An important dimension of the long-standing Palestine-Israeli conflict is the virtual dominance of the two major extra-regional players: Britain and the United States, and their existing nexus with Israel.
For more than six decades now, hostility, violence, instability and territorial conflicts characterize politics in the Middle East owing to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Palestine-Israeli conflict forms part of this multifaceted-Arab-Israeli conflict. Armed clashes and violent incidents between Palestinians and Israeli forces have claimed thousands of innocent lives and millions of lives have been battered during the last decades. Besides, the attempts towards reconciliation between and among conflicting parties and peace overtures were also marred by the renewed waves of violence. Resultantly, the efforts towards peace failed to lead to an amicable resolution of the dispute. An important dimension of the long-standing Palestine-Israeli conflict is the virtual dominance of the two major extra-regional players: Britain and the United States, and their existing nexus with Israel. Above all, the roots of the conflict lie in issues of political power, territorial claims, and representation of identities, nationalism and control over natural resources.
With changing international political scene, politics in the Middle East has also undergone unprecedented changes. The Palestine-Israeli conflict, in particular, took influences from shifts and turns in international politics as well as from the regional political developments. Five important aspects signify the changing nature of the Palestine-Israeli conflict and the prospects of an amicable solution to this intractable conflict: the role of extra-regional actors; new dimensions of power struggle among regional players – mainly Israel and Iran – the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)-Hamas equation, leadership of the warring parties and the impact of socio-political uprisings, the Arab Spring and resultant political developments.
The international diplomatic pressure mainly by the US led to the first-ever one-on-one meeting between Israel and the PLO, the leading group in the Intifada I that resulted in the Oslo accords. The accords signed in September 1993 in Washington D.C. were a framework for future course of relations between Israel and the PLO. The accords called for the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Ironically, they failed to yield the anticipated results.
The Oslo accords’ phase from 1993 to 2000 virtually changed the landscape of the battle. Despite the division of Palestinian territories, as set out in the negotiations, Israel exercised control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip more than ever before. The fragmentation of the Palestinian areas into separate enclaves cut off from each other by walls of barbed wires and Israeli highways, which are patrolled by Israeli troops, the occupation of the land became more, not less effective. The Palestinians were again on the losing end and the Israeli forces were undeterred by any agreement.
With the international community growing concerned over the deteriorating situation in the Middle East during the Second Intifada, the Quartet (UN, US, EU and Russia) proposed a rather comprehensive Roadmap for Peace in the Middle East in 2002. In order to defuse tension and facilitate an amicable solution to the Palestine-Israeli conflict, the peace plan by the Quartet called for two-state solution to the conflict and democratic reforms in the PNA. Israel strongly rejected the Quartet peace plan.
Some Arab analysts identified ‘two major motives of proposing this plan: one, the proposal attempted to vitiate the long-standing claim that Arab states have neither worked for peace initiatives nor desired peace with Israel. Second, the plan renewed international scrutiny of Israel’s motives. The plan meant to essentially question Israel that if it truly wanted peace, then why not to resort to the Oslo principles.
Another important effort towards peace between Palestine and Israel was the Geneva accords (2003). ‘Israeli opposition political leaders and Palestinian leaders announced an agreement in principle on conditions for a final settlement. Israel would give up sovereignty in Arab portions of Jerusalem, while the Palestinians would explicitly give up the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. The agreement got widespread publicity, including support from the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell and a note of appreciation from the then PNA Chairman Yasser Arafat. The Israeli government, however, denounced the agreement and the people involved in it and tried to block advertisements for agreement in the media. Likewise, Palestinian extremists and their allies also denounced the agreement.
In May 2010, an aid convoy of six ships known as ‘Freedom Flotilla’ aiming at breaking through the Gaza blockade was attacked and seized by the Israeli naval forces. Nine passengers aboard became victim to the Israeli atrocities and lost their lives. Amid the mounting international pressure to ease the Gaza blockade, the Rafah border crossing was reopened partially.
Apart from the conventional elements of the Palestine-Israel conflict, a non-conventional development that has been equally influential in many ways is the Arab Spring. The Middle East has faced with a series of civil uprisings since 2010 which began from Tunisia and spread to a number of major states in the region including Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, and Morocco, forcing withdrawal of the governments and introducing socio-economic reforms. Since August 2012, Palestinians in the West Bank have staged a series of demonstrations protesting against the economic policies of the PNA and also called for the resignation of Palestinian prime minister. The Arab Spring has not only been a challenge for the governments that were faced with the uprisings but also for the entire world as the uprisings are inspiring the socially and economically underprivileged sections across the globe.
The US apparently has a dual task to deal with in the Middle East now. On the one hand, there are unresolved conflicts which Israel has with almost all the major states in the Middle East and, on the other hand, the superpower is finding it difficult to manage the course of its policies and actions in the wake of the Arab Spring. The US is largely hampered by the question of Iran that poses a direct challenge to the US policy measures in the Middle East, especially with reference to Israel. In view of the Iran-Israel equation growing intense, endorsing or calling for a two state solution for Palestine and Israel is a lesser policy option for the US.
The Arab Spring has strengthened the role of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the country has unequivocally played an influential role in the wake of recent Israeli attacks on Gaza City. Now with the far-reaching consequences of the Arab Spring in the region, for Palestine and Israel, in particular, any intense wave of such uprisings would be devastating and even a threat to their existence. Israel and its allies, particularly the US, are required to review their long-term policies in the region and would also be required to respect the UN rulings. The voting by 138 out of 193 states in favour of the de facto recognition of the Palestinian Authority and its status upgrade at the UN is a testimony that the world wants an end to the Israeli atrocities in the Middle East and an amicable solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. For those states which voted in favour of Palestine, the move will lead to the resolution of the Palestine-Israeli conflict and would establish a lasting peace in the region. Peace, however, is yet to see the dawn in the Middle East.