One of the most notable countries in the Middle East is Palestine. Officially known as the State of Palestine, Palestine is a Parliamentary Republic located in the Western Middle East. Palestine is bordered by countries such as Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Syria, has an area of approximately 2,300 square kilometers (split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip) and a population of around 5 million. Palestine plays a significant role in contemporary Middle Eastern politics due to its ongoing border disputes with Israel and efforts to become an independent and legitimate nation.
Palestine has a long and rich heritage going back several thousand years. The Palestinian people are the descendants of the earliest inhabitants of the territory, the Philistines, and the Canaanites, who originally settled in the areas around 3000 BCE, nearly two millennia before the first Jewish settlers arrived in the region. Historically, the Palestinian territory was controlled by numerous foreign powers such as the Iranians (under both the Achaemenid and Sassanid Empires), the Greeks, Romans, Assyrians, and Arabs. Most recently, the Ottoman Empire controlled Palestine from the early 16th Century until the end of World War I. After World War I, Palestine was governed by Great Britain under a Mandate received from the League of Nations in 1920. In 1947, the UN passed a resolution to establish two states within the Palestinian territory and designated a territory including present-day West Bank as part of the proposed Arab state.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the West Bank was captured by Transjordan (present-day Jordan), and the Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt. Israel gained control of both territories during the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964 with the intention of becoming the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Yasir Arafat (the founder of the political party Fatah in 1958) became the leader of the PLO in 1968 and soon began to seek regional support in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state and in opposition to the occupation of territories rightfully belonging to the Palestinian people by Israel. The PLO was recognized by the Arab League in 1974 as the representative of the Palestinian people. Arafat ultimately declared Palestine as an independent state on November 15, 1988. Israel ultimately transferred control of Palestinian-populated areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under a series of agreements negotiated and signed between 1991 and 1999. Yasir Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996 and served until his death in 2004 and was succeeded by Mahmoud Abbas.
Recently, there has been a high level of tension within Palestine related to the political divide between Fatah and Hamas, an Islamist political party. Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 in elections widely considered to be free and fair by international observers. Despite the formation of a unity government with Fatah, Hamas ultimately took over the Gaza Strip by mid-2007, resulting in a division between the governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that continues to this present day. Despite high levels of political instability, Palestine was recognized as a non-member observer state by the UN General Assembly in November of 2012 and was admitted to the International Criminal Court in early 2015.
Palestine is a parliamentary republic operating under a semi-Presidential system. The current constitution of Palestine (the Basic Law) was adopted in 2002 and is modeled in part on the constitutions of various countries in the region such as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. The 2002 Basic Law of Palestine states that Palestinians will not be subject to “any discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, political convictions or disability.” The law also states that the principles of Shari’a law are the primary source of all legislative proposals. The President of Palestine is directly elected by the Palestinian people in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The current President is Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected in 2005. The Prime minister of Palestine is directly appointed by the President and is not required to be a member of the legislature while in office. The current Prime Minister is Rami Hamdallah, who has been in office since 2013. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) is the main legislative body within Palestine. The current Speaker of Parliament is Aziz Duwaik, who has been in office since 2006. Due to the ongoing conflict between Fatah and Hamas, elections for both the President and the Palestinian Legislative Council have been postponed since 2006, though local elections were held in the West Bank in 2016.
Palestine is considered to be a “hybrid regime,” or an “illiberal democracy” with elements characteristic of both authoritarian and democratic governments according to a 2016 “Democracy Index” rating. Some of the major factors that have prevented Palestine from becoming a full-democracy include the lack of strong governmental institutions, continued international isolation, and the ongoing conflict with Israel. Even though the Palestinian government has guaranteed freedom of assembly, press freedom, and freedom of speech, the rights of individuals to demonstrate openly have become increasingly subject to police control and restriction over the past few years due to the ongoing conflicts between Israel and Palestine and Hamas and Fatah. Despite the fact that the 2002 Basic Law mandates respect for other religions such as Christianity and Judaism, Islamic institutions and places of worship tend to receive preferential treatment from the Palestinian government. Additionally, Hamas began to enforce some Islamic standards of dress for women such as mandatory hijab since it came to power in the 2006 election and is alleged by the Israeli government to have established Islamic courts in the Gaza Strip.
In terms of religion, Palestine is estimated to be between 83-97% Muslim, 3-14% Christian, and 3% other. An overwhelming majority (<95%) of Palestinian Muslims are Sunni and most Palestinian Christians are Greek Orthodox, Maronite, or Roman Catholic. As late as 1900, as much as one-third of the Palestinian population was Christian but declined in recent decades due to the Israeli occupation, the rise of anti-Christian policies by the Israeli government, and the lack of work opportunities. Arabs make up a majority (83%) of the Palestinian population and Arabic, Hebrew, and English are the official languages of the country. Palestine has a 91.9% literacy rate and women have full suffrage in Palestine and made up 47% of registered voters in the 2006 legislative elections.
Palestine has a GDP of $12.6 billion (2015 estimates) and a Human Development Index Score of 0.677 and a GINI Score of 35.5. The economy of Palestinian is primarily service based (81%). Agriculture (5%) and Industry (14%) make up the rest of the Palestinian economy. Unemployment in Palestine is estimated to be around 27% and 25.8% of the population lives below the poverty line. Israeli security measures and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence continue to negatively impact economic conditions in the Palestinian territories.
Palestine is currently a member of a number of international organizations such as the Arab League, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the International Criminal Court, and the United Nations and also has diplomatic relations with 136 Nations. Some of the main allies of the Palestinian-led government in the West Bank include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco. Additionally, the US government under the leadership of former President Barack Obama sought to improve ties with the Palestinian government during his 8 years in office. On the other hand, the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip is primarily allied with countries such as Russia, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen and is not recognized as the true Palestinian government by the international community despite the fact that Hamas won a plurality of the vote in the 2006 Palestinian elections and is considered by a majority of Palestinians to be the legitimate government of the territory.
As a country, Palestine continues to face many daunting challenges that threaten its future success. Arguably the main challenge facing the country is its ongoing disputes with Israel and the dual nature of its own government. Within the ongoing peace process, several different solutions have been proposed. The specific solutions range from a one-state, two-state, or even a three-state solution. Each of these proposals has their own set of strengths and weaknesses and have been promoted at various times by the international community. Despite the high level of support for both approaches, it is unlikely that either a one-state or a two-state solution will be viable given the current situation in the region.
It can be argued that a one-state solution is not a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for several reasons. The main reason is that it would result in the wholesale disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people and deny them the right to self-determination. By denying the Palestinian people the right to self-determination, the Israeli government would risk the creation of a civil war and expand the already existing conflicts between the different ethnic groups within the country. Additionally, a one-state solution may permanently alter the overall face of the State of Israel. For example, the high fertility rate among Palestinians coupled with the return of Palestinian refugees would quickly render the Israeli Jewish community an ethnic minority.
It can also be argued that the two-state solution is not viable given the current political realities within Israel. Even though the two-state solution would allow the Palestinian people to develop their own governmental system and full self-determination, the political divisions within the Palestinian territories make the implementation of this proposal unrealistic. For example, the Palestinian territories are split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and both territories are governed by different political factions (the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip). The differences between both political factions regarding policy make a possible unification difficult at best. Additionally, both the West Bank and Gaza Strip are apart from each other geographically, so the logistics for travel between both locations would be difficult to be implemented.
Considering these factors, a three-state solution is the most viable option for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under such an option, Israel would have its borders set to what they were prior to the Six-Day War of 1967 and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would become two separate Palestinian states. The West Bank would be governed by the Palestinian Authority and Gaza Strip would be governed by Hamas. Additionally, the city of Jerusalem would become a demilitarized zone under the joint administration between representatives from all three states, observers from the United Nations, and leaders from all three of the main religious groups within the territory. This approach would reduce the chances of conflict within the region, prevent extremism from spreading, and improve the overall chances for lasting peace in the Middle East.