Should it surprise that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has given the nod to a further 3000 illegal settlements in the West Bank after the Palestinian Authority was given non-member observer status by the UN? After all, like many in his government, Netanyahu is a Zionist with a commitment to a greater Israel that would stretch from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. The recent military conflict between Hamas and the state-of-the-art Israeli forces was a pitiful mismatch with Palestinian rockets having about as much effect as a slingshot. It demonstrated the utter powerlessness of the Palestinians to change the course of their destiny by force of arms. Negotiation and the blessing of the United States still remains their only option. To date the U.S shows no signs of impartiality or pulling Israel into line over their excessive use of force.
Is there a solution to the Palestinian question? So often we read of the complexities involved in this issue, but In fact it's simpler than it appears. The conflict has always been about one thing: land. Both sides claim it as their birthright. So who really owns the lands of Israel? Of course such a vast historical question cannot be answered in one article, though a list of uncomfortable facts may help shed some light. The Israeli claims are both historical and religious, so let's look at them.
Israel's claim to ownership
They were there first. In fact the ancient Israelites were latecomers in the scheme of things. At least 2000 years prior, the area was known as the Land of Canaan and populated by numerous Canaanite tribes the Greeks would come to call Phoenicians. Around 1250 BC the formerly nomadic Hebrew tribes began moving out of their highlands home located between the coastal area and the Jordan River valley and invaded Canaan, occupying the land they now claim as their own. Whether it was a military conquest or a gradual settlement, however, is still in dispute among scholars. The ancient city of Jerusalem was not founded by the Israelites but by a Canaanite tribe called the Jebusites at least a millenium before the Hebrew "conquest". From the time of King David (1000 BC approx) - whose kingdom was actually a large village of around 3-4 hectares - to the later Assyrian invasion, the Israelites governed the states of Judah and Israel for only 400 years approx. Excluding modern times that is the only period of self rule.
God gave it to them. According to the Bible, God told Abraham (the first chosen one) to pack up and move to a place wedged between Egypt and Mesopotamia. There he'd find land reserved just for him and his tribe. There's only one problem with this: it didn't happen. Modern archaeological research shows that Abraham and his descendents, Jacob and Isaac, were allegories invented by scribes intent on creating a mythic national identity. Furthermore, these myths were composed as late as between the 7th and 5th centuries BC.
Moses and the Exodus. Like Abraham his predecessor, Moses was an allegorical myth invented to galvanise a proud people by way of a heroic destiny. Either the story was handed down from earlier times or invented at the time the Torah was being composed between the 5th-7th centuries. Though the Bible extrapolates on a sequence of events in Exodus it cannot be taken literally as it is not a history book. In fact most of the stories of the Bible are literally impossible just on times and places alone.
Zionism. Since the late 19th century, Zionists have claimed hegemony over the land of Israel based on an enforced second exodus after the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD. That exodus created the global Jewish diaspora. Its commonality of blood and heritage helped keep the dream alive that one day they could all return to Zion (the land of Israel) as ordained by God, and be a safe haven from anti-semitism. The historical truth, however, is different. In fact the Romans never exiled any nation from the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. Apart from slaves, the population of Judea continued to live on their lands, even after the destruction of the second temple.
So what accounts for the diaspora? Proselytising. From the Maccabean revolt of the mid-2nd century BC to the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century AD, Judaism was the most actively proselytising religion. Via countless missionaries and their families it spread out across the Mediterranean and eventually throughout Europe until Christianity consolidated its grip in the 4th century and into the Middle Ages when anti-semitism reached a peak. For centuries Jews avoided marrying non-Jews. This explains the genetic connection between Diaspora Jews and their homeland brethren even when allowing for documented variations. This being the case there's an amazing irony that the people with whom the DNA of Israeli jews most closely matches is the Palestinians.
And so though the Jewish claim to the land is legitimate by virtue of occupation over time it is neither exclusively theirs nor bequeathed by a god. The Jews and the Palestinians share what could be loosely termed squatter's rights to an area that has seen countless peoples from Canaanites to the Philistines to various semite tribes to their Egyptian, Assyrian, Roman and Ottoman Empire landlords, all coming and going over thousands of years.
It should be an enlightening fact that these two peoples are basically one and the same separated by two faiths which also share a common heritage. But the two state solution currently proposed as the way to end an old emnity will probably never come to fruition while both tribes demand sovereignty over the land. Reason would have it that a single nation, Israel-Palestine, governed by a Coalition would solve the problem. But when has reason been evident in the Middle East?