The global consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The conflict in Palestine affects not only the Middle East but will have global consequences.

 The future of the conflict between Israel and Palestine is dangerously uncertain and could have unforeseen consequences not only in the Middle East but globally. Let's try to grasp some current aspects also in light of a complex and non-predetermined history.

1.   For Netanyahu, once again at the helm of the Israeli government, a Palestinian problem did not exist or, in any case, it was secondary. His attention was focused on internal constitutional policies over which a clash had broken out with the opposition parties. The Palestinian attack was considered beyond any possibility for a Palestine closed within borders considered insurmountable. A strange circumstance considering that, according to widespread opinion afterwards, Hamas had already been preparing for the invasion for two years.

We don't know if this version is founded. But the fact remains that  the 40 kilometers of the Gaza Strip, with a narrow border with Egypt, was isolated from the rest of the world. Two million three hundred thousand Palestinians locked up in a sort of open-air prison, with one of the highest population rates in the world, with the average age of the population around 18 years. And where the uncertain daily food depended largely on international charities.

Israel government had ignored the Hamas accumulation of weapons and the preparation of assault on Israel. A circumstance that is in many ways surprising if one considers Israel's extreme ability to militarily control Palestinian territory. But the attack happened. And Netanyahu's government has decided on a reaction internationally considered disproportionate given the human consequences for more than two million citizens in the territory of Gaza.

The future of Palestine, including the West Bank, where almost three million Palestinians live - itself fragmented by a hundred Israeli settlements – along with the Palestinian part of Jerusalem, remains uncertain, and, in many ways, catastrophic. *  A situation that has no comparison in the rest of the world since the end of the colonial era in the middle of the last century.

2.    We must ask ourselves whether the conflict between Israel and Palestine was avoidable in the decades preceding it. In any case, it was entirely avoidable in the framework of a European-wide agreement signed in September 1993 between Rabin, as head of the government of Israel, and Arafat as head of the provisional government of Palestine, in presence of Bill Clinton, president of the United States

According to the agreement, Palestine would have obtained independence and Israel the government of the "promised land" together with Palestinian recognition. A step appreciated throughout the world with Rabin and Arafat gaining the Nobel Prize It was a great historic moment. But all changed when Rabin in 1995 was assassinated. A year later the government passed into the hands of Netanyahu, the head of the Israeli right-wing parties.

Arafat was awarded the highest honour of the Italian Republic directed by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 1998 for the merits acquired in the signing of the agreement between Israel and Palestine. But the Israeli government led by Netanyahu had already blocked the agreement between Rabin and Arafat.

The reason given was the position tending to allow the influx into Palestine of approximately 500 thousand Palestinians who, over the years, the conflict had forced to leave Palestine. But, however, it was not an unprecedented case. After 1990, almost a million Russian citizens had flocked to Israel for political or religious reasons, where they constituted an almost separate body.

In reality, Israel's new right-wing governments rejected the 1984 agreement between Rabin and Arafat. The conflict resumed at the beginning of the new century. Arafat, suffering from an illness of uncertain nature, died in a Paris hospital in November 2004. The origins of the illness remained undefined. For a group of Swiss doctors, it was a case of provoked poisoning. But the origin of his death remained controversial.

At the beginning of the new century the agreement that should have been implemented over the course of five years had remained unimplemented. It was the beginning of the second Intifada. At the end of 2005, Israel left the Gaza Strip, which subsequently came under the direction of Hamas, which had won the elections, while Abu Mazen, head of Al Fatah, ran the West Bank. Initially, disagreement prevailed between the two Palestinian representatives, and an agreement was reached in 2010.

But fifteen years had passed since Rabin's killing and his agreement with Arafat on behalf of the Palestinian people. Israel continued to be dominated by center-right Israeli governments and hopes of an agreement had faded.   

3.    We know the current situation. The foundation of Gaza dates back to over a millennium before the Christian era, it was attacked and semi-destroyed several times but was always reborn. Without Gaza, Palestine is reduced to the West Bank - partly occupied by the Israelis - and to a smaller part of Jerusalem where there is - after those of Mecca and Medina in South Arabia - the third most important mosque in the Islamic world, capable of holding over 5000 faithful. In fact, the Palestinian issue affects the entire Middle East in which profound changes are underway.

The agreement that seemed possible between Saudi Arabia and Israel collides with the reality of war. After years of political conflict, Saudi Arabia made an agreement with Iran through the mediation of Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The landscape has changed profoundly. In the past days Vladimir Puti.has meet in Beijing Hu to agree a common position. China has assumed an important role in the Middle East and cannot accept the substantial destruction of Gaza and the closing of the prospect of an independent Palestine alongside Israel. For its part, Saudi Arabia with the mediation of China has established an agreement with Iran, changing the Middle East scenario, in the past characterized by the clash between the two countries. Iran has, in turn, direct relations with Iraq and Syria and, above all, in Lebanon with Hezbollah which has an army of 70 thousand soldiers on the border with Israel.  In essence, the war that affects the Gaza Strip, with catastrophic consequences, is at the center of a conflict that involves the major powers of the Middle East.

The Israeli right-wing parties, in government with few variations for over a quarter of a century, have focused on Israel's expansion into Palestine excluding the Gaza Strip abandoned to itself. But the longest conflict in post-World War II history has actually taken on new dimensions. It no longer is related to a smaller part of the Middle East, but it involves, more or less directly, the major powers at a global level. The solution that seemed possible and acceptable to both parties was lost. Now the Middle East and, in many ways, the global future has become dramatically uncertain.

The liquidation of Palestine as a shattered territory is once again at the center of world politics, involving more or less directly the major global powers from the United States to China and Russia, as well as the major Middle Eastern countries. A framework in which Europe's role appears secondary if not totally insignificant.

* The population residing in the Territories that include the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and part of Jerusalem amount to over five million. Gaza, in particular, with more than 400 inhabitants per square kilometre, .is one of the places with the highest population density in the world, According to United Nations documents approximately 43% of all Jews reside in Israel and 39% in the United States (over five million), and most of the rest in Europe (1.5 million). Another five million Palestinians live predominantly in Middle Eastern countries. Essentially, two populations of comparable size.

Antonio Lettieri

Antonio Lettieri is Editor of Insight and President of CISS – Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body,and Advisor of Labor Minister for European Affairs.(