Can someone sum up the Israeli Palestinian conflict?

Middle East conflictIsrael's annexation plans in the West Bank

The Knesset in Jerusalem on May 17th. Benjamin Netanyahu takes off his face mask and walks towards the lectern. The new Israeli government will soon be sworn in. It is a preliminary triumph for Netanyahu. Despite being charged with corruption, he becomes Prime Minister of the State of Israel for the fifth time. Netanyahu claims in his speech that the majority of Israelis congratulate his government. Then he turns to another topic:

"Here comes the truth: The Jewish nation was born in these regions. This is where it grew up. It is time to apply Israeli law there and write another great chapter in the annals of Zionism."

Apply Israeli law - by that Netanyahu means the annexation of parts of the West Bank. 53 years ago - during the Six Day War - Israel occupied the region. An occupation that is illegal under international law. So far, the West Bank has not even been legally classified as part of Israel by the government in Jerusalem. That should change now.

The annexation is a long-cherished dream of the settler movement and other right-wing national forces in the country. For decades it was just dreaming - which was also due to the resolute resistance of previous US governments. But then Donald Trump came along.

Graphic of the Palestinian Territories (picture alliance / dpa)

Trump's so-called peace plan

The Washington White House in January. US President Trump is standing in a large hall, Benjamin Netanyahu next to him. There are many representatives of the Israeli settler movement in the audience. Three years after the announcement, Trump presented the so-called peace plan:

"Creating peace between Israelis and Palestinians may be the greatest of all challenges. All previous US governments have tried and failed brutally. But: I was not elected to shy away from big problems."

For decades, US presidents - whether Democrats or Republicans - adhered to the international pillars of Middle East policy. The goal was two states, Israel and Palestine, with borders based on the 1967 lines and agreements on the status of Jerusalem and the issue of Palestinian refugees. There is little of this in Trump's so-called peace plan:

"Our vision of peace differs fundamentally from previous proposals," said Trump. "My vision is mutually beneficial. It is a realistic two-state solution that eliminates the risks of Palestinian statehood for Israel's security."

According to Donald Trump, this means: Israel does not have to give up a single settlement in the occupied West Bank. The US President's plan also provides that Israel can annex parts of the West Bank - even without negotiations or even the consent of the Palestinians. Netanyahu cheered in the White House: Trump's deal of the century is the opportunity of the century.

(Imago / Gerhard Leber) "This Palestinian state will not exist"
Allocating sterile areas in the Negev to the Palestinians could not work and shows that ultimately one does not want a deal with them, said the publicist Michael Lüders in the Dlf.

Jewish settlers reject Palestinian state

Eitam Luz stands in front of his house and points to the west. The silhouette of Tel Aviv can be seen. Israel's coastal metropolis is only half an hour's drive away. The hill with the house where Eitam, his wife Avital and their six children live is not in Israel. The family lives in what is known as a settlement outpost in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, which Eitam calls Judea and Samaria.

"My Israel is based on a very old draft that already existed in the Bible. According to this, the land belongs to the people of Israel and in this land there are residents who have all individual rights that they must not be denied under any circumstances. They but have no civil rights. Interestingly, this status already exists in Israel today, but it receives little public attention. In East Jerusalem, Arabs have been given the opportunity to choose whether they want Israeli citizenship or remain residents with a green ID card. Most of them voted for the Palestinian Authority's green ID and so they will not vote. "

After an annexation, this model, says Eitam, should also apply to the Palestinians who live in areas in which Israeli law would then apply. They would be so-called residents, have no Israeli passports and are only allowed to vote at the municipal level.

Many settlers have mixed feelings about the US peace plan. The residents like the fact that the plan awards the settlements in the West Bank to Israel. The fact that Donald Trump's vision of a solution to the Middle East conflict also envisages the establishment of a Palestinian state is rejected by many settlers. Also with Eitam's wife Avital:

"The international American recognition of my right as a Jew to settle in this area called Judea and Samaria is very important. As far as the second point of the plan - the Palestinian state: This point leaves me rather cold."

The Jewish settlers Eitam and Avital Luz live with their six children in a so-called settlement outpost in the Palestinian West Bank occupied by Israel (Deutschlandradio / Tim Aßmann)

"We don't want to rule over Arabs, but over our country"

According to the plan, about 30 percent of the area of ​​the West Bank would go to Israel. The Palestinians would have their own state on the rest of the area, to which the Palestinian metropolitan areas would also belong. Eitam Luz, like many settlers, goes too far:

"Who will cultivate more land or own more settlements? The Palestinians are already ahead here. Seen in this way, Trump's plan is bad, but also realistic, because that is the starting point. Unfortunately. We don't want it to stay that way. We want to don't do without Nablus or Hebron. This is our country and we want to rule it. We don't want to rule over the Arabs, but over our country. "

Many political representatives of the roughly 400,000 settlers in the West Bank are against an annexation on the basis of the US plan. They fundamentally reject a Palestinian state. Other settlers warn against letting a historic opportunity slip by. For decades, annexation was ruled out by Israeli governments because Washington lacked support. That is different now, but could change again, fears the settler Avital Luz:

"I would like to see this decision as soon as possible. Nobody has promised us that Trump will stay in office for a long time. There will soon be elections in the US and the whole issue could come off the table. So we mustn't put it on anybody Drag the case out. "

(dpa / picture alliance / Roland Holschneider) West Bank - How settlers live behind the fence
Modern houses, swimming pools in the garden, a high fence around them: around 450,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank. The prices are lower there. This attracts many young Israelis to the settlements.

No water, no electricity in the Jordan Valley

On the way to Ali Abu Kbash. The Palestinian Bedouin lives on a hill near the Jordan Valley. Only a bumpy dirt road leads to Abu Kbash. It's hot, windy and dusty. According to the so-called peace plan of US President Trump, this area should belong to Israel and be annexed.

Suddenly men can be seen. They are lying in the dust right next to the dirt road and are heavily armed. It is an exercise by the Israeli army. Shots will be fired later. According to the army, the area is a restricted military area. But the Palestinian Abu Kbash says that his family has lived here since 1948 and that the land belongs to him.

He keeps sheep on the hill. He also grows some grain. As good as possible in the dry Jordan Valley. The Bedouins live in a mixture of corrugated iron huts and tents. "My situation here is getting more and more difficult," says Abu Kbash. "I'm missing the most important things in life. We are not connected to the water or the electricity grid here. There is no infrastructure here."

If you look at the home of the Bedouin Ali Abu Kbash on satellite images, you will see barren, red-brown land. Desert. A little to the north of it are green, irrigated fields. They are next to Israeli settlements. A few weeks ago, Benjamin Netanyahu was asked by the Israel Hayom newspaper what would happen to the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley if Israel annexed the area. Israel's prime minister countered that they remained "Palestinian subjects". So he does not plan to grant Israeli citizenship to people like Ali Abu Kbash. No, says the Palestinian, he didn't expect that anyway: "They keep increasing the pressure because they want to drive us out of here."

The Palestinian Bedouin Ali Abu Kbash lives on a hill near the Jordan Valley (Deutschlandradio / Benjamin Hammer)

"Israel did not allow us to build anything here"

Israel is not helping him, the Bedouin complains. And the Palestinian Authority should not help. Ahmad Asad sees it that way too. The Vice-Governor of the Palestinian province of Tubas has come to visit. Ahmad Asad wants to show that he has not forgotten people like Ali Abu Kbash. But he can't do much:

"We need a permit for everything. Israel didn't allow us to build anything here. We weren't even allowed to build a road. If we bring tents here for the people, we practically have to smuggle them in."

Israel denies wanting to evict Palestinians. In the case of Abu Kbash, however, the competent authority of the Israeli army refers to the restricted military area. That's why the buildings there are illegal. An argument that doesn't count for the Palestinian Vice-Governor. He also rejects US President Trump's Middle East plan:

"Just imagine, I would say: Washington is in Palestine. Would that change anything? No. Because Washington is in the USA. So: US President Trump can say a lot. That the Jordan Valley belongs to Israel. But on At the end of the day we live here. On our land. "

The stable of the Palestinian Bedouin Ali Abu Kbash (Deutschlandradio / Benjamin Hammer)

"Israel breaks existing treaties"

Mohammed Staje welcomes international journalists to his residence in Ramallah. In the 1990s, today's Prime Minister was one of the Palestinian politicians who helped negotiate the Oslo Agreement, the cornerstone of the two-state solution in the form it has been discussed since then - based on the borders before the Six-Day War 1967. This vision would be off the table after an Israeli annexation. Israel is breaking existing treaties, to which we then no longer feel bound, says Mohammed Staje:

"One cannot stick to an agreement. It takes two to tango. The agreement includes two parties - Palestinians and Israelis. Israel is not sticking to the agreement and this annexation is a grave violation of the agreement and the erosion of a future peace."

(imago images / UPI / Leighton Mark) Oslo Agreement - The end of great hopes
The Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO began in 1993 with a historic handshake between two archenemies. But to this day, the essential core questions of the declaration of principles are still controversial.

Palestinians hope for European support

Contracts are to be adhered to. This is how the position of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah can be summed up. The US peace plan is rejected. The Palestinian state, as it is outlined there, would be a patchwork of many small enclaves, territorially fragmented, economically difficult to survive. A state with very little of its own sovereignty. A concise counter-draft by the Palestinians essentially confirms the previous positions: A Palestinian state within the borders that existed before the Six-Day War with the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital.

The Palestinians would like a stronger international, especially European commitment. They hope to be able to stop the Israeli annexation plans. Germany, which will hold the EU Council Presidency in the second half of the year, has a special role to play, the Palestinian Prime Minister emphasizes:

"We know the historical background of German-Jewish relations and we know how sensitive this topic is for Germany. But under no circumstances should it be at the expense of international law or the rights of the Palestinians."

Jordan interferes

The Arava Desert 26 years ago. In the border area between Israel and Jordan. History was made there back then. Israel and Jordan made peace. Soldiers from both sides, who had fought for decades, presented gifts to each other. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein shook hands.

26 years later, hopes have given way to disillusionment. Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group has been dealing with the relationship between Israel and Jordan for years and speaks to high-ranking officials on both sides:

"We have probably reached the worst Israeli-Jordanian relationship since 1994. The Jordanian king refuses to meet Benjamin Netanyahu in public. The peace treaty is severely criticized by the Jordanian people. And there is now greater reluctance on the part of the political right in Israel towards the agreement. "

Ofer Zalzberg from the International Crisis Group has been dealing with the relationship between Israel and Jordan for years (Deutschlandradio / Tim Aßmann)

There are several reasons for the cold peace between Israel and Jordan. Perhaps the most important reason is that the Palestinians still do not have a state of their own.

"From the point of view of the Jordanians, the peace treaty is based on Israel granting the Palestinians their own state," explains Zalzberg. "The Jordanian-Israeli agreement cannot be resolved from the fundamental Israeli-Arab conflict. Or, more precisely: from the conflict with the Palestinians."

The Jordanian King Abdullah recently used an interview with the German "Spiegel" magazine to make a clear statement: An Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank would lead to a massive conflict with his kingdom. And he added: Jordan is examining all options. And thus also a termination of the historic peace treaty with Israel. So there is a lot at stake.

(imago / ZUMA Press) A cold peace
25 years ago Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty. It also stipulated that Israelis were allowed to cultivate land on Jordanian territory. But Jordan's king does not want to extend the land use right.

Germany's role

Heiko Maas takes the lectern at the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. The German foreign minister first speaks about the partnership with Israel and about the German financial support for the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Then the minister lowers his voice slightly, he only looks at his text and reads, as it does, word for word. Now it comes to the subject of annexation.

"I have once again set out the German position and also our honest and serious concerns as a very special friend of Israel about the possible consequences of such a step. We share these concerns, which is also not unknown, with our European partners. And together with the European Union we are of the opinion that an annexation would not be compatible with international law and that is why we are still in favor of a negotiated amicable two-state solution. "

This solution, which Germany and other states are still relying on, which the Palestinians insist on and which has long seemed unattainable - Yossi Beilin once helped to design it. He was one of the architects of the Oslo Agreement on the Israeli side in the early 1990s. The 72-year-old says that Israel must now be prevented from creating unilateral territorial facts.

Beilin is convinced that Germany could exert more influence than before: "I am not suggesting that Germany decide on sanctions against Israel. That will not do anything and Germany will not do it anyway. What can be done is the initiative of a friend of Israel, who cares about the country. The least that could be done would be to bring a delegation of heads of government or foreign ministers to Jerusalem and Ramallah, to talk to both sides and to clarify whether the negotiations can be resumed - without preconditions. "

Yossi Beilin is one of the architects of the Oslo Agreement from the 1990s to resolve the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (Deutschlandradio / Tim Assmann)

First steps in annexation from July 1st

Federal Foreign Minister Maas has offered Germany to help restart talks. But it is currently unlikely that the conflicting parties will return to the negotiating table. Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly announced the first steps in annexation from July 1st. But what exactly Israel’s head of government will do is not clear, says analyst Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group:

"There is a strong commitment from the Prime Minister to annexation and a clear majority for it in principle. But if you ask what the hell are you going to annex, you realize that there is no clear majority for any option."

A scenario that many observers believe is possible is that Netanyahu first formally declares an acceptance of the US peace plan, announces a roadmap for an annexation and then awaits the result of the US elections. Or it could be that Israel creates facts before the balance of power in the White House possibly changes. An annexation, no matter how it turns out, would be the end of the status quo in the Middle East conflict - the two-state solution would no longer be feasible as it had been planned for decades.