by Elizabeth Lawrence
I feel like this photo I took at the summit of Mount Ben Tal in the Golan Heights sums up the complex nature of Israeli security concerns at the moment: there doesn't seem to be a single focus in which the IDF and Knesset can turn its attention, but rather numerous simultaneous concerns that are all dormant at the moment, but tensions are mounting, and spillover into Israeli territory is almost imminent.
Which way to turn?
In one direction, Damascus, and all the concerns of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Assad regime, and multiple rebel groups all fight for territory along Israel's borders in Syria. In another, Baghdad, and a similar power struggle that may see ISIS and other Islamic groups gain influence in the region. Even looking towards Amman, a recent Security Cabinet decision to green light a security barrier between Israel and Jordan suggests concerns over illegal immigration, terrorist movements and other security issues. And within Israeli borders, the mixed Israeli-Palestinian city of Haifa proves an issue as tensions rise within the country between the two populations, especially in the direction of Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, where recent extremist attacks by Israeli radicals (the stabbing at the Jerusalem Pride Parade, and the burning of a Palestinian house and subsequent killing of an 18-month old baby) have seen Palestinian retaliations and the immense strain on relations between Israelis and Palestinians. So Israel has a lot on its plate, and I haven't even mentioned the constant threat of Hezbollah rocket-fire on the Lebanese border.
A sign at the Israeli-Lebanese border of Rosh Hanikra
Common thread: the Palestinian conflict
Though these security concerns involve other countries in the region, there is a common link between them and the Palestinian question. Islamic extremism poses a real issue if it seeps into the West Bank and ISIS takes a foothold in the Palestinian territories, as it has done throughout Syria and Iraq. While it is true that ISIS seems to be playing a game of 'attack, retreat and repeat' rather than conquering and holding territory, nonetheless, the ideological side of this movement may seem very appealing to a population repressed and without a strong and effective leadership - this would not be the first time extremism and violence has won out over diplomacy and negotiations for a desperate people.
Israel and Jordan have a long and complicated history in relation to the Palestinian conflict - wars fought in 1948-9, 1967, 1973; power struggles over the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, as Jordan controls Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem; and the two million Palestinian who have sought refuge in Jordan and still fight for their right of return. While a peace treaty was signed between these two countries in 1994, there has not been much progress on the principle of the agreement that stipulated cooperation to 'help' the refugees. So this remains a point of contention between Israel and Jordan, despite generally amicable terms at the moment.
Welcoming sign at the Yitzhak Rabin Boarding Terminal/Arava Terminal between Israel and Jordan
And, of course, Haifa and Jerusalem point towards the questions being asked of Israel now: what kind of end-game is being played? Continual settlement building and an apartheid state? Continual settlement building and a granting of full Palestinian citizenship rights? Or a total change of policy and negotiations for a two-state solution? At the moment, there is an unacceptable and unsustainable status quo in the West Bank and within Jerusalem. But without a left-wing to speak of, and as long as Netanyahu continues his gvalt (enticing fear) tactics and public disdain for the Palestinian Authority, it is unlikely that we will see serious negotiations in the near future.
Hopes and fears for the future
And so, the Palestinians plight as second-class citizens continues, as does Israeli security concerns and questionable policies in the West Bank. The constant outbreaks of violence and death in the West Bank, the ebb and flow of IDF presence in Jerusalem, inconsistent and arbitrary power of soldiers at checkpoints along the separation barrier, the slow socio-economic and political decline of the Palestine people under occupation - where and when does it end? Surely this ‘hot peace’ cannot last forever. But at the moment, there is no momentum from the Palestinian Authority to try to spark any changes, and this is causing real frustration and discontent amongst many Palestinians. The PA is stuck on a two-state solution: two states along the 1967 borders, or nothing, is the party line of PA Chief Negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat. But the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is closing fast and there doesn't seem to be any rush to maneuver through. I can only hope some Oslo-style secret negotiations are happening somewhere behind the scenes at moment - and I also hope that lessons have been learned from those negotiations.
I have several opinions on possible solutions. If I am feeling idealistic then a two-state solution along 1967 borders, with land swaps and a sharing of Jerusalem as capitals for both Israel and Palestine, is the way to go. It is what people have been working towards for decades, and why not try to broker an agreement based on terms that have already been outlined and agreed upon (albeit over twenty years ago)? If I am feeling defeatist, then an apartheid state seems to be a genuine possibility, as Gaza sits isolated and embargoed in its corner, West Bank Palestinians remain as second class citizens - sorry, permanent residents - and Israeli-Palestinians are caught in limbo. And if I am feeling realistic, then I have to admit that I really have no idea what the future holds. Israel may have to give up either its Jewish character or its democratic character. And Palestinians may have to decide whether to remain patient with the PA's attempts to gain the world's attention through the UN and ICC, or to prepare for a third intifada.
During my two months here, I have spent my time obsessed with, and solely focusing on, the Palestinian conflict, trying to understand why there hasn't been any movement in the peace process. Israeli attention has been elsewhere: Iran, Obama, Lebanon, ISIS, the Sinai, plus internal domestic issues. For a conflict that has been going on for 67 years, perhaps "Palestinian fatigue" has set in in Israel. But now I have to wonder, what has to happen for Israel to wake up?