The Israel-Palestine Conflict - History Current Status and Prospects - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Israel-Palestine Conflict - History Current Status and Prospects

The Israel-Palestine Conflict has been marred by rebellions, disputes and wars - not to mention identity clashes.

 Palestinian Arabs and Zionist Jews have long fought over a piece of land commonly referred to as Palestine, although its name also has religious connotations and is seen by all three monotheistic religions as sacred ground.


The Origins of the Conflict


Conflict in Israel began after its decision in 1948 to establish itself as a Jewish state on land previously home to an ancient Palestinian population. These Palestinians saw it as their homeland and wanted a state bearing their name within all or most of this territory.


After initial tensions had subsided, the United Nations decided to partition Palestine and Jerusalem as an international city; however, this plan never materialized; instead Israeli forces occupied Palestine's West Bank and East Jerusalem while Egypt controlled Gaza.


Camp David Accords may have improved relations between Israel and its neighbors, but they did not address the core issue of Palestinian self-determination and self-governance. In 1987, Palestinians rose up against Israel in what became known as the first intifada and ultimately reached agreement on an Oslo I Accord that granted control to Palestinian Authority over West Bank and Gaza but did not end Israeli occupation.


In 2000, Palestinians again rose up against Israel in what would come to be known as the second intifada. Fatah party and Hamas, its Islamist militant offshoot, refused to engage in negotiations or compromise with Israeli occupying forces; instead using violence as a tool against their occupiers to win support and rally the public behind their cause.


The Palestinian political and security institutions remain weak and corrupt, failing to provide their people with effective leadership or governance. Furthermore, they lack the capability of preventing a third intifada from emerging; let alone engaging meaningfully with Israel once peace talks begin again.



The First Intifada


Israel's response to the Palestinian uprising of 1987 was severe. Hundreds were killed, including children. Additionally, thousands were injured - some would go on to suffer long-term disabilities as a result of Israel's brutal force of use: beatings, administrative detention and incursions using live ammunition which many found excessive and overly liberal rules of engagement for use against demonstrators rioters.


Unrest spread amid frustration with decades of failed negotiations and realization that Israel would not support a two-state solution. Amid all this turmoil rose Islamic Jihad as an extreme alternative to PLO that engaged in violent confrontations against Israeli troops as well as attacks against Jewish institutions.


By 1987, young refugee camp Palestinians were being raised with the understanding that Israel did not seek peace and that its control of Al Aqsa mosque compound (known to Muslims as Al Haram al Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount) had become untenable.


Violence quickly flared, as Israeli police responded to protests with deadly force while Palestinian suicide bombers launched suicide attacks against Israel. Israeli officials became particularly alarmed that these protests might threaten to bring about collapse of security system and launched an extensive military operation against them.


The Second Intifada


Israelis endured four lethal years of suicide bombings, rocket attacks and sniper fire aimed at ever increasing Israeli targets; Palestinians endured years of sieges, closures, lockdowns, checkpoints mass arrests and bloodshed that went nowhere for them.


The reasons behind the second intifada are many, yet one key contributor was Israeli occupation. Palestinians had hoped that Oslo agreements would bring better lives, greater freedoms and ultimately self-determination for themselves; when this didn't materialize they began believing diplomacy had failed and confrontation was their only recourse.


Young Palestinian militants believed that violence could help secure any negotiated outcome by showing Israeli negotiators what might occur if they did not come forth sufficiently at bargaining tables, following Carl von Clausewitz's view that war is "politics by other means".


As the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the second intifada approaches, broad escalation appears more likely than ever. A variety of factors is at work here - Palestinian economic conditions deteriorating rapidly, the emergence of terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad as new actors, an increasingly distracted United States, and no political solution being offered as factors contributing to its rise.


The Third Intifada


Since the collapse of the second intifada, Palestinian armed groups and individuals have carried out multiple terrorist attacks against Israeli targets both inside Israel and on Palestinian territories in the West Bank, leading to tough Israeli military responses. While violence has yet to reach levels seen during that conflict, its continuation suggests that conditions that drove it have not changed significantly.


However, they have seemingly worsened. One cause may be Israel's ongoing construction of new settlements in the West Bank while failing to hold security forces and settlers accountable for violence committed against Palestinians - making the security environment even more toxic than it has been for some time now.


Another factor contributing to this conflict is the appearance of new actors such as the youth-dominated Lions' Den in Hebron and Jenin and Jericho Brigades in West Bank, who tend to be less willing to concede than more experienced terrorist organizations, and have limited ties with Palestinian Authority.


As such, they are more likely to inspire copycat attacks against Israeli targets, setting off another round of this tragic conflict. All it will take are a few sparks to reignite this violent struggle anew and trigger another intifada that differs significantly from previous intifadas; one which involves Molotov cocktails and decentralized violence rather than suicide bombs and military crackdowns.


The Fourth Intifada


Israelis have gradually abandoned hope that they can resolve their dispute through peaceful negotiation, instead opting for more violent tactics and harsh military responses, prompting Palestinians to respond with violence of their own, leading to more deaths on both sides.


Israel has also intensified its settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while imposing tighter controls on Palestinian goods and people movement - further impeding economic activity and diminishing prospects for peace talks. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority leadership have suffered due to corruption and mismanagement and have lost support among their population.


Hamas, with support from Iran, began sending waves of self-sacrificing "martyrs" into Israel to conduct suicide bombing attacks against Israeli targets and also launched assassinations operations targeting Palestinian intelligence operatives, politicians, and field leaders - using informers in the process - thereby setting in motion an uncontrollable cycle of Israeli reprisal killings, Palestinian counterattacks, and individual suicide bombings by Palestinian militants.


Lacking rules of engagement and effective systems of accountability, the lack of rules of engagement reflects a policy decision to accept Palestinian casualties as an acceptable price for asserting control in occupied territories. Furthermore, senior officials failed to ensure their troops did not use weapons designed specifically to attack civilians like assault rifles and lethal bombs against them.


The Future


Israel stands at a crucial crossroads. Under a new government and with renewed opportunity for peacemaking with Palestinians, Israel should seize this moment to make amends by taking advantage of numerous good proposals on offer; but for that to occur it must first change its approach and stop denigrating their national rights.


Israel has breached international law by not honoring the Camp David and Oslo Accords' promise of ending occupation of Palestinian lands and expanding settlements, in violation of Resolution 242 from 1967 which set out Israel-Palestine borders.


After World War II, the United Nations established a legal order based on two principles: respect for peoples' right to self-determination and an end to acquisition of territory through force. Israel violates these two principles by refusing Palestinian national rights including banning their flag in public spaces.


This has led to increased discontent within Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Armed groups unaffiliated with Hamas or Fatah have emerged in some neighborhoods and refugee camps; among these armed groups are young activists forming independent organizations against Israeli incursions into their towns and villages - non-state groups that are increasingly popular.

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