The Israel – Palestine Conflict Part 3
The fate of the refugees
The Palestinian refugees and their descendants are today over five million, according to the UN. In Gaza, almost four-fifths are refugees from Israel, compared to just under a third of Palestinians in the West Bank. Outside the West Bank and Gaza, the largest refugee groups are in Jordan (almost two million) and in Lebanon.
Israel refuses to recognize that refugees have the right to return, but for Palestinian leaders, the right to return is a very important issue. However, surveys indicate that only a small proportion of refugees actually want to move to what is now Israel. The majority instead want help to settle in other countries and compensation for lost property.
According to ehotelat, Israel has often accused Arab countries of deliberately preventing Palestinian refugees from integrating. Of all the Arab states, only Jordan has offered the refugees full citizenship.
The settlements are growing
The settlements form a patchwork quilt throughout the West Bank and are connected to Israel itself by a large number of roads that restrict the Palestinians’ freedom of movement.
A particularly controversial settlement is in Hebron on the West Bank, where around 500 of the most politically extreme settlers have established themselves in the city center. Hebron is known as the city of Abraham and therefore sacred to both Jews and Muslims (and to Christians).
The settlers consider themselves to have a historical right to the West Bank, where their ancestors lived in biblical times. After the Israeli evacuation of Gaza in 2005, parts of the settler movement became radicalized, and in recent years the settlers have gained increasing political influence. The idea that Israel should never leave the West Bank is gaining ground among Israeli politicians and voters. Consequently, the settlements have continued to expand.
The number of settlers has grown to more than 600,000; just over 400,000 in the West Bank and just over 200,000 in East Jerusalem. The number of Palestinians amounts to 2.6 million in the West Bank and 300,000 in East Jerusalem.
That the settlements are an obstacle to peace is also perceived by the outside world. Shortly before Barack Obama resigned as president in 2017, the United States passed a resolution in the UN Security Council demanding that Israel immediately cease all settlement activities on occupied Palestinian land. It was the first time in over 35 years that the Security Council adopted a resolution so strongly condemning Israel’s settlement policy. Previous attempts had fallen on the US veto. The resolution sparked outrage among Israeli politicians and the United States was criticized by incumbent President Donald Trump who promised to change policy. Shortly afterwards, Israel challenged the outside world by passing a law enabling the state to expropriate private Palestinian land and use it for settlers.
Later peace attempts
In 2000, Israelis and Palestinians were reported to be close to a peace agreement reached by then-US President Bill Clinton. Although the proposal required major Israeli concessions, Israeli leaders agreed to continue negotiations. The proposal fell on the Palestinian side’s doubts. Arafat’s main objection was stated to be that the proposal did not give all refugees the right to return.
In 2002, the so-called “quartet” (USA, UN, EU and Russia) launched a “roadmap for peace” in three phases, but the plan was never implemented.
Another American attempt was made in 2013–2014, but the dialogue ended in a stalemate. Israel continued to expand its settlements throughout the negotiation period.
After Donald Trump’s time in the White House, the prospects for a negotiated solution have diminished. In 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered the relocation of the US Embassy. The message sparked outcry in Arab and Muslim countries and was also condemned by the EU, Russia and most other countries. Palestinian President Abbas declared that by doing so, the United States had forfeited its ability to act as a mediator. In 2020, Trump also presented a peace plan that was essentially based on Israel’s claims. The plan was rejected by the Palestinians.
The Palestinians’ international position has since been further weakened by the United States persuading a number of Sunni Muslim countries to recognize Israel, in addition to Egypt and Jordan, which had concluded peace with Israel in the 20th century. In 2020, such decisions came from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The main explanation was the joint efforts of the United States and Israel to form a common front against the regime in Iran. From the Arab side, especially the Emirates, it has been emphasized that Israel, in exchange for recognition, has promised to slow down its plans to annex more land in the West Bank.