[This short opinion piece was originally commissioned by Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Chatham House is the UK’s leading international affairs think-tank and advertises itself as an “independent voice.” It is the second most influential international affairs think-tank in the world after the Brookings Institution.
I was asked, as an expert on the topic, to explain why the “peace” between Israel and the Palestinians had been shattered. I made the argument that the “peace” which had been shattered was one-sided and explained factually what it meant for Palestinians to live under the conditions created by Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid.
I was unhappy with the edits that Chatham House’s editorial team were insisting upon, so I withdrew my article. I will spare the reader from recounting the entire narrative of what happened, but my argument was altered in ways that I was not willing to accept. I have excised all contributions, however minimal, by a co-author who had to withdraw their co-authorship.]
The one-sided peace has been punctured in the Middle East. To ensure justice and stability for all, Israel’s apartheid system over Palestinians should be dismantled
Israel has announced it is in a state of war after dozens of Palestinian fighters from Hamas breached the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on 7 October, killing over a thousand Israelis and abducting dozens of hostages. But a declaration of war assumes there was a peace to shatter.
The Israeli population, currently in shock and mourning the biggest loss of life it has experienced since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, has been fed the illusion that its government can control and displace Palestinians forever with relative stability and without fear or response. This is the peace that has been shattered.
But for Palestinians, there has been no peace: they have experienced the longest military occupation in modern history administered through extreme levels of violence.
The Gaza Strip is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, three-quarters of which are refugees from what is now Israel, crammed into 140 square miles. In September 2007, Israel defined the Gaza Strip as “hostile territory”and imposed a land and sea blockade. The United Nation has called this an act of collective punishment, which is a serious breach of international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime. Israel controls imports and exports into Gaza through “crossings” in the perimeter fence. Cut off from the outside world, the Gaza Strip has some of the worst economic indicators globally: over half of its population falls below the poverty line, nearly 80 percent depend on food aid to survive, and nearly 80 percent of its youth are unemployed. The poor quality of water, limits on medical supplies, and restrictions on permits to access medical treatment outside Gaza further compounds the dire living conditions.
Palestinians living in Gaza are also subjected to frequent extreme levels of Israeli military violence which has destroyed billions of dollars-worth of infrastructure, killed thousands, and displaced hundreds of thousands. Attempts to “build back” Gaza have become an all-too frequent necessity. Israel’s current bombardment is the most extreme that Gaza has ever experienced.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, over three million Palestinians live inside disjointed enclaves controlled by over 645 movement obstacles, including checkpoints, roadblocks, barriers, and trenches, while experiencing daily Israeli military incursions, land confiscations, and ever-increasing levels of Israeli settler violence.
Since 1967, Israel has jailed approximately a million Palestinians and killed countless numbers. It seems unimaginable that this has been going on for over half a century.
Ignoring all these forms of Israel’s violence against Palestinians, which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, has created a false sense of stability in the region.
Some narratives define the Israel-Palestine “conflict” as one predominantly over religion – and, of course, this has come to play more of a role, particularly over control of the holy sites in East Jerusalem. However, the ongoing “conflict” is fundamentally over land and resources; Israel controls access to both and has gained ownership over more and more by confiscating land and displacing thousands of Palestinians. This is all in pursuit of a “Greater Israel” over the whole area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Why else would Israel transfer over 700,000 of its citizens into the West Bank in contravention of international law?
In a startling recent display of this goal, at the UN General Assembly in September 2023, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, held up a map which showed an Israeli state that included the West Bank and Gaza inside its borders. No Western state has criticized this action.
The Oslo Accords, the peace deal between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, now 30 years old, did not change the situation for Palestinians, it made it worse. This is because it provided a veneer of international legitimacy and respectability for Israel and facilitated a normalization of relationships with many countries in the Arab world, while Palestinians were ignored.
The promise of a two-state solution and Palestinian statehood has long been rendered hollow. The Palestinian Authority/State of Palestine is not a sovereign state, and does not have control over its own borders, air space, or natural resources. The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip are occupied territory, as confirmed by the International Court of Justice and the UN Security Council.
Thousands of words have already been expended on analysing how Israel experienced an attack of such unprecedented proportions from tiny, besieged Gaza. Yet analyses that focus solely on Hamas as an organisation, labelling it and its actions as “terrorism”, and pledging “unwavering support” to Israel will only lead to continued instability and bloodshed.
Such analyses also ignore the fact that Palestinians are living in a situation of settler colonial apartheid that began long before 1967. This understanding has been endorsed by Francesca Albanese, the current UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, and three past mandate holders, John Dugard, Richard Falk and Michael Lynk. It is also endorsed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and Al-Haq.
The failure by the international community, in particular the UN Security Council, to hold Israel accountable and support the Palestinians into independent statehood stands in sharp contrast to the resolution of other recent struggles for national self-determination, in particular East Timor, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and South Sudan.
In the case of East Timor, after a referendum on independence from Indonesia in August 1999, a UN peacekeeping mission and UN interim administration were established to assist East Timor into independent statehood.
In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, the UN and NATO ensured their survival and route to independent statehood after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the Balkan’s descent into civil war in the 1990s.
In the case of the Republic of South Sudan, a United Nations mission protected the results of a referendum for independence from potential attack from the State of Sudan in 2011.
And in the recent case of Ukraine, Western states have provided large amounts of military and diplomatic support for Ukraine to defend its sovereignty against Russia’s invasion in 2022.
These examples prove that international actors can support a people’s right to self-determination and defend them from violence by an occupying power. They have failed to do this in the case of the Palestinian people. It is not surprising that accusations of Western double standards and hypocrisy are increasing every day.
Palestinians have tried every strategy in the book to gain their freedom – going to the UN, non-violent resistance, plane-hijacking, guerrilla warfare, suicide attacks, even building institutions in the hope they can somehow “prove” they deserve the right to self-determination.
With these recent tragic events, the one-sided peace has been punctured in the Middle East. The only viable solution that remains is a process of decolonization and dismantling of Israel’s apartheid system. Decolonization is not a metaphor, it is a process for the realisation of social justice and peace for all.