The Israel-Palestine Conflict, Explained

Nicolas Valayannopoulos-Akrivou, Managing Editor

In response to recent developments in the Israel-Palestine Conflict, a resolution that sought to end government contracts with corporations that profited off of said conflict was brought forward in the Cambridge City Council. While its original language was rejected—the substitute policy called for the “reassessment of government relationships with companies” without specifying any country—it demonstrates the impact this overseas conflict has on Cambridge. While moments in the Middle Eastern conflict have marked the past three decades, it is critical to focus more on the holistic story than on individual events. After all, there has been no instance in international relations history where more time and effort have been poured into creating peace to such little result. 

Despite its appearance on the news lately, this is anything but a “new” issue.

Despite its appearance on the news lately, this is anything but a “new” issue. Some point to the fall of the Ottoman Empire (1922) and the control of the region falling into British hands as the beginning of modern hostilities between Jews and Palestinians in the region. The Jewish population started to grow in Palestine as a result of the advent of Zionism, a movement that called for the establishment of a Jewish nation, as well as the rise Eastern European anti-Semitism in the late 19th century. Between 1882 and 1939, about 400,000 Jews–divided into five aliyot, or waves of migration–immigrated to Palestine; however, the Palestinean Arabs had lived in the land for generations prior.

As WWII broke out in Europe, the number of Jews arriving in the region grew exponentially, as many were fleeing persecution and seeking a homeland after the Holocaust. However, with this new wave of arrival, tensions drastically grew between Jews, Arabs, and the British rule. These hostilities soon came to the United Nations (UN)’s attention, whose General Assembly voted in 1947 for Palestine to be split into two separate states, with Jerusalem becoming an international city. While this plan was accepted by Jewish leaders in Israel, it was ultimately never implemented due to heavy rejection from the Arab side given that it proposed the transfer of Palestine’s best agricultural land to recent immigrants. 

Unable to create consensus, the British occupants pulled out of Palestine in 1948 and Jewish leaders quickly declared the creation of the State of Israel. In response, Palestinians objected and war followed. Over half of Palestinians were forced out of their homes and fled in an event known as “Al Nakba,” or “The Catastrophe.” By the time fighting ended the following year, Israel had gained control of most of the Palestinian territory, Jordan occupied the West Bank, and Egypt held sovereignty over Gaza. Jerusalem was divided between Israeli and Jordanian forces, and no peace agreement was ever reached. Both sides blamed each other for the conflict, and since no consensus had ever been made, warring continued in the following decades. 

In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza that were previously under Jordanian control; subsequently, trapping Palestinian refugees who had fled to these areas during the last conflict. The main argument by Israel for not allowing Palestinian refugees back home during the latter-half of the 20th century was that it would “threaten its existence as a Jewish state.” 

Today, Israel still occupies the West Bank and claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital. Gaza is currently ruled by Hamas, a militant nationalist group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by most of the Western Hemisphere. Israel has imposed significant restrictions against Palestinians in these two territories, which has limited their development and sovereignty. 

The aftermath of the conflict has only left the road open for the subsequent round of fighting, with no progress towards peace.

Fighting began on the 10th of May as Hamas fired rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from a holy site by the name of al-Aqsa, triggering retaliatory strikes. In total, over 243 people died, most of whom were civilians, including over 100 women and children. On Thursday, May 20th, the Israeli Political Security Cabinet announced that it “unanimously accepted the recommendation for a ceasefire,” claiming victory. Ismail Haniya, a top Hamas political leader, declared that the fighting had “defeated the illusions of negotiations” and asserted that resistance was, “the best strategic choice for liberation.” Despite historically being a leader in peace negotiations, US support lies with Israel; President Biden said the US fully supported the country’s “right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks.” The aftermath of the conflict has only left the road open for the subsequent round of fighting, with no progress towards peace. 

Ultimately, the question that is the root of the conflict is simple: two states, or one? To summarize the Oslo Accords of 1993, the peace process that was set up in the region aimed to create two states that agreed to disagree. Through land swaps, security guarantees, and a deal to share Jerusalem, this seemed like a very robust plan; Israel would get to remain a sanctuary for Jewish people with limited Palestinian population, while Palestine would earn the right to rule its own territory. Despite claims that peace is still on the agenda, in reality, neither side has moved closer to achieving the steps set out in the Oslo Accords. This is because these plans were signed without specifically calling for immediate binding action, rather, they solely required that both states would make progress when they found possible to move towards this two-state system. The problem with this is that conflicts are rarely resolved, as progress is always deferred to with the promise that one day, it will be resolved in some deal that is perpetually over the horizon but never achieved.