the following is the text of comments i made as a part of a march 10, 2010 panel discussion at pepeprdine university on the israel-palestine peace process during the first decade of the 2000s. the symposium was sponsored by the middle eastern peace and awareness (mepa) student group at pepperdine. other panelists included pepperdine faculty members david simonowitz, visiting assistant professor of middle eastern studies, and milton shatzer, assistant dean of teaching and director of the center for teaching excellence, and loyola marymount’s najwa al-qattan.
Middle East Peace in the First Decade of the 2000s
March 10, 2010
My thanks to MEPA and the organizing panel for the invitation to speak to you tonight.
I am actually an archaeologist digging and researching in Israel, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. We work with and rent from Israeli Jews, Palestinian Arabs, Muslim, Druze, Christians, agnostics, and even good ol’ American Pepperdiners—everyone. And we did so happily and successfully. We respect and learn the languages and cultures of all of these peoples and I and my archaeological colleagues demonstrate how foreigners, namely we Americans, can work with and invest in the people of Israel and Palestine peacefully.
I shall be teaching a course on the History of Jerusalem at UCLA beginning at the end of this month. If you are interested in taking this course, fear not. Because I still love Pepperdine and remember dearly my time teaching here before moving to UCLA, I am making the course lectures available for free on iTunesU. Go to iTunes, go to UCLA, click on Jerusalem the Holy City, and watch or download for free.
The celebration of the Oslo Accords in 1993 raised the hopes of Israelis, Palestinians, and many around the world for a final resolution between Palestinians and Israel leading to a lasting peace in the Middle East. But while the turn of the millennium saw some opportunities for peace, the first decade of the 2000s will be remembered by most as a lost decade in the struggle for peace.
No sooner had Israel withdrawn from Southern Lebanon in 2000 under the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, some Arab groups, namely the Shi’a militant group Hizbullah, began to arm themselves for potential conflict, against the wishes of many Lebanese Christians, Muslims, and Druze, Palestinian Arabs and Christians, as well as most Israelis.
Simultaneously, Israel took advantage politically of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City and couched all armed resistance or attacks on Israel as terrorism, and rightly so. However, the U.S. was compromised politically with respect to the Israel-Palestine conflict because the U.S. could not rightly tell the Israelis not to respond to Palestinian armed conflict, while the U.S. was engaged in conflict with not one, but two entire countries-Afghanistan and Iraq-in response to the September 11th attacks. As long as the U.S. was on the attack against terrorists, Israel had political cover to attack what it believed to be Palestinian terrorists.
During this time of a war on terror, Israel continued to permit and build Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and in 2002 began the construction of a border wall between Israel and the West Bank in order to delineate between the two territories and did so using a rhetoric of preventing terrorist attacks in Israel launched from Palestinian territories. Some saw this as a positive step towards the permanent recognition of a Palestinian state on the part of Israel, but many Palestinians saw the wall as an attempted land grab and have disputed the location and route of this border wall. Others have decried the logistical limitations the wall creates for Palestinians attempting to get to work at jobs inside Israeli territory.
In 2004, Israel, responding to mounting pressure and repeated calls for disengagement from U.S., Palestinian, and International communities, announced a unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2004, which was enacted in 2005, against the protests of many Jewish settlers in Gaza. Just as it had in southern Lebanon in 2000, Israel withdrew all Jewish settlements and troops from the Gaza Strip and relocated, forcibly at times, its own people to new settlements within Israel.
Despite some expected disagreement, a two-state solution and a realization of a secure Israel existing side-by-side to a permanent Palestinian state was begging to take shape, granted on many of Israel’s terms. But while the average Palestinian and the typical Jewish Israeli welcomed these gestures toward peace, many leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian, who derive their power and position from discord between the two peoples, and who regularly sabotage peace and incite conflict by playing on old wounds and religious animosity in an effort continue the conflict, began to oppose the march toward peace. These representatives attain and maintain power from chaos.
Following the death of Palestinian National Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2004, and accusations and revelations of widespread fraud on the part of Arafat’s Fatah administration, Palestinian militants stepped up their activity in an effort to stall a peace with Israel, which they felt had given away too much.
Tension escalated with the kidnap of two Israeli soldiers in Northern Israel, which led to Israeli retaliation and a full-blown war in July 2006, a war that I witnessed first hand from the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona. The Israeli-Hizbullah War brought widespread destruction to much of southern Lebanon and terrified Israeli civilians in the exchange of Hizbullah Katyusha and Qassam rockets and Israel’s devastating retaliation. The war ended with a United Nations-brokered ceasefire, which called for the disarmament of Hizbullah and the withdraw of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Hamas shocked the world when it scored surprise victories in Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. Hamas quickly drew international condemnation, and its administration was quickly placed under widespread international sanctions for its continued refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist in contradiction of the earlier Oslo accords, which Hamas did not recognize as legitimate. With Palestinians suffering, especially in the Gaza Strip, and with Jewish settlers no longer present in the West bank to blame, Palestine broke into a Civil War in December of 2006, with the Fatah military fighting armed Hamas factions. The Palestinian Civil War, called by many Palestinians the Wakseh, meaning “embarrassment” to Palestinians because of the self-inflicted, self-destructive damage, resulted in Hamas driving Fatah out of the Gaza, leaving Fatah in control of the West Bank, while Hamas exercised control in Gaza.
Unable to govern effectively in Gaza both because of an inept administration and due to crippling international sanctions because of their stance against peace with Israel, Hamas militants began to provoke a war with Israel by firing Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel. Israel’s response was immediate and severe, with some calling it a grossly disproportionate exercise of retaliation. In a military response dubbed “Operation Cast Lead,” Israel responded in the winter of 2008-2009 with a devastating response to the Hamas hostilities. Many reports credit Israel’s crushing success to several Fatah and Egyptian informants, who actually wanted Israel to disable and destroy Hamas. Reports say that these Palestinian and Arab informants provided the Israeli military with the exact locations of Hamas rocket installations and smuggling tunnels. Israel soon declared a unilateral ceasefire in response to international calls for mercy against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, who were the unfortunate causalities of the Gaza War. However, Operation Cast Lead differed from previous armed conflicts in that the International Community did not decry Israel’s response to Hamas to the degree that was expected because of the international community’s disagreement with the provocative actions of Hamas. While many other countries did not like Israel’s military actions, they seemed at least somewhat justified on this particular occasion because of Hamas’ provocations.
With the recent election, again, of Likkud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel changed directions and began brazenly to announce once again the building of new settlements in the West Bank. This policy of Jewish settlement reached an embarrassing new climax for the Israelis only yesterday [March 9, 2010] when the Israeli government announced the permitting and construction of 1,600 new housing units in the West Bank while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel calling for a cessation of these very expansions. The Israeli government apologized for the timing of the announcement, but did not apologize for or rescind the decision to build new Jewish settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem.
This is the legacy of the first decade of the 2000s: conflict. Some argue that this is a step backward in the march towards peace. Others-both Israelis and Palestinians-argue that the Palestinian civil unrest is a tragic, but necessary and inevitable part of the evolution of the Palestinian National Authority from an organization relying too heavily on violence, intimidation, and mob or gang-like rule, to a responsible government accountable to its people and seeking peace and prosperity for its people and with other nations. We may be witnessing a step backward away from peace, or, we may be witnessing the necessary growing pains of two nations-Israel and Palestine-toward a lasting peace of mature nations.
Or, perhaps, we may be seeing the end of the struggle for a forced, two-state solution, and we may be witnessing the beginnings of a much more natural three-state solution, which I support. A three-state solution would formally separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, isolating Hamas from Fatah, and freeing the Fatah-controlled West Bank to make a much desired peace with Israel. While some West Bank Palestinians may initially oppose a secession from Gaza out of solidarity for the Palestinian people as a whole, many Palestinians realize that the fracture has become so deep between Fatah-leaning West Bank residents who are looking to make peace with Israel and tomove forward and Hamas-leaning Gaza Strip residents looking to undo much of what has been done, many West Bank Palestinians are ready to cut their losses with both Gaza and Hamas, and make peace with Israel on their own, which would place tremendous pressure on Israel to stop their settlement program in East Jerusalem.
Only time will tell. Insha’Allah, there will be peace. Until then, we must work hard for peaceful, fair, and just solutions to both sides, and we must continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
looks like somebody was listening: “Palestinian Authority To Hold Elections Without Gaza” by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (NPR)
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