The Israel- Palestine conflict is one of the lengthiest conflicts in world’s history and the peace process in this conflict has been going on for very many years. Despite the presence of the peace process, violence in the Middle East has not halted and there seems that there is no permanent peace attitude among the two antagonistic sides. Since 1970s there have been efforts to solve the conflicts in the Middle East. Treaties have been signed and broken; ceasefires have been made and contravened in the history of the process. The Israel Palestine peace process aims to solve several issues that form the background of the conflict. These issues include boundaries and division of land, Palestine concerns on Israel occupation of Gaza and The West Bank, the issue of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees who have been displaced by the Israelis living in Palestinian lands . The Israel-Palestine peace process has been riddled with controversy, violence, accusation and counter accusations with both sides taking extreme positions. United States of America has been one of the key players in the peace process which has not seen any tangible results. The best effort to resolve this conflict came in the year 2002 when the EU, UN, US and Russia outlined a road map for peace that would culminate in the creation of an independent Palestinian state. However, neither party fulfilled the obligations outlined by this peace plan nor the Israel- Palestine conflict has been on the decline since, leading to several civil war and assassination of several Palestinian leaders in the process. What are some of the issues in the Israel –Palestine conflict that inform the peace process? The main issues are the Israel occupation of the west bank and Gaza strip and the right of return of Palestinians living in Diaspora
Israel Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip
The West Bank is found on the eastern side of Israel and West of Jordan while the Gaza strip is found along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt. The proposed modern Palestinian State was supposed to be formed from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The Palestine region was controlled by the British between 1923 and 1947 and as soon as the British left the area, Arab nation invaded the newly created state of Israel with an intention to annihilate it, but Israel emerged victorious and affirmed its sovereignty over some Palestine lands. The remaining lands the west Bank and the Gaza Strip were annexed by Jordan and Egypt respectively. Some of the displaced Palestinians settled in Jordan which was kind enough to extend citizenship to them. In fact, two thirds of the Jordan population are Palestinians . During the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 which lasted six days, Israel defeated a combination of Egypt, Syria and Jordan Occupied The West Bank, Gaza Strip , The Golan Heights, All the territories on the west of Jerusalem and the Whole of Sinai Peninsula. This means that in violation of the international law, Israel has already confiscated 52 percent of the land in West Bank and more than 35 percent of the land in the Gaza strip for its military exploits and occupation by the Jews . Between 1967 and 1982, Israeli Military demolished more than 1300 homes belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank, leaving tens of thousands homeless. During the same period, more than around 320,000 Palestinians were detained without being tried by Israeli Authorities. Israel has for over the last few decades established settlements all over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well as the Syrian Golan Heights.
These settlements and the occupation of the lands supposed to be part of the modern Palestine state is one of the main blockages to the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The road map to peace requires Israel to dismantle the settlements it has established in what the Arabs call the stolen lands and return the land the Palestine who are the rightful owners in concordance with international law. On the other hand, Israel, instead of conforming to the road map for peace requirements, it continues to build more settlements and establish more military bases in the lands belonging to Palestine’s it has illegally occupied. The Israelis who have settled in these regions are fundamentalists who have a strong desire to take more Palestine and Arab land and they travel on specially built roads that crisscross the whole of the illegally occupied land and the Palestinians are no allowed to use the roads. These roads that have tight checkpoints obstruct Palestinians who are supposed to travel to work. The result of the occupation of the lands belonging to the Palestine by Israel is displacement of millions of Palestinians who till today live in exile or in refugee camps in very desperate conditions. For genuine peace with minimal justice to exist in the Israel- Palestinian region, an independent and strong Palestinian state must be created on the lands that Israel has occupied illegally. These lands are the Gaza strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank .The two independent countries should share Jerusalem as their capital city and the Palestinians should be considered an equal neighbour. Palestinians, just like Arabs had for a long time failed to recognise the sovereignty of Israel as a state but for the purpose of peace and resettlement, the Palestinians have officially recognised the state of Israel since 1988. In fact they agreed that Israel can keep 78 percent of the Palestinian lands it occupies and let a Palestinian state to be established on the remaining 22 percent, however, the stubborn Israel has continued to refuse this Palestinian compromise. For more than 50 years, Palestine refugees have not been allowed to return to their rightful homelands. However, the international law and United Nations Resolution 194 guarantees that right of return for the Palestinians to their original homeland. What is this right of return?
The Right of Return
There are more than four million Palestinian refugees living in Diaspora and refugee camps. They include the first generation of refugees of the 1948 and the1967 war and their descendants. In 1948, Israel wrote an aggressive letter to the United Nations, stating its position on the issue of return of the Palestinians who had been displaced during the formation of the Israel state. In this letter Israel stated that the Palestinian refugee problem must be solved but return of the Palestinians to Israel was not one of the solutions. Israel argued that Palestinians should be resettled in other Arab states. However, the United Nations disagreed with Israel on the issue of the return of Palestinians to Israel and in 1949, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution number 194 maintained that Palestinian refugees wishing to return to their original homeland should be allowed to do so as soon as possible and those not willing to return should be compensated for loss of land and property under the guidance of the international law. In 1974, the United Nations general assembly in its resolution 3236 declared that the right of return of Palestinians living in exile is an inalienable right.
The right of return of the Palestinians refugees living in exile is therefore considered as their basic and rightful human right that is protected by the international law. However, the Israel government has never shown any scant desire to respect this inalienable right that is protected by the international law and regards the right of return claim as a Palestinian ambit claim, a political claim that needs to be resolved as part of the final settlement. In the right of return issue, there are also some other aspects which are in dispute. These include the territorial space which the self determined Palestine would attach, the political and humanitarian context within which this right would be advanced and the universality of application of the advocated principles to other situations outside the situation under the jurisdiction of the right of return.
Settlement Expansion in the West bank
The United Nations (UN) officials have struggled for a long period of time to ensure that they restore peace between Israelites and Palestinians. A UN special reporter on human rights , Richard Falk, have identified Israel’s construction of new settlement areas for their people in the Palestinians territory as one of the hindrances for the international efforts in bringing peace between the two states. A report presented to the UN committee showed that the continued settlement expansions in Gaza and West Bank together with other policies are not justified. This is because they are features of apartheid and colonialism and also are signs of transforming occupation de jure (legal) condition into a de facto annexation circumstance.
Ghazi-Bouillon asserts that the Israel-Palestinian talks on peace restoration have come to a halt due to the resumption in construction of settlements in West Bank by Israel. This has therefore branded the settlement construction as a great insurmountable impediment in realization of the two- state solution of ensuring that they obtain an independent living lifestyle between the Israelites and Palestinians. The peace intermediaries are advocating for a halt in settlement constructions since it will be problematic to reverse the settlement process if there will be need for the Israelites to surrender that portion of the land to the Palestinians.
The extension of the presence of Jewish people in the Eastern part of Jerusalem through house demolitions and unlawful settlements has made it difficult to visualize the existence of Palestinian capital in this part of Jerusalem. Due to the fact that the Palestinians have not come to an agreement that they will view Israel as a state, the settlement expansion attempt by Israel in Gaza and West bank act as a hindrance for the Palestinians to recognize them as so. Their fear that Israel will take possession of the land in which they have made their constructions makes it even harder for them to agree that Israel should exist on its own.
The U.S President, Barak Obama, has recently been urging the freezing of any kind of construction by Israel in the Palestinian’s territories. He bases his argument by stating the obligation of Israel as agreed in the 2003 peace plan . This plan required that Israel should dismantle all the settlement outposts that were elected from 2001 and to stop all settlement expansion activities. On the other hand, the plan required Palestinians to halt any form of violence directed towards Israel. The expansion of settlement by Israel therefore violates this plan which was expected to result to an independent Palestinian State whose capital should be in east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians seem to be impatient with the failure of Israel to adhere to the agreed plan. The Palestinians have brought peace negotiations to a halt and threatened to act if the United States does not succeed in convincing Israel to freeze the constructions taking place in West Bank. The Palestinians led by their president, Mahmoud Abbas, have to be guaranteed on borders and the possibility of taking possession of the East Jerusalem as their capital for them to continue with their talks. Otherwise, there will be no need of continued talks since the constructions made by Israel seem to be a guarantee that they have taken possession of the land.
It is evident that for Israel-Palestinian peace process to be successful, the settlement expansions taking place in Gaza and West Bank have to be stopped. Israel seems to be alone in this plan since all the intermediaries including President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the UN officials are supporting Palestinian demands. The Hague Convention, International humanitarian law and the fourth Convention in Geneva also prohibits population transfer to a territory that is occupied. The European Union has also made it clear that sustainable peace cannot exist in the Middle East if a Viable Palestinian State is not created. This shows that the continued settlement expansion severely destroys this prospect delaying the sealing of peace treaties between Israel and Palestine.