The protracted conflict between Israel and Palestine remains one of the most complex and polarizing disputes in modern geopolitics. A thorough understanding of this conflict is essential for UPSC aspirants from perspectives of international relations, India’s foreign policy, and modern history.
Background and Origin
The quest for a Jewish homeland and Arab nationalism in the Levant region laid the foundations of the dispute in the late 19th century. Theodor Herzl pioneered Zionist ideals and activism in Europe seeking such a homeland in Palestine, aided by the 1896 publication of Der Judenstaat.
Meanwhile, the crumbling Ottoman Empire’s control over the region generated Arab nationalist strings too. The 1917 Balfour Declaration by the British government furthered Zionist goals by favoring a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, seen by Arabs as their own land.
In 1920, the League of Nations granted Britain a Palestine mandate. Jewish immigration surged between the World Wars owing to persecution in Europe. Tensions brewed as Arabs opposed rising Jewish national aspirations on their land.
The UN partition plan of 1947 proposed separate Jewish and Arab states in Mandatory Palestine. Arab rejection led to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war following Israel’s declaration of independence. It ended with Israel controlling more territory than the proposed Jewish state, including west Jerusalem. 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced, becoming refugees in neighboring states.
The 1967 Six Day War was a pivotal moment. Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. It withdrew from Sinai in 1982 after the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty but retains control over the other areas despite international opposition.
Settlements built in occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on lands seized in 1967 are illegal under international law. They remain one the most contentious issues as Israel continues to expand them. Evictions in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah area recently led to fresh Israel-Hamas clashes.
Question of Palestinian Statehood
The 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) outlined limited Palestinian self-governance in Gaza and parts of the West Bank. It was meant to evolve into a Palestinian state within five years. But the process stalled due to periodic violence, failure to halt settlement growth, and political turmoil on both sides.
Numerous bids like Camp David Summit 2000 and Arab Peace Initiative 2002 have tried but failed to find a ‘two-state solution’. Israel insists any Palestinian state ensure Israel’s security. Palestinians want a viable, contiguous state in Gaza and most of the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital.
India recognized Palestine’s statehood in 1988 even before the PLO proclaimed independence. It supports a two-state solution respecting both Israeli and Palestinian rights. India also backs Palestine’s full UN membership.
However, India has cultivated robust ties with Israel too in recent decades. It maintains this balancing act driven by security cooperation with Israel and energy and diaspora ties with Arab nations. India’s nuanced stance demonstrates how multifaceted imperatives shape foreign policy.
The Israel-Palestine conflict has shaped West Asia’s politics and landscape for over half a century with no end in sight. UPSC aspirants need to grasp its origins, evolutions and current status along with India’s fine balancing act between the two sides.