The global risks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The war in the Middle East. Europe that was once at the centre of global history has now become irrelevant.

The ongoing war in the Palestinian territory does not present a clear future. Was it avoidable? It is worth looking back at the last few decades and the policies that have been involved.

I have some personal memories. It was the early nineties when a delegation from the CGIL  made .of general secretary Lama and national secretaries Trentin and myself, met Arafat in his headquarters in Tunis.Yasser Arafat was very happy with the initiative but had complained about the position I had expressed when writing on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I had written that there was the chance of a solution on the basis of  outcomes of the Oslo international meeting on  propelling the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. But Arafat had probably been misinformed by his advisors on the Italian position in favor of dialogue between Israel and Palestine with the new government of Israel. The meeting ended with an embrace which demonstrated the interest of Arafat in the Italian Trade unions’ position.

The opportunity for an agreement had arisen with the Israeli labour government of Yitzhak Rabin, who in previous years had taken part as army chief in the conflict between Egypt and Syria. He had been elected Prime Minister for the second time and was convinced of the possibility of an agreement to resolve the Palestinian problem. It was not by chances that Rabin invited Arafat to discuss the peace process. And the most important moment was their meeting in  Washington with Bill Clinton who had recently been elected to the presidency of the United States. And it seemed to be the prelude to a peace agreement. But Rabin, who had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in November 1995 was murdered by a young member of the Israeli right.

With the assassination of Rabin, the peace process lacked its main Israeli protagonist. After an interregnum led by Simon Peres between November 1995 and November 1996, the elections brought a right-wing exponent, Benjamin Netanyahu, to government and the peace process remained without results.

In those years, approximately one million people of the Israelite faith arrived in Israel from Eastern Europe. But when Arafat said that around 500,000 Palestinians who had been forced to leave Palestine had to return, the request was rejected. The peace process had been blocked by the new leaders of Israel. In 2003 Arafat, who had banked on the agreement, died (many said he was a victim of poisoning) in a Paris hospital.

The end of the peace process had given rise to the second intifada.  In 2005 Abu Mazen took over the governance of Palestine, while Hamas had taken control of the Gaza Strip. But Abu Mazen considered Hamas an opponent of the government installed in the West Bank, and Gaza was isolated. In essence, a Palestinian government became difficult due to the division of the opposing Palestinian representatives.

The end of the peace process

When I returned to Palestine for a meeting with the resistance leaders, Palestine was essentially under Israeli military command.  From the top of a building in the central square we were stopped - I was together with Renato Lattes - by armed Israeli soldiers to interrogate our Palestinian companion who was driving the car that had taken us through uncontrolled hilly roads to Nablus in the West Bank.  Evidently they wanted to question him about the people we had been with.

In the end we were able continue the trip, stating that the Italian government was informed of our mission - in reality ignored by the Italian ambassador.

 The Israeli-Palestinian war had two characteristics. On the one hand, the West Bank, inhabited by Palestinians, led by Abu Mazen without any effective power. The Israelis had established about hundred settlements in that territory. The effective opponent in the conflict was Hamas, confined to Gaza territory, closed on one side by the Mediterranean Sea and, on the other by a desert territory controlled by Israel.,

About 2.2 million Palestinians live in the occupied territory of Gaza.  Other 2 million in Israel  without an effective citizenship: about 200 thousand on  the southern side of Jerusalem and the majority in  West Bank. And another around six million in several Arab countries with the majority in Jordan.

This is similar, according to official statistic, to the total Jewish population of 15.7 million people, of which more than six million are in the United State, a relevant number in France and  Great Britain and, partially, in Italy and in a smaller number,  in other countries.
All things considered, an almost equivalent number of citizens of Israeli and Palestinian origin. But the Palestinians without a country recognized as their own country.

The conflict

The current conflict doesn’t  appear to have solution. Hamas with its attack on Israel has caused the death of 1200 Israelis, while more than around 200 Israelis have been taken prisoner. We know what happened next. The Israeli army  could advance in Gaza territory without encountering resistance. The Palestinian people did not have an army and Hamas militants were partly in the underground network where they held the Israelis prisoner.  About one and a half million Palestinians who have abandoned  their houses,  most of which have been destroyed, live in tents set up on the Mediterranean coast.

The novelty is that the conflict has acquired a central role in the new international framework. China and Russia are close to Palestinians; Saudi Arabia has reached an agreement, after about a decade of conflict, with Iran and the Houthi of Yemen, who control the arc of the Red sea that goes from the Gulf of Aden to the Suez Canal; Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon are also on the side of the Palestinians..

Israel has substantial support from the United States and its major allies, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, as well as Australia and Canada. The European Union, along with Great Britain as part art of NATO,  is on the side of Israel.
In other words, the conflict has clearly taken on global characteristics.

The Marginality of Europe

Palestine has not been subjugated for more than 70 years and now it is at the center of a conflict involving the major world powers. Angela Merkel, when she was still  the German Chancellor, had agreed  on a deal with Russia which, in many respects, involved the European Union. IT was also the occasion for the inauguration of the second gas pipeline between Russia and Germany also servicing other European countries. The meeting in Moscow had ended with a large bouquet of flowers being offered by Putin to Angela Merkel. But the agreement was cancelled after the end of Merkel's mandate and  following the American intervention that went against agreement between the European Union and the Russian Federation.

In the autumn of 2022, the two gas pipelines intended for the transfer of Russian gas to Europe were - according to Washington Post sources - sabotaged and rendered inoperative by the Ukrainian military command. As we know, for Europe the problem of lack of gas supply has translated into a sharp increase in its price for families, industry and services, contributing to the reduction of national income.

Economic theory has found a point of agreement between Keynesians and monetarists. In other words, if demand is declining due to the increase in prices and the relative reduction in wages and pensions,” only public intervention can intervene to sustain consumption, production and growth”. European policy has followed the contrary policy, continuing to pretend the reduction of the public debt – in other words the reduction of public investment, revenues and consumption.

Mario Draghi, former president of the BCE and of the Italian government, has suggested, in the European meeting of April 15th, a common European policy based on increased public expenditures. In effect, the policy of the United States with its current major growth amongst the advanced capitalist countries (3.2 percent last year and a forecasted 2,6 percent the current). But also, a suggestion that doesn’t take into account the different positions among the EU states and the current economic difficulties of each member state.  Draghi’s proposition was clearly linked  to his candidature for the presidency of the European Union after a possible, but uncertain, retirement of Ursula von der Leyen.

Germany after a year of recession  (a rare event after the second World War) has a forecasted growth of 0.2 percent in the current year. A trend that is reflected in the forecast  growth of less than 1 percent in France and Italy, the other two main countries of the European Union. In essence, the impoverishment of a growing part of the population has been accompanied by the growth in wealth of 5-10 percent of the population having control of the parties and governments linked to the policy dominated by the European Commission.

There will be European elections next June with uncertain outcomes. But it is a matter of fact that the European Union, in the ongoing context dominated by the war in the   Middle East  has now taken economic and political secondary role. Europe has condemned itself to the periphery of ongoing policy. Its economic decline reflects the irrelevance of the European governments who now occupy  a secondary position in the context of the war and with regard to relationships at a global level.

Antonio Lettieri

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 for European policy of Labour Minister. (