Israeli-Palestinian relations. Givens

Above: January 27, 2012: A Palestinian youth waves a flag while confronting Israeli soldiers in a protest against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank down of Al-Masara. (Photo: rrodrickbeiler, iStock)

by Howard Adelman

Currently, there is nothing going on in planning for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – at least on the surface. Part of the reason is the upcoming Israeli election in March and the new, though perhaps slim, possibility of a Palestinian election. However, paradoxically, in think tanks around the world, there has been a mushroom of interest in the dispute, in good part arising as a by-product of the Abraham Accords and the end-run they made around the stalemate in the Oslo process.  Further, there has been a plethora of webinars on various aspects of the issue. This is an effort to make a small contribution. Hopefully, in the end, it may try to influence Canada’s role in the Middle East.

This paper is written in three parts. Each is simply a syntheses of conclusions and differences over the analysis of the conflict, surprisingly revealing a broad consensus. This paper focuses on generally accepted givens.

I: Assumptions re the Current Status of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


1. There is no significant effort underway to push for a comprehensive peace deal by the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Americans or the Arab states, and there is very little support anywhere for pursuing such an effort.

2. The Oslo peace process is moribund.

3. America retains its intimate support of Israel, but Biden has as yet (6 February) not contacted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

4. The U.S. is completing the move of its embassy to Jerusalem.

5. America is ending its completely one-sided involvement of the side of Israel.

6. America is renewing its diplomatic ties with and humanitarian support for the Palestinians.


a) Richard Mills at the UNSC “The Biden administration will restore credible U.S. engagement with Palestinians as well as Israelis.” There is no reference to those being diplomatic relations. Is this significant?

b) Linda Thomas Greenfield nominated U.S. UN ambassador at her Senate confirmation hearings: “The Biden administration will resume ties with the Palestinians ruptured by President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.”

Public Opinion

Where once external military threats and military strength were the major determinants of the Israeli political and peace agenda, now domestic political opinion carries the greater weight, even on Iran. (For relevant polls, cf. The Jewish Virtual Library various polls on peace initiatives.)

7. Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, overwhelmingly remain convinced of the importance of a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but only 15% see that as likely.

8. Yet half the Israeli population regarded the Trump Peace to Prosperity Plan ("Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People") favourably.

9. Interestingly enough, the Palestinian population of the West Bank is almost equally divided in its support for or opposition to the Trump Peace to Prosperity Plan (5% favourable – versus 5% Israelis – and 46% somewhat favourable among both groups) but on the unfavourable side, only 11% are very unfavourable.

10. From the Palestinian side, over half of those who regard the Trump Plan favourably do so because they believe it is the best deal they can get, 31% because it is realistic and 19% because it is the quickest route to avoid violence.

11. Those who are unfavourable give as reasons either the unacceptability of the plan to the Israelis and the rest because it will be unacceptable to Palestinians (48%) or Arab states. (7%).

12. For Israelis, what areas can Israel be expected to annex for a deal to go forward? 46% opposed annexation of any territory. Most areas have only one quarter support, except for the Jordan Valley where just over one-third believe Israel will annex territory.

   Jordan Valley


   Just settlement blocs along the Green Line


   Settlement s in the interior of the West Bank


   The Dead Sea


   The entire area of Judea and Samaria


13. Two-thirds of Israeli Jews still support a two-state solution and only 10% of Israeli Jews support annexation of Judea and Samaria, a percent that declines each year. 60% of Israeli Jews do not, however, believe this is a realistic prospect.

14. On the other hand, though less than 10% of Arab Israelis support some annexation (half of area C), over half of Israeli Jews do and only 28% are opposed.

15.  Two-thirds of Israelis believe that Arabs only understand force and 81% believe in a shoot first policy, an enormous percentage given that Israeli Jews constitute 75% of the population.

16. If Israel annexes parts of Area C, about 39% of Arab Israelis and 20% of Jewish Israelis have no opinion on what should be done to Palestinians living in the annexed area. 47% of Israeli Arabs would grant them full citizenship rights, but only 20% of Jewish Israelis support such an offer. While 24% of Jewish Israelis would grant residency rights, some without the right to own land. 37% would simply continue the current status.

17. 36% of Jewish Israelis support ethnic cleansing or “forcible transfer”.

18. Ironically, even if Israel annexes parts or all of Area C, Israeli Jews are almost equally divided on whether they would support or oppose an independent Palestinian state in the remaining West Bank and Gaza.

19. Israeli Jews maintain considerable confidence in their government’s ability to manage serious political problems (social polarization (71%), terrorist attacks (83%) and war in both Gaza and the West Bank (85%), while only two-thirds believe the government can manage corruption and 58% believe that Israel can contend with its problems without U.S. support.

20.Though most Israeli Jews acknowledge Jerusalem is a divided city socially between Arabs and Jews, over 70% support a united city as the capital of Israel, though almost 20% without the Muslim Holy places.

21. Overwhelmingly, Jewish Israelis do not believe the Palestinian Authority is interested in pursuing a two-state solution while half of Arab Israelis believe the PA is.

22. Israelis are not that different than the Palestinians, 33% opposing any annexation and 25% unsure, while 20% support limited annexation and 22% complete annexation.

23. A majority of Jewish Israelis support some annexation in Area C (assuming U.S. cooperation) – 52% – while only 9% of Israeli Arabs do.


24. Israel has a population of nine and a quarter million people, 74% of whom are Jewish and 21% Arab. The 5% of others includes Israelis not considered Jewish according to Jewish halachic strictures.

Economic Indicators 

25. Israel, including both Jewish and Arab Israelis, is ranked 16th in the human development index while Palestine is ranked 110th.

26. Israel has a GDP of almost USD $140 billion compared to just over 10 billion for Palestine.

27. Israel trades and exports $90.17 billion in goods and services, about equal to its imports, versus 1.67 billion for the Palestine export economy and almost four times that amount in imports.

28. Israel has an unemployment rate of less than 5% before and even during the pandemic versus Palestine’s 30% – 13% in the West Bank and 45% in Gaza.

29. On the other hand, Palestine’s fixed capital formation (per $ of GDP) is almost twice that of Israel’s.

30. Further, while the Israeli poverty and inequality index is 5.71 %, the Palestinian index is only 2% higher, 7.44%.

31. Planning for and initial development of a common water resource system, renewable energy production and distribution system, and communication networks for Jordan, Palestine and Israel are well underway.

Discourse Frameworks

32. The vast majority of Palestinians believe that Israel is engaged in creeping annexation.

33. While not in general use, Palestinian activists and NGOs routinely refer to Israel as an apartheid state while the term is taboo in Israel, but a taboo recently broken by the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, B’Tselem’s recent report labelled the system in Israel as unequivocally apartheid, that is, a legal system explicitly treating people differently based on inherited characteristics – in this case ethnicity and religion – to create an unjust system.

34. More generally, in Palestine the use of settler-colonialism is common, that is, Zionism as a tool of western imperialism, to depict Israel, but that depiction is even more strongly rejected in Israel than the apartheid depiction.

35. In spite of Israel’s history of engaging in forcible expulsion on a large scale in 1948 (Benny Morris) and though Israel continues to do so on a small scale, Israelis generally reject Israel being depicted as engaged in ethnic cleansing while overwhelmingly, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs believe that to have been a fact. (For the larger context, cf. The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond, Bashir Bashir (ed.); the political rights of oppressed groups and their inclusion within exclusionary political communities are discussed against the historical background of Jews in Europe and Palestinians in the Middle East. See also the taboo-breaking The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History, depicting the painful traumatic rivalry that continues to mold the two national communities – the Holocaust and the Nakba – and allows readers to rethink through the conflicting narratives of Israelis and Palestinians about their respective traumatic experiences.)

36. While genocide is included among Israel’s violations of human rights among international and even a few Palestinian human rights organizations, this depiction is not in general use in Palestine.

37. The pattern of increasing numbers of Israelis upholding perpetual, institutionalized bigotry continues to grow, not simply because a majority of Israelis approved of Donald Trump, but because a majority oppose both a unitary state in which all individuals between the Jordan and the Mediterranean have equal rights, but a majority also oppose a separate state for Palestinians in the West Bank (and Gaza) where Palestinians can enjoy the full rights of self-determination, voting rights, mobility rights and equality under the law.

38. On the other hand, most Israeli Jews do not believe that Palestinians have accepted Israel as a state for the Jewish people even if they reluctantly accede to the reality of Israel’s existence.

39. In service to that rejectionism, Palestinians are believed to engage in or support terrorism against Israelis.

40. While the belief is widespread among Jewish Israelis that, if they lost a war with the Arabs, they would be driven into the sea, this is neither part of most Palestinian discourse and possibly most Palestinian beliefs.


41. The left in Israel continues to wither away while Israel moves to the right – Gideon Saar and Naftali Bennet are both to the right of Netanyahu.

42. Palestinians, particularly among the young, have been moving to support a unitary state with equal individual rights for all.

Key Peace Issues

43. Water sharing is no longer the important issue it once was given the wider use of desalination.

44. While there is widespread belief, especially among Jewish Israelis, that Arab refugee return to Israel remains a major issue, that conviction is not shared by Palestinians.

45. Nevertheless, Palestinians continue to hold “the right of return” to be a sacred principle, often citing Article 13 (2) of the Geneva Convention, even though a right of return only applies to return “to one’s own country” and Palestine as a country did not exist in 1948.

46. Though the principle of a right of return will remain a basic principle from the Palestinian perspective, they generally do not expect anything to happen to advance the expression of this principle on the ground.

47. The issues of territory and borders remains a central issue.

48. The division of Jerusalem is not only a central issue, but it has become an acute one with the approval just two days before Joe Biden took office of tenders for Givat Hamatos, the remaining strip of land in the south of the city that can connect Palestinian populations in the West Bank with East Jerusalem.

49. A main field of contention in the diaspora is the fight over BDS and antisemitism, but also debates over the right of return and “illegal” settlements, but the latter debates have little impact on the ground.

50. Establishment of new settlements and expansion of existing ones remain central issues of dispute. “Only 32 construction plans and permits were approved for Palestinians in Area C in 2019-2020, while over 18,000 plans and permits were approved for Israelis during the same period.”

Next up in part two: Geo-political trends and in the relationship of Israelis and Palestinians

Howard Adelman CM, Professor Emiritus York University, is a Canadian philosopher and one of the founders of Rochdale College, as well as the founder and director of York's Centre for Refugee Studies.