Just a few weeks ago, the front-page headlines of all the newspapers around the world were about the grave crisis between Israel and Palestine- that led to the loss of thousands of lives and destruction at a mass level. What makes this issue even more an urgent matter to be discussed in detail is its long timeline. The issue has been going for decade after decade- and unfortunately, without any solution but with immense loss. A deeper dive into the conflict, therefore, becomes imperative.
The State of Israel is one of the countries located in the Middle Eastern region. The country is located on eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. On the north, the country is bordered by Lebanon, to the northeast- it is surrounded by Syria and on the southwest. Egypt borders the country.1
Jerusalem is said to be the seat of the Israeli government and the proclaimed capital of the country. However, this claim continues to be contentious as this said capital is not widely recognised by the international community and where it has received recognition- it has only led to further controversies.
Palestine is another region in the Middle east. The territory of this region is primarily one of the major contentions that exist between the two states today. The proclaimed territory of Palestine today comprises some areas which are also proclaimed to be a part of Israel and areas which are originally part of Palestine like the straight stretch of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which are located with the coast of Mediterranean Sea and to the west of the Jordan river respectively. 2
The state of Palestine derives its name from Philistia, the name given by Greek writers to the land of the Philistines. The Philistines occupied the land between Tel Aviv and Gaza back in the 12th century BCE. 3 Although a small expanse of land, the legion has played a prominent role in the history of the region of Middle East.
The persisting conflict between the states of Israel and Palestine dates back to the nineteenth century. Through different centuries, the region remained under the rule of different dynasties. In 1918- during the First World War, it came under the hold of British. Subsequently, the League of Nations issued a British mandate for Palestine. This essentially meant that Britain got the administrative control of Palestine. 4
More importantly, with this British mandate for Palestine also came the provision of establishing a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, since it comprises the sites holy to the Jews. This went into effect in the year 1923. 5
A major breakthrough came about in 1947 when the United Nations decided to partition what was known as Palestine into two separate and independent states: an independent Arab state and an independent Jewish state. The city of Jerusalem, that held importance for both the communities, was to be classified as an international territory with a special status. 6 These two states were to be joined by an economic union.
This decision came into effect with a resolution passed by the United Nations on 29 November 1947. This resolution passed the ‘Partition Plan’- which divided or organised Palestine into three Jewish sections, four Arab sections and the internationally administered territory of Jerusalem. 7
Finally, on May 14, 1948, the Jewish leaders from the region came together to form the state of Israel. However, the Arabs were opposed to the creation of a separate Israeli state and the division of what originally was termed as the Palestine. Therefore, as this announcement was made, the British troops retreated and was followed by the fleeing of thousands of Palestinian Arabs from what was now, Israel.
Simultaneously, the formation of Israel led to a rise of dissent from the Arab army and ultimately, led to them invading Israel. This led to a full-scale Arab Israel war, which resulted in the victory of Israel. This led to the exodus of about half a million Palestinians. The war was brought to an end with the Security Council Resolution, number 242 that formulated certain principles of justice and a lasting peace. 8 This resolution resulted in the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the conflicted areas, a solution to the refugee problem and a termination of all states or belligerency.
However, this resolution could not guarantee a long-lasting peace and the partition brought about new and fresh hostilities between the two states. The 1973 hostilities were met with a resolution from the United Nations Security Council, with resolution number 338- which called for peace negotiations between the opposing parties. Following this resolution, the General Assembly (UNGA) in 1974, too passed a resolution which reassured the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people of self-determination, sovereignty and national independence. Further, in 1975 the UNGA constituted the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and granted the status of an observer to Palestine. 9
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was founded in 1964 that was dedicated to the cause of the liberation of Palestine. It focussed on the aim of liberating Palestine through an armed struggle.10 The PLO was however, declared as a terrorist organisation by both Israel and the USA.
Religion and Culture difference
The major root of the conflict between the two states lies in the religion and cultural difference that exists between the occupants of the region. It is therefore necessary to grant special attention to this aspect of the conflict as well.
Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. On the other hand, the majority Palestanians are Arabs and identify the territory of Israel as their homeland. They, therefore, wish to establish one by the name of Palestine on the same territory. This, however, remains contested by the Jews- who, too, identify it as the Jewish homeland.11
Both the Zionists and Arabs consider themselves as the guardians of what both of them claim as their homeland. The Jews enetered this territory back when they tried fleeing the atrocities and the holocaust against their community in Germany under Adolf Hitler. This was when the majority of the territory was occupied by Arab Muslims and was under the British rule.
The recent round of conflict was sparked off when orders came for the Palestanians Arabs settled in the area of East Jerusalem, were being forced out of their houses and therefore, to leave the area- which Israel claims to be of its own.
The conflict in May 2021 was escalated when Jewish group wanted the ouster of Palestanians settled families from the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Conflict escalated as Palestanians resisted these efforts and insisted on staying in the same neighbourhood, which they insisted were their own homes. 22
What also escalated the fighting was Israeli armed forces raid of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third holiest site of Islam and is therefore, of utmost importance to the Palestinian Arabs. This also happened on April 13, which ws the holiest night for Islam- as it marked the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.23 This was thereby, considered as an attack by Israel on the tenets of the religion of Islam.
Subsequently, in a bid to stop the incessant killings of innocents across the borders, a ceasefire came into place on May 21. This, however, did not guarantee a long-lasting peace as on June 16, Hamas sent incendiary balloons – helium balloons or kites with flammable devices attached- from Gaza into Israel. This was met with a stringent response from Israel as well, which in turn sent out missiles from its Iron Dome and hence, airstrikes.
World’s reaction to the conflict
With a century old conflict persisting between two states, it is only imperative that different countries around the world react to it. Since the issue involves being at extreme loggerheads, different countries have also tried to take safe and secure stands pertaining to the issue.
Looking at the US’s response to the issue, it is noted that several US administrations over the years have tried to lay down a roadmap or figure out ways to achieve peace in the Israel and Palestine conflict. The Middle East holds immense importance to the United States, therefore, an end to the conflict is in the interest of the States. However, experts over the recent years have stated that the stress on reducing the conflict has reduced over the years.With the recent Arab Spring and increasing threat to American security, US interest in the issue has reduced. 12
The US was the first country to recognise Israel as a sovereign country in 1948. In addition to this, the final agreement of the Oslo Peace Accords- wherein the Palestine lesders Israel’s right to exist, and Israel recognized Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and the West Bank, was signed in the White House.13 However, it is also widely known that the American policy has always been sided towards Israel and has favoured the Jewish nation on various occasions. Over the years, the country has only once allowed the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel for its settlement construction. This was in 2016, when the outgoing Obama government decided to abstain from voting.
Even the new office bearer, President Joe Biden supported Israel’s right to ensure it’s security during the recent wave of conflict between the two countries. Biden’s statement, “unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people while protecting civilians,” reflected strong support for Israel. 14
Other countries in the Middle East have largely been in support of the Palestinian cause- mainly due to their religion and cultural similarities with the Palestinian Arabs. However, there have been developments in recent times which can put a cast over these statements of support and solidarity.
The Syrian government has a fraught relation with Israel. It’s relations with Iran, which is Israel’s one of the major adversaries in the region, are proof enough of its policy towards Israel. Further, Lebanon hosts the Hezbollah group, which is pertinently an anti-Israel Shia military group. The group is said to be funded by Iran. 15
However, there are also Middle Eastern countries that have extended their support to Israel and have opted for a stand against Palestinians. Jordan is one such country- that even though it houses the largest number of refugees from Palestine and borders Israel on the eastern side, has a peace treaty with the Jewish state.
Major players in the region seem to be making their peace with Israel, which many Palestinians consider as ignoring their plight and supporting their oppressor. This is seen in the recent accord signed between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. The two Middle East nations signed an accord normalizing relation between them on August 13, 2020. 16 This accord led to a series of other accords by other Middle East countries, like: Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The Arab countries recognize Israel’s right by stating- “each state’s right to sovereignty and to live in peace and security”. These accords subsequently came to be known as the Abraham Accords.
During the recent round of conflicts and firing, including the destruction of the al-Aqsa mosque- the third holiest site of Islam- many famous personalities in the UAE praised the Israeli government’s actions, terming their actions as necessary. Wassem Yousef, a prominent Emirati cleric, supported Israel and termed Hamas as responsible for the escalation of the violence.
However, two nations-Turkey and Iran maintain their opposition to Israel. They even termed the recent accords as a ‘backstab’ to all Muslims and a betrayal of the Muslim world. Both these countries condemned the recent incident of violence that broke out, killing hundreds of people, including children.
The European Union, on the other hand, seemed to present a balancing act. On one hand, it condemned the evictions of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem; while on the other hand, it also stated that the Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel’s territory were totally unacceptable and therefore, called for a de-escalation from both the sides.17
India’s response to the issue
Of all the countries, India has been known to take firm and peace-revolving stands in terms of the issues pertaining to global politics or different countries. India has been for long, not only since its inception as an independent country, but even during the national struggle, a country with strong emphasis on peace. Therefore, the country’s stand and response to the crisis between Israel and Palestine also becomes an important issue to dig deep into.
The recent round of conflicts between the two states of Israel and Palestine, India very sharply made a point to take a safe position on the issue. On June 2, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations, T S Tirumurti, stated that India values its historic relations with Palestine and deeply cherishes it’s blooming and growing ties with Israel.18
During the same statement in the United Nations Security Council’s open debate on Israel and Palestine, India took the position of appealing both sides to de-escalate and attempt at unilaterally changing the status quo. It also appealed that the holy places of Jerusalem should be respected and no harm should occur to the religious sites.
When studied, the Indian position on the Israel-Palestine issue has been an evolving one and has hardly ever remained stagnant or supporting one side of the issue. Till 2017, India maintained the position that earlier Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had maintained. The position stated: “the Palestinian cause and called for a negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognised borders, side by side at peace with Israel.”19 This position was reiterated in 2016 as well by the then President Pranab Mukherjee as well.
In February 2018, Prime Minister Modi became the first sitting Indian Prime Minister to visit both Israel and Palestine. This happened as PM Modi visited the West Bank then. The then Israeli PM Netanyahu also travelled to India in 2018.
India maintains a de-hyphenation policy in this conflict between Israel and Palestine. As per this policy, it maintains an independent and a completely separate policy towards both Israel and Palestine.20 Therefore, its relationship with one state does not necessarily affect it;s relations with the other.
Israel has subsequently gained importance in India’s lens. By 2013, the country was India’s third-largest trade partner. India is also the largest buyer of military equipment manufactured in Israel. Further, India ranks tenth in the countries with which Israel has the largest trade. Thus, indicating the strength of the ties that two countries have subsequently built. 21
Under the current government’s regime, there have been several strides in the relations of the two countries, from scientific research partnerships to defence pacts, it seems like Israel and India have developed an appreciation for each other. However, this is not to suggest that India’s policy has witnessed a complete shift to being a friend of Israel and therefore, an enemy of Palestinians. The country continues to take a neutral yet a safe stance when it comes to the question of Israel and Palestine. The future road also looks the same, since neither can India give up its friendship with a fast-developing country like Israel nor can it ignore the human rights of the Palestinians. This will, no doubt, continue to be a tricky road ahead.