Conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians have become common place in the media. If there isn’t fighting between the two then they are attempting to work out problems.
Recent tensions have prompted the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia to speak with the media, particularly those on colleges in the area about the nature of the conflict, the problems within the government and what the future of the United States in Israel is.
Consul General Giora Becher talked about the most recent outbreak of fighting, now in its tenth week with over 300 dead, a majority of who are Palestinian. While religious conflict comes immediately to mind, Becher said that the fighting is not religiously motivated.
Becher added that extremist religious groups have caused problems in the peace process but that these groups are the minority.
What the conflict is about is territory. Not all countries in the Middle East recognize the statehood of Israel, particularly Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, and Palestinians are still looking for their own sovereign state.
The major areas of contention are Jerusalem and both the Gaza Strip and West Bank where Israel has withdrawn much of its powers. Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, but Jerusalem lies completely within Israel’s borders.
This past summer President Clinton invited outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Liberation Organization lead Yasser Arafat to talks at Camp David, but that peace summit failed over talks of Jerusalem leaving the future of the Middle East peace process unknown.
Becher said that Barak had shown great flexibility during the negotiations in many keys areas, which include: security, boundary, settlement, refugees and Jerusalem, but that Arafat rejected all of them.
Since that failure, each side has come under fire from the outside community, the U.S. placing blame on the Palestinians and Egypt blaming Israel.
But those blames are not baseless. In September Palestinians went back on one of their concessions: allowing large blocs of Jewish settler to remain in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty.
Israel also has not yet ceded all the land that it agreed to hand over to Palestinians and has yet to release many prisoners it claimed it would.
An Israeli human rights group recently criticized both Israel and Palestinians for the number of dead so far. The group said that Israel uses “excessive and disproportionate force.” It added that the Palestinian Authority does not do enough to keep children out of the way.
Becher said that the Israel Defense Forces are told to “never start shooting but react when in danger.”
There has been contact between both sides about how to resolve the fighting that continues to rock the area, but Becher doesn’t see a new peace summit between the two happening any time soon, although both sides have mentioned finding resolution.
The latest string of fighting brings on other problems for Barak within his own country. The legislative body of Israel, the Knesset, has successfully passed on vote to dissolve itself and hold early election s next year for a new set of legislators. Originally Barak did not support that course of action, but then Sunday Barak announced his resignation.
The problem within the government is that there is no agreement between the major parties on a platform for the country, which Becher said, is necessary for the country.
As for how Middle East tensions would or are affecting the United States, Becher said it was an important topic, but did not adversely or positively affect the U.S.
“The U.S. backing of Israel is morally right, it is the only democracy in the Middle East,” he said.
Becher said that while some of the OPEC nations are against the statehood of Israel, the U.S. is a major buyer of petroleum and the U.S.’ relations with Israel do not hurt them.
The future of U.S. involvement in the Middle East looks shaky at best. The U.S., as a superpower, is required to be involved in peace talks according to the Oslo Accords. President Clinton was the most involved president in the Middle East, whether the next president takes such an active part remains to be seen.