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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 45 November 4, 2023

There is no perfect solution to Israel Palestine conflict but less than a perfect one is feasible and desirable | Pritam Singh

Saturday 4 November 2023, by Pritam Singh


Israel Palestine conflict is perhaps the most intractable conflict in the world from the time Israel as a state was created in 1948 and projected as the homeland of the Jewish people from all over the world. The creation of this state was accompanied by the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians, the original inhabitants of the place. This double act of possession and dispossession performed at the same time created the material and cultural conditions for an enduring conflict. The dispossessed Palestinians want to decolonise their homeland and repossess it. The Jewish settlers think that any sign of Palestinian life, economy, politics, and culture is a sign of constant danger to the security of their settled homeland.

The seeming irresolvability of the conflict arises from a combination of two forces: moral and economic-geographical. Both sides claim morality on their side. The Jews, especially those who are committed to the Zionist variant of the faith, claim that the persecution of the Jews over centuries culminating in the Nazi Holocaust leading to the slaughter of 6 million of them, entitles them to a moral right that they should have a state of their own where they can be secure from discrimination and persecution. The non-Zionist Jews considered the Zionist view as vulgarisation of the faith but were marginalised by the Holocaust sufferings. The Palestinians claim that morality is on their side because they never committed the atrocities on Jews and had, in fact, lived in peace with the Palestinian Jews but they are the ones who have been punished by throwing them out of their homeland.

The economic-geographic location of Israel in the Middle East confounds the conflict further. An Oxford geographer once made one of those pithy remarks which become quotable quotes. He argued that the one who controls the Middle East controls the oil and the one who controls the oil controls the world. The Middle East is the most oil-rich region in the world and since the time petroleum, also called liquid gold, became the critical source of energy for running the modern capitalist economies, the old imperialist powers in the world- the US, the UK and France-became embroiled in the region to have access to that liquid gold. The creation of Israel by these powers as their permanent strategic ally in the Middle East was aimed to create a firm foothold in this resource-rich region. This strategic alliance is the source of Israel’s military and economic power.

The vulnerability of Israel despite this powerful military-economic alliance lies in its geographic location where it is surrounded from all sides by Muslim-majority countries whose populations, if not their autocratic rulers, are deeply sympathetic to the Palestinians. Though some Palestinians are Christians (including the world-famous Palestinian intellectual the late Edward Said), most are Muslims. What is Israel’s geographical vulnerability is Palestinians’ strength.

There are three ‘perfect’ solutions that can be imagined and none of them are feasible.

The ‘perfect’ solution for the hardcore Zionist Israelis is the complete elimination of all signs of Palestinian life. This is not possible at all because of the growing global revulsion against Israeli bombing of Gaza. The changing global order with declining military and economic powers of old imperialist countries and the rising economic and military powers of newly emerging economies means that the global balance of forces is pitted against Israel taking any action remotely resembling complete annihilation of Palestinians. With not even Europe fully supporting the US/UK stance on Israel, these two old powers stand isolated globally.

The ‘perfect’ solution for the hardcore Palestinians is the liquidation of the state of Israel. Hamas, the organisation that carried out the deadly attack on Israeli territory on October 7, is most committed to this aim. However unjustified the creation of Israel might be from any point of view, Palestinian or non-Palestinian, the liquidation of the Israel state is not possible. The global history of at least the last two centuries shows that no state once created has been destroyed. The territory of a state does shrink because of a secession of some region from it but the state does not disappear. Russia, Serbia, Pakistan, Indonesia and Ethiopia are some recent examples of this. The Hamas agenda is a dangerous delusion and, therefore, not feasible.

The ’perfect’ solution from a democratic point of view would be the creation of an integrated Israel-Palestine or Palestine-Israeli state where all citizens- Jews, Muslim, Christians or non-believers-have equal rights and they can, through a democratic process, choose their form of economic governance-capitalist, socialist or social democratic This certainly is the most sensible way but let the perfect not be the enemy of the good. This most desirable solution is also not feasible not only immediately given the current polarisation but not even in the medium term. This does not however mean that the transitional path cannot be imagined. That transitional path is the two-state solution- a sovereign Palestinian state existing alongside the Israel state. It is a messy solution but a good and feasible one. It has not been sincerely tried despite the Oslo Accord which was the most hopeful sign of progress in this direction.

The learning experience of the two states existing side by side might lead them eventually to construct one integrated state-the truly ideal solution.

The immediate need is to take four steps: cease-fire, release by Hamas of all Israeli hostages, flow of international humanitarian aid into Gaza and complete abandonment by Israel of aerial bombing of Gaza and its stated aim of ground offensive in Gaza. The emergence of powerful Jewish voices in the US and the UK, especially among the younger generations, against the current and intended military action by the Israeli state in Gaza, and the growing chorus within Israel against the warmonger Netanyahu, are positive signs of retrieval of hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

India and every other country in the world have a stake in a peaceful Middle East because all past military conflicts in the Middle East had led to a rise in oil prices, inflation, and adverse economic conditions especially the rise of Third World debt in the petroleum importing countries such as India after the 1973 oil price rise. This conflict highlights very sharply the links between global oil business and military conflicts. The use of fossil fuels such as petrol, gas, and coal, and the rise in military expenditure due to military conflicts contribute to environmental destruction and a rise in global emissions. The accelerating global climate change that is threatening the planet Earth is a direct outcome of rising global emissions. It is, therefore, in the interests of all nations and all forms of life that this military conflict is brought to an end so that negotiated discussions between the Palestinian people and the Israel state are initiated towards the intermediate goal of a two-nation solution. That will not be a perfect solution from the viewpoint of the contending parties but that is certainly a feasible and, therefore, desirable solution to move towards peace.

(Author: Pritam Singh is Professor Emeritus Oxford Brookes Business School, Oxford, UK)

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