Israel is located on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea. It is the only Jewish state in the world. The Arab populations who are the Palestinians originate from areas that are now under Israeli control. Arabs refer to this land as Palestine. They plan to establish a state by the name Palestine on part or all of the same land. The dispute between the Palestinians and Israelis is on who can get hold of the land and the ways of controlling it.
Claims made by the Arab Muslims and Jews date back to a few thousand years. However the dispute between them started in the early 20th century. In Europe the Jews were escaping from oppression. Their intention was establishing a national homeland in what were areas of Muslim and Arab majority in the Ottoman and then the British Empire. The Arabs considered the territory as their right and hence resisted. A plan made by the United Nations earlier failed to give each group a part of the territory. Arab nations in the neighbourhood and Israel fought many battles for the territory. Outcomes of these battles in the year 1948 and in 1967 are largely reflected the lines today.
For the conflict prevailing today, the war in 1967 is mainly important. The two territories, the Gaza Strip and West Bank which are home to a huge population of Palestinians were taken over by Israel after this war.
The Palestinian Authority as of today nominally controls the West Bank. It is under the occupation of Israel. The occupation comes in the form of Israeli troops enforcing security limitations on Palestinian activities and movement and Jews (the Israeli settlers). In the West Bank, the Jews raise ever expanding communities in the West Bank a move that denies territory to the Palestinians. The Hamas, an Islamist fundamentalist party, controls Gaza. It is not under the occupation of ground troops but Israeli siege.
A ‘two-state solution’ is the main approach to settle the conflict today. Most of the West Bank and Gaza would be established as an independent state, Palestine. Rest of the land would be left to Israel. In theory, there is clarity about the two-state plan, but a chasm exists in their approaches to carrying it out.
A ‘one-state solution’ seems the right alterative to a two-state solution. This solution makes all the territory could become one huge Palestine or one huge Israel. This can cause more issues than find solutions as thought by most observers. For demographic and political reasons, over time this result can turn out to be more likely.
What Does The Term Zionism Mean?
The national ideology of Israel is Zionism. As per belief of the Zionists, Judaism is both a religion and a nationality. They also believe that since Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jews they should have Israel, just as people of China deserve China and people of France deserve France. This is one fact that brought back the Jews to Israel besides bringing the world to the heart of what concerns the Palestinians and Arabs about the State of Israel.
Nationhood of Jews is traced by them back to Solomon and David’s biblical kingdoms, circa 950 BC. It was in the 19th century that the modern Zionism began. It is built on long-established yearning of the Jews for a ‘return to Zion’. A rise in nationalism was also seen in Europe right during this period. The first to initiate a movement of Jewish nationalism into a global movement was Theodor Herzl, an Austrian-Jewish secular journalist, around 1896.
Barbaric firsthand anti-Semitism was witnessed in Europe by Herzl. This made him feel sure that the Jewish people would find it difficult to survive anywhere except their own country. With the meetings he organized and essays he wrote, Jews in mass numbers emigrated from Europe into what is now Israel/Palestine. Around 20,000 Jews resided there before Herzl. The number multiplied 8 times after Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany.
Even if the Zionists are of the opinion that Israel should exist, they do not all agree on how the form the government should take. Till the late 1970s, politics of the country was dominated by the Zionist Left. Over a religious government they prefer a secular one, prefer the government to be proactive in matters of economy and also are prepared to trade land controlled by Israelis in exchange for peace with Arab nations. Presently, popular opinion favors Zionist right and they control the government, holding positions of authority but they seem to be argue in favor of a liberal economy, have deep reservation related to ‘land-for-peace’ deals and are comfortable mixing politics with religion.
Zionism is opposed generally by the Palestinians and Arabs, as the Israeli state which has strong Jewish leanings claims that others do not have the kind of privileges the Jews have. For example, a Jew can become an Israeli citizen though living in any part of the globe but no other class of person is extended this right. Zionism is seen often by the Arabs as a form of racism and colonialism aiming at allocating land in Palestine to Jews thereby reducing the land available for Palestinians in a systematic manner. This move disenfranchises Arabs living in Palestine. In 1975, a resolution was raised in the UN General Assembly by the Arab states which labeled Zionism as ‘a form of racial discrimination and racism’. Sixteen years later it was revoked though.
How Did Israel Become A Country?
Jews felt convinced after the political and social developments in Europe that they should be having their own nation. The perfect place to establish it seemed to be their ancestral homeland. Jews were introduced to secular nationalism during the Enlightenment and partly due to the rise of anti-Semitic persecution at the time when around ninety percent of all Jews were based in Europe. Jews in their millions immigrated to the British-controlled Palestine, from Europe, between the years 1896 and 1948. During the Holocaust, the huge numbers of Jews who were forced out of Europe also resettled in British-controlled Palestine.
The inflow of Jews was seen by a large number of Arabs as a colonial movement in Europe. The fight between them was bitter. The ruthlessness couldn’t be controlled by the British. Finally as per the vote of United Nations, the land was divided into two nations, in 1947. While Jews numbering around 650,000 got the lion’s share of the territory, Arabs who were almost double the size of the Jewish community, had to be content with less land.
The deal was acceptable to the Jewish resident.The plan was seen by the Palestinians as an extension of a long-running effort by the Jews to move them out of their ancestral land. They resisted what they considered their colonization in their own country. War was declared by Palestinians as well as by the Arab states of Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan on Israel though the Arab countries were fighting for themselves.
A vicious battle took place in which the Arab armies and Palestinian militias were defeated by Israeli forces. Around 700,000 Palestinian civilians turned into refugees in the vicious war. The Jewish state was promised fifty six percent of British Palestine by the UN partition. Israelnow owned seventy seven percent – everything except for the Jordan controlled eastern quarter of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Besides this Israel also possessed the Egypt controlled Gaza Strip, by the time the war ended. Palestinians were not left with a state but the Israelis got more than was their due.
The Catastrophe –The Nakba
An approximate 700,000 Palestinians were uprooted from their homes in the 1948 war. Till today, the refugee crisis created then has not been resolved; it has just gone worse. This mass eviction is termed as Nakba or ‘catastrophe in Arabic. In the peace negotiations that are ongoing, the legacy of Nakba continues to be an issue most difficult to manage.
However the birth of the crisis of Palestinian refugees is remembered by the Israelis and Palestinians quite differently. To wipe off Arabs from Palestine, the Jews went on a 12 month long aggressive campaign according to the Arabs. As per the Israelis, the Arab armies, spontaneous fleeing of Arabs from their homes and unfortunate accidents during the time of war are to be blamed.
Palestinian refugees and their descendants amounting to more than 7 millions are displaced as of today. For these refugees, a justice of some kind is demand in peace negotiations by the core Palestinians. Justice demanded is the ‘right to go back’ to homes their families abandoned in the year 1948 in the face of attacks by Israeli army.
As Israel does not wish abandon its democratic or Jewish identity, it is unable to accept the Arab right to return to their land. Jews would become a minority if 7 million Arabs would be added to the population of Israel. Around 8 million is the total population of Israel, inclusive of 1.5 million Arabs existing there already. Hence in any final deal, the Israelis are unwilling to consider the right to return for Arabs.
Ways of obtaining justice for refugees acceptable for both the Palestinian and Israeli people is one of the main issues in negotiations. So far, limited resettlement and financial compensation in Israel are the proposed ideas. However on these there seem to be no agreement as there is no clarity on how these plans would work for both sides.
What Exactly Is The West Bank?
On the east of Israel is present a parcel of land, called the West Bank where 2.6 million Palestinians live. The West Bank would lie at the heart of any Palestinian state. In the 1967, it was taken by Israel after which Jewish settlers were encouraged and coerced to move in. However it is considered as Palestinian land that is not occupied legally, by most of the international community as well as Palestinians.
Israel indulged in war with Jordan, Syria and Egypt in 1967. The first shot was fired by Israel; however the claim it makes is that an impending attack by Egypt was forestalled. The Arabs are not in agreement and Israel is cast as an aggressor. Arab powers were routed by Israel within 6 days and East Jerusalem and the West Bank taken from Jordan.
Since the Six-Day War the West Bank is controlled by Israel. In theory, this makes great news for most of the Jews. The ancient Jewish state’s heartland was the West Bank. It is home to a number of Jewish holy sites including the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Jews were cut off from this place previously. In practice, the West Bank being controlled by the Israelis means that it is a region filled with Palestinians, under administration of the Israeli military and that living under the authority of the Israelis does not excite them.
In any deal related to peace, the border between the West Bank and Israel would have to change, probably. In the West Bank, live around 500,000 Jewish settlers, with most of them residing close to the border with proper Israel. While some of the settlements at the border would become land of Israel, the West Bank should have been left by some of these settlers, in the case of a two-state deal. Some part of the territory (to be termed as ‘land swaps’) would be given by Israel in exchange to Palestine. No precise agreement has been arrived at by any of the Palestinian and Israeli leaders about drawing the border.
What is Jerusalem? Bestriding the border between the West Bank and Israel is the city of Jerusalem. The holiest sites in Islam and Judaism are in Jerusalem. This is the reason, why Palestine and Israel are desirous of making it their capital. Dividing the city fairly between the Palestinians and Israelis is one elementary issue that is splitting opinions. Donald Trump, President of USA weighed in on Israel’s side on 6th December 2018.
Jerusalem became divided for the first 2 decades of the existence of Israel. Parts of Jerusalem and its suburbs were controlled by Israel located inside the red dotted line on a map. Everything located outside the red dotted line on a map (the suburbs and proper Jerusalem is separated by the blue dotted line) was controlled by Jordan.
Temple Mount is a small area which is controlled by Jordon. The hill hosts one of the holiest sites of Judaism and the Jewish temple’s retaining wall, called the Western Wall. The Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque are the other most important landmarks of Islam which the hill hosts. When the pray area was controlled by Jordon, Israelis were not permitted to pray in it. East Jerusalem came under the control of Israel during the war in 1967.
As of today, Jerusalem is termed by Israel as its undivided capital. However it is not identified as such by any nation. The decision made by Israel to attach East Jerusalem is condemned by the UN Security Council Resolution as breaching of international law. An agreement for compromise was called for by the Council.
The UN has refused consistently identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It was of the belief that if such an announcement was made formally then violence would spark due to which position of the US as a trustworthy broker between the Palestinians and Israelis would undermine fatally. In the month of December, a decision was made by Trump that this well-established position should be changed. Jerusalem is recognized, by the new policy in America, as the capital of Israel. The process of inaugurating is slated for May 2018. However negotiations on which parts of the city should be given to Palestine and which parts should be of Israeli permanently are still allowed in the case of a peace agreement.
Though it is assumed that any chance for a process for peace will not derailed completely by Trump’s policy, there continue to be grave practical issues considering dividing Jerusalem. Issues prevail about moving of huge number of Jews in and around Jerusalem and ensuring that Palestinians and Israelis have access to the holy sites. As of date, about 2/3rds of the city is made up of Jews.
What Is The Gaza Strip?
A thickly populated strip of land surrounded mainly by Palestinians and Israel is the Gaza strip. It was here that Israel had presence of the military but in 2005 it withdrew, without anyone’s agreement. It is under the siege of Israel currently.
After Israel’s pullback it was hit by sporadic rocket fire from here which helped the political position of the Israeli hawks to get much stronger. The argument of Israel’s side has always been that any Palestinian state would set out to be a launching pad for any strikes on Israel.
Until 1967, Gaza was controlled by Egypt. Gaza (along with the West Bank) was occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War. Till 2005, Gaza was controlled by military authorities of Israel in the same way as they controlled the West Bank in which Jews were given permission to settle. Later, Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, unilaterally pulled out settlers and troops from Israel.
In 1987, Hamas a militant ‘resistance’ group was formed against Israel. In a US based election in 2006 it won political power and governs Gaza currently. An Israeli seal off of flow of commercial products into Gaza was prompted after Gaza was taken over by Hamas. The seal off was on the grounds that those goods could be used by Hamas to create weaponry for use against Israel. Over time the blockade was eased by Israel but significant harm was caused to humans with the cutting of access to basic supplies, fuel, medicine, food and electricity.
Israel has been targeted by the rocket in thousands fired by militants based in Gaza and supported by Hamas. In Gaza, a range of military operations have been launched by Isreal including an air campaign in 2008 and a ground invasion in 2009. In 2012 Israel undertook a major bombing campaign and a ground/air attack in the 2014 summer.
The Big Deal About Jewish Communities And Settlements
Right from the time West Bank came under the occupation of Israel in 1967, settlements of Jews have been coming up in the area. While few of the settlers make claims that the territory of the West Bank is Israeli land, others move for religious purposes, while some move with the attraction of subsidized and cheap housing there. Generally settlements are termed as the main obstacle to peac in the region.
In the settlements there are about 500,000 Israelis out of which more than 130 live around the West Bank. Around 3/4th of the settlers reside on or close to the border of the West Bank, with Israel. While some of the settlements appear like suburban developments, comprising huge communities housing people in tens of thousands, there are others that appear like shanty or hand-built outposts.
What Palestinians and Israelis have termed as ‘new facts on the ground’ is created by the settlements. While roots in the area meant for Palestinians are put down by Jewish communities, the communities in Palestine are divided and their connection to the land weakened. Boundaries of any Palestinian state in future are constrained or blurred, as a result. Certain settlers feel that this is where the West Bank can be incorporated completely as a territory of Israel. Efforts too are being put into that direction to make it happen.
For the Palestinians, life becomes really tough with military occupation as Israeli settlements need the army to defend them from attacks by Hamas. People of Palestine are prevented from moving on some roads that are for ‘Israel only’ and enforced to pass through a range of security checkpoints.
The belief of many lawyers over the world (out of which one is asked by Israel to review rules in the year 1967) is that the Fourth Geneva Convention is violated by settlements. As per this Convention, the shifting of people into occupied territories is prohibited which is disputed by the government of Israel.
PLO And What Is It? What Is The Palestinian Authority And Fatah?
The Palestine people’s national representative is the PLO – Palestinian Liberation Organization which runs the semi-autonomous government the PA – Palestinian National Authority. Task of the PA is to deal with the Palestinian territories till a deal is made with Israel. The PA and PLO are controlled by the secular national political party, ‘Fatah’ which for decades has dominated politics in Palestine.
In the West Bank, the government is run by the PLO in practice. However the government is not run by the PLO in Hamas governed Gaza. On the Palestinians’ behalf, the PLO also conducts talks of peace.
After the PLO was created in 1964, the PLO tried destroying Israel in the first decades and gets it replaced with a Palestinian state, entirely. To achieve this, military tactics were employed by Yasser Arafat, founder of Fatah, which included attacking civilians of Israel. Right of Israel to exist was accepted by the PLO in 1993, in exchange that Israel recognizes it as the Palestinians’ legitimate representative, which brought in a change, that year. Between both sides, negotiations for real peace began that way.
Mahmoud Abbas, a relatively moderate person currently chairs the PLO. The second intifada was de-escaladed due to violence displayed by his opposition. Peace talks failed bringing in frustration especially the push of John Kerry, Secretary of State in 2013 and early part of 2014. Recognition of Palestine as a State at international level is also being pursued by Abbas. At the UN, Palestine has status of a non-member, as a result. On 1stApril, 2015, Palestine has joint the International Criminal Court.
Hamas is a Palestinian militant group and Islamist political organization. Since the time it was founded in 1987, it has waged war on Israel, using rocket attacks and suicide bombings. Main intention of Hamas is getting a Palestinian State to replace Israel. Gaza is also governed by Hamas independently with no participation by PLO.
The ruination of Israel was long called for as per charter of the Hamas. In 2017 it underwent a revision for allowing acceptance of Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank instead of the whole territory. However recognition of Israel as a legitimate state is not agreeable to Hamas still.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Hamas used suicide bombings against Israel and led the charge. Since few years it used weapons of choice like mortars and rockets. Social services in a strong network are offered to Palestinians by the organization as a replacement to corrupt institutions of the Palestinian Authority institutions.
In the legislative elections in the PA, some majority of seats were won by Hamas in 2006. For both Gaza and the West Bank, the Hamas could be put in a commanding position, by this, however there was an issue. Deals made by PA previously with Israel were refused by Hamas. Thus, help provided by the Western powers was frozen. PA led by the Hamas depended largely on aid from Western powers. Pressure between Hamas and the PLO mounted to a direct war between both the factions. The result was that Gaza was governed independently by Hamas disconnected from the PLO based at West Bank.
There is no unified Palestinian authority due to which peace talks have been significantly complicated. An initial agreement for unity was arrived at by both sides, in late 2017. However whether this can usher any type of actual unified government needs to be seen.
The Intifadas Explained
Against Israel there were two Palestinian uprisings called the intifadas. The first uprising took place in the late 1980s and the second one in the early 2000s. As far as relations between Palestine and Israel are concerned, the effect of the intifadas has been dramatic. The negotiating process in the 1900s era ended in the second uprising. A darker, new era in the Palestinian-Israeli relations was ushered in with this uprising.
During the first uprising, a series of spontaneous demonstrations took place in Palestine, attacks using firearms at times, Molotov cocktails and rocks, refusal of Palestinians to take up jobs in Israel, mass boycotts, various nonviolent actions, etc marked this uprising. As military in Israel reacted to attacks and protests with heavy forces, the fatalities in Palestine outstripped the ones in Israel in a dramatic manner.
The second uprising proved to be an even bloodier one than the first. In 2000 when the peace process collapsed, the second uprising grew. Negotiations which took place between Yasser Arafat, the PLO Chairman and Ehud Barak the Prime Minister of Israel, broke down. Shortly afterwards, began the second uprising. Many Israelis are of the belief that to spark the intifada, Arafat made a conscious decision to resort to violence. The Palestinians are of the belief that Ariel Sharon, (the soon to be Prime Minister) of Israel made a provocative and intentional visit to the Temple Mount, leading to the uprising. After peace talks failed, war became inevitable.
Sniper fire, rocket attacks and suicide bombings were some of the tactics the Palestinians focused upon. Though in 2005 the conflict did diminish, around 3200 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis lost their lives.
The surge of rocket fire from Gaza along with the second intifada after the takeover of Hamas had a transformative effect on attitude of the Israelis as far as the conflict was concerned. The traditional argument in Israel was that it could at some time barter land for lasting peace. As doubtfulness of the peace process increased, the efforts put in to come to an agreement between the two states become complicated.
Ways In Which The Conflict Is Handled By Other Countries In The Middle East
In the region, one huge issue is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel has 4 neighbors are in support of the Palestinian national cause. Israel has fought a range of wars with its four neighbors. Though it has peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, as of today, it maintains fraught relations with Lebanon and Syria. Except for Egypt, all of Israel’s neighbors have Palestinian refugee communities in huge numbers who are not well provided by their host nations. In the conflict, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran are three important regional states, outside of Israel’s immediate neighbors.
Egypt: The very first peace treaty which any Arab state signed was the one with Egypt, signed in 1978. American aid in huge amounts was underwritten to Israel and Egypt, both. As per the treaty, Egypt is also forbidden to keep military in the Sinai Peninsula in the border, which has assisted criminal and militant groups to thrive there.
Syria: The government of Syria continues to be antagonistic towards Israel. Today in the region, the greatest enemy of Israel is Iran, which is aligned with Syria. During the 1967 war, Israel seized land important to the military, called the Golan Heights, from Syria which now it wants back.
Lebanon: Home to an extremely hostile anti-Israel Shia Islamist group named Hezbollah which Iran has funded, is Lebanon. In politics in Lebanon is a major force, the Hezbollah group. Hence in the near term, there hardly seems any chance that Lebanon will play any role in negotiations between Palestine and Israel.
Jordan: Israel’s neighbor on its east, Jordan has a peace treaty with it. Palestinian refugees in huge concentration are housed here. Citizen rights are enjoyed to the fullest by the Palestinians here at Jordan. In spite of this, refugees in large numbers are not treated well and pushed into crowded camps. It is for this reason that Palestinians have reservations about claims made by the neighbor that it will aid the Palestinian cause.
Iran: The government of Iran is of the belief that the most uncompromising belief that the Israeli nation has no right to exist. It believes that Israel is an illegitimate nation. Israelis consider Iran an existential and direct threat to it. This is due to the Israeli impression that Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah have been provided with consequential financial and military backing by Iran. In the Middle East these three countries are the so-called ‘Axis of Resistance’ to Western and Israel interests.
Turkey: Since the past few years, one nation that is increasingly pro-Palestinian nation is Turkey. Israel and Turkey have been on good terms since long. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist Prime Minister of Turkey has placed himself as champion for the cause of Palestine for geopolitical, domestic and ideological purposes. For long the diplomatic relations between both Turkey and Israel had been suspended following an attack by Israel on a Turkish aid operation to Gaza. In 2016, the relations were re-established to some extent, however they continue to be fragile.
Saudi Arabia: The Palestine Authority receives hundreds of millions of dollars as donation from Saudi Arabia. An Arab League plan for peace is floated by this driving force, Saudi Arabia. For the traditional negotiations between Palestine and Israel, this plan made a better alternative. Israel is yet not recognized by Saudi Arabia, but mutual hostility of the two countries towards Iran gave rise to an unparalleled working relationship between the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Friendly Relations Between Israel And US
Friendly relations between Israel and US, is indeed a controversy riddled question. Support provided to Israel by America includes diplomatic backing that is reliable and aid in billions of dollars though a number of experts are not convinced of the reasons behind it. Affinity of American ideology with the most stable democracy of the Middle East, the pro-Israel lobby’s influence and strong support among the public of America for Israel may be some of them.
In the first decades of Israel, the two nations were not very close. During the Suez War in 1956, (in which France, UK and Israel fought against Egypt) particularly hostile to Israel was President Eisenhower.
Israel was viewed by the US, as key buffer against influence of the Soviets in the Middle East, as the Cold War dragged on. So US supported Israel with money and muscle
There has been an obvious strengthening and shifting of the relationship between the nations since the Cold War. While some point at the ideological attachment of American leaders to a country which is fighting a tenacious enemy, few others suggests that America is tied to Israel with a common interest in fighting against Jihadism. A simple explanation to this is that as compared to Palestine, the public of America has had more sympathy for Israel for several decades now.
Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, two Professors advance a controversial theory crediting the association to the pro-Israel lobby, especially the AIPAC, American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Argument made by critics against this theory is that AIPAC is not very strong as Mearsheimer and Walt think. AIPAC was not successful in torpedoing the nuclear deal during the administration of Obama which underlines the point made by critics.
Over the years, as aid, around 118 billion dollars have been given to Israel by the US. Half of all vetoes utilised by the US in the Security Council was to block resolutions critical of Israel.
Though the relationship between the two nations is fundamentally close, tension between American and Israeli officials still persist, which held true especially under Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and Barack Obama, President of US. Issues like Iran and settlements were the main cause of regular clashes between the two leaders. A speech planned by Netanyahu in March 2015 to a joint Congress session, with congressional Republican support, resulted in the relationship arriving at a nasty point. The Congress session was very critical of the Obama’s approach towards Iran. Administration of Obama was angry over Netanyahu’s conspiracy to subvert domestic political opposition of Obama.
Under the Trump administration, an upswing has been seen in the US-Israel relationship. Jerusalem was recognized as capital of Israel formally in December by Trump. Within the US, approach made to Netanyahu by Trump and Obama shows a partisan gap growing with a hard-line pro-Israel position increasingly taken by the Republicans. If Democrats are ready to criticize the government of Israel concomitantly then the chances are that in America, Israel could end up being a partisan problem dividing public opinion. The US-Israel alliance foundation would then face its real threat.
How is Palestine/Israel recognized by the world?
Legitimacy of Israel is recognized by the non-Muslim nations thus maintaining diplomatic connections with it. However most of the countries are critical about Israel’s continued occupancy of the West Bank and the treatment it administers to Palestinians. As far as the Palestinian cause is concerned, public opinion across the world is more sympathetic generally. Amongst the Israelis this has generated an obvious concern that BDS, an international boycott movement might be able to hold up some support.
Israel has not been very successful in gaining popularity across the world. The findings of a poll of 22 unpopular nations conducted by BBC, revealed that Israel the 4th most disliked country (behind only North Korea, Pakistan and Iran).
Israel has a weak standing in the world due to the main cause, the West Bank settlements. It is a belief of many across the globe that continued military occupation of the West Bank by Israel is not lawful, besides which the Fourth Geneva Convention is violated by the settlements. Many legal scholars’ support this view but it is disputed by most pro-Israel and Israel conservatives.
BDS movement that came together in 2005 aims at taking advantage of the international anger with Israel. By boycotting institutions and goods of Israel, enforcing sanctions on Israel and by disinvesting in companies in Israel, the BDS movement aims to punish Israel for its Palestinian policy.
Plans made by the BDS are to boycott Israel till 1) they believe that equal rights have been provided to the Palestinians inside the borders of Israel 2) deconstructing of all settlements 3) granting the ‘right to return’ to refugees of Palestine. The right to return signifies going back to the homes and land in Israel which they inhabited in the days before the creation of Israel .
The critics of BDS have labeled its last goal as a covert attempt to destroy the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. As far as existence of Israel is concerned, an official position is not taken by the BDS. Determining refugee population in Palestine signifies that, if on the right to return, if it gets what it wants then the number of Israelis could be outnumbered potentially by the Palestinians. The status of Israel as a Jewish state could end besides which the power of dismantling the state of Israel would be given to the Palestinians.
BDS is opposed by a supporter of the two-state solution Mahmoud Abbas, the President of Palestine. A boycott targeted on goods made at the West Bank settlements is suggested by Mahmoud Abbas, Peter Beinart, the writer and other liberal Zionists.
As the conflict between Palestine-Israel tugs on, a number of Israelis are concerned that the BDS will turn out to be more popular. John Kerry, former Secretary of State, gives a warning that in case Israel is not successful in coming to terms with Palestinians, the BDS could turn up being a real issue.
The Peace Process Between Israel And Palestine
The ‘Oslo’ is a peace process kicked off by the 1993 Oslo Accords. Between the Palestinians and Israelis, peace is being brokered by an American-mediated peace treaty. The main aim is arriving at a ‘final status agreement’ thus helping establishing in the West Bank and Gaza, a Palestinian state. In exchange, the Palestinians have to agree to end attacks permanently on targets in Israel. This is the plan is commonly termed as ‘land for peace’.
Ehud Barak’s peace offer was not accepted by the Israeli counterpart of Yaseer Arafat, the Palestinian leader. There was no clarity on what the peace offer entailed. Besides this, an agreement was not arrived due to failure of renewed talks. During the second intifada violence, the violence intensified which made it possible to have another round of talks.
Framework of the general Oslo ‘land for peace’ failed in 2001 but despite this, it remains the authoritative international and American approach to get the conflict resolved. The peace process was made a noteworthy priority of the foreign policy by the Obama administration. This formula has not been rejected officially by the administration of Trump, however it still has to yet take any notable actions to advance it.
Jerusalem, settlements and borders of the West Bank, refugees of Palestine and security in Israel are the four main issues that require to be reconciled by any successful initiative taken for peace.
The first hurdle is that Israel has not stopped expanding settlements at the West Bank. To remove the Palestinian state outright, this is seen as a de facto campaign by the Palestinians. The second hurdle is that between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinians remain divided politically and hence they find it difficult to jointly arrive at a negotiation.
The last hurdle is about trying to initiate the talks. As far as the latest right-wing Israeli government is concerned, it is doubtful about preferential allowances the Palestinians will get. Essentially the Palestinians have come to a decision that Israel has not taken peace seriously. Accordingly the Palestinians have initiated a campaign for statehood in global institutions with the purpose of forcing Israel into peace. Once the Israel’s feel convinced that the Palestinians have finished with the US led peace process, then this could backfire.
Approach Towards The Conflict By The Present Palestinian And Israeli Governments
The current Palestinian and Israeli government have a wary approach towards the conflict. Each side feels that the opposite is not in a position to make a real deal. How the US government could exert pressure on them is also not clear to them.
Currently the right wing coalition led Israeli government is not considered trust worthy by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President. One of the main reasons is expansion of settlements. Under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, construction of settlements is at a seven year high. During the time Netanyahu has been in office, the expansion as seen by Abbas is so rapid that is strongly evident that Israel is putting in huge efforts to ensure that it is impossible to have a Palestinian state. Except for Jerusalem, settlements everywhere were frozen in November 2009 for ten months by Netanyahu. A complete freeze is what the Palestinians looking for. Hence in the ninth month, they sat down to talk, however the talks reached nowhere.
For decades the two-state solution to the conflict was criticized by Netanyahu. In theory, he has indicated support for one now, which makes a lot of people think that his commitment will not be genuine. The major right-wing party, Likud’s first leader is Netanyahu. He is the first leader in Israel who while in power endorses a two-state solution in 2009 under heavy pressure of America.
In 2015 while campaigning for elections in Israel, his party won resounding success. That year he made an announcement that under his watch, there would not be any Palestinian state. Netanyahu has attempted walking back, as per this consistent statement, but he has believed since long that the Palestinians cannot be relied upon to be neighbors that can be trusted.
Israel does not trust its Palestinian neighbour and has real reasons to feel so. The Fatah-Hamas split is one main reason. Right from the time Gaza was taken control of by Hamas, Israel has been of the view that a peace agreement with the PA – Palestinian Authority would be of no consequence as Gaza was ruled by outlaws . Hamas has made a commitment publicly about destroying Israel, which is a big worry to leaders of Israel. Besides this, there is no clarity on how Palestinians could be convinced of the need for concessions.
Understanding what is the ‘one-state solution’ and ‘two-state solution’
The ‘one-state solution’ and ‘two-state solution’ are the two main routes open by which the Israel-Palestinian conflict can come to an end.
An independent Palestine and Israel would be created with a ‘two-state solution’. The conflict can be best ended with this mainstream approach. The Palestinians are looking for a Palestinian state and Israelis want a Jewish state. This makes it clear that Palestinians and Israelis want to manage their nations differently. If they both join then each side is unable to achieve what it wants.
The Gaza Strip, West Bank and Israel would merge to become one huge nation in the ‘one-state solution’ which comes in two categories. One version, which some Israelis and rightists favor would involve the West Bank annexing with Israel and either denying Palestinians their voting right or forcing them out. This option is rejected by most Zionists and the whole world virtually, as an unacceptable violation of human rights.
The other version favored by few Palestinians and leftists would create one single democratic nation. Jews would be exceeded in number by Arab Muslims as a result of which Israel would stop being an exclusively Jewish State.
As per the polls, it is suggested that a two-state solution is preferred by both Palestinians and Israelis. However the interest in arriving at a one-state solution has surged in recently due to lack of ability of Palestinians and Israelis to arrive at two-state terms. This is partly out of a feeling of despair and partly due to fear that both sides may not arrive at a two-state solution ever and then a one-state solution may be the inevitable result.
The Eventuality Of A Peace Process Failing
If the peace process does not succeed, then what happens? Israel, the West Bank and probably Gaza also could coalesce and become one de facto state. This is because the establishment of a separate Palestinian and Israeli states cannot be contemplated without some kind of legal agreement to keep them separate. This indicates that one of the two things, that in Israel (including Gaza very likely and certainly the West Bank), the Palestinians become second class residents, permanently or Israel does not prevail as a Jewish state.
In Israel-Palestine, Jews would be outnumbered eventually by Arabs (even if they have not yet). An existential crisis is visualised by Israel which sees itself as both democratic and Jewish. If after outnumbering the Jews, Arabs are given the right to vote, then the Jewish state would come to an end. However if Jews are outnumbered by Arabs but they do not voting rights then Israel cannot be a democracy either.
Any number of commentators have used the forceful analogy of South Africa. If any Arab majority is repressed by a Jewish state then it would feel more like apartheid. For the Israelis, who feel more worried about being sanctioned and boycotted across the world in the way the racial regime of South Africa was during its last days, the comparison seems to be a bit troubling.
These demographics are often challenged by conservatives in Israel. The argument is that for reasons that are political, their numbers are overstated by the Palestinians. The other argument is that as compared to what experts think, the population in Israel has tendency to grow at a faster rate. View of the mainstream however is that the demographic issue that Israel faces is real. Israel stares at three outcomes: the end of a Jewish state, a non democratic state which a Jewish minority governs and a two-state solution. Israel has to choose one of these three outcomes.
More to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
To learn more about the settlement movement and the rising power of the settlers in Israel, David Remnick’s piece in the New Yorker is an excellent source.
While fighting for Palestinian rights, two leading advocates experience a fraught relationship at personal level which is described in Ben Smith’s profile. Ali Abunimah was arguably the best known advocate of both the one-state solution and BDS, on the other hand is Hussein Ibish, the vocal Arab supporter of the two -state solution. They were at one time, close friends. The acrimonious end of the friendship is narrated admirably well by Ben Smith to give readers a clear account of the many arguments that divide Palestinian issues and how in the case of Palestine and Israel, it is difficult to keep the political and personal separate.
A very controversial but influential essay on the topic in recent times is, ‘The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment’ by Peter Beinart. The, at times vexed and at times close, relationship between Israel and American Jews can be learnt from this essay. It doesn’t take long to read it. Once done with it, turn to Jason Zengerle’s analysis of the unexpected but intense debate that Beinart triggered.
The issue about how Israel is being forced by demographics to choose between its democratic/Jewish identity or deserting the West Bank, is clearly broken down by Sergio DellaPergola,, the Israeli demographer. This is a good read for those interested in the issue.
Rashid Khalid, historian, Columbia University has given his take on the conflict’s current state, if you want a clearer understanding about reasons why Palestinians are doubtful about a two-state solution.