The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an ongoing dispute between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people. It also forms part of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. Essentially it is a dispute between two national identities with claims over the same area of land. Many attempts have been made to broker a “two-state solution,” which would entail the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. At present, the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians, according to many major polls, agree that a two-state solution is the best way to end the conflict. Most Palestinians view the West Bank and Gaza Strip as constituting the area of their future state, a view also accepted by most Israelis.
A handful of academics advocate a one-state solution, whereby all of Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank would become a bi-national state with equal rights for all. However, there are significant areas of disagreement over the shape of any final agreement, and also regarding the level of credibility each side sees in the other in upholding basic commitments.
There are several domestic and international actors involved in the conflict. The direct negotiating parties are the Israeli government led by Ehud Olmert and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), headed by Mahmoud Abbas. The official negotiations are mediated by an international contingent known as the Quartet on the Middle East (the Quartet), consisting of the United States, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations, and represented by a special envoy, currently Tony Blair. The Arab League is another important actor, who has proposed an alternative peace plan. Egypt, a founding member of the Arab League, has historically been a key participant.
Since 2006, the Palestinian side has been fractured by conflict between the two major factions: Fatah, the largest party, and Hamas, an Islamist militant group. As a result, the territory controlled by the Palestinian National Authority (the Palestinian interim government) is split between Fatah in the West Bank, and Hamas in the Gaza strip. This has proved problematic as Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and many other countries which means that despite the fact it won the Palestinian elections of 2006, it has not been allowed to participate in official negotiations.
The roots of the conflict can be traced to the late 19th century, which saw a rise in national movements, including Zionism and Arab nationalism. Zionism, the Jewish national movement, was established as a political movement in 1897, largely as a response to Russian and European anti-Semitism. It sought the establishment of a Jewish Nation-State in Eretz Israel, the historical Jewish homeland, so that Jews could find sanctuary and self-determination. To this end, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund encouraged immigration and funded the purchase of land, both under the Ottoman rule and under British rule, in the region of Palestine.
The Strategic Military Setting
From an Israeli perspective, in the coming years the regional strategic setting for Israeli-Palestinian interaction is likely to be different from that of the past. Whether or not this will benefit Israel or the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace is not at all clear. The elimination of the Iraqi armed forces in 2003 has, for the first time in Israel’s fifty-seven-year history, minimized the danger of all-out conventional war between Israel and a coalition of its neighbors attacking from the east, thereby reducing the strategic value for Israel of the West Bank. Even before the removal of the Iraqi threat, Israel found that it could isolate a concerted Palestinian armed campaign against it—the second intifada of 2000–2005—and thwart the Palestinian goal of generating regional military escalation.
Since 2003 the reality of Palestinian military isolation has become starker than ever; it will only be compounded by the completion of the security fence being erected by the Sharon government around the West Bank with the primary goal of preventing incursion into Israel by Palestinian terrorists. As a consequence, Palestinian bargaining power vis-à-vis Israel could be weakened in the coming years. To the extent that U.S.-supported democratic reform processes take hold in neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Syria, inter-Arab support for the Palestinian cause might be further reduced, particularly if Jerusalem can reach peace agreements with Beirut and Damascus.
At the same time, those same democratization processes could also bring Islamist movements to the fore in the region, including within the Palestinian Authority, thereby conceivably generating greater Palestinian militancy and tougher negotiating positions.
The threat of Palestinian terrorism in future years should not be taken lightly. Finally, the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran, equipped with missile-delivery systems, has replaced conventional Arab-Israeli warfare as the primary strategic military threat perceived by Israel. Insofar as a nuclear zed Islamic Republic of Iran is likely to intimidate Israel’s neighbors, support radical Islamist elements among them, and pressure them to take an aggressive stance toward Israel, a regional nuclear escalation or confrontation is liable to exacerbate Arab-Israeli relations and escalate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This constraint is often cited as a reason for Israel to offer territorial and other concessions in order to accelerate peace with its neighbors, though it could be argued that the prospect of Iranian-inspired unrest in the region justifies an Israeli decision to hold on to “strategic” territory on the Golan Heights and in the Jordan Valley. In this sense, it is difficult to say whether success in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons would redound positively on the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli accommodation. In the near term, an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear project would certainly redound negatively, by generating intensified conflict with pro-Iranian elements such as Hezbollah and fueling anger against Israel in the Arab street.
- “The Future of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Critical Trends Affecting Israel”, SPECIAL REPORT, US Institute of peace, 2005. Web.
- “The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict”, 2000, III edition, PUBLISHED BY JEWS FOR JUSTICE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. Web.