The Crisis in the Middle East: What is the status of occupied territories?
The United States Trump-led administration recently announced a significant breakthrough in its diplomatic efforts in the Middle resolving the crisis in the Middle East. Two Gulf Arab nations, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. It is the culmination of two years of strenuous negotiations between the US and Israel on one hand, as well as the US and a handful of Arab nations on the other. The development marks an important softening or shifts in position by the conservative Arab nations.
Our first point called for a ceasefire in place. Our second point called for full implementation of Security Council Resolution 242, a mandate sufficiently vague to have occupied diplomats for years without arriving at an agreement. Our third point required immediate negotiations ‘between the parties concerned,’ the direct negotiations with Israel that the Arab states had consistently refused and that a succession of Israeli Cabinet had claimed would unlock the door to concessionsDr. Henry Kissinger: KISSINGER’S MEMOIRS, 1982
Washington’s principal negotiator, Jared Kushner is optimistic that more Arab nations will follow suit. Like every US president since J F Kennedy, the Middle East remains a core aspect of Trump’s foreign policy. However, much still needs to be done.
A land of diverse cultures
The Middle East, sometimes referred to as the Near East has been a hub of controversies from ancient times; a land where old animosities run very deep, often with unbridgeable cleavages; a land ravaged by predators from Europe, Persia, Medes and other allied civilizations from the East. Principal invaders were Greek adventurers, followed by the Romans, Byzantine, Mamelukes, and later the Ottomans in their wars of conquest and territorial aggrandizement. Outstanding military generals also had their names written in the sands of time: first was Alexander the Great and later Napoleon Bonaparte.
The land is dominated in the main by rolling dunes, exquisitely adorning the desert terrain. The pyramids of Giza in Egypt are symbolic relics of an ancient civilization that spoke volumes about its far-flung influence on the diverse cultures and history of the Maghreb, sub – Sahara Africa, and parts of Europe. Bedouin Arab herdsmen inhabited the land to the East, in what is the Arabian Peninsular – today’s Saudi Arabia – and the countries sharing a common boundary with it, including those now referred to as the Gulf States.
To the west, bordering the vast Mediterranean Sea was the tranquil land of the Aknaton and Sephardic Jews, sharing neighbourhoods with Palestinians and other sundry groups of definite tribal identities. The olive and orange groves on the coastal plains provided their primary source of livelihood. They were also farmers who, with irrigation prowess, tilled the soil to make out a living from the land the Bible once designated as “filled with milk and honey.” At various times even while under British, French, and Italian colonial rule they appeared a somewhat monolithic people save for their ethnoreligious differences, living peacefully and occasionally sharing some form of heritage derived from centuries of conquests by foreigners.
Declaration of the Jewish State
All that changed with the declaration of the state of Israel, backed by United Nations resolutions in 1948. Like the shifting sands in the physical desert terrain, alliances occasioned by political and ideological leanings became a significant and enduring phenomenon. Wars fought in the Middle East from ancient times were focused on fulfilling the expansionist desires of empires. Henceforth a transcendental note marked political developments in the region.
Establishing the state of Israel was borne out of a firm resolve to create a homeland for the Jewish people, scattered around the globe. The horrors of WW ll Holocaust visited on the Jewish population in Europe by Nazi Germany, and earlier devastating pogroms on this select victimized race in Russia rendered it most suitable. And, that, altered the status quo in the entire region. The Arab population, mainly Palestinians, uprooted from their age – long-cherished ancestral lands fought back. The ensuing conflict resulted in at least five wars that have been recorded in history beginning from the war of 1948, thus making the region a focal point in international politics, particularly among the major powers. The Jews designated it the “War of Independence,” and to the Palestinians, it was al-Nakba (“the Catastrophe”). David Ben Gurion actualized the UN Partition Plan, also known as Palestine Mandate through the use of force by the Jews whose population had increased from under 80,000 in 1917 to more than 600,000 by 1947.
ln comparison the Arab population was well over one million out of a total population of 1.8 million in Palestine. But Lord Balfour, the British Prime Minister had committed to partitioning the territory between the two in 1917. The Jews adopted the resort to use force as tension increased and pressure from Arab states prevented the British from actualizing the plan as they deemed appropriate. However, when the Jewish leaders led by David Ben Gurion declared the newly created state of Israel independent, it won the support of the critical powers at the United Nations. Israel appropriated nearly all lands designated for both Arab and Jewish populations in Palestine. The Arab states attacked the newly created state of Israel immediately. The Arabs lost the war, so also was that of 1956.
The Crisis in the Middle East: The Six-Day War
The Six-Day Arab Israeli war of 1967 proved to be of more devastating consequences for the Arab world. Israel occupied more Arab lands with consolidating its position in the Middle East. Jordan lost the West Bank, just as Egypt lost the Gaza strip and Syria, the Golan Heights.
At the heart of the new shift in emphasis is United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. In analyzing developments centred around UN resolutions after 1948, it is pertinent to point out that in Middle East diplomacy of this era, alliances are forged not so much for economic considerations as for reasons of geostrategic relevance. One in which global policies of contending powers shaped the fortunes of unsuspecting “pawn” nations. Security Council Resolution 242 was enacted by the United Nations Security Council to resolve the tangled web of upheavals which trailed the establishment of the State of Israel.
What is The Crisis in The Middle East All About?
As noted in the quote credited to Dr Henry Kissinger, US National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State under the Nixon – Ford Administration, at the beginning of the text, some aspects of the language or clauses in the Security Council Resolution 242 appear nebulous to diplomats. However, the core of the text emphasizes: “WITHDRAWAL OF ISRAELI ARMED FORCES FROM TERRITORIES OCCUPIED IN THE RECENT CONFLICT”.
“The Recent Conflict” refers to the 1967 Arab – Israeli War. By implication, Israeli and Arab disputants would have to negotiate over territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. Pre – 1967 occupied territories do not come under the purview of the Resolution. In other words, occupied lands in question are Egyptian territories in the Sinai Desert and the Gaza Strip; Syria’s Golan Heights; and Jordan’s West Bank and East Jerusalem. The other thorny aspect of the Resolution was the clause, “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force”.
In Carter’s “Memoirs” 1983, this clause became the bone of contention at the Camp David Summit hosted by President Jimmy Carter in September 1978. As President Carter noted during private discussions with Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, “The Arabs would all insist that Israel acknowledge the applicability of this principle in any treaties signed, because it would recognize that lands occupied after the Six-Day War had not legally changed hands”.
Menachem Begin demanded an amendment to that clause. Much as he agreed that the principle was right, he argued that “he would agree only if the word ‘belligerent’ were inserted before the word ‘war’ (to distinguish between wars of aggression and pre-emptive strikes for defensive purposes). He said Israel had been attacked by its Arab neighbours and therefore had a right to occupy lands taken in its defence”. The Israelis believed, it should be the basis for all negotiations.
The Abraham Accords
On August 15, 2020, the US President, Donald Trump announced a groundbreaking political development for the Middle East in what is today known as the Abrahamic Accords. Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain signed an agreement to establish diplomatic relations. Signed at the White House, Washington DC, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the Israeli delegation. Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed prompted the United Arab Emirates (UAE) delegation, and Foreign Minister Abdulatif Al Zayani led the delegation from Bahrain.
The agreement is one of four that points to a possible full implementation of Security Council Resolution 242 by the principal parties to the Arab – Israeli conflict. The UN had proposed to the Arab nations and Israel in 1967 to adopt a workable formula that would guarantee permanent peace in the region. The Abrahamic Accords seem odd in the sense that hitherto strange bedfellows are coming together. However, these became necessary, for obvious reasons.
First, US political influence has waned in the region. The discovery and profitable exploitation of shale oil in the US minimized American reliance on Middle East oil. The US is wary of being drawn into wars in the region at a time when Donald Trump has committed to pulling US forces from foreign wars. There is a perceived palpable threat from Iran towards Arab countries collectively and, of course, Israel. Consequently, the Gulf States have come to view alliance with Israel as a “hedge against the declining role of the US in the region”.
On the other hand, there is also a Saudi – led Arab Peace Initiative which seeks full recognition of Israel by the Arab world in return for favourable Israeli approach to resolving its conflict with Arab neighbours by granting Palestinian aspirations for statehood. Jared Kushner, President Trump’s Special Envoy to the Middle East for the Administration’s Peace process had in the recent past urged Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu to accept “normalization of relations and dump annexation” of Arab territories.
Sadat’s Sacred Mission to Tel Aviv
The August 15 agreement, therefore, marks a crucial step in the implementation of UN Resolution 242: recognition of the rights of Israel to exist as a state by Arab countries. In 1994 the Kingdom of Jordan recognized the statehood status of Israel. But by far the most outstanding aspect of this “entente” was its precursor, unveiled by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in 1978 in his groundbreaking “Sacred Mission” to Tel Aviv. In his first autobiography, “In Search of Identity”, Anwar Sadat, a man of profound convictions had during a 1977 conversation with US President Jimmy Carter, emphasized his commitment to lasting peace in the region. His words, “I spelt it out clearly to Carter and emphasized that today we are as willing for peace as we were when, in 1971, l first pronounced my Peace Initiative – even more so. I also emphasized that l am willing to comply with the provisions of Security Council Resolution 242, provided Israel does the same”. Sadat premised on an earlier agreement for disengagement of forces brokered by Henry Kissinger and signed in Aswan between Egypt and Israel in 1973 after the Yom Kippur War. However, Sadat expressed his dissatisfaction over a statement earlier credited to Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion.
The latter expounded a security Theory, “which says openly that peace should be imposed on the Arabs by force of arms.” As Sadat put it, that…” constituted the basis for the establishment of the State of Israel”. He stated further, “Peace cannot be imposed. If imposed, it will cease to be peace since one party thus dictates its terms to the other. …Israel has so far not succeeded in dictating her terms despite our terrible 1967 defeat. And we, in spite of our victory in 1973, have not been able to dictate our terms to Israel”. Sadat thus counselled the US against supporting Israeli aggression and expansionism in the Middle East. This principle guided Egyptian negotiators at the Camp David Summit.
What Were The Camp David Accords?
The Camp David Accords were the agreements signed at the end of the secret meeting held at the Camp David retreat in Maryland, the USA in August 1978. President Jimmy Carter convened the summit and led the American delegation. Prime Minister Menachem Begin led the Israeli delegation, and President Anwar Sadat led the Egyptian delegation. There were tense moments as the summit progressed. The positive results achieved was the brainwork of astute diplomacy on the part of US negotiators in crafting a fundamental breakthrough.
What Happened During The Camp David Accords?
The two framework agreement proved a milestone in Middle East diplomacy. The first, A framework for Peace in the Middle East dealt with the issue of Palestinian territories. The three delegations jointly drafted the agreement on behalf of Palestinian authorities and representatives. The Accord dealt with problems of autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank of the Jordan and the Gaza Strip. The United Nations condemned it because the Palestinians had no participatory role. However, the three parties accorded Jerusalem the status of International City.
The second, A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel was significant for several reasons. It guaranteed peace and security of the State of Israel with Egypt’s recognition of it’s right to exist. Henceforth, Anwar Sadat put Arab threat of collective and coordinated attacks on Israel to rest. Israel’s consent to the removal of its settlements from the Sinai Penisular over three years was a significant breakthrough for Security Council Resolution 242. ln, a sense it demonstrated that withdrawal from occupied territories in the Middle East was practicable. For this feat, both President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980.