Gair Rhydd has looked at the past and present seeing how various wars, military skirmishes, and diplomatic peace-keeping failures have led to a fractious relationship. We now look to the future, questioning whether we are closer or further away from a potential resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
by Aliraza Manji and Charlotte King
Tensions have persisted between Israel and Palestine since Israel’s birth in 1948. Following years of negotiations, many of which have tried and failed, the two countries remain at odds with one another. Looking towards the future, what is the possibility of the two states moving towards some form of resolution? What might a potential resolution look like? Or are we moving further away from a reconciliation to the conflict?
What are some of the proposed solutions to the conflict?
A favourable solution which is widely supported is the two-state solution which strives to see an independent and unified State of Palestine existing peacefully in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, alongside the State of Israel, with the city of Jerusalem shared by the two states in some form.
This solution is derived from the 1974 United Nations (UN) resolution on the ‘Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine’, which sought to see Israel and Palestine existing “side by side within secure and recognised borders”. The proposed borders would be based on the pre-1967 borders, the lines established at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
For a long time now, it was believed that the two-state solution receives majority support amongst both the Israeli and Palestinian populations, with Palestinian leadership Fatah embracing the two-state proposal. In 2013, a Gallup poll found that 70% of Palestinians in the West Bank, 48% in Gaza and 52% of Israelis would favour “an independent Palestinian state together with the State of Israel”. However, in the run-up to Israel’s April 2019 elections, Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, found that 42% of Israelis are in favour of complete West Bank Annexation, including 16% who wish for full annexation without giving Palestinians political rights, while a further 30% were unsure of the solution to the conflict.
This poll signifies the current swing to the right, with only three parties who have formed a centre-left bloc known as the Democratic Camp Alliance championing a two-state solution. This electoral alliance which will run in the upcoming September elections is comprised of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party, the Green Movement, and Meretz.
Israeli Prime Minister and Leader of Likud Party, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced in April 2019 ahead of the Israel Legislative Elections that Israeli settlements in the West Bank “need to remain under Israeli sovereignty”, and when questioned on the annexation of the West Bank, he responded saying, “Who says we won’t do it? We are on the way and we are discussing.” He also claimed that they intend to continue to control the “entire territory west of the Jordan river”.
This land is internationally recognised as Palestinian territory and the occupation of it is seen as illegal. With a continuous hard-line and further erosions of Palestinian sovereign territory, it seems that the dream of achieving a two-state solution is fading rapidly.
One state solution
Another proposed option to solve the question of Israel-Palestine is the one-state solution which has received support from hardliners, such as members of the ultra right wing factions, and even senior figures in the current governing party Likud. For example, Reuven Rivlin the current President of Israel, and most recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April 2019 have both expressed support for the one-state solution.
There are many proposed variants of a one-state solution, with one calling for one unified state encompassing both Israel and Palestine which would see Israelis and Palestinians living amongst each other, all granted with equal rights and equal citizenship status wherein democratic elections would rely upon a one person, one vote method. Another variant proposes creating a ‘binational’ state where the Jewish community would still be able to pursue Zionism and Palestinians would also be able to retain their Palestinian identity but within the parameters of a new, unified state.
Arguably, the one-state solution is not a realistic remedy to the issues regarding Israel and Palestine due to the fear of each state having to sacrifice their competing nationalistic ambitions. For example, among the Israeli Jewish community, there is a distinct fear that uniting the two states into one would result in a Jewish minority amongst the population, rendering the fight for Zionism futile. Similarly, amongst the Palestinian Arab community, there are fears that uniting Israel and Palestine will mean Palestinians have to forgo their demand for an independent sovereign state of Palestine. These two nationalisms, are too popular and embedded in their competing claims to the land, so the population would struggle to accept a united state as it would be perceived as a loss of identity.
Additionally, following decades of conflict, who would be granted the authority to keep the peace between the newly unified state? Would elections be carried out in a fair manner where there is representation for all? Logistically, there are more questions than answers regarding how a unified Israeli-Palestinian state would be governed in a way that ensures peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.
Another proposed solution which has been gaining momentum is the concept of a three-state solution. This solution sees a return to the pre-1967 war boundaries with Egyptian control in the Gaza Strip and Jordanian control on both sides of the Jordan Valley, which includes the West Bank.
This solution has been gathering momentum due to the lack of faith in the feasibility of the one or two-state solutions. While Jordanian politicians seem wary of this concept, in May 2010, then President of the Jordanian Senate Taher al-Masri made claims about the “united banks of the Jordan river, with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan emerging on both banks of the holy river”. However, this proposal has not received much response from Israel, and more importantly, this is seen as an improved replacement of the de-facto status quo which sees the continued Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip but would mean ending any hopes of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.
An Israeli-Palestinian Confederation
There are also various proposed solutions which would not require the creation of a new state. One such idea is the establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian Confederation. Proponents of this idea state that a confederation would allow for two separate governments with two different heads of state and borders based on the pre-1967 borders, and ultimately each state would be a de facto sovereign state with its own national identity but would sign some form of agreement to share sovereignty on certain issues.
Critics argue, however, that the proposed Israeli-Palestinian Confederation would not be able to tackle head-on the conditions which prevent peace throughout the region and that the solution is naive because it implies that the Israelis and the Palestinians stand on equal footing in the wider region.
What factors are preventing Israel and Palestine moving towards finding any sort of resolution today?
There are a plethora of reasons ranging from the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank to Hamas’ 12-year military coup in Gaza which are preventing a peaceful resolution and the official establishment of a united Palestinian state.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank
There are various factors which arguably hinder progress towards a resolution; Israeli settlements which have been established in the occupied West Bank are one such factor. Back in 2014, it was reported that nearly 450,000 Israeli citizens live in settlements in the West Bank. These settlements are classed as illegal by the international community, arguing that they violate Article 19 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 which deems that an occupying power should not “deport or transfer” its own civilian population into the territory that it occupies. Israel rejects this UN mandate and continues to expand its settlements alongside settling in new parts of the West Bank. Recently in July 2019, Israeli authorities announced that 6,000 new homes will be constructed for Jewish settlers, alongside 700 homes for Palestinians.
For Israel’s Jewish community, there are many reasons which entice them to move into settlements in the West Bank. Some state that they move there for religious reasons because the West Bank is home to many sacred religious sites and has a rich cultural history, whilst others move there because housing in West Bank settlements tends to be far cheaper than houses in Israeli territory.
These settlements hinder the ability to negotiate a two-state solution because if a solution were to be agreed upon where an independent, sovereign State of Palestine was established within the pre-1967 borders, hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank would either live under Palestinian rule because of these settlements being located in the West Bank, or could be forcibly removed from Palestine and sent back to Israel. However, this would be logistically difficult as some of these Israeli settlements house tens of thousands of residents, and one settlement, Ariel, even houses a university. Separating these settlements from Israel would arguably increase hostility between Israel and Palestine because it would contradict the Zionist beliefs of Jewish settlers and could result in the creation of further tens of thousands of refugees.
What’s more, it would not realistically be possible to negotiate a two-state solution wherein these settlements are included within Israel’s borders because some argue it would prevent the creation of a homogenous Palestine in the West Bank and therefore limits the boundaries of a future de facto Palestinian state. For this reason, these settlements are deemed as an issue by Palestinians because not only do they go against international law, but they blur the lines between where Israel ends and Palestine begins and thus risks the erasure of their state.
A second factor concerns the extremely high number of Palestinian refugees scattered worldwide. Since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War there have been 7.2 million Palestinian refugees, accounting for one third of all refugees worldwide. Many of these Palestinians are calling for a “right of return”, seeking permission for them and their descendants to return to their homes they once fled in the land that is now Israel.
However, this influx of refugees would certainly see the emergence of a Jewish minority population in Israel, threatening Zionism and the continued existence of a Jewish state, hence Israeli authorities are neither in support of this “right to return” nor fully supportive of a one-state solution, however they would support this “right to return” upon the negotiation of a two-state solution.
The repatriation of these refugees in Israel is ultimately logistically impossible because of the size of the state, yet it is also seen by many as politically impossible because of the fact that it would lead to a Jewish minority population and would arguably contradict the raison d’être of Israel. However, for Palestine, ensuring the resettlement of refugees would require some form of economic investment to ensure jobs could be created and school places could be made available to ensure these refugees could transition smoothly into Palestinian communities. This makes it hard to envisage any form of agreement on how to rehabilitate these refugees, making resolution negotiations all the more difficult.
Israeli authorities allegedly pressure Palestinians to move out of the West Bank
Another pertinent source of tension between Israel and the West Bank stems from the allegations that Israel is deploying tactics in an effort to push Palestinians out of the West Bank. For example, due to Israel’s occupation of this region, it has control of water and electricity supply in the State of Palestine. Continuously, allegations are made that the Israeli authorities cut off access to water and electricity in the West Bank, for example only recently did Palestinians state that Israel has been destroying wells in the region and seizing water trucks supplying Palestinian villages.
Additionally, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) recently demolished Palestinian homes which they claimed were illegally constructed in the West Bank as they were built “too close” to the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank. Buildings in Sur Baher, a region on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, housing 17 people, were torn down.
The Palestinian residents stated that they had been granted permits by the Palestinian National Authority to build their homes, whilst Israeli authorities argued that these buildings were hindering “military operational freedom” near the barrier and argued some of the buildings could have been used to “shelter terrorists or illegal residents…and allow terrorist operatives to smuggle weapons or sneak inside Israeli territory.”
Some human rights groups in the area state that these tactics are being used by the Israeli authorities in an attempt to pressure Palestinians to leave the West Bank, opening up space for more Israeli settlements to be established. From Israel’s perspective, however, these actions are deemed necessary for the security of the state. It is therefore evident that tension continues to persist and arguably rise between the two states today.
Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) use of excessive force
It’s no secret that Israel maintains one of the world’s most highly trained military forces, with mandatory conscription from the age of 18 ensuring Israel holds an active army with reserves ready if needed. The IDF is thus seen as one of the world’s most battle-trained armies but has been called out for the use of excessive force.
During the 2018 Gaza Protests, otherwise known as the “Great March of Return”, it is reported that at least 189 Palestinian demonstrators were killed and an estimated 5,800 injured. The UN Commission of Inquiry found that there was “no justification” for Israeli use of live rounds and that “Israeli security forces [had] committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
It was later revealed by Human Rights Watch in 2019 that the Palestinian demonstrators “threw rocks and Molotov Cocktails, and used slingshots to hurl projectiles and launched kites bearing incendiary materials”, while Israeli officers “fired on protesters who posed no imminent threat to life”. The extreme and lethal measures used to respond to Palestinian protests lead to more anger and make it far more difficult to find a peaceful resolution, as there is always a fear that the other side will attack again
A bigger concern arises when we look at the everyday situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Human Rights Watch 2017 reported that “Israel has tightened restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip in a way that far exceeds conceivable requirements of Israeli security”. Furthermore, these imposed restrictions affect the daily life of Palestinian citizens as their access to food, water, and other basic necessities is limited. For example, in 2018, it was reported that only 278 Palestinians were allowed to exit Gaza compared to 24,000 in September 2000, and less than 201 truckloads entered per month compared to 1,064 prior to the tightened border in June 2007. These heightened security measures, which are sometimes lethal, can only lead to more suffering, and ultimately make it more difficult in finding a solution.
Finding a resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine becomes more difficult again when one considers the fact that as a state, Palestine itself is not unified. In 2005 Israel pulled out of Gaza and in doing so, removed the 10,000 Israeli citizens living in settlements in the strip. A year later, in 2006, Hamas won the election and the following year, the Battle of Gaza – also known as the Palestinian Civil War – occurred between the two main political parties, Fatah and Hamas. It ultimately saw the Palestinian Authority split and through a military victory, Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip. The area has not had an election since.
Since then, there has been separate governance with Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the current administrative capital of Ramallah. These two governments have failed to see eye-to-eye on many issues, particularly in their approach to relations with Israel as Fatah has accepted Israel’s right to exist, both in the 1993 Oslo Accords and also reaffirmed by President Mahmoud Abbas in 2011. Meanwhile, Hamas has never officially recognised the state of Israel and has only ever put forward the idea of a 10-year truce, although this would not include the recognition of the State of Israel. Thus, these two governments continue to remain at odds with each other, leading to a divided Palestinian state.
During our time in Ramallah, we met with Dr. Amal Jadou, Assistant Minister on European Affairs. Jadou spoke extensively about Palestine’s relationship with Europe and its position on the international stage. She also, however, as did former Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun, remind us of yet another reason why finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is such a challenge.
Both Jadou and Baboun, as Palestinian citizens, spoke of how “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, and while Jadou favoured a peaceful solution, she failed to condemn the violent actions taken by certain individuals against the State of Israel as she saw their ideological goal as justified. The international community, however, under international law, considers terrorist attacks on civilian populations illegal.
Ultimately, in spite of all the differences between Fatah and Hamas, particularly in their approaches to solving this conflict, there is this concurrent ideology. This too hinders progress towards a reconciliation of the Israel-Palestine conflict because this narrative used by Palestinian elected officials arguably further polarises the two states.
Where does Jerusalem come into negotiations and what role does the US play?
Undoubtedly, the US also plays an extremely influential role in the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The US President’s, Donald Trump’s, pledge of allegiance to the Israeli cause on the world stage has arguably steered Israel and Palestine away from finding some sort of grounds of agreement upon a two-state solution.
In December 2017, Trump controversially announced the US’ formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and has since moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in light of this. This was a highly divisive move because throughout the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since the 1947 United Nations Plan for Palestine, it was internationally recognised that due to the religious significance of the land, neither party should consider Jerusalem as its capital and rather it should be a city under international control.
As it stands today, Jerusalem is split into two halves with the borders still remaining subject to negotiation. The western half of the city is home to the Knesset, Israel’s government, and to Jewish Israelis; the eastern half, which contains key Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, is populated by Palestinians but was captured by Israel in 1967 and has since been annexed. It is stated that Palestinians seek the eastern half of the city to be their capital; China has called for East Jerusalem to be the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
It is assumed that a two-state solution would see Jerusalem divided in some way, an idea opposed strongly by some because there is no guarantee about how the split would affect the Old City and the religious sites dotted around it. Both Israelis and Palestinians have religious claims to the city and dividing the region between the two states could lead to heightened tension at religious sites, contradicting the attempt for peaceful reconciliation.
The US’ siding with Israel has ultimately led to Palestine rejecting all ties with the United States and reportedly announcing its rejection of any deal put forward by the US regarding negotiating some reconciliation to the conflict, such as Jared Kushner’s “deal of the century,” announced in June 2019.
Additionally, it has hindered the international community and specifically the UN in its ability to debate negotiations to the conflict. As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), the US has the power, and has exercised it, to veto resolutions. For example, in July 2019, the US vetoed a UNSC resolution formally condemning Israel’s demolition of those Palestinian homes near the barrier separating Israel and the West Bank. Arguably, this hinders the UN’s ability to consider the Israeli-Palestinian situation extensively. Both the US’ siding with Israel and the contested status of Jerusalem makes finding a solution to the current tension all the more difficult.
What is the situation on the ground?
It’s hard to say anything conclusive about what the will of the people on the ground is, but from speaking to citizens in both Israel and the West Bank, it appears that citizens simply want peace in some form or another.
In Kfar Aza, a community living only a few kilometres away from the Gaza border, Chen Kotler, a resident of the kibbutz, recalled the happy memories she has of once being able to move freely in and out of Gaza and told us of how she dreams of going back to the beach and eating the best hummus she had ever tasted on the shores of Gaza.
We were then shown the remnants of weapons Hamas has fired over the border into her community; when rockets are fired, the warning siren sounds and people have only 10 seconds to reach the safety of a bomb shelter. It became quickly apparent that Chen dreams of some form of peace between Israel and Gaza, however, she also told us of how she is grateful for the work of the IDF which provides her with a sense of security. It appeared that whilst she wants to see a reduction in tension, the current military coup in Gaza means that security is the priority to her community and to those kibbutzim along the border; this provides the IDF and the Israeli authorities with a mandate to maintain high security along the borders with Palestine.
Friends of Roots
We also visited a grassroots organisation, Friends of Roots, and spoke with both an Israeli and a Palestinian citizen. Roots is an organisation based in the West Bank which brings together Israelis and Palestinians and encourages them to speak to one another, sparking dialogue, and breaking down long-established barriers. It aims to bring about understanding, and empathy, if not necessarily agreement, hoping that one day Israeli’s and Palestinians can live side by side, knowing that they do not pose a threat to each other.
While Roots has received support from politicians, the wider political sentiment suggests that the idea of living side-by-side remains just that, an idea, and the majority of politics remains polarised and divisive, with the political situation changing far too quickly and consequently, the potential for a two-state solution is slowly disappearing.
So, where will negotiations go now?
Ultimately, it appears that the Israel-Palestine conflict might be moving further away from reconciliation than before. The Israeli general election in April 2019 saw current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu elected for a third consecutive term, becoming the longest-serving Israeli Prime Minister in history, indicating that the Israeli electorate has given his right-wing government a mandate to continue pursuing a more hardline approach to the conflict. However, following Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition government, the Knesset will see further legislative elections in September 2019.
These myriad factors hindering progress see us moving away from the possibility of any solution and towards further catastrophe, but with movements such as Friends of Roots, it is possible that one day, whatever the political solution may be, there could be peace between Israelis and Palestinians living amongst one another. There is proof of support on the ground for peace; one day we may see this reflected in the politics of both neighbouring states.