“Everyone has their Jews. For the Israelis they are the Palestinians.”
– Primo Levi (author and Auschwitz survivor)
It’s been a while since social media exploded with such fury as I have witnessed over the past month regarding the outbreak of conflict in Gaza. Perhaps what has been new (to me at least) has been the vitriolic response by the pro-Israel crowd, which in the past has appeared more muted and drowned out by the voices of Palestinian supporters. For as long as I can remember, the Palestinian cause has been one of the calling cards of the left, be it because leftists typically gravitate towards the underdogs but also because Israel has been able to count on the unconditional support of the US: the perennial enemy of the Chomsky-worshipping, capitalism-hating crowd. Turning the old adage around, the friend of my enemy is also my enemy.
I am a bit uneasy about taking sides myself. As I will explain below, the conflict is fundamentally religious in nature and being an antitheist (that’s one step above atheism btw), both sides are equally “wrong” to me in the grander scheme of things. I also find it hard not to feel considerable sympathy and admiration for a nation (Israel) surrounded by mortal enemies that decided to build a liberal democratic state, educate its people, become a technological powerhouse, and achieve a level of prosperity that puts it well within developed nation status. In those same 70 years, Israel’s Arab neighbors have remained as monarchies, dictatorships or unstable factionalism-ridden democracies, squandered their resources on inept militaries and corrupt regimes and in the most extreme of cases (Syria) have made a total mess of their existence. A cynical (and ignorant) leftist will say that Israel did this thanks to US support which is partly true, but during the Cold War the Arabs received an equal amount of Soviet aid and did little to show for it. Israel has made the desert bloom; the Arabs have made it bleed.
Despite this, ultimately I am disgusted by the way that the pro-Israel crowd has ignored history to support an absolutely appalling and unjustified military operation in Gaza. My Facebook feed has seen a non-stop flow of disinformation that appears far more fitting for a Stalinist propaganda machine that from educated people that should have the common sense of knowing when their government has crossed a line. After all, when practically the entire Israeli (and Jewish abroad) population supports an unprovoked war with the death toll consisting mostly to innocent civilians, you get a feeling that some tiny bit of humanity has been lost to modern Israeli society, all the more sad considering they know better than any other people on earth what it is to be the oppressed.
So here goes my attempt at debunking some of the “arguments” (I say this very loosely because the bar has been set quite low by both sides) of the pro-Israel crowd, in the hopes that they can see the responsibility that their leaders have had in creating this mess, and that blindly supporting their military actions will not make Israel safer in the long run.
Point 1: On the right to exist
One of the main arguments that the pro-Israel crowd have spouted is that they will gladly leave in peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs if they recognize Israel’s “right to exist”. First of all, the right to exist is a concept that has no validity with respect to international law. This makes sense: a country exists not because it has a right to do so but simply because it does. Why does Israel, a sovereign entity occupying a space where no Jewish state has existed for the past 2,000 years, have more of a right to exist today than say, the Byzantine Empire? Or Kurdistan? Do Turks have a right to take over Central Asia since that’s their historic birthplace? These examples may seem ludicrous but they’re actually less extreme, from a historic viewpoint, than the Israeli case.
Israel ultimately exists thanks to the Zionist movement, which during the 19th and 20th centuries advocated the creation of a Jewish state in its Biblical homeland. The founding fathers of the Israeli state were all Zionists. This is the reason why Israel exists where it does now and not in the most logical place: Europe. To this day, the largest share of the Israeli Jewish population is Ashkenazi (European) and this share was even greater at the time of independence, before large numbers of Sephardi, Mizrahi and others moved back (yes, the founding fathers were also Ashkenazi). It seems to me that had it been any other group of people, their homeland would have been carved out in the place where they lived (say, from former German or Polish territory) since only 6% of the territory of British Palestine was under direct Jewish control after World War II: Jewish settlements were mostly confined to the coast, moving towards the Sea of Galilee in the northeast and a few other scattered settlements here and there. Does it not seem slightly unfair then that over half of British Palestine (56%) was given to them to form a Jewish state? Little wonder why Muslims – which had control of that territory for the past millennia and a half, and which they too consider holy – were pissed.
As such, the creation of a Jewish state in the Holy Land was an entirely religious consideration that ignored the fact that the grand majority of Jews did not live in the Middle East (the Mizrahi Jews being the exception). So in a nutshell, arguing that Israel’s “right to exist” must be a precondition for peace is ludicrous. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin in 1977 admitted so:
I wish to declare that the Government of Israel will not ask any nation, be it near or far, mighty or small, to recognize our right to exist. The right to exist? it would not enter the mind of any Briton or Frenchman, Belgian or Dutchman, Hungarian or Bulgarian, Russian or American, to request for his people recognition of its right to exist. Their existence per se is their right to exist. The same holds true for Israel. – Source: MFI
Ultimately, no country has the right to exist. Personally though, I do wholeheartedly agree given the context of the Holocaust that of all the diasporas in history, the Jews deserved a homeland more than any other. However, expecting that their neighbors must accept with a smile the idea of a Jewish state in territory that Muslims have occupied for longer than any country on Earth today has existed is equally far-fetched considering the religious context of Israel’s creation. If you are a Westerner, think of what it would feel if outside powers created not just an Arab state, but a Muslim state founded on religious grounds, in the heart of Europe or the USA and to be settled not by Muslims already living there but by Muslims from the Middle East. It’s the exact same thing in reverse.
Point 2: On wanting peace
Another point that the pro-Israel crowd constantly makes is that Israel has constantly made overtures for peace and the Palestinians have always rejected them. It implies some sort of perceived fair treatment that Israelis have given the Palestinians, who respond with rockets and suicide bombers. This is very far from the truth. Once again, let’s look back into history and understand the origins of Palestinian frustration.
In retrospective, it can be argued that the Arabs were better off having settled for the lesser of two evils and accepted the 1948 UN-imposed territorial split that created an Israeli and a Palestinian state rather than make a failed attempt at invading Israel. Despite being the underdogs, Israel won the 1948 war but proceeded to expand its territory by taking over a good chunk of Palestine, whose borders had been legally established by the UN. Ironic, isn’t it, that the people who demand the right to exist didn’t really respect the territorial integrity of Palestine and proved that when it comes to sovereignty, might makes right. That was not the worst part. The Palestinian refugee crisis began right there and then as more than 700,000 fled (in many cases forcibly) from towns now occupied by Israel. Many of these refugees remained in Israel but still could not go back to their homes even if they were willing to accept living under Israeli rule: a series of laws passed in 1948-49 essentially gave them the status of “present absentees” (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Even with legal evidence supporting their property rights, Israeli law effectively allowed the government to take over their homes and their possessions which were then provided to Jewish immigrants to settle into. And this was not just a few homes:
The absentee property played an enormous role in making Israel a viable state. In 1954, more than one third of Israel’s Jewish population lived on absentee property and nearly a third of the new immigrants (250,000 people) settled in urban areas abandoned by Arabs. Of 370 new Jewish settlements established between 1948 and 1953, 350 were on absentee property.
In the meantime, Israel offered peace to the Arabs during the 1949 Lausanne Convention and the return of 100,000 of the displaced refugees back to Israel. Problem was that the peace deal forced the Arabs to accept Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territory after the 1948 war and also that the refugees that returned would not settle back to their own homes, but where Israel saw fit. Can you seriously blame the Arabs for having turned it down? This will be one of many instances of Israel “offering peace” on terms that essentially would force the Palestinian to accept something illegal by any standard of international law: give up more territory. For the next 20 years, Palestinians lived under Jordanian control, another annexation following the 1948 war that was equally illegal (a fact which Arabs seem to conveniently forget), before control was lost during the Six-Day War in 1967. In that war, and in an attempt to pre-empt an impending Arab attack, Israel launched its own military assault with devastating effectiveness. In just six days, Israeli troops captured and occupied the West Bank from Jordan, Gaza and the entire Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.
At this point, the “Palestinian problem” became solely an Israeli-Palestinian affair and all subsequent attempts at forging a peace treaty ran smack against one single bit of intransigence. No, it wasn’t the Arab denial to recognize Israel’s existence. In fact, Egypt did so in 1978 as part of the Camp David accords, something that cost its President, Anwar Sadat, his life (he was assassinated by a Muslim extremist in 1981). The Palestinian Liberation Organization, the terrorist group that had by then become the de facto voice of the Palestinian people, also recognized Israel in 1993, at which time it also renounced the use of terrorism. Jordan followed suit in 1994. To this day, only Lebanon and Syria have refused peace with Israel. So what was this intransigence? The refusal of Israel to retreat back to its 1967 borders. Because after 1967, the Israeli government began a directed effort known as the Allon Plan, for settling the West Bank, something that was patently illegal under Article 2 of the Geneva Convention. Just in case that wasn’t clear enough, the UN Security Council passed two further resolutions, S/RES/446 in 1979 and S/RES/465 in 1979 both of which reaffirmed the illegality of the settlements. No Security Council members voted against them, even Israel’s main ally, the US (it abstained). Let’s look at the text to leave no ambiguities aside:
[S/RES/446] Determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. – Source: UN
Not that this mattered to Israel (in fact, it has pretty much ignored every single international ruling on the illegality of the settlements). A few years before, the government of Begin reaffirmed its intention to retain its settlement and to continue building more. Mr Begin’s statement was dripping with Zionist rhetoric:
The Likud election platform declared that the entire historic Land of Israel is the inalienable heritage of the Jewish people, and that no part of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) should be handed over to foreign rule. Shortly after the elections to the Ninth Knesset, Mr. Begin visited Elon Moreh in Samaria and declared his support for additional settlements in that area. While in the U.S., the Prime Minister reiterated his view that Jews have the right to settle and live in every part of the country. Following Mr. Begin’s return from the U.S., the Ministerial Committee on Settlements, conferred legal status on three settlements in the West Bank established during the previous government’s term of office.
The joint Government-World Zionist Organization Settlement Affairs Committee today decided to recognize Ma’aleh Adumim, Ofra and Elon Moreh as full-fledged settlements, and charged the settlement institutions with granting them commensurate treatment. – Source: MFA
Indeed after this statement, new settlements were created at a rapid pace. Of the settler population of 4,400 in 1977, there were 17,400 by 1980. By the time of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the population was 111,600. And by 2004, the number had swelled to 234,500. This excludes the Jewish population of East Jerusalem, which would bring the total tally to around half a million Jewish settlers in the West Bank. The pro-Israel crowd likes to cite Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, in which about 8,000 Jewish settlers were voluntarily and forcibly repatriated back into Israel, as an unequivocal sign of “goodwill”. What they don’t mention is that Sharon was at the same time intensifying the settling of the West Bank: the net effect during 2005 was more Israelis in Palestinian land, not less. Netanyahu has taken it even further. Even as peace talks took place earlier this year and before the outbreak of violence in Gaza, his government approved 3,000 further homes the day after the UN awarded Palestine the status of observer state (revenge? Nah). And his excuse for his support of settlements? Religious as usual:
Army Radio said Netanyahu spoke to Kerry about a biblical connection to Beit El, and its depiction in the Book of Genesis as the place where Jacob dreamt about a ladder to heaven. – Source: Reuters
Does this really sound like the actions of a country that wants peace?
Point 3: On voting for terrorists
The darkest cloud hanging on the Palestinian cause is undoubtedly terrorism. In fact, all the activities that today we associate with terrorism: airline hijackings, suicide bombings, and kidnappings were the hallmarks of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the terrorist groups associated with it and which were committed to “raising awareness” of the Palestinian cause through death and destruction. Almost all of the most notorious terrorists acts during the Cold War were undertaken by Palestinian groups, such as the 1972 Munich Massacre (Black September) and the Entebbe Airport hijacking/kidnapping (PFLP). Perhaps no other people have been so closely associated with terrorism although it should be noted that the PLO renounced it as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, during which PLO leader Yassir Arafat also took the enormous step of recognizing Israel’s right to exist. After the accords, the PLO – which despite its terrorist past was declared the official representative of the Palestinian people – matured into the Palestinian Authority which today has limited sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza (of course, terrorism conducted by Palestinians continued long after, albeit without government sanction). The branch of the PLO associated with Arafat is known as Fatah, which won the first Palestinian elections in 1995 and is generally seen as the more moderate of the PA’s two main factions.
Sadly, Gaza is today governed by a terrorist organization that is Fatah’s main political rival: Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Nobody in their right minds can deny that “fanatics” is the proper label for them. Their covenant, signed in 1988, states the following:
“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it” (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).
It gets worse later on:
“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).
So the question arises, why on earth did the Palestinian people vote for Hamas in the 2006 elections? Did they not read the Covenant and realize what they were getting into, just like Germans did not read Mein Kampf before voting for Hitler in 1933? This argument, however, is made from an outsider’s perspective, who assumes that foreign policy is the driving force behind domestic politics in the West Bank and in Gaza. After all, everything we know about Palestine is framed within the context of its struggle with Israel. Of course, for regular Palestinians there are more everyday issues that matter as much if not more. There’s the economy in your blockaded rump of a country, for example, or corruption among government officials. And of course, there’s the fact that it doesn’t help if your own government kills your people. Indeed, what the pro-Israel crowd seems to forget is that when the Palestinian legislative elections were held in January 2006, the Second Intifada had only ended the year before. During this almost six-year period of unrest, almost 5,000 Palestinians lost their lives, either killed by Israeli security forces, but also by Palestinians themselves. A Freedom House report from 2002 stated the following:
“Civil liberties declined due to: shooting deaths of Palestinian civilians by Palestinian security personnel; the summary trial and executions of alleged collaborators by the Palestinian Authority (PA); extra-judicial killings of suspected collaborators by militias; and the apparent official encouragement of Palestinian youth to confront Israeli soldiers, thus placing them directly in harm’s way.”
Now this isn’t a government you want to re-elect, right? Another lingering problem may have been corruption: “Post-election polls indicate that Hamas’ victory is due largely to Palestinians’ desire to end corruption in government rather than support for the organization’s political platform” (surveys also noted that nearly two-thirds of respondents wanted Hamas to moderate its political position with Israel). Furthermore:
It is common after elections for some people to shift their views to align with the winning party. But in the JMCC poll, only 41 percent said they would vote for Hamas if the election were held again—down from the 45 percent who voted for Hamas. This suggests that rather than consolidating their position with the Palestinian electorate, some may now be feeling uneasy about the outcome, suggesting that some may have voted for Hamas as a kind of protest vote rather than out of a desire or expectation that Hamas would win. Indeed, the JMCC survey found that 74 percent of those polled did not expect Hamas’ overwhelming victory.
All of this suggests that Palestinians did not vote for Hamas in 2006 because they agreed with their anti-Semitic covenant or they supported terrorism, but rather because they were sick of Fatah after ten years of inept rule and wanted a change. Are they stupid for doing this? Well, there are countless examples of even educated, supposedly civilized societies in voting for radicals. Even terrorist radicals. Israelis, for example, voted for one: Menachem Begin, who in his younger years had founded the Irgun, a Jewish paramilitary group that was responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946 and the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948. Ironic, isn’t it, that the party (Likud) that gets its political capital by labelling Palestinians as terrorists for having voted for Hamas, was founded by a former terrorist himself. Another Israeli PM, Yitzhak Shamir, has an even more sordid history as the former leader of Lehi (a.k.a. the Stern Gang). How awful was Lehi that it actually wanted to ally with Nazi Germany back in 1940 in order to kick the British out of Palestine!
So again, is it just Palestinians who vote for terrorists? And what of those Israeli politicians which have shown more willingness to negotiate for peace? They get murdered by right-wing orthodox extremists, as was the case with Yitzhak Rabin.
Point 4: On proportionality
The last point has to do with the issue of proportionality. The pro-Israel crowd does not like this argument because the justification for the entire Gaza operation rests. The argument basically goes that Israel is under constant Hamas rocket attack and therefore has the right to do everything in its power to secure the lives and livelihoods of its citizens. When framed like this, it’s hard to not agree: no sensible person can argue that Israel doesn’t have the right to defend itself. However, it is a big argumentative leap from that to what is actually happening on the ground in Gaza.
First of all, let’s start with what Hamas is actually capable of doing: launching rockets. The bulk of those rockets are the various types of homemade Qassam rockets, which carry a maximum range of only about 10-12 km and a payload of no more than 15 kg. What damage can these cause? Not much. In fact, a photo tweeted by the IDF as “evidence” of its destructive power borders almost on the absurd: it’s not even capable of bringing down a concrete wall. Hamas also has more powerful rockets in its arsenal, such as the Fadjr-5 and M302, of Iranian and Syrian origin respectively. These can strike Israel’s larger cities including Tel-Aviv and have considerably larger payloads of up to 150 kg although they are still terribly inaccurate. How many of these Hamas actually possesses is difficult to assess, and data on rockets fired suggest that the grand majority of these are Qassams, Grads, and WS-1Es, which due to their limited range, limited payload, and notorious inaccuracy are probably some of the most ineffective offensive weapons of warfare imaginable, although they are still terribly useful at triggering fear and anxiety. This is is not to say that firing them is not a war crime, since they are explicitly used to target civilians. But out of the 1,000+ rockets fired since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8th, there are only 2 documented deaths within Israel.
Against this pitiful threat, Israel has arrayed one of the most powerful and best-trained military forces on the planet, one that could probably wipe the floor with any major NATO power aside from the US. The Israeli Air Force has nearly 400 tactical fighters (F-16s and F-15s) armed with GPS-guided JDAM smart bombs, while the Army has every single inch of Gaza territory within range of 155 mm artillery and rocket fire. A strike from a 1,000 lb (450 kg) Israeli smart bomb doesn’t just leave a hole in a wall: it obliterates an entire multi-story building as this video shows. It’s obvious then, that any sort of military operation in an area as densely populated as the Gaza strip is going to result in a large degree of civilian casualties; some unavoidable, some not. Now the problem is this. If Hamas were firing more lethal ammunition such as Scud missiles, like Iraq did during the 1991 Gulf War, it would be hard to deny that Israel was in its right to do everything in its power to prevent it. An Iraqi-modified Scud missile, for example, has a payload of about 250 kg and even though Iraq’s Scud attacks were quite ineffective themselves (just 2 civilians dead from 80+ missiles launched of which 39 landed in Israel), they do possess sufficient killing power to put this hypothetical scenario on a higher threat category.
Instead, over 1,900 Palestinians in Gaza have died in Israel’s hunt for near-useless rockets. In defense of its reckless assault, Israel has claimed that Hamas has stashed rockets in UN-run schools and hospitals, and that Hamas has used civilians as human shields. Excuse me for not understanding why a school needs to be attacked with people inside or around it in order to take out this less-than-mortal threat. Or why an entire family of 20+ members needs to be wiped out in an air strike because one of them is a suspected militant. Furthermore, many of the Israeli media (and blogosphere)’s claims of rocket stashes in schools or booby trapped hospital walls is actually unverified by any independent media, which probably means it’s false. Just do this: find an outrageous claim, then google it and try and find a link from a reputable source. You won’t (this also goes for some of the more outlandish atrocities allegedly committed by the IDF that the Arab media reports). And the paranoia on Hamas’ tunnels into Israel is also overly exaggerated too: there is not a single documented case of these being used for attacks against civilians (which would be much easier in theory), but entirely against IDF troops. Ultimately, none of this is new. The tunnels have been there for years. The rockets attacks have been going on for years as well. If these are such a mortal threat to Israel why didn’t it take action sooner? And why has it never finished the job?
Perhaps the biggest hypocrisy is on the so-called human shields. According to Israeli logic, this involves “firing rockets from civilian areas“. Now, I have no doubt that Hamas profits from a high civilian death count among its own people; how else to raise international sympathy for the Palestinian cause (terrorist logic here)? But it would be tricky to find a place to launch them where there wasn’t any risk of civilian casualties considering that the Gaza strip has the same population density as London. In any case, the double standard of Israel is again at play. In 2013, a UN report alleged that the IDF actually used Palestinian children as human shields in their daily incursions inside the West Bank and Gaza. And that some of these were beaten and humiliated. Clearly this has been forgotten because only Palestinians are capable of this type of behavior, or so they say. And Israeli troops are nothing but chivalrous as the graffiti and defecation left in occupied Palestinian homes proves. These are not the actions or the attitude of an army that “does more than any other in avoiding civilian deaths”. This is the attitude of an army that considers its enemy somewhat less than human.
At this point I want to make one big rebuke to a widely circulated piece from the Huffington Post called 7 Things To Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict. In the piece – which makes some good points, and some not so good ones – the author argues that it would be illogical to suggest that Israel deliberately kills civilians because “Israel looks like a monster” and that “if Israel wanted to kill civilians, it is terrible at it”. Clearly the author has not seen the support that Netanyahu has had not only in starting the conflict but intensifying it. It is also clear that despite some harsh words, the US will not cease its unconditional financial support for Israel. So what does Israel have to lose by acting recklessly? Nothing and it knows it. Of all the arguments, this is the lamest one. Ultimately no one in their right minds can claim that Israel deliberately targets civilians, but Israel’s reckless endangerment of Palestinian civilian lives, in relation to the threat it faces, is just one step below that.
Conclusion: nobody wants peace, but Israel wants it less
Although this piece is an attempt to debunk the misinformed arguments that constitute the moral defense of Israel’s policies against the Palestinians, I do not wish to conclude that the inability of both sides to reach a peaceful settlement is the fault of Israel’s alone. But by virtue of its overwhelming military force, the status quo cannot be altered without its consent. In other words, Israel alone is in control of its destiny and that of the Palestinians. Palestinians will not have peace until Israel wants it.
Unfortunately, that is not happening anytime soon because Israelis, as well as Jewish people living outside Israel, have been completely brainwashed by their government and their media. How an educated people have fallen into this state is not difficult to comprehend: it stems from the collective anxiety and paranoia of living in a state of constant threat (real or imagined). The unreasoned and illogical arguments that form the core of the pro-Israel crowd’s defense of the Netanyahu government’s actions suggest it but the definitive proof is the complete inability for there to be a reasoned debate about Israel’s policy towards Palestine within Israeli (and Jewish) society. Israel is unique among liberal democratic Western societies in its one-sided support of its government’s foreign policy: 95% of Israelis support the Netanyahu administration’s agenda in Gaza, a proportion that is usually reserved for the actions of authoritarian regimes. Even after the trauma of 9/11, a lower proportion of Americans (89%) supported military action against Afghanistan despite the fact that this war was triggered by 3,000 dead from history’s most heinous terrorist act, as opposed to 3 teenagers a) not killed in Gaza and b) not killed by Hamas.
In the meantime, we are stuck with a chronic recycling of convenient myths that Israelis and Jews worldwide have now taken as dogmas of faith. Myth: Israel is under attack, it has the right to defend itself. Fact: the laws of war dictate that defense must be proportionate and this conflict has been everything but. Myth: Palestinians can’t be trusted, we’ve made overtures for peace and they keep firing rockets. Fact: the single greatest impediment for peace is Israel’s settlement policy which has effectively made any attempt to relocate half a million Jews living beyond the 1967 borders political suicide. Myth: We won’t move forward until they recognize our right to exist. Fact: the PLO recognized it back in 1993 and that did not stop Israel from intensifying its settlement of the West Bank, continuing its economic blockade, and preventing the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state as part of the Oslo accords. Myth: The Palestinians are religious fundamentalists. Fact: Israel’s foreign policy is embellished to this day with Zionist undertones and the Netanyahu government makes no attempt to hide it.
Myth: Israel wants peace. I think if you’ve read up to here that you’ll agree that Israel only wants peace if it is on its terms: these being the de facto control over the entire territory that used to be the British Palestinian mandate and as a result, the continuous subjugation of the Palestinian people in an ever-shrinking rump of semi-sovereign territory. One that is not simply being encroached along the Green Line (the 1967 border) but rather one where Jewish settlements are popping up deep within the West Bank, cutting off links between Palestinian cities and effectively turning the West Bank into a series of enclaves linked by checkpoints that will be impossible to administer as a whole by any Palestinian government. This is already how the West Bank looks today. Israel has cunningly set itself up over the past few decades to have to do what is politically and physically inconceivable: send half a million settlers back. It will never do this, and as a result, there will never be peace.
And why has Israel done this? Because it in their view, the entire territory that was the British Palestinian mandate is the Land of Israel, and it belongs to them by virtue of biblical history. Which brings me to my final point. The conflict IS religious at heart. Because a peaceful solution would have been agreed to decades ago if either side knew what it was fighting for: a resource-barren piece of sun-scorched land that nobody in their right minds would possibly die or kill for in the 21st century if religion weren’t involved.
Update 16/08/14: Added a few bits here and there to make the piece a bit more nuanced.