The consequences of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war continue to resonate in modern times. The Palestinians and the Israelis are stuck in an all-consuming conflict over territory, sovereignty and identity, with no end in sight. Two clashing and seemingly irreconcilable metanarratives present in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revolve around what happened in 1948 with the formation of the state of Israel. The Palestinian narrative describes a people unjustly deprived of its land by invaders, whereas, on the other hand, the Israeli narrative, depicts the justified return of a historically dispossessed diaspora to the land of its ancestors. There is little understanding, respect or acknowledgement of what the other side perceives to be its narrative. These accounts rest on a number of ideological, religious and strategic layers that are at times intertwined. This chapter examines how the Israelis and the Palestinians have constructed their metanarratives, how they inform the policies and practices of their respective governments, and concludes with reflections on the prospects for a resolution of the conflict.
- Middle East conflict
- Peace Process
Whoever controls the past controls the future; whoever controls the present, controls the past
George Orwell 1984
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Metanarratives are essentially storswies about stories. They locate national stories within a larger historical and political scheme, and often constitute sources of identity and national legitimacy.
I would like to thank Timo Stewart, Pasi Patokallio, Toni Alaranta, Wolfgang Mühlberger and Jamal Abdullah for their constructive comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this chapter.
Curiously enough, there is no international dialling code for Israel in many Arab and Muslim countries.
In a nutshell, the series of events known as Black September was a violent conflict fought in Jordan between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Jordanian army (see Shlaim 2008 for details). The PLO had grown in strength and the rulers in Amman viewed the organisation with apprehension, a situation that eventually led to a short but bloody conflict between the armed Palestinian factions and the Jordanian state. Thousands of Palestinians lost their lives, and for a period of time the Palestinian cause was put on hold in the Jordanian polity. The indecisive outcome of the Lebanese civil war resulted in the involvement of Syria, which in turn led to the invasion of Israel. Israel’s goal was to destroy the PLO and its bases in Lebanon. Again, Palestinian civilians suffered from massacres and the destruction of refugee camps in Lebanon. The Sabra and Shatila massacre is perhaps the best known of the events: under the eyes of the Israeli Defense Forces, thousands of civilians in the Sabra neighbourhood and the adjacent Shatila refugee camp were killed by a Christian Lebanese militia known at the time as the Phalange (Al-Hout 2004).
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have suffered historical traumas (Daoudi and Barakat 2013). Pearce suggests that acknowledgement of these traumas by both sides could act as currency for fostering an understanding between them (Pearce 2014). This currency has been devalued, however, by what some on both sides see as over-exploitation.
The views of the political elite who lived in the occupied territories differed from those of the PLO leadership in exile. The former called for a political settlement that accepted a Palestinian entity coexisting with Israel (Mohamad 1997: 2). As the years passed the views of the PLO leadership in exile and the political leaders on the ground started to converge. In the background was recognition that a political settlement had to be found and that coexistence had to feature in the solution.
Among these were the 1980 Brezhnev peace plan, the 1981 Fahad plan, the 1982 Fez plan and the 1982 Ronald Reagan peace plan. None came to fruition, but they did prepare the ground for the 1991 Madrid Middle East peace conference that would lead to the 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords.
Cobban notes how PLO leaders were able to harness the tremendous power of the intifada to pursue a political strategy they had favoured for a number of years: to seek entry into negotiation through which the occupation would end, and to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza (Cobban 1990: 232).
Nevertheless, critical views were voiced at the time about how the self-government established under the leadership of Yasser Arafat created Palestinian-administered Israeli occupation, rather than paving the way for an independent Palestinian state with substantial economic funding from the international community (see Bauck and Omer (2013) for a collection of essays on the meaning of the Oslo accords).
As early as in 1994 Hamas called for security officers to end their collaboration with Israel and join the Jihad (Black 2017: 334).
See Scham and Abu-Irshaid (2009: 7–8) for an overview of the development of Hamas’ thought. According to Scham and Abu-Irshaid, tahadiya refers to a short-term calming period between conflict parties. In terms of modern crisis management, it echoes the concept of a cease-fire. Hamas applied the concept in practice between June and December 2008, for example, which helped to stop much of the violence between Israel and Hamas. Hudna is a truce for a specific period of time and is derived from the practice of Prophet Mohammad in the early days of Islam. Hamas has indicated that it is willing to apply the concept of hudna with regard to Israel if Israel agrees to Palestinian rights as set out in the Arab Peace Initiative. In doing so, Hamas could retain its Islamic frame of reference and yet come to a practical arrangement with its enemy.
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Under the two-state-solution package: a demilitarised Palestinian state was established close to the 1967 borders; Israel annexed the large blocks of settlements in return for the equal-sized territory given to Palestine, and evacuated outlying settlements; East Jerusalem was named the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem remained the capital of Israel, and each side controlled its holy sites in the Old City; Palestinian refugees returned to a Palestinian state, and a limited number to Israel for family reunification.
Many Israelis refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria. This in itself is a speech act in that Judea corresponds to part of the ancient Jewish Kingdom of Judah, and Samaria to the ancient Jewish Kingdom of Israel.
There are several names for the Israeli West Bank barrier: some call it a separation barrier or fence whereas others simply call it the wall. Many Palestinians call it an apartheid wall or fence.
Former Speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg is a good example of this genre. He argues that Israeli society must get over the preoccupation and stop using the Holocaust as an excuse to justify the policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and move on. He also seems to suggest that clinging to the idea of a Jewish state is the key to its end (Burg 2009).
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Ruohomäki, O. (2020). Chasing the Wind: Clashes Between Israeli and Palestinian Narratives. In: Mühlberger, W., Alaranta, T. (eds) Political Narratives in the Middle East and North Africa. Perspectives on Development in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-35217-2_3
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