The latest conflict between Israel and Palestine came to an end on May 21, 2021, following a ceasefire agreement between the warring Israel and Hamas forces. This war lasted for 11 days, causing death and destruction, especially in the Gaza Strip. Though this truce survived the minor clashes in the region the following days, a permanent peace remains nearly impossible. While both Israel and Hamas claimed victory, none benefited from this deadly conflict.
Why are Israel and Palestinians fighting?
- Israel is the world’s only Jewish state located east of the Mediterranean Sea.
- Palestinians are Arabs who live in the land that is currently occupied by Israel. They refer to this region as Palestine and want to establish an independent nation separate from the Israeli influence.
- The ongoing conflict is concerned with the territorial dispute between these two parties.
- While the Jews and Muslims have claimed this land for thousands of years, the current political strife was triggered in the twentieth century.
- After the end of the First World War in 1918, the British took control of Palestine.
- The hostility between Jews and Palestinians brewed after the League of Nations supported Britain’s effort to establish a national home for the Jews in Palestine.
- The following years saw Jews from across the world settling in this region, resulting in numerous Palestinians being displaced and their conflict with Jews escalating.
- The post-war international efforts seeking to create separate states for Jews and Palestinians failed because of the Arabs’ opposition.
- Later, the Jews had established the state of Israel in 1948 after the withdrawal of the British army.
- Israel’s establishment led to a full-scale war between the newly established Jewish state and the neighbouring Arab states.
- Even after the conflict ended in 1949, it failed to settle the differences that persists till date.
- Rather, it attracted more wars and conflicts in the region.
What are the disputed territories between Israel and Palestinians?
- Most notable of the series of wars and conflicts between Arabs and Israel is the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, which resulted in Israel annexing the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
- With the annexation of East Jerusalem, Israel effectively claimed the whole of the holy city as its capital. Earlier, this city was divided between Israel and Jordan.
- While the ownership of this city is disputed, Israel and the US recognise it as the undivided capital of the Jewish state.
- Except for the Sinai Peninsula, all these territories are currently under the influence of Israel.
- In 1982, negotiations between Egypt and Israel resulted in the Arab country recognising the Jewish state and Israel withdrawing its forces and settlers from the Sinai Peninsula.
West Bank and Gaza Strip:
- The West Bank and Gaza Strip are the two geographical regions that house a large number of Palestinians.
- They are separated from each other by Israel.
- The West Bank is a landlocked region located west of the Jordan River. It is surrounded by Jordan to the east and Israel to the south, west and north.
- The Gaza Strip is a 24-mile long and 6-mile wide territory located at the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It is sandwiched between Egypt and Israel.
- Since the end of the 1967 war, Israel persistently embedded settlements of Jewish communities in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
- The objective of this initiative is to create the groundwork for making Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories politically unfeasible and to maintain permanent control over the region.
- The justifications for the Israel’s push towards Jewish settlements are security concerns, historical claims and ideological and political perspectives.
- The adverse consequences of these settlements are:
- Bypass roads linking Israeli settlements, checkpoints and roadblocks disrupted Palestinians’ freedom of movement
- Violence between Palestinians and Israeli settlers exacerbated
- Displacement of a large portion of the Arab population to make space for new Israeli settlers. Some of the methods used by Israel include house demolitions, forced evictions, renovation of residency rights, confiscation of land and construction of colonies and infrastructure.
- In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and left it under the control of the Palestinian authority – an interim Fatah-controlled autonomous government body established after the 1993-1995 Oslo Accords.
- The following year witnessed Hamas – a Palestinian Islamist group – winning the parliamentary elections.
- This outcome led to the US and Israel stopping aid for Palestine.
- A brief civil war between Hamas and Fatah also ensued, resulting in the former gaining control of the Gaza Strip and the latter retaining the West Bank.
- While Hamas and Fatah fought against each other, Israel continued its expansion into the Palestinian territories. Now, around 11 per cent of the Jewish population live outside internationally recognised Israeli borders.
What are Oslo Accords?
- Oslo Accords are two agreements signed between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1993 and 1995.
- These are significant because it is the first time that the two adversaries formally recognised each other and agreed to reconcile their differences.
- They marked the start of the Oslo Process – the process seeking to achieve permanent peace in the region.
- They are not peace agreements. Rather, they transferred control of major Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority and provided a framework to facilitate negotiations for a final peace treaty that was supposed to come into effect by the end of 1998.
- The objective here was to establish a limited Palestinian self-governance and promote further Israeli withdrawal so as to enable the mutual trust to establish permanent peace.
- The Oslo Accords broke down in 2000 because:
- It failed to address key issues like Jerusalem, displaced Palestinian population, the status of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories etc.
- It did not explicitly mention an independent Palestinian state.
- Opposition from Jewish nationalists and Palestinian rival groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad etc.
- The power imbalance between Israel and Palestine
- Failure of the US to make use of its powerful position to act as a tough but impartial mediator
- Subsequent efforts to recommence peace negotiations failed and the Oslo Accords’ interim arrangement became a new status quo.
- Thus, with Oslo Accords, Israel gained more legitimacy to further pursue its expansionism in the Palestinian lands.
2021 Gaza conflict:
What are the reasons behind the recent conflict in Gaza?
The causes of the deadly conflict in Gaza can be traced to a number of unrelated incidents that occurred in East Jerusalem, which escalated the tensions that remained unaddressed for decades. Some of these include the follows:
Eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah:
- Palestinian refugee families are facing evictions from Sheikh Jarrah (an East Jerusalem neighbourhood that connects the Old City and the West Bank) as an Israeli court ruled in favour of the Jewish settlers.
- The Palestinians’ protest against this move was disrupted by the Jewish nationalists on May 10.
- The Israeli police’s violent response to this incident resulted in numerous Palestinians being arrested and many getting injured.
Violent clashes at Damascus Gate:
- Israeli authorities banned Palestinians from gathering at the Damascus Gate at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on April 13.
- Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City is a social hub used by Palestinians to conduct civic and cultural gatherings.
- This resulted in violent clashes between Jews and Palestinians, which spread across to the nearby areas of West Bank and Jordan.
Attack on Al Aqsa Mosque:
- The most significant of all the incidents that triggered the deadly conflict in Gaza was the Israeli forces’ attack on worshippers gathered at Al-Aqsa mosque on May 7.
- This incident led to nearly 300 people getting injured.
- These clashes occurred because of the land dispute case concerning Sheikh Jarrah and Israeli forces’ attempts to limit the gathering at the mosque after the clashes at the Damascus Gate.
- This mosque is located inside the al-Haram al-Sharif compound.
- The compound has been a site of the Israel-Palestine conflict for many years as it also houses the Temple Mount – one of the holiest sites of Jews.
- This site is under the management of an Islamic endowment known as the Waqf.
- While it is open for tourism during certain times, only Muslims are allowed to worship.
- In recent times, Jewish nationalists with the support of Israeli authorities are visiting this compound in defiance of the rules set in 1967.
- Though many call for increased access to the Jewish worshipers, Palestinians refuse to encourage such visits due to their fear of gradual annexation.
- In response to the aforementioned violent clashes, Hamas had sent an ultimatum to Israel that it would launch an attack if the Jewish state does not withdraw its armed forces from the mosque compound and Sheikh Jarrah.
- With Israel failing to deescalate the tensions, Hamas launched rockets targeting Jerusalem on May 10, which is observed as Jerusalem Day to celebrate the reunification of the holy city.
- The conflict escalated with Israel launching its retaliatory attacks.
- This in turn caused riots in Arab-Israeli towns in Israel and in West Bank and Jordan.
Elections in Palestinian territories:
- On April 29, the Palestinian Authority had indefinitely deferred the legislative elections in the occupied Palestinian territories.
- This comes in the backdrop of Israel disrupting election campaigns in East Jerusalem throughout April, arresting Palestinian politicians and their supporters.
- This was seen as Israel trying to disrupt Palestinians’ attempt to renew their national institutions through the democratic process.
- Political struggles faced by Israeli politicians and the Palestinians Authority have played a major role in escalating this conflict.
- Israeli politicians failed to form a political coalition even after four elections. The current Prime Minister is currently facing corruption charges and sought popular support using this crisis.
- In a bid to gain a political edge, Hamas sought to position itself as a saviour of Jerusalem by initiating attacks against Israel.
Ultra-nationalism in Israel:
- Hardline Israeli nationalists played a major role in triggering the conflict by marching through the Old City during the occasion of Jerusalem Day.
- This provoked Palestinians into initiating riots in several parts of the city.
- Jews born in East Jerusalem are Israeli citizens. On the other hand, Palestinians from this region are granted a form of permanent residency, which can be revoked if they live outside the city for an extended period of time.
- While Palestinians can reapply for their citizenship, the process is complicated and uncertain.
Was there a power imbalance in the recent conflict?
- Israel’s state-of-the-art military technology and its economic prowess created a significant power imbalance when compared with Palestine, which has no real state or regular army.
- Some of the areas where Israel gains strategic edge are:
- Israel is one of the top military spenders in the world, with a budget estimated to be around 5 billion USD.
- Palestine, on the other hand, has security only through various resistance groups with manpower less than Israel’s military size. The Palestinian Authority’s security, which is funded by the US and the EU, is under the influence of Israel
- Israel’s cutting-edge indigenous weapons industry makes it one of the world’s top defence exporters. It is also secretly armed with nuclear weapons. Palestine does not have a national defence industry and its rebel militant groups are supported by foreign countries.
- While Hamas possess dozens of 100-160 km range missiles, Israel is equipped with sophisticated and diverse systems of both ballistic and cruise missiles that can reach Egypt, Syria and even Iran.
- Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system, which is operational since 2011, enables the Jewish state to defend itself from Hamas and Islamic militants’ rocket attacks. On the other hand, a similar system does not exist to protect Palestinians from Israeli attacks
How was ceasefire achieved?
- The 11-day conflict ended with a ceasefire truce brokered by Egypt.
- This came following the increased US and international pressure on Israel to stop the military operations in the Gaza Strip.
- This development comes after the death of at least 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis.
- This conflict is the deadliest in Gaza since 2014.
- Both sides have warned that the ceasefire will remain in force based on the ground realities.
- However, the ceasefire stayed intact despite few small-scale skirmishes emanated from the region.
- Yet, the ceasefire agreement failed to solve some of the core issues like the possible eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.
- If the Israeli court gives a nod for the eviction process, this could again lead to riots and violence in the region.
Were Abraham accords impacted by this conflict?
- The signing of the US-brokered Abraham Accords last year led to few Arab nations – the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – pursuing formalisation of relations with Israel.
- Diplomatic efforts under these agreements were not derailed despite Arab countries’ support for the Palestinian cause.
- Though the UAE had condemned the Israeli attacks in Gaza, it did not explicitly point out Israel as the aggressor as it was done in the past.
- The Abraham accord remains intact because of:
- Iran and Turkey’s assertive foreign policy interventions in the Middle East and their active support for Hamas
- The need to diversify the economy to reduce dependence on oil
How can the Israel-Palestine conflict be resolved permanently?
- There are two approaches to solve the Israel-Palestine issue.
- “Two-state” solution:
- This is supported by the majority of the international community.
- It involves the establishment of independent states of Israel and Palestine.
- “One-state” solution:
- It involves the integration of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into one big nation that consists of both the Jews and the Palestinians under a single government.
- There are two versions of this solution.
- One is the creation of a single democratic nation. This would mean that the Muslims would become the majority community and the Jews a minority.
- The other version is that annexation of the West Bank and pushing out the Palestinians or not allowing them the right to vote.
- The One-State solution is unlikely to happen because it would require either one of the adversaries to give up their raison d’etre.
- This makes the two-state solution the only way forward.
Why two-state solution seems elusive?
Some of the challenges faced while looking towards the two-state solution are as follows:
- Israeli settlements over the past years in West Bank and Gaza have made the one-state solution a ground reality.
- These settlements have made partition highly difficult and complicated.
- It will be difficult to undo all the infrastructures developed by Israel to separate the Jewish settlers from Palestinians in occupied territories.
- Palestinian is currently economically and politically vulnerable because of the stifling blockade imposed by Israel. This has led to the exacerbation of the poverty rate of the Palestinian community.
- Both Israel and Hamas lack the political will to promote stable peace through required compromises.
- Palestine is politically divided between Hamas (controlling Gaza) and the Fatah party (controlling West Bank). With both parties still struggling for power in Palestine, any united decisions on economic, political and social issues seem impossible. Thus, the Palestinians do not have a political representation for their cause on the global stage.
- Nationalistic aspirations are one of the major hindrances that prevent any constructive path towards peace. It is nearly impossible to make Jews and Palestinians reject their former glories and move ahead towards a peaceful coexisting future.
- The United States’ unending support for Israel is among the major factors behind the difficulties in resolving this conflict. Over the years, it had sided with Israel over the Palestinians. This creates a significant disadvantage for the Palestinians. Trump Administration’s recognition of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem is a case in point.
What is India’s stand?
- At the initial stages of the Israel-Palestine conflict, India opposed partition and supported the Palestinian interests and one-state solution.
- Since 1992, India’s policy shifted to focus on maintaining close ties with both Israel and Palestine.
- However, India retained its staunch support for the Palestinians.
- Since 2014, Indian foreign policy focused more on balancing its ties with both sides. It had shifted from supporting Palestine to abstention at the UN forums.
- India is currently backing the two-state solution to resolve this crisis, a major shift from the earlier support for Palestine and opposition to separate states.
- This takes into consideration the importance of smooth diplomatic ties with Arab nations – India’s major energy suppliers.
What can be the way forward?
UN Resolution 242
- A permanent peace requires all parties to abide by the UN Resolution 242 (November 1967) the called for the withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories and Arabs’ recognition of and peace with Israel.
Changing the ground-reality:
- The immediate focus of the international community should be the creation of ground conditions under which a successful peace negotiation is possible.
- This objective can be achieved by:
- Human rights-based approach: The conflict’s external players like the US can be more assertive in condemning expansionism, human rights violation and blockades that persist in this region. The US must end its current practice of vetoing UNSC resolutions criticising Israel.
- Creating favourable political conditions: International support must be given to all those factions in the region supportive of the peace process. This should start with promoting reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah to create a united Palestine. Other measures include reconstruction and rehabilitation of war-torn areas.
- Tweaking two-state strategy: Flexible approach towards the two-state solution can be made acceptable. For instance, experts have suggested that Israel and Palestine can have separate governments that maintain open borders. This allows Israelis to live in West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian refugees to return to their homes within Israeli borders. However, Israelis and Palestinians can vote for their own respective governments.
Addressing power imbalance
- Some of the measures that can be taken to address power imbalance between Israel and Palestine are as follows:
- Infrastructure connecting all Palestinian autonomous regions must be developed and it should be fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority. This minimises clashes between Palestinians and Israeli authorities.
- Provide employment opportunities to Palestinians to ensure ease of living and minimal tensions with Israel
- Prevent further expansion of Israeli settlements
- Giving Palestinians access to the world and global economy by easing travel restrictions and improving trade.
- The aforementioned steps will not only reduce the frequency of violence between Israelis and Palestinians but also provide the political will to progress towards a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
While the recent ceasefire is a welcome step in these trying times, it remains just a temporary respite. Nevertheless, the world can take this as an opportunity to urge both Israeli and Palestinian representatives to scale down the violence and move towards a diplomatic approach. The international community must do its part to not further kindle the brewing tensions and work towards supporting the welfare of all communities in the war-ridden region.
Practice question for mains:
Enumerate the challenges to the India-backed two-state solution. What are the possible steps to address the same? (250 words)