The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in which a new round of talks are starting thanks to the iron faith of the US secretary of state, John Kerry, can be viewed from very different angles and distances, resulting in widely different conclusions.
There is a short view and a long one, which condition the observer’s vision. If our timeframe goes back to the Oslo accords in 1993, or since the war of 1967, in which Israel inflicted a severe defeat on Egypt, Syria and Jordan, you can find grounds for any opinion for or against the actors to guide your personal preferences in the direction that most pleases you. But there is a second, longer timeframe, going back at least to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, in which two UN resolutions dominate the landscape.
The first is Resolution 181 of November 1947, which recommended the division of the British mandate of Palestine — 25,000 square kilometers — into two territories: 55 percent for the state of Israel and the remaining 45 percent for the Arab “entity,” with the capital, Jerusalem, being an enclave administered by the UN itself. The Palestinians and the surrounding Arab world were unwilling to write off a territory in which they were still a 3-to-1 majority, and where they had lived continuously for uncounted generations. But in what Israel called the War of Independence (1948-49) they lost almost all of it. Only Jordan, by the Zionists’ leave, retained East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and a coastal scrap called the Gaza Strip.
The second UN resolution was 242, passed shortly after the 1967 victory, which had given Israel control of the whole territory. Its text called for the withdrawal of the occupier, and urged that all the states of the area should exist within secure, recognized frontiers. This text is still today the only plausible solution to the conflict, and enjoys vast international support. In practice it permitted the formation of a Palestinian state that would live elbow to elbow with Israel, preordaining them both to economic cooperation. And Israel, with its formidable military power, would need no blue or any other helmets to feel safe in the company of its neighbor.
A very audible sector of Israeli opinion considers its share of the territory insufficient, and the conduct of successive Zionist governments has yielded to this feeling, promoting, since the early 1970s, extensive Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, including the Arab sector of Jerusalem, which has now become the unified, eternal capital of Israel.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) initially resorted to but later discarded the weapon of terrorism as the only way to win back its land, which, one failure after another, culminated in 1987 in the creation of Hamas, the Islamist movement whose founding charter calls for the destruction of the Zionist state.
So it is that two apparently irreconcilable powers render the road to peace especially rocky. Hamas can defend its pretension of turning Palestine into an Islamic emirate because Israel not only has not withdrawn, but is extending its settlement of the territory; while for those to the right of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the mere existence of Hamas is proof that the Arabs will never accept Israel and thus, that there can never be a Palestinian state.
There are also two schools of thought on the future of the conflict. One, that it has no solution, to which the aforementioned Israeli right vigorously assents, while Netanyahu vigorously sits on the fence, speaking only of “managing the conflict.” The other one, whose optimism is time and again belied by reality, proposes Resolution 242 as the peaceful epilogue to the question, to which Mahmud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority adhere.
John Kerry is setting out once again on a road that has never improved the reputations of those who have undertaken it. But it is hard to believe the secretary of state is unaware that a solution is not just around the corner.