Author: professor Ljubica Vasic, PhD, associate of the Council for strategic policy
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been debated since the beginning of the 20th century. The causes of the conflict were explained through various theories of international relations and observed through the prism of cultural and religious studies while solutions were sought through diplomatic action. On the one hand, the components involved in the analysis of this conflict represent cultural systems and processes both within Israel and Palestine. On the other hand, in analysis of the analysts it is taken into account the reactions of both Israel and Palestine to both domestic and foreign policies, each within its own political system.
A “clash” or “conflict” is called “international” when it occurs between sovereign states. A better understanding of the sources of the dynamics of international conflicts can lead to working more constructively on conflicts so that positive changes can be created. The first step in understanding a conflict is to consider its possible definitions. In this paper, we are going to list some theories and methods which considers this conflict. It should be noted here that analysts have rarely discussed the use of political-cultural theory as an instrument for analyzing the roots and genesis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, there are those who have done so.
For example, William Gamson believes that the elements of an idea in culture do not exist in isolation, but that they are grouped into more or less harmonious groups. Gamson observes the elements of political culture as instruments used to study the roots of this conflict (Dwiastuti, 2020). If we start from the premise that national identity is created through cultural identity, then it can be said that “no nation in history has achieved an important degree of national identity without showing, developing and confirming its cultural identity” (Vasić, 2017). This statement actually points out to an important aspect of thinking about cultural values shaped by national identity. The inherent striving for the national dimension of understanding everyday development would be destructive compared to culture and would eventually destroy it. The symbol of immature or weak national consciousness and identity is the need to force it, at any cost (Ibid, 2017).
We are at a point when numerous new rounds of negotiations are being announced to resolve burning issues in the Balkans as well, thus, a symbolic parallel could be drawn with the peace agreements in the Middle East and the Balkans where the same issues are actually being resolved, that is the relations between ethnic and religious groups and their territorial limitations (Bisenić, 2018).
2. The Genesis of the Conflict
The basis of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians paradoxically lies in the need for security and peace between the two sides. At the beginning of the conflict, the need to achieve lasting peace was shaped by United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (S/RES/242), 1967. The United Nations (UN) has been the creator of most peace plans, including one related to “exchanging land for peace” (Reynolds, 2007). Starting from the proposal of the UN Security Council Resolution 242 in the 1967 conflict, until the various negotiations that took place decades after the adoption of the mentioned Resolution, no permanent solution was reached.
At one point, there was a misinterpretation of the Resolution 242, which called for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied territories, as well as respect for the recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity and political independence of any state whose population has the right to live in peace (Ibid, 2007). In fact, the resolution is known for its inaccuracy in defining it, and in connection with the withdrawal of Israel, because it refers only to the withdrawal “from the territory.” The Israelis claimed that this resolution did not necessarily apply to all territories, but the Arab negotiators considered that it actually did (Ibid, 2007). The second resolution, that is the United Nations Security Council Resolution 338 (S/RES/338), linked to the Resolution 242, calls for a ceasefire in the war that broke out in October 1973 and encourages the full implementation of Resolution 242. Following the adoption of the Resolution in 1973, there was an attempt to reach a peace agreement in 1978 at Camp David. The war that broke out in 1967 was followed by other discussions and negotiations, however, the agreement was reached only during the historic visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (Ibid, 2007). The discussion lasted for twelve long days in Camp David, where two agreements were reached. The first agreement reached was a framework for achieving peace in the Middle East. With this agreement, peace was reached and the agreement was extended to the Resolution 242, which defined that an agreement should be reached between Egypt and Israel, and the Resolution called on the neighbors to reach the same agreement (Ibid, 2007). The second agreement was the framework of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, which followed in 1979, after the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. This was also the first recognition of Israel as a state by a large Arab country. The agreement lasted and significantly strengthened Israel’s position. President Sadat was later assassinated (Ibid, 2007). Sadat’s commitment to peace has survived, as evidenced, for example, by many documents written by Salah Douba, a well-known Egyptian businessman and owner of the independent daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. Under the pseudonym “Newton,” Doub writes that Egypt “saw the need for peace late and did not use the chances that appeared to it earlier” (Bisenić, 2018). Doub had in mind the American-British initiative called “Alpha” from 1955, and further states that the document contains numerous points, among which are following: acceptance of Arab sovereignty over a sufficient territory, the right of refugees to return or reparation for those who return, the return of Arab border villages, equal rights for Israeli and Palestinian citizens of Israel, ending of the state of war and an agreement on an international formula for monitoring the holy places in the city of Jerusalem” (Bisenić, 2018).
Examining the roots and causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been in the center of world attention. Analysts are constantly questioning the reason why the “interests” of Israel and Palestine have escalated into an endless conflict. Some analysts have shown that the cultural element has always been an important aspect of understanding the roots of conflict. The above-mentioned variable of political culture could become an interesting means of understanding both positions in the conflict, both Israeli and Palestinian. Political culture could play one of the more important roles in clarifying the causes of the conflict and could also help shed light on the symptoms of this conflict. At this point, we will make a minor digression and note that the end of the Cold War affected the position of terrorist organizations and groups on the world stage. Technological development and globalization have become fertile ground for the emergence of some organizations of this type, while others have latently begun to operate in the meantime. Globalization and modern technology have provided these organizations with the opportunity to use new means in their struggle, which means that “the way of acting, methods and means of terrorist groups and organizations have changed, but the essence of terrorism as a way of fighting has remained the same” (Jazić, 2013). Namely, at the moment when the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians flared up on the ground, social networks became a space for viral broadcasting of tensions. Misinformation about the escalation of violence was spreading on social networks. The revelations, some of which were sponsored by the Israeli government, are often full of inaccurate information. At the same time, social networks did not take a stand on the misinformation that was placed through their platforms (www.slobodnaevropa.org.).
Thus, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict opens new chapters in cultural and identity debates and theories of international relations, restoring the process of researching the roots of the conflict to the historical aspect. For seventy years, this conflict has again taken on different dimensions, forms and shapes. International efforts so far have not borne fruit in finding his comprehensive diplomatic solution. Constant violence makes the lives of both communities insecure, fueling the permanent duration of the conflict, which is thus a gathering place for extremist actors. Therefore, this conflict requires the continued attention of the international community.
When we talk about peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, it is also important to mention the Madrid Conference held in 1991, which was organized under the auspices of the United States of America and the states of the former Soviet Union. The Madrid conference aimed to continue the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations with the goal of reaching an agreement that would encourage other Arab countries to sign agreements with Israel. The conference resulted in a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan in 1994 (Reynolds, 2007). A new Arab League initiative has drawn a map according to which Israel is returning to the framework of the June 1967 agreement. This would form a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In return, Arab countries would recognize Israel’s right to exist (Ibid, 2007). After various attempts, the shadow negotiators presented a “2003 plan” aimed at the Middle East (Ibid, 2007). The Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid aimed to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and launched what is now considered the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Three decades later, the world and the region underwent tectonic changes, only in outline reminiscent of 1991 when the Cold War was coming to an end. However, the time has come for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take a more sober view of global and regional trends that pose problems for both them and their peoples. If both sides do not recognize the need for a broader picture, violence is likely to continue to escalate, something similar to what we witnessed in May this year (Youssef, 2021). As seven years ago, and now after eleven days of conflict and a truce between Hamas and Israel, the following question arises: who actually won. The Palestinians in Gaza will need much more than humanitarian aid to achieve long-term stability. They require a sustainable development plan, trade capacity, employment opportunities and remediation of environmental damage by the Israeli bombing, as well as access to water and better sanitation (Hassan, 2021 Carnegie). Conflicts in Jerusalem mostly erupt for two reasons, which refer to the eviction of Palestinians from their homes and the construction of new settlements for Israelis (Bisenić, 2021). The question also arises as to what Hamas wants, so if we look at it that way, then this conflict would be just a normal “fight” between the two sides, which would have ended quickly with fewer people injured in the clashes with stones and water cannons if Hamas from Gaza had not intervened this time rocketing Israeli cities (Ibid). On the other hand, there are foreign policy analysts who are of the opinion that the reasons for the escalation of the conflict are foreign policy as well as internal. Internally, it is an obvious political instability in both Israel and Palestine. However, there is also hatred among young Palestinians, who do not trust politicians (https://rs.n1info.com.). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most complicated issues. There are also those opinions that advocate the view that the conflict between the Arabs and Israel, in addition to being a conflict over territories, is actually ethnic, national and historical, as we have already said. Thus, political scientists of religion believe that religion is the only constant in history for two thousand years, and that research has shown that conflicts in which the religious element predominates last a long time with a tendency to repeat over and over again, with a large number of civilian casualties. What we see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts we see in our country as well (Ibid).
Since 2007, when Hamas took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, Israel has pursued a tougher policy toward Gaza to cut it off from the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israeli officials have not publicly offered a clear explanation, but justify the policy with unclear political and security reasons. In any case, this is part of the broader context of the Palestinian separation process. Since its founding in 1948, Israel’s policy has been to prevent the return of refugees and the fragmentation of Palestinian communities within Israel’s recognized borders and in the occupied territories (Hassan, 2021).
We mentioned that young people have lost trust in their politicians. In a dramatically changing world, the Israeli leadership recognizes that, as long as the occupation is provided in the most extremist way, its political legitimacy will be jeopardized. There is also a need for a unified and representative Palestinian leadership, committed to the search for the same platform, and that is the marginalization of violent extremist groups. On the other hand, calls for continued division, erosion of legitimacy, repression and mismanagement are a recipe for lasting disorder and weak international support. Without unity, democracy and responsibility, they will not be able to face the challenge of ending the occupation and establishing lasting peace (Youssef, 2021).
There are many different approaches to understanding and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An integrative way of conducting negotiations can serve as one of the examples, because this way of negotiating implies seeking a solution that is acceptable to both parties. Namely, integrative negotiation enables negotiators to work together to find a compromise solution that would eventually bridge their differences (Lewicki, 2011). Due to the fact that conflict escalation interferes with communication and leads to misunderstandings, understanding the emotional and cognitive components of conflict plays a crucial role in achieving a successful negotiation outcome.
3. Attitudes of the Leading Powers towards the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Hoping to preserve the stability of the Israeli-Palestinian bilateral solution, the new US administration has expressed its intention to re-engage with the Palestinian people, after the previous administration took several actions that in principle supported Israel’s position and seemingly alienated itself from the Palestinian people. leadership (Congressional Research Service, 2021). In April this year, the Biden administration announced the continuation of some kind of assistance to the Palestinians. To date, the Biden administration has not withdrawn the measures taken by the Trump administration in connection with the 2020 agreements on the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, and the Biden administration has shown support for Arab-Israeli efforts for normalization as guarantors of stability in achieving a bilateral solution. In relation to their agreement with the UAE, Israel agreed in August 2020 to suspend plans to annex part of the West Bank, although recent developments suggest otherwise (Ibid, 2021).
The main priorities of US policy towards Palestine through its administrations included seeking a stable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then assistance to anti-Palestinian-oriented Hamas, based in the West Bank, and other militant groups, and the use of aid to encourage Palestinian Authority and Economic Development Reform (Congressional Research Service 2021). Since 2007, when Hamas took power over the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Authority, Israel has pursued a tougher policy towards the Gaza Strip, cutting it off completely from the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, the policy has been to prevent the return of refugees. Approximately 70% of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been refugees since 1948. The ultimate goal was to suppress the Palestinian national identity and to disable organized political structures that would be able to represent them (Hassan, 2021). The new US administration can obviously continue with programs of economic development, security and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which was shown in March and April this year (https://www.arabnews.com).
The UN, the US, Russia and the European Union (EU) recently took part in a virtual meeting to discuss reactivating long-delayed efforts to launch negotiations between Israel and Palestine on finding a bilateral solution to their decades-long conflict. A brief statement by four mediators for the Middle East, also known as the Middle East Quartet (Quartet), said the envoys discussed a return to substantive negotiations that would lead to a bilateral solution, including concrete steps to improve freedom, security and progress for Palestinians and Israelis. in itself significant (Ibid).
On May 13 2021, President Putin, together with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, called for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the establishment of a “bilateral solution,” including the establishment of Palestine as an independent state side by side with Israel. Russia and the UN call for the resumption of talks within the Middle East Quartet – a format established in 2002 involving the UN, US, EU and Russia, with the aim of mediating in the Middle East peace talks by supporting Palestinian economic development and institution building (Bochkov, 2021). Since 2014, there have been no substantial peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and the two sides have been fiercely opposed over the essential points of the conflict. In late January, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said there was “reason to hope” for progress towards an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after many years of passive approach to solving the problem. Guterres pointed out that the UN will examine all initiatives to enable a “true peace process” based on a bilateral solution (https://www.arabnews.com). The new US president, Joseph Biden, wanted to put an ad acta proposal for the Trump administration’s Middle East peace solution and divert attention from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific region, but the recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict changed that plan (Bochkov, 2021).
For more than three decades, the Palestinians have been demanding an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, in fact the territories that Israel conquered with the end of the war in 1967. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but imposed a paralyzing blockade when the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized power from the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. The peace plan unveiled by former US President Trump in February 2020 foresaw a Palestinian state handing over key parts of the West Bank to Israel, and sided with Israel on key contentious issues, such as the borders and status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements. The Palestinians vehemently rejected the plan. Shortly afterwards, on January 20, 2021, US President Joseph Biden was inaugurated, and his administration announced the resumption of diplomatic relations with the Palestinians and new assistance to Palestinian refugees. This was a reversal in relation to Trump’s cut and a key element of American renewed support for finding a bilateral solution. As already mentioned, the Quartet was established in 2002 and has been criticized for failing to persuade either the Israeli or Palestinian authorities to change their policy and negotiate an end to the conflict (https://www.arabnews.com). For now, the Quartet’s envoys do not mention any future steps.
4. Short overview
As for Russia and China on the issue of this conflict, they take a more restrained stance. Russia calls on both sides to reduce tensions and reach a peaceful solution. China’s position is concurrent with Russia’s position, calling on both sides to exercise restraint in order to avoid new victims. Russia and China are known for sharing a common position in the United Nations as the cornerstone of global political nomenclature, opposing the American international order based on the rule of law (Bochkov, 2021). These countries provide their support for resolving this conflict mostly in a rhetorical way, within the UN, with China’s influence being limited regardless of Russia’s ability and ability to communicate on both sides. China lacks the leverage to put pressure on both Israel and Palestine to change its attitudes. China and Russia are aware of their shortcomings in the approach to resolving this conflict and in this regard would not take on the role of guarantors of peace and security in order to avoid possible failures in this Middle East conflict (Pelayo, 2021).
At this point, Russia is satisfied with the fact that the latest events have renewed the format and role of the Quartet in finding a solution to the conflict, somewhat equating the status of Russia with the status of the USA, the EU and the UN in the Quartet. As for China, it suits her that this Middle East crisis diverts international attention from its treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang. China and Russia have realized that the United States remains the leading power with significant influence in Israel, although they estimate that at this moment Washington will not take a serious move to bring the parties in the negotiations closer to a solution (Ibid, 2021). Russia lacks the long-term geopolitical options on the ground that China has, but is much more involved in the region and is constantly looking for ways to expand its presence and maximize its role.
*The views represented herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institution where the author is employed.