Over 5,000 casualties have been recorded in Gaza as of October 23rd, with another 15,000 injured. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute has been one of the longest and most complicated in modern history, including concerns about territory, identity, religion, security, and human rights. The war began in the late nineteenth century when Zionism formed as a nationalist movement among Jews seeking to build a country in their ancient homeland of Palestine, which was then under Ottoman administration. The British government’s Balfour Declaration of 1917 approved the notion of a Jewish state in Palestine, resulting in an inflow of Jewish immigration to the region. Following WWII and the Holocaust, worldwide demand grew for the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine, leading to Israel’s creation in 1948.
The creation of Israel, as well as the wars that followed and preceded it, resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who became refugees, igniting a decades-long confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian people. The Palestinians want to create their own independent state in at least a portion of ancient Palestine. This aim is now out of reach because of Israeli defense of its borders, rule of the West Bank, the Egyptian-Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian internal politics. Despite several peace talks throughout the years, a long-term peace accord has proved elusive. The war has been characterized by violence, including terrorist attacks by Palestinian militants and Israeli military operations. Other countries, including the United States, have played a key role in attempting to broker peace, but many obstacles remain, including the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the status of Jerusalem, and the ultimate fate of Palestinian refugees.
The two-state solution is one of the suggested frameworks for ending the conflict, which would involve the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, with mutually agreed boundaries and security arrangements. In the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) legally embraced this framework. However, other issues have since harmed the prospects of implementing the two-state approach, including:
- The expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are considered illegal under international law and pose a major obstacle to the territorial contiguity and viability of a Palestinian state. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are around 600,000 Israeli settlers living in 250 settlements and outposts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
- The rise of Hamas, an Islamist group that rejects Israel’s right to exist and advocates armed resistance against it. Hamas was founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and gained popularity among Palestinians for its social services and opposition to corruption. In 2006, Hamas won a surprise victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, defeating the secular Fatah party led by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 after a brief civil war with Fatah forces loyal to Abbas. Since then, Gaza has been under a tight blockade by Israel and Egypt, which has severely affected its economy and humanitarian situation. Hamas has also been involved in several rounds of armed conflict with Israel, most recently in October 2023, when it launched thousands of rockets into Israeli territory in response to Israeli airstrikes and incursions into Gaza.
- The fragmentation of Palestinian leadership and institutions between Gaza and the West Bank. The PA is recognized by most countries as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and is committed to a negotiated two-state solution with Israel. However, its authority is limited to parts of the West Bank that are under Israeli military occupation. The PA also faces challenges from internal divisions within Fatah, as well as from other factions such as Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Abbas, who is 87 years old and whose elected term expired in 2009, has been accused of being authoritarian and out of touch with his people. Hamas does not recognize Abbas as the president of Palestine and considers itself as an alternative government in Gaza. Hamas also rejects the Oslo Accords and any negotiations with Israel based on them.
- The lack of political will and trust between Israel and Palestine. Both sides have accused each other of violating previous agreements and undermining peace efforts. Israel has blamed Palestine for inciting violence against Israelis and failing to rein in militant groups such as Hamas. Palestine has blamed Israel for expanding settlements, imposing collective punishment on Gaza, violating human rights, and changing the status quo in Jerusalem. Both sides have also expressed dissatisfaction with the role of external mediators such as the US, which is seen by many Palestinians as biased towards Israel. Other regional and international actors such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations have also tried to facilitate dialogue and de-escalation, but with limited success.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a long-standing and complicated topic that has resisted several attempts at peaceful resolution. The current escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza has fueled worries of a larger regional conflict and humanitarian disaster. It has also highlighted the fragility of the two-state solution and the importance of resolving the issue in a lasting and just manner. However, this necessitates addressing both the core reasons for the dispute and the immediate triggers. It also necessitates a sincere commitment on all sides to break the cycle of violence and achieve peaceful coexistence based on mutual recognition and respect. “The most recent violence does not come in a vacuum,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “but grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year-long occupation and no political end in sight.”
The dispute is the result of two opposing claims to the same territory, and it has been impacted by historical, political, religious, and regional circumstances. The two-state solution, which envisions an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, has been universally acknowledged as the most viable framework for resolving the conflict, although it confronts several hurdles and obstacles from both sides. The current escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza has highlighted the urgency and importance of finding a long-term and just solution that addresses both the core causes and the immediate triggers of the conflict. To achieve this goal, all parties must demonstrate a real commitment to dialogue. The international community also needs to play a constructive and balanced role in facilitating and supporting the peace process. Only then can Israel and Palestine hope to end the cycle of violence and live in peace and security.