This article was originally published at the Palestine Chronicle.
There is a general perception that the reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued for so long is because it is extremely complex. Nothing could be further from the truth. Placed in historical context, understanding the root cause of the conflict is simple, and in doing so, the solution becomes apparent.
During the late 1800s, a movement known as Zionism arose to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, then a territory under the Ottoman Empire. As a result of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and Great Britain and France conspired to divide the territorial spoils of war between themselves. The British became the occupying power of Palestine. The League of Nations issued a mandate effectively recognizing Great Britain as such.
During the war, the British had promised the Arab nations their independence in return for their cooperation in helping to defeat the Ottoman Turks. At the same time, the British declared its support for the goal of Zionism of establishing a “national home” for the Jewish people and permitted Jewish immigration into Palestine.
The Zionist aims did not sit well with the majority Arab inhabitants of Palestine. The Arab states proposed that the independence of Palestine be recognized and a democratic government established that would include representatives of the Jewish minority. But this solution was rejected by both the Zionists and the British, whose respective leadership recognized that the Zionist project could not be carried out except by force of arms.
As Jewish immigration continued and Arabs were displaced from their land, violent clashes between the two communities began to erupt. In 1921, for instance, Arabs rioted and attacked Jewish communities, and in 1929, Arabs massacred Jews in Hebron.
Zionist terrorist organizations targeted not only Arabs, but the British as well, such as the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946. That attack was carried out by the Irgun, whose leader, Menachem Begin, would later become prime minister of Israel.
Following World War II, the British, unable to reconcile its conflicting policies and commitments, requested that the newly formed United Nations take up the matter. This resulted in the creation of the U.N. Special Commission on Palestine. The members of the commission, which included no representatives from any Arab state, explicitly rejected the right to self-determination of the population. Although the Arab states reiterated their proposed democratic solution, it was again rejected. The commission instead recommended dividing Palestine in two.
Under their partition plan, more than half of the territory would go to the minority Jews, who owned just seven percent of the land (while 85 percent was owned by Arabs). The General Assembly passed a resolution in 1947 recommending that the commission’s partition plan be implemented. Naturally, the Arabs rejected the plan.
Contrary to popular myth, Israel was not created by the U.N. Israel was born on May 14, 1948, when the Zionist leadership unilaterally declared its existence. The neighboring Arab states took up arms against the newly declared state in the war known to Israelis as the “War of Independence” and to the Arabs as the “Nakba”, or “Catastrophe”. During the war, 700,000 Arabs were either driven from their homes or fled out of fear of further massacres such as had occurred at the village of Deir Yassin shortly prior to the Zionist declaration.
This ethnic cleansing of Israel is the root cause of the Palestinian refugee problem one hears so much about today. Although their right of return is guaranteed under international law, Israel has refused to allow those who fled and their descendents to return to what is rightfully their own land. This is also the reason why Palestinians today do not recognize that Israel has a “right to exist”.
Another watershed event occurred in June of 1967, when Israel launched a surprise attack against Egypt (then the United Arab Republic). Such was the superiority of the Israeli force of arms that the war lasted only six days, during which Israel invaded and occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
As a result of the war, the U.N. Security Council passed resolution 242, which emphasized the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and called on Israel to withdraw from the territories it had occupied.
Today, the West Bank remains under Israeli occupation. Israel continues to bulldoze Palestinian homes and construct Jewish settlements in violation of international law and numerous U.N. resolutions.
As for Gaza, Israel withdrew in 2005, but has since placed it under siege, permitting in only enough aid to prevent a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe, while keeping Gazans perpetually in a state of misery and despair.
Then, on December 27, 2008, Israel launched a full-scale military attack against Gaza dubbed Operation Cast Lead, during which the Israeli military rained down death and destruction upon the defenseless civilian population and infrastructure of Gaza.
The reason why this state of affairs can continue is simple. It is because the United States unconditionally supports Israel. An illuminating example was the announcement early in the Obama administration that if Israel did not end settlement activity, it would suffer no consequences. U.S. support would continue regardless. That message was understood perfectly well by the Netanyahu government in Israel.
U.S. policy must be understood and judged by deeds and not rhetoric. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. supports Israeli violations of international law financially ($3 billion plus annually), militarily (U.S. made F-16 jets, Apache helicopter gunships, and white phosphorus munitions were used during Operation Cast Lead, for instance), and diplomatically (such as the U.S. use of the veto in the U.N. Security Council).
The most practical and equitable solution to the conflict has been recognized for decades. There is an international consensus on a two-state solution that has long been accepted by the Palestinian side. The reason this solution has not been implemented is also perfectly simple. It is because the Israeli and U.S. policies of rejectionism prevent it from happening.
Israeli policy will continue so long as it has U.S. backing. U.S. policy will continue so long as the American people permit it to.
A just and lasting peace in the Middle East is possible. It’s simple. There is a choice.