The Most Important Issue in the Modern Middle East
Arab-Israeli conflict and the struggle between Shia and Sunni Muslims are important issues in the Middle East. This essay aims to analyze, compare, and contrast both conflicts. It highlights the historical backgrounds and the events that are the starting points of the escalation of the conflicts. This essay examines the reasons why, in spite of so many negotiations that had taken place so far, the disagreements still exist and the Middle East is unable to achieve peace.
For many years, Muslims, Christians, and Jewish have lived in peace with each other. However, at the end of the 1800s, a group of the so-called Zionists intended to colonize this land. Zionists represented an extremist minority of the Jewish population. Their purpose was to create a Jewish land. At first, this immigration caused no problems. However, Zionists immigrated to Palestine with the strong intention to seize the land for the Jewish state. The local people became worried, and this anxiety grew. Finally, the cruel fighting began, and the struggle escalated to one of the greatest conflicts in the world history. It was the starting point of the century-long conflict. According to Martin Bunton, the author of the book The Conflict Between Palestine and Israel, this struggle is one of the most known and reported nowadays. It is a powder keg that is always ready to ignite the fighting in the Middle East as well as burst the USA into flames. Bunton describes how terrorist groups ruin Israeli cities, how the Israeli army throws bombs to destroy Palestinian cities. Massacre, many thousands of deaths and injuries are on both sides (Bunton, 2013).
Sunni and Shiite Islam are the two major denominations of the Islamic faith. Differences between the two groups have developed later, but the major schism took place after Prophet Muhammed died. Shia thought that the Prophet left a successor, his cousin. At the same time, Sunni argued that there was no inborn successor and they needed to elect him. However, the religious differences are not that great nowadays. Besides the religious issues, there is another great reason for the conflict. There are demands for greater economic opportunities.
What Type of Conflict is the Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation?
Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, it is interesting to know what type of conflict it is. It is a structurally asymmetric conflict in its essence. The asymmetry or unequal force characterizes this conflict the most. From 1948, Israel has had its territory, borders, political strategy, and a strong and well-formed military force. However, the Palestinians had to struggle to prove their identity. They wanted to achieve the foreign recognition as a nation, not refugees. They wished to obtain their land and have the separate state.
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The Zionist movement formed their political strategy; however, Arab Palestinians did not have a specific political program. The political strategies of both sides were asymmetrical. Great Britain supported Zionists that were more advanced than any unity among the Arab Palestinians.
What are the Core Issues of the Arab-Israeli Conflict?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in a disagreement over the land claimed by Jews as their biblical birthright and by the Palestinians who seek self-determination. There are four principal issues that lie in the essence of this dispute: Jerusalem, borders and settlements, Palestinian refugees, and security.
These territories should finally become part of the Palestinian state. However, after years of continuous conquer of the land by Israeli and deterioration of conditions, the Palestinian population raised a rebellion. This revolt, called the Intifada (Arabic for shaking off), began at the end of September 2000 (Bunton, 2013).
Firstly, Palestinians want to invade East Jerusalem and make it their capital. Israel refuses to divide it as Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish land. The Palestinians have their capital Ramallah. In spite of this, they want to occupy half of Jerusalem.
Secondly, Israel aims to keep major Jewish settlements. Palestinians want to return borders established in 1967. In addition, Palestinians forbid Jews to stay in the future Palestinian state.
Thirdly, Israel rejects Palestinian right to return. Israelis understand that Palestinians wish to invade the city of Jews and occupy it.
Fourthly, Palestinians want a whole and normal state, while Israel wants to divide it.
Why has Zionism been a Success?
The main reason for Zionists success and their ability to create the state of Israel was their strength in comparison with the Arab Palestinians. Their forces were not equal. In terms of economic parameters, human capital, urban-rural distribution, political awareness, and social structure, the Jews had a relevant advantage over the Arab Palestinians (Shavit, 2013).
What is the Tragedy of the Palestinians?
Israel continued military occupation and confiscation of privately owned land in the West Bank and retained control over Gaza. Many Palestinians are in Israeli prisons. Few of them have had a legitimate trial. Physical abuse and torture are frequent. Israeli army controls Palestinian borders. Sometimes, people in labor do not have the possibility to get treatment in hospitals. A great humanitarian crisis exists as food and medicine cannot reach Gaza. Israeli forces invade almost every day, injuring, kidnapping, and sometimes killing the inhabitants. The greatest tragedy is that the youths die while struggling in vain.
What are the Main Points in the History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? How did the Six Day War of 1967 Change the Situation?
In 1947, the United Nations decided to interfere. The UN advised that fifty-five percent of Palestine should become the Jewish state in spite of the fact that this group represented only about thirty percent of the total population and owned approximately seven percent of the Palestinian land (Bunton, 2013).
During the 1947-1949 War, Zionist forces were more numerous than all Arab and Palestinian soldiers combined (Bunton, 2013). Moreover, Arab armies did not break in Israel. All the battles took place on the Palestinian land. It is essential to know that Arab armies entered the conflict only after Zionist forces committed 16 massacres, including the gruesome massacre in which one hundred men, women, and children died at Deir Yassin. Future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the leader of one of the Jewish terrorist groups, stated that they would attack and kill the enemy not only in Deir Yassin but everywhere as God had chosen them for winning. In general, Zionist forces committed thirty-three terrible massacres.
Israel had conquered seventy-eight percent of Palestine. Three-quarters of a million Palestinians had become refugees. The war caused the destruction of more than five hundred towns and villages. A new map appeared, in which every city, river, and hill got a new, Hebrew name. There were no remnants of the Palestinian culture as Israel deleted all of it. For many years, Israel rejected the existence of this population. Ex-prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir once declared that there was no such notion as the Palestinians.
By 1967, Israel had conquered even more land. It followed the Six Day War, in which Israeli armies started an abrupt but victorious attack on Egypt. Finally, Israel occupied the final twenty-two percent of Palestine the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, according to the international law, it is impermissible to obtain the territory by war. That is why these occupied territories do not officially belong to Israel.
It took six days of fighting to change the face of the Middle East. One discrete historical event lasted six days; however, it had an impact that continued for decades. Israels 1967 Six Day War, from June 5 to June 10, is just such an event. During the war, Israels high-tech military routed the forces of Jordan, Egypt, and Syria and began the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula.
The war influenced the world political program. The Middle East is still in the center of all the world political issues. Israel began one of the worlds longest-running military occupations, which had been one of the greatest sources of Arab irritation against not only Israel but also the United States.
The Israeli occupation created the so-called peace process, the seemingly never-ending process of trading the occupied land for peace. In other words, it wanted to achieve the recognition by the Arab government. The historical research has shown that Israel was well aware of its military superiority over its neighbors. Starting the war, Israel was sure that it would win. One thing that was clear at the time was the absolute illegality of Israels occupation and annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, where more than one million Palestinians lived. During the Six Day War, Israel also attacked the US Navy ship, the USS Liberty, killing and injuring over two hundred American soldiers.
Did 1979 Mark a Turning Point in ArabIsraeli War?
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Egypt and Israel signed a peace pact, according to which the war between the Arab world and Israel should stop. They also established diplomatic and business relations. Both sides agreed to cease the war that had been lasting for thirty years. Mutual recognition was an important point in the treaty. According to the agreement, Israel should withdraw its military forces from the Sinai Peninsula which it had conquered during the Six Day War. Egypt agreed to remove all armies from Israel. It is important that because of the agreement, Egypt officially became the first Arab state that acknowledged Israel.
What did the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty Fail to Accomplish?
The 1979 fixed contract between Israel and Egypt no longer works for either side. The 1979 treaty looked like an agreement to stop the fire but not the true peace pact. Egypt suffered losses in previous battles, and it still wants to get revenge. Israel still cannot be found on official Egyptian maps. Therfore, young Egyptian students who study geography find only Palestine on the state-printed maps. There is no peace with Palestinians either. Peace plan has disappeared from the political strategy of Israel.
Can the World Predict Final Peace between Israeli and Arabs? Why is It so Difficult to Agree?
As noted before, there are four main issues of this conflict: Jerusalem, borders, refugees, and security. Speaking about the possible peace, one of the primary factors that prevent the ending of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the uncontrollable nature of those core issues. Taking into consideration those four issues together, there is no common solution that could meet the requirements of Israelis and Palestinians.
Dozens of initiatives were taken to make the Israelis and Palestinians start negotiations over the past two decades. Despite the efforts of world leaders, failure to reach the agreement has led many to believe that the demands of two sides are irreconcilable, which makes mutual peace deal impossible. It is difficult to achieve peace and put the conflict to the end. There is too much history and too little land.
Is a Peace Deal Possible, for Example, in the Next Ten Years?
Referring to the past, a peace deal is impossible in the next ten years because this conflict does not only concern Israelis and Palestinians. There is an Israeli-Arab conflict, where Palestinians are just another Arabs weapon. This conflict is too extensive to come to an end in several years. The struggle seems to be unstoppable, like a never-ending negotiation-confrontation cycle.
Is the Conflict Solvable, or Not?
Each conflict, even if it has lasted for many centuries, must be solved. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, both sides use violence; therefore, the first thing necessary for resolution is to cease the fire on both sides. They must understand that violence costs millions of lives. Moreover, mutual recognition of both sides is essential. These two states have full rights to visit holy sites on both sides. Furthermore, borders should follow ethnic lines. In addition, Palestinian Jews should have full rights to protection. Israeli Arabs should serve in the army. Arab countries have to recognize Israel and begin trade. Finally, the world community should invest in both states.
What Kind of Conflict is between Shia and Sunni Muslims?
This conflict began as a religious one; however, today it is rather political than religious. The differences between Sunnis and Shias which began after the Prophet Muhammads death concerning his legitimate successor are true. People cannot deny that religion was the starting point of the conflict. However, the sectarian tensions began in the early 1970s and escalated during the Iranian Revolution and the Afghan War. The politics and competition for influence and power between Iran and the Arab countries, especially Iraq and Saudi Arabia, turned this conflict to a political one.
How did the Iranian Revolution in 1979 Change the Situation? What did Ayatollah Khomeini Do that Made the Shia Revival So Revolutionary?
Speaking about the struggle, current tensions between the two sects have arisen due to political events in Iran and Iraq (Nasr, 2007).
The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 influenced the relationship between Sunni and Shia. The Shia Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power and established the Islamic Republic in 1979. Khomeini opposed the Sunni aristocrats who led Saudi Arabia. He called them American lackeys as well as unpopular and corrupt dictators (Nasr, 2007).
The Iranian Revolution saw a new and radically different power in the Middle East. Iran had an intention to spread its Islamic revolution. Its Supreme Leader perceived himself a leader of the Muslim world, thus making Sunni Arab leaders nervous. Therefore, it had a negative influence on Shiite Muslims in the region. Many Middle Eastern states started to suspect their small Shiite populations of disloyalty, fearing that they would support Iran. The growing suspicion between the two sides progressed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Shiite-dominated government came to power after the fall of Saddam Husseins regime. This really worried the traditional Sunni rulers of the region. There was a risk that Iraq and Iran would cooperate in collusion against other Arab states. Shiism played a central role in one of the darkest chapters of the Islamic Republic, the Iran-Iraq War.
How did the Russian Invasion of Afghanistan Stir up the Sunnis?
In 1979, the Soviet Union started the invasion of Afghanistan. It took over Kabul and established complete military and political control there. It was the turning point in the Cold War. Russia was against the Sunnis. As long as the there are battles in the Middle East, Russia will be against the Syrian Arab nationality. Russia supports Iran and Hezbollah; therefore, it is the enemy of Sunni Islam (Caryl, 2013).
Where did Al-Qaeda and the 9-11 (2001) Come From?
Al-Qaeda is not really an Islamic terrorist group but a database of international mujaheddin and arms smugglers used by CIA and Saudis to funnel guerrillas, arms, and money into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. On September 11, 2001, the Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaeda commited violent and notorious terrorist acts in the United States. The suicide attacks intended to explode the Twin Towers. After that, Al-Qaeda surpassed the IRA, Hamas, and Hezbollah as the world's most infamous terrorist organization. The death of bin Laden in May 2011 complicated the future of Al-Qaeda.
How did the American Invasion of Iraq (2003) Affect the Relationship between Sunnis and Shia?
Iraq is a place where Shias are in majority; there is a Shia-led government. Sunni minority is always ready for the battle. The American invasion of Iraq caused the success of Shia. In 2003, when the U.S. military invaded Iraq, Saddam Husseins Sunni regime fell and Shiites took power. The Iraqi army, trained by the USA, consisted mainly of Shia.
Three years later, Maliki, a Shiite allied with Iran, became the countrys new leader. He persecuted Sunnis. ISIS armies from Syria came to Iraq and made use of Sunni discontentment. ISIS is short for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It is the extremist group that started as the division of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. ISIS appeared during the U.S. occupation.
How did the Syrian Uprising that Started in the Arab Spring of 2011 Lead to a Region-Wide Civil War?
The Syrian revolt caused the civil war. In the beginning, there were violent protests from Syria that demanded the democratic reforms. The protest, the so-called Arab Spring, that took place in 2011 was the expression of the indignation at Arab undemocratic rules and cruelty of the security agencies. The Arabs revolted due to the unstable economic situation, unemployment, increasing prices, and corruption. This civil rebellion phase caused the uprising of active opposition movements. The huge desertion from the Syrian Army occurred. This conflict led to the region-wide civil war.
In conclusion, it is important to indicate the similarities as well as differences between two major conflicts in the Middle East. The Sunni-Shia Muslim dispute and Israeli-Palestinian conflict are similar in some aspects. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been lasting for many centuries. The Sunni-Shia battle is less long, but it involves multiple fronts and serious bloodshed. Both confrontations draw attention of the world politics. The year 1979 was crucial for both conflicts. Israel signed an agreement on pacification with Egypt that formally put an end to the thirty years of war. It established diplomatic and commercial relations between the states. The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 influenced the relationship between Sunni and Shia as well. Shia leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power and established the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, despite many negotiations and foreign interference, both struggles still exist.
There are also some differences between two conflicts. The reasons for two struggles are dissimilar. The dispute between Shia and Sunni Muslims is religious in its nature. However, the Arab-Israeli conflict is structurally asymmetric or based on unequal forces. Mainly, its background is the fighting for the land and Palestinian struggle for identity.
In general, both conflicts remain important issues in the modern Middle East. As for me, the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most reported nowadays.