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So Israel-Palestine – What’s that all about?

 Well, fundamentally the conflict is caused by, as one recent book puts it in 4 words, “One Land, Two Peoples”. Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs both claim that they are the rightful owners of Palestine – the thin strip of land that borders the Mediterrenean Sea and contains many of the holiest sites for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith

So? I think England should still hold Calais but I don’t go on about it.

This is a bit different though. The conflict is between “right and right” – both sides, it is generally agreed, do have at least some claim to the area.

Ok, how come?

Basically, Israel claim that they have been the rightful owners of the land since the time of King David (of David vs. Goliath fame). They also claim that Jewish people, historically the victim of persecution and genocide in Europe, require a homeland of their own in order to be safe. Before about 1900, there were actually very few Jewish people in Palestine but the first half of the 20th century saw a Jewish immigration into the area in order to establish a state. Palestinian Arabs claim that, having been the majority in Palestine for virtually all of history, that the land belongs to them and the Jewish immigration was effectively an invasion.

So why is the area currently called Israel not Palestinia then?

From the end of World War I to 1947 the area was held by the British under League of Nations (precursor to the UN) supervision. In 1947, the new UN decreed that the area would be split between a Jewish State and an Arab state. The Palestinian Arabs were, shall we say, not happy about this and a coalition of Arabic states invaded the newly-formed Israel to support them. They lost and in turn Israel annexed the Arab state as well.

Right. So I’m guessing the Palestinian Arabs were now even more angry? What did they do about it?

Most Palestinians left Israel during or after the 1948 war and set up camp in neighbouring Arab states like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. There Imagewere 2 major wars in 1967 and 1973 between these states, Egypt and Israel, both of which Israel won and in turn acquired more land, most notably the West Bank, (of the River Jordan), Gaza Strip (on the Israeli-Egyptian border) and the Eastern half of the city of Jerusalem. Since then, Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel, and Syria and Lebanon have proven unwilling or unable to defeat what is undeniably a formidable Israeli military

So where does that leave the Palestinian Arabs? They don’t seem to be doing very well out of all this.

No they haven’t and even rightish Israeli leaders acknowledge, although they don’t accept responsibility for, the pretty diabolical conditions in which many Palestinian refugees currently live.

Where do they live?

Well, a lot of places! But mostly in Jordan, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel itself.

You say the West Bank and Gaza Strip? What are they exactly – countries?

That is, as they say, complicated. Remember that 1967 war? Well, after that Israeli occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip with military forces but did not formally annex it as part of the state of Israel. In 2005, they handed the Gaza Strip over to the Palestinians but have not done so for the West Bank. But even the Gaza Strip is still internationally regarded as “occupied territory” and not state of Palestine exists according to the UN which is generally regarded as the supreme authority on these matters. But Palestinian leaders are effectively in charge of the day-to-day running of the two areas.

Great! Issue solved, right?

Err, not even close.

Why? Israel has its bit, Palestinian Arabs have their bit.

Sort of, but there are a lot of issues still to be agreed upon before we have the elusive “two-state solution”.

Which are?

The biggest ones are:

Who gets Jerusalem? – back to 1967! Although Israel only occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it annexed East Jerusalem to Israel. Palestinian Arabs thus want the area back, along with control of the Holy Sites sacred to the Islamic faith in Jerusalem’s Old City. Only problem is, most of these sites are also sacred to Judaism

The “right of return” of Palestinian refugees – “right of return” is a phrase that you will often hear stated by Palestinian leaders. It refers to those Palestinian Arabs that I mentioned earlier who left their homes after the 1948 war. Now, do these people have a right to go back to live in Israel? As you’ve no doubt guessed, it depends who you ask – most Palestinians say “yes”, most Israelis say “no”. And most neutrals, naturally, say “yes…and no”

Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – remember how Israel only occupied the West Bank. Well that didn’t stop them building on it and now hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in this area that supposedly will be given to the Palestinians. Also, remember how Palestinians demand control of East Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement? Yep, there’s Israelis there too. Do all these Israelis want to live in a future Palestinian state? Guess!

Israeli security concerns – in return for ceding (or giving back, depending on your point of view) territory, Israel demands guarantees that mean it will not be threatened by the new Palestinian state, in particular that said state is demilitarised. Remember, security is why the Jews are there in the first place.

Ouch! Is there any hope that these will be resolved?

That depends on who you ask!

Well what do you think Mr Fencesitter?

Ok, since you asked for an opinion. It is almost painful for me to be so simplistic  but, although the two sides seem a pretty long way apart at the moment, there have been time, especially in 2000-2001, when peace was a lot closer than I think some people realise. The key really is perhaps not to look at how complex the issues are per se, as one thing you can guarantee is that any final agreement will almost certainly be regarded as a betrayal by the majority of the public on both sides. What the conflict needs is leaders – leaders who don’t mind being hated and with little to lose. Someone like Nick Clegg. But seriously, with a couple of such leaders I do believe that peace can be reached. That or some major, seismic event that forces the issue, such as the US turning against Israel.

And the issues will just melt away?

No, of course not but like I say in 2001, in particular at the Taba summit, when the two sides were willing to genuinely negotiate a deal there was a huge amount of progress made. The big deal breakers are Jerusalem and the refugees, I would especially say the latter. Israelis worry (a mild term at best!) that if they accept this it will mean the Israeli Jews become outnumbered by Arabs in Israel – and if this was the case, Israel would cease to be a Jewish state at all. As for the Palestinians dropping the right of return, if you thought breaking a promise on tuition fees was big…

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