Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Long-lasting Quest of Palestinians to Liberation

Sebahate J. Shala

(This article has been written for the World Mediation Organization, Berlin, Germany)

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been around for almost a century, involving Israel and Palestine and Israel and Arab neighbors. The quest of Palestinians to liberation has been long and costly. Peace negotiations have been underway since the late 1970s, producing numerous arrangements and initiatives and at least six peace agreements—unsuccessfully to date. Israel and Palestinian Authority (PA) have been unable to settle the Palestine status due to their disagreements on the fundamental issues, known as “final status issues.” The international mediators, the UN, U.S., EU, and Russia, comprising the Quartet on the Middle East, on the other hand, have repeatedly failed to bridge the gap between the parties and bringing a viable solution—that would be acceptable for all, including Arab neighbors.

The Road Map to Peace (2003), proposing a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side as independent states, still serves as the basis for negotiations. Designed by the Quartet, the Road Map addresses all factors to conflict, it places the security establishment before the final settlement and sets three-timetable phases that lead to the Palestine final status-to be sealed in an international conference. To that end, Israel and PA must resume direct peace talks, and in support of international partners, find a solution on all open issues.

There are various interpretations on the genesis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For some scholars, history begins with the Jews’ immigration to Palestine Ottoman territory in the 1880s followed by the congress of the World Zionist Organization in 1897. The latter proposed the creation of a “Jewish national home” in the territory of Palestine (Khouri, 1985). Others take as reference developments following the World War I and II, including the establishment of the British mandate over the Palestine, 1922-1947 (Fisas, 2014), the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution on Partition, 1947 (Morris, 2004), and the creation of Israeli State in 1948 (Kreisberg, 2001). Although, the conflict is often linked to identity politics (Id.) and ideology (Kelman, 1987), it is purely political and centers around five core issues: land and territorial borders of Israel and Palestine, the right of Palestinians to self-determination, Israel’s illegal settlements, Palestinian refugees, and status of Jerusalem. Any comprehensive settlement, therefore, must resolve all these issues—treated as existential for both Israel and PA (Kelman, 1987; Migdalovitz, 2006; Morris, 2004).

The control over the land and territorial borders: Both Israelis and Palestinians claim their rights over the same territory designated by the British government through the Balfour Declaration, 1917 (Kelman, 1987). The Balfour called for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” within the territory of Palestine. Additionally, PA seeks to design the future state based on the pre-1967 borders, as stipulated in the UN Armistice lines of 1949 and subsequent UNGA resolutions; Israel is willing to hand over some territories but rejects returning to the pre-1967 borders (Fisas, 2014). The international community, on the other side, holds different views. The UN upholds the pre-1967 borders’ provisions (UNSG, Res. 68/15/2014) whereas the U.S. and the Arab League agree to modify the pre-1967 borders (Reuters, April 2013).

Palestine’s political status: Palestinians struggle to realize their right to self-determination by liberating Palestine claimed as their ancestral land. For Israelis, the liberation of Palestine means Israeli’s demise; for Palestinians, the existence of Israel means the elimination of the Palestinian community (Kelman, 1987). The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), however, moved from its original position, recognizing Israel’s right to exist as an independent state (Oslo Accords, 1993), an act that was not followed by Israel’s leaders (Migdalovitz, 2006; UNGA Res. 67/19).

Israel’s invasion: Israel’s illegal settlements in West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights are regarded as the root causes and triggers to conflict, fueling the recurring violence and growing hatred between two populations, as well as hampering Palestine’s development (DFID, 2014; Morris, 2004). Illegal under international law, Israel’s settlements, incepted in the 1880s and reintroduced in 1967, have tripled in number from 995 in 1992 to 520,000 settlers in 2012 (Abdallah and Parizot, 2016), forcing many Palestinians to flee their homes due to the settlers’ violence (UNSG, 68/15/2014).


The status of Jerusalem: Palestinians maintain that Jerusalem must be divided with East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestinian state; for Israelis, the capital must remain united under Israel’s sovereignty while Palestinians would have control but not sovereignty over East Jerusalem (Fisas, 2014). The Palestinian refugee issue—is considered as a central feature to entire conflict and inseparable from the issue of self-determination (Khalidi, 1998). For Palestinians, the right of all Palestinian refugees to return must be attached to any future peace deal (UNSG, 68/15/2014), an option strongly opposed by Israel’s leaders who insist that “this issue could only be resolved outside Israel’s borders.” (Fisas, 2014) Currently, there are 7.1 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons, mostly concentrated in the Middle East region, including Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan (BADIL, 2011).

All these issues are fundamental for both Israel and Palestine whose leaders have been unwilling and unable to make any compromise. A recent survey, however, suggests that large portions of Palestinian society would be willing to accept a territorial compromise in exchange for a peaceful resolution if Israel recognizes Palestinian historical and cultural links to the land of Palestine and acknowledges the Palestinian refugees’ suffering (Haaretz, June 2019).

The peace talks have stalled since 2014 as the PA has determined that there will be no negotiations unless Israel fulfills its obligations stipulated in the Oslo Accords. Negotiations have been going on since the early 1990s—intensively and at all levels. Since the end of the World War II, numerous conferences and peace agreements had been reached—with no actual implementation—including the Lausanne Conference (1949), Camp David I Accords (1978), Madrid Conference (1990), Oslo Accords (1993), Camp David II (2000), Road Map to Peace (2003), Mitchell-led talks (2010-11), and Kerry-led talks (2013-14). Arguably, peace agreements failed mainly because they did not address all open matters, among others, the status of Jerusalem and refugees, and partly due to related-incidents, i.e., the assassinations of Sadat, president of Egypt, and Rabin, then Israel’s prime minister, the PLO leader’s death, Arafat, Intifada, and Hamas constant violent attacks (Fisas, 2014; Migdalovitz, 2006; Morris, 2004; UN, 1979).

The UN Security Council (SC), on the other side, has failed to endorse a resolution sealing the Palestine status—generally—due to disagreements between the great powers, and–-specifically—the U.S. blockade. The U.S. government vetoed down all draft-resolutions, including the EU-sponsored one in late 2014, calling for a final settlement on Palestine and a “just solution” for all open issues. The U.S. justified its action, saying that any solution must be reached through negotiations by taking into consideration the Israeli’s concerns (The Guardian, 2014). Momentarily, the SC’s decisions on Israel/Palestine are negotiated outside New York, on capital levels, and any outcome, as the SC argues, lies ultimately within the U.S., which has historically used its veto to protect Israel’s interests in this body (UNSC). The Road Map, however, is still on the negotiation table. The plan is backed by the UNGA’s latest resolution 68/15 (2014), calling for a permanent settlement on Palestine status based on the pre-1967 borders, repatriation and resettlement of refugees, compensation for the property, and freezing Israel’s illegal settlements.

The “Palestinian issue” has been out of focus in recent years due to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, however, it has reemerged following Trump’s election. President Trump has made a priority resolution of “Palestinian issue” by dramatically shifting the U.S. longstanding approach towards Israel-Palestine conflict. On May 2018, he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocated the embassy, an act applauded by Israel’s leaders but condemned by Palestinian ones, as well as the Middle East and European partners (Council on Foreign Relations, 2019). In parallel, Jared Kushner, Trump’s adviser for the region, has intensively engaged in this matter, initiating secret talks with the Middle East leaders to achieve a solution, reportedly by excluding the refugee issue from the package deal (Foreign Policy, February 2019). Most recently, in Bahrain, Kushner launched the U.S. proposal named Peace to Prosperity—with the aim to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict by providing economic incentives for the Palestinian population. The plan, which seeks to build a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian society through a $50 billion investment in ten years, lacks the political part of the solution (Vox, June 2019).

The Foreign Policy calls to abandon this plan, arguing that it sets back the U.S. interests in three critical areas: the plan might legitimize Israel’s annexation of parts in the contested West Bank, give Saudi Arabia leverage on the U.S., and strengthen Iran and its allies (April 2019). It might also produce a new cycle of violence.

In the current situation, what the Quartet should do is to find an “exit strategy” for Palestine by resuming negotiations to achieve the two-state solution within the 1967 borders. The Quartet, as France suggested, should be expanded—the Quartet Plus—by including the Arab League. Once the Quartet Plus has agreed for a solution—acceptable for Israelis and Palestinians—the Palestinian issue should then be delegated to the UN, not because its existence is a result of the UN Resolution on Partition 181 (1947) but also peace accords supported by this body, as a UNDP study suggests, produce better and sustainable outcomes (UNDP&BCPR, 2008).

World Mediation Organization:


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