Israel's election and the Palestinians' future
Looking at the outcome of the recent election in Israel, the only thing that concerns us is what it implies for the already fading hope for the Palestinian people for a sovereign homeland where they would live a meaningful life. In recent days, practically all the news on the Israeli-Palestinian relations has been filled with gloom. The Oslo peace process of 1993, which had laid a platform for a solution to the long and violent conflict between the two nations, now looks all but destroyed. It is quite heart-breaking to reflect on the international community's apathy as regards the rights of the Palestinians to live in the land that they inhabited for far longer than those who are contriving to drive them out.
Edward Said, a distinguished scholar whose writings on the Israeli-Palestinian issue focused on critical aspects of the history and competing cases of both sides, contends that while the Israelis have a claim on a homeland, the Arabs "have a greater claim because they have a longer history of inhabitance, of actual residence in Palestine than Jews did." The Jews have inhabited there for 200 to 260 years, the Arabs for 1,192 years.
We should think of another issue: while the West invested so much in creating a homeland for the Jews, the world today is indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians being driven out of their homeland! Looking back across a welter of sad developments to 1948 when Israel was created from a UN mandate, at the British initiative and supported by the US and Russia, a war ensued. The ill-organised Arabs were decimated by the Jewish forces, triggering a huge refugee flow to neighbouring states like Jordan, and 75 percent of the territory constituted the Israeli state. These facts show the scale of the tragedy suffered by the Palestinians.
Mr Benjamin Netanyahu's victory in the April 9 election and the prospect of the advent of a government with an ultra-right complexion darkens further the murky landscape of Palestine.
This year's election was a cliff-hanging contest between Netanyahu, leading an alliance of religious and ultra-right parties, and Mr Benny Gantz, an ex-army chief leading his Blue and White left-of-centre coalition. Early results showed Gantz leading but soon Netanyahu caught up, and in the end, his Likud-led alliance won 65 seats in the 120-member Knesset. The Jerusalem Post, in a pre-election analysis of the electoral dynamics, said that the mindset of the present generation of Israelis has been shaped by growing up in a febrile atmosphere of tension and insecurity, Those who voted for the first time were born after the second intifada (2000), a period of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Palestinians' suicide bombings and gun-fires, and destructive Israeli retaliation by tanks, air attacks and targeted killings led to 3,000 Palestinian and 1,000 Israeli casualties. Today's young Israelis gave up on the hope of living peacefully with their neighbours.
In the run up to the election, Benjamin Netanyahu had been threatened by a possible indictment on three charges including bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The attorney general said he had plans to indict him—something that could lead to jail sentence. However, the close relationship that Netanyahu has forged with US President Donald Trump is an asset that more than compensated for this fragility.
Whether a win for Mr Gantz would have brought any benefit for the beleaguered Palestinians is now moot. Mr Netanyahu is going to lead a government in which there will be some rabid anti-Arabs supporting settlement building in the occupied territories in Palestine. However, the fact that he will lead a government with a wafer-thin majority will mean that he will have to tread with caution.
In recent months, Mr Netanyahu, supported and emboldened by Mr Trump, has been particularly hostile toward the Palestinians. Sometime back, Mr Trump decided to give green light for Israel to take full possession of Jerusalem. He did so by shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem. This is a city where three Abrahamic faiths have their holy sites—Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The sober conventional view has all along favoured the notion that Jerusalem should have a kind of neutral character where followers of all these religions can have free access. With Jerusalem turned into an Israeli city, a large number of Palestinians feel deeply aggrieved and psychologically shattered.
An emerging baneful trend comprised of insular nationalism and a flagrant disregard for international law means that weaker people like Palestinians have become more vulnerable. Jerusalem has been taken away from them. Netanyahu has made an election pledge to annex Jewish settlements in West Bank and proclaimed that the Golan Heights—which, like West Bank and Gaza, are conquests from the 1967 war—will become part of Israel. Under Netanyahu, Israel has ridden roughshod over international law with complete impunity. We in Bangladesh—who have seen how a neighbouring country, enjoying the protection of not one but two UNSC veto-wielding powers, can get away with brutal assaults on a minority—have something to learn here. In international politics, if a nation lacks strategic assets and is bereft of big powers' support, the international law is impotent as far as that nation is concerned.
The situation for the Palestinian people has been further compounded by the recent division, disarray and tension in the Arab world. Countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt are too embroiled in their own problems to give meaningful attention to the Palestinian cause. Saudi Arabia is under pressure to work for the Trump government following Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman's difficulties after the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the West's nuclear deal with Iran has also created problems for the Arab countries, and shifted their concern from Israel to Iran. Also, the multiple crises in other Muslim countries like Libya, Algeria and Tunisia further pushed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the background.
You will often get a significant perspective on an international issue by harking back to history. In 1187, Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt, captured Jerusalem from the crusaders after the city had been under the sway of the Christians for nearly a century. During the European conquest, the crusaders slaughtered the Muslims and Jews alike. After he salvaged Jerusalem, Saladin did not pursue revenge. The Jews were given protection.
Unfortunately, today, the world has entered a phase where polarisation rules and hate-ridden politics trumps principles and civility.
Ziaus Shams Chowdhury is a former ambassador.