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The Extemper’s Briefing: Israel and Palestine – Explained

As Israeli encroachments on the West Bank persevere despite international pressure, join us in exploring the complex narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, impending Israeli elections, and foreign influence in the region.

As Israeli encroachments on the West Bank persevere despite international pressure, join us in exploring the complex narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, impending Israeli elections, and foreign influence in the region.

Key Vocabulary:

The West Bank: an area of land bordering Jordan, and claimed by both Israel and Palestine. Two million Palestinians, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis in settlements, occupy the area.

Israeli Settlements: settlements constructed by the Israeli people on land recognised, by international law, to belong to the state of Palestine. Deemed illegal under the United Nations, and a subject of international dispute.

The Gaza Strip: An area of Palestine controlled by Hamas, claiming to represent the Palestinian National Authority.

Hamas: an anti-Israeli militant Islamic organization that seeks the formation of a Palestinian state under their control, often deemed a terrorist organization due to their vicious attacks against civilians.

The Palestinian National Authority: , recognised by the United Nations as the interim government of Palestine, controlled by the Fatah party with Hamas in opposition.

The Likud: the Zionist, ruling party of Israel lead by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud is one of Israel’s many conservative parties and currently maintains a slim majority in the Israeli parliament.

The BDS Movement: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a Palestinian lead international boycott of Israeli goods made in the West Bank. Often criticised for having anti-Semitic ties, the BDS movement is extremely controversial.

Hezbollah: an Iranian-backed terrorist organization that has frequent militant confrontations with the state of Israel.

Intifada: two periods of violent conflict between Israeli and Palestine prompted by violent Palestinian riots against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The Abraham Accords – a series of normalisation treaties between the United States, Israel, and other nations in the Middle East such as Jordan, Morocco and Sudan.

Introduction: The Israeli-Palestine conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began in the mid 20th-century and never ended. It has spanned two intifadas, a series of Arab-Israeli wars, and international disputes over land. To put it bluntly, the conflict is unsolvable. Internationally, actors seem to favour either a one-state or a two-state solution. Under a two-state solution, backed by the United States, Israel and Palestine would exist as two independent states. This is, to an extent, the status quo. The unfortunate reality is that Israel is a vastly more capable economic and military power that has begun encroaching on Palestinian land, decreasing the viability of regional peace and stability. Proponents of a one-state solution argue that the status quo in unsustainable, and call for replacing Israel and Palestine with a new, united state. Unfortunately, religious and geopolitical tensions between Israelis and Palestinians make this a non-starter. The conundrum now faced by powerful international actors is how they can defend and support an Israeli state, without ignoring the flagrant human rights violations Israel is directly responsible for in the West Bank.

Furthermore, a significant issue within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the regional balance of power. Israel is supported by the United States, who in turn is (somewhat secretly) allied with Saudi Arabia, as well as state parties to the Abraham Accords, a series of trade negotiations and normalisation treaties between the U.S, Israel and allied nations such as Jordan and Morocco. In essence, two rival regional blocs have been formed. A U.S-Israel-Saudi Arabia bloc, versus a Palestinian-Iranian-Iraqi bloc.

The United States finds in Israel a valuable ally in a region that no longer sees the United States as a bastion of hope any longer. Endless wars in the Middle East have crippled the U.S’s reputation in the region, as has the Trump administration’s blatant withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and assassination of Iranian General Qaseem Suleimani. President Biden finds himself backed into a geopolitical corner in which he must continue supporting Israel to maintain any semblance of U.S regional power in the Middle East.

The upcoming Israeli elections

Israel faces domestic political challenges as well. The nation will now enter their fourth election in just two years. The reigning prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is an anti-Palestinian Zionist that has barely held on to power with his political party, the centre-right Likud. However, his former principal rival Benjamin Gantz, of the Blue and White Party, now polls in the low single digits after his coalition government with Netanyahu. The next election, to be held on the 23rd of March, consist of four significant political parties. The centre-right Likud, the centrist Yesh Atid, the right wing New Hope, and the far-right Yemina. Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar are even further right wing than Netanyahu, their views have been described as borderline extremist, and if either of them manage to cobble enough votes to put together a ruling coalition in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, will spell further conflict between Israel and Palestine. Still, the most likely scenario of the upcoming elections is yet another razor-thin margin in favour of incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States

Foreign relations between the United States and Iran have degenerated quite rapidly in the last few years. Under the Trump administration, the U.S withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (frequently referred to as the Iran nuclear deal), which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for their promise not to nuclearize. The Trump administration’s assassination of Iranian war hero General Suleimani further exacerbated tensions.

Two actors, however, have benefited from rising tensions. Israel and Saudi Arabia, both longtime enemies of Iran, have been fueling regional tensions for the past few years. Saudi Arabia’s religious differences with Iran stem from the fact that they are a Sunni Muslim nation, in contrast to Iran’s Shia faith. Israel and Iran also share significant religious differences, those of Judaism and Islam. Because of their mutual hatred, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States have frequently joined forces against Iran.

Should President Biden find a way to reconstruct the JCPOA, Israel’s relationship with the United States could be permanently damaged. To that end, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken has said the U.S will consult with Israel before any deal, which effectively seals the doom of the JCPOA.

Concluding Thoughts:

In conclusion, the disastrous Israeli-Palestinian has lasted decades, through wars, intifadas and countless protests. Israeli encroachment in the West Bank has been deemed a flagrant human rights violation, yet they are still the lynchpin for the U.S’s political power in the Middle East. Israel’s fourth election in less than two years demonstrates their political instability, as Israel and Palestine’s conflict seems to never end.

Further Reading:

Opinion: Israel’s risky rhetoric on Iran – CNN

Israel Elections: Poll shows right-wing bloc could achieve 61 – The Jerusalem Post

How to Shrink the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – The Atlantic

Biden Will Restore U.S. Relations With Palestinians, Reversing Trump Cutoff – The New York Times

US assures two-state solution for Israel-Palestine at UN | Benjamin Netanyahu News | Al Jazeera

Live updates: Israel election latest coverage and results – CNN

Extemporaneous Speaking Questions

How can the United States defuse tensions between Israel and Palestine?

Will Israel block the JCPOA’s return?

Who will win the Israeli elections in March 2021?

How will the United States maintain a strong relationship with Israel and Saudi Arabia while rejoining the JCPOA?

Has the BDS movement succeeded or failed?

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