  Whereas the opinion regarding the legality of Israeli occupation beyond the green line was changed by the Americans, to date, the superpower maintains that none of its funds should be used for developments beyond the green line (6).

Despite the apparent lack of a lasting solution in the peace process, the Palestinian side can however claim some successes.  A notable example is the lifting of restrictions that required Palestinians held within the territories captured by Israelis during the 1967 watershed to return home.  In addition, the United States now recognizes Palestinian representatives thus wiping out the notion that Jordan should be the one to speak for Palestinians.  Israel on the other hand prides itself in the fact that the United States supports its strong army (with nuclear weapons, which Israel maintains will only be used as a final deterrent against Arabic aggression), while the same privileges are denied for most Arabic countries. Either way, both parties had their double share of disappointments and support.

The Electoral process in Israel

Israel has a singular electoral process, which allows the voters to vote for individuals. Due to the politics of the country however, residents however make more sense voting for party representatives due to the ideological differences represented by each (Halper M). To date, Israel is  viewed by observers as one big voting district. Parties take up seat in the Knesset, which is usually made up of 120 members. To have a majority in parliament, each of the dominant parties in Israel need have to at least 61 members in the Knesset. In the states history, none of the parties has ever been close to attaining a majority. As such, the party, which wins majority votes in the country, always has to form a coalition with other parties in order to garner enough support required to run the affairs of the government.  The smaller parties that form the government has a lot of bargaining power in the coalition government (Halper M)

By 1980’s, it was clear that the electoral system in Israel needed reform (Reuven & Maor 127). This was because previous governments in the country were either too big or too small. This was made even more plausible in 1992 when Knesset enacted a law, which provided that the prime minister in that country would have to be elected directly through popular elections (127). According to Hazan & Maor (127), the new law failed to alter the electoral process in the country, but changed the entire political landscape in Israel. Most notably was the fact that the tenure of each elected prime Minister would coincide with that of the Knesset.  In addition, the Prime Minister would be elected through a two-ballot system, and in order to win he would have to be voted in by a majority voters. To oust a Prime Minster, the law requires the Knesset to pass a no-confidence vote against him, and this can be done by a simple majority like 61 members out of the 120 member voting against him (127).

Should be a Prime minister be ousted before his term is over, this also means that parliament would have to be dissolved too and fresh elections held.  Most often, election campaigns in Israel revolves around religious and secularism. Most often, the peace process falls in the latter. The effect of this kind of election process was felt in 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu won the premier post. He was competing against Barak, who supported a secular revolution, while Netanyahu was in support of the peace process.  While analyst suggests that Barak would have made a better Premier than Netanyahu, it is agreed that neither of the two was able to formulate a coherent program for the country. Analysts however suggest that the former was only able to woo more voters due to his support of the Peace process, thus attracting religious parties, which has a sizeable backing in the country (Halpar, M).

Birnbaum (293) suggests that electoral reform would have an effect in finding a solution to the solution to the Arab -Israel conflict. This he says can be achieved by forming a two party system that would be the basis of eradicating the smaller countryside parties, which accumulate sufficient votes in their respective jurisdictions.  As such, the elimination of the smaller parties in the Knesset would allow the Israelis to have a stronger government with an equally strong opposition. As such, the destructive aspects of a coalition government with too much opposition would be wiped out thus giving the country a clear-cut platform to debate and come up with lasting solutions for the peace process in the Middle East (293).

Hazan & Maor  (129) reckons  that the religious factor plays a leading role in Israel stance on the peace process. An example is when Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat, the then Palestinian leader met. After the meetings, the religious voters tried to influence Israel’s stance on the peace process often proposing a tougher position. The three religious parties namely Yahadut HaTorah, Sha and NRP register 85 percent, 88 percent and 89 percent voters respectively, who wanted Israel to assume a tougher stance in the peace process. The prominent secular party, Likud however, registered 75 percent voters who encouraged their government to be stricter on the peace process (Hazan & Maor 129).

The election system in Israel  and especially in the 1996 election managed to prove that i) Israeli society is divided into two camps, ii) the religious culture sides with one of the camps, and iii) the present electoral system only serves to strengthen the distinct camps and the religious culture in the society (127). With the election of Netanyahu, it was apparent that the majoritarian election system had produced a clear election winner and that the effect of the religious sub-culture had taken a measurable proportion.

Attempts to have Reforms in the electoral process in Israel have been blocked by the small parties many times in the past (Shugart et al 128). This is mainly because the parties know that once the two parties system is executed, their parties will be dissolved.  In addition to their self-driven interests, the lack of common objectives regarding the substance of the reform agenda often makes the small parties doubt the sincerity of the reforms. The final stroke in the attempt to achieving electoral reform in Israel came when the reforms were rejected by majority parties in separate votes. By the parties failing to agree on the components of the reform bill, further negotiations reached a dead end.

Reform Agenda in Palestine

Israel is not the only of the two sides that is having challenges thus hampering the peace process; Palestine has battered with the reform agenda with no much tangible results. Since Palestine gained self-rule from the British, the country has had challenges laying strong institutions that would set the base for a strong state.  The restrictions imposed by the peace process between Israel and Palestine have also played a role in this challenges (Brown 2). In Palestine and unlike Israelis two distinct groups, there are four groups. The Palestinian Legislative council is one of them and seeks to push for reforms using the civil service and the judiciary. Prominent leaders of Non-Governmental organizations form the second group also pushing for reform in the country. The third group is made up of intellectuals, while the fourth group is made up of activists. These four groups have often times exhibited their deep rivalries and differences on how Palestine should handle the peace process.

As have become the norm over the decades in Palestine, most of their domestic problems are pegged to the relationship that the country has with Israel. Some reformers see this as an excuse used by Palestine to evade reforms within its borders. Others on the other hand insist that the reform agenda in Palestine is impossible if Israel does not relax some of its travel restrictions on Gaza and the West bank (Brown 4). Others still insist that there is too much external influence from other countries (especially Israel and the United States) to enable Palestine carry out relevant reforms independently (Brown 6). A case in point is the 2002 reform agenda where it was claimed that Israel wanted to end the rule of Yasser Arafat, while the United States was thought to aim at the same reason albeit for security reasons in the Middle East. Other European countries with links in Palestine were thought to be more concerned about the fiscal effects of an Arafat rule and were thus aiming at administrative reforms in the country (7).

The autonomous Palestinian authority was created through a series of agreement between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1993-1995 periods of negotiations. Known as the Oslo Accords, the agreements stated that Palestine would have autonomous mandate in Gaza and West Bank as more negotiations took place. In the Oslo agreements signed in 1993, it was agreed that that Palestine would have autonomous administration in the two regions (Birnbaum 37). Oslo II was signed in 1995, and was intended to give Palestine in civil affairs and security in the two regions. Under Oslo II, Palestine was to continue operating in Jerusalem too.  Oslo II also divides the West Bank into three distinct parts.  Area A was made up of Palestinian cities, while Area B had several villages and was under the joint Palestine-Israeli rule. Area C on the other hand included Israeli military installations and settlements, which was entirely under Israeli’s control (Brown 8).

The initial agreement was implemented had a time line for Israeli withdrawal from the areas that were allocated to the Palestinian side. However, the withdrawals proved a bit hard to arrange. However, Israeli gave up the civil administration to the Palestinian authorities. This included the municipal government, schools, courts, health care among other services. This gave the services a new Palestinian entity.

The Israelis however recognized the Palestinian Authority (PA) more than the PLO in their actions. For example, they assigned international functions to the latter, while paying a blind eye to the latter. Some analysts interpret this as an obvious refusal by the Israelis to recognize the Palestine Authority as an independent state (Brown 9). However, PA had been banned by the Oslo agreements thus making Israel to reconsider its recognition of the PLO status.

 By 2002, it was apparent that the institutions established in Gaza and west Bank had performed dismally compared to the Israeli approach on the same some years before. Still Palestine was reluctant to take the blame and instead blamed Israel for the predicament in the regions. No matter the Palestine excuses however, it was apparent that the Palestinian leadership and institutions badly needed reforms (Brown 14).

It was thus agreed upon Palestinian authorities and international players that Palestine needed reforms in her Constitution, redefining relations between PA and PLO, public finances management, Rule of Law, Judiciary, fight against corruption, security services, electoral system and local governance structures. The constitution reforms aimed to among other things; reduce the executive power over other branches of the Palestinian state. As a result, Palestine was to have a strong President and a Prime Minister who would head the government (Brown 4). Such provisions aimed at avoiding a recurrence of a 2000 Israeli allegations that claimed that Yasser Arafat had personally planned and executed terror attacks against Israeli. Although these allegations were later dismissed, the investigations that followed revealed that Arafat not only used state resources to bankroll his party, but also paid militias and security forces using the same funds (21). Apart from checking the executive powers, the revelation in this investigation surfaced the need to have a budget oversight.

Conclusion

The Arab-Israel conflict creates regional insecurity that indirectly affects the larger world. Political reform is thus inevitable if the solution to this conflict is to be found soon. Some arguments suggest that as much as Israel and Palestine needs to reform their internal structures, it is the security apparatuses that each of the two countries holds that hinder the attainment of peace in the region (Gambill). Of specific concern is the size of the Israeli army and its nuclear weapons.

The need for reform however is greater than the excuses that these two countries keep on trading every time that the international players question their policies. Palestine is especially guilty of quoting the Israeli excuse every time the need for reform is mentioned.  Arab governments are also known to justify repressive policies by using the Arab-Israel conflict. For example, they justify anti-American sentiments on the basis that the United States is a strong supporter of Israel and openly favors Israel when mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Still it is apparent to the larger world that Palestine is still outraged that Jews settled in Palestine after the post World War II.  From such sentiments, one gets the impression that even with the much-anticipated reforms; the Arabs have deep-seated assertions regarding the Jewish settlement in the Middle East. As such, their lack of democratic approach to conflict resolution often attracts equal measure response from the Israelis and their sympathizers.

References

Birnbaum, Ervin. The Politics of Compromise: State and Religion in Israel. Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1970

Brown, Nathan. “The Palestinian Reform Agenda”. Peace Work publications.  May 9, 2009. Feb 2003. <http://www.usip.org/pubs/peaceworks/pwks48.pdf>

Gambill, Gary. “Democratization, the peace process and Islamic Extremism”. Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 6. No. 6-7. 2004

Halper, Jeff. “ Beyond the Bibi Bill: Israel’s Electoral System and the Intifada”. Middle East Report Online. Dec 2000. May 09 2009. <http://www.merip.org/mero/mero121900.html>

Hazan & Maor. Parties, elections, and cleavages: Israel in comparative and theoretical perspective. Ed. Illustrated. New York: Routledge, 2000

Karsh, Efraim. The Arab-Israeli conflict: the Palestine War 1948. Ed. Illustrated. Westminster, MD: Osprey publishing, 2002

Pappe’ Ilan. The making of the Arab-Israeli conflict, 1947-1951. Ed. Illustrated, reprint. London: I.B.Tauris, 1994

Quandt, William. Peace process: American diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1967.  Ed. Illustrated. Brookings: Brookings Institution Press, 2005

Saunders, Harold.  The Other Walls: The Arab-Israeli Peace Process in a Global Perspective. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1985.

Shugart, Mathew Et al. Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds?.  Ed. Illustrated. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003

Spiegel, Steven. The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict: Making America’s Middle East Policy, from Truman to Reagan. Ed. Reprint. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996

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