The peace plan unveiled by President Donald Trump last week has been met with mixed reactions. The conflict remains highly complicated, and the gap between Israelis and Palestinians remains wide. Whether the plan can bridge this gap is unlikely, as the most significant issues cannot be fixed so simply.
There is, for one, the continuous dispute over territory. Israel, as well as the Palestinians, continue to claim the same territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. The UN partition plan of 1947—which Israel approved and the Palestinians rejected—provided a division of the territory. However, it took the Palestinian leadership till the early 1990s and the Oslo Accords to not only accept the partition plan but also to recognize Israel and its territory. Via the Oslo Accords, however, the Palestinians also concluded that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip should form the territory of a future State of Palestine.
A two-state solution remains the most likely option to ensure lasting peace. The UN Security Council has repeatedly confirmed this goal—the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel —with the support of the United States, most recently in 2016. Trump’s peace plan reaffirms this vision.
However, Israelis in the West Bank, in particular, see their territory and religious rights as non-negotiable and they consider themselves to be living in the Biblical heart of Israel. Over the past few decades—facilitated by all Israeli governments—more than 130 settlements have now been created in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis live. Most importantly, large sections of the Israeli settler movement reject any Palestinian statehood, which, by all accounts, makes a Palestinian state in the West Bank highly unlikely, if not impossible.
Israeli Settlers In The West Bank
Hundreds of thousands of settlers live in the West Bank, around 60 percent of which is already controlled by Israel. Previous solutions provided land swap, compensation for Palestinians to compensate for some settlements that were to be added to Israeli territory. Naturally, from an Israeli perspective, security issues play a crucial role as well. Israel insists on controlling the Jordan Valley and, thus, on the control of the fertile Palestinian suburbs and the border to Jordan.
Israel’s Perspective On Palestinian Freedom Of Movement
This control remains essential not only for military reasons for Israel but also for controlling movements of Palestinian refugees, which remains another major issue in the conflict and one, that is de facto not being solved in the current Trump peace plan. During the war in the years around Israel’s founding in 1948, around 700,000 Palestinians were displaced or fled from what is the state of Israel today. They fled not only to the Gaza Strip and what is now the West Bank, but also to neighboring countries, especially to Jordan, but also Lebanon and Syria. These displaced people and their descendants, who continue to see themselves as Palestine refugees have now reached a total of several million. However, a return to the West Bank would significantly change the demographic, social, and security situation for Israelis, which is why Israel adamantly rejects the “right to return” as demanded by the Palestinians.
The Key Importance Of Religion In The Israel-Palestine Conflict
Religion plays a significant role also. The number of ultra-Orthodox and national-religious Jews who are close to the settler movement is growing disproportionately, while on the Palestinian side, radical Islamists dominate the Gaza Strip in particular.
The city of Jerusalem continues to play a crucial role as it is of the highest importance for Judaism as well as Islam. In Jerusalem, the wailing wall is on the Temple Mount, which is also the plateau of what Muslims call Al Aqsa, one of their holiest mosques. The United Nations partition decision of 1947 envisaged Jerusalem as a UN-administered neutral Corpus Separatum. However, both sides strongly opposed their holy site becoming the subject of international bureaucracy.
Moreover, Palestinians—as well as Israel—claim Jerusalem as their undivided capital. After the Six-Day War in 1967, in which Egypt, Syria, and Jordan attacked Israel, Israel won decisively and took over the whole of Jerusalem while extending Israeli legislation to the entire city and finally formally annexing its zones of control. For Israel, Jerusalem is thus an indivisible Israeli capital, while the Palestinian leadership claims the eastern part of the city, which is still mostly Palestinian, as its capital.
The Trump administration had strengthened the Israeli position even before submitting its peace plan by moving the American embassy to (West) Jerusalem. Now Trump emphasized that Jerusalem remains the “undivided” capital of Israel, under which Palestinians would be granted the aforementioned part of eastern Jerusalem to create their capital.
The Conflict Is Almost Impossible To Solve
However, the American efforts have stalled already, as the Palestinians have rejected the peace plan vehemently. Due to the aforementioned reasons, the conflict remains almost impossible to solve, and even adjustments in the peace plan will likely bring no change. Israel, on the one hand, is interested in protecting its status quo and the Jewish identity of Israel and thus simply will not make any significant concessions on territory or right of return, while Palestinians, on the other hand, tend to forget that their demands cannot include the eradication of Israel nor a return of refugees.