Global Hotspots 102 - Israel and Palestine

In Global Hotspots 101 I wrote an introduction to the Pacific Rim's resident nuclear tinderbox Korea, a scene of ongoing friction notable for the fact that the delineation between good and evil is so very, very clear. South Korea: lovely. Kim Jong-il: worse than herpes.

Today's topic, on the other hand, is very, very much the opposite. Today's topic is one where nobody is really right and everybody just seems to be engaged in a hyper-violent rendition of this picture:

And that is because today we talk about the simmering pot of delicious tension soup that is


Major players

Israel: Home of the Jewish people, who, it appears, moved into a somewhat unfriendly neighbourhood.

Palestine: The family that lived in the house before Israel moved in. Questionable as to whether they were totally au fait with the eviction.

Secondary players

The US: Of course they're involved. They're involved in everything. They've probably got someone keeping tabs on your local council elections.

The Arab League: A bloc of countries that constitutes the "somewhat unfriendly" neighbourhood.

Everyone: If there's one constant in international politics, it's that pretty much every nation on Earth feels they have some loose interest in the Israel/Palestine situation. Except for maybe Nauru. All they really care about is phosphorous and servings of meat the size of a man's torso.

Incredibly complex history compressed to less than 100 words

Whoo boy. Ok.

In 1948, the UN, recognising the coexistence of Arabic and Jewish populations in the previously British owned Palestine area, decided to stir things up by splitting the  region into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Of course, this immediately led to war. When the dust settled in 1949, Israel had vastly extended its territory, and what was left of the Palestinian side of the ledger - the West Bank and Gaza Strip - was hastily annexed by Jordan and Egypt respectively. Cut to 60 years, one major war (in which Israel reclaimed the West Bank and Gaza Strip) and countless minor conflicts later and we have, well, a shitstorm really.

Yes, yes, I know, that's 108 words. You'll live.

Most recent issues

Everything. Jesus, it just never stops up there. But this week most of the contention is deriving from the Israeli Defence Force's (IDF) interception of a flotilla of boats carrying some 800 people who were purportedly attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza in contravention of an Israeli blockade that has been in place since 2006. It seems the IDF took this attempted contravention quite seriously, because next thing you know, the boats had been forcibly boarded and eight Turks and one Turkish-American were dead. That last guy was shot four times in the head. Must have been one hell of a slingshot he was wielding.

This all sounds very extreme and inexplicable, but some quick context. In 2006, the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority held elections for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which, unfortunately for the prospect of regional stability, were won by Hamas, a largely militant Islamic group who has basically declared that they do not recognize Israel's right to exist. All in all, not a great step forward for the peace process. After most of the world cut off diplomatic contact and support for the now Hamas led Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians essentially had a civil war of their own, which resulted in the more moderate Fatah controlling the West Bank, Hamas remaining in firm control of the Gaza Strip, and both factions now actively persecuting members of the other side. All in all, not a great step forward for the peace process.

Since that point, Israel's relationship to Gaza has been increasingly fraught and is deeply complicated by a) Hamas' insistence on firing rockets into Israeli territory; and b) the ongoing abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, a man who has proven to be quite the bargaining chip/source of deep enmity in the four years since he was captured. In 2008 Israel began steadily cutting off supplies to the territory, a practice which has evolved to the point where they now only let in a seemingly arbitrary list of twenty-odd items at any given time. Cinnamon and buckets: OK! Chocolate and coriander: TERRORIST FODDER. Just please don't take the buckets:

Is that insensitive? It... feels a little insensitive. And RIGHT. So very right.

Oh yeah, and at the end of 2008 Israel invaded Gaza killing somewhere in the vicinity of 1400 Palestinians and demolishing much of what was left of the area's infrastructure. All in all, not a great step forward for the peace process.

That was definitely more than 100 words.

The upshot

And isn't everyone just pissed off. Reaaaaaaally pissed off. Apparently, killing foreign nationals as they attempt to bring aid to an impoverished populace = not a good look. Israel probably could have seen it coming, but they've never been a nation much concerned about the opinions of others. Remember back in February when they forged the passports of a number of friendly countries in order to kill a dude in Dubai? That wasn't the first time. If Israel thinks it's necessary for their own protection then they tend to just do it. Refreshing really. But I guess that's what happens when you're a country entirely fenced in by periodically very hostile neighbours.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians inch a bit closer toward the elusive moral high ground that everyone in this disaster zone so craves. This is the kind of event that tends to reduce the rich and gritty mosaics of global affairs down to a handy little set of binary opposites, so it's working quite well for them, really. Certainly a bit less morally ambivalent than setting a bomb off on a bus or firing rockets into Israeli suburbs. And this time no Palestinians needed to die either, so thumbs up all round. I guess.

The rest of the world

Well, Turkey, Israel's primary ally in the Arabic world, has withdrawn their ambassador over the killings, the UN Security Council has expressed serious concern and the poor US, long Israel's primary cheersquad and the major mediating figure in peace negotiations, has been left in the potentially impossible position of trying to keep both Israel and the Arab world onside by condemning the attacks, but also not really. Which has basically translated out to "We think Israel needs to pursue a new policy". But, you know, whenever they're ready. And whatever that might be.

In short, though, this really just accelerates Israel's recent transformation from schoolyard bullying victim into the kid whose report cards tended to be filled with phrases like "prone to angry outbursts" and "does not play well with others".

But in good news, it appears another couple of boats are on their way to Gaza as we speak, so that should be fun. However, it's possible that things may actually stabilise a bit in the near future, because Egypt, still in possession of a partial border with Gaza, has taken this opportunity to break the blockade, allowing the free passage of goods and people across the border for the first time in three years. Whether Israel will do the same is hard to say - they've staked a lot on trying to oust the Hamas leadership in this way - but still, it's a start.

Likelihood of imminent resolution

Short answer: HA!

Longer answer: The word "intractable" may well have been designed specifically for this conflict. Weird part is, things actually appeared to be getting better in the early 90s. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had unilaterally declared their independence, both sides were talking to each other and it actually looked like a two-state solution was in danger of emerging. But of course, politics got in the way, and both sides have spent the intervening time shooting the shit out of both their own and the other side's feet.

This is probably the best evocation of the entire situation that I can think of:

Not to make light of such a serious and awful situation but...  I can't think of any way to finish that sentence. PIEEEEEEEE.

I'm not going to go anywhere near suggesting how this swampy morass of endless retribution might be resolved, although, in an ideal world, everyone would just take a deep breath, pull their heads out of one another's asses, form two independent states and get on with it. But while a two-state solution is, practically and outside of some tactical genocide, the only possible way of ensuring long-term peace in the region, both sides' demands and tactics over the past few decades have ensured that at this point in time relations between the Palestinians and Israelis are about as bad as they have been since 1948. Hell, they can't even bring themselves to talk to each other face to face right now. And Israel and its supporters know the Palestinians are to blame for that, and Palestine and its supporters know that Israel is to blame for that, but in the end everyone is just as 'to blame' as everyone else, and until both sides start accepting some responsibility for their actions and losing their perennial victim mentalities, this particular canker sore on the Earth's surface is in little danger of going anywhere.

Which is a bit like telling them to just hug and make up, really. I still can't believe that doesn't work...

Ah, well. Let's just hope they don't take away the buckets.

Hahaha. Mercy. Even after three years, that still brings me more enjoyment than it has any right to.

And now, to take us out, this. Because a video of a fat man running to Yakety Sax is, I feel, the only possible way to properly finish a discussion of the Israel-Palestine situation.

Further reading

This 2009 New Yorker piece on the Gaza situation is a truly exceptional and exceptionally balanced piece of journalism. Highly recommended.

The Guardian with a quick Q&A about the role of the flotilla and the effects of the blockade
profile of lukeryan

4 comments so far..

  • Mikolai's avatar
    Date and time
    Friday 04 Jun 2010 - 11:50 AM
    I found an awesome image of a lion and zebra hugging which I would totally embed here if I could... Meanwhile, that was great Luke, as always.
    This comment has been flagged.
    This comment has been marked for removal.
    This comment has been marked as spam and will be purged.
  • Nick's avatar
    Date and time
    Friday 04 Jun 2010 - 12:15 PM
    Once again a great read Luke. Also I want that infinity Statler/Waldorf pic on a T-shirt.
    This comment has been flagged.
    This comment has been marked for removal.
    This comment has been marked as spam and will be purged.
  • Annarose's avatar
    Date and time
    Tuesday 08 Jun 2010 - 12:15 AM
    Wicked New Yorker article.
    This comment has been flagged.
    This comment has been marked for removal.
    This comment has been marked as spam and will be purged.
  • rups618's avatar
    Date and time
    Friday 11 Jun 2010 - 7:30 AM
    Nice summary. I think this Fairfax should spread a.. slightly more PC... version of this bad boy as a lot of people don't know the basic facts. The media focuses so much on individual events without much context. Thanks.
    This comment has been flagged.
    This comment has been marked for removal.
    This comment has been marked as spam and will be purged.