Political Science: Israel's Relationship with Palestine

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18th May 2020 International Relations Reference this

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Almost invariably, the relationship between the Jewish nation and Palestinians, has for decades been a critical regional as well as global security issue, which has in the recent past sucked in world political and military players, with devastating consequences to the entire Middle East region’s peace and stability. Indeed, the relationship between Israel and Palestine has always been punctuated by vicious violence and wars of attrition,  and deemed to be the most enduring conflict in human history, and arguably intractable in contemporary international body politics. Today, Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza has lasted close to a quarter of a century with no tangible efforts by the International community to resolve this protracted conflict. While the international community describes Israeli presence in Palestinian territories as an occupation, the Jewish state terms its annexation as an act of civil administration (Jerome 32)[1]. Central to the Israel-Palestinian acrimonious relationship, is the question of the plausibility or otherwise of a two state construct, with each side enjoying self-determination, as well as proper demarcation of their boundaries inspired by religious and ethnic identities of the two protagonists. The various efforts by the international community geared towards achieving a two state solution in the Middle East has over the years been slow-punctured by sometimes subtle and overt endorsement of the Israeli state at the expense of Palestinian’s aspiration to attain statehood (Sayegh 11)[2]. For instance, the recent decision by Washington to recognize Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of the state of Israel was seen by many international relations pundits as one of the many low ebbs that hinder the path towards peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In a bid to critically examine the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians from the perspective of international relations, it is critically imperative to dissect the genesis of such interactions and its attendant evolution throughout history.

Genesis and Nature of Israeli-Palestinian Relationship

Almost invariably, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is highly steeped in nationhood and identity, dating back to the 1900s after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and long before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Indeed, the Palestinian –Israel conflict that has over the years defied major international mediation efforts by the global community, traces its origins to the birth of social-political Zionism at the turn of the 19th century. In this regard, the nascent years of the 20th century witnessed droves of Jewish immigrants from the rest of the world flocking to Palestinian territories, with the hope of purchasing land and establishing themselves as autonomous Jewish territories, away from persecution and strong anti-Semitic views that punctuated the global social-political landscape then. The attendant growing influx of Jewish immigrants in the British occupied Palestine was disconcerting to the predominantly Arab population, which perceived such immigration as the onset of occupation of their territories. While the Jewish immigrants to Palestine intended to create a Zionist state inspired by religious values, Palestinians on the other hand envisaged the creation of a nation highly steeped in a single identity, undergirded by Arab nationalism. In this regard, such divergence of views highly punctuated by suspicion and predilection by both parties to preserve their respective identity was the canary in the coalmine for future conflicts between these two erstwhile foes (Sayegh 21)[3]. Indeed, the simmering tensions between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinian Arabs hit a crescendo in the 1920s, when the two sides for the first ti me engaged in a direct confrontation which resulted to bloodbath and wanton destruction of property, that to this day punctuate their relationship.

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The simmering political and religious tension between the occupying Jewish communities and the Palestinian-Arab nationalists continued through World War I and the subsequent establishment of the British mandate. Evidently, various options were explored to ease the skirmishes between the two protagonists, with the most prominent being the establishment of a federal state solution which was rejected by both parties. The ensuing impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians, punctuated by careless war-rhetoric, as well as the rise of religious fundamentalists on both sides, exacerbated the stoking of violent embers of the various communities in the holy land (Jerome 93)[4]. Invariably, the Holocaust, considered one of the darkest chapters in Jewish history, that was punctuated by mass extermination of close to one Million Jews, captured the attention of the world, culminating in various efforts to resettle persecuted Jewish populations from across the globe. The ensuing aftermath of the Holocaust coincided with the upending of British mandate in Palestine, and the various efforts to resettle Jews in Palestinian territories. Indeed, the United Nations in a special resolution of 1947 voted to partition Palestine into two independent Palestinian and Jewish states with distinct identities. Nevertheless, while Israelis grudgingly accepted the United Nations resolution, it was particularly disconcerting to Palestinians, who, egged on by their Arab neighbors outrightly rejected the two state solution deals. The Palestinian rejection of the two state solutions precipitated in an all-out vicious bloodbath with the Zionists in 1948, which coincided with the withdrawal of British forces in the Middle East (Sayegh 31). The ensuing war, sucked in the neighboring Arab states such as Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, angered by the Israelis decision to declare independence. The blood-bath between the Zionists on one hand and the Arab states-backed Palestinians on the other, culminated into a temporary armistice initiated and backed by Western powers.

The resultant armistice between the Palestinians and the Israelis spelt out various territory-sharing terms in what today defines the borders of the Jewish state of Israel. Nevertheless, while the armistice prevailed, the intermittent wars between the Israelis and Palestinians continued particularly due to the perceived skewed nature of the common boundaries. In this regard, the Israeli borders in the new agreement were defined to include a significant chunk of Palestinian territories as spelled out in the original allotment by the United Nations. While the initial agreement included a two state concept spanning both Israel and Palestine, the armistice document made no such provisions, a fact that resulted to the Palestinians being treated as a stateless people (Kelman 18)[5]. Indeed, the new arrangement significantly bruised the ego of Palestinians as well as deflated the collective Arab nationalism. The 1949 armistice document, billed to be the onset of a détente between the Israelis and the Palestinians was a complete antithesis of the two peoples as it stoked religious and ethnic tensions.

Israeli’s Ben Gurion signing the declaration of Independence in 1948



 The new armistice arrangement that is arguably the single-most factor that has over the years contributed to the souring of relationship between Israel and Palestine, and effectively hamstrung the aspirations of Palestinians to self-determination and an independent state. In this regard, Palestine was placed under Arab control, with the West Bank region which initially belonged to the Palestinians being effectively annexed by the kingdom of Jordan, while the Egyptians took control of the Gaza strip. The ensuing demarcation of the boundaries pitted the Israelis and the Palestinians, with the latter feeling utterly short-changed in the 1949 armistice document, a development that exacerbated conflict between the two peoples. Moreover, the establishment of the Zionist nation of Israel resulted into massive expulsion of Palestinians, culminating into one of the biggest and most dire refugee crisis in the Middle East. The mass expulsion of Palestinians from their rightful property precipitated massive resentment against Israeli occupiers, and was a major source of conflict, as Palestinians grappled with the possibility of losing their nationhood and attendant identity, amid deflated Arab Nationalism.

Almost invariably, the simmering resentments and attendant tension between the Israelis and Palestinians post-1949 armistice, culminated in the attempt by a number of Arab neighbors led by Egypt, to invade the Jewish state and restore the pre-1949 boundaries. The rationale behind the invasion was to liberate Palestinians from the yoke pf Jewish oppression, and subsequently establish an Arab state alongside Israel, administered by the Palestinians. The ensuing invasion culminated in the Six Day war, where Israel, backed by the United States and France emerged the victor with devastating consequences on the Jewish state’s relationship with the stateless Palestinians (Slater 109)[6]. Evidently, Israeli’s victory against the invading Arab forces fundamentally altered the 1949 armistice boundaries, as the Jewish state further annexed and occupied Palestinian territories in a scorched earth policy that left Palestinians in a humanitarian crisis, shut down from the outside world. Israel’s win in the vicious war with its Arab neighbors resulted in the Jewish state annexing close to 78 percent of the British mandatory Palestinian land, a sharp departure from the 58 percent occupation recommended by the United Nation resolution 181. The occupation by Israeli forces precipitated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, with close to 700,000 Palestinians displaced, a situation that continued to worsen the conflict between the two peoples.  Indeed, the ensuing occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel brought a searing rearrangement of the attendant social-political atmosphere in the entire Middle East region. In this regard, by the end of the Six Day War, Israel effectively annexed the entire mandatory Palestine region, the Golan Heights, as well as the Sinai Peninsula (Sayegh 15). The attendant annexation by the militarily superior Israel backed by the United States created a new geo-political and strategic situation in the region, leading to what is referred by international relations pundits as the Palestinization of the conflict, which debased the 1967 Six Day War to a mere conflict between toe people with conflicting identities. Indeed, the term Palestinization in the context of the 1967 Six Day War was construed to mean that the Palestinians had to deal with the Jewish state on their own, as other Arab states such as Egypt negotiated their own disparate peace accords. Indeed, such disengagement by the Arab states in the territorial conflict between Israel and Palestine was underscored by the visit to Jerusalem of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, a precursor to the Camp David accord of 1978 that gave birth to the Israeli-Egypt peace treaty in 1979.

  The resultant disassociation by key Arab states from the perennial Israel-Palestinian conflict meant that the people of Palestine seized sole control of the struggle with rather limited resources such as military firepower to match the Israelis, as well as the goodwill of the larger international community particularly the United States. In this regard, Fatah under its titular head, the indefatigable Yasser Arafat, played a critical role in engaging the Israelis in the larger quest by Palestinians to be recognized as a state alongside the Jewish republic. Moreover, other guerilla movements such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) took control of the struggle for emancipation of Palestine, adopting violent as well as diplomatic methods to ease the conflict between the two erstwhile foes (Lintl 29). Originally a creation of the Arab League, the PLO reoriented its efforts to achieve full independence of Palestine as a state by concentrating on violent guerilla activities that invariably tested the resolve of the Jewish nation. Indeed, the 1980s saw major uprisings against Israeli hegemony in the Middle East, particularly within the west bank of river Jordan from Palestinian insurgents backed by sympathetic Arab countries such as Syria and Lebanon. Evidently, the PLO and other Palestinian guerilla movements such as the Fattah, and the Lebanese backed Hezbollah, changed their emphasis from the creation of a single Palestinian state, to expelling Jewish settlers occupying mandatory Palestine through the use of armed struggle. Such armed resistance has invariably punctuated the Palestinian relationship with Israel, and has over the years defied major international mediation efforts.

 The ensuing showdown between the Israelis and Palestinians came into the homestretch during the onset of the first Intifada, billed to be the biggest organized uprising by the Palestinians against Israel. The aftermath of the first Intifada convinced the Israelis that the continued occupation of Palestinian territories was no longer tenable, particularly due to the security dangers faced by Israeli citizens from the incessant rocket attacks by Palestinian backed guerilla movements. Indeed, in the early 80s, there was a consensus among both the Israelis and the Palestinian authorities on the need to embrace dialogue and pursue a two state solution to the problems bedeviling the region. Nevertheless, the 1980s was a poignant period in the global social-political arena, as it was the height of the Cold War, the first Gulf War, as well as major shifts in the geo-political architecture that made it impossible for a comprehensive peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The first realization of the invaluable nature of a lasting peace solution between Israelis and Palestinians was the Madrid conference between the leadership of the two warring entities in the summer of 1991. Nevertheless, the deep suspicion between the Israeli and the Palestinian delegates to the Madrid conference effectively upended the talks, which was arguably a significant blow to achieving a peaceful solution between the two neighbors.

 Evidently, the assumption to office of Yitzhak Rabin as a Prime Minister of Israel in 1992, rekindled the hitherto dim possibilities of lasting peace in the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, Rabin made radical pronouncements to the effect that the state of Israel would under his auspices, adopt a different attitude towards the desire of Palestinians to have their own autonomous state, as violence according to him was no longer tenable. Suffice to say, Yitzhak Rabin extended an olive branch to Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman and the de facto emblem of Palestinian liberation quest, for a roundtable, much to the chagrin of radical orthodox Jewish settlers. The subsequent correspondences between Arafat and Rabin culminated into the Oslo talks, which were punctuated by a poignant exchange of recognition letters between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities (Sayegh 11). Indeed, the Oslo accord gave rise to the historic Declaration of principles that was signed in Washington DC on the summer of 1993. The Oslo agreement provided a brief détente between Israelis and Palestinians, and was viewed by the global community as the only plausible chance of upending the protracted conflict in the holy land. Nevertheless, the Oslo peace treaty fell into serious headwinds, particularly due to several developments in the region. First, the establishment of an entity referred to as the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip, angered the Israelis, who saw it as a subtle case of scaffolding a Palestinian state. Secondly, the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by radical Hezbollah militants at a prayer meeting was viewed by Palestinian negotiators with deep suspicions that led to a slowdown in the momentum of the peace process (Lintl 35). Suffice to say, one of the biggest blow to the Oslo accord and the entire peace negotiation process between the Zionists and Palestinians, was the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, by radical Orthodox Jews who were angered by his deliberate rapprochement with the Palestinians. Other factors that derailed the Oslo peace treaty between the Israelis and Palestinians was the assumption to office of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel, who was viewed by many Palestinians as a war hawk intent on hamstringing the peace process , as well as his apparent disdain for PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Moreover, the harsh living conditions in the West Bank as well as the string of suicide bombings by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilians played a big part in derailing the implementation of the Oslo peace accord that was billed to bring a lasting peace solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in Oslo  

 Almost invariably, the 1999 Israeli elections were seen to be the only chance to have lasting peace in the Middle East before the turn of the millennium. Indeed, the new Israeli government rekindled such hopes by inviting the Palestinian authorities to a negotiating table, a gesture that was met with palpable skepticism from key Palestinian allied militants such as the Fatah movement, and the Hezbollah. In this regard, the ensuing negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians failed partly because of such deep-rooted suspicions. Consequently, angered by the slow progress of the peace negotiations, the Palestinian authorities instigated a massive violent campaign against Israeli interest in the summer of 2000, a prelude to the second Intifada bloodbath (Sayegh 13). The Netanyahu government’s response to the uprising was vicious with Israeli tanks rolling out in the West Bank, in another incident of military scorched-earth policy against innocent Palestinians. Evidently, the ensuing confrontation seemingly buried any further hopes of a lasting peace solution between these two warring peoples. The first and second Intifada underscored the fluid nature of the peace negotiation process between Palestinians and Israelis, particularly because of the deep-rooted suspicions undergirded by differences in identity as well as religion.

Israeli Tanks Rolling into Ramallah during the second Intifada

 Evidently, the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is ideally punctuated by conflicting views on the nature of identity and statehood, with each side’s views precluding the ambitions and aspirations of the other. On one hand, Palestinian’s views regarding their future in the holy land is anchored on the quest to return to their original land, and a complete restoration of the pre-six day war boundaries, a position that is vehemently opposed by the Israelis. Compounding the already dire situation in the Middle East with respect to the Israeli-Arab relationship is the deep-rooted ethnic and religious undercurrents plaguing the two peoples. In this regard, the Muslim fraternities in the Middle East that constitute almost all Palestinians have over the years had a rather negative and hostile attitude towards their Jewish counterparts who comprise a significant portion of the Israeli society (Sayegh 10). Moreover, the failure by various peace accords such as the Oslo and Camp David peace summits has always been the failure by negotiating parties to recognize the inalienable rights of Palestinian populations to self-determination. Indeed, the Israeli side has always been blamed of ignoring the rights of the Palestinians, by equating the various negotiations to be between the Jewish state and the Arab world, thereby relegating Palestinians to a political and social periphery.

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 The idea of self-determination by the Palestinian populations has been viewed by many international relations pundits as a pipedream, particularly due to the goodwill and support that the state of Israel receives from the international community especially the United States. Although the Jewish state of Israel has partly annexed Palestinian territories such as East Jerusalem, its influence as a de facto occupying force stretches miles into West Bank and the Gaza strip, buoyed by its immense military might that is significantly funded by the United States. Such disproportionate level of military and resources has been observed to critically imperil the ability of the Palestinian people to effectively negotiate with Israelis, a situation that has more often than not led to the preservation of the status quo in the Holy Land. Invariably, while successive Israeli administrations have over the years voiced their support for a two-state solution in line with the aspirations of the Palestinian people, the various actions by subsequent Israeli premiers since the 1967 Israeli-Arab war have been a complete opposite of such political stances.  In this regard, the Israelis contend that one of the most critical pre-conditions to resolve the conflict is for the Palestinians to bilaterally negotiate sans any condition (Lintl 60)[7]. The stance by the Israeli government has however over the years proved contentious, particularly by the dint of the fact that the Jewish state does not recognize Palestinians as equal actors. Ideally, international relations pundits and Middle East watchers contend that Israelis rather than Palestinians bear the greatest responsibility for the 70 years old conflict (Sayegh 11). Suffice to say, the Israelis are also deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for the general escalation of violence with Palestinians, a key factor that continues to hinder the progress of a lasting peace solution. In this regard, the United States unconditional political and military assistance to Israel has largely enabled the Jewish state to completely disregard the attendant legitimate interests and demands for moral justice by the Palestinian people. Ideally, though well-intentioned, the United States support for Israel has done more harm than good in the various efforts by political players in the Middles East to arrive at an amicable solution in the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians approach to a peace roadmap on the other hand, has been observed to be rather disjointed and utterly disorganized, thus imperiling any hopes of a lasting solution to the current social-political impasse between the two peoples (Kelman 15). Indeed, the unity of Palestinians at the negotiating table with Israel has been questioned, particularly the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in marshalling public support and attendant goodwill (Kelman 20). In this regard, the role of the Palestinian Authority is rather vague, a situation compounded by the inability of the entity to organize neighborhood committees and to confront Israel. In general Palestinians suffer from chronic institutional weaknesses that have invariably hamstrung their punch at the negotiating table, for a peaceful resolution of the protracted violence with the Israelis. 


In sum, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the past seventy five years has been wrought with violence that has claimed thousands of lives, displaced many, as well as occasioned massive destruction of property on both sides. Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian social-political arena is in complete disarray with no end in sight for the attendant impasse. The prevailing situation in the region has further been compounded by the palpable disinterest by the international community particularly western powers to bring together both the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table, ostensibly to find an acceptable roadmap to peace. Indeed, the continuing regional chaos such as the civil war in Syria, and the United States spats with the Iranians, indicates that the international community remains focused elsewhere, giving the Israeli-Palestinians confrontation a wide berth. Suffice to say, the failure by key brokers in the peace process to find a lasting solution between Israel and Palestine underscore the fluidity of this longstanding conflict. The unsuccessful attempt by the Obama administration during the John Kerry led 2013-2014 negotiations to bring the two sides to the negotiation table for instance, was a big blow to the traditional paradigms of purely bilateral peace negotiations designed to attain a final status agreement between the two parties. Central to the proffered theories on the nature of conflict between the Jewish state of Israel and the Palestinians, is the evidence of a protracted and bitter confrontation that has taken a virulent form endemic to many conflicts across the globe. Evidently, while both sides have voiced and demonstrated their willingness to end the dispute, it is apparent that each party would be poised to make certain adjustments in their attendant policies, which if undertaken, would invariably weaken them. In this regard, neither side in this protracted military conflict is prepared to make any compromise that would expose their military or organizational underbelly, particularly with reference to the Middle East’s fluid social-political landscape. Moreover, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are prepared to have any faith in the fact that the other party will implement any commitment in changing their policies as agreed upon in various peace negotiations. Ideally, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian political and military impasse would require that each side in the conflict creates confidence and attendant seriousness, as well as the necessary reliability of the counterparty to implement the various promises made in a bilateral peace agreement.                      


  •                                         Kelman, Herbert. “The Role of National Identity in Conflict Resolution: Examples of Israeli-Palestinian Problem Solving Workshop.” Oxford University Journal of Conflict resolution 1.1 (2018): 1-26. Print.
  •                                         Lintl, Peter. “Actors in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict interests, Narratives and the Reciprocal Effects of the Occupation.” SWP Research 1.1 (2018): 1-64. Print.
  •                                         Sayegh, Fayez. “The Camp David Agreement and the Palestine Problem.” Journal of Palestine Studies 2.2 (2018): 1-32. Print.
  •                                         Slater, Jerome. “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process.” Political Science Quarterly 116.2 (2018): 1-176. Print.

[1] Slater, Jerome. “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process.” Political Science Quarterly 116.2 (2018): 1-176. Print

[2] Sayegh, Fayez. “The Camp David Agreement and the Palestine Problem.” Journal of Palestine Studies 2.2 (2018): 1-32. Print

2 Sayegh, Fayez. “The Camp David Agreement and the Palestine Problem.” Journal of Palestine Studies 2.2 (2018): 1-32. Print

[4] Slater, Jerome. “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process.” Political Science Quarterly 116.2 (2018): 1-176. Print

[5] Kelman, Herbert. “The Role of National Identity in Conflict Resolution: Examples of Israeli-Palestinian Problem Solving Workshop.” Oxford University Journal of Conflict resolution 1.1 (2018): 1-26. Print.

[6] Slater, Jerome. “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process.” Political Science Quarterly 116.2 (2018): 1-176. Print.

[7] Lintl, Peter. “Actors in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict interests, Narratives and the Reciprocal Effects of the Occupation.” SWP Research 1.1 (2018): 1-64. Print.

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