The land long considered by many Jews of the diaspora as their homeland had also been inhabited for centuries by Palestinian Arabs. Zionism emerged in Europe during the late 19th century as a movement for the ingathering of Jews to their ancestral land, with immigration increasing during theBritish mandate period following the demise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. A 1947 UN plan that would have partitioned Palestine in half, granting both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs their own states, resulted in a war that led to Israeli control of 78% of the country. The remaining Palestinian areas, which became known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, came under Jordanian and Egyptian control. The new state of Israel expelled the majority of the Palestinian population, creating a large and permanent refugee community in neighboring countries. Israel seized the residual Arab areas of Palestine in the 1967 war, and Palestinian efforts for self-determination were severely repressed. Exiled Palestinian nationalists, through the Palestine Liberation Organization, promoted Palestinian self-determination using tactics ranging from diplomatic initiatives to terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. A civil uprising in the occupied territories between 1987 and 1993 forced Israel to consider partial withdrawal. The 1993 Memorandum of Understanding signed in Oslo between Israel and the PLO initiated steps that would lead to greater Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership has given up claiming all of historic Palestine and has simply demanded statehood on the 22% of Palestine outside Israel’s internationally recognized borders. In September 2000, violent clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces and settlers.

Main Actors

The State of Israel: established on 78% of historic Palestine and military occupier of much of the remaining Palestinian territory

Palestine National Authority: governing entity of most Palestinian-populated urban areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

Fatah: the leading Palestinian nationalist party

Hamas: a radical Palestinian Islamic grouping

The U.S.: principal military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of Israel and chief mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Proposed Solutions and Evaluation of Prospects

The international consensus for Israeli-Palestinian peace has centered on a complete Israeli withdrawal to within its internationally recognized borders in exchange for security guarantees from its Arab neighbors in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. An independent Palestinian state would be created on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A special status would be established for Jerusalem–seen by both peoples as their capital and important for commercial and religious reasons–whereby both Israel and Palestine could share the city in an equitable fashion allowing for freedom of movement. Israel would withdraw its colonists from illegally established settlements in the occupied territories in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention and UN Security Council resolutions 446 and 465. The right of return for Palestinian refugees–in accordance with the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees–would be recognized, though the dramatic demographic changes in the ensuing decades would likely result in Israeli resettlement, primarily within the new Palestinian state, with compensation by Israel.

Though the Palestinian Authority and virtually the entire international community support such a resolution, Israel–which occupies much of the territory in question and has armed forces vastly superior to its neighbors–does not. Similarly, the U.S.–the primary facilitator of the peace process and the guarantor of the Oslo Accords–also opposes the international consensus and has blocked enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions. Meanwhile, the inept and corrupt leadership of the Palestinian Authority and its inability or unwillingness to curb violent attacks against Israeli occupation forces and Israeli civilians have strengthened anti-Palestinian sentiment in Israel and the United States.

Role of U.S.

The U.S. has long rejected the international consensus for Israeli-Palestinian peace and has opposed the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. The U.S. barred the PLO from participation in the peace process until the Israelis unilaterally called for its inclusion in 1993. Previously, Washington had even barred any PLO representatives from visiting the United States. In the 1991 Middle East peace talks in Madrid, instigated by the U.S., the Palestinians were denied the right to their own delegation even outside the PLO. Palestinians were allowed to participate only as a subset of the Jordanian delegation, and none of them could be residents of Israel, Jerusalem, or the diaspora. The U.S. has historically opposed Palestinian statehood, though since 1993 Washington has considered the possibility under strictures agreed upon by Israel.

Washington is the primary military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of the Israeli occupation. The U.S. has frequently used or threatened to use its veto power in the UN Security Council to prevent the UN from forcing Israel to recognize the Palestinians’ right to self-determination alongside Israel. Despite this, Washington has taken upon itself the role of the chief mediator and facilitator of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The U.S. argues that the parties must work out a solution among themselves, ignoring the gross asymmetry of power between the Palestinians and their Israeli occupiers. The current U.S. position opposes Palestinian refugees’ right of return, supports Israeli control of most of Arab East Jerusalem, allows for the bulk of the illegal Israeli settlements and military outposts in the West Bank and their surrounding areas to be annexed to Israel, and accedes to the establishment of a rump Palestinian state on the noncontiguous territories that remain.