The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is arguably the longest running, most influential, most pervasive, and most significant issue facing the Middle East today. The problems facing the solution of the conflict include the issues of Palestinian statehood, the status of Israeli settlements, the refugee problem, and the nature of Jerusalem. The Arab World sees the issue of Palestine as a matter of occupation and Palestinian self-determination. Israel, however, sees its role in the issue as a matter of national security and self identity. It is highly important to the interests of the United States of America that the conflict be resolved. In doing so, a major source of regional instability and a major inhibitor on American influence in the region will be eliminated. There are a number of options available to the Israelis and Palestinians when it comes to solving and putting an end to the conflict. They include the ‘Two-State Solution’, which involves the creation of a Palestinian State alongside Israel, the ‘One-State Solution’, which would see the creation of a bi-national state where Palestinians and Israelis are afforded equal rights, and the ‘No-State Solution’, where Israel continues its occupation of Palestine in a de facto annexation of Palestinian territory.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from the creation of Israel in 1948 out of the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 recommending the partitioning of Palestine into an Arab State, a Jewish State, and an internationally governed City of Jerusalem. Civil conflict within Palestine between Arabs and Jews, and the creation of the State of Israel on May 14th, 1948 prompted a war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. As a result of the war, plans for the partitioning of Palestine were dropped and Israel emerged holding much of the former Mandate territory. The Six Day War in 1967 saw Israel take over the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as the Gaza Strip. The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising, began in 1987 in response to regional stagnation, and as a response in the 1990s international efforts to settle the conflict begun. However, the peace process had significant opposition from elements within Palestinian and Israeli society and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin created a serious blow to the peace process. In September of 2000, following years of unsuccessful negotiations, the conflict re-erupted as the Second Intifada (Bunton). The violence lasted until 2005. In late 2008 Israel conducted military operations against the Palestinian Hamas government, and since a cease fire in 2009 the general situation has been calm. Many proposals and conferences held for resolution to the conflict have been put forth, including the Camp David 1 Talks, the Madrid Conference of 1991, the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Camp David 2000 Summit, and the 2001 talks at Taba. Despite proposals and agreements for peace, little actual progress has been made towards the resolution of the issues behind the conflict (Boston).
There are a number of issues which must be dealt with in order to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These issues have developed since the beginning of the conflict, and still present difficulties which have been yet to be resolved. Three of the most significant issues of the conflict are the fate of Palestinian refugees, the nature of the city of Jerusalem, and the issue of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. Any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will need to take these issues into consideration and will need to adequately and successfully resolve these problems.
The issue of and fate of Palestinian refugees represents a significant and central problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result of the 1948 war, an estimated 700,000 Palestinian Arabs, about half of the Arab population of Mandatory Palestine, were displaced when their homes became part of the State of Israel. (Boston) These Palestinians became refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria. According to 2009 United Nations Relief and Works Agency figures, there are now 4,718,899 Palestinian Refugees, and approximately 1/3rd of the refugees live in refugee camps where facilities and opportunities are limited. Refugees living across the Arab World face similar tough conditions. Plans set forth for the normalization of Palestinian refugees would likely involve provisions for their return to Israel, return to the Palestinian state, or financial compensation. Palestinians refer to UNGA Resolution 194 to underlie the legitimacy of the right of return, as it offers the choice between compensation and return. From the Palestinian perspective, Israeli acknowledgement of the right of return would indicate an acceptance of moral responsibility for the plight of the refugees and a recognition of Palestinian claims to the land. Israel sees the right of return of Palestinians as an existential threat, for they are concerned that a large-scale return of Palestinians to Israel would affect the demographic and Jewish character of the state. They are further troubled by the idea that acknowledgement of Palestinian right of return would indicate an admission of moral responsibility for the plight of refugees. Israel rejects the notion that Re solution 194 grants Palestinian refugees a right of return.
Another important matter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the status of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city of great importance to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and both the Arabs and the Israelis posses special historical and spiritual ties with Jerusalem. The Israelis see the whole of Jerusalem as their “eternal capital” (Beinen), whereas Arabs consider East Jerusalem part of the occupied West Bank and want it to be the capital of a Palestinian state. Following Israel’s independence and the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, the UN divided the city between Israeli and Jordanian control. After the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and expanded the city borders. Israeli settlement in the West Bank around East Jerusalem has progressed since. The issue of how to divide and share Jerusalem is one of the most important which need to resolved in order to solve the greater issue of Israel and Palestine. Peace proposals have been drawn up which offer plans for the city to be shared by Israel and Palestine, and the guidelines of the 2000 Camp David Summit and 2001 Taba talks suggested that Jerusalem should be divided into eastern and western sections which would be given to Israel and Palestine (Boston). The international community could then recognize both as the capitals for their respective states. Unfortunately, despite a number of proposals and initiatives regarding Jerusalem being put forth, little progress has been made on the issue. In October 2008, retiring Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that for a peace accord to be reached, Israel would have to share Jerusalem with a Palestinian state. Since then, however, the building and enlargement of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has continued unabated.
One of the most difficult issues in the conflict is the issue of settlements. Since 1967, settlements of Jewish Israelis have grown in the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights and now over 479,000 Israelis now live in these settlements (Beinen). Israel maintains that the settlements are essential to Israel’s national security needs for effective resistance to an attack by Arab states and serve as protection from terrorist attacks originating from the West Bank. However, these settlements have played havoc with local topography, social relations, and Palestinian economic life. Roads which connect the settlements often block movement between Palestinian towns and villages, and settlements sometimes break up the territorial contiguity of the West Bank. The United States has consistently criticized the construction and growth of settlements as detrimental to the peace process, as has the international community. UN Security Council Resolutions have called for Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, though Israel maintains that these resolutions do not apply to circumstances in Palestine and have resisted international pressures to dismantle the settlements. Several Israeli governments, including the present one under Benjamin Netanyahu, have strongly advocated settlement expansion, providing the settlers with electricity, running water, and protection from the Israeli Defense Force. No Israeli government has yet risked the significant political capital needed to reduce or freeze settlement growth (Boston).
When it comes to dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, policymakers have a number of ‘solutions’ available to chose from. These options lay down policies and conditions which deal with the issues central to the conflict and present answers for solving them. However, each ‘solution’ has its share of disadvantages, and because of the deeply ideological and partisan nature of the conflict no solution will be able to resolve it fully without some sort of negative effect or response.
One option available is for Israel to continue the occupation of Palestine while no agreement between Israel and Palestine is reached. This ‘no-state solution’ is essentially the continuation of the status-quo. Unless substantial results are produced from the peace process between Israel and Palestine, the ‘no-state solution’ appears to be the ultimate resolution to the conflict. It is difficult to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this policy option. This solution is undoubtedly the most dangerous and the most antithetical to the national interests of Israel and the United States. It presents no solution to the ongoing economic, political, and social hardships for the Palestinians. Meanwhile for Israelis, the threat of violence motivated by the issue of Palestine against them will continue and likely grow (Cohen). If current demographic rates continue there may be a point in the near future where Israeli Jews within Israel and the occupied territories become the minority group. In such circumstances the only way a Jewish electorate could continue to elect a Jewish government is by continuing to deny the vote to Palestinians. In such a case where the Arab majority is denied voting privileges and is treated as a second-class citizenry, it would be hard to escape the conclusion that Israel has become an apartheid state (Boston). An international understanding of this would undoubtedly increase Israel’s isolation, heighten its insecurity, and create further obstacles to realizing its goal of a peaceful future. If the United States wishes to continue pursuing close ties with Israel while it is pursuing the ‘no-state solution’, it would need to be prepared to face international criticism and accept a loss of influence and clout when dealing with the nations of the Arab World. The current support for Israel by the United States is already a cause of enmity between the United States and the Arab World, so it can easily be assumed that prolonging the conflict would prolong the difficulties the United States face in influencing regional politics. There are few advantages to be had from the ‘no-state solution’. At most, the Israeli government would not need to exert the significant political will required to find solutions to the problems causing the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and then enact them. There is no doubt that an Israeli government trying to evict settlers or enact other forms of compromise with the Palestinians would face dissent from the Israeli electorate. Thus, by enforcing the status-quo no Israeli government would risk being voted out of office. This is, however, only a short-term advantage, and it must again be stressed that the ‘no-state solution’ is the least conducive to America’s interests.
Another possible option to solving the conflict is the ‘one-state solution’. This could come in the form of a bi-national state encompassing Palestine where Israelis and Palestinians share the same political rights. In theory, this option would largely resolve the issues behind the conflict. The creation of a single state encompassing all of Palestine means that territorial issues, such as Israeli settlements or control over Jerusalem, are no longer relevant. Meanwhile, affording Palestinians the same rights that Israelis now enjoy would solve the issues of lost dignity and lack of opportunity which have been symbolically important to the Palestinians throughout the conflict. A major downside to the ‘one-state solution’ is that it would certainly mean the end of Zionism and the Jewish state. The granting of equal political rights to the Palestinians, coupled with changing demographics which will place Arabs into the majority, means that the Palestine of the ‘one-state solution’ will have to include Arabs in its government and will definitely not be as distinctly a Jewish state as Israel is today. This is an option which most Israelis would resist (Boston). Furthermore, for a bi-national state to function it would require a degree of mutual understanding and respect which does not now exist between the Israelis and Palestinians and is unlikely to exist in the near future. The ‘one-state solution’, in concept, resolves the main issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and presents an alternative to the ‘two-state solution’ for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. However, in practice the ‘one-state solution’ seems untenable and unrealistic. The Israelis won’t accept a future where the Jewish nature of their state is threatened, and they are already uneasy about the prospect of being in the minority. In a single state where both Israelis and Palestinians are afforded equal political rights it is likely that animosity, disagreements, and differences between the two groups would lead to poor government or unrest (Boston). The ‘one-state solution’, in terms of America’s interests, would present some difficulties. The United States would have to adjust to the Arab outlook of the new state, and conflicts within the new state’s government between Arabs and Israelis would likely make it an ally with constantly changing foreign policy goals and directions. While it is true that under this solution the Arab-Israeli conflict would be largely resolved, thereby doing much good for American interests in the region, the unpredictability of this new state’s foreign policy alignments or outlook is a definite risk to the United States long term strategic interests.
A third solution to the conflict has been termed the ‘two-state solution’, which has long been the preferred option of the international community and the United States. In the ‘two-state solution’, both Israel and Palestine would exist as separate states for the Israelis and the Palestinians. Proposals for such a solution stipulate that Israel would withdraw from nearly all the occupied territories, though it could keep its settlements by compensating the Palestinians with equal sizes of land. Jerusalem would operate as a shared, open city with Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty and Palestinian neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty. Thus, the issues of territorial land disputes and the nature of Jerusalem would be solved through cooperation and compromise under this solution. The issue of refugees would need not jeopardize Israeli’s character as a Jewish-majority state if a separate, Palestinian state is created and compensation and resettlement is provided for Palestinian refugees originating in Israeli lands. The Arab League peace initiative of 2002 state that, in return for the creation and recognition of Palestine, the Arab World would recognize the state of Israel and establish normal relations with it (Boston). Thus, the ‘two-state solution’ presents a number of resolutions to the issues at hand in the conflict. Importantly, the Arab League peace initiative of 2002 would do massive amounts for guaranteeing Israeli security: the vast majority of Israeli’s security concerns emanate from its neighbors and are a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, a number of issues remain in the way of the ‘two-state solution’. There is a lack of political will on both sides to see the solution enacted, and the difficult choices and compromises required to complete the terms of peace, such as the issue of settlements and land swaps, would likely be difficult for Israeli and Palestinian citizens to swallow. Meanwhile, though the majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two state solution, there are still significant concerns within the Israeli population that a Hamas state allied with Iran would be bent on taking back all of Palestine. This is a risk unpalatable to many Israeli voters (Cohen). Finally, there has been serious issues of inertia when it comes to the ‘two-state solution’. It has been 18 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, which laid out the groundwork for a two-state solution, but little has been done in the way of actual, substantial progress. Unless the leadership of Israel, Palestine, and the United States can come together and make tangible progress towards the solution of the issue, it is likely that the ‘two-state solution’ will become less and less a realistic prospect.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important issues in the Middle East today. Six decades of unresolved issues have helped shape and define negative Arab perceptions of and reactions to Israel and the United States of America which supports it. We are now witnessing the changing of Arab regimes into states more receptive to the perceptions and opinions of their citizens. Dictators who had previously supported the United States and the status quo have been overthrown. Thus, it is now of upmost importance to the United States of America that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved peacefully and promptly. Only with a resolution to the conflict can Israel find the guarantee of security that it demands, the United States find the influence in the region which it desires, and the Palestinians find the dignity which they deserve.
The solution which best serves the interests of the United States of America and the interests of Israel is the ‘two-state solution’. Though this solution requires the exertion of strong political will by the leadership of the Israel and the United States and will likely have opponents, it is simply the most adequate way of dealing with the issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unlike the ‘one-state solution’, which resolves many of the key issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ‘two-state solution’ is tenable and popular within Israel and Palestine. By providing a state for the Israelis and a state for the Palestinians while compromising on borders, the issues of Palestinian dignity and disenfranchisement will be resolved. The Israelis, as laid out by the Arab League peace initiative of 2002, will be recognized by its Arab neighbors and be incorporated into the Middle-Eastern community. This is the greatest guarantee of Israeli security possible: Israeli’s enemies, such as Iran and in the past Egypt, have used and still use the issue of Palestine as legitimacy for condemning and attacking Israel (Cohen). Finally, by resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the creation of a state for Palestinians and restoring Palestinian dignity the United States will see its own legitimacy and influence in the region bolstered. With the Arab states no longer conflicted with Israel over these issues, they would be much more likely to support America in situations where their own interests are at stake, such as a nuclear Iran. Of the available options, the ‘two-state solution’ is by far the best. What is needed now is strong leadership to make it happen.
Beinen, Joel and Liza Hajjar, Palestine, Israel, and Arab Israeli Politics: A Primer, Middle
East Report, 2002. http://www.merip.org/palestine-israel_primer/Palestine-Israel_Primer_MERIP.pdf
Bunton, Martin and William L. Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, Westview Press, Boulder CO, 2009
Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace, Israel and Palestine: If Not Two States Now Then What, http://www.fpa.org/usr_doc/Israel_and_Palestine_Two_States_for_Two_Peoples_2010.pdf
Cohen, Michael A., “Think Again: The Two-State Solution” Foreign Policy Magazine, 2011. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/09/14/think_again_the_two_state_solution?page=full,