The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a significant geopolitical issue since 1948 when the United Nations divided Palestine into Arab and Israeli states. The Holy Land, home to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, has become a scene of bloody skirmishes, with the latest round of conflicts threatening a large-scale war. The country where the Bible was written for the last seven decades is a key crisis point and a potential source of a new world war.
There have been four major Israeli-Arab wars between 1948-1949, 1956, 1967, and 1973, as well as the First and Second Lebanon Wars in 1982 and 2006. In almost all of these wars, the Israelis won, while the Arabs suffered defeat, resulting in over 100,000 deaths.
Various experts have offered different solutions to reconcile the two nations, but it is not necessary to invent new political solutions today. The UN plan for the partition of the Holy Land (1947) divided the territory into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under international administration. The Jewish state was assigned the fertile eastern Galilee, the Coastal Plain, and much of the Negev desert, while the Arab state was assigned the central and western part of the Galilee, the city of Acre, Samaria and Judea, Jaffa, and the southern coast extending north from Isdud (now Ashdod) to the Gaza Strip.
The UN partition plan for Palestine in 1992 called for an economic union between the two states and protection of religious and minority rights. Despite the Palestinian Arab population being twice as numerous as the Jewish one, 62% of the territory was allocated to the Jewish state. This plan was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine and most Zionist groups, who saw it as a springboard for further territorial expansion. However, the Arab High Committee, the Arab League, and other Arab leaders rejected the plan due to its political unjustness and religious inacceptability.
The Oslo II agreements in 1995 divided the West Bank into three zones: A, B, and C. Zone A has civilian authority and security forces, while Zone B covers about 22% of the West Bank and includes 440 Palestinian villages and surrounding areas. Zone C comprises about 61% of the West Bank and is administered by the Israeli authorities of Judea and Samaria. The Palestinian Authority is responsible for medical and educational services for Palestinians in Area C, but everything else is controlled by the Israeli authorities.
The status of Jerusalem is described as “one of the most intractable issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” East Jerusalem includes the Old City of Jerusalem, which contains many sites of greatest religious importance to the three main Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Temple Mount is important for Jews because the first and second Jerusalem temples were located there, and the Western Wall stands as a remnant of the Second Temple. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam after Mecca and Medina, and it is believed that Muhammad ascended to heaven on the Temple Mount.
The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques, located on Temple Hill, are significant Christian sites in Jerusalem. East Jerusalem, captured by the Israeli army in the 1967 Six-Day War, has been under full Israeli control since then. The Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law in 1980, defining the entire city as the capital of Israel. East Jerusalem, with a population of 580,000, is considered the future capital of Palestine by Palestinians and the international community, comprising 61% Arabs and 39% Jews.
The Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory on the Mediterranean Sea, is completely cut off from the West Bank by Israeli territory. Under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority managed civilian affairs while Israel retained military control. In 2005, Israel unilaterally retreated from the Gaza Strip, and since then, the Palestinian Authority has been responsible for its full administration.
The Gaza Strip faces chronic shortages of water, food, electricity, telecommunications services, and medicine relying on Israeli cooperation. Israel controls air and sea access to the Gaza Strip and six of the seven border crossings, making it considered indirect Israeli control. The two-state model, proposed by the UN General Assembly in 1947, is the most popular solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The two-state solution, supported by the majority of the international community, is a complex and challenging issue. The main stumbling block is the demarcation line, which is followed by the issue of Jerusalem and its religious significance for Jews and Muslims. The situation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the situation of Palestinian refugees are also significant issues.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is at the heart of the issue, with the Green Line, the armistice line drawn at the end of the First Israeli-Arab War in 1949, often being considered a winning solution. Barack Obama’s support for the two-state model did not lead to peace in the Holy Land, as it involved the division of Jerusalem into western Israeli and eastern Palestinian parts. This concept is strongly opposed by many on the Israeli right.
A particularly difficult question is what would happen to the Old City, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount, as well as key Israeli institutions, including the Hebrew University, located in East Jerusalem. If the borders of 1967 were inviolable, hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in the created Jewish settlements in the West Bank would end up in a Palestinian state. The question is whether Jews will become Palestinian citizens or be forced to return to Israel, with some Palestinians and Israelis favouring the former, despite some Jewish settlements being modern cities.
The largest settlements have the status of cities, such as Modi’in Illit (81,000 inhabitants), Beitar Illit (63,000 inhabitants), Ma’ale Adumim (37,000 inhabitants), and Ariel (19,000 inhabitants). Dissolving Jewish towns within a Palestinian state would be practically unthinkable, considering the international community’s concerns.
The Palestinian state, which has a continuous territory, is facing challenges due to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949. Many Palestinians are citizens of Jordan, the USA, and other countries, and they are calling for a “right of return” to return to their homes and villages. The United Nations adopted Resolution 194 in 1948, allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242, advocating for a “just solution” to the refugee issue.
Israel is not a supporter of the “right of return” as millions of Muslim refugees would flood Israel and diminish its Jewish character. Israel and its partners have criticized the UN and Arab countries for not integrating these refugees to keep pressure on Israel. Additionally, many Israelis note that they received 600,000 Jews from Arab countries after 1948, many of whom were forced to abandon their property and flee to Israel.
Israel was established as a refuge for the Jewish people who were oppressed for centuries, survived the Holocaust, and then invaded the armies of the Arab states. Military service is mandatory, and rocket attacks from Gaza and Lebanon take place regularly. The West Bank’s closure would reduce Israel’s security presence along the Jordan River and make it only a few kilometres wide, potentially causing a loss of strategic depth in the event of an Arab invasion.
Israeli anti-terrorist operations in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority have helped reduce terrorist threats. However, Hamas militants regularly fire rockets at Israel and dig tunnels from Gaza into Israeli population centers, causing fear among Israelis that if their troops were withdrawn from the West Bank, rockets would be fired at them and there would no longer be a safe location in the country.
Support for a two-state solution in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict varies, with some Israeli journalists arguing Palestinians are unwilling to accept a Jewish state, while others believe a peace agreement with good neighbors is desirable. In 2021, 39% of Palestinians accepted the two-state model.
Support is even lower among young people. A poll conducted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) showed that 60% of Palestinians believe the goal of their national movement should be to return all of historic Palestine from the Jordan River to the sea.
In 2020, 40% of respondents in Gaza and 26% in the West Bank believed that a negotiated two-state solution should resolve the dispute. The two-state model enjoyed majority support in Israeli polls, but it has declined over time.