Opinion: Israel/Palestine – the current state of the ‘peace process’

At 1900 GMT on Wednesday 21st November a ceasefire came into place between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip which, it was hoped, would signal at least a temporary halt to the bloodshed. Sadly, this ceasefire looks little more likely to last than previous ones have done and it would seem to be a good moment to reflect on the latest tragic and depressing episode in the Middle East and the ‘peace process.’

Of course the refrain from the Government of Binyamin Netanyahu is that Israel has no choice, is acting in self-defence, is desperate for peace in Gaza, and is carrying out “surgical strikes” which must stop the rocket fire coming from Hamas fighters and other militants in the Gaza strip. Anybody who is even vaguely familiar with the current state of affairs in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories knows that these claims paint a very, very partial picture of the truth.

Let us remind ourselves of a few facts:

  • Despite withdrawing its troops and settlers from the Gaza strip in 2005, Israel continues to control the territorial waters of Gaza, its airspace and the border crossings (with the exception of course of Gaza’s land border with Egypt).
  • The brutal siege, implemented on Gaza by the United States and Israel as a means to punish Palestinians for voting the ‘wrong way’ in a ‘free election’ continues unabated to this day. This is uncontroversial. Even David Cameron once referred to the Gaza Strip as a ‘prison camp’, to and described conditions as being similar to ‘some sort of open-air prison’. 1.7million Palestinians are crammed 140 square miles, making Gaza one of the most crowded places on earth.
  • After Palestinians elected a Hamas Government in 2006 Israel imposed an economic blockade upon the Strip which, at one stage, prevented Palestinian residents of Gaza from importing, among other things, coriander, ginger, nutmeg and, even, newspapers.
  • Most international lawyers consider the Israeli blockade to be illegal under international humanitarian law. In 2009, a United Nations panel, led by the distinguished South African judge Richard Goldstone, accused Israel of imposing “a blockade which amounted to collective punishment” of the Palestinians.
  • Now let us look at two statistics which will show the devastating impact of the siege on Palestinian social and cultural life.

  • 10% of children under five in the Gaza Strip have had their growth stunted due to prolonged exposure to malnutrition.
  • One in five children in Gaza suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • It is important to note that Israel’s escalation of attacks on Gaza began not – as Israel and the United States usually claim – after Palestinians fired rockets toward civilian areas, but after Palestinian resistance fighters targeted and hit Israeli forces enforcing the siege and occupation of Gaza. As of the beginning of November – before the latest orgy of killing by Israel – 71 Palestinians had been killed by Israel in the Gaza Strip in 2012, and 291 injured, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In the same period 19 Israelis had been injured by Palestinian fire from Gaza and none killed.

    In short it is clear that Gaza has been enduring Israeli policies of extermination and vandalism since 2006.

    It is to his very great credit that, in an article for The Independent newspaper a few months ago, Nick Clegg publicly condemned the actions of the Israeli Government and stated, correctly, that they are proving to be the greatest impediment towards peace in the region. This state of affairs continues, and it has now never been more imperative that an International movement involving all progressive elements coalesces and pressurises Israel and the U.S to halt the campaign of violence before a point is reached from where there is no turning back.

    * Tim Purkiss is a party member from Somerset and blogs at Nation Discussion

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    This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


    • You lost me at ‘extermination’.

    • Gaza’s land borders other than the one with Egypt are with Israeli territory. Presumably Palestinian statehood (which I am a supporter of) includes the possibility of policing its own borders, and having its neighbours police their borders too. There is no right to travel through a neighbouring country if the government of that country doesn’t want you. The overpopulation is a problem, but Palestinian statehood doesn’t seem to solve that one either – unless the idea is to then take back land lost in the 1940s for people to resettle. If that isn’t the aim then the Palestinian government needs to try to work out how manage its population on the land they have got, which of course may require a reassessment of Islamic ideas towards womens rights to determine family size.

    • There is nothing to be gained by castigating just one side in this dispute. Hamas has done it’s best to provoke a reaction from Israel, knowing that it would garner sympathy for its cause and the Israel Government want to show how “tough” it is ahead of elections next year. On both, sides there are external forces that encouraged the belligerents to be more militant, Iran & part of the new regime in Egypt on the Hamas side & right-wing Jews & Christians in the US on the Israeli side. Neither side has shown much interest in really helping alleviate the dreadful conditions in Gaza.
      The real problem that is blocking a peace settlement is that no-one is really interested in stopping the fighting and no-one who really worries about the welfare of the civilians on both sides caught up in the violence . Until we can make more Israelis realise that security can only really come through peace and acceptance of the rights of Palestinians & more Palestinians realise that their self determination can only be realised through accepting that Israelis have genuine concerns, I am afraid that we are doomed to watch the repeat of last months violence at regular intervals.
      As a Liberal party, I would like to see us encouraging those groups on both sides that are working to bridge the divide and to show that Palestinians & Israelis can (when given the chance) live in peace with each other. We should also be helping those parties in the upcoming elections in Israel that are committed to working to find a peace settlement.
      Unfortunately, diatribes that only focus on the perceived faults of one side , only serve to push the sides further apart and do nothing to help bring about a just solution for all people wanting to live in the area.

    • Not a particularly balanced opinion. Sadly both sides continue to act in a manner which makes any meaningful peace an impossibility. Until both sides are willing to accept the reality of the legitimacy of the other there will be no peace, both carry out regular acts of war, both claim provocation. Like most complex situation both positions have an element of truth, an element of grandstanding to their own supporters and elements of outright lies.

    • Geoffrey Payne 14th Dec '12 - 1:33pm

      Leon – your point about fault on both sides can be debated about at length, but for the sake of argument lets say you are right. The point is that we are not impartial when it comes to selling weapons, which we do to Israel. Lets be impartial that would be a big step forward from current Coalition foreign policy.
      The best way to be impartial is to support international law and take action whenever one side or the other breaks it. And by “take action” that does not mean military force, there are other ways.

    • Tony Dawson 14th Dec '12 - 6:36pm

      @Richard S :

      “Gaza’s land borders other than the one with Egypt are with Israeli territory. ”

      I think not. They are with occupied Palestinian territory.

      Isn’t it about time someone attacked Jenny Tonge here?

    • Prof. Taheri 14th Dec '12 - 11:53pm

      The final resolution of the conflict is brilliantly depicted (as though in fiction) in Jonathan Bloomfield’s award-winning book, “Palestine.”

    • @Geoff Crocker:

      I’d rather we put all effort into the issue of Palestine than vaunt our ethics by boycotting Starbucks etc.”

      I cannot see why it has to be ‘either’- ‘or’. The whole point of government is that different people address different things.

    • R Uduwerage-Perera 15th Dec '12 - 2:02pm

      I too am not so sure about the appropriateness of the term ‘extermination’ in the article given the historical images that this conjures up, but overall the article is of great interest, albeit biased, which is an observation, and not a judgement.

      In the West though, we seem too easily be polarised into taking sides, whereas the answer to the issues in this most troubled part of the world, must surely be that both the peoples Israel and Palestine accept each others self determination over their own lives in their own Sovereign States, whilst also sharing aspects of the Holy City?

      We as a Party must surely do all that we can to stop the killings whether they be committed by Israeli’s or Palestinian’s, otherwise the cycle of carnage that we have witnessed for generations now will continue.

    • Tim,

      there is a large and seemingly growing section of the Israeli public that does not buy into ” the refrain from the Government of Binyamin Netanyahu is that Israel has no choice.”

      The January elections will be a test of the Policies that the Likud coaltion government has been pursuing.

      Of particiular interest will be the role of ex-prime ministerEhud Olmert, one-time “prince” of the rightist Likud party, As the centre and left in Israel came to realize that none of their current candidates was likely to unseat the hardline Netanyahu in Israel’s upcoming elections, attention has unexpectedly begun turning back to Olmert as one of the few political figures with the gravitas to compete. Olmert has been flirting with running for weeks.

      Olmert recently came out strongly in favour of the Palestinian Authority’s bid to upgrade its status at the U.N. General Assembly. He said “Once the United Nations will lay the foundation for this idea, we in Israel will have to engage in a serious process of negotiations, in order to agree on specific borders based on the 1967 lines, and resolve the other issues,. It is time to give a hand to, and encourage, the moderate forces amongst the Palestinians.”

      Olmert’s cri de coeur highlights a profound shift for this former hawk who, since earning his stripes as a champion of Israel’s settler movement and a staunch defender of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has taken a dramatic turn to the left. In fact, he has of late become one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most vocal critics, hammering his predecessor for talking “too much” and “too loud” when it comes to Iran while doing altogether too little on the Palestinian front.

      Olmert has said Netanyahu is isolating Israel from the rest of the world, rebukes the PM’s decision to expand construction in settlements, and says Israel is going to pay ‘a difficult price’ for it.

      Olmert seems to have had a ‘Damescene’ moment in coming to the realisation that, if Israel is to be both a Jewish and Democratic state, then a two state solution is the only answer and continued expansion of the settlements will make a two state solution impossible.

    • Re: ‘suppression of Jenny Tonge’

      She did it to herself with a series of deliberately inflammatory remarks which abused her platform. Whether or not you agree with the sides she took it is impossible to agree with the manner she did it.

      Such conflicts are highly sensitive, so anyone who destabilises the delicate situation marks themselves out as unreliable and untrustworthy.

      Given the sensitivity of the situation and the extreme and polarised opinions which exist on either side it is perfectly understandable why so few people are willing to get dragged into this quagmire.

      In reality there does exist a much greater public will on how to approach the tax affairs of Starbucks and Google than how to advance the ME peace process – nobody truly believes in the ‘two-state solution’, especially not since the de facto situation suggests a ‘three-state solution’ is currently in effect and developments in the wider region indicate increased volatility is a perpetual likelihood.

      The false ‘two-state solution’ is the cause of polarised opinion and continuing conflict.

    • Orangepan,

      The U.N. General Assembly resolution upgrading the Palestinians’ status to a nonmember observer state at the United Nations was approved by a vote of 138-9 with 41 abstentions. That is quite a bit of support for an independent Palestinian state as defined by President Abbas.

      Palestinian Authority President Abbas has recently said:“Palestine for me is the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, this is Palestine, I am a refugee, I live in Ramallah, the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, everything else is Israel.”

      Israeli President Shimon Peres has said “Abbas’ statements should be taken seriously, They are in line with the positions of most Israelis, who support the two-state solution.His brave words prove that Abu Mazen (Abbas) is a real partner for peace”

      There are quite credible proposals for resolution of the practical issues arising from a two-state solution:

      1. Conecting Gaza and the West Bank. The best solution I have seen is the Arc concept developed by the Rand Corporation for a road and rail link between the Gaza strip and the main towns and Cities of the West Bank
      The Arc .

      2. Jerusalems Old City and holy places. In a previous thread you have advocated a ‘Vatican Style’ solution for Jerusalems old city. Former Premier Ehud Olmert has put forward a similiar proposal for a joint administation by Israel, Palestine, USA, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

      3. Palestinian Authority and Hamas. With an internationally sanctioned agreement on the recognised borders of the West Bank, supported by the Arab league, the raison-detre for continuance of an ‘intifada’ disappears and with it any ongoing Arab State support for ‘diissidents’. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas will be left to resolve any power-sharing conflicts they have within the confines of the Palestinain state and without the involvement of Arab states.

    • @Tony Dawson – you mean because Israel itself is created on land which rightfully belonged to the Palestinians? While I can see that point, it is not really a starting point for peace in 2012. With a 2-state solution there is no automatic right for Palestinians to travel through or work in Israel.

    • Geoff,
      Jenny Tonge chose to make controversial statements regarding this conflict situation. What she did enflamed feeling and damaged potential future reconciliation between the parties.

      Either she knew what she was doing and showed she is not a peacemaker, or she didn’t and showed she is incompetent. Whichever way it is spun she consistently undermined her own platform with her unwise and unhelpful choice of words. She made herself irrelevant.

      Connecting Gaza and the West Bank by land may help the development of a Palestinian state but it will not help any peace process because it will create a military and diplomatic target.

      Territorial integrity is an essential precondition for state security – as an example the land links from the Bundesrepublik to the West Berlin enclave in the post-1945 period were a permanent cause of destabilisation. Resolution only came when Germany finally reunified.

      I’m very supportive of developing communication infrastructure for economic development and political integration, but when it is used to build political and social segregation it not fails to address any underlying causes of conflict but reinforces them. That suggestion would be a disaster waiting to happen.

      The current reality of split leadership in the Palestinian Authority is a direct consequence of the fractured nature of the lands controlled by them and this won’t change by building links. It would be a charter for criminality.

    • I had supported Jenny in previous incidents but on the occasion referred to above, Jenny repeated some allegations with an incredibly thin amount of evidence to back them up which inflamed an extremely hostile situation. IMO it was at best a very irresponsible act for a politician to have engaged in and justified at least some sort of disciplinary action.

    • The particular ones I was referring to related to the IDF harvesting organs in Haiti.

    • @Joe – I can come up with all sorts of ways to physically link the West Bank and Gaza. The issue would be would Israel allow unfettered travel, outside of their control along such a route and across their territory.

      Even without the history of the areas I can think of few states that would allow that sort of arrangement on security grounds alone.

    • Fine, let’s not talk about injustice to Palestinians. Let’s not talk about mass slaughter in the name of national defence. Let’s concentrate on condemning one or two errors and overstatements by Jenny Tonge. Let’s not pay too much attention to all the terrible things which the Israeli Defence Force really has done.

      To turn the lesson back to its originators:

      “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

    • Dane Clouston,

      “I cannot see how a two state solution can work. Israel, with its East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, is a racist state comparable with Apartheid South Africa with its Bantustans. The only long term solution is a tolerant, non-racist Arab Israeli Palestine. As the Arab Uprisings against dictators spread over the years, I hope that Israel and Palestine may come to realise that the only peaceful long term solution is a tolerant, non-racist single state Arab Israeli Palestine”

      The British concept of a Jewish homeland in an Arab controlled Palestine, as defined in the Balfour Declaration, died with partition and the Arab/Israeli conflict of 1948.

      Israel wants a Jewish and democratic state. A Jewish state cannot be achieved within a one state solution and Israel’s would need tobe prepared to accept Palestinian political control.

      Moderate Palestinan opinion wants an Independent state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital and the West Bank and Gaza joined by a land link.

      The Arab League Peace Plan of 2002 called for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967 and Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel.

    • Hywel,

      “I can come up with all sorts of ways to physically link the West Bank and Gaza. The issue would be would Israel allow unfettered travel, outside of their control along such a route and across their territory.”

      I think it is a matter of mutual dependence. There are certainly engineering and security solutions. The Atlantic magazine recently published a report on the issue.

      “Traditionally, Israeli leaders argued that since a Gaza-West Bank link did not exist prior to 1967, such a corridor (together with the use of other Israeli infrastructure such as sea and air ports) should count toward the land that Israel is swapping to the Palestinians. In other words, they argued, Israel did not have to offer to Palestinians an amount of land equal to the amount they were receiving from the Palestinians, since the corridor and other infrastructure would offset the difference. Over time, Israeli border proposals have come much closer to equal swaps, falling just short of it in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer, making the corridor-as-equalizer notion increasingly a symbolic issue.

      Palestinians are willing to count the corridor as part of land swaps, but only if it falls under full Palestinian sovereignty. Israel vehemently opposes such concept, since it would cut Israel in half. It’s safe to assume that ultimately the corridor will be at the sole administration of Palestinians, although not under Palestinian sovereignty.

      Because final borders will likely include swaps equal in size without a need to creatively equalize them, the corridor could then figure into a different aspect of the deal: In return for allowing what is essentially a Palestinian road in Israel, Israelis could be allowed to use major roads in the future state of Palestine that would ease transportation between Israeli cities — for example, Road 443 that connects Modi’in and Jerusalem, Road 60 that connects the Etzion Bloc and Jerusalem, Road 1 from Jerusalem toward Jericho, and Road 90 in the Jordan Valley that connects the eastern Negev with the Beit She’an Valley. Such are the arrangements as envisioned in the “Designated Roads” annex of the Geneva Initiative.

    • Geoff,
      some people may be shocked by the show of unity here… surely we can find something more to argue about!

      To digress… I discovered this week that Laurel & Hardy were never fully appreciated in the Middle East for various reasons, yet their multitudinous farcical ‘tit for tat’ scenes still have plenty to say about the cyclical nature of violence. A touring festival of their films is urgently required in the region.

    • It’s about time we stopped appeasing Israel and start imposing sanctions against Israel. It’s quite true to say Tony Blair acts like the Israeli ambassador, but then so do many or our MP’s and House of Lords. Ludford being a very good example.

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