Why is there permanent tension between Israel and Palestine

Tibor Krausz, 2012-11-29, Young Post, SCMP

A place to call home

Jews and Arabs have battled over land for decades and the fight seems endless,
At times Israel openly defies the US and continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank
Why is there permanent tension?

Israel has been officially at war with the Arab states since its creation in 1948. The Jewish state was created by the United Nations after the second world war, when the British withdrew from their mandate of Palestine, on the land that was historically the Jewish homeland.
But Palestine had also been home to Muslim Arabs. Many of them were forced to leave their homes in 1948. They became refugees in neighbouring Arab states, which refused to accept Israel's existence.
Throughout the decades, terrorist groups regularly staged attacks against Israelis inside the Jewish state as well as against Jewish targets worldwide. The main agents of terrorism were Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation and, later, Hamas.
Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which currently rules Egypt after President Hosni Mubarak was removed from office last year.
The region also saw several fullscale wars between Israel and its neighbours: in 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982. Two Palestinian uprisings, in the 1980s and the early years of this century, also took their tolls on the lives of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
Despite the permanent threat of war, Israel has become a prosperous nation with a booming hi-tech industry. Many Palestinians, however, continue to live in poverty in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Although Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it continues to keep the territory under an embargo. Israel says it needs to do so to make sure Hamas cannot acquire more powerful weapons to use against the Jewish state.
But the embargo also means that many Palestinians in Gaza suffer economic hardships despite regular aid from abroad.
What each side wants
Since the early 1990s there has been an on-and-off peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Despite repeated peace talks and much-publicised summits, the two sides remain at loggerheads.
Israel has repeatedly offered to return almost all of the West Bank to full Palestinian control. It also said it would allow a new Palestinian state to have its capital in East Jerusalem. Israel, which now controls all of Jerusalem, would keep the western part of the city for its own capital.
The Palestinian side, however, has insisted that the descendants of the some 700,000 Arabs who had to leave their homes in 1948 should also be allowed to return to their former homes in what's now the State of Israel. Israel has strongly objected to this so-called "right of return" for Palestinian refugees.
It complicates matters that Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, considers all of Israel, not just Gaza
and the West Bank, as "occupied territory". It openly wants to see an end to the Jewish state and has ruled out any peace negotiations. The Palestinian Authority (PA) party in the West Bank, a separate area located between Israel and Jordan, is regarded as less militant and more open to compromise.
The PA's president Mahmoud Abbas, who took over from Yasser Arafat after the iconic Palestinian leader's death in 2004, is currently lobbying the UN to accept the West Bank as a new Palestinian state. Israel and the US oppose this unilateral move by Abbas. They insist that a new Palestinian state should be created only after finalstatus negotiations with Israel.
Unlike in Gaza, Israel maintains a network of settlements around the West Bank and keeps the area under direct military control. That has been a source of great friction with the Palestinians. At times Israel openly defies the US, its chief ally, and continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank. In the interest of enduring peace, many of these settlements would have to be dismantled.
Why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is important
Israel is a very small country with a population of seven million, the same as Hong Kong's. Yet despite its tiny size, the country casts a huge shadow over global affairs. There are several reasons for this.
Perhaps most importantly, the "Holy Land," as Israel is often referred to, is a unique place for many Jews, Christians and Muslims. Jerusalem, the country's capital, is sacred to all three religions.
Even minor incidents in Israel often receive global media attention. Any outbreak of violence in Israel or in the Palestinian Territories routinely knocks other news items off front pages. Unfortunately, that means that parties to the conflict may initiate trouble to raise the level of attention.
The cause of the Palestinians has been an essential platform of politics across the Arab-Muslim world from Saudi Arabia to Iran to Pakistan. Most Arab and Muslim states refuse to recognise Israel and have no diplomatic relations with it. The regime of Iran, a non-Arab Muslim state in the Middle East, has repeatedly called for the destruction of the Jewish state.
The UN, where the Muslim voting block carries great weight, has passed numerous resolutions against Israel for its alleged human rights violations. The US, on the other hand, has been a staunch supporter of Israel and often vetoes resolutions against the country in the UN's Security Council. Many fundamentalist Christians in America support Israel for religious reasons.
Entrenched views on both sides mean that the conflict remains as difficult as ever after almost seven decades. There has been some progress over the past two decades, but the area continues to be a tinderbox. Violence can flare up at the slightest provocation.
Regional developments may now be working against the prospect of peace. The Arab Spring has seen several strongmen from Libya to Egypt unseated. But it has so far failed to live up to expectations that democracies would come to rule across the Middle East.
In Egypt, a regional powerbroker which is nominally at peace with Israel, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood seems to be rolling back reforms. In Syria, a bloody civil war against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Elsewhere, too, popular discontents are bubbling under the surface.


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