Middle East conflict: Why the two-state solution repeatedly fails

Middle East conflict
The eternal struggle: why the two-state solution always fails

Israeli-Palestinian encounter at the Kalandia Checkpoint. Palestinian protests often flare up at the border crossing between Jerusalem and the West Bank

© Jim Hollander / Picture Alliance

For 76 years, Jews and Arabs in the historic territory of Palestine have been struggling to get along with each other – something that has so far often been more difficult than successful. There is actually a plan, but unfortunately it doesn’t work.

Perhaps the original idea itself was naive, but perhaps it was also various wars, uprisings, occupations and (de)settlements that stand in the way of coexistence in the Middle East. One thing is certain: Jews and Arabs have been wrestling in this historical area for 76 years Palestine is struggling to get along with each other – so far it has often been more difficult than right.

From the division into an Arab and a Jewish state planned by the United Nations in 1947, only Israel has emerged so far – but its right to exist is still not recognized by some neighbors. For example from Hamas, a terrorist organization of Palestinian Islamists who rule the Gaza Strip.

Although far from a state, the tiny strip of land is de facto the only area where Palestinians rule autonomously. From there, on October 7, 2023, Hamas orchestrated the most devastating pogrom against Jews since the Second World War.

What was the original solution for Palestine?

In November 1947, the United Nations decided to divide the British-administered territory of Palestine and create two states there: one for the Arabs living there and one for the Jews already living there, as well as the Jews who had fled from Europe and neighboring regions. It was originally intended that the Arab majority of the population would live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the north of what is now Israel and in the southwest on the border with Egypt. The rest of the territory would become Israel. Jerusalem, the holy city, should be placed under international control.

Wars and occupation prevent peaceful division

The UN plan met with resistance in the Arab world, but also in Jewish nationalist circles. Immediately after Israel’s founding in May 1948, the country was attacked by Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Israel won the war, the West Bank was occupied by Transjordan, and the Gaza Strip came under the control of Egypt. In the Six-Day War 20 years later, Israel conquered these areas plus the Golan Heights, Sinai and East Jerusalem.

The cornerstones of a two-state solution

In 1993, the long-awaited peace process began between Israel and the PLO, representing the Palestinians. Essentially, it was agreed that the Palestinians would govern the West Bank and the Gaza Strip themselves in the future. However, with restrictions. The Jewish settlements in the areas should continue to be administered by Israel. The Arabs could not act truly autonomously. In the West Bank, the number of Jewish settlements has increased significantly in recent years – land that is de facto taken away from the Palestinians.

These are the sticking points

The peace process came to a standstill in 2000 after a series of attacks on Israelis and partially half-heartedly implemented agreements. But even at times when there was a high level of willingness to compromise, the main points of contention could never be resolved:

As is the case with many conflicts in the Middle East exact border line in a two-state solution controversial. The Arab side insists that the situation before the 1967 Six-Day War must be restored. Israel’s government, on the other hand, has repeatedly approved, especially in recent years, the construction of Jewish settlements and corresponding infrastructure in the West Bank and in this way is continually expanding its area of ​​influence in Palestinian territory. The settlers themselves are often radical Zionists who do not shy away from harassing their Arab neighbors. The Israeli government is also creating facts with its “concrete policy” in East Jerusalem, which is dominated by Palestinians.

In this context, Israel speaks of its security interests and refers to the evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005. At that time, 21 Jewish settlements were dissolved – but the withdrawal did not bring peace. On the contrary. Since then, Hamas, which came to power in 2007, has used every opportunity to fire rockets at Israeli territory.

According to the UN plan of 1947 Jerusalem is neither Arab nor Israeli but as a demilitarized city under the administration of the United Nations. But both sides claim the sanctuary of three world religions for themselves. Israel conquered Jerusalem in two wars and declared it its official capital in 1980. The PLO gave it the same status eight years later after it declared the state of Palestine. For the UN Security Council, East Jerusalem remains part of the Palestinian territories. This is also why there was a huge outcry when then US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem the sole capital of Israel in 2017.

They call it “Nakba”, the catastrophe Palestinians fleeing their homeland, after Israel won the first Middle East war in 1949. At that time, 700,000 people fled to neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and the Gaza Strip. They and their descendants are still considered refugees today. The aid organization UNRWA, which was founded especially for them, now looks after almost six million people who, depending on their “new” home, live in sometimes degrading circumstances.

The crucial question is whether the refugees have a right to return or not. Israel officially rejects it because it lacks the “will for reconciliation” among the returnees. In addition, the government is unlikely to like the prospect that the population in the West Bank could triple from its current level of almost three million. But the Arab side insists on the right of return, and not just the Palestinians. Neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Egypt also see refugees and their descendants as a burden.

Sources: Federal Agency for Civic EducationSouthgerman newspaper“, Deutschlandfunk, ZDFDPA, AFP

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