Palestinians in the midst of a crossfire

As West Asia grapples with the obstacles towards a two-state solution — of independent Palestine and Israel — Palestinians are paradoxically caught in the crossfire between the rulers of their very own ‘warring states’. The irreconcilable differences between Hamas which rules Gaza Strip and Al-Fatah which administers the West Bank have been making life miserable for Palestinians living in either territories.

In the West Bank, the disparities are stark as a visiting group of Indian journalists found out. Joblessness, poverty and lack of basic facilities like water are evident. Almost a kilometre from the Israeli checkpoint through which we are ushered into Bethlehem, the 60-year-old Aida UN refugee camp comes into view.

In the hot sun, we find a group of young boys huddled in front of a public tap and singing an Arabic song as they wait for water. If Israel is racing ahead of its neighbours in the parched region to become water-surplus, Palestinians in West Bank are terribly short of it. “They supply drinking water and they do it mainly to areas where the jews have settled,’’ says a local resident.

The Aida camp is a far cry from the tents of 50 years ago and are better equipped to protect the 5,000 refugee families from rocket attacks they had encountered in the past. As we scale the stairs of a multi-storey flat, little children tail us asking for money. The disparities in the living conditions of the Israelis and Palestinians who are separated by high security walls are evident even though both are victims of war.

While Israel recorded an amazing economic and industrial transition amid the chaos, Palestinian areas stagnated as their political leadership failed to deliver.

Corrupt leaders

According to Khaled Abu Tomeh, Palestinian analyst and a leading columnist for ‘Jerusalem Post’, the Palestinians were forced to repose faith in Hamas because the leadership of Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was corrupt. He points out that the West gave nearly $10 billion as aid to the PLO after the Oslo accord as part of efforts to prepare the Palestinians for statehood over five years. However, Yasser Arafat’s regime set up casinos instead of hospitals and Palestinians still do not know where the money is.

It was in this context that the Hamas was allowed to contest the US-backed elections in Gaza in 2006 which they won convincingly over the Al-Fatah, the lead party of the PLO. Later, the US efforts to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas government by arming the Fatah also backfired. A year later, the Hamas ejected out the PLO from Gaza to West Bank where they now rule with the help of the Israeli armed forces. The situation in Gaza has also not changed for the better with the Israeli blockade making life miserable for the residents and the Hamas failing to deliver on governance.

Two-nation reality

Col Daniel Reisner, a former advisor to the Israeli defence forces and an expert on international law points out that peace is still a long way ahead. Comparing the Palestine issue with Kashmir, he says “Kashmir doesn’t have a solution yet, whereas in Israel, we already know the solution — that Israel and Palestine have to exist as two states. The question is how do you get to it,” says he.

Unlike in the case of Kashmir which India thinks cannot be ceded or bestowed autonomy, Israelis have by and large recognised Palestine’s right to a separate nation. PLO’s communication adviser Xavier Abu Eid points out that Palestinians had made a historic compromise in 1988 to relinquish their claim on historic Palestine. The establishment of a Palestine state with East Jerusalem as capital with only 22 per cent of its homeland and acceptance of Israel’s right on the remaining 78 per cent of land were part of this compromise.

The Hamas, formed in 1989, has neither recognised this formula nor Israel’s right to exist and has been at daggers drawn with the PLO ever since. What also holds up a solution to the Palestine problem is a serious lack of trust between the Jewish and Muslim communities, according to chief rabbi David Rosen, an expert on interfaith relations in West Asia. The declining influence of Palestinian Authority on the Palestinians in West Bank and Israelis alleged attempts to colonise parts of West Bank are also hampering a peaceful solution.

All said, the Israeli establishment feels strongly that the world has been unfairly obsessed with the West Asia situation despite the human rights violations and violence in other regions. Rabbi David points out that this disproportionate global focus is because of historical, political and geographical reasons.

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