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The Ongoing Palestinian Question

Updated: May 23

On November 14th 1977, on a debate concerning Scottish and Welsh devolution proposals in the House of Commons, Tam Dalyell, MP for West Lothian, rose up upon the green padded benches and uttered the following words:

“For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate ... at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”

It was to be dubbed the ‘West Lothian Question’ by the controversial MP Enoch Powell, denoting the honourable gentlemen’s Scottish constituency. It summed up that MPs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had the power to determine English affairs, but not their own. 

47 years on from this infamous debate and 76 years on from the Nakba, the question over the self-determination for the Palestinians, or ‘The Palestinian Question’, continues to plague our world. With a six-week ceasefire and agreement on hostage-prisoner swaps on the cusp of being finalised, the issue that has long loomed over our post-war world is at a crossroads. 

There is optimism that it could turn the wheels on a re-energised peace process. There is also a feeling of impending gloom about the possibility of it being no more than just a continuation of the status quo, in the form of empty words and unkept promises.

For Benjamin Netanyahu, the stakes could not be any higher. Could he finally turn a new leaf and seek a long-lasting and comprehensive peace agreement? Probably not.

This six-week ordeal is likely going to be viewed as a vehicle for him to save whatever political legacy he has left. Netanyahu was already presiding over a deeply divided nation, angered by his attempts at a judicial overhaul, faced with a mutiny by his army reservists, all following the 4-year period of political instability in Israel, before October 7th. The massacre committed by Hamas on October 7th could be seen as the nail in the coffin to his political career.

The IDF’s campaign to take back the hostages by force has so-far resulted in 3 hostages successfully rescued alive, with 3 more hostages being mistakenly killed

Netanyahu’s only real successes have come when he has gritted his teeth in agreeing to a small ceasefire between November and early December, where 50 hostages were freed from Gaza and there was a temporary lull in fighting.  

Currently, he is overseeing a war which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has urged the Israeli government to take the necessary steps in avoiding any acts of genocide in Gaza.

It seems that Netanyahu’s gamble of propping up Hamas through giving them access to Qatari money and bypassing the secular nationalist Palestinian Authority in order to ferment division and finish off any forceable prospect of a Palestinian state, hasn’t paid off. Time seems to be ticking on his inevitable departure from government.

For Israel, it looks likely that a coalition of opposition parties, probably led by the more moderate leader of National Unity, Benny Gantz, will be left to mend a fractured nation, still in a state of shock by what occurred on October 7th.

On the other side of the conflict are the Palestinians, grieving from the deaths of over 30 thousand of their fellow people killed since October 7th. They too face difficult choices during this six-week ceasefire.

For one, the attacks by Hamas on October 7th have not improved the prospects of the Palestinian cause in this conflict. It has not eased the 57-years occupation of the West Bank by Israel, nor has it led to a loosening of the consistent 17-years blockade of the Gaza Strip. 

But it has brought the issue of Palestinian statehood back to the negotiating table – a critical factor that many thought to have been brushed under the carpet. One only has to look at the recent history of the conflict, to see that violent action has earned the Palestinian leadership at the negotiating table. In the diplomatic arena, Israel has far superior leverage and international backing over their Palestinian counterparts.

The first ‘Intifada’ ended with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the first steps towards the recognition of a future Palestinian state. The second ‘Intifada’ ended with Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Even Hezbollah’s intervention in the Lebanon war was decisive in the withdrawal of Israel from Southern Lebanon and the collapse of the South Lebanon army in 2000.

Unfortunately, the timeline of this conflict indicates that diplomacy just doesn’t pay as well as violence has, thus leaving the Palestinian psyche to be in favour of taking direct action against Israeli enforced discrimination. 

However, Hamas’s sadistic tactics is not the answer, but rather a symptom of a constant failure by both Middle Eastern and Western policymakers to properly address the ‘Palestinian Question’. Violence is a vicious cycle and the price that the Palestinians have paid has been far too great, far too traumatising for anyone to make sense of. The fact that Palestinians have to resort to any kind of violent action to buy themselves a say in the matter cannot continue on forever, if we are to see a peaceful resolution in the region, let alone a fully sovereign Palestinian state. There needs to be constructive discourse and a commitment to a peace process from both sides.

We can take inspiration from the peace process that took place over 25 years ago, across the Irish Sea. It was there when as the page was about to turn on a new chapter of peace in Northern Ireland, a bomb exploded in Omagh, the deadliest single incident during the Troubles, threatening to derail the whole peace process. It didn’t. Instead, it marginalised the extremists and made the moderates look reasonable. One hopes that these lessons should be etched into the minds of the negotiators over this decisive coming period.

Image: Grace Rockya

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