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By Francis Tazoacha &  Steve Tametong  (Download Pdf Version)

The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is one of the world’s longest, most complex, and enduring conflicts, with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for more than half a century. Numerous efforts have been made to resolve the conflict as part of the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, but most of the attempts have not gone beyond ceasefires. Yet, the world has been polarized in resolving the conflict. 

 Historical Background 

The conflict between Israel and Palestine has not been an issue of today.  It has been unfolding for more than a century ago. After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First World War, like other territories taken from the allied forces, Britain took control of Palestine (1). The Arabs and the Jews occupied this territory. While the Arabs were of the majority, the Jews were of the minority. When the international community gave Great Britain the responsibility to settle the Jews in Palestine orchestrated the genesis of conflict between the two peoples. General assertions of claims to a Jewish homeland in Palestine, including the 1897 First Zionist Congress and the 1917 Balfour Declaration, created early tension in the region (2).  

The Jews claimed that the land in question was their ancestral home, but the Arabs living in the land opposed the assertion and opposed the move. When Hitler came to power in Germany and began persecuting the Jews, the number of Jews fleeing back from Europe after the WWII Holocaust to their “ancestral home” multiplied (3). Many more returned, aggravating the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs. At the same time, the violent conflict against the British rule for self-determination became intensive, and the British were becoming fed up. In 1947, the United Nations voted for the land – Palestine – to be split into two separate states of the Jewish and Arab, with Jerusalem becoming an international city. The Jews leaders accepted the proposal, but the Arabs, on their part, rejected it (4). 

The British administration left in 1948, unable to put a rest on the problem. The Jews seized the golden opportunity and created for themselves the state of Israel. In 1948, unable to solve the problem, British rulers left, and Jewish leaders declared the creation of the state of Israel (5). The Palestinian Arabs vehemently rejected this move, and the resultant consequence was the first Arab-Israeli war when troops from neighboring Arab countries invaded the newly created ‘state of Israel.’ This resulted in thousands of Palestinians being displaced – what they call Al-Nakba: the Catastrophe (6). By the time the fighting ended in a ceasefire one year after, Israel had controlled most of the land. Jordan occupied what is now known as the West Bank, while Egypt occupied Gaza. Jerusalem was divided between Israeli forces in the West and Jordanian forces in the East since there was never a peace agreement to end the war and lay the foundation for sustainable peace. 

In 1967, the Six-Day War broke out, enabling Israel to occupy East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. Israel equally occupied most of the Golan Heights from Syria and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Later on, Israel withdrew from Gaza but claimed the whole of Jerusalem as their capital. In the past five decades, Israel has built settlements in these areas, where more than 600,000 Jews live. Palestinians say these are illegal under international law and are obstacles to peace, but Israel sees its legality (7). 

 The Current Conflict  

May 10, 2021, Israel and Palestine plunged into war for the 8th time, even though the disturbances had commenced earlier. This most recent war started on May 6, when Palestinians began protests in East Jerusalem over an anticipated decision of the Israel Supreme Court on the eviction of six Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah.  Under international law, the area, successfully occupied by Israel, is a part of the Palestinian territories that Israel currently holds under belligerent occupation (8). It was marked by protests and rioting, police riot control, rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Israeli airstrikes targeting the Gaza Strip. The crisis prompted protests around the world and reactions from world leaders. There were equally protests march in solidarity of the Palestinians from around the world (9). 

As with the previous conflicts, the war ended in a ceasefire. This ceasefire was agreed upon between Israel and the Palestinian militant Hamas after 11 days of fighting. At least 240 people were killed, most of the deaths being Palestinians in the Gaza territory. Both Israel and Hamas claimed victory in the 2021 conflict (10). 

 The Bone of Contention 

Notwithstanding an enduring peace process, Israel and Palestine have not been to reach a final peace agreement. Progress was made towards a two-state solution with the 1993–1995 Oslo Accords. Still, today the Palestinians remain subject to Israeli military occupation in the Gaza Strip and  165 “islands” across the West Bank (11).  

The contentious issues that Israel and Palestine cannot agree on are numerous. First and foremost, Palestine has many refugees in the occupied West Bank; so, should the Jewish settlements be removed or remain. Secondly, the city of Jerusalem is claimed by both sides as their capital. Which of the states will be willing to surrender Jerusalem to the other for the sake of peace? If not, will Israel and Palestine will willing to partition the city of Jerusalem into two and have it as their capital? 

Furthermore, will the two states accept the sovereignty and mutual coexistence of the two states as neighbors? Peace talks have been taking place on and off for more than 25 years but have not solved the conflict. Mutual distrust and significant disagreements are deep over fundamental issues, as are the reciprocal skepticisms about the other side’s commitment to upholding obligations in an eventual agreement. Today, Israel has total control over 60% of the West Bank land, and 650,000 settlers live in colonies in the territories connected by secure roads to one another and pre-1967 Israel. The Israelis have shown and are showing no interest in conceding this control (12). They may fake interest in a two-state solution, but their orotundity and actions present the reverse. 

 What Does the Future Hold for Israel and Palestine? 

With the efforts made by the International Community, Israel has never accepted the Palestinian’s right to establish an independent sovereign state. Even during the Oslo period, Israel continued to seize more land in the West Bank, and their settlement doubled. The Israeli envision of a Palestinian state has always been less than a sovereign entity – a state that has no control over its resources and without unchecked access and regress. 

In summary, the situation in the area will not be sorted out anytime soon as some may perceive. 

The most recent peace plan – prepared by Donald Trump when he was the United States president and called “the deal of the century” by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu –  has been dismissed by the Palestinians as being lopsided and biased. It has never taken off from its creation (13). 

After the Oslo and Arab Peace Initiative, Israel might have had an opportunity to negotiate a just two-state solution. On the contrary, in their philosophical blindness to Palestinian humanity, they chose to immerse the State of Palestine – therefore not being interested in the two-state solution. Even if Israel coaxes all other Arab states in the region, as with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, etc., and does dream of the Palestinian sovereignty as an independent state, Palestine will remain in her throat.  

Conclusion  

Any future peace deal that will be sustainable will need both sides to agree to resolve complex issues, including the fate of Jerusalem, the fate of the Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, and the independent sovereignty of the Palestinians. There is one thing for certain: if the status quo does not change favorably, there will be subsequent wars like the one that just ended. Therefore, the international community should speak and act unanimously to bring sustainable peace in the region once and for all. 

 

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Francis Tazoacha is the Director of Peace and Security at the Nkafu Policy Institute. He has a Master’s Degree in Natural Resources and Peace from the United Nations University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Steve TAMETONG is a Fellow in Democracy and Good Governance at the Nkafu Policy Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Law from Dschang University. He also holds a Ph.D. in Governance and Regional Integration from the Institute of Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences of the Pan-African University (African Union).