There is arguably no other state in the world that receives as much attention from the international community as Israel. Israel is the focal point of conflicting political and social ideologies in a region of the world wracked by violence and civic unrest. This is an in-depth sample research paper that centers around the argument that the continued use of Israeli settlements is the single most important barrier to peace between the Israeli state and the Palestinians.
Israeli settlements: Barrier to peace
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ancient, complex, and deeply rooted in a tradition of dispute. The list of offenses is long, but notable among them is frequent betrayal, or at least perceived betrayal, and refusal to compromise. There is one clear issue, however, and that is ownership of land. Both nations claim the rights to the same land, both consider it holy and both refuse to surrender it. Despite United Nations resolutions and internationally recognized boundaries, Israel has increasingly imposed on Palestinian territory through a series of controversial settlements.
The situation has grown beyond a dispute between two nations that refuse to accept outside mediation, though. Israel receives heavy support from the United States and this tips the balance of power in their favor. Israeli imposition on Palestine has proceeded almost unchecked, largely thanks to that American support, and is having a dehumanizing effect on the Palestinians, making them second-class citizens in their own country as disruptions by Israel are tolerated on an increasingly frequent basis.
Settlements in Palestine
Settlements in the West Bank are most definitely a driving force behind the latest repression of the Palestinian people. Whatever other ideological factors an individual might hold about the issue, it cannot be denied that settlement by Israelis is tantamount to invasion. It is also illegal. According to the fourth Geneva convention, occupying powers are not allowed to move their own citizens into occupied territory.
Hague regulations also prohibit and occupying power from imposing permanent changes in an occupied territory unless it is for military needs or to benefit the local population (Kurtzer). Allowing private Israeli citizens to claim Palestinian land is most definitely not a benefit to the population of Palestine. While Israel has been allowed to impose some changes in Palestinian territory in the past, for those security needs, this settlement issue is an entirely different situation.
In the case of settlement, the private population of Palestine is infringed upon by the private population of Israel. As the Israelis expand into Palestinian territory, the Palestinian citizens find more and more land that they once had access to now off limits. While Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics claims that settlements occupy at most one percent of the West Bank, the area that they have placed under the jurisdiction of the settlements is over nine percent (CBS). Palestinian access is restricted from those jurisdictional areas which amounts to the same imposition as direct settlement.
This situation is mirrored in the Jordan Valley where 1,364 acres is officially considered settlement, but nearly the entire Jordan Valley, over 45,000 acres, is under the jurisdiction of the settlement councils (CBS). So in this case as well, the effective area that Palestine has no access to is much greater than that claimed by misleading statistics. A third area, a settlement called Maale Adumim, occupies 1,100 acres but has jurisdiction over 11,600 acres, once more claiming absolute Israeli control over a vast area, displacing many Palestinians (CBS). The effect of these large tracts of controlled land is suffocation of Palestine.
Mutual resentment and Palestinian frustration
With so much undeveloped territory claimed exclusively for Israeli access, it is understandable that the resentment between the two nations continues to grow. From the Palestinian perspective, Israel enjoys freedom of movement in luxuriously expansive areas while the citizens of Palestine have to navigate a maze of restricted areas just to go about their most basic daily affairs like getting groceries, visiting the doctor, or attending school or work.
There is no recourse for them, either. Israel’s Prime Minister asserts that there are efforts underway to disengage from Palestinian territory and concede to their wishes and demands and that ultimately the settlements are being dismantled, but the evidence indicates exactly the opposite (Siegman). As long as settlement councils continue to claim jurisdiction over such expansive and relatively unused areas, the Palestinian people will remain second-class citizens in their own country, left to live in poverty, and be progressively dehumanized if nothing is done to alter the process.
This dehumanizing effect is manifested in almost every way that the Israeli settlements contact Palestinian territory. Physical barriers ensure that nobody wanders into a settlement controlled area by accident and turns Palestine into a kind of labyrinth for its citizens. Foot and vehicle traffic can rarely take a direct path to any destination which infringes on economy and daily quality of life for Palestine’s citizens. As the settlements continue to grow, they engulf existing Palestinian settlement, isolating them almost entirely from the rest of the country and creating overwhelming barriers to commerce and contact.
The UN identified 625 barriers to movement in February of 2009, and that is just in terms of physical travel (Khalidi). This process gives Israel progressively more control over Palestine’s economy and culture. Poverty and isolation are inevitable consequences for Palestinians that lose ready access to work, resources, and family and friends.
Walls and barriers
These barriers are justified by claims of security which technically justifies their existence according to the Hague regulation, though it does so on shaky ground. The purpose of so much physical restriction is to “impede infiltration” (Kurtzer). These measures likely do that, but at a tremendous cost to basic standard of living for Palestinians. And since Israelis enjoy more and more freedom of movement as settlement territories expand, it becomes progressively easier for them to move their population into occupied territory and expand their jurisdictional borders still farther.
The physical wall being constructed in the West Bank is an even more permanent physical demonstration of Israeli domination over Palestine. While many of the previous barriers have been mobile and had at least the illusion of impermanence, the new wall project will be considerably more enduring. Made of concrete, running nearly 350 kilometers and standing eight meters tall, the two meter thick wall would be a challenge for a tank column to penetrate, let alone citizens just trying to go about their lives.
When complete the wall will have expanded Israel’s share of pre-1948 Palestine from 50 to 90 percent (Said). This edifice is much a monument to domination as security, for which it seems like overkill to an outside observer. Within Palestine it is perceived as evidence of Israel’s
“intention to leave most of its settlements in place and to confine the Palestinian population” (Siegman).
Slowly but surely, every human component of Palestinian life is being either taken away or strangled by Israeli control.
The effects of settlement expansion and domination are dehumanizing to Palestine in the political sense as well, not just individually. Over fifteen years, from 1993 to 2008, the Israeli population in West Bank settlements increased 150% from 116,300 to 289,600. East Jerusalem also saw an increase in Israeli population from 152,800 to 186,800 in this time period. A significant part of this population shift occurred between 1993 and 2000 during the Oslo peace process when the Israeli population increased 70% in settlements (CBS).
Even while talks were underway for repairing relations between Palestine and Israel, the evidence within the country was that Israel had no intention of honoring any legitimate compromise. This kind of blatant disrespect of Palestinian government and lack of any effort to communicate policy into action on the part of Israel demonstrates that Palestine is not considered an equal. The entire nation is less than human in the eyes of Israel and as long as Israel is allowed to continue in that tradition, Palestine will be forced to accept their lower class status. Part of the reason Israel gets away with this kind of diplomacy is their history of bullying tactics and of support from powerful allies, primarily the United States.
Self-preservation at all costs
Israel has historically used morally impermissible and aggressive means as a way of dealing with diplomatic matters concerning living space. Due to Israel’s rich historic past in terms of dealing with oppression and ethnic injustice, the nation has taken a firm step towards catering its foreign and domestic policies in favor of self-preservation. For example, Jerome Slater argued that Israel’s historical tendencies reflected the notion that
“Israel must avoid compromises with its adversaries until its military advantage is so overwhelming… [and] so painful that they have no choice but to accept Israel” (Slater 78).
This behavior has been justified by the fact that Israel has surely undergone periods of genocide and duress. Nonetheless, Israel’s general behavior towards adversaries reflects “a series of basic strategic axioms and perceptional prisms” that correspond to its “national psyche” of self-preservation at all costs (Freilich 13). Such extraordinary means to ensure tranquility and living space has resulted in aggressive tendencies towards other nations, especially Palestine. Indeed, the means by which Israel conducted itself was indicative of terrorism and geopolitical control over Palestine.
Israel has utilized its relationship with the US in order to foster its oppression of Palestine as it occupied the area. Firstly, it is important to understand that Israel has taken drastic measures in terms of taking command of Palestine. With respect to the just war principle, Israel’s use of terrorist style tactics and attacks on civilians represents
“a war crime in both moral theory and international law” (Slater 68).
Slater also remarked that “Israel’s continuing reliance on overwhelming force” has been supplanted by its neglect of diplomatic and peaceful means of negotiation (Slater 78).
Israel has had options to negotiate with Palestine but instead has chosen to pursue the matter with brute force. Moreover, the US has played a major role in fostering this relationship by offering various forms of aid. For instance, Freilich remarked that as Israel’s “ties with the US grew even deeper,” it has begun to use the US as a “strategic partner” in order to justify its actions (15). Indeed, this deep relationship included access to weaponry, military strategies and other indirect forms of aid. For the US, their benefit was access to information and influence in the Middle-East. Ultimately, Israel’s settlement in Palestine is indicative of an aggressor that is using forceful and geopolitical means to impose its will.
An ongoing conflict over settlements
As is the case with both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the will that each is attempting to impose is largely religious. This is part of what makes the conflict so unresolvable, because it is based in fundamental beliefs that are diametrically opposed. But as long as Israel has the upper hand, they will suppress Palestine’s perspective which only further dehumanizes the population. Manachem Begin, the sixth Prime Minister of the State of Israel, considers Israeli settlements to be representative of Zionism’s relentless mentality and moral vision.
Like many Israelis, Begin does not see any difference between the settlements that were formed before 1948 and those that have been established since 1967 in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem which are in violation of international law. Israeli governments, both Labor and Likud, have pursued settlements since 1967 in the hope of consolidating Israel’s control over the occupied territory and preventing any emergence of a legitimate Palestinian state (FMEP). This stance is really just an official position on the dehumanization of the Palestinian people, denying them any freedom of religion or political legitimacy.
It is also a position that ensures continued conflict between the two even though Israel is heavily favored due to how established they are the support they receive from the United States. If the settlements remain and continue to block any formation of a stable Palestinian state, the outcome will inevitably be outright civil war. This outcome is even more likely since Zionist leaders consider the settlements to be tightly connected to security and sovereignty,
“Security through settlement is an existential concept rather than a military imperative” (FMEP).
While negotiations might successfully defuse a purely military or political confrontation, the fact that Israeli leadership has so closely tied settlements and their domination of Palestine to their own sense of identity makes it a much more volatile situation. This translates to a war of wills between Israel and Palestine on a cultural and individual level, the most fundamental example of ‘them or us’ in which Palestine as little chance of success due to the overwhelming odds stacked against them. Facing down inevitable and absolute defeat is yet another dehumanizing effect of Israeli domination over Palestine.
American support after the early 1980s
Despite what seems like an objectively clear violation of basic decency, by allowing Israel to continue to settle Palestinian territory, there remains some controversy over the matter. The last few decades have seen third-party perspectives of the situation shift continually toward Israel’s favor. The American policy toward settlements has come to greatly hinder the peace process by giving Israel consent, funding and jurisdiction to further their illegal activity. Until the early 1980s, the United States, like every other state besides Israel, viewed Israeli settlements as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Contrasting previous U.S. policy, President Reagan declared that settlements were not “illegal” and took no legal position on settlements. There have been no US administrations since that were able to persuade Israel to halt or significantly slow settlement growth. In December 2000, President Clinton proposed borders for a Palestinian state involving 94-96 percent of the West Bank that would have required Israel
“to abandon certain settlements while allowing the retention of large bloc settlements near the Green Line in exchange for swaps of Israeli land to the new Palestinian state” (FMEP).
Clinton’s proposals were dismissed after the elections of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President George W. Bush. The Bush administration made no proposals to resolve the issue.
There is even some controversy about whether or not the settlements are an obstruction to the peace process, as though the evidence does not objectively prove this. Despite Israeli settlements’ blatant violation of international law since 1967, one of the most pervasive questions in the Arab-Israeli peace process has been whether or not these Israeli settlements obstruct progress. Even the Obama administration contemplated this question when weighing its options for advancing the prospects for peace. There is a school of thought throughout Israel and among some Americans that argues that the issue of settlements “has been overdrawn” and does not account for the failure to make progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (Kurtzer).
Elliot Abrams, the former deputy national security adviser in the administration of President George W. Bush, reiterated this ideology in an opinion-editorial entitled, “The Settlement Freeze Fallacy”. Abrams wrote that Israeli settlement activity has no impact on peace prospects between Israelis and Palestinians. He even dismissed past settlement activity altogether,“Those settlements exist and there is no point debating whether it was right to build them” — and minimized the impact of current construction projects (Abrams). Abrams argued that development occurs in settlements that even Palestinians recognize will remain in Israel and that “most settlement expansion occurs in ways that do not much affect Palestinian life” (Kurtzer).
Abram’s argument depicts a small aspect of the rationale for those who believe that settlements provide no obstacle to peace. This school of thought labels the West Bank and Gaza, not as “occupied territory,” but rather as “disputed” territory whose ultimate status has yet to be determined. While all these debates are undoubtedly fascinating for their political science, they are also prolonging the repression of an entire population and depriving the Palestinians of many basic, decent rights and privileges.
Israeli settlements damage discourse
This delay is prolonged by the simple fact that Israeli settlements inhibit conflict-resolution discourse. There simply is no current prospect for a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza without abandonment of most Israeli settlements. Palestinian negotiators indicate a willingness to discuss border adjustments if there were agreement in rule that the 1967 Green Line, including East Jerusalem, defines the borders of the Palestinian state. These borders require strong concessions from both sides—Palestinians would yield heavily populated settlements located near the Green Line in return for Palestinian annexation of equivalent areas of land on the Israeli side of the line.
No such negotiations have since taken place. In 1980 Professor Jacob Talmon of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an Israeli authority on Zionism and nationalism, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Begin calling for an end to Israel’s policies of occupation and settlement. Talmon successfully predicted the modern violence between Palestinians and Israelis,
“The combination of subjection, national oppression and social inferiority is a time bomb for the future of Israel” (FMEP). He further urged Begin, “Let us not compel the Arabs to feel that they have been humiliated until they believe that hope is gone and they must die for Palestine.”
This warning has thus far gone unheeded and it becoming evident that the continuing dehumanization of the Palestinian people is driving them to greater desperation and greater violence.
Majorities from both the Israeli and Palestinian side tend to accept the concept of a two-state solution. This two-state design will not emerge out of a strong political campaign, “rather, it will come about because separation is discredited and impossible” (Sussman). The two-state outcome is where discourse meets reality (Sussman). Palestinians will not abandon their struggle for a sovereign state of their own, and Israeli governments are not likely to “transfer” Palestinians—although there has been a party in Sharon’s coalition advocating for this exact political action.
Israeli demographers predict that the rising Arab population in Israel and the territories will exceed the Jewish population by 2020 (FMEP). Thus, Israel must continue to use military force to preserve both a Jewish state as well as its settlements in the territories. They perceive the military force as essential to repress and dominate a hostile Palestinian populace that will outnumber the Jews within the century. This outcome could only lead to a perpetuation of violence, insecurity for Israel, injustice for Palestinians and corruption as well as destruction of Israel’s character as a democratic state (FMEP). In this way, the statistics only support Talmon’s warnings and further indicate that the situation as it stands will lead to further repression of Palestine and more violent retaliations against that repression.
Future of the peace process?
There appears to be no clear solution on the table. At least not one that would be readily accepted by either party. If a simple solution existed, or even a workable one, it would likely have been implemented by now. What seems to be required is a changing of the rules. Something has got to give because every element of conflict as it stands is only driving it closer and closer to complete disaster. Israel’s treatment of Palestine is both ethically wrong, by the standards of international law, and morally reprehensible based on the way Palestinians are forced to live and continue to be suffocated progressively further by Israeli dominance.
If external forces like the United States continue to support the status quo, rather than exert some kind of constructive influence, they will only continue to deprive Palestine’s population of their basic human considerations. And as long as the Palestine continues to be dehumanized by all those in authority, they will likely continue to lash out against that authority, ensuring a violent climax to the long-brewing conflict.
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