Generally, international days are to celebrate or remember special events or achievements of humanity. These occasions can give understandings about the day and educate the international community on specific issues. It can also help to invite international attention and to mobilise political will to address global issues. By creating special observances, the United Nations Organisations (UNO) promotes general awareness and action on these issues. It can be seen that most of the observances have been established by resolutions of the UN General Assembly (UNGA)[i] on various occasions. Anyhow the themes of most international days will be linked to maintenance of international security and peace, the protection of human rights, the promotion of sustainable development, and the strengthening of international law and humanitarian action. Since 1978, in each year, 29 November is observed as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People[ii]. It was on the same day, in 1947, the UNGA adopted the resolution 181 (II) on the partition of Palestine intended to establish a Jewish State and an Arab State. Thus, the annual observance of the resolution has great significance as the conflict between the two remains as one of the complex and unresolved issues in the world. The day provides an opportunity for the general public to focus, think, discuss and address the question of Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs have yet to attain their inalienable rights as defined by the UNGA. They include the right to sovereignty and national independence, the right to self-determination without outside interference, the right to return to their homeland and to access their property. The day also encourages the international community to continue their support. This brief critically analyses the disappointing roles played by different actors, especially the United States (US) over the years since the creation of Israel in 1948. It also discusses significant issues to be solved between the Palestinians and Israel while looking at the evolution of the conflict between the two.
Major Issues between the Two
The Palestine- Israel conflict is one of the most controversial and longest-running conflicts in the world. Claims over the same territory by the two remain as the core of the issue. The troubled or “disputed” land which lies roughly in between east of the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan. When the state of Israel, the Jewish state, located mostly along the coastal line of the former, most of the Palestinians live on the West Bank[iii] region. Further, when Israel controls or tries to control most of the same territories (partially or fully), the Arabs want to establish a state of their own in the name Palestine on part or all of the same land. Thus the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is upon ‘who gets what land and how it is controlled’. It is also important to note that the root causes of the conflict between the two go back to Biblical times. However, its modern history began with a series of Aliyahs[iv] mainly took place between the late 1800s until the second half of the 20th century. The territory between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River (at least Gaza strip and West Bank) now has different nomenclature. While the UN calls it the Palestinian territories, the Israeli authority considers it as “disputed” one and opines its status can be resolved on through peace negotiations[v]. The critical roles played by different actors[vi] on different occasions are very significant in this regard. When the international community or significant players in the world politics failed to solve the issues between them, West Asia or the Middle East witnessed several bloody wars over the territory. Now, the international boundary of the region is mostly a reflection of the results of these Wars especially the one waged in 1948 known as Al Nakhba[vii] and another in 1967 called the Six-Day War[viii]. Anyhow the state of Israel has been controlling these territories ever since.
Despite repeated attempts from different actors[ix] to end the enmity between the Arabs and Israel, there is no final peace settlement happened as there are many issues yet to be solved between the two. First among these is the question over the status of Jerusalem. When the Palestinians wish East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, Israel claims that the holy city is their undivided capital[x]. The second issue is about the changing border of the state of Israel and the so-called Palestine Territory[xi]. When the former is expanding day by day due to frequent wars, occupation, settlement[xii] and annexation, the latter is shrinking parallel to that. Status of Arabs in Israel is the third major issue. Nearly 2 million Arabs have Israeli citizenship[xiii] making up the one-fifth total population in the Jewish state. They suffer from various kinds of discrimination and marginalisation ever since the Independence of Israel. Their plight only worsened after the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) passed a controversial “nation-state law”[xiv] recently. Warlike situations between Hamas[xv] and Israel Defense Force (IDF) on regular gaps[xvi] is another critical issue. Above all, one of the complex issues and core demands of the Palestinians is the “right of refugees to return” to their motherland, for which Israel is not ready to accept. Today most of the Palestinian refugees[xvii] are descendants of those displaced in the first War fought between Arabs and Israel in 1948. Today, the legal status of Arab Israelis who live under Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem from that of who live in the Palestinian Authority-administered areas of West Bank and Gaza Strip. Anyhow they are technically stateless and face various kinds of challenges, control and restrictions by the Israeli authority. Though the Arabs live as citizens of Israel face various kinds of discrimination, they have access to infrastructure, education, health care and passports, while the former categories of Palestinians are deprived and denied of these fundamental rights.
When there are many issues yet to be resolved between the Arabs and Israel, the US policy (continuity and changes) towards them creates more tension and make the problem more complicated. Maha Nassar, Assistant Professor, School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Arizona, says that the US policies[xviii] in favour of Israel have been one of the crucial reasons behind the conflict remains unresolved. She argues that “The most powerful party involved – the United States – has consistently sided with Israel over the Palestinians and has pressured the Palestinians to give up their basic right to self-determination”[xix]. The US attitude against Palestinians only became hardened and tougher since Trump assumed power in 2017. He has taken a series of measures, introduced many controversial decisions and implemented most of the same that has been criticised as “discriminatory” and “racist” against the Palestinian people. However, still, he is talking about the “deal of the century”[xx] to resolve the Palestine- Israeli conflict. It includes the recognising of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and shifting[xxi] its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and dropping of the long-standing US commitment to have a two-state solution. Under Trump, the US government earlier reduced and later stopped its funding to UNRWA[xxii]. Next move was to close the PLO mission to Washington, DC. Latest in this episode has happened less than two weeks before the international community observes Palestine solidarity day on 29 November 2019. On 18 November Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State announced that the US administration would no longer abide by a 1978 State Department legal opinion that Israeli settlements were inconsistent with international law[xxiii].
The Palestinians have never enjoyed any real control over their borders, resources and security matters, or even their population. They were no fully sovereign Palestine state. It is important to note that the state of Israel was created based on the resolution 181 adopted on 29 November 1947. The same resolution also talks about an Arab Palestine state. However, unfortunately for the still the international community, especially the UNO itself failed to create a viable Palestine state. It is the responsibility of the international community to find a lasting peaceful solution to the complex and critical conflict. Public opinion in general at present is more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. However, that is not enough. It needs something new and more constructive and creative ideas and actions to have an end to the problem.
The gradual and continuous process of occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestine land by the Jewish people with the support of the state of Israel is the major challenge which the Palestinians face now. The social, political and economic status of the Palestinians living in refugee camps in the region, in the occupied territories and inside Israel need much attention to solve the issue of this stateless group. In light of fruitless efforts made by regional and international mediators to solve the issue on a ‘final map’ that satisfies both Palestinians and Jews, it is essential to remember that what Gandhi observed and opined way back in 1938. “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct”[xxiv].
Notes and References
[i] Some international days have been designated and established by specialised agencies of UNO
[ii] In 1977, the General Assembly called for the annual observance of 29 November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
[iii] The name is due to its location in the western bank of the river Jordan. The river also acts as a natural border between Israel/ Palestine and Jordan. The same territory was under the control of Jordan from the first Arab- Israeli War in 1948 to the six-day War in 1967.
[iv] It means ascending in the Hebrew language. It refers to the large-scale migration of Jewish people from around the world, especially from Europe to Palestine. Many events, issues and political developments like anti-Semitism, Zionism, policies of colonial powers, especially Britain, World Wars, post-war changes in the international relations, etc. have contributed or intensified the process.
[v] So far, many peace processes have been initiated by different leaders, negotiations were mediated by different actors and treaties signed between the two conflicting parties. The list is very long; madras peace process in the early 1990s which culminated in the Oslo peace process, Camp David II in 2000, Road map for peace in 2003, Annapolis conference in 2007 and the recent ‘deal of the century’ proposed by Trump.
[vi] Introduction of mandate system by League of Nation after the end of the World of War I and the collapse of Ottoman empire, Balfour declaration (official British support to create a separate Jewish homeland in Palestine), in 1917, the UN partition plan in 1947 and the US Support to Israel ever since then have defined the fate of Palestinians of the future of Palestine.
[vii] An Arabic word, which means ‘Catastrophe’ as the War in 1948 demolished nearly 500 Palestine villages and displaced 750000 Palestinians from their home. It ultimately changed their status as ‘stateless’ people
[viii] The War happened in the first week of June 1967 that resulted in the capturing of Arab territories by Israel within six days. In the preemptive attack made by IDF against Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Palestine territories ended with another episode of Palestinian exodus and identity crisis. The War not only redefined the international boundary of countries in the region but also expanded the territory of Israel by the process of occupation, settlement and annexation. Still, these exercises are going on.
[ix] Regional and international powers mainly the US, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. and regional and international organisations namely the UN, the European Union (EU), Arab League, Palestine Liberation Organisations (PLO), etc.
[x] The UN and majority of its member countries recognised Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel and their embassies are also situated there.
[xi] The Palestine authority now mainly constitutes West Bank, troubled with continuous Jewish settlement and Gaza strip, a densely populated small lands area on the eastern coast of Mediterranean sea
[xii] Around half a million Jewish people have now built homes with the support of Israeli authority that the UN and international community considers illegal. The settlements also violate the Fourth Geneva Convention.
[xiii] Palestinian people who remained in Israel after the First War in 1948 were offered citizenship.
[xiv] The law states three controversial things. First, “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” Secondly, it establishes Hebrew as Israel’s official language, and downgrades Arabic to a “special status.” Finally, the law establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value” and mandates that the state “will labour to encourage and promote its establishment and development.” Parallel to that racism has soared in the Jewish state over the years, as right-wing governments have peddled anti-Arab, security agendas that have made their life pathetic
[xv] The US and some other Western countries labelled the popular Palestinian political and militant organisation based in Gaza as a terrorist organisation.
[xvi] See BBC (2014): “Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza”, 1 September, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28439404
[xvii] Most of the Palestinian refugees who lost their homes and land in the Al Naqba, in the Six-Day War and their descendants have spent long decades in refugee camps. According to the statistics of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency), a specialised agency of the UNO dedicated for the protection of Palestine Refugees in the Near East, their number is more than 5 million. Today, the majority of them remain, refugees, live in urban, slum-like refugee camps across West Asia.
[xviii] Different governments in the US have been playing a great role as the mediator in many peace processes between Israel and Palestine. However, its credibility has been questioned and criticised by Palestinians and most of the Arab Islamic organisations like OIC (Organization of Islamic cooperation). Because the US has been vetoing most Security Council decisions against Israel.
[xix] See SBS News (2019): “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict explained”, May, Available at: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-israeli-palestinian-conflict-explained_2
[xx] The US government has been talking about the final peace plan for the last couple of years. The unveiling of the same has so far been delayed twice when the Palestinians have already rejected the economic part of the draft proposal. See Asseburg, Muriel (2019): “The “Deal of the Century” for Israel-Palestine: US Proposals Are Likely to Speed Demise of Two-State Settlement”, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) Comment, NO. 20 April, Available at https://www.swp-berlin.org/10.18449/2019C20/
[xxi] The US embassy officially opened in Jerusalem on the same day when Palestinians commemorated 70 years of their plight since Al Nakba.
[xxii] Hawari, Yara (2019): “It is time to stop lecturing Palestinians and to start listening”, Aljazeera, 20 November, available at https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/time-stop-lecturing-palestinians-start-listening-191119183221039.html
[xxiii] See Hincks, Joseph (2019): “The White House Says Israeli Settlements in the West Bank Are No Longer Illegal. Here’s What That Means”, Time, 19 November 19.
[xxiv] The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (1938): “The Jews”, Vol. 74, No. 319, 9 September, 1938 – 29 January -1939: 239- 242.
Dr. Lirar Pulikkalakath is the Chairman of the Centre for Indian Diaspora Studies and Assistant Professor, School of International Relations and Politics (SIRP), Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala, India. He has presented papers at several national and international seminars and conferences and has addressed several forums on current issues. He is the Co-ordinator of the Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) of the School, member of the Board of Studies of the School, Associate Editor of the South Asian Journal of Diplomacy as well as the Indian Journal of Politics and International Relations. He has published several articles in journals and contributed to edited volumes on topics related to West Asian and North African politics, global displacement crisis as well as issues related to the Malayali migration.