As in other conflict afflicted regions the origins of the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict are complex. Broadly, the historical genesis of the conflict can be ascribed to European imperial intervention in the region, genocide in Europe during World War II and competing nationalisms over identity and territory.
Prior to the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, the country was Palestine, with a majority Arab population majority and minority Jewish community. With the demise of the Ottoman empire, after World War I, Great Britain was mandated through the League of Nations, to administer the territory of Palestine and to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Under the newly formed United Nations (1945) a Palestine Partition Plan was proposed and adopted by the UN General Assembly under UN Resolution 181. Two independent states – Palestine and Israel – would be formed under the plan with separate status for Jerusalem. Of the original British mandate, over 55% of the land was allocated to the Jewish Israel state and 43% to the Palestine Arab state. Arguing that the plan contravened basic standards of the UN charter for a people to determine their own political status, economic future and destiny, the plan was rejected by the majority Palestinian population and regional Arab leaders. The State of Israel was declared in 1948 and has been in an existential struggle since.
The first Israeli/ Arab war began in 1948 and resulted in nearly 1 million Arab Palestinians fleeing the present territory of Israel to find refuge in Gaza, which was controlled by Egypt. The 1967 Israeli/Arab war resulted in victory again for Israel, with the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 as agreed in the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords. In the 2006 Palestinian election Hamas, an Islamist party, took power in Gaza. Since than there has been a series of conflicts between Hamas and Israeli Defense Forces in 2009, 2012 and 2014.
What has sparked the most recent conflict?
Due to the historical legacy and failures of successive attempts at peace processes the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict is protracted. Territorial disputes, Israeli settler expansion in East Jerusalem/ West Bank and access to religious sites in Jerusalem has served to spark and feed the conflict. For example, the second intifada (uprising to ‘shake off’ Israeli military occupation) began in 2000 when the leader of the Israeli Likud party visited the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif) in Jerusalem during Ramadan. The visit helped consolidate his political position in the face of a challenge from the present Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. The 2021 conflict was also sparked by confrontation in Jerusalem during Ramadan linked to a potential eviction of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem and access to the Temple Mount.
What is the solution?
The international community continues to support a two-state solution. A Palestinian state consisting of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem existing alongside the state of Israel. Due to the scale of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, illegal under international law, many commentators believe a future Palestinian state is no longer viable. As an alternative, a one state solution is proposed with the Palestinian Arab population enjoying full Israeli citizen rights. This is not supported by Israelis that want an exclusive Jewish state with the fear of Israeli Arabs becoming a majority in Israel. Even though it seems fanciful under the circumstances, the international position remains that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on 1967 territorial lines, with mutually agreed land swaps, thereby securing agreed and established borders for both countries. This will mean reversing Israeli settlements on Palestinian land occupied by Israeli forces during the 1967 war. Politically this is an extremely difficult proposition for Israeli right-wing parties.
In the absence of a real peace process discussions on solutions are just conjecture. Israelis and Palestinians desperately need some form of Dayton or Good Friday agreement that, even though imperfect, managed to ‘take the gun’ out of politics in Bosnia and Northern Ireland. While creating forms of enabling political environments to tackle the vexed issues of history, identity, and contested territory.
The recently deceased Israeli writer Amos Oz, who was a militant Zionist growing up in British mandate Palestine, wished for the Israeli Foreign Ministry to be in Jerusalem and when the Israeli Foreign Minister wanted to discuss an issue with his Palestinian counterpart – he would just go next door to the Palestinian Foreign Ministry building. In an interview with Deutsche Welle he expressed his support for former US President Trump’s Israeli policy – ‘’ Every country in the world should follow the example of President Trump and move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. But simultaneously there should be an embassy of all countries in the world in East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine.’’
As in Bosnia and Northern Ireland this can only occur when both sides cease dealing in political absolutes. Unfortunately, due to the history of the conflict, empathy is a much needed but very scarce resource on all sides. The likelihood of another exchange of fire between Gaza and Israeli defense forces, sparked by some incident in Jerusalem, is very real. When Hamas rockets fall on Tel Aviv, they fall on Israeli citizens but also the former homes of the now Grandparents who fled to Gaza as refugees in 1948. Israeli fire falls on people in Gaza who had lives, hopes and dreams on the same land that the Israeli Defense Forces are sworn to protect.
By force of history the Palestinian and Israeli peoples are entangled and intertwined. Yes – as successive Israeli Prime Ministers have stated in Washington briefings – the whole territory of Israel/ Palestine is indeed geographically extremely small – but it must be made big enough to be home for everybody. If there is one common theme in the historical narratives of Israeli and Palestinian peoples, who have suffered greatly from the tribulations of history, is that they both want to go home.
Join the conversation. How can peace be built and sustained in Palestine?