Potential solutions to the Israeli / Palestine conflict…

A couple of thousand people (myself included) walked on Sunday’s ‘Peace in Gaza’ march to the US Consulate in Belfast. When I posted pictures of this on Twitter (@arnoldcarton) some of the more polite responses argued that seeking peace without destroying Hamas entirely is naïve, it is argued that seeking a ceasefire now and a negotiated settlement is unrealistic, that wars end when one side has won and the other know they have lost. This is worth exploring.

Those who argue that Israel should fight on, risking the death of thousands more Palestinians and probably hundreds of Israeli soldiers, should tell us what victory for Israel looks like. Can they justify the additional deaths and suffering by telling us what options will be available after more fighting that are not available now?

There seem to be 4 possible scenarios, assuming Israel keeps fighting.

1-One-State Solution – Palestinians within Israel become Israeli citizens

Israel destroys the Hamas tunnels and then negotiates for a one-state solution where all Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are absorbed as full Israeli citizens without their own state.

However, could a Jewish State for a Jewish People (to borrow a phrase from N. Ireland) continue to exist if its Jewish population was diluted by absorbing so many non-Jews. Out of 14 million people in the Israel-Palestine area only half are Jews, with 5.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. There would be a fear that the new state would cease to be a Jewish state and that as that point was reached further conflict would occur. Certainly, the current Israeli government have ruled this option out.

2-Two-State Solution – Israel and Independent Palestine

This always looked clumsy on a map, but it was supposed to be the long-term solution to the area and at one time seemed to have the support of a majority within both Israel and Palestine. Now many (including Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli ambassador to the UK) argue that a ‘Two-State’ solution is dead, that Israel can never feel safe beside an independent Gaza and hence, Israel cannot allow Gaza and the Westbank to function as an independent state. Additionally, a two-state solution would involve Israel removing the thousands of Jewish settlers who have invaded the West Bank area under Netanyahu’s government. This seems unlikely to happen?

3-Three-State Solution

This is where Egypt absorbs Gaza back into Egyptian territory and Jordan takes the West Bank back into Jordanian territory. From an Israeli point of view this seems attractive except the West Bank is strategically important should another Israeli-Arab war ever break-out. Can Israel feel safe with Jordan occupying the West Bank?

From a Jordanian point of view, this is a nightmare. They get extra territory but with it they get responsibility for 2.5 million economically deprived citizens, some of whom have a history of violent military rebellion against Israel. Jordan might struggle to keep the area under control. Similarly, Egypt will not want to absorb the 2 million Gazans who are without homes, houses or jobs and living in a wasteland. Egypt has had political instability in recent years and will worry that absorbing Gaza could destabilise Egypt completely.

4-Israel Retains Control of Gaza and the West Bank

Sadly, the most likely outcome is that Israel retains control of Gaza and the West Bank as it has done over the past couple of decades. Hamas will be badly damaged and will have lost their tunnels. However, tunnels can be rebuilt unless an army patrols Gaza and monitors security, creating further opportunities for friction with the Palestinian population. Those Palestinians who have seen their parents killed or their children killed by Israel will see Israel as occupiers and it seems likely that there would be support for growing paramilitary resistance. How long before Hamas is replaced and the escalating cycle of death repeats?

A Better Response to Terrorism

Many unionists would see ourselves as friends of Israel, as a community we appear to support continued military action but do we know where this is leading? Which of the options above seems possible, or is there another realistic option? (I know some will suggest expelling all the Palestinians – but to where?)

Those of us over the age of 40 remember the horror of terrorism. If Israel’s tactics had been tried in Northern Ireland, with 19,000 deaths in a few months, would N. Ireland be in a better place today? What would our community relationships be like today?

Suppose we in the unionist community are genuine friends of Israel. In that case, we need to offer constructive criticism—our history of enduring terrorism for 30 years ended with us finding peace through the Good Friday Agreement. Our record shows that providing a political way out of conflict is as important as military defence actions. I suggest that anyone who cares about Israel should encourage them to remove their politically incompetent PM and adopt a process of peace talks leading to elections in Gaza within a few years, followed by discussions on the future of the region.

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