By Claude Salhani —
With the brouhaha over its attempts to decree a travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, the Trump administration has much on its hands as it tries to implement unpopular decisions.
However, it might be worth reminding those new to Washington that there still lingers what has long been regarded as the root problem of the Middle East’s instability: The struggle of the Palestinians in their dispute with Israel and their aspiration of establishing a Palestinian homeland.
Sadly, there has been no shortage of violent conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa over the last several decades. For the longest time, much of this violence and the raison d’être of some Arab regimes was said to be due to the ongoing state of no war, but no peace either, that existed between the Arabs and Israel.
The Palestinian-Israeli dispute was one of the prime justifications for the Assad dynasty to cling to power in Syria all those years. This is just one example.
Following the 1967 war when Israel expanded its territory by occupying the West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, the main item on the political agendas of most Arab states appeared to be focused on a single objective: The liberation of Arab land. At least publicly, that was their agenda.
Palestinian lands had been occupied in stages. The bulk of the land that formed the modern state of Israel was carved out from British-mandated Palestine in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. To the Palestinians, this became known as Nakba — the catastrophe.
The new state of Israel ran from Lebanon’s southern frontier in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Jordanian city of the same name alongside the Israeli port city of Eilat. The rest was grabbed in the June 1967 war.
A few years later Israel refused to withdraw from a narrow strip of land along Lebanon’s southern border known as Shebaa farms and part of the village of Ghajar. While geographically the occupation of these two bits of Lebanese territory may not seem paramount to establishing a long-lasting peace accord, it nevertheless complicates matters by bringing the Lebanese Hezbollah group into the picture.
During the heydays of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the mid-1970s and on through the early 1980s, when the PLO and affiliates such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and a slew of others were based in Beirut, the question of Palestine was never far off the minds of many Middle Easterners.
Talk to any Arab official in any ministry in any Arab country from Kuwait to Oman and from Yemen to Morocco and invariably the conversation would shift to the question of Palestine. The resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute was believed to hold the magic key to the Middle East’s many problems. Alas, no one had an appropriate reply to the question of Palestine.
Ironically, the closer the Palestinians got to Palestine, the farther they seem to be from their dream of establishing an independent Palestinian state. The PLO seemed far more able to influence not only Israel but many Arab leaders from its headquarters in Beirut than it is now from its offices in Ramallah in the West Bank, where the issue of Palestine seems to have been taken off the front burners of politics.
It is important to note that no progress has been realised on the road map towards peace without the participation of the American president. From Richard Nixon to Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton and to Barack Obama, whatever little steps were taken towards reaching an eventual state of peace in the Arab-Israeli dispute could not have been achieved without direct US involvement at the highest level.
The root problem in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is best explained by Giora Eiland, a former major-general in the Israeli military who served as head of Israel’s National Security Council. Eiland said: “The most Israel can offer remains unacceptable to the Palestinians and the least the Palestinians can accept remains too much for the Israelis to accept.” Meanwhile, the stalemate continues.
There was one positive sign to emerge from the Trump White House when the president commented on Israel’s announcement that there were plans to build new settlements in the occupied West Bank. US President Donald Trump said building them now would not be advisable.
Perhaps Trump would be tempted to try his hand at finalising a lasting peace accord between the Palestinians and Israelis and to succeed where all other presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower have failed. Now that would be an accomplishment.