The conflicts in the Middle East have a long and bloody history, full of countless horrors committed by many sides, and influenced by old and deep wounds. In particular, the struggle to bring a solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine has been a long and frustrating one. Despite there being a huge number of people who desperately want an end to the conflict, there does not currently appear to be any easy solution in sight.
In such a deadlock, it is vital that international pressure is brought on both sides. All parties need to be forced to review their own behaviour, re-evaluate their demands, and work constructively towards compromise. Atrocities on both sides need to be punished, and decisions on both sides need to be criticised. Yet here lies another problem.
Today it is acceptable to criticise the actions and statements of the Palestinian authorities, because they have been tarred with the universal rallying cry of "terrorism". Firing rockets at Israel is despicable, and those doing it are cowardly terrorists who we can easily and roundly condemn.
Yet what happens when one even thinks of criticising Israel's actions today? One should be extremely careful. Because popular media have so shaped the argument that often it seems that Israel cannot be criticised. At all. Of course Israel's actions are justified, because they're being attacked by terrorists! You don't support the terrorists, do you? Or even worse, one would run the risk of being accused of being anti-semitic.
How can criticising the actions of the Israeli government be considered anti-semitic? It's not criticising the religion of Judaism, or criticising anybody on the basis of their religion or race, it's just criticising a country's government, people do it every day. Why should one country in the world be considered exempt from any form of criticism?
It should be possible to point out Israel for its apparent complete lack of disregard for Palestinian sovereignty when it approves building even more new Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. It should be possible to criticise Israel for failing to or refusing to recognise the state of Palestine. That does not mean that one condones any refusal to recognise the state of Israel.
One should be able to deplore the Israeli helicopter gunships, killing Palestinian civilians in apparent collective punishment, the destruction of farmers' homes and livelihoods, and the rampant occupation of land. That does not mean that one sympathises or supports those who respond to the situation with violence.
One must be allowed to criticise the blockading and confinement of a people, dictating to them whether they should be allowed to import concrete to rebuild their destroyed houses, armed capturing of aid ships sent to help, punitive bulldozing of houses and trees, spiteful "withholding" (stealing) of tax revenue belonging to the Palestinian authorities, and countless other oppressive policies. This is terrorism too. It must be ok to assert this, without this being interpreted as unconditional support for "the other side".
It's clear that in military terms, Israel benefits from an enormous power advantage due to the unimaginable amounts of money poured into their technology and firepower. Their fighter jets, warships, helicopters and missiles present a hugely asymmetric threat when compared to anything in the state of Palestine. It's also clear that Israel could not wield this massive military dominance without huge financial and military support from the United States of America.
Imagine this: the USA give billions of dollars in aid to Israel every year, most of which comes in the form of military equipment and loans for military expenditure. That's thousands of millions of dollars, each and every year.
I don't even want to ask why the USA feels so indebted to Israel or why this extraordinary, breathtaking level of military supply is deemed necessary, but it seems clear that Israel could not currently act the way it does if this support from the USA were reduced or made conditional on finding a compromise. Yet even when the most controversial settlement-building plan on Palestinian land is announced, or direct defiance of a UN resolution on East Jerusalem, the USA politicians continue to hold their tongues and keep on supplying these astronomical amounts of military aid.
Sometimes it seems that, no matter how many people on both sides are clamouring for peace and reconciliation, there are enough people content with the situation as it is now for the disaster to continue.
Pressure needs to be put on the Palestinian militants to move towards a peaceful solution, and the USA needs to put pressure on Israel to move towards a peaceful solution. And it has to be the USA to put that pressure on, together with a threat to withdraw the massive military funding.
Or how about this? The USA should commit to providing an equal amount of financial and military aid to both Israel and the state of Palestine. After all, both sides need to defend themselves.
In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution to recognise the State of Palestine as a "non-member observer state". Before it was denoted a non-member observer entity. The only change would be to acknowledge that the state of Palestine is a state. Yet Israel resisted viciously any attempt to recognise the state of Palestine in any way, fearful of the consequences that even acknowledging Palestine's existence would bring.
Israel lobbied hard to reject the proposal, vehemently refusing any recognition. One has to wonder what they were so fearful of. It's not as if it would represent any kind of favouritism towards the Palestinians over the Israelis (Israel is of course already not just a non-member observer but a full member state). But it is interesting to see out of all the 193 nations entitled to vote, which countries shared Israel's opinion that the recognition should not pass.
The United States of America, Canada, the Czech Republic and Panama.
Really, that's it. Obviously Israel voted no too, and if you check your atlas you might be able to find the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, and Palau somewhere as well. But really. That's the USA, Canada and countries they are able to influence. What does that tell you about the balance of world opinion (the final vote was 138 in favour, 9 against with 41 abstaining) and which countries are completely out of touch with what everybody else is thinking?
So what does the future hold for the region, and how can peace be found for all sides? There is much optimistic talk about a "two-state solution", as if any other settlement were possible. Clearly there will not be a one-state solution, and no need for a three-state solution, so of course the aim is to have two peaceful states. Which of course is only possible if both states recognise and respect the other one.
It needs a solution where neither side is firing rockets or shooting at the other side, and neither side is dominating, controlling and stifling the other side. It needs a solution where noone is forbidden from living where they want on the basis of race or religion. And yes, perhaps it does need an international peacekeeping force to ensure that the atrocities stop.
The difficult part is where to draw the border. Everybody except Israel seems to agree on where the borders should be drawn, where they were in 1967. Yet Israel has consistently and provocatively expanded their territory by simply building on other people's land. What should happen to those houses and settlements if that land is returned to its rightful owners? Will Israel deliberately demolish them again just out of spite? Demand compensation? Demand that those parts of land belong forever to Israel just because they've been built upon by Israelis? Or perhaps donate the accommodation to the owners of the land upon which they were built?
Obviously these are extremely difficult questions with no simple answers, and will require open and honest negotiation. But while the USA is so generously funding the Israeli war machine, there is absolutely no pressure for Israel to conduct any meaningful negotiations. We need political pressure, on both sides, we need economic boycotts, on both sides, and we need serious political and financial implications for those dragging out the suffering even longer. Someone is profiting and they need to be stopped.
What on earth is this? According to the BBC, Israel is now evicting peaceful Palestinian protesters from the site of the latest illegal construction project: Israel evicts tent protesters at West Bank E1 settlement (13 January 2013), a plan apparently accelerated as spiteful retaliation for the passing of the UN resolution. And apparently the tents were placed on privately held land in Palestine, with the full agreement of the landowner. This needs international condemnation, backed by the UN. Why aren't our elected politicians talking about this?