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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Recent Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Repercussions on the Region

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - 0 Comments

After World War Two, the conflict between the Arab and Jewish population of the British mandate of Palestine became a major international issue. The United Nations, the United State, and the Soviet Union were determined to initiate a two-state solution. The UN-mandated partition was put into effect in 1948, but was rejected by the Palestinians and every Arab state. Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948. Almost immediately, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq declared war on the nascent nation. By the conclusion of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel had greatly expanded its borders, and signed ceasefire agreements with all its Arab neighbours. A significant exodus of Palestinians from Israel occurred during this time, coupled with an even greater Jewish exodus from Arab lands. These changes in demographics helped lay the long-term groundwork for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since it drastically increased the size of the Jewish population of Israel, and created a problem of Palestinian refuges. By the end of 1949, only 150,123 Palestinians remained within Israel. For this reason, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict took a back seat to the broader Arab-Israeli Conflict during this time. Palestinians played a crucial role in the Egyptian-Israeli conflict during this time beginning in 1950; Egypt began using fedayeen to conduct a war of proxy against Israel. These units of Palestinians—often trained and equipped by Egypt—would infiltrate across what was then the Israeli-Egyptian border at Gaza, and conduct guerrilla raids against Israeli targets (mostly civilian in nature in the first five years of the 1950s, “884 Israelis were wounded or killed by” Palestinian fedayin trained and sent into Israel by the Egyptians. The fedyain attacks were cited as being among the factors leading up to the Israeli decision to participate in the Sinai Campaign in 1956.

The scope of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict again broadened after Israeli conquered the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the Six-Day War. A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words peace in Arabic and Hebrew. Similar images have been used by several groups proposing a two-state solution to the conflict.

In 1993, Israeli and Palestinian leaders from the Palestine Liberation Organization strove to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict known as the Oslo peace process. Perhaps the most important milestone of this period was Yasser Arafat’s letter of recognition of Israel’s right to exist. The crux of the Oslo agreement was that Israel would gradually cede control of the Palestinian territories over to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. The Oslo process was delicate and progressed in fits and starts, but finally came to a close when Arafat and Barak failed to reach agreement. Robert Malley, special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, has confirmed that Barak made no formal written offer to Arafat. Consequently, there are different accounts of the proposals considered. However, the main obstacle to agreement appears to have been the status of Jerusalem.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the Light of History

Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, is an ongoing dispute between two peoples, Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians, who both claim the right to sovereignty over the Land of Israel / Palestine in whole or in par. Throughout history, there have been many conflicts in this area between peoples inhabiting it. This particular conflict can be traced to the late 19th century, when Zionist Jews expressed their desire to create a modern state in the ancient land of the Israelites, which they considered to be their rightful homeland. The Zionist Organization sought to realize this goal by encouraging immigration thither, and purchasing land in the region, then controlled by the Ottoman Empire. After decades of the British Mandate, numerous attempts to partition the land and hostilities, the State of Israel was established. Local Arab nations started the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, in which Israel prevailed, and won control over borders which remained in place until the Six Day War. For decades after 1948, Arab governments refused to recognize Israel. They contended that Israel had engaged in unfair practices towards local Arabs, and that its creation was based on unfair diplomatic decisions.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964, before Israel occupied any of the lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six Day War. The PLO’s central original tenet was complete non-recognition of Israel in 1998, Yasser Arafat stated that he recognized Israel’s right to exist, thus providing the first step needed to enable negotiations between Israel and the PLO. During the Oslo Peace Process which began in 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organization was permitted autonomy to run Palestinian affairs in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in the form of the Palestinian National Authority with the understanding that it would uphold recognition of and mutual co-existence with Israel. However there was continual contention over whether actual events and conditions proved that there was greater acceptance of Israel’s existence by Palestinian leaders. In 2006, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council, where it remains the majority party. Its charter openly calls for the destruction of Israel, and seeks to create a Palestinian state encompassing all of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. This has greatly impeded any diplomatic progress, as Israel declines any contact with Haas, as long as the latter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Most Palestinians accept the West Bank and Gaza Strip as at least a part of the territory of their future state. Most Israelis also accept this solution. An attempt to achieve this solution was seen in the Oslo peace process, where Israel and the PLO negotiated, unsuccessfully, to come to a mutual agreement. Vocal minorities on both sides advocate other solutions, most of which contradict the goal of ‘two states for two peoples.’ In both communities, some individuals and groups advocate total removal or transfer of the other community. A small minority advocates a one state solution, where all of Israel, the Gaza Strip, and West Bank would become a bi-national state, providing equal citizenship to all of its current residents.

One central question of this conflict is the degree to which Palestinians are willing and able to accept the right of Israel to exist, and are willing to uphold acceptance of this principle. Similarly, another central question is the degree to which Israel feels conditions exist in which it is possible to allow Palestinians to achieve sovereignty. Israel asserts that one major condition of Palestinian sovereignty must be acceptance of mutual co-existence and elimination of terrorism. Some Palestinian groups, notably Fatah, a political party founded by PLO leaders, claim they are willing to foster co-existence if Palestinians are steadily given more political rights and autonomy. However, Hamas, which is currently the majority ruling party in the Palestinian Legislative Council, openly states that it completely opposes Israel’s right to exist.

Role of US for Middle East Peace Process

US Policy toward the Middle

While US President Bill Clinton achieved a number of successes in his Middle East policy during his first term in office—most noticeably the Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the PLO that was signed on the White House lawn in September 1993 – during his second term US Middle East policy has proved much more problematic. (1) Not only has the Oslo peace process run into serious difficulty, but the US “dual containment” policy toward Iran and Iraq which he inherited from the Bush Administration and then intensified during his first term, had also come close to collapse. The US has also encountered problems in peripheral areas of the region, such as Cyprus, while also becoming beset by the problem of terrorism.

Compounding the President’s difficulties was a Republican-dominated Congress that became increasingly assertive as President Clinton became bogged down in the Lewinsky affair, which after January 1998, began to seriously threaten his presidency. This essay will examine US policy toward the Middle East in the first two years of Clinton’s second term, looking first at what American goals were at the time President Clinton was re-elected in November 1996, and then assessing the administration’s success or failure in meeting these goals by January 1999. In particular, this essay will concentrate on the US role in the Arab-Israeli peace process and US policy toward Iraq and Iran.

The Arab-Israeli Peace Process

US goals for the Middle East in the period just before the 1996 US Presidential election were clearly and concisely spelled out by then US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Robert H. Pelletrau in a speech before the Fifth Annual Southwest Asia symposium of the US Central Command (CENTO).

“Securing a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbours remains a cornerstone of our overall foreign policy. A successful peace process will enhance regional stability, remove a rallying point for fanaticism, and enhance prospects for political and economic development. The United States is engaged in several fronts to advance peace negotiations, an engagement which in turn helps achieve our other objectives in the Middle East. These include preserving Israel’s security and well-being; maintaining security arrangements to preserve stability in the Persian Gulf and commercial access to its resources; combating terrorism and weapons proliferation; assisting US businesses, and promoting political and economic reform.

Pelletrau’s emphasis on the peace process as the key to overall US policy in the Middle East reflected a realization that had become concretized in US policy over the past two decades: that it was very difficult for the US to simultaneously maintain good relations with Israel and with friendly Arab states – especially the oil producers of the Persian Gulf – unless the US was working both assiduously and successfully to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. While much of the Arab world, seeing a direct threat from Iraq, did rally around US efforts to repel Iraqi aggression against Kuwait in the August 1990-March 1991 period (during a time when the Arab-Israeli peace process was making little progress); during Clinton’s second term the US was to have a great deal of difficulty rallying Arab support against Iraqi violations of UN Security Council Resolutions in November 1997 and January/February 1998, at least in part because of the near collapse of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Conversely, once the US got the peace process back on track with the Wye Agreement in October 1998, Clinton got far more support from Arab states during the mid-November 1998 confrontation with Iraq, although as Wye faltered in December 1998, this was to negatively affect popular opinion in parts of the Arab world when the US finally decided to bomb Iraq.

Role of US for Middle East Peace Process

US Policy toward the Middle

While US President Bill Clinton achieved a number of successes in his Middle East policy during his first term in office—most noticeably the Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the PLO that was signed on the White House lawn in September 1993 – during his second term US Middle East policy has proved much more problematic. (1) Not only has the Oslo peace process run into serious difficulty, but the US “dual containment” policy toward Iran and Iraq which he inherited from the Bush Administration and then intensified during his first term, had also come close to collapse. The US has also encountered problems in peripheral areas of the region, such as Cyprus, while also becoming beset by the problem of terrorism.

Compounding the President’s difficulties was a Republican-dominated Congress that became increasingly assertive as President Clinton became bogged down in the Lewinsky affair, which after January 1998, began to seriously threaten his presidency. This essay will examine US policy toward the Middle East in the first two years of Clinton’s second term, looking first at what American goals were at the time President Clinton was re-elected in November 1996, and then assessing the administration’s success or failure in meeting these goals by January 1999. In particular, this essay will concentrate on the US role in the Arab-Israeli peace process and US policy toward Iraq and Iran.

The Arab-Israeli Peace Process

US goals for the Middle East in the period just before the 1996 US Presidential election were clearly and concisely spelled out by then US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Robert H. Pelletrau in a speech before the Fifth Annual Southwest Asia symposium of the US Central Command (CENTO).

“Securing a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbours remains a cornerstone of our overall foreign policy. A successful peace process will enhance regional stability, remove a rallying point for fanaticism, and enhance prospects for political and economic development. The United States is engaged in several fronts to advance peace negotiations, an engagement which in turn helps achieve our other objectives in the Middle East. These include preserving Israel’s security and well-being; maintaining security arrangements to preserve stability in the Persian Gulf and commercial access to its resources; combating terrorism and weapons proliferation; assisting US businesses, and promoting political and economic reform.

Pelletrau’s emphasis on the peace process as the key to overall US policy in the Middle East reflected a realization that had become concretized in US policy over the past two decades: that it was very difficult for the US to simultaneously maintain good relations with Israel and with friendly Arab states – especially the oil producers of the Persian Gulf – unless the US was working both assiduously and successfully to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. While much of the Arab world, seeing a direct threat from Iraq, did rally around US efforts to repel Iraqi aggression against Kuwait in the August 1990-March 1991 period (during a time when the Arab-Israeli peace process was making little progress); during Clinton’s second term the US was to have a great deal of difficulty rallying Arab support against Iraqi violations of UN Security Council Resolutions in November 1997 and January/February 1998, at least in part because of the near collapse of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Conversely, once the US got the peace process back on track with the Wye Agreement in October 1998, Clinton got far more support from Arab states during the mid-November 1998 confrontation with Iraq, although as Wye faltered in December 1998, this was to negatively affect popular opinion in parts of the Arab world when the US finally decided to bomb Iraq.

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