MSU professor sheds light on the roots and consequences of the Israel-Palestine conflict

The recent escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine has sparked global concern and outrage. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands injured as the two sides exchange rocket fire and airstrikes. The conflict, which has been going on for decades, has many complex and historical causes. A professor of political science at Michigan State University (MSU) explains some of the key factors that led to the current situation and the challenges for peace.

The British mandate and the creation of Israel

According to Yael Aronoff, a professor of political science at MSU, the conflict can be traced back to the early 20th century, when the British controlled Palestine after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The British made conflicting promises to both Jews and Arabs, who had different aspirations and claims to the land.

 Israel-Palestine conflict

“The British were promising a homeland for the Jews in Palestine, while at the same time working with Arab nationalists across the region who thought they were going to get a unified Arab state,” Aronoff said.

In 1947, the United Nations proposed a partition plan that would divide Palestine into two states: one for Jews and one for Arabs. The plan was accepted by the Jewish leadership, but rejected by the Arab side, who saw it as unfair and unjust. In 1948, Israel declared its independence, triggering a war with its Arab neighbors, who invaded to prevent its establishment. Israel survived the attack and expanded its territory beyond the partition lines, but also created a large refugee problem for the Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes.

The status of Jerusalem and the holy sites

One of the most contentious issues in the conflict is the status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital and holy city. Jerusalem is home to some of the most sacred sites for Judaism, Islam and Christianity, such as the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. These sites are located in close proximity to each other, creating a potential flashpoint for violence.

“The Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall being the holiest site for Jews and the third holiest site for Muslims,” Aronoff said. “In an added way, even more combustible, because you are adding religion on top of nationalism.”

Israel captured East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and its holy sites, from Jordan in 1967 during the Six-Day War. It later annexed it in a move that was not recognized by most of the international community. Israel considers Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Israel controls access to the holy sites and imposes restrictions on Muslim worshippers, especially during times of tension.

The role of Hamas and other extremist groups

Another factor that complicates the prospects for peace is the role of Hamas and other extremist groups that oppose Israel’s existence and use violence as a means of resistance. Hamas is a militant Islamist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, a densely populated coastal enclave that has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007. Hamas does not recognize Israel or any previous agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs parts of the West Bank under Israeli occupation.

“Hamas is taking a maximalist position and not recognizing Israel and wanting to destroy Israel,” Aronoff said. “They’re the ones who upped their suicide bombings in the 1990s during the Oslo Process precisely to foil attempts at a two-state solution.”

Hamas has been launching rockets at Israeli cities and towns since May 10, after weeks of rising tensions over Israeli police actions in Jerusalem and a court case that could evict Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem. Israel has responded with airstrikes and artillery fire that have targeted Hamas infrastructure, militants and civilians. The escalation has also sparked inter-communal violence between Jews and Arabs within Israel, as well as protests and clashes in the West Bank.

The challenges for a two-state solution

Despite the ongoing conflict, Aronoff said that there have been attempts at peace between Israel and Palestine in the past. She cited three occasions when Israeli leaders offered a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel: in 2000, 2001 and 2008. However, these offers were either rejected or not followed up by Palestinian leaders, who had their own reservations and demands.

“There are many reasons why these negotiations failed,” Aronoff said. “Some of them have to do with internal politics on both sides, some of them have to do with mistrust between leaders, some of them have to do with external factors like regional actors or American involvement.”

Aronoff said that a two-state solution is still widely supported by most Israelis and Palestinians, as well as by most countries in the world. However, she also acknowledged that there are many obstacles and challenges that make it hard to achieve.

“It makes people often want to make less concessions and not more and it breeds greater distrust,” Aronoff said. “And that’s going to happen on both sides again and it’s just so upsetting.”

Aronoff said that she is not optimistic about the prospects for peace in the near future, but she also urged people to not give up hope and to support those who are working for dialogue and coexistence.

“It is very hard to see how this is going to be resolved in our lifetime,” Aronoff said. “But I think we have to keep trying and we have to support the people who are trying, because there are people on both sides who want peace and who want to live together.”

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