It is common to hear the populist and cliché message that the Arab-Israeli conflict is over territory. If only Israel would give back territory, then the conflict would be over. Such an argument is both naïve and void of reality. While territory does undoubtedly play an important part, it is not the main issue and to regard it as such is dangerous for all parties. The problem is what exists in this disputed territory. The territorial aspect is only a means to an end.
Since its rebirth, the Arabs were determined to defeat Israel, thereby removing the Jewish State from the midst of Dar al-Islam. Unlike other modern-day conflicts, the devotion to a state’s destruction makes it unique. There are countless border disputes in the Middle East, each able to ignite conflict and war. The disputes between Iraq and Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Libya and Chad, Sudan and South Sudan, Turkey and Syria along with Iraqi Kurds, and Syria and Lebanon, have killed far more than the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet, the Muslim world remains obsessed with Arab-Israeli conflict.
In the Cold War, public statements by Arab leaders predicting Israel’s destruction were common. As the strategic situation swung in favor of Israel, the Arabs kept there dreams of destroying Israel from the public arena. The Arab states were adamant about not recognizing Israel and attempting to destroy it with economic blockades and military campaigns. Soon diplomacy (Land for Peace) and terrorism became the primary modes of confrontation, not total-war, as the Arabs lost the military capacity to meet Israel on the combat the IDF in a classical war. The dream of eliminating Israel, thereby cleansing the region of a sovereign non-Muslim state hasn’t waned. As a Fatah official recently stated, calling for Israel’s destruction is in private, but the intention remains and all processes lead to eventual removal. Due to the climate of the international system today and a perception of an isolated Israel, such genocidal rhetoric is increasing, with little condemnation. The claim Iran seeks only regime change, rather than the Jewish State’s destruction is absurd. No, they don’t have the military or strategic capacity to do so, but intentions are still dangerous. Israel is a Jewish-Zionist state. A majority of Jews are Zionist. The goal of Zionism is establishing and securing a modern Jewish State in Zion. If there was a removal of the Zionist regime in “Palestine”, there would be no Jewish State.
Land for Peace
Since Israel’s rebirth, the conflict has not been over some barren hills in the West Bank or Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Jews have always lived in this territory, rather as minorities or Dhimmis after the expulsion of the Jewish population by successive foreign empires. The fighting between Jew and Arab before and after Israel’s independence was about just that, an independent Jewish State.
The concept of Land for Peace that began with UN resolution 242, in regards to Palestinian Arabs has completely failed. Its results with the Arab states aren’t impressive either. UN 242’s most touted success, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt is unraveling as we speak. Israelis were meant to believe that by withdrawing from territory, this would show good faith and be rewarded by furthering steps towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. While the Israel-Egypt treaty was temporarily beneficial for Israel, as stated before, this treaty is destined to collapse. Years of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda inside Egypt never ceased, thus despite the official cold-peace that existed between Cairo and Jerusalem, the Egyptian and Israeli populace were anything but friends. Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai, was not enough to end Egyptian hostility towards Israel. Popular hostility that was dormant under Mubarak, has erupted once again. The same could be said for Jordan, as Israel did relinquish some territory to Jordan, but there are constant calls within Jordanian society and its government to annul the peace treaty with Israel. Both Egyptians and Jordanians would cite their hostility is a reaction towards Israeli “occupation” and belligerency, however, both countries’ records in regards to Palestinian Arabs would discredit such a humanitarian concern. Like Egypt, Israel’s treaty with Jordan is in dire straits as well.
In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. After uprooting thousands of Jewish settlers and removing every Jew from the Gaza Strip, attacks against Israel increased and allowed for the takeover of Gaza by Hamas. The takeover took one day! In terms of peace, a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip produced no positive results and was viewed in the Muslim world as weakness, not a show of good will. It remains a prevalent strategic concept among Israel’s enemies, if you bleed the Jewish State enough, Israel will relinquish territory. This mode of thinking was established by Hezbollah. After years of guerrilla warfare and suicide attacks against Israeli forces in Lebanon and civilians along the border, Israel withdrew. Although Jerusalem had no national interest to stay there indefinitely and withdrew to the last meter, Hezbollah showed the weak point in Israel’s armor and both Fatah and Hamas would emulate.
In 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Southern Lebanon. Like 2005, Israelis were also to believe that a withdrawal from Lebanon would negate Hezbollah’s legitimacy to combat Israel, thereby improving conditions for peace between Israel and Lebanon. Despite the popular assumption that Hezbollah was a nationalist organization, thus bent only on removing Israeli forces from Lebanese territory, this theory was a total fallacy. Hezbollah’s goals are to spread revolutionary Shia Islam within the Middle East, at the behest of Iran, and to destroy the Jewish state of Israel. The defense of Lebanon is only to protect the group’s base of operations. Following Israel’s withdrawal, attacks inside Israel increased and Hezbollah conducted an impressive military build-up. To justify the struggle against Israel in the international arena, they needed a new border dispute. Thus, they simply redrew internationally recognized borders.
The Sheba farms, which was always considered Syrian territory, by Israel, UN, and Syria, suddenly shifted to Lebanon after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. Knowing Hezbollah needed a politically correct reason for combating Israel, Syria relinquished its claim to this uninhabited and inconsequential piece of territory to Lebanon, thus manufacturing a claim that Israel has not left Lebanese territory. Once again illustrating, Hezbollah’s issue with Israel is not over territory, rather its existence.
Judea and Samaria
In the West Bank, Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian Arab cities during the Oslo Accords was also anything but beneficial. These actions produced little results and violence increased on both sides, eventually leading to the 2000 Intifada after Arafat turned down PM Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state. Learning from Hezbollah that same year, Arafat thought to use the Intifada to force Israel from the West Bank. The aim wasn’t to stop fighting after this victory, rather to continue the fight from newly liberated territory. Still, in light of the total failure of Land for Peace, it was attempted again in 2008 and 2010, and is pushed by international bodies to this day. Unlike in Gaza or in Lebanon, Israel has many religious, social, and strategic national interests by continuing to control the disputed territory of the West Bank. In addition, the will within Israel to reach a compromise and leave this territory is dwindling with every failed peace attempt or attack.
As shown, past attempts of Land for Peace have failed or are currently failing. The Israeli-Arab conflict is not over land. Yes, the Palestinian Arabs have territorial claims, but so do countless examples of ethnic and political entities throughout the world. The number is far too great to count here. Many states are comprised of territory that is not composed of all territorial aspirations; due to war, ethnic cleansing, treaties, or simply a lack of strength. However, an entity will normally realize they must compromise and take what is available. They may not stop seeking to meet their goals by establishing a “greater” state, but such aspirations are not all or nothing.
The Problem is Tel-Aviv
The Palestinian Arabs, however, dream of returning controlling all the land and thus far, have accepted nothing less. While ignoring the now Hashemite Kingdom of former eastern Palestine, a permanent Jewish State west of the Jordan is omitted from their maps, in their vocabulary, songs, and in their schoolbooks. Their documents and ideals don’t limit Palestine to the hills of the West Bank, rather the future state encompasses all the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
Are the Jewish inhabitants of the barren hills in West Bank the main obstacle of peace? If this was the case, the conflict would have ended by 1967. The conflict is not over settlements or military presence in the West Bank, or Jewish building in Jerusalem. The conflict is about a Jewish State in territory that was before within the Dar al-Islam. Since the rebirth of the modern Jewish State, the land once considered in the “house of Islam”, is now the Dar al-Harb, the “house of war.” Other than in very secular Muslim states, like the previous Shah’s Iran or pre-Erdogan Turkey, a Jewish State inside Dar al-Islam is unacceptable.
In President Abbas’s speech to the UN, he cited the Judaization of Jerusalem. Such a mindset is crucial to understanding Islamic intentions within the Levant. For a Jew or Christian, how can one Judaize Jerusalem? For many of Israel’s enemies, Jews are foreigners to the region. History is discarded, unless it favors national aspirations and facts are rewritten or reinterpreted. To them, Jews are foreign occupiers, part of an imperial conspiracy, and have stolen Muslim lands. A Dhimmi Jewish presence in Jerusalem is not the issue, as Jews have been a majority in Jerusalem since the 1860’s. Rather, the issue is Jews living in a sovereign Jewish State in land once considered in Dar al-Islam. Small numbers of Jews living under Muslim rule is acceptable. A Jewish State and especially one that presides over Muslims and what they consider, Muslim land, is not. The hills of the West Bank are not the problem, for the Islamic world, it is Tel-Aviv.