By John Stang
I just visited Washington D.C. for my Modern Middle East history class. This morning, we went to the Israeli and Palestinian embassies to understand the current situation in both countries. The conflict has a religious and political dimension to it, but we must not forget the practical problem, land. Land is critical because Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is about the size of New Jersey. That means finding land to build houses is extremely scarce. To solve the problem, Israel decided to start subsidizing housing in the Occupied Territories after the 1967 War. The settlers also served as way for Israel to get a better grip on the Palestinian land and offer security for the territory.
Water is also scarce. The rivers that run through Israel, the River Jordon, are not large. Since the state is a desert, water is valuable and Israel often divides the river and so that way they get more water than the Palestinians. In a sense, the conflict is about land and resources that are critical for both parties. A Palestinian state could mean that Israeli settlers must leave or that waterways could change hands. Land for a state also determines where roads go and where infrastructure can be placed.
Not to say that the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is just a conflict about subsidized housing or restricted waterways, but state building requires making these critical decisions. Populations will have to move if boundaries are redrawn. That becomes incredibly difficult when established populations live in settlement areas. All this adds another economic and demographic problem to the conflict that makes it harder, not easier, to solve.