Since 1948, Israel has controlled most of Palestine. Throughout a decades-long conflict, several critical issues have prevented Israel and the Palestinians from concluding a lasting peace. Here are the basic positions of the two parties.
Neither side holds a single position. Moderates and extremists exist on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides.
Right to a Palestinian state
Several legal scholars dismiss the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and statehood. These scholars generally argue that Palestine lacks a legitimate sovereign and Israeli claims to the remaining Palestinian territory are the most valid.
In addition, some legal experts observe that while there is little doubt Palestine will emerge from the ongoing peace process as a nation, statehood has not been established. This argument suggests that Palestine doesn’t fully satisfy four criteria of statehood outlined in the 1933 Montevideo Convention: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.
In contrast, other legal experts argue that the State of Palestine already exists and when judged by the Montevideo Convention criteria is on at least as firm a legal footing as Israel. This view holds that the development of a democratically elected Palestinian government that enjoys the approval of the international community now exercises effective control over a portion of Palestinian territory in which the great majority of the state’s population lives.
Furthermore, the International Court of Justice has reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the prohibition under international law against territorial acquisitions by war.
Israel’s right to exist
From the perspective of many Jews, Israel is a refuge even if they never set foot there. From the Israeli and Jewish vantage point, only a homeland can provide a safe haven from a world full of anti-Semitism. Strength and constant vigilance are necessary to preserve the security of the Israel, surrounded as it is by enemies.
For Palestinians, Israel is a rogue state, an interloper that confiscated their land and forced them out. The belief that Israel does not have a legitimate right to exist is still a common among some Palestinians, despite reluctant acceptance of Israel in recent years.
The borders of Jerusalem
The border of Jerusalem is a particularly delicate issue with each side asserting claims over the city. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam consider Jerusalem an important setting for their religious and historical narratives. Israel asserts that the city should not be divided and should remain unified within Israel’s political control. Palestinians claim at least those city sections that were not part of Israel prior to June 1967.
Palestinian refugees’ right to return
Palestinian refugees are people who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The number of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel following its creation was estimated at 711,000 in 1949 and as of 2010 the descendants of these original Palestinian refugees number 4.7 million people.
Palestinian negotiators insist that refugees have a right to return to the places where they lived before 1948 and 1967, citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Resolution 194 as evidence. The Israeli government’s position is that Arab states encouraged Palestinians to flee in order to make it easier to rout the Jewish state or that the Palestinians fled to escape the war. The Palestinian’s believe the refugees were expelled and dispossessed by Jewish militias and the Israeli army.
Violence by Palestinians and Israeli security concerns
Throughout the conflict, Palestinian violence has been a concern for Israelis. Israel, along with the United States and the European Union, refer to the violence against Israeli civilians and military forces by Palestinian militants as terrorism.
Suicide bombing is a tactic used by Palestinian organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. During the late 1960s, the PLO became increasingly infamous for its use of international terror, perhaps the most notorious terrorist act being the capture and eventual murder of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games. Since 2001, the threat of rocket attacks from the Palestinian Territories into Israel has become a great concern.
Significant debate exists within Israel regarding how to deal with these security concerns. Options have included military action (including targeted killings and house demolitions of terrorist operatives), diplomacy, unilateral gestures toward peace, and increased security measures such as checkpoints, roadblocks and security barriers.
Since 2007, Israel’s primary means of dealing with security concerns in the West Bank has been to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, which has reduced West Bank violence.
Access to water resources
Israel receives much of its water from two large underground aquifers that continue under Palestinian lands. In the Oslo II Accord, both sides agreed to maintain “existing quantities of utilization from the resources.” In so doing, the Palestinian Authority established the legality of Israeli water production in the West Bank. Moreover, Israel agreed to provide water to supplement Palestinian production and to allow additional Palestinian drilling in the Eastern Aquifer.
Many Palestinians counter that the Oslo II agreement was intended to be a temporary resolution and that it was not intended to remain in effect more than a decade later, noting the agreement’s name is “The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement.”
Israeli presence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza
The West Bank and Gaza Strip continue to be considered Occupied Palestinian Territory by the international community, notwithstanding the 1988 Declaration of Palestinian Independence, the 1993 Oslo Accords, and Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza as part of the 2005 Israeli unilateral disengagement plan.
The Israeli government uses the term Disputed Territories, and argues that some territories cannot be called occupied as no nation had clear rights to them and there was no operative diplomatic arrangement when Israel acquired them in June 1967. Israel’s position is that most Arab-populated parts of West Bank (without major Jewish settlements), and the entire Gaza Strip will eventually be part of an independent Palestinian State but the precise borders are in question.
Some Palestinians claim they are entitled to all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Palestinians claim any reduction of this claim is a severe deprivation of their rights. In negotiations, they claim that any move to reduce the boundaries of this land is a hostile move against their key interests. Israel considers this land to be in dispute, and believes negotiations will define the final borders.