Temple Mount crisis: Why is there no peace process?

dome of the rock

On Sunday night, Israeli police officers arrested 33 people in a series of raids on suspicion of involvement in the violent clashes resulting from the Temple Mount crisis.

In response to the shooting of two Druze police officers serving in Israel’s Border Police, a paramilitary force, on July 14th, Israel’s government installed metal detectors and cameras at the entrance to the site which prompted violent clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israel’s police forces over the past two weeks. Three died as a result.

These arrests highlight the lack of a successful resolution of the spat, despite Israel’s government removing the metal detectors from the site. It was hoped this could have signalled an end to the crisis. With more attention having been given to Syria and Iraq in recent times, this crisis has reminded us of the importance of fostering a peace process in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

It should not require such violence to bring the Israel-Palestine question to the attention of the international community. Steps should be taken to ensure that Jews and Muslims can coexist peacefully. This can only be achieved through dialogue and  negotiation. Acts of violence, police raids and rioting merely encourage retaliation.

Water-Apartheid in the Palestinian Territories

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The right to safe drinking water is recognised by the United Nations as a fundamental human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and an adequate standard of living”. The UN calls upon all states to ensure that every person, “without discrimination”, has access to “sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use”.

Yet this is a distant reality for millions of Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip; instead they live with water that is contaminated, overpriced and chronically short in supply.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 95% of groundwater extracted from the Coastal Aquifer is so heavily contaminated it is “unfit for human consumption” according to UNICEF. After decades of over-exploitation by Palestinian and Israeli authorities, Gaza’s only aquifer has become severely depleted and susceptible to seawater and sewage contamination. Water shortages and widespread contamination are compounded by lasting conflict between Israel and Gaza’s de facto Hamas administration: in 2014 this conflict saw crucial water infrastructure targeted and destroyed by Israeli airstrikes. Subsequently, Israel’s long-standing blockade on Gaza continues to restrict the entry of specialist materials needed to rebuild and repair this damaged infrastructure.

DESALINATION vs electricity

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the right of Palestinians to safe water is systematically undermined through an unequal water-sharing agreement with Israel: the 1995 Oslo II Accord. This agreement grants Israel exclusive control of roughly four times the Palestinian allocation of ‘shared’ water resources, despite Israelis and Israeli settlers comprising a vastly smaller proportion of the West Bank’s population. The disparity in water consumption is shocking: a 2013 report by local NGO Al-Haq found that 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank collectively consumed over six times as much water as 2.6 million Palestinians.

Moreover, a discriminatory permit regime enables Israel to prevent Palestinians from building and maintaining water infrastructure in the West Bank. Where building work has taken place without Israeli approval, authorities have demolished vital structures including basic latrines, water tanks and piping networks serving Palestinian communities.

Faced with chronic water shortages and widespread contamination, many Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank spend between 20-30% of their income purchasing overpriced water from Israeli water company Mekorot or other unregulated private vendors.

This is a hugely unjust situation.

 

Trump and US foreign policy in the Middle East

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US foreign interests are, for the most part, bipartisan and both the Democrats and the Republicans have similar views with regard to the US’ main foreign policy objectives. Trump views Israel as a strategic ally in the Middle East as have the Democrats. The major difference is that Trump wishes to adopt a more isolationist approach, which could potentially mean a reduction in military aid to Israel. Donald Trump could challenge the long-standing pro-Israel bias in the US. Although he has promised to protect Israel, he boasts his skills as a negotiator and claims that the negotiations will require a certain level of neutrality.

It is unclear whether Trump’s remarks regarding minorities and Muslims in the United States would translate to any form of foreign policy that would be harmful to the Muslim Middle East. At worst, his disdain could translate into an uncompromising response by Trump to any defiance that threatened US interests in the region (note that earlier this year Trump pledged to send 30,000 US troops into Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS).

Blog post written by Marcus Lomax 19/10/2016

Lord Stone responds to the Queen

Lord Stone of Blackheath spoke in the Queen’s speech debate on the government’s failure to embrace the Middle East peace Process. His remarks are interesting. He promotes the Arab Peace Initiative as well as endorsing the Two States One Homeland concept. He said:

Lord Stone of Blackheath Labour 5:05 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, to continue on that theme, the gracious Speech made no mention of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, perhaps because it seems so intractable. I want to mention two new, ambitious but viable projects for reconciliation and ask Her Majesty’s Government for their involvement in them. The United Kingdom is in a unique position to move things forward, and it would be in our interests to do so.

The first is a movement called Two States One Homeland, which asks for the people of both sides to understand the narrative of the other as their genuine beliefs and accept them with compassion. Many Israelis now accept that the Palestinians believe that the 1947 declaration of the State of Israel was a Nakba to them—a disaster—and that the region is their homeland and they want consideration of their right to return. Many Palestinians are accepting that the Israelis believe that from biblical times the whole area was their homeland and living in parts of the West Bank is precious to them. They each regard the whole region as their homeland, but they know that they cannot live together as one comfortably in one state, so they agree to two states: a state of Israel, a state of Palestine and a confederation of these two sovereign states.

Two States One Homeland is a project currently on the move. The best international lawyers are agreeing to help the people on both sides to work out a constitutional settlement for each of the two sovereign states and jointly to create an overall constitution for the new confederation. International security experts and experts from both sides are deciding how the separate countries can run their own military and police forces and how, in addition, there will be a joint military and policing authority working across the two states.

On trade and investment, finance and currency, there is a team of Palestinians, Israelis and international corporations planning to invest in the region, particularly in the new Palestinian state. On the holy sites, rabbis, bishops and imams are working together with compassion and within their own golden rule to create a system whereby the sites are open for the benefit of all peoples, who are treated with due respect. There are groups working on this project on education, health and welfare and sustainability and ecology.

Secondly, alongside Two States One Homeland, there is a team in Israel and Palestine promoting a regional plan.The Arab peace initiative, the API, of 2002 was at the time an all-in-one, take-it-or-leave-it offer to which Israel did not respond. The new team presented in 2011 an Israeli peace initiative, an IPI, that accepts the API as a framework for Israeli-Palestinian regional negotiations. The IPI team is non-left and non-right—it is the pragmatic centre-thinking in Israel, with 1,800 prominent Israeli signatories, including ex-military and ex-security figures, diplomats, scholars, Middle East experts and business leaders. They have been talking for some time with the 22 Arab countries which we hope would support those projects. Together, they have developed a regional diplomatic proposal to resume negotiations, leveraging the API and the IPI. They are about to begin the development of a regional economic plan to invest tens of billions of dollars building infrastructure projects, agro-industry, water and energy plants, health and education establishments and new cities.

President al-Sisi of Egypt is on board. In a recent speech, he addressed Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation with courage and leadership. I applaud him and call on our Government to lend support. Let me quote a couple of sentences from his historic speech of only last week. He said:

“Egypt will be quite ready to play a sincere and responsible role to help set up a real opportunity for this cause … I say to the Israelis and the Palestinians that there is already a great opportunity for a better life, a better future for greater stability and real cooperation. Shall we seize that opportunity and move forward?”.

He has invited the leaders of both countries to come to speak to him and his people in Cairo.

The IPI team is also connecting Jordan, Palestine and Israel together with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and theUnited Arab Emirates. The aim is that this whole contiguous region, containing one-third of all the people living in the Middle East—150 million people—will benefit from work, welfare, health and education and human rights. We also have media partners who will act responsibly not by talking up war and killing in order to inflate their ratings but by reporting on the processes, described here, in informed, even-handed, compassionate and positive terms.

Would Her Majesty’s Government consider convening a meeting of leaders and experts, with whom we are working on all sides to develop these two concepts; to use our soft power, the British Council, in education at all levels; to help them to build universities with British standards; in health, to plan and build hospitals and systems; and to have UKTI encourage our business community to become involved in these developments and investments?

In 1947, the UN declaration was to form two equal entities; in 1967 there was a war, in which I was a volunteer, which broke that apart. Can we get together and make 2017, the 70th anniversary of the UN declaration and the 50th anniversary of the war of that split it, a year when we begin, collectively, to heal the rift?