Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Explained

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How Israel Was Created?

After World War I, the League of Nations granted the British a mandate to rule Palestine, which was to be changed into a Jewish National Home.

In 1947, the United Nations adopted a Partition Plan for Palestine recommending the creation of Arab and Jewish independent States and an internationalized Jerusalem. The plan was accepted by the Jewish Agency, and rejected by Arab leaders.

On May 14, 1948, the Jewish Agency declared the State of Israel’s independence. The following day, the armies of four Arab countries – Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq – entered what had been British Mandatory Palestine launching the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. They were joined by Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.

After a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were established. Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip.

On May 11, 1949, Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations by a majority vote.

In May 1967, Egypt massed its army near its border with Israel, expelled UN peacekeepers, and blocked Israel’s access to the Red Sea.

On June 5, 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt. Jordan, Syria, and Iraq responded. In a Six-Day War, Israel defeated Jordan and captured the West Bank, defeated Egypt and captured the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, and defeated Syria and captured the Golan Heights. Jerusalem’s boundaries were enlarged, incorporating East Jerusalem.

In 1977, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat made a trip to Israel, and became the first Arab head of State to recognize Israel as a nation. In the two years that followed, Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords and the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. In return, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, and agreed to negotiations over autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Current Situation in Israel

The current Prime Minister of Israel is Benjamin Netanyahu, a member of the Likud party, which is a center-right to right-wing political party founded by Ariel Sharon. Politics in Israel traditionally fall into three camps, the first two being the largest: Labor Zionism (social democrat), Revisionist Zionism (conservative) and Religious Zionism.

Today, Israel is 75% Jewish, 18% Muslim, 2% Christian, and has a population of nearly 9 million people. The GDP per capita is $42,115, ranked 20th in the world. Militarily, Israel has a military budget of $21.6 billion (14th largest in the world), which includes the nuclear bomb. The United States provides significant aid to Israel, over $3.1 billion annually, and over $100 billion since its creation.

The Current Situation in the West Bank

Israel has controlled the West Bank since the Six-Day War (1967). After the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel allowed the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to run some administrative areas of the West Bank.

The PLO, runs the Palestinian Authority, a government tasked with managing the Palestinian territories until it makes a deal with Israel. The largest faction of the PLO is Fatah, a secular nationalist political party created by Yasser Arafat. The current leader of the Palestinian Authority is Mahmoud Abbas.

Since 1967, Israel has allowed over 500,000 Israeli settlers to move into settlements in the West Bank. These settlements have the effect of blurring the boundaries of any future Palestinian State, as many Israelis want the West Bank to be fully incorporated as Israeli territory. The presence of these settlements requires Israeli forces to establish a military presence, often making life difficult for Palestinians, as they are excluded from certain Israeli-only roads, and forced to go through a number of security checkpoints.

The Current Situation in Gaza

Gaza is currently under Israeli blockade and is governed by a militant “resistance” group called Hamas. Because Hamas has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli targets, and has conducted suicide bombings on civilian targets, it is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union. To this day, Hamas refuses to recognize the Israeli State, but allows for acceptance of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza strip rather than the entire territory.

The quality of life in Gaza is extremely poor, because Israel maintains direct external control over Gaza and indirect control over life within Gaza. Israel controls Gaza’s air and maritime space, and six of Gaza’s seven land crossings. Additionally, Israel reserves the right to enter Gaza at will with its military and maintains a no-go buffer zone within the Gaza territories. Due to Israeli and Egyptian border closures, and the Israeli sea and air blockade, the population is not free to leave or enter the Gaza strip, nor allowed to freely import or export goods. Palestinians in Gaza have limited supplies of electricity and are dependent on Israel for all basic services.

Palestinian Territories Overall

Life in Palestinian territories is extremely difficult. With a population of 4,550,368, and a GDP per capita of $1824 in the West Bank and $876 in Gaza, opportunities for success are slim. In fact, nearly 26% of the population lives below the poverty line. Making matters worse, the median age is only 19 years old, compared to 30 years old in Israel. Palestinians survive largely due to foreign aid, the United States being the largest contributor ($368 million per year).

Internationally, Palestine is recognized by 136 United Nation members, and has a status of non-member observer State since 2012. Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees living in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria .

What is Zionism?

Zionism is Israel’s national ideology. It is defined as a national movement of the Jewish people that supports the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic land of Israel. Zionists believe Judaism is a nationality as well as a religion.

However, Arabs and Palestinians generally oppose Zionism, as the explicitly Jewish character of the Israeli State means that Jews have privileges that others do not have. Indeed, any Jew anywhere in the world can become an Israeli citizen, a right not extended to any other class of person.

The Proposed Solutions:

There are 3 proposed solutions for the conflict:

  • Two-State Solution

Palestine becomes an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest of the land to Israel. Most polling suggests that both Israelis and Palestinians prefer a two-state solution. This is the solution that the United State is currently working on.

  • One-State Solution (Non-Jewish State)

All of the land becomes one nation, becoming a single democratic country. Left-wing Israelis and some Palestinians favor this solution.

A core Palestinian demand in peace negotiations is a “right to return” to the homes their families were forced to abandon in 1948. However, Israel believes it cannot accept the right to return without abandoning either its Jewish or democratic identity. Indeed, adding 7 million Arabs to Israel’s population would make Jews a minority. Thus, Israelis refuse to consider including the right to return in any final status deal.

  • One-State Solution (Non-Democratic State)

All of the land becomes one nation by annexing the West Bank and either forcing out Palestinians or denying them the right to vote. Some right-wing Israeli’s favor this solution, but virtually the entire world rejects this option as unacceptable.

The Likely (and Best) Solution

Israelis and Palestinians unite to form a single nation. The government would follow the Lebanese model, where highest offices are proportionately reserved for representatives from certain religious communities. This would allow Jews to feel safe that their people would be represented, while allowing Palestinians the right to vote. For example, the President would always be a Christian, the Prime Minister always Jewish, and the Speaker of the Parliament always a Muslim. In doing so, the nation retains its democratic identity while granting rights for everyone. Most importantly, this solution would bring peace to both Israelis and Palestinians.

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