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Common Cents

Sustainable peace

Ralph Murphy

(3/2015) The Knesset or Israeli Parliamentary elections are due to take place 17 March pitting the incumbent, center right Likud party coalition against its traditional internal foe, the Labor Party. Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu has served as head of this government since March, 2009 when he upset the relatively liberal Kadima party and subsequently oversaw the arrest and jailing of its leader Ehud Ohlmert on corruption charges. Netanyahu seeks a fourth term as PM and current polls indicate he should win by a narrow margin.

While Israel idivided along the usual international, socio-economic lines of liberal, social spenders and a conservative, defense-oriented community - it is relatively cohesive in business and foreign dealings. It is the wealthiest nation in the Middle East generating over $305 billion in 2014 and enjoys a diversified economy with industry representing 31.2% of output, services 64.7%, and agriculture at 2.5%. While Israel is productive economically it has serious, religion-based historic antagonisms with its neighbors. Both the Muslim Arabs and Jewish Israelis have international backers who passionately defend their respective interests. Emotions run higher in this region than in any other part of the world.

Muslims consider Israel an illegal state stolen from them by a post World War II Jewish influx which swelled the number of religious Zionists under United Nations and British control. To the Israelis, the state founded on 14 May, 1948 was a biblical "birth right" and reflected justice as a return home for the diaspora originally set forth by Roman Emperor Titus in sacking the region and destroying the second temple about 70 AD - 40 years after Christ's crucifixion.

There are current efforts - especially in the Arab world - to reestablish the state of Palestine in that sector. The Palestinian state has been recognized as an observer at the UN, and is entitled to treaty participation, but there is virtually no definition as to the nationŐs territory. France and Sweden also currently work to embrace the hypothetical nation, and it has joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a member in pursuit of individual leaders responsible for aggressive legal breaches such as genocide that cannot be tried at home. The ICC is Hague-based but its decisions are not binding at the UN. However, the UN can refer cases for its consideration. Almost all 21 cases prosecuted by the ICC thus far, have had to do with African leaders, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) wants to bring the Israelis to task for last summer's Gaza Strip violence. At the time Israel responded to crude but troubling rocket attacks on the southern region with overwhelming force. Up to 2,192 Iranian-backed militants and civilians were killed in the Hamas-led enclave and 72 Israelis diedÉ including 66 soldiers. Thousands of injured were reported and Hamas remains in power.

The Palestinian leadership appears irreconcilably split between the West Bank Fatah party and the Gaza Hamas. Fatah represents the Palestinians at the UN and speaks for its 2.1 million Arab residents. 2,676,740 (2013) people live there to include East Jerusalem's 197,000. The area has been occupied by Israeli forces since 1967 when it was overrun and effectively annexed by the Israeli army in the Six Day War. The lsraelis also seized EgyptŐs Sinai peninsula, Syria's Golan Heights as well as the Gaza Strip. Sinai was returned to Egypt following normalization of relations through the Camp David accords of 1978. Golan was lightly populated, strategically valuable and easily retained. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but maintains strong economic ties to the area. They don't have to pay for internal security under the current arrangement and do have discreet trade ties with its 1.816 million residents.

The West Bank is a bit closer to the Israelis governing its religious, and economic interests, but a demographic headache in what many call the "world's longest post World War II occupation". Fatah operates out of Ramallah and while talking to the Netanyahu government is openly hostile - as are the Muslim Arabs. Fatah has effectively been disarmed of war materiel, but they do have access to small arms, knives, and rocks that are used to harass the Israeli military forces.

The 1967 conflict witnessed Israeli troops take on Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraqi and Lebanese forces - along with the support of 9 other Arab nations and the PLO. Israeli dead reached 983 servicemen, but Egypt lost over 10,000, Jordan 6,000, Syria 2,500 and the USS Liberty came under attack by Israeli fighter jets and patrol boats. Jordan and Egypt subsequently established full diplomatic ties with Israel, but these are strained due to the West Bank problems.

Muslim, Quran - based culture is very aggressive with Sharia law allowing for amputation, stoning and polygamy. A climate of hostility is prevalent and while they're dangerous if you enter their Muslim enclaves, they pose a limited threat to others - beyond limited acts of terrorism. They seem to trust only family or tribal friends, and cannot bond in common cause with others for whom they have no loyalty . Israel also has its divisions, but there is a strong construct to the social structure that allows for regional survival and even domination given the opposition's lack of coherence. The Israelis are unlikely to change "the hearts and minds" of the West Bank Muslims. Especially through acts of violence, but if they find a continued presence to be cost effective - they can probably maintain it.

Netanyahu is due to speak before a joint session of the U.S. Congress on 3 March. This is just two weeks before the scheduled, Israeli elections. His primary focus appears to be on Iran. A concern that is supported by most American voters. Many recall the hostage seizure of U.S. diplomats by the Iranian Mullahs in 1979. The economy doesn't appear an issue. Gaza is largely settled for now, and the West Bank rarely appears in the Western press. Israel will likely have border concerns barring religious bridges as that does appear the source of hostility. Occasional internal strikes are possible, but more likely from the disaffected Israeli Arabs who comprise 20.7% of the areaŐs population of 8,238,300. Israel has to keep its anti terrorist defenses ready, but that appears the main election issue as other factors are reasonably stable.

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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