Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict: 100 years of regional relevance and international failure

By Karim Makdisi (Dec 2018)


This paper asserts that the Arab–Israeli conflict, and in particular the question of Palestine, has been the major issue of regional concern across the Middle East for over a century. It claims that the failure to resolve the question of Palestine will continue to impact on the region’s stability and its geopolitical dynamics and to shape popular opinion while limiting Arab leaders’ options. It first situates the Arab–Israeli conflict as a core regional issue in historical context — which is crucial for understanding where we are today — before critically reviewing the Oslo “peace process” and its failure to deliver a just and sustainable peace within the framework of a “two-state solution”. It suggests that this failure has resulted in the ramping up of lingering regional problems (e.g.southern Lebanon, the Golan Heights, refugees and in Palestine itself) and the rise of new challenges and frameworks (e.g. the Resistance Axis and the BDS movement). It concludes that the time has come for the international community — including the European Union, which has contributed to the failure of the two-state solution — to consider alternative paradigms and actions.


The violence with which the Israeli armed forces treated Palestinian protestors in Gaza during the “Great March of Return” from March to May 2018 refocused international and regional attention on the question of Palestine. Despite various recent attempts to cast the Palestinian struggle as no longer of popular interest or political significance in the Middle East, over the past two decades –especially following the Arab uprisings — protests in support of the Palestinians continued to breakout as far away as war-torn Yemen to Egypt, Jordan and in Israel itself. By contrast, the carnage in nearby Syria has failed to register much in terms of popular protests in the Arab world over the past seven years.


This paper has highlighted the continuing relevance and importance of the Arab–Israeli conflict,and particularly the question of Palestine, as a core problem in the Middle East. It claims that the history of violence, diplomatic failures and betrayals over the course of a century — since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, which eventually led to the partition of Palestine — has been at the heart of key regional problems throughout the Cold and Post-Cold war periods. It has argued that the failure of the Oslo process during the 1990s essentially showed that the two-state solution (based on UNSC Resolution 242), the very basis of the “peace process”, has perpetuated the historically single most important impediment to stability and peace in the Middle East, or at least in the Levant region.A quick look at a map of the carved-up, non-contiguous occupied West Bank — surrounded as it isby illegal Jewish settlement blocs, military outposts and zones, and Jewish-only roads — exposes the hollowness behind the idea of creating a meaningful “state” in even part of the internationally recognized territory of Palestine, namely the West Bank. This has been the case for over a decade now. The 2018 recognition by the USA of occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the attempt by senior figures in the Trump administration to strip Palestinians of their refugee status and their right of return, and reinforce Jewish colonies in contravention of international law, UN resolutions and even the Oslo and Roadmap agreements, simply makes the situation in Palestine More explicit. The situation in Gaza, which has been under an horrific siege and regular Israeli Invasions for over a decade, and suffers some of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes, poverty and de-development globally, will continue to fuel Palestinian resistance.Perhaps most significantly, the conflicts in Gaza, southern Lebanon and Syria (particularly the occupied Golan Heights) now serve as a central locus of the larger, more dynamic Iranian and Hezbollah-led Resistance Axis’s regional conflict with an Israeli–Saudi-led informal alliance, aconflict that has evolved from the Arab–Israeli impasse. This conflict is certainly over material gains — who has greater influence in Syria, for instance — but equally over ideational ones too:while the Resistance Axis places the question of Palestine at its core, in rhetoric at least, the Israeli bloc is at pains to declare Palestine and Palestinians irrelevant.On a more global scale, Israel’s actions, particularly over the past decade in Gaza but also more recently in its role in overturning US negotiations with Iran — and its passage of the dangerous Jewish Nationality law that enshrines the apartheid-like situation inside Israel itself — has provoked an international backlash, with, for instance and most recently, both the UN Security Council and General Assembly voting overwhelmingly against the US decision to recognize occupied Jerusalem As Israel’s capital (UNGA 2018, UN News 2018). This backlash is even more prominent within the global civil society movements. The most high-profile such movement is the BDS movement,which borrows from the similar movement against White South African apartheid regime. It Exposes, particularly to those in the West, the large gap between Israel’s apparent democratic credentials and the reality of its apartheid-like policy of treating Jewish nationals differently from its non-Jewish citizens, to say nothing of its occupation of Palestinian territories. In the words of Nathan Thrall, the BDS has been turning the Israeli government into a “leper among liberals and progressives” (Thrall 2018).



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