Opinion

Israel-Palestine Conflagration – Part II

Soldados israelíes en Gaza - FUERZAS DE DEFENSA DE ISRAEL
photo_camera Israel Defense Forces via REUTERS - Israeli soldiers take up positions during the Israeli army's ongoing ground operation against the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, at a designated Gaza site, in this still image from video released November 15, 2023
Il y a plus de quinze jours

Over two weeks ago, I was moved by two middle aged men interviewed on television, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who each had lost a daughter, one aged 10 the other 14, in dispute between the protagonists, and in grief they had found compassion and a common bond. They were brothers united, brothers united for PEACE and to share the future in harmony.

Forty years ago, Margaret Thatcher became the UK Prime Minister. She had strong Israeli sympathies, always had, brought about by the legacy of a young girl, whose parents were later killed in the Holocaust, although the girl was saved through a pen pal relationship with her elder sister. But it didn’t stop her, when Israel went too far.

Ian Birrell wrote in the newspaper ‘’I believe in fair dealing and fair principles,’’ she said. ‘’Don’t you see, if I openly condemn the PLO for terrorism, I have to condemn everyone for the use of violence and terrorism.’’ This was said in an interview given to the Jewish Chronicle in 1981, where she was speaking out against an Israeli attack on a nuclear reactor in Iraq. “’If we are not going to live by a system of international law, we are going to live by international anarchy. Then no people anywhere in the world are safe. You cannot be selective in your defence of law. You cannot say ‘I like that law, I will uphold that one, I will not uphold the other.”  Thatcher understood the true meaning of friendship between nations. Perhaps this current crop of UK political leaders could take a leaf out of Thatcher’s book, not just follow the US statement of unequivocal support for Israel, as openly put by President Joseph Biden although he has partially backtracked and may wish that he had not been so whole-hearted in his support at the beginning.

The first mention of a Jewish state came about at the first Zionist Congress in 1897 through the tremendous efforts of Theodor Herzl over 7 years. He died in 1904 from over work on top of a weak heart at the age of 44, but not before his work, published in his book and aired at the 1897 Congress, The Jewish State, put the idea in motion. He had raised this in his lifetime with top people in government e. g. in Germany, Britain, Austria and also Turkey. In particular, he had changed Lord Rothschild’s mind to be supportive, this leading ultimately to Lord Balfour’s, on behalf of the principal power in the region, giving his 1917 declaration. This promised a Jewish state in the area of Palestine but included due provision for the people already living there the vast majority being Arabs. At the time there were less than 1 million people in the Palestine region.

The Jewish people had suffered horrifically in the two decades since the Balfour declaration, culminating in the shocking Holocaust, where 6 million lives were lost, and the pressure was growing in the 1940s for the need for a homeland for the survivors.

Britain held a mandate for Palestine for 25 years from 1922. They discharged this in 1947/8 when they acted on the Balfour declaration and divided up the land between the Arabs and Jews to provide two states, Israel and Palestine, the Israelis getting the better part of the deal. The Arabs rejected it in no small measure and that led to conflict, the first of many lasting to this day. While the Jewish part of the population had been small until 1946, there was a sudden influx from Europe at the end of WWII, the new Jewish homeland providing relief from the past few years. The Palestinians were probably right to seek a fairer agreement; since when there has been a gradual squeezing of their position, sometimes their own fault. The West Bank is a case where the Israelis have surreptitiously taken land illegally and harshly from the Palestinians. This has been increasingly brought to light as the armed settler vigilante group has moved while the Gaza strip is besieged. The Palestinians are told to clear out in 24 hours from homes they have held for decades.

The end of the 1940s was a difficult time for the British. They were recovering from WWII while, at the same time, under great pressure to grant independence to a significant number of colonies. Over a period of some fifteen years independence was gained by some 30 countries, with India being among the first. India also needed a more significant partition agreement to find a separate country for Indian Muslims, namely West Pakistan and East Pakistan, now Pakistan(w) and Bangladesh(e). Again, there was great argument over this partition and loss of life as, especially in the west, people of several generations were uprooted, moving one side or other of the new border; over one million people were killed in the disturbances. This would have been seen as the much bigger issue in London. Hindsight would suggest that not enough attention was paid to the Palestine situation. A side note, India, not China, is now the most populous country in the world.

The British influence across the globe was on the decline and the government of the day certainly was made aware of it when the US government refused to back an Anglo-French effort in a contretemps with an aggressive stance by Egypt’s President Mohamed Naguib in 1956 to take over the Suez Canal, certainly very important for Far East trade.

Over 12,000 people, numbering a large percentage of children, have been killed by Israel trying to wipe out Hamas for their unforgiveable atrocity of 7 October. There is now mounting pressure for the war and killing to stop, from the international community and a cease fire to be instituted. Unfortunately, the right-wing government led by PM Benjamin Netanyahu wants more. In fact, if he had his way they would take charge of the Gaza strip henceforward; however, this idea was fairly quickly quashed by Israel’s Defence Ministry who indicated that once they had finished an appropriate third party would be sought to assist the Palestinians to rebuild and govern the Strip.

This next raises the questions once this is finished of how the peace is restored and how maintained for decades to come. A two-state solution as per the original concept would appear necessary, but this time there has to be a proper agreement by the two parties. The moderates on both sides, the majority, have to be in charge, and the hard-line right wing on either side must not take part. An ’honest’ broker, probably including favourable nearby countries, must chair the meetings. In addition, the Palestinians very likely will need help in the beginning and should accept it to get a working government going, for a period of time; who is going to pay for the enormous damage caused by the Israeli bombing campaign, billions of dollars?

It would be helpful if a few Israelis were included in this advisory group. In that way, the trust can be developed between the two parties that has not existed so far, and the wish of the two fathers at the beginning who have lost daughters can feel realization of the brotherhood, Israeli and Palestinian, that is so badly needed.

Today – 2 ½ weeks on

Much has transpired in the last period. After lengthy negotiations, the second group of hostage releases is about to take place in an agreed pause, 4 days, in the Israeli incursion to wipe out Hamas. These two days will have brought much-needed relief dozens of women and children taken on 7 October, in exchange for Palestinians taken largely on the West Bank. That is another story!

There is a great desire to have the 4-day period extended, but the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanhayu, has negated that idea, in his vision to wipe out Hamas. However, history tells us that does not work, one cannot just extirpate an idea, however it is wrongly conceived, by bombing and killing, causing the loss of thousands of innocent lives on the way. The fighting must draw to a close as soon as possible, even if it does mean PM Netanyahu, with his anti-Palestinian views, stepping aside for a more moderate leader to take his place. Many Israelis just want all the hostages freed and the war to cease, which would take another two weeks at the present rate of release.

The two-state solution has been aired again, no less by the new UK Foreign Secretary, Lord David Cameron, picking up the peace message said earlier. He is aware that it will take time but it has to start some time, and the sooner the better, and there have to be people on the body that are prepared to put in the hard work to make it happen to the satisfaction of all parties, especially the Palestinians and Israelis.

The well-known Scottish bard, Robert Burns, who cared for all life, all human beings, no matter their religious beliefs, skin colour, etc., wrote at the end of the 18th century ‘We are all Jock Tamson’s bairns.’’, all children of the world. A message continually forgotten. 

Dr J Scott Younger, 

International Chancellor of the President University in Indonesia, Honorary, Senior Research Fellow of the Glasgow University and member of IFIMES Advisory Board 

IFIMES – International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has Special Consultative status at ECOSOC/UN since 2018 and is the publisher of the international scientific journal “European Perspectives”.