- Schuyler Beltrami
OPINION: "It's Complicated" is Not a Diplomatic Strategy
It is time for the world's great powers to stop using "It's complicated" as a reason for not finding true peace between Israel and Palestine.
In the post-World War II world, there have been multiple, highly complex, highly fraught conflicts between nations. From the prolonged mistake of the Vietnam War to the genocidal campaigns carried out in Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, through each of these conflicts, the world’s major powers have taken sides, offered humanitarian aid, and punished those responsible for war crimes. When it comes to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the conflict is often met with an indifferent shrug and the often-heard refrain of “It’s complicated”, as if this is enough to appease both Israelis and Palestinians. Diplomacy and international politics are, by their very nature, complicated, and this complexity should not be used a way of standing on the sidelines of one of the planet’s most prolonged and deadly conflicts. Although the military campaigns between Israel and Palestine goes in waves, moving from something close to resembling an uneasy peace to full bombing campaigns with hundreds of civilians on both sides dying, the world’s major powers, who are generally split into two camps (An unwaveringly pro-Israel camp led by the United States and Western Europe, and a generally quieter pro-Palestine camp led by the Middle Eastern nations and Russia), seem to never offer any concrete solutions to the problems in the area. This of course is due to multiple reasons, most importantly the balance of power in the region, with alliances between Israel and the United States and Western Europe being nearly iron-clad. These countries who support Israel are often hesitant to denounce any sort of military actions by Israel and instead offer calls for peace in the region, a call which largely remains unheard until Israel has achieved its military goals with each new round of bombardments.
The recent flareup of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, an internationally recognized paramilitary and political group who holds the power in the narrow Gaza Strip, seemed to be a tipping point in this decades-long struggle for peace in the region. Social media was flooded with videos of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers clearing out mosques and Islamic Holy Sites (such as the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem) with weapons such as smoke grenades and using rubber bullets against peaceful parishioners. Videos of Israeli settlers, all civilians, taunting and bullying Palestinian residents of the homes and villages which were now being illegally settled by Israeli citizens, were widely distributed on social media as well. Many different advocacy groups took to Instagram to raise awareness of the increasingly heavier bombardments of the Gaza Strip and of the increase in settlements in legally Palestinian territories. Meanwhile, the Israeli government reassured their allies, that not only were the settlements legal (quoting a long-held precedent of establishing settlements within the West Bank), but their bombing campaigns were also necessary in order to defend Israel from nearly daily attacks on Israeli cities by Hamas. All the while, the Gaza Strip suffered daily bombardments from Israel, which were answered by Hamas (albeit with far more primitive rocketry technology than Israel’s) when the group launched a barrage of attacks on Tel Aviv, the largest city and internationally recognized capital of Israel.
As the bombardments and ground operations waged on, the world’s great powers once again resumed their shoulder shrugging and half-hearted calls for peace, with no real threats against Israel and their continued bombings. Unwilling to sacrifice their long-standing alliance with Israel, the nations of the West chose strategic partnerships over humanitarian duty. On Monday of last week, President Joe Biden, reaffirmed his belief that Israel has the right to defend itself from aerial bombing campaigns of Hamas, while staying silent about the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza. Mr. Biden then called Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, the de facto leadership of Palestine, later in the week, after which he urged the two sides to come to a ceasefire agreement. This change in opinion from President Biden seemed to be in direct response to his call with Mr. Abbas.
Later on in the week, a ceasefire was announced between both sides, and this ceasefire has held, at the time of writing this article.
As the world breathes a sigh of relief at the news of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, it seems like the old cycle of the Palestinian-Israeli crisis has come forward once again. The situation begins with escalation from one or both sides, calls for peace are delivered from allies of both Palestine and Israel, military operations commence causing millions of dollars in damage to Israel and Gaza and deaths to civilians on both sides, including children, a fragile ceasefire is agreed upon, and the world waits patiently until the next flareup in hostilities between the two enemies. But why does the world wait until the fires have been provoked to call for peace? Why must civilians die in their homes, in schools, in their places of worship before the great powers of the world finally look for at least a temporary solution? Because “it is complicated”. With an unrelenting Israel side, unwilling to cease the operation of settlements or to extend more basic human rights to Arab Israelis, and a terrorist organization in Hamas, who will go to violent extremes to promote their message, the chasm between the two sides seems irreparable. But is it really? Or are the great powers of the world, and Israel and Palestine themselves, simply unwilling to find true peace? Civilians in both countries have called for peace on multiple occasions, as a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians would rather not live under the permanent threat of bombings and aerial raids, yet the threat continues. There has been a long-running debate about a one-state or two-state solution. A one-state solution would be based on a model similar to how the European nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been set up, with a power-sharing agreement between Jewish Israelis and Muslim Arabs, but this has been wholly rejected by Israel for decades (after all, as the far more powerful and richer nation, why would they succumb to the demands of the Palestinians?). The two-state solution, seen as more possible, would see an independent Israel remain in place, but also an independent, universally recognized Palestine be created. For this to work, the domestic conflict between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank would need to be solved, as this conflict can be exactly as heated as that between Israel and Palestine itself. For the West, and Israel, a Palestine with any form of leadership by Hamas is impossible to agree to, which means that the Gaza Strip would have to be placed back into the hands of Mr. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, a compromise which seems to be without any form of support from Hamas.
Attempting to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict has been at the top of the list of diplomats since the foundation of the Israeli state after World War II, and in fact there have been difficult relations between Muslims and Jews in Palestine way before Israel became a state. The goal of this editorial article itself, is not to find a tenable solution to this issue, but rather to ask why this issue, unlike other conflict zones such as Yemen, Syria, Kashmir, Tibet, or Artsakh, is always deemed as being “too complex” or “too complicated” to find a tenable solution for? For the sake of civilians on both sides, a mutually beneficial compromise must be found between Israel and Palestine, one which solidifies the safety of both the Israeli state and Palestine and one which also protects civilians on both sides, but especially in Palestine, where the opportunities for education, social advancement, steady employment, and life expectancy lag significantly behind that in Israel. In Gaza, where electricity is constrained to two hours per day, there is an embargo on goods entering the nation, fishermen are not allowed to venture outside of a small zone from the Strip’s coastline, and the border with both Israel and Egypt is essentially sealed off, a peace deal must be found, which places the improvement of the lives of Gaza’s citizens at its forefront. Just as the United States and its Western European allies denounce and sanction the activities of Russia, China, and North Korea on a yearly basis, so too must Israel be punished for their crimes (as Hamas as). The proper response to the killing of civilians, including children, smoke bombing a mosque, settling on the homes of people who have owned the land for generations and neglecting the welfare of millions is not “It’s complicated”, but instead a real solution, so that future generations of Palestinians can grow up with a light finally shining at the end of their very long, very dark tunnel.