For a long time, Israel has been in a conflict with its neighbors. Moreover, the efforts to restore peace in the region have been in place since the 1970s, but most of them have failed (Miller 439). The majority of Israel’s peace agreements are American-led efforts to establish a good relationship with Arabian countries. Therefore, a step-by-step approach to resolving what is considered to be the world’s most complicated conflict has been implemented. Initially, the USA articulated what each country needed to do to restore peace, but later, it realized that the method did not work as intended. Now, the USA gives the two parties a chance to negotiate and agree on their conditions for peace (Miller 442). The goal is to make a final status agreement by establishing the Palestine state in the areas of the West Bank and Gaza. In return, Palestine should agree to end its terrorist and other attacks against Israel permanently. This peace accords formula is also known as the land for peace. Despite the fact that there have been some achievements, the peace process has been faced with numerous challenges as each party thinks the other does not take peace negotiation seriously (Bashir 564). It is not clear how long the talk will take before Israel and Palestine agree on peace; neither is it clear if the agreement will be acceptable to all the stakeholders with conflicting interests in the region. The paper aims at discussing the achievements and challenges of the peace process between Israel and Palestine.
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Achievements of the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process
Even though people have started to lose hope with the current negotiations, numerous steps towards attaining peace have been already made. The situation nowadays cannot be compared to the time when no one had any idea of what could be done to restore peace in the region. Every nation in the world, including the most powerful USA, is committed to the peace process since chaos can extend to the entire world if not controlled. Each party has talked about their expectation and commitment to ending the conflict. Therefore, it is just a matter of time before the countries come into an agreement.
Recognition of Palestine Liberation Origination
The first achievement was after recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel as two negotiating parties. In 1993, there was a ‘behind-the-scenes’ (Jewish Virtual Library) contact between Palestine and Israel negotiation teams in Oslo. The representatives were Yasser Arafat, who was the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Shimon Peres, the then Israeli Foreign Minister. In the letter to Israel’s Prime Minister, Arafat informed that the PLO would not violate Israel’s right to live peacefully. The PLO also indicated that it had accepted the Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, confirmed its commitment to a peaceful conflict resolution, and claimed that it would stop using terrorism and other acts of violence to push its way (Jewish Virtual Library). The PLO also declared invalid those articles of the covenant, according to which Israel’s existence was denied (Jewish Virtual Library). The Palestine National Council issued a formal approval of these changes.
Israel replied to this letter by saying that it now recognized the PLO as the Palestinian representative in the peace negotiations process. On September 13, 1993, the two parties signed the Declaration of Principles that outlined the proposed interim self-government arrangement as agreed and envisioned by both sides (Jewish Virtual Library). The agreement talked about an immediate self-rule in Jericho and Gaza, self-government and Palestine council elections, and the empowerment of Palestinians in the West Bank since they lived in extreme poverty with no jobs and they could hardly afford basic needs. The Declaration of Principles also suggested an extensive economic cooperation between Palestine and Israel. Business between two nations is a good way of establishing peace since every party will look forward to making a profit.
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After the Oslo agreement, the two sides continued with delegation negation where they intended to implement the interim accord in three stages. The Gaza-Jericho agreement was the first stage and it was signed in Cairo on May 4, 1994 (Jewish Virtual Library). The agreement was about a defined area of the Gaza Strip, Jericho, and its environment; this area would occupy approximately 65 square kilometers. This agreement is a document that addresses four major issues affecting the region and includes civil affairs, security arrangements, economic relations, and legal matters (Jewish Virtual Library). The document comes with six maps attached to it, showing the discussed areas. In the document, Israel agrees to withdraw its military forces from Jericho and Gaza and transfer the authority to the Palestine administration. The report also outlines the Palestine authority structure and composition, a Palestine police force, jurisdiction and legislative powers, and the relationship between Palestine and Israel as separate states.
The second stage of the interim agreement came on August 29, 1994, when the two parties signed the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Power and Responsibilities. The agreement aimed at early empowerment as discussed in the Declaration of Principles (Jewish Virtual Library). The transfer of power was to be performed in five spheres. The first one to transfer was the department of education and culture, the second ministry to be transferred was social welfare, then tourism was followed by health, and finally – taxation. All the transfer of power was to happen before the end of 1994. On August 27, 1995, a transfer of additional spheres to the Palestine authority included labor, postal services, agriculture, and some others.
The final stage of this agreement was touched the problem of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The major purpose of this agreement, which was signed on September 28, 1995 in Washington, DC, was to expand Palestine’s self-government in the West Bank (Jewish Virtual Library). Palestine was supposed to elect a self-governing authority, also known as the Palestine Council, for maximum five years after the signing of the Gaza-Jericho agreement. Therefore, this period would only last to May 1999. This final stage allowed Palestine to conduct its internal affairs independently and reduce friction between Palestinians and Israeli citizens. It also created an opportunity to open an era of cooperation and coexistence based on agreement, interests and benefits, and the extension of dignity and respect between both nations. The agreement also protected Israel’s vital interests, particularly regarding security. Thus, external and personal safety for Israeli citizens in the West Bank was guaranteed.
The agreement was a baseline for the future relationship between Israel and Palestine. The discussion concerned seven major aspects that included elections, security arrangement, civil affairs or transfer of powers, economic relations, legal matters, the release of Palestine’s prisoners, and a cooperation between Palestine and Israel. International community strongly supported the agreements. Both countries were also to receive financial assistance from the international community, which would help them implement some of the agreed policies such as the empowering of Palestinians living below poverty line. The majority of the discussed issues of the agreement were fulfilled as planned. For example, Yasser Arafat was elected as the head of Palestine authority in 1996 (Jewish Virtual Library). These agreements were significant steps that aimed at leading the region from a chaotic to a peaceful one.
Permanent Status Negotiations
In mid-1996, the two regions agreed to resume negotiations regarding their permanent status. They were to deal with the remaining issues such as settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security arrangements, relation and cooperation with neighboring countries (Jewish Virtual Library). The two parties first affirmed the principles that guided the negotiations and agreed to accelerate the process to enable them to reach an agreement by May 4, 1999. Thus, Israel’s bargaining team insisted that Jerusalem should remain the capital city of Israel; the settlement blocs were to remain under Israel sovereignty; the foreign army in the west of the Jordan River had to leave that territory (Jewish Virtual Library). However, these conditions complicated issues and led to the adjournment of negotiations. In 2000, the team attended a summit, known as Camp David 2000 Summit, but agreement was reached during it (Jewish Virtual Library). However, the conclusion insisted on upholding the guiding principles of peace negotiations. Each party remained optimistic about peace talks, but things started going back to the old times due to the numerous terrorist attacks, committed by Palestinians.
These terrorist attacks led to another form of negotiation, where Israel agreed to cease all military activities against Palestine, including its disengagement in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, while Palestinians were to stop all acts of violence against Israelites. Thus, the Israeli defense force completely stopped its operations in the mentioned areas on September 12, 2005 (Jewish Virtual library). This move of Israel allowed Palestinians to operate peacefully and freely without a close and unnecessary monitoring from Israel military. However, Israel continued forcing the Hamas-Palestine government, elected in January 2007, to stop the terrorist activities (Jewish Virtual Library). The negotiation team had regularly gone back to discuss things that had been previously agreed but not implemented by both parties. Furthermore, international community also insisted that Palestine stopped terrorist activities.
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Negotiations Led by John Kerry
The US-led international community has made significant efforts to ensure the two parties come to an agreement. In 2007, an attempt was made to resume the talks between the two sides during an international conference in Annapolis (Jewish Virtual Library). There was also a direct talk negotiation in Jerusalem on December 12, 2007. The international donors assured political and financial support in achieving the vision to create a Palestine state. Moreover, Israel, Palestine, and international community have implemented numerous policies, aimed at strengthening Palestine’s economy. In 2010, Israel’s prime minister met the US President Barrack Obama, and this meeting rejuvenated the hopes of resuming serious peace talks that had previously collapsed (Jewish Virtual Library). This meeting showed that the USA was willing to help the two parties restore peace.
The direct negotiations were later initiated by the US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013. Unfortunately, the Palestine government, led by Hamas, rejected Kerry’s announcement of resuming talks, saying that the then-president Mahmoud Abbas was not allowed to make any negotiations as a Palestinian representative (Jewish Virtual Library). The Israeli team was represented by its Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, while Palestine’s delegation was presented by Saeb Erekat who was a former negotiator (Jewish Virtual Library). The process of negotiation, which started in Washington, was designed to move to Jerusalem and later to Hebron. The team set a deadline for reaching an agreement – April 29, 2014. However, the negotiations collapsed before the deadline. First, the blame was put on Israel, but it was later determined that both parties had participated in meaningless activities. Resuming talks was delayed due to the formation of the Palestine unity government.
The world still struggles to restore peace in the region, while Palestinians and Israelites are still optimistic that negotiations will work. Furthermore, previous negotiations have led to the withdrawal of Israel’s military, the release of Palestine’s prisoners, and the improved relationship between the two parties. Negotiations have also spurred economic activities, thus leading to the growth of the economy and the improvement of living standards of Palestine. The parties need to show more commitments in their efforts to restore peace. They must stop being selfish, listen, and consider the demands of their counterparts. Peace will only be achieved when both sides reach a mutual agreement that benefits them equally.
Challenges of the Israel-Palestine Peace Agreement
Despite the numerous achievements of the talks, negotiations between Israel and Palestine have seen some hindrances. Thus, many issues prevent the two parties from reaching an agreement. First, the talk seems to be always initiated by an external source, which is the USA or the United Nations Organization. This means that the desire to make peace is motivated more by an external instead of an internal force. Thus, international community is more interested in making the region a peaceful place than the intermediate participants of this conflict do. As long as peace talks are led by a third party, there is a likelihood of failure since neither Israel nor Palestine have yet reached the point of willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of peace in their land. Furthermore, the outsiders who initiate negotiations do not understand the problem better than the involved parties. Any suggestion from outside might favor one party without benefiting the other yet, while the initiator of talks thinks it is a fair deal. However, beside negotiations being initiated by the third party, the conflict is caused by other issues, some of which are complicated and hard to solve. Therefore, solving the conflict will require a total commitment of both sides.
Unclear Border and Territory
One of the critical issues that are being negotiated is border and territory. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State that initiated negotiations in 2013, said that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the ‘green line’ (Sherwood) that was set before 1967. This Armistice line was drawn in 1949 at the end of the war when Israel was declared a state (BBC News). However, Israel has continually insisted that some regions, such as Jerusalem and the West Bank, will remain its territory. At the same time, Palestine also wants to have these territories. The plan to swap land to compensate the Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a good one, and the Palestine government has accepted it. However, the government of Israel has not commented on the matter, neither has it stated whether it is willing to give Palestine some of its territories to compensate for what it claims that it cannot lose (BBC News). Israel has also not declared the regions for swap. Thus, solving the boundary issue will be a big step in resolving the conflict between both states since it seems to be the major problem in it.
Israel and Palestine Claim for Jerusalem
Jerusalem is another fundamental element of conflict between the two parties. Both Palestine and Israel want Jerusalem to be their future capital. After the 1967 war, Israel was able to rule over the East of Jerusalem; now, it has rejected any attempts of any division of the city (Elder of Ziyon). The international negotiators suggest that the city should be divided, thus making it the capital of the two states. The Palestine government has no objection to the suggestion, while Israel is not ready to accept it, aiming to retain Jerusalem in its entirety. Moreover, convincing Israel to accept the division of the city is quite difficult.
The main reason why each state wants Jerusalem to be its capital is that it is a sacred city for three major religions, namely Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Thus, Christians, who are about 2% of the total Jerusalem population, consider Jerusalem their holy city since it is the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (Elder of Ziyon). The Church of Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb attract Christians from all over the world. For Jews, who make 62% of the city’s population, Jerusalem is the holiest one since it is the former location of all Jewish temples and the capital of the ancient Israelite kingdom (Elder of Ziyon). Finally, Muslims consider this city together with Mecca and Medina as one of the holiest places of their religion. Even if the two parties agree to divide the city, each of them will claim to want to retain the holy sites either for religious or economic reasons as they attract many tourists from all over the world.
Security is another major challenge that has made it difficult for negotiators to reach an agreement. Thus, Israel demands first to discuss its safety needs and guarantees before it even begins addressing the issue of the border (Jpost Editorial). At the same time, Palestine wants to clarify border issues before talking about security, claiming that it cannot allow Israel to continue its military operation in the areas that belong to Palestinians. They argue that Israel might refuse to leave the areas where it has deployed its military. The major conflicting area, where security is an issue, is the Jordan valley since Israel wants to maintain a long-term military presence on a corridor of land in the West Bank adjacent to Jordan border (Jpost Editorial). Therefore, Israel claims that the presence of its military is vital for its security. On the other hand, Palestine does not want Israeli forces to continue existing within its state. Palestinians say that they must be allowed to control their borders.
To solve the issue, Kerry tried to devise a plan that would solve Israel’s security needs without compromising Palestinian sovereignty. For example, Kerry suggested that Israel should only maintain the forces in the West Bank corridor for a short time as they will give control to Palestinian forces (Jpost Editorial). The bigger problem about the Israeli military forces is that it is not clear where the boundary will be. Furthermore, there is not clarify as to whether these forces are on the land meant for Israel or Palestine. The conflicting interests and unclear boundaries make security issue complicated even though one could have thought it would be the easiest problem to solve. Furthermore, Palestine will need financial assistance from international community if it succeeds in creating a defense force whose power is almost equivalent to that of Israel. That is probably the main reason why Palestine’s forces use the tactics of terror to attack Israel as the former knows that it cannot win a confrontation with the Israeli Defense Forces. Until now, it is still not clear whether the border issues should be solved first or vice versa.
Resettlement of Palestine Refugees
Another challenging issue with the Israel-Palestine peacemaking process is the number of Palestine refugees and native Arabs that live in exile. After Israel was made a state in 1948, Palestinians and some native Arabs were sent to exile, which was considered to be an ethnic cleansing. The officials wanted Israel to be a Jewish state, yet they were the ones who migrated from the foreign land. The natives moved to avoid an incoming war, which they feared could be very severe. The war was initiated by neighboring Arab countries, the Haganah, and the Jewish gang. They left their homes and land that they had inhabited for generations. In addition to the removal of Arabs from Israel in 1948, another group of around 300,000 was displaced internally in the occupied territories. Moreover, these territories have the biggest displaced population in the world – around six million people. The population suffers in exile as they only depend on relief and donation; yet, they have the ability to develop economically, farm for their food, and even educate their children.
Palestine insists that for it to agree on anything, Israel must allow to resettle the Palestinians who have been sent to exile since they have a right to their ancestral land. Palestine refers to the Resolution 194 that states that any refugee who wishes to return to their native land should be allowed to do so and receive a compensation for their loss (United Nations). For that matter, Israel should take responsibility and compensate the refugees as well as enable them to settle. However, Israel says fulfilling these demands of Palestine will compromise its status as a Jewish nation (United Nations). Moreover, Israel has the goal of making its territory a Jewish nation, where Jewish citizens will have more rights than all other ethnic groups. On the other hand, the refugees will want to occupy their ancestral land that has already been occupied by the Jewish. It will not be possible to relocate them from this territory so that the Palestine could settle its citizens. Therefore, Israel argues that there will be security issues once Palestinians are allowed to settle on their native land. Israel also avoids the process of compensating and settling the refugees since it will cost the country significantly.
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Israel as a Jewish State
The issue of conflict, on which the two parties have not reached any agreement yet, is that Israel wants Palestine and the world to recognize it as a Jewish state. Israel argues being the only Jewish state in the region where there are 22 Arab states (Hazony, para. 2). Accepting that Israel is a Jewish state instead of just a political entity called Israel could solve many problem for this nation. For example, it will not have to resettle Palestinian refugees who, as it claims, aim at diminishing the Jewish population. The attempt of Palestine to eradicate Israel either by the use of violence or forcefully occupying the land will no longer be possible. However, most Arab countries are against accepting Israel as a Jewish state for various reasons. Thus, such a state will be a way of spreading ethnicity since any non-Jewish citizen in Israel will no longer be entitled to equal rights like their Jewish peers (Hazony). However, the issue does not appear to find any solution shortly as long as Israel insists on being considered as a Jewish state, while Palestine refuses to accept this proposal.
Palestine Extremist Groups
The failure to resolve the conflict peacefully has led to the creation of extremist groups that claim they fight for their rights. Palestinians are mostly affected since it is easy to recruit them. Most of them have no jobs and they live below the poverty line. Their suffering, which they have experienced from the Israeli military, makes them even more vulnerable to joining illegal gangs. They claim that the world supports Israel in persecuting them. Moreover, the use of terrorism by Palestinians makes the peace-making process complicated as it seems as if they force their agenda. While it is easy to convince their leaders of the disadvantage of using terrorism to get what they want, it is not easy to convince the people of Palestine who think that they have suffered enough and it is their time to take back what once belonged to them (Kredo). Therefore, terrorism activities might continue if the conflict is not solved as quickly as possible.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has taken a long time to resolve due to the complications, associated with it. However, the peace process has succeeded to convince both parties to accept some of the tabled issues. Thus, the process has managed to bring both sides to a direct negotiation table even though none of them has reached a conclusion that has resolved the conflict as planned. The first noticeable negotiation, known as the Oslo agreement, took place in 1993. Palestine committed itself to stopping terrorism and recognized the right of Israel to exist in peace, while Israel acknowledged the Palestine Liberation Organization as the negotiation representative. Recent negotiations led by Kerry, the US Secretary of State, have faced numerous challenges, which led to them being postponed without reaching an agreement. One of the critical issues that have made it impossible for the two parties to agree on settling their issues is the border. Both sides insist on retaining some places such as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Jerusalem is another area that each party wants to keep. Even if they agree to divide it, there will be an issue of who will retain the holy places. Palestine demands Israel to remove its defense forces from the land that is supposed to belong to it, while Israel says that the presence of military is critical to its security. Furthermore, Palestine wants Israel to resettle the Palestine refugees, and Israel insists that there are other 22 Arab countries where these Palestinians can be settled. Finally, the use of terrorist activities by Palestinians to enforce their agenda only makes the peace process more complicated.