The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been bubbling away, with the occasional eruption, for as long as Israel has existed.
Though many plans for peace have been made throughout this time, an end to the dispute has yet to be reached. All of these plans have suggested divisions of land, but given the power dynamics within both political systems, this may not be feasible for a future resolution. It may well be that a comprehensive military victory, most likely for the US-backed Israel, could give all of the lands to one side or the other.
In 1947, after the creation of the State of Israel, the UN approved a plan which would’ve created three distinct nations: Israel, Palestine, and the Special International Regime. The latter would’ve ruled Jerusalem and Bethlehem, due to their religious significance to Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
However, the plan was flatly rejected by both sides. For the Jewish people, the horrors of the Holocaust were still all too real, while Arabs believed the land had been stolen from them. This rejection led to the Arab-Israeli War of 1948–1949. After the war, Israel had encroached significantly onto the Palestinian territory, and the armistice agreements granted them the land that they had taken. Jordan and Egypt controlled the Arab territories, including the West Bank and Gaza.
The rejection of the UN plan and the acknowledgement of the militarily established borders by both sides set a precedent for the 69 years of conflict. The Israeli occupation of the supposed Palestinian territories has, however painful for the Arabs living in the region, ensured that the lid stays firmly on the war, and kept the horrors of it somewhat subdued.
Despite that, it is clear that a solution is necessary, and that the situation cannot go on as it is now. With the Israeli army and Hamas both guilty of questionable conduct towards civilians, a resolution must be reached to ensure that no more lives are claimed by the conflict. To worsen the job of those attempting to find a remedy, as the war progresses, the technicalities of a two-state solution become more and more complex. What then, can be done about the dispute?
One of the major difficulties is attempting to satisfy the extremists on both sides, who are intensely nationalist and unwilling to accept any partition of land.
After the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was labelled a ‘Nazi’ by the far-right and shot dead in 1995. He was seen as a traitor by his assassin, and Israeli politics henceforth shifted further to the right. Binyamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister (he also served in the role from 1996–1999), represents this nationalistic sentiment in Israel — which was most recently manifested in a law passed to make Israel a ‘Jewish state’, to the anger of many Arab MPs in the Israeli Knesset.
Similarly, Palestinian politics can border on the psychotic — with Gazan ruling group Hamas being increasingly hostile towards non-Arabs, including the Jewish people in Israel. However, over the past few days, Fatah (a moderate party which advocates for a two-state solution) have signed a reconciliation agreement with Hamas and 11 other political factions. There will be Palestinian elections by the end of the year, and many hope that this will lead, in time, to peace between Israel and Palestine.
However, there will always be those who do not accept the sovereignty of the other state, and attempting to satisfy everyone with one solution will be incredibly difficult. One way to gain some support from both sides will be to use the aforementioned ‘Special International Regime’ areas, governed by an impartial body.
These zones could perhaps be larger than just 2 isolated cities, with potential for the Gaza strip and the West Bank to be under the governance of the UN, as well as other contested areas. For example, the Golan Heights, contested between Israel and Syria, could be put under international control in order to ensure stability in the newly-partitioned land.
An international zone in the West Bank, a supposedly Palestinian territory west of the Jordan River, could solve myriad problems caused by the “settlers”. These are people who move from Israel’s defined borders (from the 1947 and 1949 agreements) into the West Bank. Since 1967, Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza, meaning that all of the land is under its control. As such, people have moved into the occupied territories, and caused several issues.
For example, the impact on the Palestinians has been heavy. The division of their settlements and communities by Israelis is unwelcome, to put it lightly. Some Arab people have been forced from their homes by hostile settlers, and many more have suffered the same fate at the hands of the military. Those who stayed in their homes also faced division of lands and villages by Israel’s road-building projects, causing more tension between Muslims and Jews.
In the long-term, most crucially, these settlements make the West Bank an incredibly difficult region to manage and partition. There are almost 400,000 Israelis within the territory, and these are scattered all over. Therefore, a partitioned West Bank is now almost impossible, and even less feasible is the idea that the area can be handed to one side or the other. While Gaza had all its Israeli settlements dismantled in 2005 and so could be designated as Palestinian territory, the West Bank must surely now fall to the rule of an impartial governing body.
Another issue will be whether or not the respective militaries of Israel and Palestine will be restricted. It certainly makes sense that peace would be more likely with restrictions or at least non-aggression pacts. However, Israel would be unlikely to want to surrender any of its military resources due to fears of an attack by neighbouring Arab states.
Nuclear weapons will too be a source of contention, as, although Israel maintains a policy of ambiguity as to its nuclear arsenal, it will probably have hundreds of warheads. There will be pressure from nationalists to keep these as deterrents, but Israel’s military prowess will likely lead to an arms race between it and Palestine, which the international community will be keen to avoid.
Yet, even if the questions over extremism, settlements, and militaries are answered, there will be huge hurdles for the nations to overcome. Peace is unlikely for a long time, and so the process to achieve it must be started as soon as possible. There will be no lack of intrusive behaviour from superpowers, as the US, Russia, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia — as well as neighbouring countries such as Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt — will be keen to ensure that their interests are protected.
For example, Syria, while rebuilding after their civil war, will surely want sovereignty over the Golan Heights to be returned to them. However, Israel will be keen to keep all of what they see as non-Palestinian territory if and when there is a partition of land. Remember, Israel will have just lost (formally) the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, as well as Jerusalem and other cities. The last thing they would want is to surrender yet more territory.
Another issue could be the feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran. These regional powers consistently support opposite sides in wars or disputes, and wage proxy wars against one another. If two new states are formed in Israel, it could be the case that Saudi Arabia allies itself with the US-backed Israel, and Iran backs Palestine just to oppose Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and Iran may well also begin to fund extremists on either side, and problems within each individual country may occur.
For example, if both Israeli and Palestinian politics moderates and moves to a point where peace is possible, then extremist rebel groups may well form to oppose their respective governments. In the past, Saudi Arabia has generally backed governments (as it doesn’t want to encourage rebellions against its own monarchy), with Iran backing rebels. While this situation was reversed in Syria, it could be the case that the two powers could fuel a civil war within one of the two countries, and destroy peace in the region. Doing so may result in either Israel, or Palestine, or both having nationalist governments who wish to reclaim all of the other nation’s territory for themselves.
Therefore, the international community must ensure that Saudi Arabia and Iran benefit from a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. One method could simply to be to lift the US-imposed sanctions on Iran in return for facilitating peace, and leverage Saudi Arabia with a stronger alliance with the US and perhaps some cash. However, history tells us that these two countries often care more about geopolitical goals than peace and prosperity, so sweeter deals for the two may be required.
Of course, there will also be problems unforeseeable for the present-day observer — there are so many maverick and unpredictable countries involved that anything could happen. Russia may establish new goals in the Middle East, and potentially block progress, and alliances may break down and shift during the peace progress. Perhaps, for example, the US could find a more powerful and reliable ally in the Middle East that Israel, and have no vested interest in helping peace talks move along. Only time will tell whether or not achieving a two-state solution will be possible.