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THE CONTEXT: The 7th October 2023 attack by Hamas on Israel, in which more than 700 Israelis have been killed, is believed to be the Palestinian militant group’s response to attempts at achieving “normalisation” of relations between Israel and other Muslim countries in West Asia. This has revived the century-old dispute between Israel-Palestine Conflict once again, necessitating the intervention by global and regional powers. This article explains in detail the various aspects of these conflicts from the UPSC perspective.
ABOUT ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT
The present issue of conflict inside Israel – Palestine arose, when Hamas militant fighters fired rockets into Israel and stormed southern Israeli cities and towns across the border of the Gaza strip, killing and injuring hundreds of soldiers and civilians and taking dozens of hostages. The attack took Israel by surprise, though the state quickly mounted a deadly retaliatory operation. After then the Israeli cabinet formally declared war against Hamas, followed by a directive from the defense minister to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to carry out a “complete siege” of Gaza. Since then, the two sides have traded daily rocket fire, and Israel ordered more than one million Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate ahead of a possible ground assault.
Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader said, “All the agreements of normalisation that you (Arab states) signed with (Israel) will not end this conflict,” referring to the larger Israel-Palestine conflict. The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has also attacked Israeli forces in the north, said the attack was a “decisive response to Israel’s continued occupation and a message to those seeking normalisation with Israel”.
The conflict has its roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Jewish immigrants began to settle in Palestine under the Ottoman Empire and, later, under British colonial rule. The United Nations partition plan of 1947, which aimed to establish separate Jewish and Arab states, played a significant role in shaping the conflict.
CREATION OF PALESTINE
The creation of a Palestinian state is a complex and contentious issue with a long history of conflict and diplomatic efforts. The goal of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, often referred to as the “two-state solution,” has been the subject of numerous negotiations, initiatives, and international diplomacy.
The process and key developments related to the creation of a Palestinian state:
Mandate Period (1917-1948): During the Mandate period, Palestine was under British control following World War I, as mandated by the League of Nations. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, which expressed British support for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, set the stage for subsequent conflicts.
- The Balfour Declaration is a public statement issued by the British government in 1917 during World War I am announcing its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then an Ottoman region with a small minority Jewish population.
- The declaration is contained in a letter dated 2 November 1917 from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. It is highly controversial since its declaration. It is root of main cause of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
It played a key role in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and continues to be a reason of tension and conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
United Nations Partition Plan (1947): In 1947, the United Nations proposed a partition plan that would have established separate Jewish and Arab states in Palestine, with an international administration for Jerusalem. The plan was accepted by the Jewish leadership but rejected by Arab states and Palestinian Arabs.
1948 Arab-Israeli War: The declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 led to the first Arab-Israeli war. Israel declared independence, and neighboring Arab states intervened. The war resulted in Israel gaining control of a larger portion of Palestine.
Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO): The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has played a significant role in the Israel-Palestine conflict since its inception. Its influence, actions, and interactions with various stakeholders have had various effects on the conflict.
Its formation marked the beginning of a more organized Palestinian national movement. The PLO’s early efforts focused on diplomatic recognition and support from Arab states.
The PLO’s engagement with the Oslo Accords and the recognition of the State of Israel was a crucial turning point in the conflict.
Occupation of West Bank and Gaza (1967): The Six-Day War in 1967 resulted in Israel occupying the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Camp David Accords (1978):
The Camp David Accords were a pair of political agreements signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978, following twelve days of secret negotiations at Camp David, the country retreat of the President of the United States in Maryland. The two framework agreements were signed at the White House and were witnessed by President Jimmy Carter. The second of these frameworks (A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel) led directly to the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty.
EMERGENCE OF HAMAS
- Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, emerged in the late 1980s as a Palestinian political and militant organization.
- It was founded during the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising) against Israeli rule in the occupied territories.
- Hamas is an Islamist organization with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. It combines political and militant activities with a focus on Islamic governance and resistance against Israeli occupation.
- It has engaged in acts of violence, including suicide bombings and rocket attacks, against Israel. This has led to its designation as a terrorist organization by several countries.
- In the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, leading to its control of the Gaza Strip. This victory further complicated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- Hamas’s rise to power in Gaza resulted in a political and territorial divide with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. This division has persisted for years, contributing to the fragmentation of Palestinian territories.
- Hamas continues to be a significant player in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and its emergence has had a profound impact on the political and security dynamics in the region.
Hamas: Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian Authority’s legislative elections. It ejected Fatah from Gaza in 2007, splitting the Palestinian movement geographically, as well. Hamas continues to be a significant player in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and its emergence has had a profound impact on the political and security dynamics in the region.
1987: Tensions in the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza reached boiling point resulting in the First Intifada (Palestinian Uprising). It grew into a small war between Palestinian militants and the Israeli army.
Oslo Accords (1993-1995): The Oslo Accords were a series of agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that aimed to establish a Palestinian Authority with limited self-governance in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. These agreements were intended as interim measures leading to a final resolution, but a permanent solution was never reached.
- 1993: Under the Oslo Accords Israel and the PLO agree to officially recognize each other and renounce the use of violence. The Oslo Accords also established the Palestinian Authority, which received limited autonomy in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
- 2005: Israel begins a unilateral withdrawal of Jews from settlements in Gaza. However, Israel kept tight control over all border crossings (blockade).
- 2012: UN upgrades Palestinian representation to that of “non-member observer state”.
- Territorial Disputes of Israel with Neighboring Countries:
West Bank: The West Bank is sandwiched between Israel and Jordan. One of its major cities is Ramallah, the de facto administrative capital of Palestine. Israel took control of it in the 1967 war and has over the years established settlements there.
Gaza: The Gaza Strip located between Israel and Egypt. Israel occupied the strip after 1967, but relinquished control of Gaza City and day-to-day administration in most of the territory during the Oslo peace process. In 2005, Israel unilaterally removed Jewish settlements from the territory, though it continues to control international access to it.
Golan Heights: The Golan Heights is a strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war. Israel effectively annexed the territory in 1981. Recently, the USA has officially recognized Jerusalem and Golan Heights as a part of Israel.
- Various international and regional peace initiatives have been proposed, including the Camp David Accords, the Roadmap for Peace, and the Arab Peace Initiative.
- These initiatives sought to address the core issues of borders, refugees, Jerusalem, and security.In January 2022, the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel had not been realized. The situation remained marked by ongoing conflicts, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and disputes over the status of Jerusalem and refugees.
- Many countries and international organizations have expressed support for a two-state solution, with a sovereign and viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.
- Efforts to create a Palestinian state continue to be a major focus of international diplomacy and conflict resolution.
WHAT ARE THE IMPACTS OF THE ONGOING WAR?
- Israel-Palestine conflict has had far-reaching and detrimental consequences, affecting the daily lives and well-being of individuals and communities in the region, as well as contributing to broader regional and international challenges.
- The conflict has resulted in the loss of numerous lives, including both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, as well as combatants. Many people have been injured, some of whom suffer long-term physical and psychological trauma.
- Frequent military operations and clashes have caused significant damage to infrastructure, including housing, schools, hospitals, and businesses. The conflict has resulted in economic instability, high unemployment rates, and poverty in both Israeli and Palestinian communities.
- The Middle East accounts for nearly a third of the global oil supply. The conflict has led to a surge in crude oil prices, with Brent crude and US West Texas Intermediate crude witnessing significant hikes. If the conflict spreads to other oil-producing nations in the region, especially Iran, the global economy could face severe repercussions.
- India’s exports to Israel, primarily petroleum products, account for 1.8% of India’s total merchandise exports. If the conflict escalates, it could create supply-side problems.
- The conflict has made investors wary, leading to a shift towards safe-haven assets. Equity markets globally have been affected, with US stock futures and Asian markets trading lower.
- The involvement of other nations, especially Iran, could exacerbate the situation. Iran’s potential retaliation could endanger the passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, a critical global oil supply route.
WHAT WERE THE ABRAHAMIC ACCORDS AND RECENT ATTEMPTS AT NORMALISATION?
In 2002, Saudi Arabia led an Arab Peace Initiative, which proposed the withdrawal of Israel from the territories it had occupied in 1967, including the Golan Heights, the settlement of the Palestinian refugee question, and the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. Only then could there be a normalisation of relations between the Arab world and Israel, it said.
- The initiative was subsequently endorsed twice by the Arab League. Over the past dozen-odd years, a series of developments in the region have led to incremental progress in the process of ‘normalisation’.
Rise of MBS: In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is keen to expand beyond his kingdom’s traditional spheres of economic interests. Israel-Saudi ties have made progress in recent months. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a few weeks ago that an agreement with its historical rival in the region was in the works and would be brokered by the US.
Abrahamic Accords: The two countries signed a normalisation deal in 2020 that came into effect the following year. Also brokered by the US, the “Abrahamic Accords” led to the UAE becoming the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalise its relationship with Israel. The two countries also signed a trade deal in May 2022.
The Abraham Accords initially included the UAE and Bahrain, and later, Sudan and Morocco. As The Indian Express reported then, “The accord was contingent on the suspension of Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank, although it is noteworthy that they chose the word ‘suspend’ instead of ‘end.’”
The Iran factor: Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is seen as a leader who considers “an expansionist Iran and transnational political Islamists” as the “principal threats” to the UAE and its allies. In this assessment, Israel is seen as a formidable regional power that shares these views, so better ties with it make strategic sense. The promise of being closer to “the US strategic orbit” is an important factor too.
Emergence of China: The rise of China is key, which was behind an attempt at normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran this year. While the endurance of these ties over a long period has been questioned, it still points to another lasting, complex political issue in the region seeing some kind of forward movement. It also showed China utilising its economic heft to emerge as a player in regions that were so far mostly seeing US involvement.
WHERE DOES THE PALESTINIAN ISSUE FIGURE IN ALL OF THIS?
- The struggle of the Palestinians has been seen as being put on the back burner, even as conflict and violence have not stopped. There is deep unhappiness among the more militant sections of the Palestinians, and even the moderate West Bank government of Mahmoud Abbas has criticised many of these agreements.
- A 2020 article for the think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (‘Without the Palestinians, Israeli Normalization Is Still Beyond Reach’), argued that the normalisation of ties cannot take hold truly unless past annexations and other points of concern are not resolved. This was crucial for the region’s people, and not just governments.
- “Normalization is not simply a top-level exchange of officials; rather, it’s a public-to-public engagement. Decades after the Egyptian peace accords, people-to-people normalization does not exist, and relations remain quite cold on a cultural level announcing partial or full diplomatic relations with Arab states does not result in acceptance by Arab populations, unless accompanied by grassroots buy-in, which is inextricably connected to the question of Palestine,”.
IMPACT OF ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT ON INDIA AND INTERNATIONAL GEOPOLITICAL SCENARIO
The Israel-Palestine conflict has implications for India and the broader international geopolitical scenario.
Impact on India:
1. Foreign Policy Challenges: India’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict poses foreign policy challenges. Historically, India has expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause, rooted in its anti-colonial and pro-self-determination principles. However, India has also developed strong diplomatic, economic, and security ties with Israel. Balancing these interests can be challenging.
2. Energy and Defense Cooperation: India has a growing energy relationship with Israel, primarily through the import of Israeli natural gas. India also benefits from Israeli defense technology and cooperation in various sectors, including cybersecurity.
3. Tensions within the Indian Diaspora: India is home to a diverse population with varied views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The issue can sometimes lead to internal tensions and debates within the Indian diaspora.
4. Global Diplomacy: India’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict is part of its broader approach to international diplomacy. India often aligns itself with Non-Aligned Movement principles and seeks to play a role in global peace and security. Its positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict can influence its relations with other countries and organizations.
Impact on the International Geopolitical Scenario:
1. Global Alliances: The Israel-Palestine conflict has been a defining issue in the Middle East, with various global and regional powers taking sides. The U.S. has traditionally supported Israel, while other countries, including Russia, the European Union, and various Arab states, have expressed support for the Palestinian cause. This conflict has influenced global alliances and conflicts in the region.
2. Terrorism and Security Concerns: The Israel-Palestine conflict has contributed to regional instability and security concerns. Various Palestinian factions have been involved in acts of terrorism, and Israel’s security measures have often led to tension. These issues have ripple effects on global security dynamics.
3. Diplomatic Initiatives: The international community, including the United Nations and regional organizations, has consistently attempted to mediate and find a resolution to the conflict. The lack of a comprehensive and lasting solution has raised questions about the efficacy of international diplomacy.
4. Human Rights and Humanitarian Concerns: The conflict has resulted in a significant humanitarian crisis, with casualties and displacement on both sides. The treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories and the status of refugees remain key human rights concerns on the global stage.
- India’s response to the Israel-Palestine conflict has evolved over the years, reflecting a combination of historical factors, foreign policy considerations, and domestic concerns.
- India has consistently advocated for a peaceful resolution to the conflict based on the principles of a two-state solution, where Israel and Palestine coexist side by side in peace and security. India’s position aligns with international consensus on this issue.
- India maintains diplomatic relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It has a diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv and a Consulate General in East Jerusalem, which serves as its de facto embassy to the Palestinians.
- India has support his decision to abstain vote at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) for a ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict as its way of protesting the omission of any “explicit condemnation” of the heinous 7th Oct 2023, terror attack by Hamas militants on Israel.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Two-State Solution, the Israel and Palestine coexist as separate, sovereign states. Negotiations should aim to define the borders of both states, ensuring that each has viable, contiguous territory.
- Encourage both parties, Israel and Palestine, to engage in direct negotiations. International mediation may play a role, but ultimately, the parties themselves must agree on the terms of a settlement.
- Negotiations should focus on the core issues, including borders, the status of Jerusalem, security arrangements, refugees, and water rights. A just and mutually agreed-upon resolution of these issues is essential for a lasting peace.
- Engage international actors, including the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and regional powers, to support the peace process and ensure the parties’ compliance with agreements.
- Implement confidence-building measures to create trust between the parties. These may include prisoner releases, the cessation of settlement construction, and economic development in Palestinian territories.
- Involve regional players, such as Egypt, Jordan, and the Arab League, to support the peace process and contribute to regional stability.
- Focus on long-term economic and social development in both Israel and Palestine to address the root causes of the conflict and create a sustainable peace.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is extremely challenging and may require a long-term commitment from all parties involved. The path to peace must address the legitimate aspirations and security concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians and respect their right to self-determination.
UPSC PERSPECTIVE QUESTIONS
Q.1 Analyze how the Israel-Palestine conflict affects India’s foreign policy, particularly in terms of balancing its support for the Palestinian cause and its growing relations with Israel.
Q.2 Explain the Abraham Accords and the recent attempts at normalization between Israel and various Arab states. Discuss the factors that are posing challenges to this normalization process.
UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)
Q.1 Which one of the following countries of South-West Asia does not open out to the Mediterranean Sea? (2015)
Q.1 ‘Too little cash, too much politics, leaves UNESCO fighting for life.’ Discuss the statement in the light of US’ withdrawal and its accusation of the cultural body as being ‘anti-Israel bias’. (2019)
Q.2 “India’s relations with Israel have, of late, acquired a depth and diversity, which cannot be rolled back.” Discuss. (2018)Spread the Word