We have more bad news from the Middle East in the form of a significant but not unexpected blow to the peace process. The Jerusalem Post reports that Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza, told an international delegation that his government will not recognize Israel and that that country did not have a future “on the land of Palestine.” Additionally, he emphasized the importance of the right to return of those Palestinians who left their homes in 1948, which is hard to reconcile with Israel’s right to exist.
This obviously complicates the peace process. The Gaza government is separate from the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank, but the present P.A. is the result of a merger between the Fatah movement and the Hamas. This will continue to create doubts about this government unless it recognizes Israel.
Such recognition is complicated by the fact that many Palestinians have given up hope of Israel ever giving back the West Bank and the continued building of illegal settlements by that country. In fact, efforts by the U.S. and Isreal to promote Fatah just gained the latter scorn from Palestinians. That is why it is understanable that Fatah merged with Hamas; they probably believed that the survival of the P.A. depended on it.
All of this speaks to the reality of the Palestinian-Israeli situation today: a vicious circle. Every attack is answered by another. The people on each side are rightly upset about the numbers of their own who die in these attacks but do not seem to understand how upset people on the other side are about their losses.
Israel definitely has the right to defend themselves, but not every military action against the Palestinians is self-defense. Former Prime Minister Sharon’s sending of tanks to harass the P.A. when Arafat was the head did nothing to protect Israel and may have been motivated by politics, the need to appease the Likud base, many of whom wanted him to have tanks roll through the entire West Bank, and perhaps to force Arafat’s replacement with someone who would agree to a deal he could sell to said base. Further, in keeping with Israel’s longtime policy of replying to every attack , missiles are sometimes fired randomly into areas where missiles were fired from, which means that Israeli authorities knew that only civilians were likely to be killed. Even when the attacks are targeted, such as with notoriously inaccurate drones ( which this country uses in Afghanistan ), civilians casualties are high and military targets are often too well hidden and/or protected to be taken out. Thus, Palestinians look these operations as attacks on civilians; the fact that they were claimed to be meant for combatants does not impress them as much as it does the citizens of Israel, who’s fear is heightened not only by attacks from Gaza (Hamas) and Lebanon (Hezbollah) but by the the anti-Israel extremism of the government of Iran, which like Hamas and Hezbollah, is Shiite.
The Palestians, for their part, view attacks on Israeli troops and civilians as a fight against occupation. They also do not understand why Israelis were so threatened by children throwing rocks or even by peaceful protests in the West Bank. They are angry about the suffering of Palestinians, many of whom live in poverty. They are also angered by the displacement of Palestians from their homes in 1948 and 1967.
Indeed, Palestinians call the 1948 displacement the Nakba or “catastrophe”, the anniversary of which they have just commemorated. The events of this are disputed even among scholars. Israeli academics assert that Palestinians left their homes because they were told by attacking Arab nations that they would be able to come back after the war. Palestinian scholars believe that the refugees left because they were forced out by Israeli soldiers.
The plethora and ferocity of disagreement obscures one very important fact: both Israelis and Palestinians lived together in what used to be called Palestine for centuries if not millennia. They both have a right to be there. Furthermore, despite scholars efforts to disclaim the other side’s claims, they both have a right to have their country there. The Wailing Wall and other historical facts prove Israelis were always there; the name Palestine has appeared on maps going back at least hundreds of years. Thus the two state solution is the only justifiable arrangement.
The problem that plagued the two-state arrangement that the U.N. developed in 1948 was that the demograhics did not fit the boundaries. Both the area that became Iasrael and the West Bank were dotted with both Jewish and Palestinian villages. This made dislocation of both nationalities inevitable and both Jewish people and Palestinians had to leave their homes. Indeed, I recall that years ago someone in the African Studies Department at the University of Florida asked why the two peoples could not live together (without national boundaries) in peace. The only explanation I could give was that nationality was too important to both sides.
The bigger problem is that substantial minorities on both sides want all of the former Palestine. The justifcation for Israelis is the bible, which settlers have been known to wave, and their contention that Palestians are only descendants of Arab conquerors of centuries past. For some Palestinians the big thing is the fact that the whole area used to be called Palestine. Further, they consider the influx of Jewish people from Europe to be a European invasion. Both discrediting generalizations of these respective peoples are unfair. Unfortunately, the hostilities and the resulting crises spawned on both sides have put the aforementioned hard-line minorities increasingly in control on both sides. This is tragic. Both sides MUST accept the other’s right to exist before it is too late.