MENA Monitor focuses on the Middle East and North Africa region, analyzing the most important events happening in the area stretching from Morocco to Iran, their consequences for neighboring countries and their impact on the world’s situation.
Date: 20 May 2022 Author: Michał Przygoda
Impact of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict on the Security of the Middle East
The Middle East region is nowadays considered one of the least stable areas in the world. The main factor contributing to this state of affairs is the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conflict has not been resolved so far, despite the fact that in the 1990s a peace process was initiated. All mediation and negotiation attempts have stalled due to the complexity of the problem and the conditions that must be met by both sides for a lasting peace. Efforts to create a Palestinian state have continued, but successive conflicts between Palestine and Israel have hampered the peace process. Although both sides have repeatedly declared their willingness to resume peace talks, the criteria they set for each other result in the negotiations continuing to fail.
The Origin of the Conflict
The tension between the Arab and Jewish populations emerged even before the establishment of the Jewish state. Already in the 1920s, major incidents began to occur between the two groups. However, in fact, only since the establishment of the State of Israel can one speak of an Arab-Israeli conflict. The breakthrough on this issue was the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947), which proposed the division of the Mandate between the Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under international administration. The resolution enacted a plan for the partition of Palestine. The Arab state it envisioned was to include parts of western Galilee, Samaria and Judea, the city of Jaffa, and a strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea and a strip of land along the border with Egypt. These lands covered about 43% of the territory of the Mandate of Palestine and were inhabited by about 70% of its population. In turn, 1% of the Mandate territory, inhabited in almost equal proportions by Jews and Arabs, was to comprise the separate city of Jerusalem with its surrounding villages and towns. The Jewish state was to cover the remaining 56% of the Mandate territory, inhabited by approximately 30% of the Palestinian population. All three parts were to be joined by an economic union, including common customs duties and a currency system (Nowacka, Wojnarowicz & Zaręba 2020, p. 9).
The adoption of this resolution, which was accepted by the Zionist movement and negated by the Arab side, escalated the ongoing conflict between the two groups to the level of a local civil war. Citing the aforementioned resolution, the Jewish side proclaimed the independence of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. This day is considered the beginning of the first Arab-Israeli war, often referred to as the “War of Independence” (Kącki 1999, p. 11).
It should be noted, however, that already ca. six months before the day of Israel’s proclamation, beginning in November 1947, there were attacks by Arab troops on the Jewish population. These attacks mostly concentrated around the main transportation hubs between Jewish settlements, on the settlements near the village of Lod and on the coastal strip between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Moreover, such actions were accompanied by mass demonstrations by Arabs in an effort to show their opposition to the establishment of the new state. Namely, the Arabs demanded to take authority over the Palestinian Mandate Areas dependent on Britain (Orłowski 2014, pp. 5-6).
The declaration of independence of the State of Israel was followed by an invasion of the former Mandate Territory by the armies of Arab states – Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The military action ended on March 10, 1949. Israel managed to repel the attack, and the armistice lines became a kind of borders of the new independent Jewish state. As a consequence of these actions, about 78% of the former Mandate of Palestine came under Israeli control. In contrast, the Arab side retained two areas: Jordan’s West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Egypt’s Gaza Strip (Madeyska 2008, p. 11).
The conflict exacerbated the refugee problem, as approx. 600,000-760,000 people fled from the areas occupied by the Jewish forces to the areas of neighboring Arab states (Shindler 2008, p. 48). As a result of these demographic changes, the UN General Assembly issued in 1948 a resolution demanding that they be granted the right to return to their former places of residence.
The next phase in the Arab-Israeli conflict opened with the Six Day War of 1967. This was a conflict between Israel and a coalition of Arab states: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria. It began with an Israeli attack on Egypt and ended with the defeat of the Arab states. In this conflict, Egypt lost the Sinai and the Gaza Strip, Syria lost the Golan Heights, and Jordan lost the West Bank. As a result, Israel became the occupying power controlling approximately 1-1.4 million Palestinians living in these territories. With that said, the Israeli government at the time did not choose to formally extend sovereignty over them or divide them, because it wanted to maintain the possibility of negotiations with Jordan and feared a change in Israel’s demographic makeup (Buśko 2019, pp. 256-257).
The UN Security Council called for Israel to leave the occupied territories in its Resolution 242, which became the basis for the “land-for-peace” principle which assumed that in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from the territories it had occupied since 1967, the neighboring states would renounce their territorial claims against Israel and conclude peace treaties with Israel (Szydzisz 2012, p. 169-169).
The event that symbolically ended the process of forming a separate Palestinian identity was the outbreak of the so-called Intifada in late 1987. This spontaneous uprising involved various forms of protest, strikes, and skirmishes with the Israeli army and security forces. The First Intifada altered the dynamics of the conflict by shifting the center of gravity from fighting against terrorism to attempts at stabilizing Israeli-controlled territories. Moreover, the Intifada had the effect of changing the international perception of Israel, as it highlighted the disproportion of forces, undermining image of Israel being the defensive side (Nowacka, Wojnarowicz & Zaręba 2020, pp. 11-12).
In 1993, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process began. Through the efforts of Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Oslo Accords resulted in the formation of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank. However, the peace process was interrupted by the establishment of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. It should be added that despite the recognition of the State of Palestine by the UN, it is not recognized by Israel (Konflikt Izraelsko-Palestyński 2021).
In July 2000, direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations began at Camp David with the goal of establishing a Palestinian state within the borders agreed upon during these talks. However, these plans failed to come to fruition, which exacerbated further tensions (Bojko 2006, pp. 158-159).
On September 28, 2000, the Second Intifada broke out. Mediations that had been carried out did not have any effect, and talks between the parties were deemed pointless. In November 2000, Ehud Barak announced his decision to resign and call new elections for prime minister. He was succeeded by Ariel Sharon, for whom the issue of Israel’s security was of utmost importance. He decided to apply a very strict policy towards the Palestinians, and the situation was aggravated by assassinations committed by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The development of the conflict was also influenced by numerous military operations of the Israeli forces carried out in the territory of the Palestinian Authority.
On September 12, 2001, the Israeli Defense Forces conducted a military operation to eliminate terrorists, and between 2002 and 2021, Israel conducted a number of other military operations (Godziński 2016, p. 47).
When discussing the origin of the conflict, it is also worth outlining the contentious issues that the parties to the conflict would have to resolve. These issues revolve around the following spheres (Analysis of the Institute of Political Science and Security Studies, 2021):
- security – the constant threat to all residents;
- demography – the need to live and function in the area of community life;
- ideology – the refugees’ right to return to their former places of residence;
- politics – the authorization of the right to self-determination;
- religion & ideology – the influence of fundamentalist forces, from both sides, on the fights;
- territory – which is linked to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Middle Eastern States and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
States in the Middle East region support the Palestinians. In 1948, six of them – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – entered the war against the newly formed Israel. The goal of these states was to destroy Israel in order to establish an Arab state in Palestine. However, the actions of these states thereafter can hardly be considered pro-Palestinian.
This is most clearly seen in the conduct of the government in Cairo. In 1979, Egypt decided to sign a peace agreement with Israel. As a result, it regained the Sinai Peninsula. During the negotiations, the authorities in Cairo tried to include the Palestinian issue as a topic of discussion. Both sides agreed on the formation of a Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and also on a halt to the expansion of Jewish settlements. However, it turned out that these provisions were interpreted differently by the signatories. The authorities in Cairo did not take any steps to force Tel Aviv to do anything for Palestine (Chojnowski & Tomaszewski 2000, p. 108).
Later, despite its verbal support for Palestine, the Egyptian government continued to cooperate with Israel, e.g. in the area of gas supplies and the removal of underground tunnels in Gaza. The situation changed only after the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring, when Muslims took over power in Cairo. The new government became more involved in cooperation with Palestine, limiting contacts with Israel. For example, it decided to stop gas supplies to Israel (Teska 2012, pp. 71-86).
The second country that decided to sign a peace treaty with Israel was Jordan, which took place in 1994. Similar to the government in Cairo, the Jordanians also emphasize support for Palestine, but do not put much pressure on the Israeli authorities. A sign of solidarity with the Palestinian community was the recall of the Jordanian ambassador in protest of the actions of Jewish extremists on the Temple Mount (Welsh 2014).
Palestine was also supported by Syria, which was the only country to support Palestinian claims after 1967, including providing assistance to Palestinian militias who carried out attacks on Israel. However, after Hafez Assad came to power, the approach to the Palestinian problem underwent a significant change. The Syrian authorities extended strict control over Palestinian para-military units operating in Syria and prohibited them from raiding Israel (Zdanowski 2010, pp. 248-249).
Iran also supports Palestine, choosing to become an adversary of Israel since 1979 and supporting the Palestinians in many ways. Year after year, thousands of Iranians participate in marches of support. Tehran itself has allocated considerable funds to help various Palestinian organizations. It is worth noting that the assistance was not limited only to financial support. Namely, the Iranians trained, among others, Hamas militants and supplied them with weapons (Szyszlak & Szyszlak 2016, pp. 134-135).
The Gulf states have also taken the Palestinian side. Qatar, for example, has financially assisted Palestinian organizations. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has attempted to bring about reconciliation between the various Palestinian factions with the goal of forming a Palestinian national unity government.
In 2009 Turkey also began to support the Palestinian side, even though it had previously cooperated with Israel quite often. The result of such a decision was the death of nine Turkish citizens who took part in the so-called “Freedom Flotilla”. Israel did not apologize for this incident until 2013, but it was only after 2016 that contacts between Turkey and Israel were re-established (Ravid 2016).
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Security of the Middle Eastern States
The analysis clearly shows that although the countries of the Middle East region support and advocate the Palestinian side, there are no strong and decisive actions taken in this regard. Thus, long-term practice allows us to conclude that these countries have little influence on the status and the form of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, it should be considered that, except for diplomatic actions at the UN or mediation conducted during major conflicts in the Gaza Strip, the influence of Middle Eastern states on the conflict is negligible (Szyszlak & Szyszlak 2016, p. 136).
All this makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not a major threat to the security of Middle Eastern states. The rise of the so-called Islamic State is considered a much greater threat. For many, the conflict in question is strictly an internal one, hence the diplomatic approach of the rest of the countries in the region. This proves that the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is decreasing year by year, which means that the conflict will not affect the internal situation of these countries and will not cause the governments of the Middle East region to take more serious actions.
In addition to diplomatic assurances from Middle Eastern countries, it can be expected that states such as Iran and those from the Persian Gulf, which are characterized by anti-Israeli attitudes, will increase their financial assistance to Palestine, however, as already mentioned, this should not have any significant impact on the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
What makes the likelihood of a security threat to Middle Eastern states low is also the fact that the Jewish state is stable and its forces are able to minimize and limit the impact of a potential Palestinian uprising on the functioning of Israel (Szyszlak & Szyszlak 2016, p. 142).
As also mentioned, it seems that by far the bigger security problem for the countries in the Middle East region is the existence and activity of the so-called Islamic State.
International Actors and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
In the course of the conflict, Palestine relies quite significantly, both politically and economically, on the involvement of foreign actors. Political support is expressed in the international community’s criticism of Israel’s actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as Palestinian support from multilateral organizations. On the other hand, in terms of economics, according to the World Bank, from 1993 to 2017 Palestine received more than $31 billion from foreign donors (Iqtaid 2017).
Cooperation between the European Union and Palestine and Israel is defined by, among other things, the European Neighborhood Policy announced in 2004. Key to its formation are three assumptions (Nowacka, Wojnarowicz i Zaręba 2020, p. 30):
- a two-state solution involving the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state within the boundaries set forth in the 1949 agreements as a means of ending the conflict, which both Israel and Palestine and the international community should pursue;
- the leading role of the United States in the Middle East Peace Process with the assumption of its support for a two-state solution;
- Member state support for European Union foreign policy efforts, the European Commission, and EU instruments that promote the two-state solution.
In contrast, the UN advocates the two-state solution, being critical of Israel’s policy of occupation. It considers the construction of the wall in the West Bank and Israeli settlements located on its lands illegal. Criticism of the UN towards Israel had an impact on its negative attitude towards the organization, and its involvement in the conflict is perceived by the Israeli authorities as exclusively pro-Palestinian. It is worth noting that from 1948 to 2016, UN Security Council issued 80 resolutions aimed at condemning Israel’s actions (United Nations Security Council, 2017).
In conclusion, the Middle East region is nowadays considered to be one of the least stable areas in the world. The main factor contributing to this state of affairs is the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conflict has not been resolved so far. Despite the fact that both sides have repeatedly declared their willingness to resume peace talks, the criteria they set for each other make the negotiations still end in fiasco. All this makes the conflict a source of permanent tension in the region, as well as challenges and threats to the security of the involved parties. At the same time, tensions between the Arab and Jewish populations emerged even before the establishment of the Jewish state. However, the beginning of the first Arab-Israeli war is considered to be the day when the state of Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948.
States in the Middle East region support the Palestinians. In 1948, six of them – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – entered the war against the newly formed Israel. The goal of these states was to destroy Israel in order to establish an Arab state in Palestine. However, the actions of these states in the later period can hardly be considered pro-Palestinian.
It is clear from the analysis that despite the fact that countries in the Middle East region support and advocate the Palestinian side, there is a lack of strong and decisive action in this regard. All this means that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not pose a major threat to the security of Middle Eastern countries. The rise of the so-called Islamic State is considered a much greater threat. For many, this conflict is a strictly internal one, which is why the rest of the countries in the region are acting very diplomatically. This shows that the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict decreases with each passing year, which consequently means that this conflict will not affect the internal situation of these countries and will not cause the governments of the Middle East region to take more serious action.
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