Much of the reportage on Israeli’s response to the Hamas rocket and mortar attacks gives the reader the impression that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a relatively recent event. What is sometimes lost in such coverage is the deep background. Of course, Hamas has much to answer for, but the present conflict is but the latest chapter in a long saga stretching back to the creation of Israel in 1947. Then, the United Nations partitioned the land, allotting the Jews 55 percent of Palestine. The Arabs did not agree to this partition. In the 1948 “war of independence” (called the “El Naqua,” the catastrophe, by the Arabs), Israel ended up with 78 percent of the area of Palestine. This war displaced 750,000 Palestinians and over 450 Arab villages were erased.
In the war of 1967, the remaining Palestinian territory was captured by Israel. Out of this captured land, Israel created the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by chopping up the land into isolated enclaves surrounded by Jewish settlements and Israeli occupation forces. The Palestinians lost 78 percent of their land to Israel and are left with 22 percent.
Recently, Israel has erected a wall or fence, which cuts deep into Palestinian territory, joining large Jewish settlement blocks to Israel, further confining the Palestinians to isolated enclaves. Israel continues to establish new settlements (called outposts), demolishing homes and uprooting plantations in the process.
Since Israel instituted a strict closure policy in 2000, the Palestinian economy has been on a downward trend. Fuel, electricity and materials to maintain water and sanitation are under Israeli control. The lack of investment in public infrastructure and private enterprises is eroding the limited remaining Palestinian economic base. The economic blockade has devastated the Gaza private sector and driven almost all industrial producers out of business. The poverty rate in Gaza and the West Bank is estimated to be 79.4 percent and 45.7 percent respectively. The unemployment rate is about 26 percent in the West Bank and about 36 percent in Gaza. Most of the 1.5 million Gazans cannot exit into Israel or Egypt.
Is it any wonder that the Palestinians believe that Israel’s ultimate goal is to take over the entire country and to drive out the non-Jewish population?
What do the Palestinians want? The Palestinians want “Two States for Two Peoples”—Israel and Palestine—which means the peaceful coexistence of two independent states with West Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, including the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter, and East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine, including the Temple Mount, with open borders between between the two states. They want a return of territories annexed by Jewish settlements. They want Israel to recognize the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees as an inalienable human right with the establishment of a Committee of Truth and Reconciliation to establish the historic facts with the right of return for some and compensation for others. They want to stablish joint control of the water resources. And finally, they want a security pact between Israel and Palestine, endorsed by the the international community and reinforced by international guarantees.
President Barack Obama may be the last hope for a lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without a peace agreement, the United States partiality toward Israel will continue to fuel Arab anti-American sentiment. It will also generate continued support for Al Qaeda. I am hopeful, but not optimistic.
Ralph E. Stone is a retired Bay Area attorney.