By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Israel never had it so good today and justice to the Palestinians never has been so remote. Arab regimes have no credible options that may threaten Israel strategically, or they do not care if Israel continues to defy the UN resolutions and the International Court of Justice rulings. They are either fighting their own people or fighting each other. The Palestinians are hopelessly divided and the Arab Masses are not expected to help because they are heavily burdened by their own issues.
Since the 1948 war, Israel has three strategic objectives and it has achieved all. The first is to gain time, for the longer the status quo continues, the more it would be confirmed in the possession of the occupied lands and the denial of the refugees’ right of return.
After eight decades since the cleansing of Palestine from its Arab population by its military and terrorist organizations, and almost five decades after the 1967 war and the occupation of Palestinian lands, Israel has no intention to make a just peace with its victims. If the past decades have proved anything, it is that Israel will not change course, abide by the UN resolutions and allow the refugees to return to their homes or give up the occupied lands that have been annexed or colonized. The growing divisions between the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah and the disintegration of next door Syria and Iraq play straight into Israel’s hands today.
The second objective of Israel is to neutralize Egypt politically and militarily in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Egypt is the only Arab country that has the potential to challenge Israel’s expansion policies. The Israelis want Egypt to abandon its traditional leading role in supporting the Palestinian cause. According to the Israeli historian, Avi Shalim, on many occasions, “Yitzhak Rabin repeated that the heart of the Middle East problem was the relationship between Israel and Egypt.”After the 1973 war, Israel used the withdrawal from Sinai as the price it was ready to pay for neutralizing Egypt.
The Israeli team for the negotiations on the interim agreement with Egypt consisted of the senior leaders of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Allon and Shimon Peres. They knew more about Palestine strategic importance to Egypt today and they had more sense of Egypt’s Palestine history than their Egyptian counterparts. Palestine was a province of Egypt ruled directly or through surrogates for thousands of years since ancient times. If the Israelis claim to Palestine is based on ruling part of Palestine for few decades, Egypt ruled all of Palestine for millenniums. In the early days of Christianity, the most famous Palestinian family, the Holy Family (Virgin Mary, Joseph el-Najjar and Jesus Christ) fled into Egypt to avoid the vengeance of the Roman appointed King Herod the Great of Jerusalem because Egypt was the second home for the Palestinians. Saladin’s troops that routed the Crusaders from Palestine in the 1180s were Egyptians fighting against European invaders. And early in the nineteenth century, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt liberated Palestine and Syria from the Turks. Israel might not even exist today if it was not for the European powers of the United Kingdom and the Austrian Empire intervention who forced the Egyptians to withdraw in the 1830s.
Israeli negotiators and the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were able to avoid the core issue of the conflict and focus on separate peace with Egypt. They offered the return of Sinai to its rightful owners for concluding a separate and full peace agreement with Egypt, and the Egyptian leadership took the offer without considering its political implications, leaving the Palestinians to fend for themselves alone. The Egyptians could have demanded the return of Sinai and the rest of the Palestinian and Syrian occupied lands in return for normalization, but they did not. Normalizations with Israel went into effect in January 1980, the boycott laws were repealed, Egypt began supplying Israel with crude oil and natural gas, and Egypt even accepted the humiliation of changing its national anthem to something less militaristic as demanded by Israel.
The agreement that was signed in 1979 has been hailed as the most important US achievement in the Middle East. Billions of dollars and military aid to Israel and Egypt became a standard item in the US annual budgets since the signing of the agreement, and the measure of Egypt’s standing in the US has been based on meeting its peace agreement’s obligations. Interestingly, the first thing Israel did after signing the agreement was invading Lebanon in 1982. The Israeli military surrounded Beirut, expelled the PLO from Lebanon, laid siege on Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps and sent the Lebanese Phalangists militias to massacre thousands of Palestinian civilians.
Egypt now supports Israel in its Gaza siege by closing the Rafah crossing gate and starving the Palestinian population. Even when Israel was bombing the Palestinians and committing massacres against innocent children that shocked the entire world, Egypt refused to open its border and receive the wounded in its hospitals.
In an interview with the Associated Press on September 27, 2015, the Egyptian President General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi called on the Arab states to unconditionally normalize relations with Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed his proposal, but he had rejected a 2002 Saudi Arabia peace plan that offered Israel normal relations with the Arabs in exchange for a withdrawal to 1967 borders. Al-Sisi gave Israel what it wants, peace and all Palestine.
Al-Sisi gave his advice to the Arabs while the Palestinians in the occupied lands, the remainder of historic Palestine, are oppressed and abused, living in apartheid system among more than half million settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem; and in Gaza, the Palestinians are besieged and starved. Israel refuses to accept the return of even one Palestinian refugee or freeze settlement building in Palestinian lands that has been cut and swallowed in whole swaths. It has annexed Jerusalem and driven thousands of the Jerusalemites outside the separation wall and denied them residence in the city where they were born. Prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque are routinely interrupted by Jewish extremists under the protection of the Israeli police. I wonder if the Egyptian junta that rules Egypt today speaks for the majority of the Egyptian people!
The third objective of Israel is to keep the US in its corner to defend it in the international organizations and to provide it with military and financial aid to maintain its military and economic superiority in the region. Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin made it clear to Kissinger that Israel would not ratify the 1975 Sinai II agreement for withdrawing from Sinai unless it was accompanied by an American-Israeli agreement pledging long term American commitment to support Israel with the latest military equipments, and to provide it with its energy and economic needs. Israel has an alliance with the US in all but name! A simplistic view of majority of the US policy makers who support Israel is that Israel would do no wrong and the Palestinians no right.
After achieving all its strategic objectives and following decades of Arab and Muslim states apathy regarding the Palestinian rights, Jerusalem and the holy sites, be they Muslim or Christian, Israel has changed the Arab character of Jerusalem by building large settlements in the southern part of Jerusalem. Its leaders feel confident that they can do even more. In July 2015, the Israeli Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel said that he wished to see “the construction of a Third Temple in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque.” He added that “Now that Israel has once again become a Jewish sovereign state, the desire to rebuild the Temple is growing stronger and stronger.” Jerusalem’s flashpoint is Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, which the Jews call the Temple Mount and consider it the most sacred place in Judaism. The Palestinians are subjected to a pandemic of religious bigotry. Only those older than 40 are allowed by the Israeli military to pray in Al-Aqsa mosque and the settler gangs have burnt scores of village mosques.
The verdict of history will regard the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the occupation, the apartheid system, the settlements, the checkpoints, and forcing millions of Palestinians to live in squalor in Gaza and refugee camps without hope as a black mark in Jewish history.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.