by Adam Sanders.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict is a very complex topic to address in a blog, so please take that in mind before proceeding. That being said, it is possible at least to address a few key issues of which the greater public should be vaguely aware. Most of us are well aware of the historical background of the Postwar Era and the Arab-Israeli Wars of the 20th century. What is more important is to incisively examine the most recent outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas. Furthermore, in a similar manner to some issues in America, domestic politics and national security issues are quite intertwined with each other in Israel. Before we proceed to the problems underpinning the 2021 Israeli-Palestinian crisis, we need to lay the groundwork of the specific relationship between the Palestinian-controlled areas and the Israeli government.

In a very broad sense, the current status quo still roughly adheres to elements of the Oslo Accords. To oversimplify, the agreements concluded in 1993–1995 attempted to provide for Palestinian self-determination, while still committing both parties to a single-state solution. More specifically, agreements included, but were not limited to granting a separate Palestinian police force, obliging Israel to be responsible for joint security and foreign policy, designating Palestinian-controlled territories in the West Bank, and facilitating joint Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation.[1]

The Oslo Accords were a notable accomplishment, to be sure, but not without scrutiny. In fact, in the twenty-five years since Oslo, the agreements have continued to garner controversy on both sides of the conflict. While the agreement has come under much strain over the past decades, it has partially held. Both sides have approached the Oslo Accords much like a buffet, taking what looks appealing and leaving what is unwanted.

Such is the status quo at this point, with Palestinian sovereignty being largely unchallenged in the Gaza Strip with regard to internal affairs. On the other hand, Palestinian control in the West Bank is a system based on control zones laid out in the Oslo Accords. This brings us to the recent eleven-day conflict. The initial flashpoint for the dispute involved an Israeli supreme court case that was expected to result in the expulsion of six Palestinian families from a majority-Palestinian neighborhood. This neighborhood, Sheikh Jarrah, is in East Jerusalem, which many Palestinians do not consider a legitimate part of Israel. Since mistrust of Israeli institutions runs high among the Palestinian population, this decision resulted in Palestinian rioting and clashes with Israeli law enforcement. Hamas demanded that Israeli forces depart from Sheikh Jarrah or face attacks. Needless to say, the IDF did no such thing. Thus, what might have been merely a controversial court system elsewhere in the world erupted into armed conflict.

But the value in examining this conflict is not in how it fits in with the broader eight-decade struggle but in unique factors in the domestic politics on each side. There were domestic issues in both Israeli and Palestinian politics that incentivized both sides to either precipitate or at least escalate armed hostilities. Since 2019, Israel has had four separate elections, and they have all failed to form a government. As of the beginning of May 2021, Netanyahu was still Israeli Prime minister, but was unable to form a government, resulting in a political crisis in Israel. It is more accurate to describe Netanyahu’s recent reelection as not so much something he won, but rather something he survived.

Furthermore, Netanyahu has been embroiled in yet another corruption probe which resulted in a formal indictment on bribery charges.[2] These twin swords of Damocles dangling over Netanyahu have naturally placed intense political pressure on the Israeli prime minister. Furthermore, Netanyahu has been a lifelong hardliner and staunch critic of the Oslo Accords. In fact, Netanyahu was at one point caught on a hot mic planning ways to circumvent the agreements.[3] As a result, it is easy to see why, even if Netanyahu did not initiate the conflict, he may have been motivated to overreact to Hamas’ attacks. In short, a quick military victory to unite people around him against Hamas in order to shore up his domestic political situation. Of course, there was plenty of political game-playing on the Palestinian side as well.

The Palestinian-controlled areas had scheduled legislative elections for 2021, and public opinion seemed to favor Hamas as the winner. However, President Abbas, a member of Hamas’s rival Fatah, canceled the Palestinian parliamentary elections out of fear of major Hamas electoral success.[4] Had Hamas been allowed to participate in the elections as a normal political party, it is conceivable that such an event would help soften Hamas and encourage the organization to increase its legitimacy in a manner similar to that of Yasser Arafat. However, by shutting down the Palestinian elections to parliament, Hamas was given no peaceful methods with which to address its perceived grievances.

Thus, Hamas saw the unrest in Sheikh Jarrah and saw an opportunity to garner attention. Specifically, Hamas’s more hard-line position against Israel incentivized the organization to lash out against Israel. The attacks were prima facie against Israel, but in reality, it was a political move meant to put pressure on the Palestinian government to allow Hamas to participate in elections. In short, Hamas was telling Abbas that if they cannot have a seat at the table, it will smash the table in half. As we have seen, in both Israel and the Palestinian-controlled areas, domestic political problems created scenarios where hardliners were in danger of losing out. Ironically, as much as Israeli and Palestinian hardliners hate each other, they both moved against each other as a way to address the same problem with the same solution. They both needed a punching bag.

In conclusion, it is not particularly helpful to find a grand peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Not only is it impossible to do so at this point, but each individual conflict has its own separate causes, both within and without. The negotiated cease-fire for this conflict after eleven days is a good example of how peace can be maintained going forward, to the extent it is possible. Rather than thinking there is a diplomatic paradise that can be achieved, we must wait for blows to strike and reveal the hidden kindling. Only then will we be able to address the specific causes and motivations for particular motives on each side.

[1] Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, “1995 Oslo Interim Agreement,” Britannica ProCon. Org, April 24th, 2008. https://israelipalestinian.procon.org/background-resources/1995-oslo-interim-agreement/

[2] CBS News, “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Could Be Indicted for Corruption.” February 29th, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/israeli-prime-minister-benjamin-netanyahu-to-be-indicted-for-corruption/

[3] Glenn Kessler, “Netanyahu: ‘America is a Thing You Can Move Very Easily.’” Washington Post, July 16th, 2010. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/cmos_formatting_and_style_guide/periodicals.html

[4] Tor Wennesland, “Statement by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, on the Postponement of the Palestinian Legislative Council Elections.” United Nations, April 30th, 2021. https://www.un.org/unispal/document/statement-by-special-coordinator-on-the-postponement-of-palestinian-legislative-council-elections/

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