By: Kathryn Bristor
As one of the most sacred countries in the world, Israel contains a number of holy sites for three of the world’s major religions. For years, the city of Jerusalem has been the main point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as both groups of people claim it as their capital. While tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been palpable for centuries, the United States’ recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital served to amplify emotions on both ends of the spectrum, producing both protests and celebrations. As the discord and hostility have continued to intensify between these two groups, many are left to wonder whether peace in this Middle Eastern country will ever be a possibility.
In its simplest form, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict boils down to a territorial dispute over Jerusalem. Following the Arab-Israeli war, Israel was split into three regions: the State of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Israelis lived in the State of Israel, while Palestinians resided in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, causing the initial divide between these two groups that would eventually spiral into their endless discord. After Israeli militia regained control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Jordan and Egypt in the Six-Day War, mass Palestinian uprisings began to occur and violent outbreaks ensued. As air strikes were exchanged and peace talks produced questionable results, relations between Israelis and Palestinians continued to be tenuous.
While sovereignty over Jerusalem is appealing from a territorial standpoint, it is crucial from a religious standpoint as well. The city of Jerusalem contains numerous holy sites for people of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, attracting people from all over the world and triggering violent disputes over land control. One such site, the Temple Mount, holds religious significance to members of all three faiths, as it is the holiest site in Christianity and Judaism, and the third-holiest site in Islam. While the Israeli government has control over nearly all of Israel, the Temple Mount is one of a handful of places under Muslim control. Although Israel maintains control over Jerusalem, both Israelis and Palestinians claim it as their capital. The debate over where borders should be drawn in dividing this city only serves to further fuel the animosity between the two groups.
The Oslo Accords was the first peace deal to be negotiated between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Signed in 1993, the Oslo Accords “created the Palestinian Authority as a provisional government, and laid out a five-year timetable for resolving all areas of conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” The declaration called for Israel to withdraw from Jericho and Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian police force, among other things, but left the question of Jerusalem unresolved. After yielding tenuous results, the Palestinian President declared that Palestine would no longer be bound by these agreements in 2015, causing the search for peace to reignite.
While far from perfect, the two-state solution has been proposed as the ideal answer to this ongoing struggle. The two-state solution advocates for the creation of an independent Palestinian state adjacent to the Israeli state, and would partition Jerusalem between the two territories. Many believe this policy of neutrality is the only way to accomplish any semblance of peace in the country and allow the two peoples to live harmoniously. While the two-state solution seems practical on its face, it has proven much more difficult to accomplish than expected. Four key controversial issues have plagued the success of this proposal for peace, preventing it from becoming a reality. One of the biggest points of debate is the question of where territorial lines would be drawn if two states were to be established. Over time, Israel has constructed settlements in Palestinian territory and constructed a barrier along the West Bank, making it nearly impossible to establish borderlines between Israel and an independent Palestinian state. Furthermore, the two-state solution causes an even deeper divide over Jerusalem as it would separate the city into an Israeli West and a Palestinian East, the problem being that “it is not easy to draw the line [since] Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites are on top of one another.” Another contention exists in the question of Palestinian refugees who were removed from the country. While Palestinians believe these people have the right to return, Israelis see them as threatening to the country’s “status as both a Jewish and a democratic state.” The last point of debate is the issue of security. According to Israelis, this means a continued military presence in the West Bank to protect the country from foreign invasion. Palestinians, on the other hand, believe security requires an end to foreign, even Israeli, military control. While many in the international community view the two-state solution as the best, and possibly only, answer to the never-ending power struggle in Israel, attempted negotiations are proof that it still remains far from implementation.
Alternative solutions have been proposed in lieu of the two-state solution, but many scholars believe they are less likely to be enforced and would prove less effective in the fight for peaceful Israeli and Palestinian relations. The top alternate proposal is the one-state solution. This resolution focuses on Israel coming under complete control of Israeli authorities, rejecting any hope for an independent Palestinian state. An implementation of this plan would require Israel to recapture the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian people currently reside, and annex the regions onto the Israeli state, resulting in a unified territory. Many within the country and the international community do not see the one-state solution as a viable option, as Palestinians vehemently oppose it since it would force them to come under the rule of the Israeli government.
With the international legal and political statuses of Jerusalem still undecided, many are divided on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As tensions only continue to complicate any real hope of reaching an agreement, many remain hopeful that one day the city of Jerusalem will be able to exist in harmony.
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 Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, supra note 1.
 Naina Bajekal, 6 Reasons Why Jerusalem’s Old City has Once Again Enflamed the Region, Time (Sept. 16, 2015), http://time.com/3595090/jerusalem-old-city-conflict/.
 The Struggle Over the Temple Mount, The Week (Nov. 15, 2015), http://theweek.com/articles/588465/struggle-over-temple-mount.
 Max Fisher, The Jerusalem Issue, Explained, The New York Times (Dec. 9, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/09/world/middleeast/jerusalem-trump-capital.html.
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 Max Fisher, The Two-State Solution: What it is and Why it Hasn’t Happened, The New York Times (Dec. 29, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-two-state-solution.html.
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