The enduring Israel-Palestine conflict, rooted in a turbulent history dating back to World War I, continues to unfold with the recent Israel-Hamas clashes. As global leaders call for a two-state solution, the path to lasting peace remains elusive amid deep-seated mistrust. Can a resolution emerge from the shadows of a troubled past?
The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas demands a study of the context and history of one the most prolonged conflicts in West Asia. It is a vexed question, and its roots predate the establishment of the independent State of Israel in May 1948. The question of Palestine started with the First World War. During that time, this part of West Asia wherein Palestinians were living was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. It continued that area from the early 16th century till most of the parts of West Asia had passed on to the suzerainty of the British Empire after the First World War. At the same time both the Palestinians and the Jews were fighting for wresting control over these areas, but no single group was ever successful in their efforts.
During the First World War, attempts were being made by the Great Powers to reshape the map of West Asia, including the territories already occupied by the Palestinians. But way back in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte offered Palestine as a homeland to Jews. Then in 1882, a Zionist settlement named Rishon Le Zion was established in Palestine. By 1885, the word “Zionism” was first coined. Theodor Herzl published “Der Judenstaat” in 1896 which urged for the creation of a Jewish state.
The most remarkable event in the history of the establishment of Israel was no other than the Balfour Declaration of 1917. In fact, it was a simple letter of just 67 words written by then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour on November 2, 1917, to the figurehead of the British Jewish community named Lionel Walter Rothschild. It directly got the British Government involved in facilitating the creation of a Jewish state where more than 90 per cent of the people were Arabs.
Later, in 1923, a British mandate was established and persisted until 1948. During this period, a significant migration of Jews to Palestine occurred, with many fleeing to escape Hitler’s brutal Nazi agenda in Europe. In the 1930s, Arabs launched various revolts in protest of rapid Jewish settlements, but the imperial British forces crushed them with extreme brutality. According to British records, nearly 3,76,415 Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine from different parts of Europe.
According to UN Resolution Number 181, adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947, Palestine was to be divided into two states: an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Palestinians opposed the plan because, at that time, Arabs constituted 67 per cent of the population, while Jews made up only 33 per cent. Additionally, the Jews possessed only 6 per cent of the land, whereas the Palestinians controlled 94 per cent. Consequently, the UN Partition Plan allocated 55 per cent of the land to the Jewish State and 42 per cent of non-contiguous land to the Arab state. Unfortunately, this plan was never implemented in practice.
However, as the British Mandate over Palestine came to an end on May 14, 1948, Zionist military forces began drawing the boundaries of their new state. The very next day, May 15, 1948, the formation of the Jewish state was announced. Between 1947 and 1949, within two years, thousands of Palestinians were displaced, and hundreds of villages, towns, and cities were demolished to establish the state of Israel.
These chaotic incidents were known as the First Nakba, or catastrophe in the Arabic language. With the Nakba in full force, 78 per cent of the lands of Palestine were captured to create Israel. The remaining 22 per cent of the area was divided into the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The tragedy of the first Arab-Israeli War was that, although it ended with an armistice between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, it had little significant impact on the position of the Palestinians. However, by December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, calling for the right of the return of Palestinian refugees.
Since the rise of the first and second Intifada, the signing of the Oslo Accord, and the death of PLO Leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, the fate of the Palestinians has hardly changed. Over the years, the Palestinian Authority (PA), an interim government given limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas after Arafat’s demise, has been unable to realise the dream of an independent homeland for the Palestinians.
The current stand-off, starting from October 7 with the attack of Hamas militants on South Israel and the counter-offensive launched by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) deep into the Gaza Strip, seems to be leading to a war of unknown magnitude. It would be challenging for Israel to limit the frontiers of the clash. The history and creation of the Israeli State are full of mistrust and complexity between Jews and Arabs, leading to the ongoing experience we all share. There is no end to this hate and war-mongering attitude on both sides.
It is a wonder whether we will have a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on their contested demands. It would be a miracle if the issue is put to rest forever. However, achieving this clearly demands sacrifices from both sides. Equally surprising is the fact that in the coming centuries, we will witness more wars than ever before.
Many of these wars, conflicts, and civilian outbursts against the state will be backed by extremely advanced information and communication technologies, with a deep impact on humanity.
A two-state solution is the only way to achieve permanent peace in Israel. Today, the call for a halt to mindless violence is growing on both sides —Israel and Palestine. However, the first step towards this reality demands the immediate dismantling of the Hamas terror machine and preventing Israeli settlements in occupied territories.
Undoubtedly, pleas to stop the barbaric torture over Gazans are growing louder, but both warring parties are not agreeing to a ceasefire. US President Joe Biden recently said, “When this crisis is over, there has to be a vision of what comes next,” and he urged a two-state solution as the “path for peace.” The US support for this formula is not new to the world. Various international experts, diplomats, and defence strategists believe that lasting peace must follow the current bloody war between Israel and Hamas.
For a long time, various world leaders have advocated for a two-state formula, urging the division of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean into two independent, sovereign Israeli and Palestinian states coexisting side by side. However, for decades, the two sides have struggled to agree on this idea. Both claim parts, if not all, of Jerusalem, the holy city, as their capital. The ground reality is that both Jews and Arabs disagree on where to draw the dividing or border line in Jerusalem. To this day, they continue to contend over Jewish settlements in occupied territories.
Another critical question is how to settle the millions of Palestinians who fled their homeland after the creation of the independent state of Israel in 1948. This displacement of the Palestinians, known as Naqba or disaster by the Arabs, has left nearly 5.9 million Palestinian refugees scattered worldwide. A two-state solution would recognise a 1967 demarcation line, called the Green Line, for dividing lands between Palestinians and Israelis, subject to land swaps based on negotiations.
Finally, it would involve dividing Jerusalem city between the two states. This seems purely imaginary considering the deep-seated hatred developed between Israelis and Palestinians over the decades.
The moot question is whether there exists any state or global governance mechanism to halt conflicts between states or between the state and non-state actors.
Perhaps not, as 21st-century states are pursuing more resources, power, and influence in a manner different from colonial powers in the past. Ironically, the global governance system is entirely controlled by these globe-trotting powers, and they show no inclination to halt their expansionist agenda. Hence, wars like the current ones between Israel and Hamas, chaos in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Syria, etc, simply indicate what humanity may encounter in the coming years.
For Israelis and the Palestinians, lasting peace is the only solution. The status quo is failing both the Israelis and the Arabs, especially the Palestinians. Then why not sit down and embrace peace rather than arming with mindless violence and hatred. Give peace a chance!
(The writer is currently president of the Global Research Foundation)