Background on the Conflict
Israel was created on May 14, 1948. Its declaration of statehood triggered a war between Israel and neighboring states that lasted over a year and a half. This was the first of several regional conflicts.
One of the most important conflicts to understand is the Six-Day War of 1967. In this conflict, Israel fought Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Due to pre-emptive strikes by Israel that destroyed Egypt’s air force and an effective ground offensive, Israel was able to quickly and decisively win the conflict. Israel claimed several territories in victory, namely the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, West Bank, and Golan Heights. These territories have been important points of contention to varying degrees since 1967.
Currently, Israel and Palestine are both recognized as sovereign nations by some states and not others. Both claim territories that overlap with the other’s and consider the other’s claim illegitimate. Israel is militarily and economically much stronger and controls much of the entry and exit of the Palestinian territories. The Palestinians are supported by the governments and public opinion in many of the neighboring countries of the Middle East.
For several decades there has been violence between the two sides. Deep resentment between the countries is fostered as a result of militant groups within Palestine launching missile attacks on Israel and the Israeli military occupying Palestinian territory.
The Palestinian territories are split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with Israel in between. The West Bank is bordered by Jordan on the east and Israel on the west, with the border line running through the city of Jerusalem. The Gaza strip is on the coastline, bordered mainly by Israel, with a small border with Egypt on the southwest.
In recent years Israel has been expanding settlements into the West Bank causing increasing tensions. This is where Israel builds new communities occupied by its citizens in areas that were not previously occupied, and are claimed by Palestine, but which Israel claims as part of its territory,. Many countries including America, have condemned the settlements as illegal.
The governance situation of Palestine is also worth discussing, as it is somewhat complex, and relates to the reasons for the difficulty in forming a peace deal. The West Bank and the Gaza strip were previously controlled by a unified government, but are now functionally controlled by separate governments.
Fatah, who controls the West Bank, was the ruling party of Palestine for most of its history and has been willing to negotiate with Israel. Hamas, which controls Gaza, is a more violent group that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and is considered a terrorist organization by many nations. After Hamas won elections in 2006, fighting broke out between the two groups, leading to the current split. In late 2017 Egypt brokered a peace agreement between the two which has yet to be implemented.
Israel is currently controlled by a right wing political party who have taken a hard line on settlements and security issues. Israeli politics is normally characterized by coalition governments with large numbers of small political parties. This means often the larger parties make concessions to smaller ones in exchange for their support, especially with those that represent the Orthodox Jewish community which subscribes to a more conservative form of Judaism. It is worth noting that although Israel is majority Jewish there is a substantial Arab population, who make up approximately 20% of the country. This group has an equal right to vote but tends to be underrepresented proportionally.
There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to form a permanent peace deal between Israel and Palestine. The two-state solution is central to many proposed peace deals for the region. The two-state solution calls for two states existing side by side with each other. This solution seeks to protect Israel’s right to exist while providing statehood to the Palestinian people.
The primary difficulty in negotiating such a solution is determining the territorial boundaries of both states. China announced a four-point Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in July of 2017 that advocated for a return to 1967 territorial boundaries. This echoes a central component of many previous versions of the two-state solution.
However, there are a number of very contentious questions that would need to be resolved including: the exact borders of the two states particularly the status of Jerusalem; security and safety concerns for both sides; the status of Palestinian refugees with claims to land occupied by Israel; and the basic fact of each state recognizing the other as having a legitimate status and right to exist.
The United States (US) has been one of the primary international actors in seeking a resolution to the conflict. Many US presidents have acted as intermediaries for negotiation and attempted to promote peace treaties, most prominently with the Oslo accords and direct peace talks mediated by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
In the past the US was seen as an impartial negotiator, but recently there is a growing belief that American policy has shifted towards favoring Israel in recent decades. For example, among the most contentious of the issues involved is the status of the city of Jerusalem, which both Israel and Palestine claim as their national capitals and which contains some of the most significant holy sites for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. This was recently exacerbated when US president Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced he would be moving the American embassy there. This provoked widespread violence and protests across the Arab world.
Traditionally, China’s policy has been to avoid engagement in international issues that don’t directly affect it. However, in recent years there has been discussion both inside and outside China of China taking on a more active role in international issues.
There are a few reasons that major superpowers get involved in international issues: Firstly, the more powerful a country is the more interest it has in the state of the world and maintaining order. Secondly, there is a moral argument that countries with power have a responsibility not just to their own citizens but to the whole world. Thirdly being seen to take part in positive international actions is beneficial for how other countries perceive them, which contributes to their “soft power,” which makes it easier for them to achieve other goals.
China has been taking a more active role in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict in the past few years such as making public statements on the need for a peace settlement, meeting with both sides, and hosting the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Symposium in Beijing on December 21-22, 2017.
To “broker” an agreement, it isn’t enough for China to simply say that an agreement should be reached. Instead, brokering the agreement implies taking a very active role with China bringing both sides to the negotiating table, mediating and exerting pressure on them to make the agreement.
China is in a uniquely good position to broker such an agreement because it is one of the few countries that has formal relations with both sides and has been seen as a neutral actor. China’s economic power also gives it significant leverage.
Specifically, China has a vested interest in the region due to its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. Israel and Palestine are both partners. Political instability in the region may threaten the effective execution of the OBOR, restricting China’s attempt to expand its economic influence regionally. The OBOR may already set China on a path that conflicts with its stated goal of non-interference and is a prime example of China’s shifting role as an increasingly assertive actor beyond the East Asia region.
On the other hand, there are significant risks and drawbacks. Firstly, getting involved in international conflicts brings with it the risks of anger from one side or another, and their friends and allies, if the deal is seen to favor one side or another. Secondly, if the discussions around forming a deal fail then that can affect the reputation of the individuals and country involved. For example, the failure of the Oslo accords was seen as a reflection of president Clinton’s diminishing power and influence, as well as that of the US. Thirdly, getting involved in such a dispute violates the previous policy of non-interference, which makes that policy a more difficult argument to use in the future.
This topic is designed to be broad and there are many different areas debaters can look into. That being said, it is useful to divide the topic into questions about whether the conflict can be practically resolved, and what China’s role in the world should be. These are two very important questions facing the world and we hope they will provoke some excellent and interesting debates.
In between now and the beginning of the season we will send out a research packet, sample cases and further information to use when preparing for the competitions. In the meantime, we encourage all debaters to look into the topic individually and have included a few basic links below to help get started.
Further reading suggestions:
This video gives a good breakdown of the history of the Israel Palestine conflict from the 19th century onwards - http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMTI5NzY2NjA1Mg==.html?spm=a2h0k.8191407.0.0&from=s1.8-1-1.2
9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask - Vox https://www.vox.com/2014/7/17/5902177/9-questions-about-the-israel-palestine-conflict-you-were-too
Israel, Palestine ready to work with China toward peace - China Daily http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2017-11/08/content_34275958.htm
China pushes four-point Israeli-Palestinian peace plan - The Times of Israel https://www.timesofisrael.com/china-pushes-four-point-israeli-palestinian-peace-plan/