Conflict between Israel and Palestine in April this year, while most of the world was fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, appeared to threaten peace in the region. But the animosity between the two has had a long history, the context of which is required to understand why they are in conflict today.
How it began
After the First World War, British gained control of what is now modern-day Israel/Palestine. At its conception, it was an Arab majority and Jewish minority land. In the backdrop of the Jewish holocaust, the British set up a national home for Jewish people in 1917 here. This is where the discontent amongst the local Arabs towards Jewish populace began to grow. Then, after the end of the Second World War, the British withdrew from this region and under UN Resolution 181 in 1948 the Jewish state of Israel was born. Jerusalem was supposed to become a common international city. While the US-backed Jewish population was happy, the Arab leaders did not accept this decision. After six months of Israel’s birth a conventional war broke out where Egypt, Jordan and other Arab nations joined forces with Palestine to attack Israel. This was the first Arab-Israel War. This war ended with Armistice Agreements signed between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria ensuring the signing countries would not interfere with Israel. Although the agreements ended official hostilities, it could not terminate the internal conflict.
These internal conflicts continued till 1967 when the 6 days war came to be fought between Israel & Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The nations of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Algeria supplied the Arab Forces with troops/arms. At the end of the war the Israeli forces gained control over the West Bank from Jordan, Golan Heights from Syria and Sinai Desert and Gaza from Egypt. In the same year, the UN passed resolution 242, prescribing a framework for achieving peace that required that Israel withdraw from the territory it had gained and all participants recognizing both the Palestinian and Israeli states. Even Resolution 242 failed to achieve its objective because it remained ambiguous on what specific land Israel would have to relinquish, what peace assurances Arab states would provide and what a “fair settlement” for Palestinians would entail. It was left up to the parties to interpret.
The Year 1987 witnessed the first large-scale Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza strip and came to be known as the first “intifada” which is an Arabic word used to refer to the formal Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. The Intifada was met by countermeasures by the Israelis and this stand-off continued until 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and Palestine which called for the end of occupation of the Gaza strip and West Bank. The Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel accorded recognition to each other and were both given five years to come up with a final peace agreement. However, after violent clashes from both sides, Oslo Accords also failed. Yet another uprising began in 2000 that came to be known as Al-Aqsa-Intifada or Second Intifada and witnessed a period of intensified violence which ultimately culminated into the 2006 Lebanon War. Thereafter, many conflicts broke out in this region between 2008-2014 namely; Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense and Operation Protective Edge which ended with a mutual ceasefire in August 2014.
It is pertinent at this juncture to analyze the events leading up to the skirmish that occurred in mid-April 2021.
Sheikh Jarrah property dispute
Until 1860, Sheikh Jarrah was a Jewish neighborhood which features an ancient historic Jewish site, the Tomb of Simeon-the Just (Shimon HaTzadik), and has long been known as el-Yahudiyya (‘the Jewish spot’) among Palestinians. Ottoman era documents reflect that Sheikh Jarrah was purchased by Jewish families in the 19th Century. Original Jewish landowners filed two eviction suits against Palestinians squatting in the units within the Sheikh Jarrah residential compound in 1982. The Supreme Court of Israel ordered that it would be unjust to evict the residents as they had been living there for generations. However, the resident Palestinians would become ‘protected tenants’ of the owners and were ordered to pay non-escalating rent lower than market value to the owners of the property. Under Israeli legislation, protected tenants are those who cannot be evicted and can stay in their homes for up to two generations subject to payment of rent. Despite the order passed by the court, the resident Palestinians not only refused to pay rent but also relinquished their title of “protected tenants” and the consequent protection against eviction that was granted to them under Israeli law.
What is the fresh conflict between Israel and Palestine about? How did it start? What does it mean for Nepal?
The apprehension of possible eviction by Palestinian Families from the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah created friction between Palestinians and the Israeli police which led to small scale protests by the Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque. The Israeli Supreme Court also postponed the final ruling on the matter due to the heightened tensions surrounding the case. When protesters resorted to stone pelting at the mosque, the Israeli Police, claiming pre-emptive action, evacuated the mosque in order to prevent further damage to life and property. This served as a tipping point and thousands of rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza strip and military action was taken by Israel on this behalf thereby leading to casualties on both sides.
We can now analyze how Nepal reacts to this conflict.
Nepal is one of the first South Asian countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel at embassy level in the year 1960. Nepal remains committed to Israel’s right to exist within safe and internationally recognized borders. During the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015, Israel was one of the first countries to offer humanitarian help to the country. Nepal and Israel are also jointly working on many development projects in Nepal.
Nepal has been stressing that, a just, long-lasting, and comprehensive peace in the region is only possible if Israel withdraws from the Arab territories occupied since 1967 and if the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including right to form a state of their own is recognized.
Conflict between Israel and Palestine in April this year appeared to threaten peace in the region. But the animosity between the two has had a long history.
Nepal also maintains friendly and cooperative relations with the Arab world. There exist positive relations between Nepal and Arab nation which have been aided by the presence of a large number of Nepali migrant workers in the country. Many Nepali households are dependent on these Arab nations for their income which is important for Nepal’s economy. Thus, Nepal hopes that all states in the region, including Israel, exist in peace within secure, recognized, and guaranteed borders.
Meanwhile, “land-for-peace philosophy” has been the main point of negotiation on the Arab-Israeli conflict. To end the conflict, Israel has to return all of the land it had conquered since 1967. The Arab League agreed that there would be no peace, recognition, or negotiations until Israel did so. One of three possibilities exist in an event when two or more parties at war negotiate peace settlements: They may offer peace for peace, offer land for land or offer peace in exchange for land. While the first two scenarios can possibly lead to the resolution of the conflict, the last scenario may fundamentally never be resolved and is a recurring dispute over generations. Will the people of this region live to experience more conflict in the future?
Niyati Adhikari, a lawyer by profession, holds a Master’s degree in International Criminal Law and International Human Rights Law from Bangor University, UK.