Middle East: Palestine/Israel
What's the conflict all about?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a part of the greater Arab-Israeli conflict, is an ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a simple two-sided conflict with all Israelis (or even all Israeli Jews) sharing one point of view and all Palestinians another. In both communities, some individuals and groups advocate total territorial removal of the other community, some advocate a two-state solution, and some advocate a bi-national solution of a single secular state encompassing present-day Israel, the Gaza strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
What's preventing a two-state solution?
Since the Oslo Accords, the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have been officially committed to an eventual two-state solution. The main unresolved issues between these two bodies are:
• The status and future of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem which comprise the areas for the proposed State of Palestine.
• Israeli security, including the Israeli West Bank barrier.
• Palestinian security.
• The nature of a future Palestinian state.
• The fate of the Palestinian refugees.
• The settlement policies of Israel, and the ultimate fate of settlements.
• Sovereignty over Jerusalem's holy sites, including the Temple Mount and Western Wall (Wailing Wall) complex.
The refugee issue arose as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The issue of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem arose as a result of the Six-Day War in 1967.
There has been both literal prolonged violent conflict and the underlying conflict of ideas, goals and principles. There are people who sympathize with the goals of one or the other side, without necessarily embracing the tactics that have been used on behalf of those goals; further, there are those who embrace at least some of the goals of both sides. And to refer to "both" sides is, itself, a simplification: Fatah and Hamas are far from agreement over goals for the Palestinians; the same could be said for the various Israeli political parties, even if discussion is limited to the Jewish Israeli parties.
That said, those who advocate violent Palestinian resistance generally justify that as legitimate resistance to an illegitimate Israeli military occupation of Palestine supported by military and diplomatic assistance from the U.S. Many tend to view the armed Palestinian resistance within the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a right granted by the Geneva conventions and the United Nations Charter, and some extend this view to justify attacks, frequently against civilians, within Israel proper.
Conversely, those sympathetic to Israeli military action and other Israeli measures against the Palestinians tend to view these actions as legitimate Israeli self-defense against a campaign of terrorism perpetrated by Palestinian groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and others, and supported by other states in the region and by the majority of the Palestinians, at least those Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens. Many tend to believe that the control of part or all of the territory is necessary for the security of Israel. This sharp contrast of views on the legitimacy of the actions of each party to the conflict has been a key obstacle to resolution.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli-Palestinian_conflict; see for more information and links)
What are the most recent developments?
In the past couple years, former Isreali Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon was gambling that Israel's majority would support his plan to disengage unilaterally from Gaza. While a mainly-settler minority is vowing to prevent any Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, both pragmatists on the Right and doves on the Left are supporting this modest disengagement. Those on the Right support a "Gaza-only" position, echoing some in Sharon's party who see the pull-out as a strategy of "freezing" the political process without having to make any more concessions. Supporters on the Left support a "Gaza-first" position, and are hoping that Sharon's disengagement will set a precedent for further pull-outs from West Bank settlements and set the stage for revived final-status negotiations.
In Israel and Palestine there are signs that the nearly five-year-old al-Aqsa intifada may be ending, but the challenge now is to construct a just and enduring peace in its wake. The unexpected death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 and the peaceful election in January 2005 of Mahmoud Abbas as President presented an opportunity for renewed negotiations, resumed debates between the parties about the terms of the Road Map for Peace to end the occupation and establish an independent and "viable" Palestinian state.
On January 26, 2006, the HAMAS party (an Arabic acronym for "Islamic Resistance Movement") won 7 of 132 parliamentary seats in the Palestinian election, giving the party the right to form the next cabinet which serves under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (of the Palestinian Fatah party). The U.S. State Department lists the HAMAS movement as a terrorist organization, and HAMAS has consistently refused the right of Israel to exist. That HAMAS overwhelmingly won the popular vote was due, in part, to its strong reputation as a major provider of social services, and it will be expected to deliver results for the Palestinian people in its new role. This coupled with the fact that since January 4, 2006, Sharon has been incapacitated by the effects of a stroke, and day-to-day governance of Israel is now exercised by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, makes the near future uncertain at this point.
What is the "Road Map"?
The Road Map for Peace is a plan that calls for simultaneous steps to end the conflict, build confidences and then negotiate Israel's disengagement from the occupied territories according to the terms of U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338. It's the most widely-referred to solution to the Palestine-Isreal conflict.
What does that really mean for the people?
Lost in the debate is the tremendous economic suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people by the U.S. role in the continued deterioration of the Palestinian condition, coupled with Israeli unilateralism. Congress continues to deny direct U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, especially under its newly-elected government. The occupation has strangled Palestinian commerce and industry, raised unemployment and added to the misery of an already economically desperate people.
How is the U.S. involved?
In order to continue moving toward a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, as set forth in the Road Map for Peace, it is important for the United States to re-engage the parties in an updated bilateral process. Without U.S. attention and willingness to apply balanced pressure on Israel as well as the Palestinians to keep their mutual commitments, Isreal will continue to ignore the more comprehensive disengagement terms it agreed to and instead race ahead on settlement construction and the erection of its illegal separation barrier through Palestinian territories.
The Bush Administration recognizes that its robust support of the new Palestinian leadership is critical to sustaining the momentum that has quelled the conflict and created a new opportunity for negotiations. President Bush is showing a greater willingness to risk political capital in the Middle East. He sent new Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to the region to assure both parties, as well as guarded European allies, that the United States is now prepared to support peace efforts. Even more, the President is committed to financially supporting Abbas's government in order to ensure it maintains the support of the Palestinian people.
President Bush requested $200 million to be added to the Iraq-Afghanistan supplemental budget request for emergency assistance to go directly to the Palestinian Authority, and added another $150 million in his FY 2006 budget request. Staunch Israel-only proponents on both aisles of Congress are resisting. Some, like former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), called for opposition to any direct support to the Palestinians. Others like Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) are demanding strict conditions on the aid that could give more control to the Palestinian Authority than the President is willing to concede.
The President's tentative efforts to reengage the United States in a Middle East peace process cannot be scuttled by those who would have the unjust and dangerous status quo persist. The U.S. Administration is sure to credit any democratic advances that do occur in the Middle East to its intervention in Iraq and throughout the region. However, any hopes for reform and stability, whether rooted in the region or imposed by the United States, will be threatened unless the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is solved first. Here the United States does have a primary and essential role to play in making peace and shaping a political process that would lead to, as President Bush describes, "two states side by side, in peace and security."
How has the UCC been involved?
The UCC has advocated that Hamas remove language in its charter condoning terrorism and denying Israel's right to exist. If it does, and if Israel were to affirm the right of Palestinians to a state, which the UCC has also advocated, both sides could move beyond a terrible (and potentially very violent) stalemate.
How can I be involved?
As the supplemental requests go to the floor of Congress for consideration, you can urge your Congressional representatives:
• to monitor the U.S. commitment to seek a two-party state solution and to restart negotiations between Palestine and Israel
• to ensure that reconstruction aid like that going toward rebuilding in the Gaza strip, is not withdrawn because politics trumps human need.
• to encourage their congressional delegates to support the President in giving aid to the Palestinian people and government.