Every victim of war has a unique story. One story that I will never forget was the one my father told me about my grandfather, Muhammad. The oldest son among several brothers and sisters, he grew up in Acre, Palestine, in the mid 1900s. When he was around 18, he, along with his mother and younger siblings, were forced to evacuate their homes due to the warfare in the area. During the evacuation, they were separated from each other; his family made it to a refugee camp in Aleppo, Syria, but Muhammad traveled to Tyre, Lebanon, by boat. The boat was filled with other refugees, and as he was a healthy young man, he was forced to hold onto a rope and be pulled through the waters of the Mediterranean. My grandfather eventually reunited with the rest of his family in Beirut, Lebanon. As refugees, they did not enjoy all the same rights as native Lebanese people, and were practically second-class citizens.
I wish that my grandfather had been able to return to his home in what was once Palestine. While that is no longer an option for him, it still may be one for others. While Israel currently prohibits the refugees from returning, which leads to violent land disputes, and many in Palestine wish their region to be an independent state, I believe that division is not the answer. I believe that the best way to achieve peace in the region is for both sides of the conflict to compromise, and join together as one state.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, there are around 5 million displaced Palestinians (UNRWA) who have become refugees and are living around the world outside of their original homes. Some were able to stay in what is now Israel, some stayed or were moved to the regions that are currently referred to as the West Bank and Gaza, and many others, like my grandfather, moved to nearby countries. The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis over territory only hurts everyone involved. The main reason that Israel has for preventing all refugees from returning is that preserving the current Jewish majority is an important part of the Israeli agenda, and an influx of refugees would disrupt that. In a collection of works edited by Hani A. Faris, reporter Ali Abunimah wrote about how Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu asked in 2009 “that Palestinians renounce refugees’ right to return” (qtd. In Faris 148). Preserving one group’s majority should not be grounds for keeping people from returning to their own homeland. The best hope that I see for any chance at restoring peace to the region requires not separating the two at some border or another, but by uniting Palestine and Israel into a single nation, under a single government, in which refugees would no longer be barred from returning to the country that they were born in. In the single state that I hope Israel and Palestine will achieve, all displaced Palestinians, both currently in Palestine and in other countries, should be allowed to return to their homeland, and be granted equal rights with the current Israeli population.
Another devastating consequence of this conflict is the sheer amount of violence. Since the conflict started, there have been killings and casualties among both Palestinians and Israelis. These killings, whether they are targeted at civilians or militants, are severely disproportionate between the two parties. In a report by BBC, during an Israeli offensive in 2014, the casualty rates between Palestinians and Israelis fell just short of 30 to 1 (BBC).
Much of this violence is centered around the Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land, though some Palestinians have attacked citizens in Israeli territory. Many Palestinians believe that Israeli settlements that have been built past the borders established before the 6-Day War of 1967 are illegal and in Palestinian territory. This belief is backed up by the United Nations Resolution 2334, which states that these settlements violate international law. If Palestine were to gain independence and a two-state policy were to be initiated, then Israel would most likely annex its settlements (CBCnews 1), leaving Palestine with a weak, fractured, and economically nonviable state.
If the area were to be made available for both Palestinians and Israelis to live in side by side, however, residential space and the infrastructure that it requires should be easier to handle than it would be in the case of a two-state solution. Where the two-state solution would likely mean that Israel would annex its settlements and cut a gash across the West Bank, a one-state country should have a much more equal sharing of land, and therefore fewer violent disputes over it.
Throughout the entire conflict, the matter of Jerusalem has been at center stage. The city is of enormous religious significance for all three of the monotheistic faiths. An attempt was made in 2000 to establish peace in the region and settle the matter of Jerusalem, between Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak, leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel at the time, respectively. President Clinton took the two leaders to Camp David to work out the terms of a potential agreement over several points concerning the conflict, and one such point was the status of Jerusalem. According to the New York Times, steps were made toward the possibility of shared sovereignty, but little, if any, progress was made at this meeting (Perlez).
This whole conflict may be averted, however, if the region were to be made one state. Currently, the issues that surround Jerusalem are not only political, but religious as well. The negotiations at Camp David were conducted with the frame of mind that there would be a separate Palestinian and Israeli state. In that case, Jerusalem becomes a matter of dividing land and control, which the Camp David Summit proved is difficult to agree on. If the two parties were to be made a single state however, it would no longer be a debate over which government gets sovereignty, or which citizens get to live there. There would still be hurdles to cross, but if Palestine and Israel reached the point of one state, whatever infrastructural issues with Jerusalem remain should be trivial by comparison.
There is no way to escape the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict will be extremely hard to even begin to solve. The situation is constantly shifting, with new developments occurring every week to add new dynamics. But putting the problem off has never, and will never, fix the problem. Neither the one-state or two-state solution is perfect. Each side would have to concede to one degree or another, and each side would have to set all of their hostilities aside and come together in order to achieve peace. If both Palestine and Israel can overcome their conflicting agendas, they can stop perpetuating conflict and begin building a future.
Abunimah, Ali. ‘Challenging the Consensus Favoring the Two-State Model’. The Failure of the Two-State Solution: The Prospects of One State in the Israel-Palestine Conflict. Editor. Hani Faris. Tauris. 2013, London 146-154.
“Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza.” BBC News. BBC, 01 Sept. 2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.
“Palestine refugees.” UNRWA. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
Perlez, Jane. “IMPASSE AT CAMP DAVID: THE OVERVIEW; CLINTON ENDS DEADLOCKED PEACE TALKS.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 July 2000. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.
The Associated Press. “Israel considers annexing of settlements: report.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 29 Mar. 2011. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.
Graphic from Wikimedia Commons.