That the Israeli- Palestinian conflict seems to be intractable is a sad, if accurate, truism.
Given the inability or the unwillingness of the Arab (now Palestinian) leadership(s) in Ramallah and Gaza to negotiate a peace, the outlook for any cessation in the cyclical outbreaks of violence between Israel and the Palestinians remains bleak. This is particularly so because initiatives like the Abraham Accords which might have bestowed on the hitherto rejectionist Palestinians a package of concessions from Israel that is more favourable to them than those that they have rejected in the past and particularly in 2000 and 2008.
The bald facts today are that antisemitism is surging in a manner eerily reminiscent of the mid-20th century, when World War II broke out, with Islamist groups, extreme right-wingers, and the hard left coalescing around new media platforms to spread their hate-based philosophy(ies). Conspiracy theories continue to be shared about Jewish banking families controlling the weather and Jewish space lasers igniting wildfires. Year after year there has been a rise in antisemitic hate crimes, which may even be underreported.
It is not particularly constructive to re-hash who did, said or claimed what in the past in order to end the conflict today because competing narratives are always aligned with personal world views arguably impervious to history, logic or a consistent communal or universal moral compass.
This final article in the series, Part IV, will look at possible “solutions” or alternatives to the Israeli Palestinian conflict and consider the merits of each including accepting that the conflict might never be resolved, only ameliorated.
Alternatives, Compromises and Negotiations
It is no secret that, in 2022, and particularly as a consequence of the 2nd intifada, the overarching principle of a two-state solution as envisioned in Oslo I and II is effectively dead. This does not mean that both Israelis and Arabs (now Palestinians) do not need to separate. They do, and despite the failure of Oslo, a separation between Israelis and Arabs as two peoples is consonant with universal principles of legitimate, legal sovereignty. And while national self-determination is a right of both Jew and Arab in a contested territory, it can ONLY be based, and as a precondition to ANY solution, on security for both.
Given the recorded modern history of the relations between Israel and its Arab and Muslim neighbours, both contiguous and non-contiguous, and given the fact that in 74 years the State of Israel has never once embarked on a war of aggression with its Arab neighbours, the prognosis for an ameliorated peace in the medium to long term remains slim.
This prognosis is not helped by contrasting declarations by the interim Prime Minister of Israel in September 2022 on the one hand stating that he pledges support for a 2 state resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and the statement made on 14 September 2022 by Chairman Abbas appointed Fatah/PLO/PA Jenin Branch Secretary Ata Abu Rmeileh, that the current round of violence in the West Bank is the decision of the Palestinian people “…. on a comprehensive confrontation…[which] will not stop… a heroic operation of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Fatah’s military wing…[bringing] general joy in all the streets and all the alleys.” This proclamation was a follow up to his 3 September 2022 declaration on the Official PA TV News outlet that “…only through the rifle will Palestine be liberated.” That, clearly, has not worked in the past 74 years, and does not appear to have any prospects for success in the future.
A 2021 research report by Egel, Karan, Efron et al identified five alternatives in the Israeli Palestinian conflict (Egel et al, 2021, “Alternatives in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, Rand Corporation). These were perpetuation of today’s status quo, a two-state solution, a confederation, annexation and a one-state solution.
The report was tabled in a range of findings.
The first was that none of the alternatives were acceptable to the majority of the Israelis or the Arabs (Palestinians).
For Israeli Jews, the only alternative judged as “acceptable” by a majority of focus group participants was the status quo. For the other three populations—Israeli Arabs, Gazan Palestinians, and West Bank Palestinians—none of the alternatives were acceptable to a majority of participants. (Egel et al, 2021:xii, “Alternatives in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict”, Rand Corporation)
Regarding findings for a two-state solution, the most politically viable alternative for all respondents, with modifications by the Palestinians and general scepticism by all, the two-state solution was the preferred alternative for both the Israeli Arabs and West Bank Palestinians and the second-highest-rated alternative for Israeli Jews.
For the Palestinians, a two-state solution modification included an army to defend itself and protect its borders and the need to have economic control over its borders. Support for a confederation was low because it would not provide the desired separation both sides wanted.
In fact, separation was “…the most important overall factor in determining support for alternatives” (Egel et al, Ibid.)
While most Israeli Jews preferred the status quo in the absence of a viable working solution and out of concern for all the things that could go wrong with the other alternatives, this alternative was disliked by the Israeli Arabs who wanted more political opportunities and improved economic conditions, and by the Palestinians in particular who expressed an urgent need for a change to address their living conditions and, in particular, the poor economic situation, unemployment, lack of education, water shortages, lack of mobility, and lack of independence.
And finally, the report found that while economic peace and prosperity was a desirable outcome for the West Bank Palestinians who, while they wanted political separation, also wanted to retain economic partnerships with Israel which they saw as critical to their livelihoods. Economic prosperity was less imperative for Gazans and Israeli Arabs, the report concluded that such a strategy was unlikely to be successful for the Gazan and West Bank Palestinians unless accompanied by significant security and other guarantees. This was echoed by many Israelis particularly in their experience of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and the establishment in the strip of a fundamentalist Islamic government publicly committed to destroying the State of Israel.
The End Game
Unsurprisingly, the report ended thus:
[In an effort] to determine whether there were areas of overlap in opinions and feeling between Israelis and Palestinians that might offer avenues for negotiation…the data show the opposite…deep distrust and profound animosity of each side for the other. In light of our findings, it is hard to imagine a departure from present trends” (Egel et al, 2021: xvi, “Alternatives in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict”, Rand Corporation)
In other words, the majority view of the Israelis appear to be the most grounded in the current realities on the ground. As Inbar, 2022 puts it, “The idea that Jewish and Arab states will coexist peacefully is widespread in contemporary academic and political circles but ignores the reality on the ground.” (Efraim Inbar, October 3, 2022, Understanding Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution delusion, Jerusalem Post).
A pessimism such as this, and that of the authors of the Rand Corporation report above is understandable given Hamas’s stated view in Gaza that Israel’s mere existence is religious sacrilege, intermittent PA sanctioned Palestinian terror in the east (West Bank), the chasm between Israel and the Palestinians on the core issues of Jerusalem, refugees, and borders, the credence and support given to young Palestinians who blow themselves up among Jews and ongoing Arab-on-Jew knife attacks and car rammings inside Israel’s sovereign borders point mainly to the fact that the PLO/PA, that body which described itself as the sole representative of the Palestinian political future, is essentially not a functioning political entity.
As Inbar so accurately puts it, there are some protracted national conflicts which do not have “an immediately available solution” (Inbar, Ibid), and with the growing realisation based on the verifiable facts, that a putative Palestinian state will declaredly not live peacefully next to a sovereign Israel, there seems little choice but to concur with Inbar’s pessimistic observation in this deliberation of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the end game as it currently stands:
Often, societal exhaustion – rather than an opportunity for an optimal compromise – ends protracted ethnic conflict. If pain is the most influential factor on the learning curve of societies, it seems that Israelis and Palestinians have not suffered enough to settle. (Efraim Inbar, October 3, 2022, Understanding Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution delusion, Jerusalem Post)
Today, Tuesday, 1st November, 2022, as Israel goes to the polls for a fifth time in just under four years, it remains to be seen just what message the uptick in unbridled violence and murder of Jews, courtesy terror groups like the Lion’s Den, sends to Israeli voters, and what that translates to in the wider context of even a beginning basis for peace in the 75 year old Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Maybe the Rand Corporation’s research findings from the Israeli focus group participants got it right in one: the status quo IS the end game for the foreseeable future.