Eretz Israel and Palestine. The question about escalation in the Middle East

Term Paper, 2018

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Roots and development of the Arab-Israeli conflict
2.1 The vision of Eretz Israel and its enemies
2.2 Recent developments

3. Realism and neorealism
3.1 The roots of (classical-) realism
3.2 Classical realism after Morgenthau
3.3 The transition to neorealism

4. Analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict
4.1 Neorealism
4.1.1 The distribution of power
4.1.2 Capabilities limit power
4.1.3 The security dilemma
4.2 Defensive realism after Waltz

5. Conclusion

Publication bibliography

1. Introduction

For over 60 years, a conflict has been on the verge of escalation. Strong political and cultural actors with differing positions fight day to day to claim what in their opinion is theirs. The conflict is still relevant today as terrorism, hatred and nationalism combine into a seemingly endless spiral of provocation and escalation. An approximate of 51,00ο[1] people’s lives were claimed over the course of the conflict. Because Europe encounters terrorism itself, the fear of radical Islamism groups grows constantly, giving the Israelis point of view reason.

New political actors and the general shift of the political landscape, like the rise of populism in the United States and Europe, changes the way conflicts are handled. Rather than engaging in diplomatic relations and trying to search for common ground, provocation and mistrust are being expressed. Historically, the Middle East engaged in armed conflicts because of its religious disparities. Now, the tone has changed and with it, the possibility of escalation in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is now, once again, on the verge of escalation.

This paper deals with the question if escalation of this conflict is inevitable, stating arguments on the theoretical basis of neorealism and trying to predict future steps taken by both parties. To simplify and because the conflict is not just between Palestine and Israel, the ongoing dispute will be called Arab-Israeli conflict.

2. Roots and development of the Arab-Israeli conflict

2.1 The vision of Eretz Israel and its enemies

Since medieval times, Jews have been persecuted and blamed for injustices, financial problems or even witchcraft. Constant harassment, anti-Semitism, separation and restriction in form of labour have forced the Jewish community to live in parallel societies and in excluded parts of cities. The Torah, the holiest scripture in Judaism, calls the separated way of living Diaspora, which roughly translates to the spreading of people from one original country to others. In Judaism, the Diaspora is the divine task given to the Jewish people by God to live in foreign communities until the arrival of Jesus, which, in contrast to Christian belief, has not taken place yet. Because Judaism has been the target of persecution over centuries, many Jews developed the wish to have a sovereign state of their own[2], living in secure communities and being able to express their religious belief freely. The root for the idea of the state Israel was bom.

This new way of thinking, dismissing the Diaspora, to form a new Jewish state was made public and expressed by Theodor Herzl: “The Jewish question is no more a social than a religious one, notwithstanding that it sometimes takes these and other forms.”[3] and was from then on known as Zionism, as the mountain Zion is an important landmark in the Ancient Land Israel, also called Eretz Israel. Following Herzl's idea, many European Jews emigrated to Palestine and founded the state Israel in 1948[4]. Over the years, Zionism has been divided into many branches, each focussing on a different aspect. Achad Ha'am, a famous critic of Herzl's idea, wanted the new state to be “a Jewish state and not merely a state of Jews"[5], which meant that Israel should be the community of Jews, working together to reach the pinnacle of Judaism in all branches of life to then export the way of living to the Jews living in the Diaspora. He called this the “reviving of the Volksgeisŕ[6], the cultural branch of the Zionist movement which focussed on the idea of reinforcing the community of Jews.

The land of Palestine, which it was called until the latter founding of Israel, was the only right place for the Yishuv, the first Jews arriving in Palestine. In Judaism, this territory was given the Jews by God as their own and ex post facto the native home and future homestead for the European Jews. The Jewish historian Moshe Zuckermann describes the situation like this: “Zionism laid claim to a modem national home, but what was invoked as the underlying ideological rationale was that historically it was Jewish land, land promised to the Jews.”[7]. The debate whether to call this territory Palestine or by its ancient name in Judaism Eretz Israel, has been going on for centuries.

The secondary reason why the Zionists were able to emigrate to Palestine was that the Palestinian territories were under a British Mandate after the First World War. The Zionists were given a parted territory of Palestine, made official in the Belfour Declaration in 1917. The readiness the European Jews to move to the territory they claimed as their own, shows that the circumstances over the centuries have driven them into exile without the possibility to integrate themselves. Israel was not even founded when the idea has been expressed and the people supposed to be living there were still widely spread across Europe[8]. When the first Zionists, the Yishuv, arrived in Palestine, tensions were high as both parties, the Palestinians living there and the Yishuv, saw each other as the intruders.

Following the founding of Israel, the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 turned into the Nakba, which is Arabic for Palestinian Catastrophe. The Zionists seized 78% of the Palestinian territory marking the starting point of a conflict which still lasts up until today.

After the first conflict, the question of Palestinian arose as they were expelled in the now newly occupied territories and none of the countries of the Arab League Nations wanted to accept them. The second important conflict, the Six-Day War in 1967, started with provocation from the countries Egypt, Jordan and Syria and as a reaction a preventive strike by the Israeli Air Force. Israel occupied the Golan Heights in Syria, the Jordanian West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula. From the Israeli's view the end of this war limited the conflict to only newly occupied Palestinian territories[9]. Several incidents later, the Oslo Peace Process, brought forward by the United Nations, should resolve the conflict which is still going on up until today.

According to a BBC study in 2013, Israel comes in fourth in most-disliked countries in the world[10]. The conflict still goes on despite numerous agreements signed by both states. The head of state, Benjamin Netanyahu, is a strong supporter of the settlements in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Being the most important factor in this conflict, the continuation of settlements in Palestine is a major hindrance for a long-lasting peace. Thus, the Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who is part of the government which is not democratically legitimated, is conspicuous about the Israelis' idea of a peace process. Internal conflicts in both countries, anti-Islamism in Israel and anti-Zionism in Palestine lead to mistrust and even hate deeply rooted in both communities. To analyse this conflict, this paper will introduce classical- and neorealism as two theories that can be applied to answers this paper's question.

3. Realism and neorealism

3.1 The roots of (Classical-) realism

Political realism is a theory in International Relations with a long history from the Antique to the 20th century. Starting from Thucydides (460-411 B.C.E.), the idea of realism began as a philosophical one, trying to involve moral principles into the decision-making process in International Relations[11]. His book, the History of the Peloponnesian War, lists speeches from different sides of the war, inspiring International Relations scholars for years to come.

Realism lists different character traits of political actors and features of the international-political system to try to explain why certain behaviour produces an outcome. Firstly, the driving force in realism is human nature. It is being described as “egoistic and self-interested to the extent that self-interest overcomes moral principles”[12]. This means, that every interaction between states and actors is based on the thought of accumulating power and seizing opportunities while moral principles are being neglected. A good example for this is the comparison between Chamberlains foreign policy and the one from w. Churchill. While Chamberlain, from a moral point of view, acted with good intent as he tried to keep the peace with his appeasement policy, but failed to reach his goals by even contributing to the beginning of the Second World War. Churchill on the other hand, driven by the national idea of securing power, has successfully ended World War II[13].

The system of International Politics is directed by anarchy due to the absence of a supranational force to set boundaries. According to this, every state must be concerned about its security and must also help itself as every state is on its own. The only moment in which a bond will last between states or individuals is, according to Thucydides, the identity of interests[14]. Another key feature of realism which is connected to the aspect of power, states' main concern is security. The balancing of powers is, according to the Realist theory, the only way to momentary peace. Any change in this balance must inevitably lead to war as this is the only measure to stop states from becoming militarily stronger[15]. Morality in International Relations is being viewed sceptical by Realists. The role or even if it plays a role is heavily discussed as, according to Korab-Karpowicz and Julian, it can be used to explain some states' behaviour, try to answer the discrepancy between the will to involve morality and successful outcome of political action or lead to the question if there is a place for moral questions at all[16].

Following the idea of Machiavellianism, which dismissed the idea of morality in International Relations completely but will not be discussed further in this paper, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1683) tried to describe the Anarchic Structure, one of the key elements of realism, further. The human nature which Hobbes describes in his book Leviathan are even more driven by “a perpetual and restless desire of power after power”[17]. Even though he mostly describes the relation between the individual and the state, his Statements can be used to describe the behaviour between states as they are governed by individuals who also strive for more and more power.

3.2 Classical realism

Hans Morgenthau, arguably one of the leading Realists of the 20th century, also focusses his idea of the Realist theory around the idea of human nature being egoistic and self-interested as well as the order of the Political International system being anarchistic. The most dominant feature of the human nature is the animus dominandid Latin for the dominant mind, which is according to him, the cause for conflict as the individual is driven by the lust of power[18]. Morgenthau also formulated six principles of realism which Korab-Karpowicz and Julian arguably describe to “contain repetitions and inconsistencies”[19] but can be summed up: The power of interest is central and connected to the idea of the animus dominandid rational state actors try to reach their national interests while rational means maximum benefits and minimal risks[20]. Therefore, a rational theory of International Relations can be formulated. The criticism on Morgenthau's vision of theory is mainly provoked around the idea that conflicts arise due to human nature, which ultimately cannot be proven scientifically as human nature itself is a very dynamic variable.

3.3 The transition to neorealism

In the 1950s a new way of thinking established which tried to make the Realist theory more scientific by focussing on descriptive and explanatory forms of research[21]. Especially Kenneth N. Waltz, the author of Theory of International Politics published in 1979, focussed his reform of the Realist theory around the idea of survival rather than the philosophical discussion about human nature. Waltz' theory should establish another strain of the Realist theory, neorealism or structural realism. In his book Realist thought and neorealist theory published in 1990, he criticizes Morgenthau, as “Elements of a theory are presented, but never a theory”[22] meaning that the Realist theory was not scientifically enough for him, stressing that the human nature cannot


[1] Number from 1951-2007

[2] Amar-Dahl, 2016:11

[3] Herzl, 1896

[4] Amar-Dahl, 2016:11

[5] Ha'am, 1912

[6] Avineri 1999:135 cited after Achad Ha'am

[7] Amar-Dahl,2016 cited after Zuckermann, 2002:37

[8] Amar-Dahl. 2016 cited after Zuckermann, 2002: 37

[9] Ibid. 18

[10] Evans, 2013

[11] Korab-Karpowicz, w. Mian, 2015: para 1.1

[12] Ibid.: para 1.1.1

[13] Morgenthau, 1948: 6

[14] Ibid. :8

[15] Korab-Karpowicz, w. Mian, 2015: para 1.1.1 (3)

[16] Ibid.: para 1.1.1 (4)

[17] Hobbes, 1909-14: XI (2)

[18] Morgenthau, 1946: 92

[19] Korab-Karpowicz, w. Mian, 2015: para 2.2

[20] Morgenthau, 1948: 8

[21] Korab-Karpowicz, w. Mian 2015: para 3

[22] Waltz, 1990: 26

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Eretz Israel and Palestine. The question about escalation in the Middle East
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
International Relations
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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israel, nahostkonflikt, middle east, palestine, Palästina, internationale beziehungen, international relations, world politics
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Christian Kutzscher (Author), 2018, Eretz Israel and Palestine. The question about escalation in the Middle East, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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