Home World The Israel-Palestinian conflict has always been a battle of hope versus hate

The Israel-Palestinian conflict has always been a battle of hope versus hate

It’s been a bumpy ride but, all things considered, a Jewish democracy in the Middle East has made a pretty decent fist at surviving for 76 years in a part of the world that hates two things above all else: Jews and democracy.

In the wake of October 7, an Israeli friend described his country’s existential struggle like this: “We live on an island surrounded by a sea that rises higher than the land. On October 7, a brick came loose and we sacrificed ourselves to fill the gap to stop our little island from being submerged.”

When it’s not busy laying bricks, the island, with all its imperfections, does its best to harbour diversity and tolerance in a region at war with these values.

The eight-month conflict in Gaza, triggered by the medieval massacre in southern Israel, is but the latest and darkest chapter in a generational war against Jewish sovereignty.

Keyboard warriors and worriers have neither time nor patience to wrap their heads around the daunting minutia when there are pictures of matcha green tea smoothies to upload. It’s easier and far less boring to signal virtuous engagement with memes like “all eyes on Rafah”.

So put down that blender, dear Instagrammers, and join me, if you will, on a journey back in time to February 18, 1947, when there was no occupation, no settlements, no Nakba, no refugees. Simply put, there was no Israel.

On that day, Ernest Bevin, the UK foreign minister, stood up in Parliament to explain why the British government had succeeded in creating Arab states in Iraq and Jordan but failed to find a solution in Palestine that was acceptable to Arabs and Jews.

Bevin told the House of Commons that His Majesty’s government had been thwarted because the conflict in the land was “irreconcilable”.

He told MPs that, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there were two groups, Jews and Arabs, each with a primary goal.

The primary goal of the Jews who survived the Holocaust was to establish a state in their historical homeland. The primary goal of the Arabs was to prevent Jewish sovereignty in any part of the land.

The Jews want a state, the Palestinian Arabs want to stop the Jews from having a state. That was the conflict then and that is the conflict now.

Every time the Palestinians have been offered sovereignty – in 1937, when they were offered a whopping 80 percent of the land, in 1947, 1993, 2000 and 2008 – they said no, no, no, no and (checks notes…) no once again, because to say yes would mean Jewish sovereignty somewhere. And anything that goes against their primary goal is worth going to war for.

Former Israeli politician Einat Wilf put it well when I met her in Tel Aviv last week: “Imagine a scale where you place an end to the occupation, an end to settlements, joint sovereignty of Jerusalem and a Palestinian state on one side.

“But on the other side of the scale there’s something the Palestinians value so much more that, time and again, they are happy to walk away from this to violently pursue the other. What do you think the other might be?”

When Israel unilaterally left Gaza in 2005, dragging thousands of its citizens kicking and screaming out of their homes to create the possibility of an independent Palestine, the Arabs of Gaza didn’t say to themselves: “How fabulous! What a lovely strip of land! Wonderful beaches! And all the Jews have gone! Let’s turn this place into the Singapore of the Levant!”

Nope. Instead, tragically true to form, they said: “How fabulous! What a lovely strip of land to turn into an integrated war machine, above and below ground, to fire tens of thousands of rockets into Israeli towns and cities.”

This conflict is frequently referred to as urban warfare, but it is much more severe. It’s the most perilous battleground on the planet.

Contrary to those fake social media maps depicting a disappearing Palestine, the Gaza withdrawal in 2005 was the first time Arabs in the former British Mandate of Palestine had sovereignty over their own territory. And, like the self-sabotaging quarter-wits they are, they messed it all up on purpose.

Palestinian identity since 1948 has been defined by violent opposition to Jews, to the crippling detriment of Palestinians – particularly young aimless men lured by Kalashnikovs and martyrdom myths.

Whenever Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas accepted the idea of two states, Israeli leaders mistakenly assumed that one of those states would be Israel.

They should have checked the smallprint. Because when Arafat and Abbas said two states, they meant a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and another to replace Israel through the right of return.

When US President Joe Biden arrived in Israel during the first days of the war, bringing his aircraft carriers with him that deterred Hezbollah from carrying out its own October 7 slaughter in the north, he was keen to emphasise that Hamas does not represent the Gazan people.

Of course, it’s deeply painful to admit – which is why so few people, including the American president, dare – but over the last 17 years Hamas and the Gazan people have grown toxically intertwined, like a cancer consuming the human body.

Hamas doesn’t need to hide its Iranian weapons in mosques, nurseries, schools, hospitals and apartments from Rafah in the south to Gaza City in the north. It keeps them in plain sight to facilitate rapid attacks from civilian locations.

This strategy is possible because they operate freely within a population that either supports them or is too terrified to resist. The Gazans, knowingly or not, are also victims of Hamas.

This cancer prognosis can be extended to the West Bank where, according to a December poll by the Ramallah-based Palestine Centre for Policy and Survey Research, more than 90 percent of people believe Hamas “did not commit any atrocities against Israeli civilians on October 7.”

The key word here is “civilians” – people entitled to live in the land. Every Israeli man, woman and child is a legitimate target. They are seen as anything but civilians.

Once the conflict is recognised for what is truly is and always has been – the Jewish aspiration of self-determination opposed by the Palestinian goal of eliminating every Jew from their midst – two possible outcomes become clear.

Either October 7 is eventually repeated on a grander scale to deal with the seven million Jews living between the river and the sea, or the Palestinians are finally led by a grown-up willing to accept a Jewish state in 0.31 percent of the Muslim Middle East, coexisting with 49 Muslim-majority nations.

When the Palestinians finally cease their century-long loathing for Jewish sovereignty, they will find that the good people of Israel and, believe it or not, even a future Israeli government free from the shackles of Benjamin Netanyahu and his calamitous coalition, are ready to be partners for peace and the creation of two prosperous states side by side, along similar equitable lines to those offered on five previous occasions.

When this devastating war finally ends, a brighter tomorrow is possible. But it will only dawn when the Palestinians finally abandon their poisoned priorities and start putting their efforts into building a state rather than destroying one.


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