The Israel-Palestine conflict is enduring violence that started in the middle of the 20th-century ensuing between Israelis and Palestinians. The UN and the US have raised their views concerning the conflict. They suggest the need for a two-state solution, a plan that may yield the best solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Mahmud Abbas echoes similar sentiments. Although Netanyahu holds a similar opinion, the feasibility of the solution proposed by the above-mentioned parties is open to criticism.
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A two-state solution is only practical if Israel demonstrates the political commitment and will to leave the territories it has occupied in West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. However, as the Palestinians argue, such a commitment can only happen upon answering the question of whether Israel has the mandate to occupy the above regions. Certainly, Israel cannot support the position that encourages it to leave the territories.
Therefore, as the study reveals, a working solution needs to consider the main causes of the conflict where the two parties remain assured that their key concerns will be addressed. Firstly, the paper analyzes what historians have identified as the causes of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The second section discusses what historians have claimed as the role of the wider international community in the conflict.
Causes of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Investigating the future direction taken by the Israeli-Palestine battle requires an appreciation of the historical context of the conflict. Evidence gathered by historians reveals that the Israeli-Palestine conflict bears historical dimensions, which neither party accepts being a prerequisite for peaceful coexistence. For instance, Smith (2010a) considers the rise of Hamas and Zionism as part of the issues that have propagated the conflict that began with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Considering the historical contexts and debates on the issues pursued and advocated for by Zionists and Palestine, Gelvin (2015) reveals factors such as external forces, ineffective government-initiated policies, the change of population demographics and economics, and misplaced perceptions and ideologies, which explain the historical accounts of the causes of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Rabbani (2009) describes various attacks on Palestine by Israeli from December 2008 through January 2009, which culminated in the six-month ceasefire talks mediated by Egypt from June 2008. The above description places Israel on the offending side. However, it presents a non-balanced view of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Acts of violence currently characterize the relations between Palestinians and Israelis in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
This violence is unlikely to end bearing in mind the mixed feelings on who should occupy these two contested territories. The Hamas in the Gaza Strip is committed to ensuring that Israelis are removed from the Gaza. In the West Bank, Israelis are viewed as the occupiers while they regard the region as being part of Israel. This dilemma raises the question of borders. Where should each party in the conflict establish settlements? The question of borders should be placed within the historical external forces that caused the conflict in the mid-20th-century.
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Palestine became home to an influx of Jewish immigrants in the late nineteenth century. The biggest wave of immigration occurred between 1929 and 1939 following the hostilities of the Nazi regime in Germany. According to Gelvin (2015), immigrants introduced perspectives of Jewish nationalism or Zionism whose primary objective was to create the Jewish homeland. Zionism was a direct response to anti-Semitist experiences during the Second World War (Herzl, 1946).
Jewish people settled in Palestine where they held the position that it was their biblical land (Landen, 1948). This peaceful process brought economic gains to the Arabs. However, conflicts arose when Jews began to buy land from absentee landowners. Although immigration constitutes an important external force that fuelled the Israeli-Palestine conflict, it did not cause the conflict in itself. Indeed, historians paint a picture of a period of peaceful coexistence between Arabs and the Jewish immigrants in Palestine (Landen, 1948).
Ineffective Government-Initiated Policies
Social structures influence conflicts at the grassroots. Governments play the role of documenting and implementing policies aimed at securing a peaceful co-existence between two parties in conflict. However, unrealistic, ineffective, and/or unclear plans amplify a conflict. Israelis and Palestinians met for the first time in 1993 in Oslo, Norway. The meeting culminated in the Oslo Declaration, which set out various principles that were necessary to facilitate the development of future working solutions.
The then US President, Bill Clinton, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat, and the then Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, signed the accord. However, the Palestinians and Israelis heavily criticized the accord claiming it was ineffective.
The rise of the Hamas followed by the 2006 election further frustrated any possibility for effective implementation of the accord. The Quartet was another body that proposed The Road Map for Peace, which also failed in its implementation. During the period of Jewish immigration to Palestine, government policies could not keep the phenomenon under check. Indeed, Palestine had a restrictive immigration policy. Consequently, Arabs could not control the influx of Jewish flow into their territories.
The Change in Population Demographics
Smith (2010b) discusses the circumstances that led to the creation of the state of Israel between 1939 and 1949. For example, he informs that the Holocaust witnessed during this period in Germany gave rise to the need for Palestine to accommodate refugees. According to Gelvin (2015), some forces, especially from Zionists in the United States and Britain, demanded the creation of a state of Israel that could house Jewish Holocaust survivors.
In 1939, Smith (2010b) evidences how 11,156 Jewish illegal immigrants arrived in Palestine. He adds that both illegal and legal immigrants the same year amounted to 27,561. Indeed, this situation constituted one of the waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Other waves had occurred between 1882 and 1903, 1904, 1914, 1919, 1923, 1924, 1928, 1929, and 1939 (Smith, 2010b). During the occurrence of these waves, most of the Jewish immigrants came from Eastern Europe, Russia, and Poland. The increased Jewish population in Palestine implied that the population demographics of the Arabs had been changed.
Consequently, Arabs became discontented with what they perceived as the inversion of their territories. Ultimately, the conflict understudy ensued. Hence, while external forces entailed an important catalyst for the conflicts, an alteration of population dynamics coupled with economic factors solidified it.
Zionism introduced the pedagogy of self-identity as Palestinians among various educated Muslims. Smith (2010a) explains how Zionism occurred at a time when Muslims held Christians and Jews with high suspicion akin to the Ottoman territorial losses. The emerging tension across Palestine created disunity between Palestinians, Jews, and Christians, hence reflecting the variation in socioeconomic status, which placed Muslims at a disadvantage in comparison with outsiders.
The outcome was urban disturbances, especially where the Muslim majority had been diluted by the influx of non-Muslims and foreign immigrants in various towns from the 1890s. Concerns of poverty and disappointment combined to create instabilities within Palestine (Landen 1948). Therefore, economic factors formed a direct cause of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Smith (2010a) evidences how economics contributed to the Israeli Palestine conflict from a historical context. Zionists settled in Palestine and bought land from the Arabs. Ultimately, Jews acquired all the land in the fertile northern valleys coupled with coastal plains. The emerging economy worked effectively without the inclusion of the Arabs. Consequently, the Jewish community wholly acquired all the profitable jobs. They also benefited from higher wages. Concerns of Arabs’ exclusion culminated in a conflict. As a result, issues concerning crops, grazing, and land disputes only increased the magnitude of the conflict. Directly congruent with Smith’s (2010a) discussions of how economic matters fuelled the Israeli-Palestine conflict in a historical context, the same issues continue to shape it today.
Barriers erected between Israelis and Palestinians have created inconsistent resource accessibility and allotment. For example, the problem of water scarcity affects Palestinians more than Israelis. Israel controls almost all aquifers. Palestinians who were angered by such disparities engaged in desperate acts of rebellion such as launching attacks on Israelis. The barriers also interfered with the free flow of people, goods, and services from Israel to Palestine, thus prompting Palestine to experience economic depression. In the West Bank, Israel possesses most of the fertile lands, which are well protected via the erection of security barriers. Consequently, the Palestinians’ agricultural sector continues to suffer up to date.
Perceptions and Ideologies
Both the Israelis and Palestinians view each other as enemies who cannot co-exist. Consequently, each party attempts to establish its ideologies and perceptions of the meaning of its true nationalism and identity. While Israel relentlessly pursues a Jewish state agenda, Palestinians vehemently follow an Islamic state program. The situation becomes more futile with groups such as Hamas graduate from pursuing cultural agendas to taking a central position in the political arena.
Usher (1997) explains that Hamas challenged PLO’s claims that it legitimately represented Palestinian people. In other words, Hamas was on its way to changing the Palestinian narrative, thereby establishing new dimensions in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. For example, in 1988, the decision by the Palestine National Council to recognize the existence of the state of Israel within the limits of the pre-1967 borders was met with a high opposition from Hamas.
The Islamic group claimed that such a move was sacrilege by maintaining, “Palestine, from the river to the sea, is holy trust afforded to Muslims by God” (Usher, 1997, p. 341). This exposition diluted any possibility of a two-state solution. Consequently, the ideology and perception that Israel is an occupier survived.
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The belief that Israel constitutes a state with occupied territories such as East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, which form part of where it should exercise its jurisdictional power, contributes to the continued conflict between Israel and Palestine. Usher (1997) reveals that instead of resolving such territorial differences that fuel the conflict, both parties in the clash defend their position on the right to possess the disputed territories. While Israel recognizes the need and the right of Palestine’s self-governance, it voices serious security concerns. For instance, Israel’s sentiment is that its withdrawal from Gaza only makes its less safe.
Israeli leadership does not articulate any support for a two-state solution. This situation reinforces a pro-Israeli perception that the two-state solution implies dividing a portion of Israel and allocating it to Palestine. This notion arises from the right of return advanced by the Palestinians. The notion calls for the immigration of Palestinians (who have historically called Israel home) to some parts that are currently defined as Israel. Pro-Israelis may argue that the plan means that Palestinians are not prepared to be contented with their one state, should the two-state solution become a reality. To this extent, Israelis view the right-of-return demand as unacceptable.
They call upon Palestinians to relax this demand. Can they do it? Certainly, they cannot attain this goal. Hard-lined positions by the two parties hinder the alteration of negative perceptions about each other. Such perceptions have been passed from one generation to another.
The Role of the Wider International Community in the Conflict
The international community has incredibly contributed to the attempt to ensure peaceful coexistence between the Israelis and Palestinians. For example, members of the international community such as the US were a key player in the development of the Oslo accord. The international community has also taken positions that lack a clear policy to help in resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Indeed, historians regard the international community as having played a dual role in the conflict.
The Wider International Community’s Role in Creating the Conflict
Different nations, especially those in the Arab world, have had a positive implication on the increased confrontation between Israel and Palestine by taking partisan positions. For example, Egypt joined hands with Palestinian forces to build up military powers along the Israeli border, a strategy that led to the 1967 war. The war left Israel a victor. Israelis responded through attacks on Egypt and Syria. Jordan later joined the battle, although Israeli forces proved stronger. After six days of continuous fighting, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, the section on East of Jerusalem occupied by Arabs, and the Syrian Golan Heights (both under Jordan’s rule) fell in the hands of Israel.
The fact that Palestine had joined hands with other nations in the war against Israel reinforced the perception that Palestine was an Israeli adversary. The UN later declared an armistice on June 11. However, Israel had already increased its size more than double. Its problems with the Arabs blossomed. Amid calls by the UN Security Council for Israel to return the occupied territories, Israel responded by fully annexing East Jerusalem. Besides this action, the international community through the UN did not take any action against Israel, yet West Bank and East Jerusalem constitute some of the contested territories between Israel and Palestine.
According to Smith (2010b), history complicates the question of the settlements and Israeli-Palestine relations. Indeed, until the 2005 evacuation, Jewish settlements in Gaza and West Bank comprise one of the intriguing questions that define Palestine–Israel relations. Judging from history, Jews lived in West Bank (Samaria) and Judea. Throughout the Ottoman rule, Jewish settlements were found in Hebron. The mid half of the 19th-century was marked by the establishment of Jewish settlement in Palestine (Smith, 2010b). While the international community can effectively help the parties to resolve the settlement question through its diplomatic efforts, such attempts end up being futile or are never taken seriously by the parties.
Smith (2010b) analyzes the role of Britain and the US in shaping the debate on Palestine versus the Jewish state, which has fueled the conflict. For example, the author notes that in August 1945, Great Britain pursued initiatives that would see 100,000 Jewish refugees permitted to occupy Palestine. According to Gelvin (2015), the plan emerged from Zionists’ appeal made to the labor government, which suggested a direct involvement of the US in the manner in which Britain handled the Palestine question. Great Britain would later change its stance with Belvin, claiming that Palestine was not the answer to the problem of refugees in Europe (Smith, 2010b).
Belvin went on to note that he had envisioned a Palestine, as opposed to a Jewish state. To this extent, Great Britain contributed to the mess and the unresolved question of whether a Palestine state should be established to continue shaping the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Palestinians believed that the declaration of Israel as an independent state would give birth to the Palestinian tragedy (Ben-Moshe, 2007). Israel vehemently opposed any attempt to establish a Palestinian state.
The Wider International Community’s Role in Resolving the Conflict
Historians consider the international community as an important partner in resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict. For example, it recognized the existence of the independence of Israel as a state that led to the 1948 declaration of Israel’s independence. Ben-Moshe (2007) describes the declaration, noting that it defined Israel as a Jewish democratic nation. Although this move by the international community was anticipated to set the territorial integrity of Israel on the right path, the Palestine question was not addressed. By the end of 1946, about 1.269 million Palestinians and 608000 Jews had occupied Palestine (Smith, 2010b). Considering these numbers, historians argue that Palestinians were most likely not willing to accept partitioning.
By creating a Jewish state, the majority of the western leaders believed that their efforts to enhance stability in the region would not realize any results. However, they had reached a point of no return. Hostilities between Jews and Arabs only suggested a situation of more violence.
The UN would not give up its efforts to secure peace in Palestine. It established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) whose mandate entailed conducting investigations on the conditions that prevailed in Palestine and then make the appropriate recommendations to the UN General Assembly. Over the five weeks its members stayed in Palestine, Palestinian leaders boycotted the meetings while Zionists expressed discontent. Hence, even after recognizing Israel as an independent Jewish state, more confrontations between it and Palestine were anticipated as it is witnessed today.
The efforts by the international community members, including the US, to resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict through the Oslo accord proved ineffective. Currently, the two-state solution supported by the US and the UN also appears ineffective. Although Palestine supports it, Israel argues that the conflict is complicated by external actors such as Iran, Syria, the growth of Islamism, and the support of Palestine by groups that include the Hezbollah, which Israel regards as its enemies.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine existed even before the declaration of Israel’s independence in 1948. Historians have provided an in-depth discussion of various circumstances that caused the conflict coupled with the contribution of the international community in the conflict. The paper has identified economic factors, external forces, ineffective government-initiated policies, the change of population demographics, and perceptions and ideologies as some of the causes of the conflict as identified by historians. It has argued that the international community through its interaction with the two parties has contributed equally to the increased aggression and in making strides towards procuring a peace process between the two neighbors.
Ben-Moshe, D. (1998). Israel: At fifty: The cultural war in the pages of Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem post. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Gelvin, J. (2015). The modern Middle East: A history (4th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Herzl, T. (1946). The Jewish state: An attempt at modern solution to the Jewish question. Washington, DC: American Zionist Emergency Council.
Landen, R. (1948). The emergence of modern Middle East. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.
Rabbani, M. (2009). Middle East research and information project. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Smith, C. (2010a). Palestine and the Arab- Israeli conflict (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Smith, C. (2010b). Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Usher, G. (1997). What kind of nations? The rises of Hamas in the occupied territories. Berkeley, CA: Beinin and Stork.