A Political Analysis of the Arab-Israeli Conflict – May 2016

The last time I wrote a political commentary on the Arab-Israeli conflict was in 2009 in an essay titled The Second Intifada Revisited, where I wrote about my predictions of what direction the Arab Israeli conflict was heading.

It is now 2016, seven years later and much of what I predicted has come to pass. I will hopefully write more frequently on this topic from now on, but first I am sure many of you reading did not read my previous forecast. In 2009, I drew on the work of William Zartman in his  International Conflict Resolution after the Cold War.1 and what he describes as Ripeness theory in conflict resolution.

“…the key to successful conflict resolution lies in the timing of efforts for resolution. Parties resolve their conflict only when they are ready to do so – when alternative, usually unilateral, means of achieving a satisfactory result are blocked, and the parties find themselves in an uncomfortable and costly predicament. At that point they grab onto proposals that have usually been in the air for a long time and that only now appear to be attractive.”

I then applied this to the Arab-Israeli conflict in 2009. I wrote:

“Neither side is essentially ready to resolve the conflict. The theory implies that both sides must be equally suffering and paying very high costs that continuing the conflict is no longer an option as both see very slim chances of winning in the end without paying a price neither side is willing to pay. From a military perspective Israel in some ways would quite happily continue managing the conflict the way that it is before considering the idea of compromising on Jerusalem for example. The Iranian threat has had little impact on Israel feeling a more urgent need to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict, for based on the words of Ahmedinijad the threat will still be there whether there is a Palestinian state or not.

For Palestinians, militarily for the most part, the battle against Israel has been learned, they cannot defeat Israel militarily, not on their own at least, and they no longer have Egypt or Jordan continuing a rejectionist policy to Israel and Syria is also talking about making peace with Israel.

For the Palestinians the weapon they have that Israel doesn’t have is diplomacy, public opinion in their favour and of course time. For Israel the clock is ticking, on the issue of demography the Palestinians have the advantage that in time they will be the majority, Israel has been making efforts to change this trend, either through Aliyah or an increase in the Jewish birth rate, primarily in the Charedi community.

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders are simply going through the motions of saying they want to resume negotiations putting up pre-conditions and stalling. The time is just not ripe for successfully achieving peace. What is likely to occur soon on the Palestinian side is that if building in the settlements continues, it is possible that the Palestinian terrorist groups will learn from the Second intifada that the indiscriminate suicide bombings did not help their cause much and achieved little, and that a third intifada may be launched only this time the target will not be inside Israel’s pre 1967 borders but will be specifically directed against the settlements in an attempt to drive them out through fear and terror.

The boycott of West bank products from Israeli settlements has already begun, even in Britain on products made in the West bank the label will clearly indicate that they are from a settlement allowing people to either support the settlements by buying them or not to by boycotting them. If such efforts are successful, Israel will find that encouraging settlement building is a costly effort with little to gain from it and not worth either the government or foreign investment in the area. And if terrorist efforts on the settlements are successful it will make living there for many undesirable.

The other possibility is that we wont necessarily see a new round of violence in the form of an uprising, but the opposite. Palestinians will start to become less violent and more moderate, and call for a one state solution. This is Israel’s worst nightmare, what Avner Yaniv called the ‘Palestinian peace offensive.’ Arguing that the continuation of the building of Israeli settlements has made partition impossible now and that the only viable solution is to grant them equal rights and citizenship, where they will be the majority sooner or later and Israel will no longer be a Jewish state. We see steps in this direction already as the terminology when referring to the conflict is beginning to change. We are now hearing the word ‘Occupation’ less and ‘Israeli Apartheid’ more, as some are attempting to redefine the very nature of the conflict as not being one country occupying the land of another but of one country where one group denies basic rights to another.

Many in Israel are aware of these issues and feel that Israel needs to make peace fast because of it. But this coupled with the fact that Israeli’s on a day to day basis are not living in the kind of fear that they were during the second intifada means that on one level the conditions are ripe for making peace and on another level they most certainly are not. For those who care about Israeli democracy the clock is ticking. But the Palestinians are in exactly the same boat; militarily they have been defeated and continue to be defeated. The United States recently approved funding for blanketing most of Israel with Arrow anti-missile installations to be complete by the end of the decade. Israel will continue to find ways to prevent and deter the Palestinians efforts to terrorize Israelis.

The formula would suggest that the Palestinians need to realise that time is not on their side and that that perception too can be destroyed, and that Israeli’s need to suffer more in their daily lives in order to make concessions, whether that be from the threat of terrorism or from a decrease in economic prosperity and that the only way out of this situation is for both sides to make painful compromises.”

Since writing this much has happened, I will try to sum up seven years of development as briefly as possible.

President Obama prioritised improved relations with the Arab world and a break from the image America had developed during the Bush years.

In Obama’s address to the Muslim world in his Cairo speech shortly after being elected President,  Obama sought a new beginning in relations between the United States and the Muslim world. An approach that looked to build bridges, of mutual respect and to resolve differences through peaceful, diplomatic means.

One issue that was high on the agenda since the beginning of the first term has been restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Negotiations had come to a halt primarily due to the emergence of Hamas to power in Gaza, the threat of rocket fire by Hezbullah to the northern border of Israel, which had culminated in two conflicts, Operation Cast Lead shortly after Obama’s inauguration and the Second Lebanon war in 2006. The imminent threat to Israel and the United States of a nuclear-armed Iran has made Israeli policy makers more concerned for strengthening its resolve and security than on taking measures such as conceding strategically important land in exchange for peace.

Regarding the Iranian nuclear threat, the Obama administration was at great odds not only with the analysis of the Israelis, but also America’s Arab allies. This was the beginning of a new potential opportunity to improve Arab-Israeli relations. The former enemies of Israel, the Sunni Arab states found that Iran posed more of a threat to them than Israel did and urged the US to take a stronger stance on Iran, opposing a deal and even indicating that it would assist an Israeli strike on Iran if necessary.

Israel does not view Hamas as a credible partner for peace due to its position of not recognising Israel’s right to be a Jewish state. The ‘moderate’ Palestinians however, under Mahmoud Abbas refused to come to the negotiating table until Israel completely stops all settlement activity in the west bank, including in east Jerusalem. Not only Hamas, the Palestinian Authority too refused to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. 

Obama put pressure onto Netanyahu to meet this pre condition of the Palestinians of freezing all settlement activity before negotiations can begin but without asking that the Palestinians make any concessions of their own, such as recognition of Israel’s right to exist. The Obama administration believed that this would be perceived by the Palestinian authority as a ‘gesture of good will’ and would lead to resumed negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In spite of the Palestinians not agreeing to reciprocate the gesture as requested by Obama, Netanyahu eventually agreed to a ten month settlement freeze on any new construction with the exception of east Jerusalem which would resume in late 2009. The objective was to demonstrate a willingness and seriousness about peace. Yet this gesture was not appreciated by the Palestinian Authority and didn’t lead to resumed peace talks which caused Israel not to extend the 10 month freeze and to resume settlement construction.

The Palestinians took advantage of Obama’s gesture to improve relations. A policy of appeasement as a means of improving relations, damaged by the Bush administration has made the Middle East a much more volatile region, and has not succeeded in bringing the Israelis and Palestinians closer to an agreement. In fact they have not discussed such matters for the entire duration Obama’s terms in office in spite of international pressure.

Negotiations cannot succeed with pre conditions for one side to meet and none for the other. Both sides have grievances, whether in the past or ongoing in the present such as continued settlement building or rocket fire at civilians for example. These are each sides bargaining chips. The important thing is to restart dialogue without pre conditions. Pre conditions by and large have acted as a means of stalling or an excuse for not negotiating or even communicating with the other side.

During the two terms of the Obama administration we witnessed the “Arab Spring” where the US allowed and encouraged the toppling of leaders such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and revolutions throughout the Arab world causing the instability that is still ongoing today, the war in Syria continues and the emergence of even more deadly and dangerous radical Islamist groups than Al Qaeda such as ISIS, with their slaughtering of innocents began conquering territory throughout parts of Syria and Iraq. Western powers as well as Russia have since returned to the Middle East to prevent the spread of this threat primarily with airstrikes, not wanting a repeat of Iraq or Afghanistan where ground troops were deployed for years.

Over the years Obama’s popularity in Israel declined, the US administration made a grave error in losing Israeli public opinion when Obama chose to visit many Muslim countries in the region and skip Israel. This signalled a coldness to Israelis which Netanyahu capitalised on. Israeli’s see a region become more and more dangerous, a withdrawal of US involvement in the region, a betraying of her allies and building relations with Israel’s sworn enemies bent on its destruction with very little to reassure Israel that the deal made between western powers will prevent Iran achieving nuclear capabilities and threatening her and US allies. The vote for Netanyahu is quite often more a vote against Obama rather than an allegiance to Bibi.

As I predicted in 2009, the Palestinian strategy did shift its emphasis towards its strength, the diplomatic sphere and its attempt to shift public opinion through the delegitimization of Israel. This has taken form through the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. The Palestinian leadership has sought to achieve unilateral recognition through turning to international bodies such as the UN and attempts to bring Israeli officials to trial at the international criminal court for “war crimes,” mostly from allegations concerning Israeli operations in Gaza.

What I did not foresee was how the western media would become so instrumental in misrepresenting coverage of events in the Middle East. This became most evident with Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Where Hamas’s word was reported as indisputable fact. This demonisation of Israel involved a large percentage of the western public, particularly in Europe buying into the lie that Israel’s military operation was anything other than an attempted “genocide” against civilians in Gaza and a wholesale uncritical acceptance of a narrative as fact and unwillingness to take into account Israel’s problems seeing their concerns as legitimate or to hold Hamas in any way responsible for the plight of ordinary civilians in Gaza.

The media misrepresentation has been something I have worked extensively on throughout 2015, working as a production assistant for Izzy Lemberg, the Senior Producer of CNN’s Jerusalem bureau for twenty plus years, who writes now about anti-Semitism in the western media for the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post.

We wrote op-eds covering the current wave of stabbing attacks in Israel, that Izzy called the “Butchering Intifada” and how the headlines have deliberately misrepresented Jewish victims of Palestinian murderers the opposite way around and failed to even report the facts of the events accurately. The result is a message to western readers that rather than them being informed that Israeli civilians are victims of daily terror attacks, what is reported is the police or the army neutralising the terrorist after such an attack but misrepresented as an “extra-judicial” killing and Israeli “brutality” against Palestinian “civilians.”

The media complicity in perpetuating propaganda and falsehoods about Israel has helped to bring anti-Semitism back to Europe. This has been coupled by the BDS movements efforts to discredit Israel and has served as a cover of anti-Semites. However, in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge amidst the demonstrations against Israel’s actions in Gaza was revealed some of the most vehement classical and Nazi forms of anti-Semitism targeted at both Israel and Jewish communities everywhere. I was in London during this period and involved in the initial founding of a grass roots organisation which is today the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. We found that on Twitter the hashtags such as #Hitlerwasright was trending. The Tricycle theatre in Kilburn refused to host the scheduled UK Jewish film festival due to receiving £1400 towards the event from the Israeli embassy in London, this was our first organised protest against the decision. Sainsbury’s in Holborn caved in to violent extremism and cleared its Kosher section to prevent anti-Semites from destroying the products. On the continent anti-Semitism was even worse.

On May 24, 2014, three Jews were murdered and one person critically wounded at the Jewish Museum in Brussels by Mehdi Nemmouche, a French terrorist who spent a year in Syria with links to Islamic extremists. This was portrayed as a marginal incident.

In March 2012, an Al-Qaeda terrorist, Mohammad Merah, opened fire at children arriving at a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his two children, the daughter of the school headmaster Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego and seriously injuring a 17-year-old.

The French took this event more seriously with French President Sarkozy visiting the Jewish school and condemning it as an anti-Semitic hate crime.

What did receive global attention was the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, where 12 people were murdered, which was followed by the murder of four Jews at a Kosher supermarket in Paris on the same day. The super-market murderer was a French convert to Islam, Amedy Coulibaly. The French acknowledged the anti-Semitic nature of the attack. 

To more recently in Britain with the latest anti-Semitism row over revealed comments made by certain members of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. On May 3, 2016, it was reported that Labour secretly suspended 50 members over racist and anti-Semitic comments who are pending investigations. 

The return of anti-Semitism has caused an increase in Aliyah particularly from France. The Jewish Agency for Israel’s global centre’s French speaking customer service desk is the largest of all its departments as Jews return to Israel from Europe’s largest Jewish community. In Britain, during Operation Protective Edge a poll conducted by the Jewish Chronicle reported that 2/3 of Anglo Jewry question the future of Jews in the UK.

These events are significant for Israel and its strategic decision making regarding the Palestinians. When I wrote in 2009, I did not foresee anti-Semitism increasing to such an extent that Jews from western countries would move to Israel in any significant numbers. This however, may address the demographic threat to Israel’s Jewish majority which Israel has feared up until now that demography challenges its ability to continue to remain both Jewish and democratic and at the same time can’t continue to rule over the Palestinians and maintain control over the west bank.

Writers such as Caroline Glick wrote a book titled The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East, where she puts forward a new proposal for peace in the region through annexation and applying Israeli law to Judea and Samaria. She addresses those who object with the demographic threat by arguing that this argument is based on exaggerated statistics. Excluding Gaza, she argues Israel could annex the west bank and grant Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians and still maintain a strong Jewish majority.

Policy makers who consider this argument and the foreseeing of further increases of Aliyah from Jews from western countries may be less inclined to negotiate with the Palestinians for a separate state in the west bank. This solution is in fact how the Zionist movement led by Ben Gurion originally sought to resolve this entire question. It was shelved for many years deemed not possible and pragmatism dictated that Israel does not want to rule over the Palestinians and at the same time did not wish to incorporate them into Israel, nor did the Palestinians wish to be, which has created the problem we have been in up until now.

Militarily the Palestinians continue to struggle to defeat Israel and due to mutual threats and interests we see a growing informal alliance between Israel and the Sunni Arab states, which has weakened the radical Palestinians ability to appeal to them to fight Israel on their behalf. This has left the Palestinians to turn to their Leftist allies in the west through BDS efforts.

The efforts of BDS pose a danger to Israel and it will continue to fight this threat. The danger lies less in its ability to cause Israel economic harm. As we see from Israel advocacy videos who remind us all so often that in order to completely boycott Israel one would essentially have to go and live in a cave. Israel is an exporter of numerous products and services across the globe that any country that wishes to be successful relies on, particularly regarding technology and communication.  Israel is essential to western intelligence agencies in its efforts to fight the threat of Radical Islam. In February 2016, British government ministers said they were banning public boycotts of Israeli goods because the practice undermines “community cohesion” and Britain’s “international security.”

Israel is used to being vilified by the UN, so nothing is really new in this area. Throughout Israel’s entire existence it has dealt with double standards from the UN passing resolutions condemning Israel.

What is threatening about BDS is how it can succeed in changing public opinion of Israel and of Jews. This will further make life for Jews and Israelis difficult in the diaspora and could contribute further to increased Aliyah. This will not pressure Israel to end the occupation as BDS supporters falsely allege is their goal, when in fact it is in the words of the co-founder of BDS is about ending Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel and Jews can expect an increase in anti-Israel bigotry and anti-Semitism. However, is politics really dictated by ones popularity? No. Governments make decisions and policy based on their interests, businesses too invest in what they deem will be a profitable investment. The tables are turning. In the past, particularly prior to 1967 Israel was less independent and less influential as an economic power, but it benefitted from greater western public opinion in its favour compared to today. The Arabs controlled the oil, and this is one of the major factors that shifts policy decisions of US administrations and European governments to support anti-Israel oil rich Gulf states. Of course the American people deeply oppose some of the barbaric, anti-democratic, anti-Jewish, anti-gay or anti-Christian policies and practices of these countries, but interest takes precedent more often than not over shared values.

The bomb is far from ticking on Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians. Israel for sure has challenges to overcome but at the same time there is the potential for new opportunities that can be made possible that didn’t exist in the past. There are now cracks in the conventional wisdom of the two state solution, where on both sides, there are Israeli’s and Palestinians who do not believe in it or do not believe it is possible to achieve it, looking at alternatives. I was recently invited to London by an organisation called Campaign for Truth to attend a panel discussion on “The two-state solution, dead or alive?

In March 2016,  The Head of General Security for Dubai, Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim said that Palestinians should abandon their aspiration for an independent state and merge with Israeli Jews in a united, bi-national state instead. He said “Today, the Jews are heading the world’s economy, without the Jews you Arabs would not have known how to deposit your money in the bank.”

With the spread of radicalism throughout the Middle East including in the west bank and Gaza moderate forces who were previously enemies are finding common cause and increased cooperation. It is not enough to just insist that the hatred of Jews taught in the Arab media and education systems end. This will come when steps are made towards joint cooperative efforts for the economic benefit of both Israelis and Arabs. The opportunities that may become possible as I have discussed obviously depend on both sides developing mutual trust and a change in attitudes towards one another. Which is not likely given the present circumstances. The likelihood is that European and American governments will continue to put pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to impose a two state solution and the leaders will continue to go through the motions until as Zartman suggests conditions are ripe for compromise.

But it may be that even if the equation is zero sum and Israel will win in the end, it might be possible that this be achieved in a way that doesn’t involve any of the allegations of ethnic cleansing, massacres, expulsions, slow genocide or any of the libellous claims that are made by Israel’s enemies about its intentions and plans for the Palestinian Arabs. In any event Israel has numerous reasons to improve the lives and standard of living of the Palestinians and make creative efforts to build trust and relationships with the both Palestinian Arabs and Arabs in surrounding countries no matter what solution is eventually decided upon.

  1. Zartman, W (2000) International Conflict Resolution after the Cold War, The National Academy of Sciences:

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