The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an example of a conflict without much hope for resolution. The Holy Land has been the site of vicious ethnic conflict for thousands of years, and the Israeli-Palestinian impasse is but a short blip on the long and bloody history of the land we call Palestine. Even if we focus only on the recent past, “If Israelis and Palestinians have endured sixty years of conflict of one kind or another, the question arises as to whether both sides are prepared for peace. Do both sides want peace and are they ready for it?” (Kibble 2010, 65). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has six different common characteristics that define irresolvable conflict: There are multiple claimants to sovereign control of territory, the territorial conflict is an “extremely emotional, deep and fundamental… rightful homeland issue” divided by religion or ethnicity, it is seen as a zero sum game by both sides with positions that are mutually exclusive, both sides see compromise as unacceptable and their point of view as righteous, outside mediation has failed, and the parties are unable to find acceptable outcomes to resolve the conflict (Snow 2010, 59-60).
The first two characteristics of irresolvable conflict are that there are multiple claimants to sovereign control of territory and that “this territorial conflict must be extremely emotional, deep, and fundamental” divided by religion or ethnicity (Snow 2010, 59). There is no better textbook example of this in our world than the struggle in the Holy Land. The city of Jerusalem is considered a holy city by Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and that injects a religious element unseen in other conflicts far beyond simple differences of faith. The Palestinians wish to return to the land of their fathers they see as having been stolen from them. For the Jews the question is about survival. Yigal Allon, former Israeli foreign minister and military commander, explained it thus:
“The polarized asymmetry between the size and intentions of the Arab states and those of Israel, and the extreme contrast in the anticipated fate of each side in the event of military defeat, obliges Israel to maintain constantly that measure of strength enabling it to defend itself in every regional conflict and against any regional combination of strength confronting it, without the help of any foreign army. To our deep regret, this is the first imperative facing us, the imperative to survive” (Hasson 2010, 701).
With every new atrocity on each side, with each new dead mother, dead father, and dead child, the territorial issues become more deeply emotional for all involved. Earlier this month, an Israeli family of five was brutally murdered in a West Bank settlement, including three young children (Al-Jazeera 2011). This attack has already prompted Israeli hard-liners to demand increased construction and expansion of existing settlements. One local mother, responding to the incident, said that “If we expand and build, it will tell the Arabs that this is our land, and they will know their place” (Heller 2011).
Mutually exclusive positions and the perception that the Israeli-Palestinian impasse is a zero sum game provide further evidence that this is an irresolvable conflict. The Jewish settler theology claims all of Palestine as a God-given homeland for Jews as the covenant people of God, and many Muslims see the entire region as a Muslim endowment from Allah (Kibble 2010, 70-71). The issue of East Jerusalem is another example. Arabs expect a Palestinian capital there as part of any peace agreement, and even Prime Minister Olmert agreed with that premise as he left office but Netanyahu refuses to give up East Jerusalem (Kibble 2010, 70).
There is a perception on both sides of the conflict that compromise is unacceptable and that their side has a truly righteous position. “Jewish settlers in the war-won territories and their political sympathizers… still expect Netanyahu to fight for the Land of Israel and for an all-Jewish Jerusalem” (Hasson 2010, 699). Hamas executes moderates it deems Israeli collaborators (BBC 2010), which makes the Palestinians most likely to embrace a peace agreement too intimidated to speak out against them.
Outside mediation has failed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for two reasons. First, “The United States, whose influence in the area is critical is seen… as a staunch supporter of Israel… and whatever the truth of the matter, and despite evidence to the contrary, the Washington administration is believed to be strongly influenced by the American Jewish lobby” (Kibble 2010, 69-70). Second, the Arab world is divided and does not provide a unified voice for peace. Moderate states such as Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have been inclined to support the possibility of peace, but other regional powers such as Iran and Syria directly support terrorist organizations that make peace negotiations more difficult, and fundamentalist Islamists place their own pressures on the peace process. “Both governments seem to radiate weakness when confronting spoilers who seek to derail the otherwise fragile negotiations for peace” (Hasson 2010, 710).
Both parties have been unable to find an acceptable solution to the conflict. A recent poll showed that over sixty percent of both Israelis and Palestinians support the idea of a peace process, but only twenty nine percent of Israelis and eighteen percent of Palestinians believe that peace is even possible (Kibble 2010, 65). Israelis are divided on the solution; some seek a solution in democracy and economic prosperity, some demand defensible borders at any cost, some favor unilateral withdrawal, some seek the expansion of Israeli territorial control, and some seek a democratic bi-national state (Hasson 2010, 696-697). The Palestinians are similarly divided, as illustrated by the inability of the Palestinian Authority to control Hamas (Hasson 2010, 702).
Peace in the Middle East is not on the horizon. “A viable Palestinian state is a dream that disappeared in the face of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Within the framework of the existing territorial divisions, a Palestinian state would be reduced to a collection of reservations lacking territorial contiguity and economic viability” (Hasson 697). The Israeli and Palestinian peoples are so intertwined now that I do not believe a two-state solution is viable. I believe the only solution that can allow peace to come is to establish a secular democratic state with full religious freedom that can provide economic development for all in the region. This however is not likely, because Israel is unwilling to threaten its identity as a Jewish state and the Palestinians expect their own state. “In other words, what is mostly desired (i.e., the two-state solution) cannot be realized, at least not in the short run, and what might have a chance to be realized (a bi-national state) is clearly not desired by the majority of Israelis and Palestinians” (Hasson 2010, 713).
Al-Jazeera. 2011. “Five Israelis Killed in West Bank.” March 12. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/ middleeast/2011/03/201131214044228389.html (accessed March 14, 2011).
BBC News. 2010. “‘Palestinian collaborators’ executed by Hamas.” April 15. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8622084.stm (accessed March 14, 2010).
Hasson, Shiomo. 2010. “Israel’s Geopolitical Dilemma.” Eurasian Geography & Economics 51, no. 6: 694- 715. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 14, 2011).
Heller, Aron. 2011. “Angry Israeli settlers demand more construction in the wake of grisly murder of parents, kids.” Canadian Press. March 14. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast /2011/03/201131214044228389.html (accessed March 14, 2011).
Kibble, David G. 2010. “Are Israel and Palestine Ready for Peace?.” Peace Review 22, no. 1: 65-72. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 14, 2011).
Snow, Donald. 2010. Cases in International Relations. New York: Longman.