Sean Haber / The Silhouette
You don’t have to major in Political Science to know that there’s a buzz about Israel. If you’ve opened up a newspaper or walked through MUSC enough times in the past few years, you know that one tiny country in the Middle East (smaller than New Jersey!) is getting more than its share of attention.
The buzzword when discussing Middle East politics seems to be peace. But who exactly is pro peace and who isn’t? The answer is far from simple; it is rooted in thousands of years of history and deep attachments to the land. Yet modern history has proven that Israel has made continual efforts toward a lasting peace and is still waiting for a willing partner with whom to negotiate.
Israel’s efforts at a peaceful two-state solution date as far back as 1947, when the UN voted for partition. The Zionist leaders were overjoyed with the offer even though it consisted of only 13 per cent of the original land under the British mandate. The Arab leaders, however, were displeased with the idea of a non-Muslim state in the Middle East and attacked this fledgling state from all sides. Israel’s newly formed army, consisting largely of Holocaust survivors with little formal training, managed to fend off its attackers in only 15 months, claiming roughly one per cent of the Israeli population. Sick of war, Israel and its neighbours agreed on temporary “armistice lines” – lines that left key defensive sections of Israel, including the central city of Jerusalem, in enemy hands.
These armistice lines lasted until 1967. Fast-forward two wars and the unilateral withdrawal from Sinai in 1957, and Israel still had not managed to make peace with any of its hostile neighbours. Continued aggression from Israel’s neighbours (“Pave the Arab roads with the skulls of Jews!”) led to yet another war. Families in Israel were prepared for the end.
Miraculously, Israel defeated its attackers in only six days and despite modest goals of survival, it managed to capture enough territory to double its size with strategic buffer zones that are essential for defense. These territories include the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. The UN’s response was Resolution 242, which called for Israel to give up some captured territory in exchange for the neighboring Arab countries’ recognition of Israel’s right to exist. The Arab League responded with a resounding “Three NOs” – NO peace, NO negotiations, and NO recognition.
Two wars with Egypt later (post-1967 and 1973), Israel gave up the entire Sinai Peninsula, forcefully evacuating 4,000 settlers in order to make peace with Egypt. Although this involved an evacuation from 91 per cent of all land captured in 1967, the consensus is that it was worthwhile: the peace treaty with Egypt is still in place today.
Skip ahead to 1993 – one defensive war and one intifada later. Israel and Palestine agree on the Oslo accords.
This attempt at peace stipulated that, over time, Israel would withdraw from most of the territories and grant self-government to the Palestinians. In return, there would be peace: an end to incitement, terrorism, and the denial of Israel’s right to exist. By 1997, 98 percent of Palestinians were governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in accordance with the Israeli side of the peace deal. Palestinians have since broken all conditions of the Oslo Accords.
After a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan and a unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon, arguably the most striking display of Israel’s peace efforts happened in 2005. Although the Palestinian Authority refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist, Israel withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip. Eighty-five hundred Israeli citizens were forcefully evacuated from their homes and communities. By withdrawing unilaterally, Israel hoped to take steps toward a two-state solution with defined borders – land for peace.
The response? In 2007, Hamas, which is a recognized terrorist organization by both the EU and the UN, took over leadership of the Gaza Strip in a forceful coup.
Since Israel withdrew from Gaza, over 8,000 rockets have been fired indiscriminately from Gaza at civilians – think homes, schools, and playgrounds – in Southern Israel. It’s no wonder that Israel is wary of giving up more land without a secure promise for peace.
It’s true that there is much suffering on both sides. Israelis are sick of sending their children to war and fearing rockets and bombs, while Palestinians are tired of being put in a compromising position by their corrupt government.
But on both sides of the conflict, people are tired of living without hope for peace in their children’s futures. So stop defining yourself as “pro-Israeli” or “pro-Palestinian.” Both sides need to open up to the greater picture and become pro-peace. But that can’t happen without negotiating and working together.
Israelis have shown that they are willing to make immense sacrifices. Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth prime minister, put it best: “Of course, we all must realize that the path to peace may be a little difficult, but not as difficult as the path to war.”