Will Israel ever occupy Gaza again

The Israel-Palestine conflict, clearly explained

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank has now been going on for over 50 years - there is currently no end in sight. The Israel-Palestine conflict has been going on for so long and is so complex that it is difficult to keep track of things. So let's start from the beginning:

What are Israelis and Palestinians fighting about anyway?

In a nutshell: around the same piece of land, with Jerusalem as the most important city in this area.

Hm, doesn't sound that complicated ...

The problem is: It's about more than “just” land. It's about home. Identity. Justice. And security. The conflict has cost the lives of around 116,000 people during its existence and has deeply traumatized two peoples over generations.

But let's try a mind game for a better understanding:

Imagine you and your family have been persecuted for a very long time because of your religion. Worse still, unimaginable horrific things have been done to some of your family and many friends. Then someone promises you a piece of land. But not just any. But one that is very important to you. Because your ancestors lived there a long time ago, because the roots of your religion are there and therefore your own as well. Which is why you think: The promised property has actually been your piece of land the whole time. Of course, you will plow and care for it so that the property that you call your own becomes your new old home.

That is the Jewish Israelis' view of the conflict.

But there is also another side: Imagine that you live with your family on a property. In fact, your family has lived there for generations. Which is why you naturally say: This is your property. But then another family comes along and claims the land for itself. They occupy your house, your garden, they force you and your family to flee. They say, this isn't your property - it's mine. Always been. They are assigning you another property. But you are not even allowed to be free there. You were also promised something that your people's ancestors had fought for: freedom. But now you have to stick to the strict rules that the occupiers impose on you because they have more guns and are therefore stronger than you.

That is the Palestinian view of the conflict.

Before we go deeper into the background of the conflict: Why has it escalated so violently again right now?

In early May, the apartments of several Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem were to be evacuated because Jewish families lived there before 1948. Israeli law allows Jewish Israelites to claim ownership if property belonged to their ancestors prior to 1948. The Palestinian families who now live there resisted the eviction and there were numerous demonstrations.

Maybe you are now thinking: what? Such an evacuation is enough for missile attacks and deaths on both sides? Yes and no. Of course, it's not that simple.

One thing is certain: the violent protests initially spread from East Jerusalem to riots across the city, and there were also violent clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel. The Palestinian Hamas (which controls the Gaza Strip and is classified as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US) eventually fired rockets at Jerusalem after initially giving Israel an ultimatum to withdraw from the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem - Israel responded to the rockets Hamas with a counter-attack on the Gaza Strip. This set in motion the spiral of escalation.

That seems a lot more complicated than I realized. How did the conflict begin?

We could look very far back historically to answer this question. But the time to the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century is crucial if one wants to understand the connections in which Europe is also involved. Because during this time a territorial reorganization of the Middle East took place, the consequences of which we can still feel today. Not just in relation to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. At that time, major European powers arbitrarily drew national borders without considering the structure of local Arab society. They divided tribes, regions and religious communities as they saw fit, but above all according to their own claim to power.

In order to gain a general overview of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is important to understand that two developments took place in parallel at that time. Like two narrative strands of a story that initially ran side by side, only to cross each other and get tangled up in a knot that no one really knows how best to untie it:

On one side of this story is that arab nationalism, which was formed at the beginning of the 20th century in the then still existing Ottoman Empire. The Arabs dreamed of being independent. And the British promised them independence if they would fight with them in the First World War against the Ottoman Empire. 1915 the British assured the Arabs that they would approve a Greater Arab Empire on the Arabian Peninsula if the Ottoman Empire were defeated. And so the Arab Hejaz tribes moved from the area around Mecca and Medina (both cities are in what is now Saudi Arabia) 1916 at the side of the British lieutenant and later Colonel Thomas E. Lawrence (who would later go down in history as Lawrence of Arabia) in the war. And indeed: the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1918.

But the Arab dream of a united Arab empire also shattered. Because the British didn't even think about keeping their promise. Instead, they planned, in secret talks with France after the First World War, to colonize the Ottoman territories - and divided them 1916, in the same year in which the Hejaz tribes marched in the fight for their supposed independence, the area under themselves: In the so-called Sykes-Picot Agreement France secured control of southeast Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and northern Iraq. Great Britain, on the other hand, via Jordan, today's Israel and Palestine and southern Iraq. In addition, the two countries agreed on "areas of influence" in which one granted each other the right to introduce controls and administrations.

This map gives a good overview.

The fighting Arabs knew nothing of any of this. They trusted the deals they had once made, mostly because the British and French were still in the November 1918 publish a statement saying that the common goal is "the full and unambiguous equality of the peoples who have long been oppressed by the Turks, and the creation of national governments whose authority derives from the free choice of the indigenous people".

However, it turned out differently. At a conference in San Remo, Italy in 1920 the English and French officially divided the area between themselves - Palestine fell under a British mandate.

Okay, so what was the second line of development that you mentioned at the beginning?

At the same time, a also developed Jewish nationalismwho formed with Theodor Herzl at the top. Herzl had already formulated the idea of ​​a Jewish homestead at the end of the 19th century. The movement he founded is called Zionism.

1917 - 100 years ago - the British also made a promise to the Jews: in the so-called Balfour Declaration they promised them exactly what they had previously promised the Arabs: an independent state. The statement reads:

“His Majesty's government looks benevolently at the establishment of a national homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine and will do its best to facilitate the achievement of this goal, while, of course, nothing shall happen which violates the civil and religious rights of the existing non- Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status of Jews in other countries. I would be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the attention of the Zionist Association. Your Arthur Balfour. "

Arthur James Balfour was British Foreign Secretary at the time.

Anyone who has read carefully up to this point should now understand the problem: You cannot distribute the same piece of cake to two different parties.

But that is exactly what happened. The area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan was now "Erez Israel", the land of Israel, the new old homeland for the Jewish immigrants 30s and 40s there have been waves of Jewish immigration; Tel Aviv was the first Jewish-Zionist city in Palestine to be founded in 1909). For the Arabs who already lived in the region, however, the country was simple: Palestine.

Wait a minute: why did the British promise the Jews the same land?

This question is of course obvious. How can the British make the same promise to two different parties? Many historians disagree, but as the Federal Agency for Civic Education writes, the crucial question is not whether the British would have pursued a “Prozionist” or “pro-Arab” policy.

“This' historians' dispute 'too is (like many others) pointless, because the answer is simple: The British were pursuing British politics. They played off Zionists against Palestinians and vice versa. They did not want to give Palestine to either the Palestinians or the Jews. They wanted to keep it. 'Divide and rule' has been the cruel game since Roman times. "

As a result, what can already be guessed from the previous lines happened: There were ever greater tensions between the two sides, among other things 1929 culminated in the Hebron massacre when Arabs killed 67 Jews in the city of Hebron.

The British gave up their mandate 1947 back, that same year the United Nations decided in the Resolution 181 that the area of ​​Palestine should be divided into an Arab and a Jewish state. The Arab state should have a size of 11,600 square kilometers, which corresponded to a share of 43 percent of the total area. Space for around 760,000 people who lived there at the time. The Jewish state was granted an area of ​​15,100 square kilometers, which was 57 percent of the total area and provided space for the approximately one million people who lived in the area at the time. The map shows the distribution from 1947.

The Arabs rejected the partition plan, the Jews agreed - in May 1948 the Jews proclaimed the State of Israel.

Why did the Arabs reject the partition plan?

Because if the partition plan had been recognized, they would also have had to recognize an Israeli state, which was absolutely not in the interests of the Arabs. And because approval would have meant that parts of the Palestinians in the new Jewish state would have had to live under the rule of the Israelis - but the Palestinians had already lived under the rule of the Ottomans for 400 years and fought alongside the British for their independence. You have to read their rejection of the partition plan against the background of the previously made promises - which were not fulfilled. The arriving Jews were also perceived as intruders, not as returnees. So why, thought the Palestinians, should they have placed themselves under their rule?

What I still haven't understood: Why is Jerusalem so important in the conflict?

Anyone who has ever been to Jerusalem feels the special atmosphere of this city, which derives from the fact that Jerusalem plays a very central role for three world religions: For the Jews, Jerusalem is so important, among other things, because the Western Wall is in the Old City - the most important sanctuary of the Jewish people. In addition, the hill on which the Muslim Dome of the Rock stands plays an important role in the Jewish faith; God is said to have determined his place of residence on earth there. After Mecca and Medina, the Dome of the Rock is one of the holiest places in Islam because Muslims believe that their prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven from there. Not far away is the al-Aqsa mosque, the third most important mosque in Islam. And then there are the Christians. The city has a special meaning for them because Jesus was first celebrated when he entered the city, later executed on the cross and finally buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

So much was argued about Jerusalem thousands of years ago that it is actually a miracle that the city is still standing. But as I said: We want to focus on the time focus past century: 1947 the already mentioned partition plan of the United Nations provided for the whole of Jerusalem to be placed under a special international administration. When it 1948 Israel's first war of independence came about (more on this in a moment), but the city was arbitrarily divided into an Israeli “west” and a Jordanian “east”; the latter comprised the Jewish quarter of the old city and the east of Jerusalem. Jews were suddenly forbidden to pray at the Western Wall.

1950 Israel declared Jerusalem its eternal capital, Jordan annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem. in the 1967 Six Day War The Israeli armed forces finally conquered East Jerusalem and extended their legislation to the East as well. Israel's Jerusalem Law of 1980 officially declared all of Jerusalem the capital, and East Jerusalem was virtually annexed by Israel. In 1988 the PLO ("Palestine Liberation Organization") declared Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinians when they proclaimed the State of Palestine.

So both sides make claims. That is why Donald Trump's move to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is seen as such an affront by many. In December 2017, Trump announced his plans - less than five months later, his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner opened the new embassy in Jerusalem in a ceremony: "On behalf of the 45th President of the USA, we want you officially and for the first time welcome here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. "

The status of the city has still not been conclusively clarified. The international community has never recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem. In the year in which the Jerusalem Law appeared, the UN passed it Resolution 478, which declared the annexation invalid and called on all states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from Jerusalem. In March 2019, however, Romania was the first EU country to announce its intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

You just mentioned several wars. Why did it happen?

The Israeli state was only one day old when the surrounding countries Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq went into battle against Israel, and the first Israeli-Arab war broke out. The Palestinians call it "Nakba", which means something like "catastrophe" or "misfortune" in German. To the astonishment of the enemy, Israel's troops were surprisingly strong and superior - Israel was able to bring around 77 percent of the former mandate area under its control, that is to say, gain massive land compared to the partition plan of 1947. There were massacres of civilians on both sides, an estimated 750,000 Palestinians fled. Jordan conquered the West Bank with East Jerusalem, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip, and Syria was able to conquer land in the Golan Heights.

The United Nations issued im December 1948 Resolution 194. For all Palestinians who fled then and are still living as refugees today, this resolution is very important because it grants the refugees the right to return to their homes and the right to compensation. At the same time, this resolution is one of the great unresolved problems of the conflict. Because although the resolution remains in place, the question arises: where should the Palestinian refugees return? Israelis have lived in their old homeland for almost 70 years.

1949 the war ended with a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the warring parties, but there were no peace treaties at the time. The demarcation line from then becomes today "Green Line" called.

But even after the ceasefire agreement, the situation did not really calm down. 1956 it came to the so-called Suez crisis. After it's in Spring 1967 After numerous border conflicts and aerial skirmishes between Syrian and Israeli troops and Egypt had blocked the Strait of Tiran between the southern tip of Sinai and Saudi Arabia, which meant an important supply line for Israel, Israel saw itself so threatened that it was so threatened in June started a preventive war, which the Arab countries still regard as a war of aggression. As a direct consequence, the Six Day War.

This war has a special meaning in the conflict,

  • because Israel could expand its territory threefold. When negotiations take place between the two sides today, it is often about drawing the boundaries “before 1967”. What is meant then is that Green Line from 1949, which is viewed internationally and by the Palestinians as the state border of Israel - at least that was the case until the end of March 2019. But shortly before the recent parliamentary elections in Israel and during a visit by Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump signed a decree that officially recognized the Golan Heights annexed by Israel as Israeli national territory. Israel conquered the Golan Heights in 1967 and annexed it in 1981.

  • because Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank and invaded East Jerusalem. Israel completely evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005, but the occupation in the West Bank continues to this day. There is also no agreement on the Golan Heights with Syria.

  • because another half a million Palestinians fled.

  • because the USA now openly supported Israel, also with arms deliveries, which it had failed to do up to this point.

There were other wars after 1967 too, such as the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Egypt and Syria tried to regain the territories conquered by Israel. Or the Lebanon War of 1982, in which Israel invaded against the PLO. At that time there was a massacre of Palestinian refugees by Christian-Lebanese refugees in the camps of Sabra and Shatila, in which, it later turned out, the then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was jointly responsible. 2006 it also came to Second Lebanon War between Israel and the Lebanon-based Shiite Hezbollah, which is funded by Iran. Iran, in turn, is Israel's worst enemy in the region; the country repeatedly threatens to destroy Israel.

All of these wars and conflicts have not changed the very fundamental status quo in the region, at least not to the extent that the Six Day War of 1967.

That change was triggered by something else: the Intifada. The word means something like "get up, shake off" in Arabic. Palestinians fought against the Israeli occupation in two violent uprisings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The first intifada 1987 was marked by stone-throwing youths who fought violent clashes with the Israeli military in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. But there was no stopping at one's own people either; Anyone who was considered to be an Israeli informant was persecuted, and often murdered. First the peace negotiations from Oslo I in the year 1993 ended the first intifada.

Ah, Oslo. The word comes up again and again today when it comes to conflict.

Yes that's right. Today the situation seems more precarious than ever, but it has not always been the case. At the beginning of the 1990s, what is often referred to today as the “peace process” developed. Often it consisted of very tough negotiations between the two sides, but the peace process also had its successes. The Americans played a leading role in these negotiations - and want, at least as Trump announced it, to take on this mediating role again.

Already 1979 had Israel and Egypt agree to a peace treaty agreed, as a result, Israel withdrew from the occupied Sinai Peninsula (and the parties to the treaty, Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egypt's President Anwar al-Sadat later received the Nobel Peace Prize). 1994 it came to Peace treaty between Israel and Jordan (In response to Trump's decision in Jerusalem, however, Jordan announced at the beginning of December that it would re-examine the 1994 agreement).

"Oslo I" means the treaties between Israelis and Palestinians, which initially took place in secret in Oslo with the mediation of the USA. 1993 were sealed in the White House and further negotiations were decided step by step - many of you may still remember the photo that testifies to the agreement: a beaming Yasser Arafat and serious-looking Yitzhak Rabin shake hands firmly, the US at the time is in the background - President Bill Clinton, spreading his arms around both men.

Part of the talks included an assurance from Israel that it would withdraw step by step from the occupied territories, as well as a construction freeze on the Jewish settlements. Israel accepted the PLO as a representative body of the Palestinians, who, on the other hand, renounced terror under Arafat and recognized Israel's right to exist. in the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement the Palestinians were then granted self-governing territory for the first time: parts of the Gaza Strip and the city of Jericho in the West Bank.

The international community celebrated Oslo I (Arafat and Rabin later also received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Shimon Peres, who was then Israel's foreign minister at the time), but the negotiations were accompanied by major protests “on the street”, both in Israel and also in the occupied territories.

They culminated 1994 More than 100 Palestinians were injured in the assassination attempt by the Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein, who shot into the crowd in the Abraham Mosque in Hebron, killing 29 prayers. In Israel, on the other hand, there were numerous suicide bombings spread across different cities.

Nevertheless, im followed September 1995 the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, also called Oslo II. In this, the West Bank was divided into different zones, namely into Area A, B or C. Area A is administered by the Palestinians themselves, Area C by the Israelis, and Area B is subject to mixed administration. The different zoning in the West Bank still exists today - and a complicated system of permits and prohibitions as a result.

At the November 4, 1995 A peace demonstration took place in Tel Aviv, 200,000 people took part. Yitzhak Rabin too. He believed that peace between Israel and the Palestinians was possible. On the stage, Rabin said in front of a huge crowd:

“I was a man in the army for 27 years; as long as there was no opportunity for peace, I fought. Today I believe that there is a chance for peace, a great opportunity. We must seize this opportunity for the blessing of those who are here and also for all those who are not here - and there are many. "

The evening after this rally, Rabin was dead. The ultra-right Israeli Jigal Amir had shot him three times when Rabin stepped off the stage.

With Rabin, the hope of rapprochement soon died for many. Israel's government took over Benjamin Netanyahu, settlement construction was resumed, the Palestinian suicide attacks continued and land was confiscated. The peace process stalled under Netanyahu.

First 2000, in the negotiations of Camp David II, both sides - Israel and the new Prime Minister Ehud Barak - sat down again at the table. But the negotiations failed.

And as far as Israel's neighboring states are concerned: there is still no peace treaty with Syria; Israel still occupies the Golan Heights, which actually officially belong to Syria. There have been several violent clashes between Israel and Syria there, including in the past few months. Israel bombs Hezbollah positions in Syria, but clashes between ISIS and the Israeli military also broke out in the Golan Heights, and the Israelis have been supporting Syrian rebels for several years. Why? Because Syria is in turn supported by Iran, which, as mentioned, is Israel's greatest enemy in the region.

The situation between Israel and Lebanon has not improved during this time either, but is currently tense again. Here, too, Hezbollah is the key word - because Hezbollah is supported by Iran and is therefore viewed by Israel as Tehran's “extended arm”.

Okay, but there was also a second intifada, right?

Yes that's right. In contrast to the first intifada, there were many more brutal suicide attacks on the Israeli civilian population, for example in buses. As a consequence, Israel began 2002to create a barrier to separate it from the West Bank. Which event the second intifada triggered is controversial. Was it the unanswered questions during the peace process? Or the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which the Palestinians understood as an outrageous provocation? Be that as it may, the second Intifada dramatically worsened people's living conditions - on both sides. The Israeli military imposed a curfew in the occupied territories, and people in Israel were afraid if they got on the next bus or waited at a bus stop.

What is the life of the local people like today?

There is no general answer to this question. The answer depends very much on where a Jewish Israeli or a Palestinian lives. You can live in the middle of Tel Aviv and have the feeling that you are in Kreuzberg (but with better weather and a very nice beach). But then reality catches up with you again; When I was traveling for several months in Israel and the West Bank three years ago, I especially noticed the many young soldiers who naturally shape the cityscape in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israeli lightheartedness is superficial; Many Israelis have a permanent feeling of threat because of the numerous attacks, the wars and also because of the Holocaust. And this is also justified, since attacks occur again and again.

The fear is particularly palpable, for example, in Sderot, a city in southern Israel, which is in the immediate vicinity of the Gaza Strip. If Hamas shoots rockets from there, they land in Sderot. There have already been more than ten thousand. As a result, almost every house has its own bunker.Children in kindergarten and school learn that they have exactly 15 seconds from the first signal of the bomb alarm to the safe bunker, because the rockets from the Gaza Strip need just as long to hit .

Every young Israeli also has to complete several years of military service (recently also Orthodox Jews), as part of their service - depending on where they are stationed - they are exposed to violent demonstrations, they arrest young people at night, they experience the often aggressive and tense atmosphere Checkpoints in the West Bank are insulted and repeatedly involved in violent clashes.

And the Palestinians? The Gaza Strip, in which two million people live in an area smaller than the city of Cologne, has been subject to an Israeli blockade for ten years. Electricity is only available for a few hours a day, plus inadequate health care and a sewage and freshwater problem. According to the United Nations, almost half of the population in the Gaza Strip lives below the poverty line, 40 percent are unemployed, 80 percent depend on humanitarian aid. A UN report from 2012 paints a gloomy perspective: According to UN experts, the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020.

In the West Bank, however, the Israeli occupation and settlement policy are omnipresent, whether in southern Hebron, northern Nablus or Bethlehem. For example, there is one of the largest checkpoints, called Bethlehem 300. Every morning from four o'clock in the morning, thousands of Palestinians queue up if they want to go to nearby Jerusalem to work or to attend Friday prayers. Only those who can show a permit from the Israeli authorities can pass the armed Israeli soldiers. And sometimes even a permit doesn't help.

In the occupied territories, the Palestinians also have to struggle with inadequate access to water sources and an unjust distribution of water, radical settlers repeatedly destroy olive trees from Palestinian farmers, houses are destroyed, and land seizures are also the order of the day.

Around 800,000 Palestinian refugees still live in 19 different camps in the West Bank - some of which have now manifested themselves as “cities” of their own. Such as the AIDA camp in Bethlehem, which is directly adjacent to the wall that separates Israel from the Jerusalem catchment area and in which around 5,800 people live. AIDA should not be imagined as a normally functioning city - on the contrary. Life in AIDA depends on the monetary payments of the UNWRA relief agency of the United Nations. If too little money flows from there, the garbage disposal collapses, the teachers at the AIDA school go on strike because they cannot get any more money, and the medical care does not work.

During my time in the West Bank, I saw Palestinian children who could not go to school regularly because the Israeli military bombarded their school with tear gas. Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. Palestinian families who stood in front of the ruins of their house for the second or even third time because the Israeli military had destroyed it due to an alleged lack of permits. Two young Israeli soldiers who cried at Checkpoint Bethlehem 300 because they were so overwhelmed with the situation. Radical Jewish settlers who, armed to the teeth, defied the Israeli military themselves. Jewish Israelis who trembled to tell me about the last attack in which a family member was seriously injured. Palestinian boys whose brothers, fathers or uncles had been arrested before and were still in prison or have sat in prison.

But I also met the people of Neve-Shalom, a village in Israel where Jews and Arabs live together peacefully. Or the residents of Tu'qu, a Palestinian village near Bethlehem, who regularly demonstrated peacefully against the occupation and the nearby Jewish settlers. Or the Palestinian Hence Nasser, who has been fighting for international understanding for more than 27 years with his project “Tent of Nations” and against the threat to the Israeli authorities, who declared his farm to be Israeli land in 1991.

All of that is life in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

But there was still a wall, wasn't there?

2002 Israel began to build a barrier made of fences and massive stone blocks to separate it from the West Bank, which at some point will be a continuous wall around 800 kilometers in length. In January 2017, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Aid Operations (OCHA), 64 percent of the wall was closed. The barrier is highly controversial internationally, especially because - as you can see very well on this map - it does not run on the borders of the 1949 Green Line - but often extends far into the West Bank (on the map the barrier is marked by the thick red line).

85 percent of the barrier route runs within the West Bank, which leads to abstruse everyday situations on the Palestinian side: trapped villages, cut off farmland, blocked water sources. The zone between the green line and the barrier is called the “Seam Zone”. It is administered by Israel, which in turn means that, for example, Palestinian farmers who want to go to their water source in the Seam Zone can only get there with a permit from the Israeli authorities and at certain times. Namely when the 70 or so “agricultural checkpoints” that now exist along the barrier are open. According to the Israeli NGO Machsom Watch but have fewer than 30 of these checkpoints open more than once a week, the rest do not work at all or only open their barriers once a year.

Despite all the criticism, the Israeli government sticks to its line of argument: It sees the barrier as a necessary measure for self-defense against suicide bombers and says that the number of suicide bombings in Israel has decreased significantly since it was built.

What is the current state of the peace process?

A Palestinian I met in Bethlehem and with whom I spoke about possible peace in his country once said to me: "Syria killed Palestine." It was in February 2014, he sounded resigned, also bitter, as if he had any hope abandoned an end to the conflict. What the Palestinian meant by this sentence: Due to the war in Syria, the Israel-Palestine conflict was "forgotten" by the world public and the media.

Perhaps this statement is too dramatic, but what is certain is that the actual Middle East conflict, i.e. the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians, with the war in Syria took a back seat. Besides, the peace process lies since April 2014 de facto on hold. That summer, Israel and Hamas waged a seven-week war in the Gaza Strip. The reason for this was the kidnapping and subsequent death of three Jewish religious students and, shortly afterwards, the murder of a Palestinian youth near Jerusalem.

This war occurred during Barack Obama's tenure. Even under him there was no rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians. The relationship between Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama was considered bad, that both could not stand each other particularly well as an open secret. This is important because the United States plays the most important mediating role in the dispute between the two peoples.

Things are going much better between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu. That is nice for the American-Israeli relationship - but bad for a new peace process. Because with the two steps of first relocating the American embassy to Jerusalem and then recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli national territory, Trump has crossed a line that was considered a consensus in the international community. This transgression will make a new peace process more difficult, if it should happen. The New York Times said on a podcast in April 2019: "Donald Trump has promised to break the deal of the century between Israelis and Palestinians. His partnership with Benjamin Netanyahu made a peace plan impossible. "

And the Trump administration is continuing along this line: In November 2019, US Secretary of State Pompeo said at a press conference: Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank - repeatedly criticized internationally - does not per se violate applicable international law. For the Palestinians, who have been losing territory for years as more and more Israeli settlements are built, this is a slap in the face. Pompeo justified the US's new stance on the grounds that recognition of settlement construction made peace between the two peoples more likely.

Last signaled im September 2017 Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed their readiness for new negotiations before the UN General Assembly in New York. Donald Trump had already announced during his visit to Israel in spring 2017 that he wanted to revive the peace process, although at the latest since his decision in Jerusalem and the recognition of the Israeli settlements, quite a few, especially Arab voices, have been wondering what the US is now Be able to fulfill the role of a neutral mediator.

The first part of a new peace plan, which Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner presented at a conference in Bahrain in mid-June 2019 and which is called "Peace to Prosperity", does not raise hopes. It is an economic concept that provides, for example, an improved infrastructure, a strengthening of the private sector and an opening of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank for regional exchange of goods. Kushner wants to invest 50 billion dollars, but it remains to be seen where this money will come from. There is also not a single solution to the politically muddled situation in the paper (see next point) that repeatedly leads the Palestinians back to one question: own state, yes or no?

The Palestinian leadership was therefore not very enthusiastic about Kushner's plan, on the contrary. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, said according to SPIEGELOnline: "We need the money and we need support, but above all we need a political solution."

What are the biggest obstacles on the way to a peaceful solution?

To this day, there are core issues in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians that have still not been resolved:

  • the exact territorial demarcation of a Palestinian and also the Israeli state.
  • the status of Jerusalem (see above).
  • the question of whether and where the Palestinian refugees can return as they were promised.
  • the future of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
  • the question of the equitable distribution of water between Israelis and Palestinians.

In addition, there are demands from both sides as a basic condition for further negotiations:

  • Israel demands that the Palestinians recognize its right to exist.
  • In return, the Palestinians are calling for the construction of the settlements in the West Bank to be halted.
  • For ten years there was a dispute over the direction between the Palestinians radical Islamic Hamaswho ruled the Gaza Strip, and the moderate Fatah by President Mahmoud Abbaswho represents the Palestinians in the West Bank. In October, the two parties finally settled their dispute and agreed on a unity government. This is bad for a new start to the peace negotiations; Israel as well as the EU and the USA regard Hamas as a terrorist organization and reject any negotiations. Hamas had not agreed to meet the basic requirements of the EU: renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and all agreements concluded so far between Israelis and Palestinians.

Let's be honest: is the two-state solution dead?

It depends on who you're talking to. The longest-serving foreign minister in Europe, Jean Asselborn, said in December 2017 (when this explainer was written in its first version) in Anne Will's talk show: “We want the two-state solution!” UN Secretary-General António Guterres sees no other Solution: "There is no plan B," he said shortly after Trump's decision in Jerusalem. Neither does Germany deviate from the concept of the two-state solution. By contrast, the USA had already declared in February 2017 - well before Donald Trump's announcement that the American embassy would be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - that a two-state solution was no longer a condition for a peaceful solution between the two parties. All previous US presidents had supported a separate state for the Palestinians as an important starting point for a possible agreement.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu once spoke out in favor of a two-state solution during his term in office, but more often against it during the election campaign. With his renewed victory in the Israeli parliamentary elections in April 2019, however, a two-state solution is further away than ever; The country had already migrated further to the right in previous years, and in April 2019 Netanyahu announced in the parliamentary election that he would officially annex the settlements in the West Bank. Plus: Donald Trump is a US president who - unlike the previous presidents - does not stick to the two-state solution, who officially says he wants a solution in the best sense of both parties, but always in practice again making decisions that disadvantage the Palestinians. "In any case, the two-state solution is dead despite all the drama and theatricality (...)", expressed it New York Times in said podcast.

For Mahmoud Abbas, for his compatriots, alongside an Israeli state, a sovereign state is still a fundamental condition for the further peace process, something he is sticking to even after Trump's decision in Jerusalem.

And what does the population think? In a survey conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah in February this year on a hypothetical peace agreement, only 42 percent of the Palestinians questioned and 41 percent of those questioned Israeli Jews said they would support the deal. It comprised the following points in the survey:

  • a demilitarized Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and a land swap.
  • West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
  • the return of 100,000 Palestinian refugees to Israel.
  • the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem and the Western Wall under Israeli rule, the Christian and Muslim quarters and the Temple Mount under Palestinian rule.
  • ending the conflict.

What is so difficult about the two-state solution?

In spite of the different opinions, which are already clear from the previous question, one thing is certain: the Israeli settlement policy of the past decades has increasingly fragmented and reduced the size of the West Bank; it is now more like a Swiss cheese than a contiguous piece of land, divided into A, B and C areas, cordoned off by numerous checkpoints and fences as well as the barricade, criss-crossed by streets that are sometimes only used by Israeli citizens. (A detailed overview map can be found here) That makes a two-state solution more difficult - because where there is no longer a contiguous piece of land, a contiguous piece of state can hardly emerge.

There are currently 150 settlements in the West Bank that are officially recognized as such by the State of Israel (the United Nations classify the construction of settlements as illegal). In addition, there are 100 so-called “outposts”, ie settlements that even the Israeli state does not recognize and which are often small, i.e. only consist of a few Jewish families. Taken together, according to OCHA, around 600,000 settlers currently live in the West Bank - according to the organization, the number of Jewish settlements has increased over the past 20 years Peace Now more than doubled.

If a Palestinian state of its own were proclaimed in the West Bank, one would be faced with the question: What to do with the settlers? They would have to be relocated, some even suggest a land swap. Others say that this is just one of several problems in a possible two-state solution. They do not believe that the Palestinian leadership would be able to build and direct its own state at all. There are always allegations of corruption. Numerous NGOs are on site, aid funds flow annually to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank - since the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, more than 25 billion US dollars have been pumped into the occupied Palestinian territories.

That doesn't sound good. Are there alternatives to the two-state solution?

An idea would be one confederacy, comparable to the European Union. The idea still envisages two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian - but these are united in a common homeland. With Israeli and Palestinian citizens in each country enjoying the same rights. In addition, open borders, cooperating authorities, freedom of movement for every citizen - and Jerusalem as the common capital. The advantages of such a solution compared with the two-state solution previously envisaged would be: The Jewish settlements would not have to be evacuated, Jerusalem would not have to be divided, and the promise of a right of return for the Palestinians could be kept. There is an initiative from the civilian population for this idea, to which both Palestinians and Israelis come together. It's aptly called: two states, one homeland.

On the other hand, some voices believe that at the end of the conflict, the One-state solution could stand, precisely because Israel has already created facts through its settlement policy. Such a solution, however, would have disadvantages for both sides: In such a state, the Jewish Israelis would be demographically in the minority compared to the Palestinians - the Palestinians could not enjoy the same rights in a Jewish state as their Jewish fellow citizens. Precisely because it would not be a secular state, but an explicitly Jewish state. The one-state idea is therefore not a real alternative solution, also because, as already mentioned, the Palestinians insist on their own state.

A third variant, of which little has been heard in this country, but which, according to various media reports, has been discussed behind closed doors for years is a Palestinian State on the Sinai Peninsula. This plan allegedly provides for the establishment of a state of its own in Gaza - and then, with the support of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, expanding it into northern Sinai and opening it up to Palestinian citizens from the West Bank. Al Jazeera reported in the summer of 2017 that Israel and the US would support this solution and that talks between Egypt, Israel, Hamas and an important opponent of Mahmoud Abbas had already taken place several years ago.

A new fire in the rumor mill around the Sinai plan then sparked the tweet of the Israeli communications minister Ayoub Kara, who is said to have tweeted on February 12, 2017: "Trump and Netanyahu wants to adopt the plan of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi: a Palestinian state in Gaza and Sinai, instead of Judea and Samaria. This is how we will pave a path to peace, including with the Sunni coalition. " be a way to peace for us, including the Sunnis. ”)

Both Israel and Egypt and the Palestinians denied the veracity of this tweet. The fact that the plans cannot be so absurd, however, suggests a meeting that took place in the summer of 2016 between Netanyahu, then Foreign Minister John Kerry and the Jordanian King Abdullah - and which is said to have had the very idea of ​​an outsourced Palestinian state as its topic . Gila Gamliel, Israeli Minister for Social Equality, confirmed the plans in an interview she gave to the Jewish magazine Sovereignty in early November. In it, Gamliel said, "If there will be a Palestinian state, it will only be in Sinai". When asked whether it was realistic that this proposal could also find a hearing in international diplomatic circles, she said: “Of course. Any initiative can prevail at the moment when there is a lack of solutions - as long as someone takes it in hand. "

I still ask myself one more thing: as a German, is it even allowed to form an opinion on this conflict?

Of course you can form your own opinion - who should also forbid you? After all, we live in a democracy. But one thing is certain: the Holocaust does not expire. And therefore not Germany's historical responsibility either.

The attitude of the federal government is therefore clear. In 1952, Germany recognized the State of Israel as part of the Luxembourg Agreement. Since then, every federal government has affirmed Israel's right to exist. For example, Angela Merkel said in a speech to the Israeli parliament in 2008: “This historical responsibility of Germany is part of the raison d'état in my country. That means that for me as the German Chancellor, Israel's security is never negotiable. "

At the same time, Germany was the first state in the western world to recognize the Palestinians' right to self-determination before the United Nations in 1974. And after Trump's Jerusalem decision, government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted: "The federal government does not support this stance because the status of Jerusalem is to be negotiated as part of a two-state solution."

Nonetheless, in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is important to understand that there are limits to freedom of expression. Slurs against Israel go beyond this. Again and again there are anti-Semitic statements, open hatred of Jews, demonstrations or comments packaged as criticism of Israel. And no it is NOT and NO WAY okay to burn an Israeli flag in front of the Brandenburg Gate or shout “Fuck a Jew!” at a demo! For example, it also makes a big difference whether you say: “I don't like what the Jews do” when you actually want to say: "I do not support the policy of the Israeli government."

Even clear accusations against one side or the other are no more than gross simplifications in such a complex situation. But this conflict counts too many victims and too many injuries for hasty judgments - on both sides.


Editors: Rico Grimm and Theresa Bäuerlein; Final editing: Vera Fröhlich; Picture editing: Rico Grimm.


I recommend this analysis by my colleague Rico Grimm to all those who would like to deal more comprehensively with the topic of the Middle East conflict, in which he investigates the question of why the West and, above all, Germans are so interested in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians , as well as the text by Stephan Anpalagan, who critically deals with the way Germany is dealt with and its anti-Semitism problem.