Arab Israeli Conflict: Perspectives from Palestine
The issues revolving around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been dense and complex. The American administration in the past several decades have made noble efforts to resolve, mitigate and merge the two nation states into a civil, if not unified one. The religious implications, as well as cultural ones, surrounding the political issues are multifaceted—and, as it has been seen through policy failures—are difficult to mend. My paper’s aim is to identify issues involving the societal status of the nation states, the administrative efforts aimed at protecting the civilians of both countries, the failures of policy to protect immigrants in the United States, and the eventual repercussions of the Arab conflict with the rest of the western world. My paper will focus around mainly political and cultural implications, while keeping in mind the obvious religious complexities which also must be acknowledged. These issues have been central to lectures in EDGE, as the focus has been on poverty and prejudice during the current quarter.
Many believe the fight over the Gaza Strip (and the neighboring West Bank) is tiresome and somewhat insignificant. After all, the strip of land is a mere 147 square mile area, cramming in more than 1,022,200 people--and contains no real natural resources which provide monetary riches. It is not one of beauty anymore, as the constant attacks and fights have destroyed it considerably, and yet, it is desired and has been fought for ruthlessly over the past century. Many ask the people why. A Palestinian man explained the sentiment perfectly in the book by Amira Hass, Drinking the Sea at Gaza:
“Why do you think we started the intifada? Why do you think we want a state? It’s not the land—no piece of land is worth the bloodshed. No, we want a state for the thing itself.”1
And so it is, the Palestinians believe the land represents something bolder and greater than its soil or name. The “thing” they are fighting for seems so clear, that often it doesn’t need explanation in that part of the world. In countless interviews throughout the strip, Hass discovered what the Palestinians truly wanted: they wanted to expand the limits of their freedom of choice, personally and nationally. In the long run, they will judge the Oslo Accords, or any agreement for that matter, accordingly.2 Measured by the breadth of their freedom as a people and as human beings, they will fight for the humanity they once possessed—and that which they will not surrender.
The issues regarding Arab-Israeli conflicts are commonly sensationalized by the media, creating illusions by which misdirect people’s perceptions in detrimental ways—those which separate Americans from Arabs in a way determined by being Muslim vs. Christian, Arab vs. American. This is simply not justified and should be dismissed for several reasons. Beyond that, American media puts emphasis on the image of Arabs being solely Muslim, and therefore “freedom fighters” when in fact a considerable amount of Arabs in Palestine are Christian. As a side note, my mother in fact was a Christian living in Ramallah, Palestine during the wars of the 1940s and still speaks of the countless Palestinians who are not of the Islamic religion. It is simply not factual to immediately associate the Arab-Israeli conflict as that being of Jews against Muslims. Rather, it is a conflict over land of which holds sentiment to each religion’s core. The issues include land which was once owned by Palestinians, regardless of their religion. Land which was taken away, and now is being fought over for this reason.
In my paper I will address the social, cultural and political implications of the Arab-Israeli War, the injustices towards the Palestinian people, and slow progress and potential looking to the future, hopefully towards an independent Palestinian state. I will begin by looking at the history of the conflict between Israelis and Arabs, as it is an imperative part of the discussion on present conflict.
History of Conflict
In The Palestinian People: A History, author Baruch Kimmerling speaks of the ongoing turbulence in the region. As a historian, he outlines the timeline during the past century, and the important events leading up to the present state of affairs in the region.
As Israeli’s threw Palestinians out of their land in 1948, distinct communities were formed, separating Palestinians geographically among the region. Eventually, “each community developed its own history, goals, relationship to Palestinism and survival tactics.”3 Refugees from these divided communities of Palestine were scattered among regional countries and prior differences simply increased their bonds among them. Although many escaped from the turmoil, approximately half of the Palestinians remained in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza—implicitly refusing to abandon their homeland. The “1948 Arabs” who remained in the area, within Israel’s borders, were able to construct a community based on a common identity, that of an “Israeli-Palestinian Arab.”4 Many of the shunned Arabs viewed this new community as being a contradiction to their beliefs, and viewed many of those staying in the region to be betraying the Arab community. Essentially, their attitude rested on the notion that it was impossible to be an Arab and a Palestinian, while at the same time cooperating with the Israeli state based on Zionist ideologies. After the war in 1967, the 1948 Arabs were able to be accepted as a larger part of the Palestinian community, as the Palestinian community as a whole was re-uinited. The community resulted in a stronger Palestinian sentiment and brotherhood, one which carried them throughout the following decades in wars with Israel.
Politically, the subsequent Oslo agreements and a founding of the Palestinian Authority were enabling to the Palestinian community, though, it also increased the awareness that there was a divided mentality, even among the residents of Palestine. Those remaining in exile against those who were able to maintain permanent residency—and also between the exiles who returned to their homeland with Arafat in 1994 and those who remained outside of Palestine.
Another question remained regarding the status of the refugee, and what that definition even entailed. The Palestinian creation of a “self-governing authority” simply aggravated these differences, as Palestinians were again divided between those living in the historic geographic locations of Palestine and those being under other rules of governance—more specifically, those under the Israeli governance. Historians emphasize the importance of this period in the Palestinian timeline as that which both unified and separated the Palestinian people on a paradoxical level.
Palestinian Arabs living outside their former homeland, that which was taken from them by the Israeli people, were now considered refugees. They were essentially placed in isolation in the surrounding countries where they settled, and the majority of those in exile—over 500,000, resided in Jordan, comprising one-third of Jordan’s population. Jordan was the only Arab state who granted Palestinian Arabs citizenship, and even there, many remained in refugee camps financed primarily by the UN through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, an agency created in 1950 to orchestrate (minimal) funding towards the Palestinians. Among the refugees, almost 200,000 placed into the Gaza Strip, under Egyptian rule, where both their movement and freedom was restricted considerably. Among the nearly 100,000 refugees who settled in Lebanon in 1956, none were granted citizenship due to the Maronite Christian ruling elite, who feared the Muslim population. 5
The decades up to and of the 1990s was filled with continuous efforts to resolve Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian differences through direct negotiations. The Madrid talks of 1991, followed by subsequent meetings at the U.S. state department until June 1993, established precedents for Israeli-Palestinian discussions. The discussions eventually led to the Oslo Accord of September 1993, followed by the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty of 1994. The Israeli-Palestinian pact of 1993 was less than effective, as both sides of were under different preconceptions of what the terms entailed. Many of the terms and agreements were never implemented for this reason, thus leading to a second agreement, the Oslo 2 or “Interim Agreement” of 1995. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 closely followed the agreement, as the land handover agreed upon in Oslo 2 enraged many people.
The summer of 1999, with the election of Ehud Barak, was the first time period whereby the various clauses of the earliest accords were executed. He proposed a detailed schedule by which the final settlement of all issues would be determined by October 2000 as well as implementing a renewal of discussions with Syria. According to Historians, the exchanges with Syria occurring in 1999 would have suggested that Israel agreed to peace agreements with two historic rivals, but as it turned out, both sets of talks had been suspended in January 2000 by Israelis. 6
Immediately following the signing of the accord, both Arab and Israeli opponents of the document exclaimed their determination to deter the implementation of the agreements, often using religious mechanisms and precedents to justify their assaults and opposition. According to the Muslims, the pact essentially meant they were losing most of Palestine west of Jordan, formerly Muslim land, and potentially also the loss of Jerusalem, the third holiest Islamic city. For the Palestinian Christians, the loss of land was equally as detrimental to both religious and cultural heritage and beliefs. For the Jews, their withdrawal from the West Bank meant denying them their biblical heritage of Judea and Samaria, which they believed was rightfully theirs.
The anguish throughout the region was perpetuated, and is still perpetuated by economic problems. Palestine’s nearly total dependence on Israel’s ability to provide employment was and is in jeopardy, initially beginning with the curfew sentences established in 1993. Early warnings by Israeli and other experts that “Palestinian anger is stoked by poverty” were ignored, as were arguments by Israeli economists that “For growth the Palestinians must have open borders with Israel…[because] if you separate them, one of them will die and it is obvious that that one will be the Palestinian economy.” 7
In addition to their mutual mistrusts and suspicions, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have to consider the resistance to compromise existing in both their camps that include the threat of assassination by members of their own communities. This concern is true for both Palestinians and for Israel, where the precedent has been set. Oftentimes, civilians attempt to take political matters into their own hands—spurred by the economic and political oppression, the only option many Palestinians believe they have is to fight back. In the midst of these conflicts emerges Hamas, the only Palestinian group who seems able to make in impact on the initiatives of Israel. It chooses terror, such as in the aftermath of the Hebron massacre—which killed 29 Arabs. Both Americans and Israelis hold Arafat responsible for locating Hamas leaders, who initiate suicide bombings and kidnappings, leading to increased political pressure on Palestine to control civilian actions while trying to instigate the process towards an independent Palestinian state.
The road maps set by the quartet and other international support for peace in the region have simply not worked, and the unresolved, acrimonious environment has allowed Israel to take advantage of the military resources, attacking Palestinians on whim, and uprooting homes by the dozens. According to reports by the American Task Force on Palestine, approximately 2.5 Palestinians are uprooted from their homes every hour by Israelis, while 15 Palestinians are killed by the Israeli government per week. The bloodshed has been indescribably horrific in the region, and the injustice towards the Palestinians even worse.
Boys and young men in the region are continuously pressured to fight for the causes of the region. Again, as the Palestinian community is defined as being of both the Muslim and Christian relgions, both are called to battle against the pressuring Israeli armed guards. Boys as young as five are taught to throw stones in defense of their rights, and young men are armed with weapons to prove points to the other side. By no means are either side justified in committing these acts of violence, but as the Israeli government has a funded national army, Palestinians only have hope of protecting themselves by civilian acts of destruction.
Since 1967, 280,000 Gazans have passed through the Israeli jails, detention cells and interrogation rooms; 80,000 during the intifada, according to the Association of Veteran Palestinian Fighters and Prisoners.8 In Amira Hass’s book, she comments on the brutality of Israeli prisons. Those who were even suspected of disrupting peace, or of distributing leaflets among the people are thrown in jail, brutally beaten upon arrival, and then continuously interrogated. Food and water is minimal, and the efforts to divide and humiliate the prisoners is enormous. The most basic necessities are forbidden and inmates are rarely allowed family visits.
The women of the Palestinian society are constantly called to different roles in the middle east. Often simply ignored in the culture, they are put in the limelight as the men are either killed or put in jail by the dozens.
In Amira Hass’s novel, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Seige, she reports of women’s inferior position in the Palestinian society, amongst all the madness:
“In the puruit I fialed to report on a compelling dynamikc: in a patriarchal society such as the Gaza Strip, women’s absence form public life becomes a motivational force in itself. Hidden away at home, cut off even from one another, women began to organize themselves; openly, timidly, they had begun to confront their domestic oppression, forcing it into the public and political spheres, bringing it into the light” (Hass, 185).
There were in fact feminist developments throughout the area which were initiated by women hoping to strengthen the community, reaching beyond the family. Women’s committees were instigated to set up learning centers offering classes in reading and writing and courses in sewing, juice making, and other ways to support a family. Centers like these, coupled with the sudden transformation of many women into household heads while their husbands are in jail, encouraged women to speak out, come forward and make demands of society and the men who dominate it. 9
According to a diary entry by an unidentified Palestinian women, the role models for women of the current generation were men. A woman identified as M.H., states in her diary:
“As a child I dreamed of being a fighter like my father and brothers. A ten years
old I already had a brother in an Israeli jail, one of the first men to be imprisoned
in the seventires. My father was an officer in the Egyptian police intelligence. When the Israelis took over in 1967, they insisted that he conitnue working in intelligence..he refused and is not working for the Palestinian Authority. So the role models in my family were men. My mother was shut up inside the house all the time, which might be why I felt I had to resist, to get out, although I didn’t really analyze things at the time. I just knew that something was wrong” (Hass, 187).
Thus, a separation was created between women as well. Those who accepted the
terms of their husbands and roles carved by society and those who refused to blindly accept their roles and submissive. The submissive women are constantly putting pressure on their husbands now—asking their husbands why other women can make decisions when they are not allowed to. It is creating, needless to say, a different dynamic among families and the social roles expected when some men are ostracized from society, while others are trying to maintain balance in the household. Another women, who’s husband is currently in an Israeli jail comments on the difficulties of trying to manage Islamic obedience with daily problems:
“As for permission to leave the house, its only natural. The Prophet Muhammed
said that the wife who goes out without her husband’s permission will be cursed by the angels until she returnes home. When my husband was in prison, I told him I needed to leave the hosue to take care of all kinds of things and he gave meblanket permission to go out as long as he was in jail”10
The percentage of women working outside the home is lower in the Strip than the West Bank. A 1992 study by FAFO, a Norwegian research center, found that some 8 percent of the Strip’s workforce were women, compared with 19 percent in the West Bank. The low percentage results form a combination of factors: the traditional inclination to see a woman’s proper place as in the home, household chores that make it hard for women to take on other work, chronic unemployment in the Strip, which prevents them from entering the workforce or relegates them to unskilled jobs, and fundamental doubts about women’s capabilities.
Questions have been asked throughout the region to study the societal expectations of women inside and outside the home. Responses to the questions of whether it was “acceptable for women to work outside the home” were divided according to both religion and age. Seventy-one percent of females between the ages of 15 and 19 answered yes as a Muslim, and 84 percent answered yes as a Christian. In the age group of 20-29, more than 87 percent responded affirmative regardless of religion, while 66 percent agreed in the 30-39 age group—as identified by Muslim religious beliefs. The views between religions, apparently, are not too divided in respect to women’s new responsibilities in the area.
The Politics and Economics of Violence
Due to the geographic location of Palestine, their isolation from Israel has been detrimental to the economy. The location itself ties the two in terms of employment, markets and monetary supply, by which separation causes massive pressure on the Palestinian state. More than anything else, Israel’s position has hindered the Palestinian economic and human development. According to several economists, “if examined against other nations, the level of Palestine’s human development (literacy, health, level of poverty) should translate into a per capita GDP that is five times greater. Israeli restrictions on the interflow of labor and goods have had dramatic repercussions on the Palestinian economy.”11 The report also notes that between the years of 1993 and 1997, when the Israeli border was closed for 307 days, the Palestinian economy lost nearly 3 billion dollars.12
Essentially, Israel has been able to shape the outcome of Palestine’s economic state by postponing several negotiations. By bargaining and putting pressure on the Palestinian’s economically, Israel creates a sense of material urgency, and, by postponing crucial decisions, Israel has created a paralyzed Palestinian economy. When Israel believes Palestinians are “obeying”, they respond by merely allowing a few more worker permits or another convoy of trucks, which is simply not enough. The decaying economy has also undermined the Palestinian Authority’s standing among its people. The Authority has proved weak at the negotiating table yet hungry to maintain its power—a combination that guarantees submission and compromise. Under other circumstances a more resolute Authority might have rejected the concessions it has made. Furthermore, the economic decline has narrowed many Palestinian’s expectations and demands. The same people who hoped and struggled at the beginning of the infitada, who fought to push back the limits of their freedom are now more weighed down by everyday material concerns than ever before. Workers’ rights for Palestinians—in Gaza as in Israel—are considered luxuries that no one even bothers to protect. The growing economic despair has brought Palestinians to the point where they are willing to accept a new arrangement: closed industrial zones along the borders, a la Mexico. 13
Intense violence has led to larger shutdowns of Gaza. Israel has increased its importation of Asian and East European workers to do menial jobs, and therefore replace Palestinian workers creating massive unemployment. The sealing off of the territories could be justified for security reasons, especially after suicide bombings, but the policy only intensified rage that inspired such acts. Whereas 70 percent of Gaza’s labor force had worked in Israel before the intifada, only 11 percent had by January 1994, and fewer after that. 14
The table below shows the considerable upswing in public sector employment during the one year period. Though, the private sector endured harsher circumstances. Not only were there no new jobs, but there was also a drop in existing jobs—directly represented by the figures for the transport and agricultural industry. Since Israel’s harsh imposition of the 1993 closure, the even more detrimental economic cycle had been established, and workers were unable to reach their jobs in Israel, then were forced to cut down demand for purchases other than food and essential commodities. This leads to perpetuating harm for manufacturers, importers, retailers and the like. The occupants of the Strip in return fall behind on electricity and water bills, and with their diminishing incomes, pay employees late. The Palestinian treasury is therefore unable to collect taxes; and people stop traveling inside the strip, so taxi drivers suffer, as well as the tourism industry.
Working in Israel
Commerce and Food
Working in the Strip
Political Leadership (or lack thereof)
Among all of this is the question of political leadership. Sharon has been considered by many to be Israel’s most effective, and most violent leader. He was elected into power on a platform which promised the deterrence of Palestinian violence, by increasing Israel’s aggression and force. He has not succeeded in this attempt, though he is now proposing a two-pronged strategy for survival: the building of a security fence to separate Arabs of the West Bank from Israel, and a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which has the intentions of removing more than a million Palestinians from Israel’s direct control. 15
According to an article published by the New Yorker, the settlement movement has long been aided by Israel’s parliamentary system, which gives single-issue parties an inordinate say in government decisions. 16 The movement has also been effective at placing supporters in key government ministries. And it has been helped by the doubt that many secular Israelis feel about the Palestinians willingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state—and by anger at Palestinian violence. Many Israelis believe that the evacuation of many settlements—even all of the settlements—would not satisfy the Palestinians, thus they are not willing to give up any.
The Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, even while negotiating with Israel in the framework of the Oslo accords of the nineteen-nineties never prepared his people for compromise. Arafat refused to recognize any historical Jewish connection to Palestine, and in the climactic negotiations at Camp David in 2000, he rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of the entire Gaza Strip, nearly all of the West Bank, and a capital in east Jerusalem, and abandoned the talks. Many of Barak’s critics accused the Prime Minister of mishandling the negotiations and of making miserly concessions that were impossible for Arafat to accept. But the dispositive fact of Camp David is this: Barak made an offer, and Arafat walked out without making a counter offer. Three months after, Ariel Sharon surrounded by Israeli police, visited Temple Mount, where the Palestinians ignited the second intifada, which continues today. Sharon capitalized on the violence of 2001 by defeating the compromised-minded Barak in the election for Prime Minister. 17
Added to these issues are questions as to whether Arafat is a capable leader for the Palestinian nation. Local Palestinian leaders resent Arafat’s habit of appointing close allies form Tunis to key posts and ignoring Fatah and other officials familiar with local conditions. But if Arafat’s personal style of rule seemed to ignore the need to create a political and economic infrastructure in the territories taken over, he was hardly helped by the nature of the existing structure given to him. Israeli transition officials sought to hinder Palestinian assumptions of authority on occasion, whether they rmoved light switeches from offices in Jerico, or more seriously, refused to hand over population registers or tax records. Indeed “the Israelis dismanteled their whole taxation system in Gaza and Jericho without coordinating with Arafat or fully transferring taxes to his government.” 18
Palestinians suspect the real reasons for the closures, the bypass roads, and the separation of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem is to carve up the occupied territories permanently, keep them under different political systems, and complete the destruction of the Palestinian social structure. This such separation contravenes the Declaration of Principles, and the Palestinians cite several restrictions that, they believe, prove that separation has little to do with security reasons:19 relatives are not allowed to move freely “between the two territories to visit immediate family members; Gazans who are allowed into the West Bank are always forbidden to spend the night there; people who enter Egypt via the Rafah border are not permitted to return to Gaza via Jordan and the Allenby Bridge; trucks from the Strip and the West Bank are not allowed to transport goods between the two areas.”20 Crucial negotiations over a “safe passage” corridor between Gaza and the West Bank have been in the works since 1994. The Israelis have used this to their advantage, as the Israelis are able to refuse to include in any safe-passage agreement a specific citation of the Declaration of Principles’ confirmation that the “two territories form one integral unit.”
The expansion of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories during the Oslo years revealed that Israel continued to consider the land as a resource for Jews alone: a Palestinian presence is tolerated but Palestinian needs have no claim. Israel continues to deprive Palestinians access to most of the undeveloped land in the occupied territories even as it designates those areas for future Jewish development. Effectively, Israel ahs declared that Palestinian prospects will always be subjugated to Jewish needs, desires and strength. And it has done so under the watchful eye of the Oslo Accords, which explicitly upheld Israel’s position as the sovereign power.
Effects on Education
One of the most painful and symbolic example of the separation is provided by the 1,300 Gazan students enrolled in the West Bank universities who are not allowed to attend classes. The continuous interruption of their studies began in 1991, when Israel revoked the general exit permit enabling Palestinian residents to move about freely. After the 1994 transfer of authorities, Israel withheld the students’ travel permts until long after the semester began and sometimes indefinitely. Some West Bank academic institutions no longer accept students from Gaza because of their erratic attendance. The uncertainty and difficulties have discouraged the many students who would prefer to study at the West Bank universities, which are known to be superior. The students represent a small group compared with the millions who suffer the effects of Gaza’s separation from the West Bank, but their treatment is significant for the future of Palestinian society and emblematic of the post-Oslo reality: the students’ freedom of choice, so vital for the whole community’s intellectual and professional development, has been narrowed to an unprecedented degree.
In addition to economic and political issues, the problems of the region have ignited widespread health issues triggered by emotional stress: high blood pressure, respiratory infections, headaches and the like have plagued Palestinians for decades. With each new hermetic closure these conditions worsen, according to Rabah Mohana, the had of the Union of Health Work Committees, a network of nongovernmental clinics set up by the DFLP and PFLP before the intifada. He states that “As many as 60 percent of Gaza’s children sufer from anemia and 90 percent from intestinal parasites. Treating parasites involves treating the whole family, but when borders are closed the family cannot afford to buy the medicine.” The Israeli monopolization over the water supply has also led to disastrous outbreaks of disease and dehydration, as oftentimes they use it as a mechanism of threat.
Furthermore, in Gaza, there is no facility for cancer radiation treatment. The government-run hospitals have no equipment for conducting CAT scans or mammograms. Biopsy-analysis skills are wanting and rehabilitation facilities for physical disabilities and head injuries have been completely neglected. Cardiac surgery and the treatment of kidney disease are non-existent. Anyone with needs in any of these areas has to make sure his condition is designated “urgent”; otherwise there is no leaving Gaza when the Strip is sealed. The medical interpretation of urgent has been proven to be both ambiguous and taken advantage of by the Israeli soldiers. One boy shot during the intifada, was left completely paralyzed when denied access to medical attention across the border. Another one year old girl who had undergone eye surgery in Tel Aviv was scheduled for a checkup—her mother’s request to enter Israel was denied. 21
Throughout the territories, Palestinian health care institutions have suffered the long-term effects of ruinous restrictions and unreliable staffing. West Bank doctors have been barred from traveling to the Strip to perform surgery, causing the delay of medical treatment within Gaza as well. These situations have caused increasing bitterness and animosity in an already unsteady and volatile situation. It is difficult for many Palestinians to believe that (among many other cases) withholding surgery from a three year old, denying a man fertility treatment, and preventing a son from being with his dying mother, have anything to do with security.
Between 1994 and 1998 over $5.2 billion dollars have been donated to Palestine, although, the impact of donations has been severely limited by situational circumstances. Essentially, central funding is non-existent, and therefore the prioritization and coordination of donor support is minimal at best. Through a vast range of channels, funding arrives to the country, but without the correct coordination, the funds are not funneled to the correct programs or people. The political instability of the country has limited Palestine’s institutional capacity, and therefore, donor spending has been inefficient, leading institutional donors to rethink their contributions. One troubling aspect of donations is that most (approximately half) are given as loans. This form of debt is troubling to not only the current economic situation, but future generations as well. In order for donor support to have a lasting effect on the economy, there must be policy measures to manage it more effectively.
The most important element of public expenditure should be on supporting the people of the Palestinian state. There must be several decisions made on which services and public sectors will have money allocated towards it, and there must be public and governmental support for these programs. The donor community for Palestine is currently relied on for providing these public services, including health and education spending which is considerably low. Spending strategies should be focused around alleviating social issues, rather than its current role of merely helping disadvantaged groups keep their head above water.
Economically, The Palestinian potential for development is extremely positive. Accoording to the National Plan of Action for Palestinian Children , various estimates place the assets of the Palestinian Diaspora between $40 and $80 billion. Moreover, bank deposits have increased considerably over the past five years. In order for the economic environment to fully take advantage of this potential, the political environment must stabilize dramatically. Currently, Palestine must be committed to furthering its social capital by focusing on the rights, health and needs of children. Groups such as the National Plan of Action for Palestinian Children are policy lobbyists for the region, trying to focus the government on investing in children, through health and education, and essentially becoming socially responsible for internal economic strength.22 At a real GDP growth rate of –2.4 percent and a trade imbalance of 2.8 billion dollars, there is a clear necessity to stimulate the economy. Groups like the NPAPC and other donors focus their attention on “lessening the unemployment rate, generating enough savings to finance investment, and producing enough exports to pay for imports.” 23
American Policy has been shaky at best. Recently, according to reports from Washington, fifty three former US diplomats accused the White House of sacrificing America’s “credibility in the Arab world-and the safety of its diplomats and soldiers-because of the Bush administration’s support for the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.”24 In a time when American international policy is under scrutiny for the issues of Iraq, it seems as more of an embarrassment to the Bush administration that his decisions to support Sharon’s proposal for continued Jewish settlement in the West Bank is looked upon internationally as being ignorant at best. One UN official commented on the May 4 meeting that “by closing the door with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proved that the US is not an even-handed peace partner. You have placed US diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in an untenable and even dangerous position.”25 A document written to the President reported that “Washington had overthrown decades of US diplomatic tradition last month when Mr Bush endorsed a plan for Gaza with no Palestinian involvement” and accuses the “bush administration of ‘unabashed support’ for Israel’s strategy of assassinating Palestinian leaders and military operatives, and urges Washington to change its course.”26 (the full text document has been attached at the end of the paper.)
There are, however, American organizations which not only promote an independent Palestinian state, but also aim at establishing national security and peace, democratic values and an expansion of economic opportunities for the Palestinian people. 27 Organizations such as the American Task Force on Palestine “advocates the establishment of a democratic state of Palestine living in peace and security alongside Israel in the territories occupied in 1967 in accordance with international law and the relevant United Nations Resolutions.”28
These organizations in addition to those resolutions established by the Road Map to peace adopted by the Quartet, all firmly establish that there is an international desire to resolve the issues in the Middle East and find resolution to conflict. Such plans for peace include the rightful attitude that “such a resolution is possible only with a restoration of Palestinian rights in the land that has been their home for centuries without interruption. The longer this denial of rights persists, the more difficult it will be to convince young people to choose the path of peace. Nonetheless, hope for a brighter future must not be abandoned.”29
A Trillion Dollar Market
There are obviously other motives besides pure altruism leading the United States to policy interventions towards the Middle East. According to the American Task Force, “America and the Middle East both stand to reap tremendous benefits as a result of Palestinian statehood.” As warfare has been a focal point in the Arab world for a considerable amount of time, sociologists, economists and policymakers alike agree that there are extraordinary talents among the Arab people which are wasted on internal turmoil and war. The American Task Force also mentions that “as the political landscape calms, substantial markets in the Middle East and North Africa, not to mention the newly created State of Palestine, will blossom, with American companies being the primary beneficiaries. Pooling of the talents, skills, labor forces as well as natural resources of the Arabs and Israelis will allow for strategic relations of the whole region with the United States. Such relations will generate wealth, prosperity and stability for all.”30
The potential for Palestinian economic, social and political freedoms are clear. The dismissal of boundaries and blockades into certain areas of the West Bank would not only expand employment opportunities, but dramatically increase the economic stability of the region. Additionally, the tourism industry in the holy land would provide immeasurable economic opportunities for the West Bank. Altogether, the settlements and Israeli roads cover twenty eight square miles—19.36 percent of the total area. In other words, a fifth of the Gaza Strip is restricted, in this post-Oslo era, to one-half percent of the people who live within its borders. Put differently, one-fifth of the land is designated for the use of Jews only. To open this land, of which belongs to no particular side, is imperative in the hopes of growth for Palestinian economic welfare and societal freedom.
The full text of a letter from some 50 retired US diplomats urging President Bush to reverse his Middle East policy.
Dear Mr President:
We former US diplomats applaud our 52 British colleagues who recently sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair criticising his Middle East policy and calling on Britain to exert more influence over the United States.
As retired foreign service officers we care deeply about our nation's foreign policy and US credibility in the world.
We also are deeply concerned by your April 14 endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral plan to reject the rights of three million Palestinians, to deny the right of refugees to return to their homeland, and to retain five large illegal settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank.
This plan defies UN Security Council resolutions calling for Israel's return of occupied territories.
It ignores international laws declaring Israeli settlements illegal.
It flouts UN Resolution 194, passed in 1948, which affirms the right of refugees to return to their homes or receive compensation for the loss of their property and assistance in resettling in a host country should they choose to do so.
And it undermines the Road Map for peace drawn up by the Quartet, including the US. Finally, it reverses longstanding American policy in the Middle East.
Your meeting with Sharon followed a series of intensive negotiating sessions between Israelis and Americans, but which left out Palestinians.
In fact, you and Prime Minister Sharon consistently have excluded Palestinians from peace negotiations.
Former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo voiced the overwhelming reaction of people around the world when he said: "I believe President Bush declared the death of the peace process today".
By closing the door to negotiations with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proved that the United States is not an even-handed peace partner.
You have placed US diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in an untenable and even dangerous position.
Your unqualified support of Sharon's extra-judicial assassinations, Israel's Berlin Wall-like barrier, its harsh military measures in occupied territories, and now your endorsement of Sharon's unilateral plan are costing our country its credibility, prestige and friends.
It is not too late to reassert American principles of justice and fairness in our relations with all the peoples of the Middle East.
Support negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, with the United States serving as a truly honest broker.
A return to the time-honored American tradition of fairness will reverse the present tide of ill will in Europe and the Middle East - even in Iraq.
Because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of the problems in the Middle East, the entire region - and the world - will rejoice along with Israelis and Palestinians when the killing stops and peace is attained.
Andrew I Killgore, Ambassador to Qatar, 1977-1980
Richard H Curtiss, former chief inspector, US Information Agency
Colbert C Held, Retired FSO and author
Thomas J Carolan, Counsel General Istanbul, '88-'92
C Edward Bernier, Counselor of Embassy, Information and Culture, Islamabad, Pakistan
Donald A Kruse, American Consul in Jerusalem
Ambassador Edward L Peck, former Chief of Mission in Iraq and Mauritania
John Powell, Admin Counselor in Beirut, '75-'76
John Gunther Dean, last position held US Ambassador to India
Greg Thielmann, Director, Office for Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, Bureau of Intelligence and Research
James Akins, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Talcott Seeyle, Ambassador to Syria
Eugene Bird, Counselor of Embassy in Saudi Arabia
Richard H Nolte, Ambassador to Egypt
Ray Close, Chief of Station Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 1971-1979
Shirl McArthur, Commercial Attache, Bangkok
Glossary of Important Terms for Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict
By Amira Hass, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in Land Under Siege.
Civil Administration: A separate branch of the Israeli military government in the occupied territories, set up in 1981 to handle civilian matters. The civil administration was dissolved in the Gaza Strip in 1994 but continues to function in those parts of the West Bank that remain under direct Israeli military control.
Declaration of Principles (DOP): An agreement to establish limited Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and in Jericho in the West Bank that also set down principles for further negotiations. The DOP was signed in Washington, D.C., on September 13, 1993 by Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yassir Arafat.
Democratic Front for the Liveration of Palestine (DFLP): Broke away from the PFLP in 1969; led by Naif Hawatemeh. The DFLP supported a democratic, secular state in Palestine with equal rights for Jews and Arabs; it now advocates a two-state solution.
Fatah: The largest and most influential Palestinian political organization, founded by Yassir Arafat in exile in 1959.
Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement, formed at the beginning of the intifada in 1987 by Muslim Brotherhood leaders, among them Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Salah Shehade. Hamas is the second largest organization in the occupied territories.
Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War): A Muslim Brotherhood breakaway group formed in the mid-1980s by Fathi Shiqaqi and Abd al-Aziz Oudeh, two refugees from Gaza. The Islamic Jihad advocates an Islamic state in all of Palestine.
Letters of Mutual Recognition: Following intense negotiations in Oslo, Yassir Arafat sent a letter to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on September 9, 1993, in which the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist and renounced terrorism. In reply, Israel, recognized the PLO as the representative of Palestinians in negotiations. The letters paved the way for the Oslo Accords.
Oslo Accords: The umbrella term for a series of agreements signed by Israel and the PLO between September 1993 and September 1995, which includes the Declaration of Principles, the Cairo agreement, the Washington agreement and the Paris protocols. The accords are so called because early negotiations between the two sides were conducted in Oslo.
Palestiniation Liberation Organizaiton (PLO): Founded in Jerusalem in 1964 as a coalition of various Palestinian political factions. The PLO was tightly controlled by the rab League until 1969, when the Fatah movement, led by Yassir Arafat, took command of the organization.
Palestinian National Council (PNC): The PLO’s legislative body, to which its 554 members are either nominated or elected. Seats were held vacant for residents of the occupied territories until April 1996, when all the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council joined its ranks.
Paris Protocols: Protocol on economic relations between Israel and the future Palestinian Authority, signed in Paris on April 29, 1994.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA): Created by the United Nations General Assembly in 1949 to assist Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Washington Agreement: Also called Oslo 2 or the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the accord was signed in Washington, D.C., on September 28, 1995. It expanded the jurisdiction of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank for an interim period to end no later than five years after the signing of the Cairo accord, i.e., on May 4, 1999. Crucial issues, such as the status of Jerusalem, the Jewish settlements, and the Palestinian refugees were to be addressed in permanent status negotiations.
American Task Force on Palestine. Home Page.
Finkelstein, Norman G. Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict. London:
Goldberg, Jeffrey. “Among the Settlers: Will they Destroy Israel?” New Yorker. 31
May 2004: 44-69.
Goldenberg, Susan. “ Former Diplomats Attack Bush.” Common Dreams Newsletter,
May 4, 2005.
Hass, Amira. Drinking the Sea At Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege. Henry
Holt and Company, LLC, 1999.
Kimmerling, Baruch & Joel S. Migdal. The Palestinian People. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2003.
Smith, Charles, D. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001.