One-state or Two-state?
The Knesset (Parliament) of Israel approved the controversial Jewish Nationality Bill on 19 July 2018 which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. As reported by the Irish Times the bill measure sets “the development of Jewish settlements nationwide as a national priority” and downgrades the status of Arabic from an official language to one with “special status”, consequently treating 20% of its 9 million population as second-class citizens.
The Bill also sets into law the constitutional status of the Jewish calendar as the state’s official calendar as well as the status of Independence Day, Jewish festivals and memorial days.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, or perhaps between the Jews and the Arabs, dates back to the late 19th century. As opposed to what many people might presume, this conflict is not about religious differences as much as it is about wo gets which part of the land. The present-day Israel was once called Palestine, ruled by an Arab majority under the Turkish Ottoman Empire . The British took control of Palestine after the Ottoman Empire was defeated during World War I.
The Balfour Declaration and the root of the conflict
In the 19th century, there was a spring of nationalism throughout Europe which led to formation of various nationalist identities and similarly this feeling of nationalism caused the Jewish community to recover their identity by returning to their homeland and establishing a Jewish Culture. This movement popularly came to be known as the Zionism Movement.
Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary had penned a letter to Lord Rothschild that would still impact the Jews and Arabs after a century. The letter, published on 2nd November, 1917, was a declaration of support for the Zionists who aspired for a separate state to protect their interests but not at the cost of any prejudice against the existing non-Jewish communities residing in Palestine.
At the end of the First World War after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations vested Britain with the mandate to rule Palestine. But the Arabs resisted the British Rule and turned violent. This culminated into a revolt in 1936, primarily due to the changing demographics of the region as the Balfour Declaration had led to huge migration of Jews into Palestine resulting in the eviction of the Arabs from their land. The British tried to crush the Uprising with an aim to win over the Arabs by restricting Jewish Ambitions. Soon the Holocaust followed during World War II which resulted into the genocide of around 6 million European Jews across German-occupied Europe, Nazi Germany and its collaborators. The aggravated Jews had also turned violent in Palestine because Britain had restricted migration into the region at this point.
The British gave up and handed the problem over to the United Nations. In 1947, the UNO voted for the Partition of Palestine into the Jewish State of Israel and Palestine (Arabs) with Jerusalem being under International Control since it is home to the holiest religious sites of Judaism, Islam and even Christianity (due to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.) Thus was created the State of Israel as the Brits prepared to withdraw its rule over Palestine on the 14th of May, 1948. Since then there have been wars and uprisings that included the Six days War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 pushing out Palestinians out of their homes. This was called the Nakba– the catastrophe. Many Palestinians in the present day live in the West Bank under permanent Israeli occupation surrounded by the Israeli security barriers. They have autonomy in big cities and towns but are bounded by Jewish settlements. Other are locked away in the Gaza Strip- the scene of repeated wars in recent times. There have been three Gaza wars fought in 2008, 2012 and 2014 between Israel and Hamas (a Palestinian Islamist political organization and militant group which was founded in 1987 with the aim to replace Israel with a Palestinian state) which has only exacerbated the situation of the conflict.
An extremely pressing issue is that the Israelis and Palestinians do not see eye to eye on the Status of Jerusalem. The region is controlled by Israel and the state vouches for Jerusalem as its capital city. However, it is not internationally accepted as the capital as it was placed under the International Law in 1947 by the United Nations.
Furthermore, the proposal that Jerusalem should be the future capital of both Israel and Palestine has also gained international support and is also endorsed by the UNO as well as the European Union.
The possible way forward
The most popular solution to this conflict is the “Two-State solution” wherein Israel must accept that there exist two different states with a different set of ideologies i.e., Israel and Palestine. Each party has to understand the legitimacy of each other’s narratives and reach a common ground by way of negotiation.
The Two-state solution has been in talks for decades with the primary focus of restoring peace in Israel. In this manner Israel would gain security along with regaining a Jewish demographic majority while granting the Palestinians a separate state. This would eventually result into a win-win situation for both the parties.
However, the inability of Israelis and Palestinians to come to two-state terms has led to a recent surge in interest in a “One-State solution”. The One-State solution proposes to merge Israel, Gaza and the West Bank into one big country which is a more likely outcome to end this conflict in case of a failed negotiation.
A century on from Lord Balfour’s letter and his 67 words has left a profound but mixed legacy. The conflict between the Arabs and the Jews still remains intractable.