The annual “Open Shuhada Street” demonstration, in protest of Israel’s decision to close the street to Palestinians following the February 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre
A sudden uptick in attacks and rumours of a “third intifada” in occupied Palestine have characterized the latest chapter in one of the longest running, most complicated, and costly conflicts of the last century. The past seventy years have seen a rise in religious and ethnic tensions, and the resultant violence has cost over 100,000 lives. With Israelis living in fear of the alarms that signal a rocket attack and Palestinians forced to suffer mistreatment at the hands of legal and military oppression, both sides have made attempts at peace — some genuine, and others less so.
Talks of a two-state solution have failed repeatedly over the last seventy years, and many are calling for a single, unified Palestinian state. But rather than divesting from the two-state solution, Israel, Palestine, and international stakeholders should commit the resources and make the compromises needed to achieve it. Israel will need to dismantle illegal Jewish settlements and commit to the equal treatment of Jews and Arabs both economically and legally, while Palestine will need to prevent anti-Israeli attacks and recognize the Israeli state’s right to exist.
Although tension between Jews and Arabs in Palestine has been ongoing for centuries, the current form of the conflict is rooted in the violence that followed the post-Holocaust Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. A year earlier, in 1947, the first attempts at a two-state solution were proposed by the United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution 181 (II), which proposed partitioning the area into two sovereign independent states (one Arab, one Jewish, and Jerusalem under the control of a special international authority). The borders established in 1949 after the Arab-Israeli War, in which Jordan and Egypt held control of the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, remained relatively unchanged until 1967, when the Six Day War saw both regions seized and annexed by Israel. But while Israel’s international borders have remained essentially static since then, domestic lines between Jewish and Arab Israel are becoming increasingly blurred.
The international community considers Israeli settlements a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the deportation or transfer of an occupying power’s civilians into the occupied area; however, Israel disputes this claim and has continued expanding its presence across much of the West Bank. Israeli settlements are fundamentally rooted in religion with 31% of settlers listing their primary reason for settling as a “national or religious mission to inhabit the land,” and routinely engage in violence against their Palestinian neighbours, whose houses and farmland stand in the way of settlement expansion. Because settlers and Palestinians are held to different — and discriminatory — legal standards, settlers are often given only a slap on the wrist for acts that would land a Palestinian in jail.
In 2005, the Israeli government under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew the IDF and dismantled all settlements in Gaza, in addition to four settlements in the West Bank, in what was known as the unilateral disengagement plan. Since then, however, the Israeli government — currently led by Benjamin Netanyahu — has once again begun authorizing their expansion. Jewish settlements usually encompass an IDF presence, and settlers themselves are often heavily armed and extremely willing to use lethal force. The increasing proximity of Jewish settlements to Palestinian villages has given ample opportunity to both sides to harm the other, and little way to avoid open conflict. In places like East Jerusalem the situation is particularly tense as Israeli settlements constitute a section of a pre-existing city whose security measures impede the ability of Palestinians to go about their daily lives — as demonstrated by the recent IDF decision to deny entry to the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque to Palestinian men under 40 years of age.
The increasing proximity of Jews and Arabs in both rural areas and densely-populated cities, in combination with a long-standing power imbalance that unquestioningly favours Israelis, is eroding the already uncertain desire for peace between the two peoples. Israel will need to take the first step and divest from its settlements before any peace agreement can be made.
Palestinians, for their part, have a responsibility to work with them. Achieving peace will require sacrifices — territorial and otherwise — from all sides involved. While moderate and centre-left Israelis have increasingly called for settlement demolition, no leader has been willing to call for the complete destruction of the largest, longest-existing Jewish settlements — nor do they have to. Palestine will need to cede this territory in exchange for comparable land along other sections of the 1967 border — often used to demarcate land in separation proposals — in order to achieve a peace deal acceptable to Israel.
After dismantling the majority of Israeli settlements, the second step will be to secure the help of the international community. Peace in Palestine necessarily presupposes IDF disengagement from its posts in Jerusalem, along Israel’s borders, near Jewish settlements, and in many other areas of interaction with Palestine. But given the important work it does — protecting Israelis from rocket strikes, from militants crossing the border, and from attacks on civilians in shared cities — valid concerns about the safety of Israelis will arise. Therefore, in accordance with Resolution 181(II) of the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, the city of Jerusalem should become a neutral city, corpus separatum, under the purview of a special international force committed to ensuring free access by citizens of both the Arab and Jewish states to religious sites. The creation of a neutral Jerusalem that avoids the monopolization of authority seen today by the IDF would be a chance for both sides (from the two eventually sovereign states) to improve relations through economic cooperation and mutual prosperity — a necessity for lasting peace.
Peace in Palestine in the form of a two-state solution is within reach and will require significant sacrifice by both Palestine and Israel as well as the commitment of the international community. The current occupation by the IDF makes any attempt at peace futile. For talks to begin, Israeli forces need to withdraw and Palestinians must acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as a state. Otherwise, the region will need to prepare itself for countless more deaths and decades of unrest that will only escalate from here on out.
Note: Sara Jarrar, Yftah Sheffer, and Edan Canning were interviewed for this piece. Sara lives in occupied Palestine, and Yftah and Edan both hail from Israel. All three are members of the United World Colleges system.
Patrick O’Donnell is a sophomore at McGill University, majoring in Political Science and Sociology and minoring in Economics and Arabic.