Shortcuts / 09 July 2020

Israel and Palestine

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is long and complex. At its core, it’s a fight over territory, but it is so much more than that with religion, nationalism, and a lot of history behind it. Here we step through the Israel and Palestine dispute, what they are fighting over, and why America and others are involved in this immensely complicated conflict.

What are Israel and Palestine?

Israel is the only state in the world with a majority Jewish population. The State of Israel was created in 1948 after the end of the Second World War and the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. It was the culmination of a longstanding effort for there to be a national homeland for Jews who were scattered all over the world.

Palestinians, who are the Arab population that hail from the land Israel now controls, refer to that territory as Palestine, and they want to establish a state by that name on all or part of the same land.

Why is the region so disputed?

The area is so contested because both the Jews and Arab Muslims have a couple thousand years of history in the area. And more than that – it is considered holy ground, particularly the city of Jerusalem. It is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, and Muslims believe it is the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven.

How did the modern conflict start?

In the first half of the 1900s, Jews fleeing persecution in Europe wanted to establish a national homeland in what was then an Arab and Muslim-majority territory in the Ottoman and later British Empire. The Arabs resisted, seeing the land as rightfully theirs. And after WWII there was an early United Nations plan to give each group part of the land. That failed, and Israel and the surrounding Arab nations fought several wars over the territory.

What happened in 1948?

1948 was the year Israel declared its independence and during the fighting that ensued over borders, around 750,000 Palestinian Arabs either fled or were expelled from Israel out of their total population of about 1,200,000. A series of uneasy armistices between Israel, and neighbours Egypt and Jordan were then struck.

And what about in 1967?

Known as the Six Day War, Israel fought Egypt, and Jordan and Syria in a fight that left Israel in control of east Jerusalem, all of West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai. Jewish settlements were set up in all of these areas in the coming years, with government approval.

What’s the deal with the West Bank and Gaza?

These are the two territories that are home to large Palestinian populations. The Palestinians in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem have lived under Israeli occupation since that war in 1967. The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank are home to nearly 500,000 people and are deemed to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

The main approach to resolving the conflict has been called a so-called ‘two-state solution’. What’s that?

It’s as it’s advertised on the packet. It means that the Israelis and Palestinians would agree to establish Palestine as an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest of the land to Israel. Which is very clear in theory, but the two sides have been deeply divided over how to make it work in practice.

The alternative to a two-state solution is a “one-state solution,” wherein all of the land becomes either one big Israel or one big Palestine. But, for all the reasons we’ve talked about, that would seem to cause more problems than it would solve.

How has peace been attempted between the Israelis and Palestinians?

As mentioned earlier, the Six Day War in 1967 saw Israel now occupying and ruling over all of the Palestinian’s territories… including the West Bank and Gaza. So from the late sixties time all the way through to the 90s, there was a lot of fighting. Many Jewish settlements were also built in the West Bank and Gaza during this time, regions which are considered Palestinian land. there was a significant uprising from the Palestinians between 1987-1993. And in an attempt at peace in 1993, the Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, and the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Declaration to plot Palestinian self-government. Under Rabin’s leadership, the Jewish settlement expansion program in that contentious West Bank and Gaza Strip ends. And it was those moves that saw Rabin, Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. But on the ground, extremists on both sides were unhappy with the compromises and just a year later in 1995, an Israeli extremist shot Rabin dead in Tel Aviv, and Shimon Peres took over as prime minister. Then in 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party became the elected PM. And on the Palestinian side, an extremist group, Hamas, was formed with the sole aim of destroying the Israeli state. So with this, violent conflict continued across the 90’s and into the 2000’s.

What happened after Netanyahu was elected?

His election signalled a shift to the right and a growing sense of Israeli nationalism. He halted further concessions to the Palestinians under that process that was started by Rabin, and the Israeli settlement expansion resumed. Over the next few years, the Likud party went in and out of power. And the story of the first decade of the 2000s is one of talks that started and failed, and fighting between Israel and its foes in those contested areas and beyond continues today.

How and why is the US involved?

It’s provided billions of dollars in aid to Israel as well as diplomatic backing over the years. People disagree as to why the US is so invested, but of course there are more than 4 million Jews who live in the US. And there’s ideological support for the Israeli democracy that operates in the difficult Middle East region.

How has the relationship between Israel and the US changed under the Trump administration?

America’s support for Israel runs across party lines, but things have gone to another level under President Donald Trump. Trump’s administration formally recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – an issue others have avoided so as not to inflame the Muslim world which also lays claim to the city. And in 2019, the US said it no longer considers those Israeli settlements on the West Bank to be illegal. And that important because it breaks with decades of international law, US policy and the established position of most US allies.

And with the support of a Trump administration behind him, a newly elected PM Netanyahu is planning to annex (take over) parts of the occupied Palestinian territories. The Palestinian leadership, backed by key EU countries and Gulf states, have made clear that they regard any move towards unilateral annexation as illegal. The United Nations agrees. The US however hasn’t given Israel it’s green light for the plan at this stage.

Squiz recommends:
BBC Israel profile
Vox Israel-Palestine Explainer 

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