Allocating Power in Israel-Palestine

The problem of allocating power in Israel Palestine has created conflict from the moment that the modern state of Israel was founded.

Modern Israel began its life with conflict between Palestinian Arabs, who had lived in the land for generations, and incoming Jewish migrants.  The UN defined borders for Israel in 1947, and admitted it to membership in 1949 as an independent country under UN Security Council Resolution 69: which declared that “Israel is a peace-loving State and is able and willing to carry out the obligations contained in the Charter”.  That gave it the legal right to exist, and be protected, but obliged it to uphold the human rights of its citizens and not attack its neighbours.

The conflict between Jews and Arabs has existed for a long time, although it has fluctuated in intensity.  Fundamentalist Jews see Israel as an ancestral homeland that belonged to them, quoting biblical evidence for a claim that they are entitled to a larger area than that which had been granted to them in 1947.  Israeli governments since then have varied in how much extra territory they have seized and in how enthusiastically they have pursued peace with the Palestinians.  The changing balance of power was briefly described in the BBC’s Israel country profile and its Israel timeline:

In 1947, “United Nations recommends partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with international control over Jerusalem and its environs.” This was the first vision of allocating power in Israel-Palestine.

Israel declared its independence from British control in 1948 and was immediately attacked by its Arab neighbours.  It won that war, annexing West Jerusalem.  “Thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in the war that followed Israel’s independence”.

From 1949 to the 1960s, “Up to a million Jewish refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, plus 250,000 Holocaust survivors, settle in Israel.”  In 1990, the “Soviet Union allows Jews to emigrate, leading to about a million ex-Soviet citizens moving to Israel”.

In the Six-Day War in 1967, against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel annexed the rest of Jerusalem, the West Bank of the River Jordan, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan Heights.

The Camp David Accords in 1978 established peace with Egypt, returning Sinai to it, and pledged Israel “to expand Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza”: a ‘two-state solution’.  Palestinian resistance against Israeli rule continued, though, becoming more violent in an ‘intifada’. 

The Oslo declaration in 1993 was intended to establish peace with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), but it was repeatedly undermined by new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which contravened the agreements and were illegal under international law.  “Violence by Palestinian groups that reject Oslo Declaration continues”.

In May 1996, the Likud party “returns to power under Benjamin Netanyahu, pledges to halt further concessions to Palestinians. …Settlement expansion resumes”.  In June 2002, “Israel begins building barrier in and around West Bank. Israel says barrier aimed at stopping Palestinian attacks; Palestinians see it as a tool to grab land.”

In January 2006, “Hamas Islamist group wins Palestinian parliamentary elections [in Gaza]. Rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza escalate. Met with frequent Israeli raids and incursions over following years.”

American ideas about allocating power in Israel-Palestine changed during Donald Trump’s presidency from 2017 to 2020, with his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his statement that the “US says it no longer considers Israeli settlements on the West Bank to be illegal”.  He reached peace agreements with some of Israel’s Arab neighbours.

Hamas, which governs Gaza and is openly supported by Iran, has strengthened its political standing among Palestinians by aggressively opposing Israeli treatment of Arabs.  In May 2021, for example, AP reported on a major clash: Israel, Hamas agree to cease-fire to end bloody 11-day war.  Hamas had fired a barrage of rockets at Israel, which had responded very forcefully.

“The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound, built on a site holy to Muslims and Jews, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.”

“At least 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children and 39 women” and “Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl, were killed”.  Despite these casualty figures, Hamas felt triumphant: it had provoked a disproportionate Israeli response that drew criticism from around the world.  There was a repeat performance on 7 October 2023, when Hamas butchered 1400 Israeli civilians and took 240 hostages – followed by an Israeli response that killed more than 14,000 Palestinians in the next few weeks and reduced Gaza to rubble.  Hamas was doubtless delighted when it was reported that Hundreds of thousands rally across cities to support Palestinians.

Israel and Hamas Need Each Other, according to Aaron David Miller: “For Netanyahu, Hamas is a hedge against a united Palestinian movement focused on serious negotiation to reach a two-state solution.  Hamas, meanwhile, is biding its time for an opportunity to take over the PLO.  Neither wants to strengthen PA [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas”.  Their confrontational stance disregards the welfare of their citizens: they were not trying to negotiate a peace agreement and they didn’t want a two-state solution:

The BBC’s Profile: Hamas Palestinian movement reported that Hamas remains “committed to the destruction of Israel”.  

“Benjamin Netanyahu remains determined to create a nation-state for Jews, rather than a Jewish democratic state”, according to Avi Shlaim in a Guardian article: Palestinians still live under apartheid in Israel, 25 years after the Oslo accord.  

An Economist leader, Two states or one?, now argues that: “Without hope of an agreement, Israel’s critics have begun to talk of a “one-state reality”.  The former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg had earlier described a possible design for “The one state solution” in Prospect Magazine, defining three layers of subsidiarity:

●  “Every person between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is entitled to the same equal rights—personal, political, economic and social. They include the right to protection and security, equal treatment, freedom of movement, property, judicial recourse and the right to vote for, and be elected to, public office.”

●  A “logical division and separation between the two self-identifying collective groups in the form of two self-governing polities” would be possible. A diagram appended to the article showed that Arab control would be spread over several enclaves that would not be geographically joined together – but a constitutional right to freedom of movement would reduce the inconvenience of that.

●  “While each state will collect taxes from its own citizens and maintain its own institutions, their infrastructure will be co-ordinated [by a] federal administration …. It is also on the federal level that the co-ordination of asylum and immigration policy will have to be settled, including the rights of return for both Jews and Palestinians.”

Even if this proposal is not viable or acceptable to most of the population, it represents clear thinking about allocating power in Israel-Palestine.  It could help to focus debate.  The Economist argued that “Instead of imposing peace in one top-down stroke of diplomatic brilliance, a more realistic aim would be to build it patiently from the bottom up. The guiding principle should be to focus on the human and civil rights of Palestinians. Israel will not grant Palestinians full rights tomorrow. But it can make its Arab citizens more equal by devoting resources to their communities”.

The behaviour of the Netanyahu government brought Israel into disrepute, to the disapproval of many Jews worldwide, although much of its regrettable behaviour was in response to Hamas aggression.  When the land of Israel was given to the Jewish people, they were not given the right to ethnically cleanse the country of its Arab population or oppress them – and the substantial political support for the Jewish people to have a safe haven, following the Holocaust in the Second World War, has been eroded by the Israeli government’s behaviour.  That behaviour, though, is not an excuse for anti-Semitism – as described earlier ( – and nor does it give Hamas and Iran the moral or legal right to try to eliminate the State of Israel.  

Jewish fundamentalists and Hamas are the main obstacles to peace – yet peace is what most Jews and most Arabs want.  ​Moderate Israeli governments have tried to reach peace agreements, but while their country is being attacked any attempt to compromise looks like appeasement.  ​Both Netanyahu and Hamas have gained politically by shows of military strength, despite the damage to their respective populations.  The approach advocated by The Economist, to create an enlarged Israel-Palestine State, seems the best way forward: giving the Jewish people a large degree of control over what they see as their ancestral territory whilst restoring Arab rights. 

Several other scenarios, including the Syrian conflict, are blighted by confrontational politicians.  Segmentation of power is needed in such cases, with constitutional safeguards to protect the rights of all involved and to maintain the peace.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6675a.htm.