The Israel-Palestinian conflict lacks the immediate viciousness of the war in Ukraine, but its longevity is unmatched. It has moved into its second century, continuing with its familiar patterns of violence in Jerusalem, other Israeli towns and in Palestinian areas.
Expect it to go on for a long time.
Outbursts during March through April, including the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, produced 14 Israeli and 24 Palestinian deaths. The killing ended only last weekend, when an Israeli guard at a West Bank settlement was shot dead by a pair of Palestinian gunmen and a Palestinian man was killed during an Israeli army raid on a northern West Bank village.
Last year the Ramadan toll was even higher. Israeli troops killed 313 Palestinians while Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip killed nine Israeli civilians and two soldiers, according to monitoring groups.
During the past decade, violence peaked in 2014 when, after the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinians, Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. The punishing surge lasted seven weeks and left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.
Not long ago, such recurring violence would have triggered outrage, handwringing and calls for something to be done to stop the long-running conflict. Not these days and not just because the war in the Middle East pales when compared to the mayhem in Ukraine.
Potential Arab allies of the Palestinians issued only pro forma criticism and there is no threat of regional war. Persian Gulf states Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates criticized Israeli actions but soon accepted Ramadan greetings from Israel’s President Isaac Herzog.
The two Arab countries have opened relations with Israel in hopes of countering a perceived threat from Iran. Egypt and Jordan, suffering Covid outbreaks along with economic crises, issued criticism but called for no unified Arab condemnation, much less action.
In Washington, a White House statement said that US President Joe Biden “took note of ongoing efforts between Israeli and Palestinian officials to lower tensions.”
Meaningful talk of peace, which once centered on the creation of a Palestinian state, is absent. Current Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett recently reiterated his longtime unwillingness to “allow talks on the line of a Palestinian state.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which rules the West Bank, clings to hopes for a Palestinian state and has been trying to persuade governments, companies and educational institutions to boycott Israel. The Gaza Strip is run by the militant Islamic Resistance Front, which only accepts the Jewish State as some sort of transitional entity on the way to the “liberation of all of Palestine.”
Bennett has offered a downsized formula for talks known as “Shrinking the Conflict.” It is a throwback to long-time prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Peace for Peace” proposal, i.e. better economic conditions for Palestinians in Gaza in return for surrendering aspirations for statehood.
Beginning with inter-ethnic rioting in 1921, when Palestine was under inept British management, fighting was in the hands of contending militias. Communal assaults were common, though British police did most lethal damage to the Palestinians.
After World War II, fighting sometimes involved contending armies or Israeli soldiers battling Palestinian militias. Sometimes Palestinian terrorists dominated, sometimes undercover Israeli hit squads took the field.
Since World War II, a series of Middle East wars have been fought with the Israel-Palestinian conflict at their core: The 1947 Israeli War of Independence; the 1967 Middle East War; the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Egypt thrust into the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had occupied since 1967; and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon to drive out the PLO.
Two uprisings featuring Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza took place from 1987 to 1991 and 2000 to 2005. The first, called the Intifada, or “shaking off,” resulted in the deaths of about 2,000 Palestinians and 200 Israelis. The second, named the al-Aqsa Intifada, from 2000 to 2008, ended with an estimated 4,700 Palestinian and 1,000 Israeli deaths.
Al-Aqsa, the third most sacred site in all Islam after Mecca and Medina, has become a regular battlefield of the conflict. Clashes there highlight explosive religious rivalries that supplement the nationalist contest.
Last week, in what has become a recurrent event, Israeli police raided the al-Aqsa compound after Palestinian youths tossed rocks at Jewish worshippers below, at the Western Wall, a sacred area for Jews. The Israelis used drones to spray tear gas on the crowd and dozens of people were injured by rubber-coated metal projectiles.
Sensitivities over perceived Israeli threats to al-Aqsa ended efforts to negotiate a settlement, which had long centered on the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel.
In 2000, a visit by firebrand Israeli minister Ariel Sharon to the compound ignited riots in Jerusalem and launched the second Intifada.
No two-state solution talks have been held since 2001.
With the negotiations on ice, academics and peace activists have come up with a new formula: rejection of territorial division and instead creation of parallel citizenships on the whole, undivided land of historic Palestine.
National identity would not depend on geography but on legal affiliation within the shared territory—a kind of miniature variation of the European Union, where citizens with allegiance to their preferred government would freely move among and mingle with the others operating under their government.
“Such a structure would enable Israel to satisfy its security imperatives through a continued presence in the West Bank while enabling Palestinians to return to all of historic Palestine,” Matthew LeVine, a professor of Middle East Studies in the University of California system, and Matthias Mossberg, a former Swedish ambassador to Morocco, wrote on Al Jazeera’s news website. They edited a book of essays on the subject called “One Land, Two States.”
But the idea has been taken up formally by no one. In the meantime, more violence is expected – likely on Wednesday, when Israel celebrates its Independence Day.