The shadow of Operation Protective Edge looms large over the fading weeks and months of 2014. It has in-part encapsulated the horrors and revolutionary changes sweeping the Middle East which John Simpson has correctly coined as ‘The Summer of Blood’. More importantly it has opened up a new phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a new intifada and how it evolves and ripens in both the short-term and long-term should be of important consideration to current policy-makers and the international community who wish to see the seeming impasse between occupier and repressed narrow.
The occupied territories have been under the Knesset and the Israeli Defence Forces’ control since 1967 (depending on your standpoint) in a conflict that has in truth been ongoing since the 1920s if not earlier. Nearly a century later in October 2014, there are mummers that the ‘third intifada’ is brewing in the streets of Jerusalem. This is a mistake. The third intifada began months ago with the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers (June 2014) and the immolation of a young Palestinian boy at the hands of right-wing Israeli extremists both events signalling the beginning of protests and riots in the West Bank and the 2nd Gaza War between Israel and Hamas.
The summer campaign left 2,189 Palestinians dead (of whom 1,486 are believed to be civilians, including 513 children) and has stoked the flames of the the conflict.
Amnesty International have accused “Israeli forces of having ‘brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes‘ while the UN has accused Israel of serious war crimes in their indiscriminate targeting of the Gaza Strip. Meticulous evidence on the ground conducted by humanitarian organisations, NGOs, papers and journalists indicate this. The Russell Tribunal in Brussels produced an even more disturbing report:
“In terms of the crime of incitement to genocide, the tribunal received evidence ‘demonstrating a vitriolic upswing in racist rhetoric and incitement’ during the summer of 2014. ‘The evidence shows that such incitement manifested across many levels of Israeli society, on both social and traditional media, from football fans, police officers, media commentators, religious leaders, legislators, and government ministers.”
The Gaza campaign in the summer of 2014 was the extreme misapplication of the ‘iron wall’ doctrine which includes indiscriminate targeting policy that affects civilians as well as militants on the ground and the brutal Hannibal Protocol which is initiated should a Israeli soldier be kidnapped.
The casualties were avoidable. The IDF as quoted by Haaretz ‘introduced a document defining rules of engagement for the military during combat in areas of civilian population. It incorporates lessons gleaned from Operation Cast Lead’ where similar charges of war crimes were brought up against the Israeli military as well as in the 2006 Lebanon War.
The campaign has also, courtesy of the Israeli military, refocused the international community’s attention on a subject which had taken a back-seat to the violent shake-up of the geo-political shape of the Middle East in recent years.
Originally the violence appeared to have died down after the withdrawal of the IDF (26th August, 2014). However the settlement expansion as much as anything has provoked continued instability and drawn fresh condemnation as several nations question Israel’s seriousness in applying a successful peace-process (not for the first time). Israel’s policies clearly illustrate they do not want a just peace.
As with the second intifada, the violence continues to grow in the heart of Jerusalem, the protests and riots of which originated in the Shu’fat district. Significant events have already occurred which include a Palestinian ramming his car into a group of passengers waiting in the light rail station which killed a 3-months old baby and injuring several others (22nd October, 2014).
This was swiftly followed by the shooting of a 14 year old Palestinian-American in protests two days later and the counter-terrorism unit killed a Palestinian man suspected of trying the night before to assassinate a leading agitator for increased Jewish access to the site.
The state of crisis the Holy City finds itself in has led to repeated closures of the Holy Sites the latter of which was central (some argue), along side the collapse of Camp David, to sparking the second intifada in the early 2000s and let us not forget that the catalyst for the first intifada was a road accident in the Gaza Strip in the late 1980s.
According to Benjamin Netanyahu, the latest car attack (5th November, 2014) which left many Israelis injured and one policeman dead, is ‘a direct result of incitement’ by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. This was hours after renewed clashed occurred at the Holy Sites and the resultant shooting of the driver has resulted in more riots across the Old City, Shu’fat and Sheikh Jarrah. On 18th November four Israelis were killed and eight injured as two men armed with a pistol, knives and axes attacked a West Jerusalem synagogue.
Thus far the situation remains bottled up in the capital, however it is likely that in the coming weeks and months the chaos will ignite the rest of the region as the spontaneous situation worsens.
Netanyahu’s claims are somewhat contentious particularly as criticism of the continued expansion of illegal settlements (a key factor undermining any potential peace proposals) has been occurring during these protests. Mere days ago ‘an Israeli government committee on 2nd November advanced plans for 500 settler homes in East Jerusalem, an official said, in the face of disapproval from the United States at construction on occupied Palestinian land.’ This follows the proposed construction of 2,610 homes the Givat Hamatos area which was disclosed by the activist group, Peace Now in early October.
The Israeli government by deliberately pursuing a policy of establishing ‘facts on the grounds’ is worsening the situation on the ground as the current semi-violent situation continues to deteriorate. This is inevitably tied with the fact that the Likud’s ‘Greater Israel’ project, its settlement project, its attempts to be rid of ‘the Palestinian question’ are doomed.
Israel faces a demographic crisis unless it implements a fair-two state solution. The Times of Israel itself states the facts (February 2014): ‘Statistics indicate there are 6.1 million Jews and nearly 5.8 million Arabs living in the Holy Land, threatening Israel’s Jewish character like never before.’
The refugee problem, which has remained unsolved since the Jewish-Palestinian civil war in 1947 is hitting home hard as reflected in the increasingly draconian immigration policies and the continued construction of settlements in the West Bank. Even Shlomo Gazit, the military man who oversaw the occupation with Moshe Dayan and helped construct the ‘Operational Principles for the Administered Territories’ (which include direct instructions for ethnic cleansing in Fundamental Guidelines (2) and (3)) in October 1967 is now stating an occupation conducted in its current form cannot work anymore.
The issue will not disappear, Jerusalem and the holy sites as always is an important stumbling block in the peace process, but the crux of the conflict is the refugee problem. It will be the cause of future war. Part of this problem is the state of mind surrounding the refugee problem. Many, including protesters abroad staunchly believe that everything will be returned to the Palestinians.
The reality is simple, and it pains me to say this, traditional Palestine is gone, it is unrealistic to assume everything will be returned and to some extent the PLO accepted that in 1988. The 500 or so towns and villages they once presided in are destroyed or built upon and the Israeli state is not going to vanish into thin air. This mindset has to change, they have to compromise. So as long as the Israelis and Palestinians cannot come to terms on the issue of ‘right of return’ and the ‘claims of return’ the peace process is doomed and future conflict beckons which will benefit neither party.
The Palestinians (now Israeli Arabs one of whom was shot dead during current protests, Kheir Hamdan, 22) who stayed behind, after events in 1947-1948 forced around 750,000 Palestinians to flee, have grown from 150,000 to 1.2 million. This is 22% of the population that suffer horizontal social, economic and political inequalities will increase and with the introduction of separate buses for different ethnic groups, the moves by the Knesset to ban Palestinian political parties, and other inflammatory legislative acts in recent years this equates to one thing (if it hasn’t already); apartheid.
Something invariably has got to give as poverty, hunger, deep horizontal social inequalities that would have Nelson Mandela turning in his grave, racism, and the continued growth of the Palestinian population threaten to construct as Mark Fiore quotes ‘a little Mogadishu’ not just on Israel’s doorstep in the form of the Gaza Strip, but also amongst Israeli civilians. Demographics are not on Israel’s side and they certainly won’t be in the future.
Constant insecurity, revolt, and violence is all that Israel faces unless it compromises. This can only occur under intense pressure from the international community as Israeli politics plunges further and further into right-wing territory.
True, the Palestinians have squandered opportunities for a settlement of which the current generation would only dream of. Israel for all it cruel projects and policies in regard to the ‘occupied territories’ has been willing to compromise in the past. The Palestinians unwillingness to compromise (in some circumstances rejected under very fair pretenses) and the current divisions in Palestinian politics between Hamas (who are unwilling to recognise the state of Israel), Fatah, and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation have played into Netanyahu’s hands and used to justify the unjustifiable policies of occupation.
Accelerating events on the ground are inevitably attached to how the world governments react to them. These illegal settlement expansions, alongside the bloody summer slaughter and ugly racist (and occasional genocidal) incitement, has increasingly isolated Israel from the international community further. Sweden’s historic decision to recognize Palestine and the United Kingdom’s symbolic non-binding vote, supported by 274 MPs with 12 voting against are important. Sweden became first EU member in western Europe to make the move, the new government stating that ‘It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, we hope this will show the way for others’.
What of the question of the contradictions in U.S – Israeli relations? The Obama administration’s relationship with Israel seems to have a hit turbulence in recent weeks the former stating that Israel faces isolation in the wake of its inflammatory settlement policies in October. Obama has also threatened to drop the veto at the United Nations Security Council that America uses to block anti-Israel measures, in response to continued rejection of US demands regarding the Middle East peace process as the situation deteriorates on ground and abroad for Israel. The rhetoric is unusually severe Josh Earnest stating in early October:
“The United States is deeply concerned by reports the Israeli government has moved forward with planning for settlements in a sensitive area poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but with the very Arab governments with which Netanyahu had said he wanted to build relations.”
The tensions seemed to have also boiled over in celebratory-esque tit for tat insults being flung between the Knesset and the White House. An official in the White House was reported to have called Netanyahu chicken s**t, whilst The White House refused to give Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon an audience with Vice President Joe Biden the former of who had previously accused John Kerry of being “messianic and obsessive” in regard to the latest failed peace-talks. John Kerry. The U.S Secretary of State was also forced to apologize for stating behind a closed-door meeting that Israel actively becoming an “apartheid state”.
However it no secret that U.S rhetoric is still being undermined by its continued logistical support for Israel. As Glen Greenwald puts it who covered the unique story of Edward Snowden; “Israeli aggression would be impossible without the constant, lavish support and protection of the U.S. government, which is anything but a neutral, peace-brokering party in these attacks.”
This shouldn’t be a surprise though as both the United States, the UK and others frequently supply Israeli Armed Forces with weaponry (the most prominent the Iron Dome missile shield) alongside intelligence. The latter in-particular (according to James Bamford of the New York Times) under the jurisdiction of Unit 8200 was accused by veterans ‘of startling abuses….that…the information collected..’ was being used ‘against Palestinians for “political persecution.”‘ Israel alongside the United States reputation is badly affected by the NSA scandal.
Historically the West has used Israel as a valuable buffer both in the Cold War era against the Soviet Union ideological expansion and post-9-11 era against Islamic extremism/conducting military operations in the Middle East. However it is clear that amidst an ongoing and growing Middle Eastern crisis surrounded by enemies such as Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, jihadist movements such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, strategically the long-term conflict with the Palestinians is unfeasible (even if they do possess nuclear weapons).
A rogue Israel is the last thing the Middle East or the West needs right now. Certainly the need for a strong Israel is a necessity in the regional crisis but not a volatile one that acts with relative impunity. Clearly the patience of the international community is waning as it continues to become clearer and clearer that support for Israeli belligerence, war crimes and policies based upon ethnic cleansing is counter-productive in the face of changing public opinion, particularly in the European states.
How should the West react to the current intifada? With other matters consuming the Middle East, it will be one amongst many grave issues plaguing the Middle East, but it must be regarded as equal importance as the war against ISIL.
The Palestinians methods of resistance are currently semi-violent, they have not evolved into conventional modern warfare. The latter is inevitably a battle they will lose, however the images of Israeli police and soldiers repressing and killing largely unarmed protesters and civilians will serve to further add to the horrific pictures that have emerged from the Gaza Strip. These will ruin the country’s already tarnished reputation. How the fragmented Palestinian leadership and Hamas also react to current events is of equal importance if peace talks are to come about in the future.
The Palestinians must break the bottle-neck in Jerusalem and embark on a massive intifada (largely without weapons) and the illegal settlements must be boycotted by the international community as they are direct breach of international law. A local issue must become a regional dispute.
As Ahron Bregman states in his new book Cursed Victory: The Occupied Territories ‘the international community and particularly the U.S will have to be tough with Israel and when necessary bribe it into compromise…that if Israel, Jordan Egypt can come to compromise…something previously unthinkable then so can Israel and the Palestinians.’
The influence of the intifada on world opinion will and has to be nurtured by the increase of both Palestinian resistance and attacks and the repression of Netanyahu’s coalition government which will lead to substantial international pressure. As of now events must be allowed to hold course as trying to establish a cease-fire or call to the peace table would only benefit the Israelis as a stalling tactic to restore control.
The strong party (in this case Israel) must have its arm twisted at the right moment by external and internal influences if the partition plan/two-state solution is to work. Timing is everything.