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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The crux of the Israeli-Arab confl is of course the Israeli-Palestinian confl which has been described as one of the most intractable in the world (NetsZehngut and Bar-Tal, 2007). Although originally opposed to the existence of the State of Israel, in the 1993 Oslo Accords the Palestinian Liberation Organisation offi recognised Israel and accepted the proposal of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders with (East) Jerusalem as its capital. Similarly, Israel, once absolutely opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, agreed to negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and, subsequently, recognised the newly-founded Palestinian (National) Authority as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

However, there have been fundamental setbacks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Having initiated an uprising in 1987, which has come to be known as the First Palestinian Intifada (Alimi, 2007), the Palestinians then began a second Intifada in 2000, which lasted until 2005 (Norman, 2010). This resulted in thousands of deaths on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, Israeli military incursions and Palestinian suicide bombings, as well as a complete breakdown in peace negotiations. Moreover, the Second Intifada, and particularly the drastic rise in Palestinian suicide
bombings in Israeli cities, heralded the Israeli government's decision to construct the Israeli West Bank barrier on occupied Palestinian territory with the aim of separating Palestinians in the West Bank from Jewish communities (both in major West Bank settlements and within Israel's borders). The construction of the West Bank barrier has undoubtedly resulted in a radical decline in suicide bombings in Israel but it has also entailed severe social, political, economic and health consequences for many Palestinians living in the West Bank (Bowman, 2004; Cohen, 2012; Gavrilis, 2004). The separation barrier has brought security, on the one hand, but negative representations of Israel as an “apartheid” state, on the other.

Although the 1993 Oslo Accords (or 1993 Declaration of Principles) established mutual recognition between Israel and the PNA (Brown, 2003), neither a Palestinian state nor peace between the two political entities has resulted from the Accords. Fundamental disagreements remain which impede the two-state solution and peace, leading to uncertainty, mistrust and desperation on both sides. Four of these obstacles are particularly salient in contemporary political debate, namely (i) the status of Jerusalem; (ii) Israeli settlements in the West Bank; (iii) the Palestinian refugee problem; and (iv) Israeli national security.

The fi obstacle to peace concerns the status and sovereignty of Jerusalem. As outlined above, in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which had been under direct Jordanian rule since 1948. On 30 July 1980, the Israeli Knesset incorporated the Jerusalem Law into Israel's Basic Laws. The law authorised the annexation of East Jerusalem to Israeli territory and declared that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”.2 The PNA regards East Jerusalem (which includes the Old City and, thus, the holiest sites of Judaism) as the capital city of a future independent Palestinian state. The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem and regards this as occupied Palestinian territory.3 The PNA refuses to negotiate with Israel until there is a moratorium on Israeli settlement-building in East Jerusalem.

The second, and perhaps most salient, obstacle to peace concerns Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank. Following its capture of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (from Jordan), Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula (from Egypt) and the Golan Heights (from Syria), Israel implemented a policy of Jewish civilian settlement in these territories (Matar, 1981; Shnell and Mishal, 2008). In Israel, these territories were widely represented as being “liberated” from foreign (Arab) control, as contributing to Israel's security, and as strengthening Israel's position in future peace talks (as demonstrated in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty which saw Israel withdraw from the Sinai). Although Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip and uprooted all 21 Jewish settlements in 2005 (Aronson, 2005; Makovsky, 2005), it has continued to build settlements in the West Bank. Currently, the total Jewish

2  Basic Law: Jerusalem – Capital of Israel MFAArchive/1980_1989/Basic%20Law-%20Jerusalem-%20Capital%20of%20Israel

3  United Nations Resolution 478 (1980) DDE590C6FF232007852560DF0065FDDB. Israeli civilian population of Judea and Samaria (the name that Israel gives to the West Bank) is approximately 350,000. The PNA demands a complete halt to Jewish settlements in both East Jerusalem (its desired capital) and the West Bank before peace talks can resume. However, Israel's separation barrier seems to indicate to the Palestinians that Israel wishes to perpetuate its occupation of the West Bank rather than curtail it (Christison and Christison, 2009). Conversely, Israel believes that the Palestinians deny Israel's right to exist (Bar-Tal and Teichman, 2005). Indeed, it has been found that the PNA repeatedly represents present-day Israel as “Palestinian territory”. For instance, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's logo on the PNA's Mission to the UN website depicts the whole of present-day Israel as Palestinian territory,4 and various official PNA videos, documentaries, and songs refer to cities in present-day Israel as Palestinian cities.5 Both the Israelis' physical act of building settlements in East Jerusalem/the West Bank and the Palestinians' symbolic act of representing present-day Israel as Palestine serve to undermine faith in the outgroup's commitment to the two-state solution and, thus, each other's right to exist.

Disagreement regarding the Palestinian “right of return” constitutes a third obstacle to peace. Following the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, thousands of Palestinians were forced to leave their homes in Israel and the Palestinian territories (Karsh, 2011). Today, the Palestinian refugees and their descendants number in the region of approximately 5,000,000.6 Both the Palestinians and Israelis claim to seek a “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. The PNA and proponents of the Palestinian right of return generally believe that the refugees and their descendants should be permitted to re-settle in the areas that they left (including present-day Israel). However, the Israeli government and opponents of the Palestinian right of return are staunchly opposed to the re-settlement of Palestinian refugees and their descendants within Israel's borders. They claim that this policy would undermine the demographic vitality of the Israeli Jewish population and, consequently, threaten the Jewish character of Israel (Bourhis et al., 1981). They argue that the Palestinian refugees should settle within the borders of their own future independent state. Many critics of the right of return compare the Palestinian refugee problem to the exodus of approximately 1,000,000 Jews from Arab lands between 1948 and the 1970s (Shulewitz, 2001), arguing that the Jews too were forced to leave their homes in Arab/Muslim countries. While the PNA regards the right of return as an “inalienable right”, the Israeli government views it as an ambit claim designed to destroy Israel.

4 State of Palestine Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations website

5 Palestinian Media Watch


6  United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East Fourthly, the State of Israel is deeply concerned about its national security and the threat of terrorism. National security is viewed as the key to national continuity, and terrorism as an existential threat to it (Jaspal and Yampolsky, 2011). Despite the complete dismantlement of all Jewish settlements and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Hamas regime (which, at the time of writing, governed the Gaza Strip) and its collaborators have fired thousands of rockets into civilian areas in Israeli territory.7 Hamas never condemns these acts but rather views them as a necessary aspect of its “resistance” strategy (Mishal and Sela, 2000). Since Fatah (which dominates the PNA) was ousted by Hamas from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government regards it as powerless to curtail Hamas's actions and to guarantee Israel's security. Moreover, it is widely believed in Israel that the PNA makes little attempt to prevent Palestinian terrorism and that it sometimes actively encourages it.8 For instance, President Abbas has been accused of glorifying and sympathising with Palestinian violence against Israel, for example through the naming of public places after Palestinians found guilty of attacks against Israeli civilians, and the PNA's silence on Hamas's rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

These obstacles to peace have caused suspicion, at both political and societal levels, concerning the outgroup's “true” intentions. Although both Israel and the PNA claim to adhere to the two-state solution, the actions of the Israeli government and PNA, respectively, seem to indicate a lack of commitment. Indeed, suspicion, mistrust, and despair have repeatedly led to breakdowns in peace negotiations. Crucially, this brief sketch of the major Israeli-Arab military confrontations and “obstacles” to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have provided stimuli for the development of anti-Zionist representations among politicians and laypeople alike. They have been represented, construed and discussed in ways which tend to construct Zionism as an evil and belligerent ideology and, hence, the State of Israel as a “rogue state” based on this ideology. The complexity of the political and military history of Israel tends to be simplified in ways which construct a “need” to confront, and in some cases, dismantle the Jewish State.

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