President Obama’s closest neighbor must know. While occupying a tent across from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a twenty year vigil for world peace, diminutive but mighty Concepcion Picciotto interfaced with a sufficient number of Americans and surveyed the public pulse. After campaigning for Palestinian rights and an equitable solution to the Middle East crisis for two decades, the US capital’s most famous activist offered a wry and defeating conclusion; nothing has changed and nothing will change. Israel continues unimpeded in its quest to obtain the entire West Bank, and no external or internal force is prepared to halt the endeavor and the eventual destruction of those whose ancestors resided in the land for centuries. If any powerful force cared, and many exist in the western world, wouldn’t it have applied its power in the past and be active today? The American people haven’t learned anything.
United Nations Declaration 181, which partitioned Palestine, thrust the Palestinians into an ongoing crisis, a subset of the conflict that serves as a violent testimony to its consequences. As their agony recedes from international conscience, the fearful and overriding conflict emerges – one masked by valid attention to the fate of the Palestinians – that between Israel and the Arab world, and now spreading to other parts of the Muslim world – add Iran and Turkey. This larger conflict has many roots, and each uncompromised root is sufficient to cause mass destruction to the Middle East and neighboring regions.
It is doubtful the Arab world will ever accept the entrance of a European styled nation into a major position in the Middle East. It is doubtful the presently constituted Israel will modify its preferences – aligning itself with the western nations and not integrating into the Middle East world. An Arab Spring, which has brought the Muslim Brotherhood to credible invocation in Egypt and Libya, and allowed those of similar characteristics to gain acceptance and popularity, the Ennahda Islamic Party in Tunisia, now considered Tunisia’s strongest political force, and the Sahwa, who are actually being accepted as the largest and best organized non-state group in Saudi Arabia, heighten these insinuations. On the other hand, Israel has moved from a secular managed and somewhat tolerant nation to a more religious dominated and more intolerant nation. Israel’s inflexibility combined with its military power easily dominated the Palestinian Fatah flexibility and lack of military power. Clash replaces dominion in a changing Arab region that portrays inflexibility and renewed power.
The real conflict had origins in 1905, when Naguib Azoury, an Ottoman official aroused Arab nationalism with a proclamation: “Two important phenomena … are emerging at this moment in Asiatic Turkey. They are the awakening of the Arab nation and the latent effort of the Jews to reconstitute on a very large scale the ancient kingdom of Israel…. [They] are destined to fight each other continually until one of them wins.”
A large influx of uninvited Europeans crossing the Mediterranean Sea, violating the natural demarcation between the Middle East and European world, creating permanent settlements and forcing out the local peoples, jarred the Arab psyche, just as an influx of uninvited Europeans crossing the Atlantic Ocean, violating the natural demarcation between America and Europe, creating colonies in the “New World” and forcing out the Indigenous peoples.
From an Arab perspective, the real conflict exploded when a relatively small number of European persons who had a need for locating themselves in the British Mandate, and could have located elsewhere in a safer and more habitable area, and a moderate number of European persons with self-dictated and subjective wants to relocate to the Mandate, replaced the needs of magnitudes greater number of Arab people who had an irrevocable bond with the land they had tilled for generations and ignored the wants of tens of millions of Arab peoples who rejected any European incursion into their territory.
The established conflict between a western supported Israel and the Arab world continued to generate reasons for pursing the conflict.
After the 1948 war, Arab nations had a new imposed role – contain and support the refugees – which they did, and as best they could without assuming Israel’s responsibility and inheriting Israel’s problem. Despite the impoverished state of all Arab nations in the mid-twentieth century, these nations provided land and facilities for international agencies to assist the Palestinian refugees. After a period of time, Jordan granted citizenship to the refugees, Syria gave them almost full citizenship, Iraq supported them with special privileges, Libya housed many for decades, and the wealthier Arab nations gave them education and employment. Only Lebanon reacted with an excessive hostility, maintained the Palestinians in their midst in refugee camps and denied them economic and social benefits appreciated by Lebanon citizens.
Israel heralded its efforts to assist and welcome the Jewish refugees (Mizrahim) from Arab nations. A better description is that Israel encouraged the emigration at a measured pace, used the new immigrants to immediately inhabit homes of Palestinians left vacant by those who moved several kilometers in order to escape hostilities, and treated the Mizrahim with racism and prejudice.
The mass immigration of Mizrahi Jews was received by Ashkenazi old-timers with mixed feelings. They thought that any immigrant was an asset to the new Jewish state, but they had neither expected nor wanted so many Mizrahi immigrants. The marginality of Mizrahim in the Yishuv was a precedent that augured ill for the new immigrants. The immense volume of immigration (the population doubled during 1948- 52) caused food and housing shortages, unemployment, and the near collapse of state services. The old-timers regarded the appearance and customs of the Mizrahi newcomers as strange and inferior and soon became alarmed by the dangers of Mizrahi immigration to the new Jewish society and state – demographic swamping, cultural erosion, and breakdown of democracy. The precious Zionist project that had been constructed for over fifty years was in jeopardy. These widespread fears prompted the government to practice the above-mentioned policy of selective immigration. Yet, the alleviation of the old-timers’ apprehensions required preventing the new Mizrahi immigrants from becoming a major force in Israeli society in order to insure the old-timers’ continued control of state and society.1
If Israel treated its Arab Jews as inferiors, how did the Arabs expect Israel to treat Arab non-Jews? Instead of the western world demanding that Israel permit the return of the Palestinian refugees to their rightful homes, its apparently co-opted media circulated the bizarre assertions that the Arab nations were responsible for creating the refugee problem and were not being responsive to the needs of their Arab brethren. The circulation of these preposterous assertions throughout the American media and their acceptance by the American people must have angered the Arab populations.
Israel’s use of the Palestinian crisis for territorial expansion fueled the conflict.
Regardless of damage to the Palestinian community, due to Israel’s actions and policies, Israel explained everything with the word security.
Build settlements on West Bank hilltops – security
Seize Palestinian agricultural lands for military use – security
Divert West Bank water supply to settlers – security
Build roads that bypass Arab communities – security
Block Arab roads – security
Build a wall that passes through Palestinian lands – security
Take over the entire Jordan valley – security
Take over homes nightly for the army – security
Move troops into villages, kill people and take others to prison without legal proof for the actions – security
Destroy Palestinian wells, factories, olive fields – lapse of security
Similar to reversing responsibility for the Palestinian refugees, the western world and media reversed the use of the Palestinian crisis.
Disregarding the obvious, that Israel used any pretext for seizing Palestinian lands, expanding territory, rallying its people, and subduing Palestinian reaction, and not realizing the sub-text, that the Middle East crisis is only a seized upon opportunity for Israel to accomplish its territorial objectives, American media continually portrayed the Arab nations as blaming the crisis for faults in their economic and social fabrics. The wars, refugees, border attacks, loss of lands, and financial costs arising from the Middle East conflict have affected several Arab nations, but is there any record of Arab leaders cynically exploiting the plight of the Palestinians to excuse internal problems? Certainly not since the Egyptian and Jordanian treaties with Israel. What documented evidence proves otherwise?
Without reconciling the initial and highly volatile conflicts with the Arab world, Israel enlarges the battlefield with its attempt to permanently annex all of East Jerusalem.
Annexing all of East Jerusalem into the Israel nation essentially surrounds the ‘old city’ and endangers Muslim control of the Muslim Haram-al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) with its Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques. This tactic expands the conflict from an Israel-Arab conflict to an Israel-Muslim conflict, with Iran prominent in objections to Israel’s actions.
Historical and religious perspectives support the Muslim attitude towards Jerusalem. From 637 AD until Israel conquered all of Jerusalem in the contemporary year of 1967, Muslims, of various nationalities, ruled and worshipped in Jerusalem. The Muslims left significant testimonials and structures that display their control. Absolute Hebrew control dates back to ancient history, to the Hasmoneans who ruled Judea and surrounding regions for only the 25 years between 140 and 116 B.C.E. Previous centuries had some Hebrew kings, but sketchy control. David and Solomon, two of the Biblical kings, have still not passed from Bible to authentic history. The Jews’ attachment to Jerusalem is principally spiritual and more supported by words than by concrete structures. Except for the Western Wall, which is only a reflection of spirituality, some houses and tombs, there are no significant structures in Jerusalem that attach modern Israel to ancient Israel. The Israeli government has been trying to discover attachments by characterizing excavations in unproven terms, such as naming a hill outside of the ‘old city walls,’ which contains structures from the tenth century B.C., the City of David, despite no evidence of any King David having resided on the premises.
A Jerusalem municipality twenty year plan increases green space, which is a euphemism for preventing Palestinian construction of homes and destroying those in the intended park zone, tourist complexes, and new housing for Palestinians in areas away from the historic sections, another euphemism for removing any traces of Arab history. A New York Times article relates that “The focus is clearly on Jewish heritage, however. In the larger government plan, much of the presentation is being shaped by a group with a right-wing Zionist approach, emphasizing ancient Jewish religion and history, even near mostly Palestinian neighborhoods.”2
In a past decade, when he fully controlled his leadership position, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in an interview with the Cairo weekly tabloid, Rose El-Youssef, warned: “…a compromise over Jerusalem would lead to uncontrollable violence in the Middle East…no Arab or Muslim can relinquish rights to East Jerusalem and its holy sites.” He must know.
Behind every conflict is a hidden agenda, who controls the economic resources. In this case the resource is water.
IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, analyzed the situation:
Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) all fall well below the internationally accepted threshold of 1,000 cubic metres of water per person per year (cmwpy). According to the IISD, Israel has natural renewable water resources of 265 cmwpy, Jordan 169, and OPT just 90. Only Lebanon and Syria have water surpluses, with Lebanon having a potential of 1,220 cmwpy and Syria 1,541.
The absence of hydro-diplomacy reflects conflict in the region. In 1965, Syria and Lebanon began the construction of channels to divert the Banias and Hasbani, preventing the rivers flowing into Israel. The Israelis attacked the diversion works, the first in a series of moves that led to a regional war two years later. In 2002, when the Lebanese constructed a pipeline on the River Wazzani intended to supply households in southern Lebanon with water, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared the action a causus belli. In the July War of 2006, Israeli warplanes targeted southern Lebanon’s water network. Bassam Jaber, a water expert at Lebanon’s Ministry of Energy and Water, argues the Shebaa is critical to Israel’s water needs, “especially because fresh water is critical when all sources within Israel are salty. The flows from the area help to regulate the saltiness of Lake Tiberius”. And it is not just the direct overland flow that the Shebaa provides Israel. According to the Lebanese Water Ministry’s Comair, 30-40 percent of the River Dan’s water flows into it through underground supplies originating in the Shebaa. “Israel is worried that if Lebanon gains control of the Shebaa, it can then control the flow to the Dan River,” said Comair.3)
Optimists predict the water shortages will bring consultation and not confrontation. A basic need to survive will force the involved Middle East nations to settle their differences and cooperate. Except for antiquated agreements between Israel and Jordan and Israel and The Palestinian Authority, this is not happening.
The problems and predictions:
Despite the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian Treaty – which established comprehensive guidelines regulating the distribution, preservation and availability of water from the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers – conflicts over water have risen to the forefront of relations between the two countries. Jordan, fed only by underground sources and the Jordan River, has experienced an escalating water deficit – one that is expected to reach 250 million cubic meters (nearly 1/3rd of current annual consumption) by 2010. At the same time, Israel – currently utilizing almost all available water from its National Water System (consisting of the West Bank Mountain Aquifer, the Coastal Aquifer and the Lake Kinneret Basin) – has been forced to resort to overexploitation of available resources for expanding agricultural and industrial ventures.
A breakdown of relations between Jordan and Israel could lead to water grabs by either side. Plagued by escalating populations that are stretching water availability beyond sustainable levels, Jordan has placed increased value on its ‘hydraulic imperative,’ a move that has created growing Israeli fears of a Hashemite grab of resources. For its part, Israel, facing reductions of internal water sources as a result of expanding Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, may soon eye the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers as important enough to risk conflict over.4
Note that Lebanon and Syria have water surpluses, giving them an advantage in any negotiations with Israel. Except for soliciting Israel with offers that paralyze Israel and compromise its military dominance, why would Lebanon or Syria negotiate with Israel? With that realization, if Israel reaches a route to an empty tap, will it seek a military option to quench its thirst?
Looming in the near future are other confrontations. The discoveries of gas off the coasts of several Mediterranean nations promise financial dividends to these nations, and promise disputes of who owns and who can sign treaties for the gas.
A U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the Levant Basin Province, encompassing parts of Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus, could contain as much as 122 trillion cu. ft. of gas and 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Possible disputes: (1) The maritime border between Israel and Lebanon is a source of friction. (2) Agreements made by Israel with Cyprus without Turkish approval will provoke the Turks. (3) An underlying feeling has the Arab world being cheated again; the gas deposits belong to the displaced Palestinians, who once again observe how a western world decision deprived them of their livelihood and security.
The Palestinian crisis is concluding, and not with a beneficial conclusion for the Palestinians. From the embers of that crisis arises the greater conflict. The closer the Arab nations get to achieving nationalist aspirations and political acceptance of its Muslim Brotherhoods, the more intense becomes their conflict with Israel. That trend has happened, and with it the conflict’s trajectory becomes predictable.
- The Journal of Israeli History, 27(1), March 2008, 1-27. The mass immigrations to Israel: A comparison of the failure of the Mizrahi immigrants of the 1950s with the success of the Russian immigrants of the 1990s, Sammy Smooha. [↩]
- “Parks Fortify Israel’s Claim to Jerusalem,” by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kerschner, May 9, 2009. [↩]
- Analysis: Shebaa Farms key to Levant hydro-diplomacy, Beirut, 10 September 2009 (IRIN [↩]
- Ilan Berman and Paul Michael Wihbey, The New Water Politics of the Middle East, Strategic Review, Summer 1999. [↩]