Image: LevarTravel (Unsplash)

The conflict between Israel and Palestine has a long and complex history characterised by violence, disputes over land and issues of legitimacy. This article aims to identify the historical roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in doing so it will identify the various actors and competing claims involved, as well as other factors which have exacerbated the tensions. This article will also highlight the continued Israeli settlement of Palestinian land as the main source of conflict between the two groups. This conflict is exacerbated by the vested interests of the US (United States of America) in the region which has historically shaped how the conflict plays out in that region.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a consequence of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which the British government at the time, issued a decree in support of the establishment of a homeland for Jewish people in Palestine, which was then an Ottoman region. This announcement, however, was vaguely worded and did not explicitly state the formation of a Palestinian nation, rather it delegated land to be occupied by Jewish people in Palestine. The ambiguous formulation of the Balfour Declaration is the root of the current contention and conflict regarding legitimacy between Israel and Palestine, as the two states have feuded over each others claims to the territory. In November 1947, the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) adopted Resolution 181 which partitioned Palestine into three separate territories consisting of; an Arab state, a Jewish state and an international zone surrounding Jerusalem. In 1948, conflict broke out between Israel and the surrounding Arab states (Arab-Israeli War), resulting in the displacement of over 700 000 Palestinians. Israel prevailed in the war and in the process gained its “independence” and expropriated a third more, of land than what was initially set forth by Resolution 181. In the aftermath, both the populous and geographic size of Palestine decreased. Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt acquired control of the Gaza Strip. Almost two decades later a second conflict known as, the Six Days War broke out between Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Once again Israel prevailed and further expanded its territory to include the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights. To ensure long term peace, the UNGA adopted Resolution 242, which put forth that Israel relinquishes its illegally obtained territories and recognise Palestine as a sovereign state. This, however, did not happen and for the years to follow, tensions mounted between Israel and Palestine. Consequently, civil and mass violence erupted following boycotts, protests and clashes between the Israeli Armed Forces and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, this is what is known as the First Intifada. In an attempt to end the conflict, the Oslo Accords were initiated, set by the UN (United Nations) framework of Resolution 242, to begin the process of peace. Since then, tensions have increased and conflict has persisted, driven primarily by the failure of both sides to recognise the legitimacy of one another. 

In November 2000 during the Second Intifada, the Prime Minister at the time, Ehud Barak initiated the construction of Israel’s wall, to prevent Palestinians from crossing the boundary. The Israeli West Bank barrier (wall) falls significantly within the West Bank thus essentially consolidating Israel’s territorial expansion and exclusion of Palestinian people. It’s difficult to ignore the striking similarities between the wall in Israel and President of the US, Donald Trump’s plan to construct a wall along the US-Mexico border. For almost 3 decades, people living in and around Europe during the Cold War condemned the existence of the Berlin Wall and fought to bring it down, however, now states build walls often to the detriment of others on the grounds of sovereignty, national security and peace. Recently, Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to expand its territory into the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. This expansionist agenda is strongly backed by the US, thus essentially positioning the US as pro-Israel. The US’s support of Israel is not a new development as it pre-dates the Trump administration and its roots can be traced back to the Cold War. During the Cold War, the US provided several anti-Communist states, like Israel, with significant sums of aid. To this day, although no longer driven by the motivations of the Cold War climate, the US still gives Israel billions in foreign aid annually. The aid given to Israel not only serves to strengthen its position in the Middle East but also consolidate its capabilities and entrench its dominance over Palestine. Essentially, Israel serves as a “policeman” of the US in the Middle East as it protects US interests and promotes its agendas. Israel is a beneficiary of sustained US diplomatic support, i.e. the 1980s Israel-Egypt Camp David Accords, that turned out to be a subversive of Arab unity. At the beginning of the year, the Trump administration announced its Middle East peace plan, in which it aimed to negotiate a permanent peace arrangement between Israel and Palestine. What President Trump deemed a “win-win” solution, blatantly appears to favour Israel and disadvantage Palestine. Since the beginning of the Trump administration, it has become increasingly evident that the US is not impartial but rather extremely pro-Israel. Perhaps the most provocative action which not only compounds Israeli-Palestinian tensions but further complicates the issue is Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as well as relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem.

One would think that with a history and a nation characterised by notions of anti-Semitism, persecution and mass displacements, it would be Jewish people, specifically the state of Israel that champions the promotion and protection of human rights, as opposed to committing acts which contradict this. The circumstances of Israel and Palestine are rooted in imperial origins and an inconclusive decolonisation process. To this present day, the US maintains strong geopolitical, geostrategic and economic interests in Israel. The sustained US interests in Israel require an in-depth assessment of what the US stands to gain from this relationship. Israel is in fact, a petroleum-producing country, however, it is not the largest producer of oil in the Middle East and thus the motivations of the US-Israel relationship must be questioned. Could this relationship possibly stem from a need to appease Jewish lobbyist groups in the US? Could it be Israel’s ability to combat terrorist organisations like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levanth), or simply a ploy by the US to dominate the narratives permeating from the Middle East? As one of the world’s great powers, the US can disseminate knowledge through several channels and potentially control the narrative, this can easily be done with a partner, like Israel in the Middle East. It is uncertain what the future may hold for Palestine, on the one hand, some states favour a one-state solution in which both Palestinians and Israelis unite as one state with equal rights for all. While on the other hand, some prefer a two-state solution in which Palestine exists as an independent and sovereign state as opposed to a territory occupied by Israel’s military. US-Israel unilateralism works to the exclusion of Palestine and to the benefit of Israel. To ensure sustainable peace, a fair, just and amicable solution is necessary. A solution informed by recognition of past injustices, an equitable approach from all players and a guarantee of the respect of sovereignty, legitimacy and human rights. External involvement must be constructive. The people of the Middle East must be able to negotiate and navigate their affairs as well as shape their future according to the interests that serve them.

By Tshegofatso M.P. Ramachela

Tshegofatso Ramachela is a certified paralegal and a final year student at the University of Pretoria, currently completing a degree in International Studies, Political Sciences and History. She is a humanitarian, an intersectional postcolonial feminist and an aspiring international development and peace worker, who hopes to one day be a Doctoral student.

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