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Global issue 20

Arena Politics But before the agreement was finalised, the frenzied building of new Jewish homes took place in the occupied territories by Zionists, who were convinced that God had promised the Jews the West Bank as well as Israel proper. The Oslo Agreement was the start of the withdrawal of the Israelis from Gaza and Jericho and saw the formation of the Palestinian National Authority, which would take over a number of municipal functions from Israel. Coventry University’s Marwan Darweish believes that this period was the closest the two sides have come to finding a lasting peaceful solution since Israel’s independence. “Images of young people throwing stones were a shock to people internationally and even in Israeli society,” says Darweish, who has also worked in Israel and Palestine as director of the Israel–Palestine Centre for Research and Information. “The significance of that was that the Intifada got strong support from the Israeli peace movement and Israeli liberals. “For any possible change you need sectors from the, let’s say, oppressors’ society to be able to raise their voices and criticise the policies of their own government. So that is what took place and there were lots of meetings and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, leading to the Oslo Agreement. In principle that was a turning point – it brought a lot of hope and inspiration. It seemed then that it was all possible within five years, but more than 20 years later, we’re not much further forward.” Even after the Palestinian territories gained autonomy, life was not easy in the Gaza strip. In this small, densely populated area (just 32 miles long and seven miles wide, at its widest point), most residents are still dependent on Israel for work, medical care, food, and access to the wider world via Israel’s roads and airports. The Egyptian border with Gaza remains sealed most of the time, so access to Israel is vital for the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza. But Israel frequently closes the border, sometimes denying access to emergency ambulances. Even in times of relative peace, living standards in the Palestinian Territories are far below those of Israel. Since the Oslo Agreement, there have been hostilities between Israel and Palestine on many occasions, including the second Intifada, which began in 2000, born out of Palestinian frustration with lack of progress following the Oslo process. Today both sides agree that international intervention is key to finding a lasting solution. A survey of both Palestinians and Israelis by Coventry University found that the majority of respondents from both groups believed that pressure from other countries was likely to be the most influential factor in persuading Israel to change its policies in such a way that a lasting peace could be achieved. Indeed, the rest of the world is taking an increasing interest Sweden has just become one of the first European countries to recognise Palestine as a state, following many other UN countries in Palestine’s plight. MPs in Britain voted in October 2014 to recognise Palestine as an independent state, though the vote has yet to be carried over into policy. Sweden has just become one of the first European countries to recognise Palestine as a state, following many other UN countries. The imperative for other countries to take a close interest in the ongoing conflict is not just a moral one, there is also an economic angle – taxpayers in other countries frequently have to fund the clean-up after Israel’s bombing campaigns. “This is the third time that DFID Britain’s Department for International Development money has gone to the reconstruction of Gaza,” says Darweish. “For British taxpayers, there is a need for accountability there.” On the many occasions that Israel and Palestine have sat around the negotiating table together, sticking points have included the return of Palestinian refugees, illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and how to divide up Jerusalem – both sides want as much of it as possible, including the bits with their respective religious sites. Of course, there are also specific problems between A guard tower on the West Bank Barrier, which was constructed to separate Israel from Palestine, is reminiscent of the Berlin Wall © Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock.com 38 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2015 global


Global issue 20
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