The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is arguably the most contentious in the world. On Thursday, the Arbor was converted into an ideological battleground between the two sides. A large wooden gate, bearing the slogan “Palestine, an Invisible Nation,” was built by the group Students for Justice in Palestine to commemorate Palestinian Awareness Week. The gate was supposed to represent the Israeli military checkpoints that are a part of daily life for many Palestinians living in the West Bank.
Another UCSB student group, American Students for Israel, quickly mobilized against what one of their members characterized as a gate “inciting hate.” They set up their own informational kiosk under the slogan “It Takes Two for Peace.” Some intense arguments ensued, with plenty of blaming and finger-pointing.
If a bunch of college students half a world away in a laid-back beach town can’t find common ground, is it reasonable to expect it from those in the middle of the conflict? I’ve come to believe that with each passing day a peaceful resolution becomes less and less likely. While both sides have argued the history until they are blue in the face, nobody seems to be able to come up with a solution that actually has a chance of being implemented.
The most popular potential solution is the “two-state solution,” which would end the Israeli military presence in the West Bank and create an independent Palestinian state. The idea is officially endorsed by the Palestinian Authority, the United States and even Israel. But while everyone agrees on the general idea, nobody agrees on the specifics. Here are a few of the reasons why I’ve started to doubt that we will ever see an independent Palestinian state come into being as a result of peaceful negotiations.
The Settlements: According to a study by the Israeli information center B’Tselem, over half a million Israeli citizens live in the West Bank and annexed portions of East Jerusalem. There are over 121 Israeli settlements peppered throughout the West Bank, and they account for 42 percent of the total land area in the West Bank. No land swap deal could ever hope to cover a significant portion of the settlements, so any peace agreement would result in the Israeli military forcefully evicting hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens from homes that they bought legally under Israeli law. No Israeli politician will want their name attached to that.
The Refugees: There are currently over 4 million Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon. These people are mostly Palestinians who lost their homes as a result of war and want the right to return to their homelands, which U.N. Resolution 194 endorses. The problem is, most of their homes have since been demolished or are currently being occupied by Israelis. For the U.N. Resolution to be carried out, Israeli families would have to be kicked out of their homes to accommodate the returning Palestinian refugees. Furthermore, allowing all Palestinian refugees to return to their homelands within Israel would threaten the legitimacy of Judaism as the state’s official religion, since Arab Muslims already account for around 20 percent of Israel’s population.
The Gaza Strip: Just the physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank would be problematic for effective governance. Throw in the fact that 87 percent of Palestinians in Gaza live in poverty, and you have an administrative nightmare. Furthermore, Gaza is not even governed by the same political entity that governs the Palestinian West Bank. How can the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis legitimately broker a peace deal when over a third of future Palestinian citizens aren’t represented at the negotiating table?
Jerusalem: The city is considered sacred by Palestinians and Israelis alike and is of huge economic value. No matter the final agreement in a two-state solution, the issue of Jerusalem would leave at least one of the sides disappointed.
For these reasons and others, I’ve begun to think that a two-state solution isn’t politically possible.
Even if a political miracle occurs and a two-state solution is adopted, then what? There will be extremists on both sides that won’t be satisfied, and you can be sure that if Hamas (who have historically rejected all peace negotiations) starts shooting rockets into Israel from within the newly created Palestinian state, right-wing hawks in Israel will have their nation invade faster than you can say “two-state solution.” We would be back to square one, and hatred and animosity between the two neighboring nations would likely just increase.
As crazy as it sounds, I have concluded that the most practical solution would be to create a single secular liberal democracy with no official religion, where all citizens could move freely about the nation and visit whichever holy sites they choose. The country would be majority Muslim, so Israeli fears about reprisals and Sharia law would be legitimate. However, the alternative would mean increased international and economic isolation for the State of Israel, a situation that will definitely result in more conflict and war. At the moment, a single-state solution may be even less politically viable than a two-state solution. Unfortunately, this cycle of conflict, violence and war is clearly at a stalemate.
Riley Schenck is a fourth year political science major.
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