The conflict in the former Palestine Mandate is an ongoing thorn in geopolitical affairs. The Middle East has been in a state of upheaval since the turn on the millennium, but the existence of Israel – and the Palestinians within Israel – has been a point of contention since right after World War II. The Holocaust gave a sense of legitimacy and urgency to the creation of a Jewish homeland, and Palestine seemed an obvious place – what better place for Jews then the land they inhabited during biblical times? This tying together of the nation of Jews and the state of Israel is a prominent example of the nation-state, and that concept is at the very core of this conflict.
The nation-state is a concept that supports giving each nation of people a homeland to call their own. After the collapse of empires following World War I and the genocidal attempts in World War II, nation-states seemed like a way to maintain harmony. This was not the case. Following World War I, newly formed nations such as Poland, Ukraine and Turkey (Smith, 2015) invaded their neighbors to take control of lands owned by their countrymen, while rounding up and exiling those who were not considered proper members of the nation. In some cases, outright extermination was practiced in the name of national purity – Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks and Kurds had a particularly harrowing experience during and after World War I as Turkey attempted to assert sovereignty from the Western powers (Schaller, 2009).
In the wake of World War II, the longstanding desire of Zionists became a reality. The newly formed United Nations convened a council to determine the fate of several areas that used to constitute parts of European empires. Palestine was one of these lands – controlled by Britain after it was carved from the defunct Ottoman Empire post-World War I, Palestine was a majority Arab land, but had a substantial amount of Jews and Christians living in it.
The United Nations decided to grant roughly half the land in the mandate to the Jewish state, despite Jews being roughly 30% of the population of the mandate at the time (United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, 1947). Arab representatives protested at this partitioning, but the British government nevertheless accepted it. When the British government officially withdrew from its governance of the mandate, the Arab states surrounding Palestine invaded (Hadawi, 1989). Their intervention was not successful – Israel was not only able to defend the land that it had been granted by the United Nations committee, it had been able to seize control of half of the land that was to be granted to the Palestinian Arabs. Jordan came into control of East Jerusalem through their annexation of the West Bank, while Egypt occupied the Gaza strip.
At Israel’s genesis, Tel Aviv functioned as Israel’s capital, but after the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war Israel moved its capital to Jerusalem – at least, the part of Jerusalem they controlled. To further complicate the matter, many nations did not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The city fractured - Israeli West Jerusalem and Jordanian East Jerusalem became a focal point of the wider conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Jerusalem is at the heart of the three major religions in the area. It was the capital of the ancient Jewish kingdom of Israel; it was the location of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and subsequently became a magnet for Christian pilgrims; and as Muslims consider Christ a prophet – not as important as Muhammad, but still vital to the Islamic faith – Jerusalem became the second most sacred location for Muslims after Mecca. In addition to being the bastion of faith for two major religions and the religion that served as their theological progenitor, it is also at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
By 1967, this situation proved untenable. Egyptian-Israeli relations were already incredibly poor – Israel had already gone to war with Egypt once more during the Suez Crisis, and Jordanian soldiers were involved in numerous attacks on Israeli civilians throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. An Egyptian naval blockade in the Red Sea proved to be the breaking point, and the subsequent Six-Day War would be the high-water mark of Israeli military success. Preemptive air strikes crippled the Egyptian air force and gave the Israeli’s air supremacy, which forced Egyptian forces westward across the Sinai. Despite being outnumbered against the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, Israel won decisively.
A decisive peace would not follow the decisive victory. Israel tore control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank away from Jordan, and replaced the Egyptian occupation of Gaza with its own. In addition, Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. These land grabs did not solve the issue at hand – if anything, they made it worse. There were thousands of Palestinians that sought refuge in surrounding Arab nations, but most of them were still in their land – land now controlled by Israelis, who were seen by the Palestinians as incessantly expanding their control at the expense of others. These Palestinians could have just become a section of Jordanian society or might have assimilated into Egyptian society, but now their citizenship was much less certain – were they citizens of Israel? Were they citizens of Palestine? Was there even a Palestine?
By not being Jewish, Palestinians were immediately second-class citizens in an explicitly Jewish state. Moreover, Palestinians felt like they could no longer trust pan-Arabism to save them – the united forces of the Arab world had lost against Israel not once, not twice, but three times. It was in this time that Yasser Arafat rose to prominence, and underneath him the Palestinian cause became tied closer to the concept of terror as a strategy. This was not only focused on Israel – the Palestine Liberation Organization attempted to overthrow the king of Jordan so that they could establish a more secure base to retake the West Bank. The subsequent conflict was known as Black September, and it resulted in thousands of deaths and the expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organization from Jordan (Becker, 1984).
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s new base was in Lebanon, where they continued their work to destabilize Israel. Their mission would eventually become an integral part of the Lebanese Civil War - in the same way that the Palestine Liberation Organization attempted to overthrow the government of Jordan to solidify a base of support, the Palestine Liberation Organization attempted to overthrow the pro-West Maronite-led government in order to install a pro-Arab regime. This conflict would eventually draw in the forces of Syria and Israel on opposing sides, and Lebanon became a battleground for a proxy conflict between Israel and the Arabs. The Palestine Liberation Organization would eventually withdraw from Lebanon, but the nation would remain a proxy battlefield between the forces of Israel (and by extension, the West) and the forces of pan-Arabism (and by extension, the Soviets).
That did not mean that the Palestine Liberation Organization was done, however. It would spend several futile years in Tunisia, but would eventually come back to prominence after the First Intifada. What began as nonviolent protests soon escalated into violent attacks on Israeli infrastructure. The Israelis responded with force, and hundreds of Palestinians were shot to death over the subsequent months. The Palestinian resistance against Israeli governance would continue for more than 5 years, and would end with Yasser Arafat's acceptance of the existence of the state of Israel and a commitment to a two-state solution. The Palestine Liberation Organization vested administrative authority for Palestinians to the newly-created Palestinian National Authority, which was given control over some areas in the West Bank and Gaza.
What was previously the British Palestine Mandate will likely have one of two futures - one of them is the two-state solution, where Israel and Palestine are independent of one another. The other is the one-state solution, which is a combined Israel-Arab state encompassing the entire region. If the one-state solution is chosen, the Jewish population will be significantly outnumbered by the Arab population. If that's the case, having an equal democracy may empower vengeful revenants of Gaza and the West Bank, determined to punish Israelis for their poverty. A system of disenfranchisement and segregation by Jewish Israelis on Arab Israelis could be attempted, but that would be countered by overwhelming diplomatic shame and economic boycotts.
The two-state solution is more attractive to those who wish to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel. It serves to give both Israel and Palestine international and mutual recognition while giving each nation a state that they are a majority in. This comes with two wrinkles - the West Bank has many Israeli settlers, which the Israeli Defense Force patrols, and Israel would still have a substantial Arab population. Would both states be able to maintain harmony, or would there be a series of escalations that might start a war? Would population swaps, like those after World War I, make a return? If this path is chosen, Palestine will have to struggle with having non-congruous borders. Any transport between Gaza and the West Bank would likely go through very heavy security checkpoints into and out of Israel; this is further complicated by the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are currently controlled by rival organizations. Hamas, which is widely considered a terrorist organization, seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian National Authority in 2007. Fatah, the largest conglomerate in the Palestinian National Authority, reigns in the West Bank. If the two-state solution were pursued, we may end up seeing three de-facto states in the region – Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, each holding animosity toward the other two.
There are other possibilities to consider. One of them is the three-state solution, which would return borders to the pre-1967 status quo. Egypt would take control of Gaza, Jordan would take control of the West Bank, and Israel would keep everything else. This would leave Palestinians without their own homeland, but they would be a major entity within Jordan. While Jordan is not as wealthy as its other Arab neighbors, it does have a pro-Western government that has had friendly relations with Israel for several decades. This means that if the Israeli settlers were to stay in the West Bank after Jordan takes control, they would likely remain relatively unmolested. Any Palestinian revanchist coming out of Jordan would be suppressed by Jordanian forces. Gaza is a different story – the population there is desperately poor and uneducated, and Egypt’s control over the Sinai is not absolute – fundamentalist insurgents stage intermittent attacks on tourist sites and state forces on the Sinai, and they would likely try to feed ammunition and propaganda to the Gazans in hopes of starting a war between Israel and Egypt and subsequently the entire Arab world.
Whichever structure is chosen, it is very likely that Israel will continue its control over Jerusalem. As long as access to holy sites is not restricted to pilgrims and tourists, this will not be a point of frustration in the West. This will likely remain the case, as pilgrims and tourists make up a substantial portion of the Israeli economy. However, a Jerusalem controlled wholly by Israel will likely remain a rallying point for Muslim fundamentalists and Palestinian nationalists. Further terror incidents are inevitable, as are suppression tactics meant to reduce the severity and frequency of terror incidents.
There is an option that must be raised – as was mentioned in the three-state solution, it is hypothetically possible to roll the clock back on control of land so that Jordan regains control of the West Bank and Egypt reoccupies Gaza. What if we rolled it back a little bit further and reinstated United Nations control over Jerusalem and its environs? What if the keys of the most venerable city in the world were given to the organization that was created explicitly to promote peace and human dignity? New York City is a valid location for the headquarters of the United Nations, as New York City has immense cultural and financial influence. But it does not have the historical or religious significance of Jerusalem, and if the seat of the United Nations were to move to Jerusalem, the prestige of both the United Nations and the city of Jerusalem will increase. Supporting this option is the fact that both the United States and the United Nations still officially recognize Jerusalem as being corpus seperatum from its surroundings – being part of neither the Jewish or the Arab state (United Nations General Assembly, 2011).
This measure can be seen as an infringement on the territorial sovereignty of Israel, and to the extent of territorial control status quo, it is. But this must be viewed in the context of numerous infringements of territorial sovereignty that has happened in the past and continues to happen. If one is to state that Israel has a right to exist, then that right to existence also extends to Palestine, but that logic runs into legal complications. For instance, there is an ongoing process of settlement by Israeli civilians in the West Bank. Though this territory is supposed to be underneath the authority of the Palestinian National Authority, the Palestinian National Authority only exerts sovereign control over roughly half of the territory. Moreover, the Israeli settlers have taken for themselves the most prosperous areas of the West Bank, bulldozing existing Palestinian communities to make space. If Palestine were to gain full independence, the question of the legal status of these Israeli settlers will be of paramount importance.
Having a permanent United Nations presence in and around Jerusalem may be the best way to maintain peace in the region, as this presence will entail the deployment of United Nations Peacekeepers. But herein lays a problem – the present system for United Nations military deployment is entirely dependent on member state’s voluntary deployments. The combat effectiveness, moral integrity and leadership skills of these forces can vary greatly depending on what military is sending forces to participate in peacekeeping operations. Moreover, there can be unintended detrimental effects involving loaned peacekeepers – in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, an epidemic of cholera swept over the country. This plague was sourced to the camp of peacekeepers from Nepal, who dumped their raw sewage into a river and introduced cholera to Haiti for the first time in recorded history (Siegel, 2013).
Nepalese peacekeepers have more problems than cholera – recent news from South Sudan reports of child rape committed by the Nepalese (AFP, 2018). This ill-discipline is not isolated to the Nepalese – numerous accounts of sexual exploitation and abuse can be tied to many, if not most, peacekeeping operations (Essa, 2017). This became such a problem that Kofi Annan, General Secretary of the United Nations, published a bulletin specifying zero tolerance for sexual crimes committed by peacekeepers. This did not stop the abuse.
An alternative is giving the United Nations a standing army. Instead of depending on undependable soldiers from undisciplined militaries, enable the United Nations so it can recruit and train soldiers to exclusively serve United Nations missions. These soldiers can be drawn from all across the world – training should not only include military training, it should also include English language lessons to facilitate cohesion and civil service training so that UN soldiers could adequately act as firemen, police officers, sanitation workers and other necessary state agents. The failure of the United States military to account for civil necessities in the wake of the 2003 Iraq invasion facilitated a rapid decline of quality of life, leading to unrest that has yet to be solved. This will not only enable effective peacekeeping missions – as UN soldiers phase out or retire, they will be able to apply the skills they were taught in their civilian life back in their home country. Most vital for American interest, it would enable an effective stabilizing force that doesn’t put American lives at risk.
This will not be a seamless endeavor. First, Israel would have to be placated enough to not revolt at losing control over Jerusalem and its environs. Religious fervor aside, Jerusalem is a wealth-generating area that Israel would loathe to lose. A vote drawing from every person of voting age across Israel and Palestine would give this legitimacy; in the event that fails an embargo or boycott of Israeli goods ostentatiously because of West Bank settlements could drive up pressure for an Israeli retreat. Second, there is a significant portion of the American public that reflexively distrusts the United Nations because of fears of a tyrannical one-world government. The bogeymen of globalists was a notable piece of the 2016 election, and placating the American public – not to mention the public of other nations – will be vital for this to succeed. The creation of a standing United Nations military will have to coincide with a drastic restructuring of the United Nations, which should focus on making representation in the United Nations a more democratic process than the system of appointed representative we currently have. Third, funding for this military will be a necessary problem to solve – if the United Nations came into control of Jerusalem, city taxes would surely be able to sustain some of that system, but the current voluntary funding of member states to the United Nations would need to remain, if not increase.
This is a daunting endeavor to be sure, but it may be the only solution we have that will prevent an episode of ethnic cleansing taking place in the next 20 years. As Israel’s most important supporter, the United States has significant influence on this matter. Let us use it.
Agence France-Presse. (2018, April 24). UN Peacekeepers Accused of Child Rape in South Sudan. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/24/un-peacekeepers-accused-of-child-in-south-sudan
Becker, Jillian. (1984). The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Essa, Azad. (2017, August 4). Why Do Some UN Peacekeepers Rape? Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/07/peacekeepers-rape-170730075455216.html
Hadawi, Sami. (1989). Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine. Olive Branch Press.
Schaller, Dominik, & Zimmerer, Jurgen. (2009). Late Ottoman Genocides: The Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and Young Turkish population and Extermination Policies. London: Routledge.
Smith, Roger. (2015). Introduction: The Ottoman Genocides of Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks. Genocide Studies International.
Siegel, Robert. (2013, August 12). Haiti’s Cholera Outbreak Tied To Nepalese U.N. Peacekeepers. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=211434286
United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. (1947). Report To The General Assembly. Lake Success.
United Nations General Assembly. (2011). Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly: 66/18 Jerusalem. New York City.