If ever there has been a difficult problem in global affairs then this has to be at the top of the list. Before I get to the situation today it is worth looking at some of the history in order to understand the present day problem.
The mistrust between the Arabs/Palestinians and Jews goes way back to the early 20th century. The Balfour Declaration, made in 1917, is a letter from then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild, which stated “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
On the surface this looks good but during World War 1 the British had promised the Arabs independence if they would revolt against the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Arabs did so, pushing the Turks out of the Levant, that is the lands of the east Mediterranean. The British then reneged against their deal with the Arabs for independence. Under the Sykes-Picot Agreement made in secret between Britain and France and Russia as a minor partner in 1916, it mandated how in future, the Arab provinces outside of the Gulf region would be divided up between the three countries and brought under either direct control or influence. Britain would control the area that became known as Palestine as well as Jordan and southern Iraq. Remember, this was a secret deal that was made before the British had made a promise of independence to the Arabs in exchange for their help in defeating the Ottomans. When there was the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Russians exposed the agreement, under which they had been given Istanbul but due to the revolution were then denied their part in the deal, the result was Arab anger and British embarrassment, they had been caught in a lie.
The foundation for the present day problem was then set in motion, the British promise that there should be a Jewish homeland in Palestine and the promise made but never kept, that the Arabs would have independence in Palestine. This would eventually lead to the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine against British control. Add to this the Jewish Insurgency also against the British between 1939-1947 and you can see how explosive the situation had become. When the British Mandate for control of Palestine expired in 1948 the United Nations had already prepared a plan for the partition of Palestine which recommended the formation of both Jewish and Arab states with Jerusalem as a separate entity. The scene was set for civil war between Jews and Arabs. The rest as they say is history. From that moment on, it led to the situation we see in Israel today. There is still no solution in sight for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
However, there has been a recent and interesting development. In Israel, Palestinian areas essentially fall into two areas, Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Fatah have political control of The West Bank and Hamas have control of Gaza. Until now peace talks in Israel have been with Fatah as Israel won’t talk publicly to Hamas, the reason for this is that Hamas made it clear in the past that it wanted to see the destruction of the State of Israel. But could it be that Hamas is changing? With the new agreement between Fatah and Hamas to make a unity government which jointly covers both Gaza and the West Bank, finally the Palestinians are getting themselves organized. As part of making this unity government Hamas has said that it now recognises the State of Israel. What has changed Hamas’s thinking?
Hamas is a Sunni based Muslim Brotherhood organization. When Egypt elected Muslim Brotherhood president Morsi, Hamas felt they were in the ascendency having such a strong and geographically close ally. They basically cut their ties with Syria and looked to Morsi for support. When Morsi was deposed by General Sisi, Hamas suddenly found themselves all alone with no support. Realpolitik brought them to the realization that to have a future they need to change their policiy regarding Israel if they will ever have any relevence regarding a future peace deal and the political power that would go with it.
The response of Israel to this unity deal between Hamas and Fatah has been to say they will have no dealing where Hamas is involved, they don’t believe that Hamas has changed one bit. To be honest, Hamas will have to prove themselves by their actions and not only their words. But the fact is, there could never be a two state deal if talks are only with Fatah, they only have support of Palestinians in the West Bank, for there to be a Palestinian state Gaza must also be included. Israel has always known this and so has Abbas the Fatah leader. This is why all talks have not produced anything of substance. If Abbas signed a peace deal which was then rejected by Hamas who represent a large part of the Palestinian population then any legitimacy he has would be lost and he would lose his power. Netanyahu is also personally skeptical of a two state deal and there are many in the Israeli coalition government who are fundamentally and ideologically opposed to any land-peace deal. But the fact now is that there is a unified Palestinian Authority, one of the main barriers to negotiation has now been removed, if Hamas are sincere in their change of policy towards Israel then even more so.
There remains the question of Jerusalem, this is such an emotive issue for both sides, it would have to be left to part two of any deal, the first step would be the recognition and unifying of the West Bank and Gaza. Jerusalem would have to come later. Also the USA is taking a firmer line with Israel these days and has said that it is ready to talk to the new Hamas/Fatah government. The opportunity is now being given to both sides to see if they are serious as well as having the vision to finally bring an end to the problems of this turbulent land. Could it lead to peace and security?