What is the Root of the Conflict?

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"In order to bring an end to the conflict, we must give an honest and forthright answer to the question: What is the root of the conflict?" This was the question Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu asked and answered in his 14 June 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. While unsurprisingly his response was incorrect, it gave a clear indication that his approach to the peace process would be at odds with the Arabs and the majority of the international community. A lack of understanding or intentional disregard of the root cause of the conflict–Israel’s 42 year military occupation and illegal settlement of the Palestinian territory–means that there will be a lack of understanding of the true requirements for the "new era of reconciliation" he spoke of and most importantly, an unwillingness to take the steps outlined by the international community and previous bilateral and multilateral agreements that are necessary to bring a true end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The simple truth is that the root of the conflict was and remains Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank (which Netanyahu referred to as Judea and Samaria), the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Sheba’a Farms as well as the denial of the outstanding historical grievances of 1948.

As for recognition, the Palestinians have recognized Israel’s existence on 78 percent of their historic homeland while Israel is yet to recognize the fundamental rights and freedom of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, the Arab Peace Initiative (API) offers Arab recognition of Israel. Netanyahu’s call to Arab leaders to "let us speak of peace and make peace" is a misleading statement by someone who failed to engage the API. As for Netanyahu’s prerequisite that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the simple truth there is that that is a precondition to negotiations designed to prejudge a major final status issue, the Right of Return. His goal to circumvent this issue is clearly stated in his speech when he said, "There must be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel’s border."

In his speech, Netanyahu removed another important final status issue, Jerusalem. "Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel," Netanyahu said. Jerusalem is an Arab and Islamic issue, and Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem will not bring the regional peace Netanyahu claims he wants to achieve.

The speech showed disregard for international law, existing agreements and the direction of a new beginning that has been adopted by U.S. President Barack Obama. Netanyahu has clearly stated that his government will continue on the path of dictates rather than negotiations, control rather than partnerships and wars rather than peace.

It’s difficult not to notice that the structure of Netanyahu’s speech is similar to that of President Obama’s Cairo speech. If Netanyahu is so keen on emulating Obama, the best way to do so is to adopt Obama’s call for a new beginning based on an "effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground."

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