"Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going strong since at least 1947. There are occasional lulls but no resolution. The problems seem too deep-seated and the respective positions too entrenched. Everyone deplores the deaths of innocent Palestinians and Israelis alike. Still the killing goes on and on. It is, in every sense of the word, a tragedy of human making and monumental proportions.
It is easy for us who are far from the conflict both in miles and in understanding to offer simple solutions and express surprise and disgust that the killing just seems to go on and on.
In Britain the populace seems more and more to be “on the side” of the Palestinians. This is an inevitable consequence of the overwhelming superiority in weaponry that the Israelis can bring to the conflict. Many hundreds of innocent Palestinians are lost for every Israeli. It's not surprising that the sympathies of the British people are with the underdogs.
Unfortunately, this posturing from a long way away is not likely to produce any reduction in either the government's support for Israel or its exasperation for the lack of progress towards a real peace agreement.
A short history lesson for those who may need it. Notwithstanding Richard I and Saladin, the first modern involvement in this part of the Middle East was the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917.
“His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
Following WWI Britain was effectively the government of Palestine under a mandate from the League of Nations.
After WWII the pressure to allow Jewish immigration into Palestine was almost insurmountable – owing in large part to the discovery of the Nazi death camps. Still Britain tried to keep an even-handed approach and keep both Jews and Palestinian Arabs on side. This tactic failed miserably.
"Between November 29th 1947 and June 1948, 214 British servicemen lost their lives, including the 28 killed when the Stern Gang blew up the Khantara to Haifa Express at Rehovoth on February 29th 1948."
Many other British forces died in trying to administer Palestine.
Finally the UN decided to act:
“The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was a proposal developed by the United Nations, which recommended a partition with Economic Union of Mandatory Palestine to follow the termination of the British Mandate. On 29 November 1947, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan as Resolution 181.
The resolution recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem. The Partition Plan, a four-part document attached to the resolution, provided for the termination of the Mandate, the progressive withdrawal of British armed forces and the delineation of boundaries between the two States and Jerusalem. Part I of the Plan stipulated that the Mandate would be terminated as soon as possible and the United Kingdom would withdraw no later than 1 August 1948. The new states would come into existence two months after the withdrawal, but no later than 1 October 1948. The Plan sought to address the conflicting objectives and claims of two competing movements: Arab nationalism in Palestine and Jewish nationalism, known as Zionism. The Plan also called for Economic Union between the proposed states, and for the protection of religious and minority rights.
The Plan was accepted by the Jewish public, except for its fringes, and by the Jewish Agency despite its perceived limitations. With a few exceptions, the Arab leaders and governments rejected the plan of partition in the resolution and indicated an unwillingness to accept any form of territorial division. Their reason was that it violated the principles of national self-determination in the UN charter which granted people the right to decide their own destiny.
Immediately after adoption of the Resolution by the General Assembly, the civil war broke out. The partition plan was not implemented.
By now it should be clear that neither Israel of the Palestinian Arabs were all that interested in a peaceful solution to the problem. Neither are they to this day.
For Israel's part they believed that the Arab leadership at the time of independence was unable or unwilling to negotiate with the new Jewish state as the Palestinians were expecting the surrounding Arab nations to overwhelm Israel. So, when they left their homes for Syria, Egypt or Jordan they thought they would soon be back in triumph.
The Palestinian leadership, such as it existed, simply looked at the map and the promises of their Arab friends and saw no reason to come to any accommodation.
That's just about where we are today. Neither side neither trusts each other nor seeks a real peace. And the deaths continue to mount up.
There are interesting parallels with the conflict in Northern Ireland. Both problems go back many, many years – centuries really. Both have a religious element at the core. Both feature seemingly insurmountable difficulties. Both have many people on both sides who have a stored up hatred of the other side and a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for death and destruction. The list goes on.
Yet eventually a solution was found.
The controlling feature in each case seems to be the attitude of the American government.
When influential politicians in the US began to see that no progress could be made if they maintained (even tacitly) their support for the IRA, the writing was on the wall.
When influential politicians in the US begin to see that almost unqualified support for Israel will not bring about a resolution, some progress might be possible.
What would a real peace plan look like?
Israel would abandon parts of the West Bank to a new Palestinian state.
The Palestinians would recognise the state of Israel and stop war-like action against it.
Israel would abandon the siege of Gaza.
The Palestinians would abandon historic claims to land, and property lost after 1948.
This would be a good start.
Likely to happen? I fear not. More likely is more killing, grief and pain for the citizens of both side.