Doing The Impossible: Is Israeli-Palestinian Peace Achievable?

Every now and then, my non Israeli friends are asking me questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the eyes of many this is the toughest conflict to solve, and the longest on-going conflict in modern era.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is indeed very complex.
However, I believe that every complex subject can be broken down into little pieces which makes it easier to comprehend.

Focusing only on the major historical events, and the core issues of the conflict, will help people better understand the narratives of the two parties and hopefully will initiate a very important, deep and insightful discussion.

First, let’s view the 3 core issues of the conflict and their backgrounds (I’ll do my best to be as balanced as possible):

Core issue #1 the Palestinian refugees :

The refugee problem posed as great barrier for peace in almost all prior negotiations. Following is the context of that problem:

  1. The British mandate of Palestine ended in 1948. The United Nations, decided to divide the then British colony into two states - Jewish and Arabic. The UN partition plan.

2. Soon after, on November 1948, 8 Arab nations declared war on Israel. The war ended with an Israeli victory, but also created a huge refugee crisis.

According to the Palestinian narrative: 700K Palestinians were expelled and forced to leave from the area of mandatory Palestine during the 1948 war.

According to the Israeli narrative: majority of Palestinians voluntarily left as they didn’t want to live in a jewish state, or becouse they were instructed by the Arab leadership to leave in order to return after Israel is defeated.

Both narratives are probably somewhat historically accurate.

It’s important to stress that at end of the war, Israel granted citizenship to all the Palestinians that remained within its territory (today they make-up for ~20% of the population in Israel).

4. Israel refused to let 1948 Palestinian refugees return to its boarders.

5. Fast forward 70 years: many Palestinians are still living in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and rest of the Arab countries. The Arab League has instructed its members to deny citizenship to original Palestine Arab refugees (or their descendants).

7. Number of Palestinian refugees and their decedents today is approximtly 5.2 million.

6. Jewish refugees: Close to 1M Arab jews were living in Arab countries prior to 1948. During the war, many Jews were forced to leave Arab and Muslim countries.

Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries

There are voices in Israel that are calling to discuss consumption to jewish refugees by Arab countries in any future negotiation that will also include a discussion about the consumption for Palestinian refugees by the Israeli side.

Core Issue #2 - The Disputed Territories:

  1. Another war breaks in June 1967 between Israel to Egypt, Syria, Jorden (also known as the 6 days war) — the geopolitical climate shifts drastically.

2. As a result of the war — Israel takes full military control of Gaza and sinai peninsula from Egypt. The west bank from Jorden (including east Jerusalem) and the Golan Heights from Syria.

3. Both Gaza and The West bank are areas mainly Inhabited by Palestinians which are now under the rule of the Israeli military.

4. Israelis begin to settle in the disputed territories in Gaza and the West Bank. Today ~5% of all Israelis live in the disputed territories, they choose to live there either from ideological or financial reasons.

5. In 1977 A peace deal is signed between Israel and Egypt. Israel hands back Sinai peninsula to the Egyptians for the sake of peace. 
However, Gaza is not included in the deal.

6. In 1994 Israel is signing a yet another peace treaty, this time with Jorden, the west bank was not included on that deal either.

Core issue #3 Gaza & Hamas

The split in the Palestinian leadership is also a major barrier for peace. Following are some key points about that issue:

  1. Oslo peace accords: in 1994 the Palestinian Authority is created and it’s agreed upon all sides that this entity will govern the Palestinians in key areas in the west bank and Gaza.
  2. In 2005 Israel decides to disengage from Gaza, evacuating all settlements and ending its military presence there.
  3. A radical Palestinian sunni religious group called Hamas is winning the first elections in the Gaza strip in 2006, in 2007 Hamas takes full control of Gaza strip by force from the Palestinian authority.

4. Hamas charter calls for the obliteration or dissolution of Israel. Hamas also recognized as a terrorist organization by most western countries.

5. It’s very unlikely to assume that Israel and Hamas will anytime soon be engaged in direct talks with each other.

Two main proposed solutions for the conflict:

These are the two suggested solutions to the conflict:

  1. The two states solution: Israel will continue to exist as a jewish state, a new Arab state — Palestine, will be formed within the 67 borders (west bank and Gaza).
  2. The one state solution: Israel will annex the west bank and Gaza, 2.5 million Palestinians will be granted Israeli citizenship, 12 million Palestinians in the diaspora will have a right to move to Israel if they wish to do so.

The one state solution is likely to change the character of the Jewish state forever, as jews might become a minority.

The Zero Sum Game:

All negotiations so far were focused solely on the two states solution, and were conducted between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.

Following are the main topics the parties fail to reach an agreement on:

  1. The Palestinians demand for the ‘right of return’.
  2. The Israelis demand that a future Palestinian state will be demilitarize and insists on a military presence in the Jorden valley.
    An official Israeli video that elaborates on Israel’s essential security needs.
  3. Both sides want Jerusalem as their capital.
  4. Palestinians refusal to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state.
  5. Evacuation of Israeli settlements from the West Bank.
  6. The question whether Hamas will respect any agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

In Conclusion

The Israeli Palestinian conflict contains of 3 core issues:

  1. The Palestinian refugees
  2. The Disputed Territories including Jerusalem
  3. Gaza and Hamas

In addition there are two main proposed solutions for this conflict and many barriers for peace.

Now you know the core issues of the conflict and the general historical background. I believe that understanding the context of the conflict is a crucial part in trying to solve it.

One thing is certain - a Nobel Prize is guaranteed to whom will bring both sides to finally sign a true peace agreement.