A geographical Analysis of the Roadmap for Peace in the Middle East

The conflict in the Middle East has its roots in the geography of the region as mush as it does in politics and religion. A look at the map of the region makes things very clear. With its back pressed against the vast Mediterranean sea, Israel is hemmed in not only by the contiguous Palestinian area but also by Lebanon and Turkey in the north, Egypt in the south, and Jordan and Syria towards the east. With most of its Arab neighbors refusing to even acknowledge its existence, it is but inevitable that the region has turned into a hotbed of trouble with Israel and the Palestinian area as the foci.

The roadmap for peace in the Middle East announced on April 30, 2003, envisaged a two-state solution – one of the states being Israel and the other in the form of establishment of an independent state of Palestine. The crux of the matter in this case is that “progress will require and depend upon the good faith efforts of the parties, and their compliance with each of the obligations…” The emphasis on good faith in the roadmap could turn out to be bottleneck given the close proximity and the interspersed geographical situation of the areas demarcated as belonging to either side. The adage that familiarity breeds contempt could prove to be very true here. Jew and Palestinians are forced to interact and come into contact with each other because of the geographical location of their respective areas of residence. Given the situation today, the Palestinians are at the mercy of the Israelis even in the case of the basic freedom of moving around their land at will. Interactions and contacts can be positive when the atmosphere is not vitiated and charged, and when there is mutual trust between the two conflicting parties. The assumption of the Roadmap that Palestinians will eschew violence voluntarily for the sake of peace is a bit far-fetched to say the least. The conflict goes too long back in history and is too inherent of both the Israelis and the Palestinians for wither of them to back off on their own. What would have served the purpose much more effectively was a much higher level of practical on field involvement of the international community, the quartet in particular, to keep the conflicting parties at bay even while being at close proximity to each other, for a period long enough to assuage frayed tempers, soothe old wounds and cull out hatred and misunderstandings.  The onus of maintaining peace would no doubt be on the Israelis and the Palestinians, but those who had taken on the role of peacemakers would also have to play crucial parts in the maintenance of peace and security in the region and in mending the fences between the old foes.

Mending the Fences

And it is mending the fences that holds very high significance in the Middle East. The forced occupation of land by Israeli forces and people in the disputed areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is a classic case of fence breaking that the Israelis have resorted to since the very beginning of the conflict. Then there are fences to mend between Israel and Syria on one hand and Israel and Lebanon on the other. The Roadmap mentions the Israel-Syria and Israel-Lebanon relationship issues, but do not draw up any practical plans of how to go about mending these very seriously breached fences.

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The Roadmap is holistic in its approach when it tries to involve all states in the region in the peace process by asking them to refrain from sponsoring organizations that adopts violence to achieve their ends. However, the highly intricate nature of the situation makes it mandatory for some form of monitoring and regulatory activity on the part of the Quartet to be put in place to curb the funding of violence and extremism in the region. Both the sides of the coin need to taken into consideration. Military aid to Israel is as good or as bad as sponsoring violence against the Arabs in the eyes of the Arabs as is funding Palestinian terrorist groups in the eyes of the Israelis and the West.

The interplay of Geography, Religion and History

The interplay of geography, history and religion in the affairs of the Middle East is exemplified by Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem is important as a place of religion for the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. Jerusalem is the symbol of the capital of the Messiah in Jewish and Christian literature. Since the 10th Century BC, Jerusalem has been held sacred by the Jews as the site of the Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple. The Jews believe that their divine homeland is ordained around the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s significance in the Old Testament and its role in the life of Jesus Christ make it a place of reverence for the Christians. According to the Holy Koran of the Muslims, Prophet Muhammad was taken on a divine journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and then from Jerusalem to the heavenly celestial abodes where he was given instructions on the basic tenets of Islam.

Looking back in history, Jerusalem was a Jebusite or Canaanite stronghold as early as the 4th millennium BC. David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and walled the city around 1000 BC. Jerusalem became the spiritual and political capital of the Jews when Solomon built the temple on Mt Moriah in the 10th Century BC. It was captured by the Babylonians in 586 BC. However, in the 6th Century BC, Cyrus the Great of Persia was successful in restoring it to Hebrew rule. In the 2nd and the 1st Century BC the city became the capital of the Maccabees. Jerusalem was to change hands thereafter again and become the capital of the Herod dynasty under the aegis of Rome. Jerusalem was captured by the Muslims in 637 AD and made the chief shrine after Mecca. When the Fatimids posed obstructions for Christians pilgrims to the City, the Crusades took up arms against the Fatimids, and ultimately conquered Jerusalem in 1099 AD. In 1187 Saladin recaptured the city for the Muslims, after which it came under Mamluk and Ottoman rule.

The tug-of-war over Jerusalem persisted even in more modern times. The British forces capture Jerusalem in 1917 during the First World War. After the War, Jerusalem was made the capital of the British-held League of Nation’s Palestine Mandate. Though both the Arabs and the Jews sought possession of the city as the end of the mandate approached in 1948, the Christians advocated a free Jerusalem open to all religions.

When it became inevitable that Germany would lose the Second World War, the Jewish aspirations for the establishment of an independent Jewish state attained feverish heights. Great Britain had no choice but to hand over the whole issue of Palestine to the United Nations. The UN General Assembly did the imperative, in November, 1947 it voted in favor of partitioning Palestine into two states – one for the Jews and the other for the Arabs Jerusalem, including Bethlehem, was declared to be an internationally administered enclave. Fighting between the Jews and the Arabs over Jerusalem broke out even before the partitioning. On May 14, 1948, Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the independent state of Israel. The four Arab states of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq combined strengths to invade the new state of Israel almost immediately. They failed to overcome the Israelis, but forced the Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem to surrender on May 28, 1948. The Jews hung on to the New City. In April 1949, Jordan took over the Old City of Jerusalem and all the areas held by the Arab legion in April 1949. Israel declared the New City of Jerusalem its capital in the month of December of the same year. During the course of the Arab-Israel War of 1967 Israeli forces finally took over the Old City, and formally placed paced it under a unified administration. Transferring many Arabs out of East Jerusalem, Israel eventually declared unified Jerusalem as its capital in 1980. East Jerusalem remains a bone of contention with the Palestinians regarding it as their ultimate capital.

In the subsequent years Israel had taken on an even more aggressive stance by announcing a controversial plan to in 1998 to expand Jerusalem by annexing nearby towns. The international community does not recognize Israel’s unilateral claim to Jerusalem as the ‘undivided’ and ‘eternal’ capital of Israel. West Je­rusalem is regarded as its de facto, but not its de jure capital. As such, most foreign Embassies remain in Tel Aviv, while some states have two Consulates in Jerusalem – one in the East and the other in the West.

By a history of conflict and the difference in religion, Jerusalem is therefore symbolic of the troubled situation in the Middle East. That Jerusalem is located in almost the heart of the greater area ravaged by conflict is a prime factor sustaining the conflict.

The 2003 Roadmap for peace in the Middle East, however failed to take cognizance of the importance of Jerusalem or the importance of finding a permanent solution to the issue of Jerusalem. Jerusalem remains a festering wound that needs mending at the earliest possible. Reverting back to the September 28, 2000 status as was envisaged in the Roadmap gives a wide berth to the entire issue of Jerusalem.

What went wrong?

In his speech at the Annapolis Conference in November 2007, President George Bush had said that the purpose of the conference was not to conclude any agreement but “to launch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. For the rest of us, our job is to encourage the parties in this effort – and to give them the support they need to succeed” (Bush, 2007). He had also expressed confidence that vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations would ultimately lead to the conclusion of an agreement before the end of 2008. Almost half of the year 2008 has gone by, and the enthusiasm expressed by the President seemed to have waned and waxed in front of the persistent violence in the Middle East. The Middle East roadmap for peace seems to have been stuck in its first phase since its inception five years ago.

The phased approach of the Roadmap has been pointed out as its Achilles heel by many an analyst (Chazan, 2008). The same approach had been adopted in the Oslo process which had preceded the Roadmap and failed miserably. The Roadmap is faulted on the ground that it tried to correct the drawbacks in the Oslo approach but did not attempt to diverge from it. The Roadmap was thus doomed from its inception.

Another inherent weakness of the Roadmap was that it considered Israel and the Palestinians to be equal in capabilities when the actual situation is very lopsided in favour of the Israelis. There was no mechanism in the Roadmap to restore balance in capabilities so that the two sides could talk and negotiate on equal terms.

The Roadmap also probably put the art before the horse when it assumed that creation of conducive ground conditions is a requisite for successful when in all reality it is actually successful talks that pave the way for peace at the ground.

Notwithstanding the practical performance of the Roadmap for Middle East peace, it is evident that for any peace process to succeed much greater involvement of all concerned is required along with a more practical appreciation of the actual ground conditions and the relationships between the different actors of the Middle East theatre of war.

References

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Chazan, N., 2008, The Roadmap Revisited, Forum for Middle East Peace (FMEP). [Online] Available. http://www.fmep.org/analysis/overview.html Accessed [June 10, 2008]

United Nations, 2007, President Bush attends Annapolis Conference, Available. http://www.un.org/media/main/roadmap122002.pdf Accessed [June 10, 2008]

 

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