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Published on September 20th, 2013 | by Usman Butt
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Israel and Palestine: Your Questions Answered

Friday the  13th of September marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo accords between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). Twenty-years on, with no peace in sight and the Arab spring dominating the headlines, we’ve decided to get Usman Butt, an academic who specialises in studying Israel and Palestine, to answer all your questions on the issue:

Question from Ryan Coley, 18 from Kingston:
What are the main stumbling blocks to the Peace Agreement now? And how can they be overcome?

A: The answer to this question depends on who you speak it. Most mainstream media sources would argue that Israeli settlement expansion, the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian internal divides (Hamas vs Fatah), the inability or lack of willingness of some Palestinian groups to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, Arab and Islamic terrorism, Israel’s wall building and the nature of a future Palestinian state are causes for contention.

I disagree with this analysis, as do a growing number of scholars on Israel/Palestine in Academia. Former Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, once said “You make peace by talking to your enemies, not your friends”.  The trouble is Israel is not talking to its ‘enemies’ but to its friends. The Palestinian Authority, who Israel has peace talks with, is made up of Fatah and other groups affiliated with the PLO.  These groups gave up armed struggle against Israel twenty-years ago and they now largely help Israel police the West Bank. The United States and Israel pays the salaries of PA officials- in other words the Israelis are having peace talks with the section of Palestine they indirectly employee.

There is a growing consensus that Israel does not want peace and that the two-state solution is dead. Our fears were confirmed when the ‘Palestine papers’ were leaked. The Palestine Papers were a series of secret diplomatic documents which include minutes, presentations, agreements and so on- between Israeli and PA officials. The PA conceded on every Israeli demand from the Status of Jerusalem to Settlements in the West Bank. They even discussed the possibility of swapping, Israel’s 1.2 million Arab citizens in exchange for removing some of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The documents show that, despite the PA consistently agreeing to Israeli demands, the Israelis would then refuse any agreements and demand more. For Israel the priority is a demographic Jewish majority between the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and not for peace with the Palestinians if it gets in the way of that.

Question from Neil Coulson:
Why does the United States support Israel’s settlement expansion policy?

A: The United States is officially opposed to the existence of settlements and supports the two-state solution. But, despite being opposed to settlement expansion the United States does very little to Israel for carrying out expansion (beyond some harsh words). The United States also provides Israel with diplomatic protection in the UN and on the world stage, as well as, an estimated $2.5 billion in aid. More aid than the U.S. gives to most developing countries.

There are two reasons why the United States turns a blind eye towards Israeli settlement expansion. Firstly, the United States has no strategic interests in West Bank, but many in Washington see Israel as strategically useful. Israel is considered to be a western outpost in the middle of the Arab and Muslim east. This idea is rooted in the Cold War, if the Arab states stepped out of line (with Washington) or became radical or pro-Russian. Israel could take them on, instead of constantly sending in U.S. forces to deal with it.  However, since the end of the Cold War, many have questioned Israel’s use to the United States, most notably John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt who wrote a book called ‘The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy’ in which they examine the origins and current effects of the relationship and argue that it is not in U.S. interests to maintain ‘the special relationship’ with Israel. The second reason for U.S. silence is because it is what Israel wants.

Question from Jake Pentland, 22, from Ashford in Kent
How Could the Palestinian Right of Return be implemented?

A: It can’t under present conditions, the Israeli state and the Palestinian authority lack the political interest to pursue it. The only possibility for the Right of Return to be implemented would be if there was one state for all the residences that live between Gaza, Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Palestinians and Israeli Jews living in one state which is democratic and gives equality to all. While the International community is resisting this idea, it is now the main thing activists campaign for and it is also a reflection of what has happened on the ground. The Two-State solution is dead and the demographic shifts make it an inviable option. Only in a state like this can the Right of Return be implemented.

Question from Nikki Ray, 21 from London
Why does Israel participate in Euro-vision and the European Footbal Championships but Palestine (and Syria) do not?

A: Israel is effectively a member of the European Union in all but name. It has the same trade and economic rights in the E.U. that member states have and it is a N.A.T.O. ally. Fundamentally what determines who is European or not is politics. Israel sees itself as a Western European society, its leaderships is mostly made up of European Jews, in the words of Ben-Gurion ‘the fact that Israel is in the Middle East is a geographic accident, we are culturally and politically part of the West’.

The E.U. supports Israel in this respect for a few reasons. Firstly, support for Israel is meant to alleviate guilt for the Holocaust, by supporting the ‘representatives of’ world Jewry.  Germany still pays Israel up to a £1 billion in reparations for the Holocaust and supplies Israel with military technology as part of it. It was reported that Germany’s nuclear submarines- the Dolphins- were given to Israel at discount price as part of the reparations. Secondly, Israel is seen as a ‘white, colonial, settler society’ which will bring European modernity to the region. Thirdly, Israel is a potential outpost that could serve Western interests in the region. Their admission into EuroVision and the European Championship just reflects the country’s status in the E.U.

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About the Author

Usman Butt

Usman graduated in 2012 with an MA in Palestine Studies from the University Of Exeter. Before that he read Arabic Language and International Relations at the University of Westminster. Amongst his proudest achievements include winning a muffin for public speaking, winning a Lego set at age 5 and helping Palestinian refugees learn English. Usually writes about genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, Israel/Palestinian politics, Iranian/Syrian/Lebanese politics, the Arab Spring, philosophy, religion, British politics, Foreign Policy, history and social issues. He enjoys writing as he sees it as an outlet to express his opinions about the public discourse on these issues. He believes writing is a good way of keeping productive and teaching yourself new things.

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