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The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict revolves around ongoing disagreements about Palestinian and Israeli rights and statehood, as well as the division of land between the two groups. The Palestinian National Authority (PA), Palestine's semi-autonomous government, contends that Israel has illegitimately occupied Palestinian territories, annexed areas of Palestinian land, and illegally denied Palestine's right to statehood. Israel's government counters that any steps it has taken have been justified in defending Israel's UN-sanctioned right to exist as an intact Jewish state.

The first outbreak, or as Arab’s refer to as Nakba, “Catastrophe” occurred during the 1948 Arab- Israeli war. Mass Jewish immigration to the British Mandate of Palestine began in the late 19th century in the face of social and political marginalization and continued in the 1930s and 40s with the oppression of the Nazi regime in Germany. The UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181 that would have created two separate states between Israel and Palestine, but neighboring Arab countries rejected the resolution as it gave the Jewish state, which had at the time less population the majority of the land. Tensions erupted into war as Israel declared Independence. The war caused thousands of deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. In 1949, armistices were signed and the “Green Line” or ceasefire lines were formed. The new Israeli borders encompassed even more land than Resolution 181.

Wars between Israel and Palestine's Arab allies  in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 have further complicated these issues. During the course of the 1967 war Israel captured the Gaza Strip and West Bank including East Jerusalem and their  Palestinian populations. One of the most contentious issues between the Israeli government and the Palestinians has been the final status of Jerusalem.  After the War, Israel claimed East Jerusalem as the rightful completion of its capital. While the Palestinian leadership asserts that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state.  protests and a UN resolution to the contrary.3

Israel is governed by a parliamentary democracy and is one of the most developed and stable countries in the Middle East. By building a controversial wall along its border with the West Bank in 2006 and enforcing a strict blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007, Israel has been able to greatly decrease the number of successful militant attacks against its citizens. Debate continues as to whether the security benefits of Israel’s policies will outweigh the resulting erosion of its international image and the deep resentment they have generated on a local level.

Feeding on this resentment, the Islamic Resistance Movement or Hamas (its Arabic acronym) has become one of the the most powerful Palestinian political parties   today. Hamas' power base is in the Gaza Strip, which it unofficially governs, but  it enjoys significant  support in the West Bank. The movement saw enormous growth over the last decade, and won a parliamentary majority in the elections of 2006. Hamas built its grassroots support by defining itself in contrast with Fatah, deliberately assuming harsher stances against Israel in order to label the more moderate Fatah party as weak and accomodationist, although its inclusion in  mainstream Palestinian power structures has moderated  the organization to a degree. Its offensive initiatives have diminished dramatically, with suicide bombing operations at an apparent halt since 2008.4 In accordance with its name, the Islamic Resistance Movement frequently framed the conflict in a religious context in the past, but its officials have distanced themselves from such language in recent years .

Hamas' shift toward the political center has created a vacuum on the fringe, which was quickly filled by smaller groups including Islamic Jihad. These organizations generally espouse the complete dissolution of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state. Friction between Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Fatah, and smaller militant Palestinian organizations has resulted in chronic violence throughout the territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

Infighting aside, religious extremists on both sides have played an important role in perpetuating the greater Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While moderates on both sides of the wall have expressed receptiveness to compromise, hard liners reactionaries have consistently scuttled peace talks. Islamic extremists have deliberately attacked targeted Israeli civilians with guerrilla and terrorist tactics in the midst of any negotiations, while expanding Zionist settlements in the West Bank continue to flaunt treaties and outrage Palestinians.