If one believes all that is written in the international media about the current state of the Middle East conflict, it would be easy to reach the conclusion that there is only one obstacle to peace – Israel’s policy on the so-called settlements. According to these accounts, if Israel agreed to uproot its citizens who are living in the disputed areas of Judea and Samaria, peace would magically break out in the Middle East. Nothing could be further from the truth. And the fact that outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry (amongst others) constantly uses the line that the Israeli policy on settlements is the obstacle to peace, is a shameful inaccurate depiction of the situation.
Before suggesting what I think the real obstacle to peace is, it is worth understanding the true legal standing of this disputed land. Until 1948, the land in Judea and Samaria was under a British mandate in terms of the San Remo conference of 1920. In 1947, the United Nations adopted a resolution to support the establishment of an Arab state and a Jewish state in the land under British mandate, then known as Palestine. The Arab world rejected this idea, chiefly because they objected to the establishment of a Jewish state. Ultimately, the Jewish state was established, and the Arab world declared war on it. In the aftermath of this war, the area of Judea and Samara came under the rulership of the Jordanian government. It remained like this for 19 years. During the course of the Six Day War in 1967, Israel captured this land and put it under Israeli military rule. This situation continued until 1982, when a semi-civil authority was appointed to oversee rulership of this area under the auspices of the Israeli ministry of defence. This is the situation until the present day. What is clear from history, is that Arabs were handed the opportunity to rule over this land on a golden platter in the UN partition plan for Palestine in 1947. It was rejected by them. Had it not been rejected, we would not still be arguing over ownership issues today. In addition, had the Arab world not plotted to try to wipe Israel off the map in 1967, the land would probably still be under Jordanian control. So now, that Israel has responded to protect the existence of the Israeli state, the complaints are too little, too late.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Arab world is using all at its disposal to bring Israel’s name into disrepute in the international community, and to take advantage of the easiest argument to convince others that Israel is the evil ogre in the story. This, it seems, is the argument of Israel’s settlement policy which, according to the current rhetoric, is designed to scupper the prospects of peace ever being established in the region. Memories are, however, short. It is already long forgotten that it was the Arabs who rejected the opportunity of two states for two peoples in 1947, and it seems strange that questions are not being asked about why that was.
In my view, the real obstacle to peace is the same one that existed in 1947 when the Arab world rejected the UN partition plan, and the same obstacle that existed for many years before that. The obstacle is the existence of the Jews, and now, the existence of the Jewish state. Until this “problem” is resolved, there will never be peace in the Middle East. And, judging by some of the things that are happening in Syria, there is unlikely to be peace in the Middle East even if the Arab world would succeed in removing Israel. All actions that are undertaken by the Arabs in the context of “peace” discussions, are done with the intention of weakening Israel’s position to the point of destroying her. This is clearly evidenced by the response to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Until that moment, Israel’s rulership over Gaza was held up as an obstacle to peace. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza, the area has become less peaceful than it was before. Now it is being used as a springboard to launch further attacks into Israel. As far as progress towards peace is concerned, nothing was achieved by withdrawing from Gaza. So why should we believe that withdrawal from settlements in Judea and Samaria will be any different? The truth is that most Israelis do not believe this, even though the desire by Israelis to achieve peace remains as strong as ever.
Over the years, Israel has made numerous unilateral gestures in an attempt to further the prospects for peace. Terrorists have been released from prison, money has been paid to the Palestinian Authority, borders have been opened and concessions granted, all in the interests of showing goodwill and positive intention to reach a peace agreement. In return, Israelis have been killed in terror attacks and Israel has had to fight numerous wars and protect her citizens from ongoing missile attacks. No meaningful progress has been made towards achieving a peace, or towards peaceful co-existence. It seems no wonder that the Israeli government is hesitant to make further concessions. They seem to achieve nothing other than further weakening Israel’s ability to protect her right to peaceful existence.
The time has come for the world to stop allowing the Arabs to hide behind the rhetoric that Israel’s settlement policy is the obstacle to peace. More than that, the time has come for the international community to stop repeating and validating this ridiculous position. I feel sure that, if somebody could give a cast iron guarantee that reversing the settlement policy would allow peace to be reached, Israel would agree to it almost immediately. It is clear to all concerned, however, even to most of those repeating this line in the international community, that Israel’s settlement policy is only being used as an excuse to justify why there is no peace. It is far from the obstacle that, if overcome, would allow peace to be achieved.
The peace agenda contains numerous points that require resolution before a peace can be achieved. These include land borders, the rights of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the arming of a future Palestinian state and many others. In my view, however, there is only one point that is of any real significance in this discussion, and this is the recognition by the Arab world of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Until this is resolved, there is nothing further to talk about.