Israel-Palestine conflict: The roots of Jews-Muslims clashes

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In this context…

Recently, Hamas, a Palestine-based terrorist group, launched an attack on Israel from the Gaza side. In this attack, they killed hundreds of civilians and took many hostages. It gave reasons for Israel to retaliate and defend its security. The kidnapped 84-year-old grandmother for parading in a golf cart by Hamas became the featured image of this conflict. From Russia’s Putin to American President Joe Biden, most of the leadership in this world upheld Israel’s right to defend itself. Therefore, Israel is exercising Article 51 of the United Nations.

Article 51 of the UN says – “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” However, Justification to use force does not relieve a country of its obligations to use such force in accordance with international law. It means either side adheres to international humanitarian law (IHL) that promises to protect civilians and reduce the suffering a war unleashes.

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Start of Creation: Arab-Israel conflict

The 18th century witnessed technological and scientific development in the face of the industrial revolution. As Karl Marx says – change in economic relations, changes other spheres of life as well since the economy is base of society. Therefore, the Industrial Revolution has its impacts in the geopolitical arena as well. In the 19th century, Theodor Herzl – Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist – started a Zionist movement. That’s why he was called as the father of modern political Zionism. Thus, Zionism propels Jewish migration to Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

Now there can be a question – On what basis do Zionists claim Palestine as a National home that was part of the Ottoman Empire (Turks)? According to Zionists, the Bible promised land for Jews in Palestine. That became the basis of the “promised land”. Subsequently, in the first quarter of the 20th century, during the First World War, the British promised a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine in the Balfour Declaration in 1917. However, Jewish settlements continued in Palestine since Jews started procuring land at a greater pace. It further increased Arab-Jews tension.

During the interwar period – Between World War I and World War II – two events happened. First, Arabs were successful in pressurizing the British to curb Jewish settlements because the British were dependent on Arabs for oil needs. British restricted Jews but failed to curb illegal infiltration. Second, the holocaust of Jews in Germany forced them to flee. To solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, the UN in 1947 formed a special commission on Israel and Palestine. It came up with two solutions – (1) Do not divide Palestine between Arab and Palestine. (2) Divide Palestine between Arab and Palestine.

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Differences within Palestinians: PLO and Hamas

In 1947, the UN voted to divide Arab and Palestine. In this partition, Gaza and the West Bank were submitted to Arab Palestinians. The rest of the land was given to Jews. Since Jerusalem was important for Jews, Christians, and Muslims equally, it was declared an international city having UN control. Israel declared independence in 1948. Arab countries rejected this UN proposal. Subsequently, Arab countries collectively attacked Israel (the First Arab Israel war) and received defeat at the hands of Israel. In this war, Israel captured the western part of Jerusalem which was under UN jurisdiction.

Later in 1962, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed under the leadership of Yasir Arafat. Under PLO, a military wing Fatah was formed. Arab countries started supporting PLO and Yasir Arafat. Subsequently, in 1967, again Arab-Israel war was witnessed due to Israel taking pre-emptive measures against Egypt. It is popularly known as the Six-Day War. In this war, Israel captured whole Palestinian territory including West Bank and Gaza. It forced Egypt to come down for the Camp David Accord in 1979, a peace treaty. PLO was not happy with it and increased violence with Israel.

In the meanwhile, in 1973, Mujama al-Islamiya was formed with the help of Israel in Gaza Patti. There were two purposes behind forming this organization – (1) Building a parallel leadership to the PLO and (2) Speeding up development activities in Gazza areas so that people start forgetting conflicts. In 1973, Yassin founded Mujama al-Islamiya (“Islamic center”) in Gaza as a social-religious charity with the help of Israel. Later it gained movement but witnessed factions. Therefore, one of the sections supported Israel but the other section opposed it.

An effort to bring peace in the 1990s

However, the first Intifada began in 1987 against Israeli occupation. Largely it was unsuccessful. After the ending of the 1st Intifada, Mujama al-Islamiya renamed its organization HAMAS, a rival child of Israel’s idea of Mujama al-Islamiya. Once Hillary Clinton rightly said – “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbor”. We can draw a parallel line between Al-Qaeda which was created by the USA to defeat Russia and Bhindrawala which was created by the Indian National Congress to counter Akali Dal. Later, Al-Qaeda and Bhindrawala backfired at the USA and Congress respectively.

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Therefore, with the creation of HAMAS, the power of Palestinian leadership decentralized. Now, there were two centers of power – PLO and HAMAS. PLO was now convinced that no war was going to solve this problem. Therefore, under US mediation during the Bill Clinton administration, the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993 between Israel and PLO under the leadership of Yasir Arafat. Yasir Arafat wanted the 1947 resolution to be implemented – Leaving Gaza and West Bank for Palestinians. PLO was renamed as Palestinian Authority because it promised not to fight with Israel. Fatah, the military unit of PLO became a political party.

However, HAMAS had rejected the Oslo Accord. In spite of this, this problem was about to be solved because PLOs enjoyed legitimacy. But a mistake was committed on Israel’s side. Israel didn’t adhere to the commitments of the Oslo Accord. Later, Israel declined to give up the Gaza Strip and West Bank in 1998. PLO felt cheated and approached to USA. The US convinced Israel to adhere to the Oslo Accord. A year before Israel gave up the Gaza Strip and West Bank in 2005, Yasir Arafat died in 2004. It was too late.

Surge of HAMAS and Geopolitical reflection

After the demise of Yasir Arafat, HAMAS started gaining traction in Palestinian leadership. It was confirmed in an election held in 2006 where HAMAS won. Fatah, the political wing of PLO didn’t accept this election. Saudi Arabia tried to cool down the heat between Fatah and Hamas. Consequently, the National Unity govt was formed but ran only for 1 year. Saudi Arabia and Iran started funding those group who was opposing Israel. Since then, PLO started looking for leadership in the West Bank and HAMAS started controlling leadership in the Gaza Strip.

In 2012, the UN granted Palestine non-member observer status. Subsequently, in 2017, the US under the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Later in 2020, the process of Arab-Israel normalization started through the Abraham Accord signed largely between UAE and Israel. It was something not good from the prism of Iran and China. Iran started testing Islamic leadership in general and the leadership of Saudi in particular. That’s why Israel keeps backing HAMAS in Palestine.

From China’s part, it mediated for normalizing relations between Iran and Saudi in the first place. China has good relations with Israel too. Therefore, some analysts claim that such geopolitical changes are not a happy moment for the US. The US is trying to disturb this equilibrium. Therefore, we can say that the race between the USA and China to bring peace in the Middle East ultimately led to a high volume of conflict in the Middle East.

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How does India see the Israel-Palestine issue?

Before independence, in 1938, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Harijan – “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English, or France to the French”. Later, during the UN partition, India supported the notion of not dividing Palestine and giving it back to Palestinian Arabs. However, UN members voted against India’s side. Consistency in India’s stand can be seen in independent India as well. In 1977, the non-congress leader Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee said – “Israel will have to vacate the land occupied by the Arabs.”

In fact, India released a commemorative stamp in honor of the people of Palestine as early as 1981. Subsequently, after opening diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, India opted for the ‘policy of de-hyphenation’ in reality. India sees Israel and Palestine separately and not as a zero-sum game. Continuity in India’s foreign policy regarding Israel-Palestine can be seen even today. After the recent attack by Hamas on Israel in 2023, India has reiterated its stand again clearly.

In the first place, India condemned terror attacks by Hamas because India always opposes terrorism in all forms because India has also been suffering from Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Instead of using “militants”, India used “terrorism” because terrorists do not distinguish between civilian and military establishments in their operations as Hamas did. India reiterated the resumption of direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine, living within secure and recognized borders, side by side at peace with Israel.

In conclusion

Therefore, in the short term, there is a need for humanitarian aid to people suffering in Gaza. Israel must allow it. United Nations should play an important role in bringing forever peace. All countries in the world should be committed to the universal obligation to observe humanitarian law. In this direction, India has increased humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees from $2 million to $5 million in 2018.

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