Recent History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 2011–Present

Mounting pressure for a two-state solution restarts peace talks in 2013

By Jennie Wood

Tzipi Livni, Israel's Justice Minister and chief negotiator in 2013

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More pressure for a two-state solution came in 2011. On May 4, Fatah and Hamas, the rival Palestinian parties, signed a reconciliation accord, citing the common cause of opposition to the Israeli occupation and shared disillusionment with American peace efforts as reasons for the détente. The deal reworked the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had previously excluded Hamas. On May 16, the New York Times published an opinion piece written by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. He stated that at the September 2011 United Nations General Assembly, Palestine will request international recognition based on the 1967 border. The State of Palestine will also request full membership to the UN. He wrote that negotiations remained the Palestinians' first option, but "due to their failure we are now compelled to turn to the international community to assist us in preserving the opportunity for a peaceful and just end to the conflict."

On May 19, attempting to capitalize on the season of change in the Arab world, President Obama declared that the borders demarcated before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war should be the basis of a Mideast peace deal between Israel and Palestine. He also said that the borders should be adjusted to account for Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Obama's speech came a day before a scheduled meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington. The Israeli government protested immediately, saying that a return to the pre-1967 borders would leave Israel "indefensible," which Netanyahu reiterate during his meeting with Obama. However, Netanyahu maintained that Israel is open to negotiations.

The Palestinians Request Membership to UN, Give up on Talks with Israel

On September 23, 2011, Abbas officially requested a bid for statehood at the UN Security Council. The request came after months of failed European and U.S. efforts to bring Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table. The Palestinian Authority requested a Security Council vote to gain statehood as a full member of the UN rather than going to the General Assembly. One of the reasons for this was that the General Assembly could only give the Palestinian Authority non-member observer status at the UN, a lesser degree of statehood. In addition, the European states in the General Assembly made it clear that they would support the proposal if the Palestinians dropped their demand that Israel halt settlement construction. The Palestinians have long insisted that Israel cease the settlement construction and deemed the condition unacceptable. Therefore, the Palestinian Authority preferred to take its case to the Security Council even though the U.S. has vowed to veto the request.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke at the United Nation's General Assembly hours after Abbas filed the bid for statehood. Netanyahu disagreed with the Palestinian's proposal for statehood through the UN, urging Abbas to return to negotiating directly with Israel instead. "The truth is the Palestinians want a state without peace," he said during his speech.

Gilad Shalit Released After More Than Five Years in Prison

On October 18, 2011, Gilad Shalit, a twenty-five year old Israeli soldier, was released after being held for more than five years by Hamas, a militant Palestinian group. Shalit was exchanged for one thousand Palestinians who had spent years in Israeli jails. Some of the Palestinians released were convicted planners or perpetrators of deadly terrorist attacks. A prisoner swap of this kind almost happened in late 2009, but talks between Israel and Hamas collapsed. This time the difference maker was Egypt who mediated the deal.

There was concern among Israelis over releasing known terrorists into the hands of Hamas. Many feared further attacks. Hamas' comments only added to the anxiety. After the swap, Hamas called for its members to capture more Israel soldiers in order to exchange them for the remaining 5,000 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel. Also, while both sides celebrated the exchange on October 18, Israeli soldiers and Palestinians fought in the West Bank.

Still many saw the exchange as a sign of hope. Shalit's release had become a national obsession and crusade in Israel. He had been held in Gaza since Palestinian militants kidnapped him during a cross-border raid in 2006. In a televised address following Shalit's release, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Today we are all united in joy and in pain." Shalit was the first captured Israeli soldier to be returned home alive in 26 years.

Violence Erupts with Hamas in November 2012

Throughout the fall of 2012, militant groups in Gaza fired rockets into Israel with increasing frequency. Israel responded in mid-November with one of its biggest attacks on Gaza since the 2008 invasion. The attack killed Hamas military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari. In the following days, Israel continued to target members of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza, and Hamas launched several hundred rockets, with some hitting Tel Aviv. Egypt, while a staunch supporter of Hamas, attempted to broker a peace agreement between Hamas and Israel to prevent the conflict from further destabilizing the region. On Nov. 21, Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a cease-fire had been signed. Both sides agreed to end hostilities toward each other and Israel said it would open Gaza border crossings, allowing the flow of products and people into Gaza, potentially lifting the 5-year blockade that has caused much hardship to those living in the region.

UN Approves Non-Member State Status

On November 29, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly approved an upgrade from the Palestinian Authority's current observer status to that of a non-member state. The vote came after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the General Assembly and asked for a "birth certificate" for his country. Of the 193 nations in the General Assembly, 138 voted in favor of the upgrade in status.

While the vote was a victory for Palestine, it was a diplomatic setback for the U.S. and Israel. Having the title of "non-member observer state" would allow Palestine access to international organizations such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). If it joins the ICC, Palestine could file complaints of war crimes against Israel. After the vote, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki spoke in a press conference about working with the ICC and other organizations. He said, "As long as the Israelis are not committing atrocities, are not building settlements, are not violating international law, then we don't see any reason to go anywhere. If the Israelis continue with such policy - aggression, settlements, assassinations, attacks, confiscations, building walls - violating international law, then we have no other remedy but really to knock those to other places."

In response to the UN vote, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel would not transfer about $100 million in much-needed tax revenue owed to the struggling Palestinian Authority and would resume plans to build 3,000-unit settlement in an area that divides the north and the south parts of the West Bank, thereby denying the Palestinians any chance for having a contiguous state.

New Peace Talks Begin in Summer 2013

In late July 2013, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed to begin peace talks with the goal of reaching an agreement within nine months, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The initial meeting took place at the State Department in Washington D.C. and was attended by Israel's Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat. Livni and Erekat both met with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama wanted to "express his personal support for final status negotiations."

Livni and Erekat also met with Secretary of State Kerry. During their meeting with Kerry, both sides vowed to meet again within two weeks to begin negotiations. The negotiations would be mediated by Martin Indyk, Kerry's new Mideast peace envoy. Of these new negotiations, Kerry said that both sides agreed to put all "final status issues, all of the core issues and all other issues" on the table. Erekat said, "It's time for the Palestinians to live in peace, freedom and dignity within their own independent, sovereign state." Livni added, "I believe that history is not made by cynics; it is made by realists who are not afraid to dream. Let us be these people."

On August 14, 2013, Israelis and Palestinians officially began peace talks in Jerusalem. Expectations were low going into the talks, the third attempt to negotiate since 2000, and nearly five years since the last attempt. The talks began just hours after Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners. The prisoner release was a step on Israel's part to bring Palestine back to the negotiating table. Israel said the prisoner release would be the first of four. However, Palestinian officials were concerned over Israel's ongoing settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, land that would be part of an official Palestinian state.

"The talks might collapse any time because of the Israeli practices," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking on Voice of Palestine radio about the settlements. Israelis were also aware of the challenges ahead. In a TV interview just before the talks began, Livni said, "It will be complicated and complex, but I am not giving up."

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died on January 11, 2014. The official cause of death was heart failure, although Sharon had been in a coma since suffering a stroke on January 4, 2006. Also a soldier, Sharon fought in all of the Israeli-Arab wars. In 1973, he formed the Likud party and, the following year, was elected into Israel's parliament. Sharon remained involved in Israel's government in one position or another until his stroke in 2006. He was prime minister at the time of the stroke and was replaced by Ehud Olmert.

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Sources: Associated Press, New York Times,, The Economist, and BBC.

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