By Mr. Wilson Egbodje
“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 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 concessions” – Henry Kissinger,
KISSINGER’ S MEMOIRS, 1982.
The Middle East question is the summation of intractable problems in the region that are recurrent, and have defied all efforts proffered to resolve them since 1948. The ongoing Israeli-Hamas conflict is a direct offshoot of deep-rooted mutual distrust arising from an unwillingness by both parties to reach a common ground on agreements. It is a complicated situation that has made the dream of a two – state solution seem impossible, even more so now. Nearly three months after October 7, 2023 when Palestinians crossed into Israeli territory on a vengeful mission, killing some 1,200 Israeli citizens, the cycle of vengeance still persists.
Addressing a press conference on December 16, 2023, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said: ” I’m proud that I prevented the establishment of a Palestinian State because today everybody understands what a Palestinian state could have been, now we ‘ve seen the little Palestinian State in Gaza.” On the other hand, Palestinians have been wary of the rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Both nations were close to signing an agreement. One of the terms would have been Saudi recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a state in return for Israeli cooperation with the House of Saud in scientific and nuclear development deals. Both countries detested two common enemies: Iran and growing Islamist political opposition in the Middle East. They would have established full diplomatic relations to the disappointment of Tehran. The timing of the October 7 attack is perceived in some circles as a strategy meant to scuttle that expected agreement. Palestinians have been adept at doing that in the past. To that extent they succeeded again with the help of Tehran.
In 2019 the United States Trump-led administration announced a significant breakthrough in its diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. At the nudging of Trump Bahrain and the UAE established diplomatic relations with Israel. Other Gulf states followed suit. Saudi Arabia would have done the same but for the October 7, episode. The Saudis still insist even as the war is raging that when the dust settles in Gaza and circumstances are judged right they would go ahead to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a state.
The Middle East sometimes referred to as the Near East has been a hub of controversies from ancient times; a land where animosities run very deep, often with unbridged cleavages; a land ravaged by predators from Europe, Persia, Medes and other civilizations from the East. The principal invaders were Greek adventurers, followed by the Romans, Byzantine, Mamelukes and later the Ottomans in their wars of conquest and territorial aggrandizement. Outstanding generals 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 sand dunes, exquisitely adorning the desert landscape. The pyramids of Giza are symbolic relics of an ancient civilization that spoke volumes about its far-flung influence on the culture and history of the Maghreb, sub-Sahara Africa, and parts of Europe. The land to the East was home to roving bands of Bedouin Arab herdsmen who pitched tents in what is today known as the Arabian Peninsula- today’s Saudi Arabia- and the countries sharing a common boundary with it, including those known as the Gulf States.
To the west, bordering the vast Mediterranean Sea was the tranquil land of the of the Akhnaton and Sephardic Jews, sharing neighborhoods with Palestinians and other sundry groups of definite tribal identities. The olive and orange groves on the coastal plains provided their major source of livelihood. They were also farmers who, with skilled irrigation prowess, tilled the soil to make out a living from the land the Bible designated as “filled with milk and honey. At various times even while under British, French and Italian rule they were somewhat diverse but united people save for their ethno-religious differences, living peacefully and occasionally sharing some form of heritage derived from centuries of conquests by foreigners.
All that changed with the declaration of the state of Israel, backed by United Nations resolutions in 1948. Like shifting sands in the physical desert terrain, alliances occasioned by political and ideological leanings became an enduring phenomenon in the region. Wars fought in the Middle East in ancient times were focused on fulfilling the expansionist desires of empires. Henceforth, a transcendental note marked political developments in the region.
The establishment of the state of Israel was borne out of a strong resolve to establish a homeland for the Jewish people, scattered across the globe. It is to be noted that “Palestine” as it was known was the ancestral land of the Jews and Palestinians before adventurism took the Jews out. So the homeland of Jews always remained in the land of their ancestors. The horrors of WW II Holocaust visited on the Jewish population in Europe by Nazi Germany, and earlier devastating select pogroms on this race in Russia rendered it most expedient. And, that, altered the status quo in the entire region.
The Arab population, mainly Palestinians, uprooted from their age-long cherished ancestral lands and fought back. The ensuing conflict resulted in at least five wars in recorded 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”). By it the UN Partition Plan or Palestine Mandate as it was alternately known was actualized through the use of force by the Jews whose population had increased from under 80,000 in 1917 to more than 600,000 by 1917.
In comparison, the Arab population was well over one million out of a total population of 1.8 million in Palestine. But Lord Balfour, former British Prime Minister and later Foreign Secretary had committed to partitioning the territory between the two in 1917. The resort to use force was adopted by the Jews as tension increased and pressure from Arab states prevented the British from actualizing the plan as they deemed appropriate.
However, once independence was declared by Israel it won the support of the key powers at the United Nations Organization. Israel appropriated all lands designated for both Arab and Jewish populations in Palestine by use of force. The Arab immediate counter-attack was defeated, so also was that of 1956.
The six-day Arab-Israeli war of 1967 proved to be of more devastating consequences for the Arab world. Israel occupied more Arab lands to consolidate its position in the Middle East. Jordan lost the West Bank just as Egypt lost the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip and Syria the Golan Heights.
At the heart of the new shift in emphasis is the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. In analyzing developments centered 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 geo-strategic relevance. One in which global policies of contending leading powers shaped the fortunes of unsuspecting “pawn” nations. Security Council Resolution 242 was therefore enacted by the UN Security Council to resolve the tangled web of upheavals that trailed the establishment of the State of Israel.
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION 242