The problems with Israel started during its formation. These initial issues can be blamed primarily on the British. Aft the end of World War II the British were in control of the areas that now constitute Israel and Jordan. They had a mandate to create a Jewish homeland in this area from before the war, and the horrors of the holocaust gave this mandate pressing urgency. Decolonization was in full swing by then, and with Europeans feeling guilty over the ravages of Hitler's actions and their complacency in it there was fairly widespread support for the creation of Israel.
Everywhere outside the region. In the region itself there was very powerful resistance. The Arab people were tired of colonialism, tired of their post-Ottoman humiliation, and tired of having their lands divided and distributed without their control. Furthermore Islam had always been somewhat resistant to accepting the practice of other religions, and in the Koran there are conflicting messages about how the Jews should be treated (In some parts it says they are Allah's chosen people and must be treated as such, but in others it implies that their refusal to accept his will despite being chosen marks them as fallen and even worse than other infidels who haven't had as much contact with Allah.) The Arabs did not want a Jewish state popping up in land they had occupied for centuries right in the middle of their area. How did Britain respond to this conflict?
It drew a line in the sand. Helped a bunch of Jews emigrate to one side of it (there had been a Zionist movement for quite some time so there were already Jews there) and then withdrew its troops and whistled Dixie on the way back to their rainy little Island. The result of this was predictable. War.
It was this initial war that really set the stage for the Middle East Conflict as we know it today. The Arabs attacked, and the Jews fought back and won over a period of about a year. During this conflict, though, many of the Arabs in Israel fled. Some say they were driven out by the Israeli army, others say that they got radio reports in Arabic announcing the impending war, the truth is, as usual, some of each. Whatever the reason, though, large numbers ran. Many assumed they would move to Jordan, which was part of the same colonial territory and not really distinct as an area or a people. At this point the Palestinians could have assimilated into Jordan pretty easily, and things would have been better.
Only Jordan wouldn't take them, and neither would any other Arab state. The reasons for this are complex. Partially it's economic, they didn't want more mouths to feed, especially mouths who'd left their property in Israel, part of it's cultural, there were SOME differences in tribal composition and cultural practices between the Palestinians and other peoples, and much of it was political. The Arab states wanted to put pressure on Israel by forcing them to deal with the refugees, presumably take them back. This was the idea behind the right of return. Once the Palestinians were re-ensconced in Israel they could become the majority of the population and either take over the country politically or just weaken it with internal dissent enough that it would either be easily cowed and not a major player in the region, or it could be taken in a later war with lots of internal saboteurs.
The thing is, the Israelis refused to allow the Palestinians to come back to their homes. This was reasonable. Israel had just fought a defensive war for its own survival and now was being asked to take back in people who had fled rather than staying to defend the country, many of whom had much stronger ties to other nations than they did to Israel. To accept them back would have made a weak state even weaker. The question was what could be done with them, and the answer, ever since then, has been not a heck of a lot. The refugee camps are horrible, they are places of great poverty and suffering and misery. They are also not entirely, or even mostly, Israel's fault. The reasonable thing to do, at this point, would be to relocate some of the people into neighboring countries where they could still assimilate with relative ease. Israel gives any Jews who want to move there the right but while Syria and Jordan and the like keep sounding the horn about how miserable the refugees are they refuse to offer any sort of refuge. They are using the Palestinians as pawns to pressure Israel. This should not be forgotten.
Since the initial foundation of Israel there have been three major clashes between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In each case there were wrongs perpetrated by both sides, with the Arabs being more to blame in some and the Israelis in others. The important thing about these wars is not the conflicts themselves, which were not-unusual clashes between sovereign nations and did not involve catastrophic loss of life (In none of these wars were there genocides or anything, although as always there are isolated incidents of army misbehavior.) It's the land. Israel occupied strategically important lands after the war. This will come into play later, and be the source of the greatest Israeli injustice.
The last major element to this puzzle is terrorism. It has been a pretty consistent factor in Israeli life since the 60's. I guess I should describe what I consider terrorism to be. In my opinion terrorism consists of violent and often fatal attacks against civilian targets for political purposes. It is unconscionable and vile. Anyone who supports it is either very confused or completely amoral. The murder of innocents is never acceptable, but it is much MORE unacceptable when it is intentional. I am against the death penalty because I believe that every human being is redeemable and that unpleasant imprisonment sends an equally strong message. I am not, however, against the assassination of terrorists when imprisonment is not an option. Someone who plots the deaths of innocents forfeits their right to be considered a person. They are dangerous beasts and deserve to be butchered.
So that's the basic situation. There's a lot I'm leaving out because I hate typing all this stuff up and it would take too long to read, but I needed to set the stage so that I can explain my opinions regarding the situation. Those views are as follows:
When it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict both sides are to blame, but the Arab side is more to blame than the Israeli. Israel's creation was not its own fault, it was the fault of the British. It was handled remarkably poorly, but the Jews had no choice but to take what was being offered. After the horrors of the holocaust they felt they NEEDED a homeland and the British said they could have Israel.
Instead of trying to deal with this in a civilized or rational manner the Arabs responded with military force. They got their asses handed to them and instead of trying to bargain THEN it just made them more resentful. They have spent the last 60 years both crying like little babies to the rest of the world and, like little babies, lashing out against Israel. At no point have they acknowledged that they are, in fact, in the weaker position and attempted to bargain constructively. At no point have they accepted that Israel has a right to exist. They've generally acted like spoiled little shit heads.
Israel for its part has been assholey in a lot of ways. The biggest issue is probably the settlers. These are hardliner Israelis who refuse to grant any more right to exist on the land to the Arabs than the Arabs grant to them. They uproot communities, take more land, and cause humiliation and resentment in those they abuse. Sometimes they kill. Israel has always had a tacit approval of these destructive activities and the settlements are defended with the considerable might of the Israeli army. The settlers are horrible, and a huge impediment to peace. Politically Israel can not afford to cut them off, but at some point this might have to happen. Their existence lends credence to the idea that Israel will never surrender the occupied land.
Israel also has destructive internal policies towards Arabs. While it allows Arabs to be citizens, it severely restricts immigration and has anti-miscegenation laws, which are ridiculous in this day and age. These policies are understandable. There is a fear that Israeli Arabs are an enemy within, and they aren't totally unjustified. They are not, however, acceptable.
Then there is the violent aspect of the conflict. The terrorism, and the Israeli response. This is the worst side of the whole situation, and here again I place the primary blame on the Palestinians. Their allies launched the first attack. They have targeted civilians on a routine basis and declared that they won't STOP killing Israelis until there are no Israelis around to be killed. They have repeatedly shown that during so called peace times they won't stop murdering people (this is partially because while Israel is a single political entity the Palestinian terrorist groups are not, so it's very hurt to create a true armistice.) Generally speaking they have demonstrated that not only shouldn't you bargain with terrorists due to the morality of it, but you also can't trust them in their dealings (Shocking. Child murderers untrustworthy? Wow.) This severely reduces any reason the Israelis would have for cutting deals and perpetuates the conflict.
As for the Israeli army, well it's been pretty good. Seriously. As occupying powers go Israel shows reasonable restraint. Have there been abuses? Yes. Many. Are they tragic? Undoubtably. On the other hand the Israelis don't go around slaughtering civilians at random (The Palestinians CLAIM they do, but such claims are almost ALWAYS shown to be completely false within a few days or whenever an outside observer has a chance to try to substantiate them. This is part of the whiny crying baby shit that they love to pull to get sympathy from the world at large.) They target mostly acknowledged terrorists. Most of the civilians they kill are hanging around with terrorists and basically acting as human shields, which makes them more or less terrorists in my opinion, and the Israelis don't target them. You have to realize just how deeply embedded the terrorists are within the Palestinian community. They live among them, receive material support from them, and do not differentiate themselves in any obvious way. The recent strategy of using ambulances to ferry terrorists around shows just how committed the Palestinians are to blurring the line between civilian and military. Ambulances are traditionally allowed free reign even in war zones because they are supposed to be removed from the conflict, concerned only with saving lives and alleviating suffering. The Israelis can no longer treat ambulances in that way because they could be holding terrorists within them. It doesn't really matter whether any of them do or don't at this point. Once you establish that precedent you shatter the trust level and force them to be stopped at checkpoints. Then the Palestinians complain bitterly about these new abuses. They are "abuses" that the ambulance drivers brought upon themselves.
The bulldozing of houses is crude, but with underground tunnels and weapons caches it's hard to find them in other ways. The shooting of children is horrible, but the use of children as human shields is even worse, not to mention intentionally blowing them up in pizzerias. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
The next comparison worth making is Sharon and Arafat. Sharon is a raging asshole, there's no doubt about that. He is a hawk. He is diplomatically challenged. He is a founder of the horrible settler movement and was a terrible choice for a leader. On the other hand, he has been mellowed and restrained by parliamentary democracy. He is now proposing a complete withdrawal from Gaza and at least considering cutting support for the settlers off. He's starting to behave better.
Arafat is a monster. A murderous terrorist who rejoiced in the murder of babies as a younger man he has brought that kind of moral authority to the Palestinian authority. Preaching peace in English and hatred and murder in Arabic he runs a two-faced government that makes only tenth-hearted attempts to restrain terrorism, while supporting it openly out of the other side of his mouth. His government has deep ties to terrorism, eschews democracy for what is basically an oligarchy of murderers, and generally puts his needs above those of his people. He has declared that he will not be satisfied until the Israelis have been driven into the sea. He walked away from a reasonable proposal in 2000 to start another intifada, which should have PROVEN to the world that he has no interest in peace (I'm not saying he should have taken the proposal, although it offered 97% of the occupied territories, but he should at least have counter offered. That's what negotiation is, offer and counter offer. Not offer and campaign of murderous terror.) Peace would mean a reduction in his power and relevance. He would never stand for that. He's evil. While he has power he is an impediment, not a partner, in peace. I'm not saying he should be assassinated, but he should be jailed.
The final piece of the puzzle is religion. In Israel it is definitely an issue. Israel is a Jewish country, it is located IN Israel because of the importance of that land to Judaism, it was created for Jews, and it favors Jews in many policies. It is not, however, a theocracy. Israel does have freedom of religion. Maybe not perfect, maybe not socially accepted, but it is there and it is real. On the other hand the Jewishness of the state does create problems. For example the Jews are unwilling to give up any of Jerusalem because of its meaning to Judaism. It's not politically viable. Likewise there are all kinds of issues with the Dome of the Rock/Temple Mount. It complicates things, there's no doubt about that.
But it's not as bad as the influence of Islam. Not only do radical Islamists encourage terrorism AND run most of the schools among the Palestinians (bad bad combination) but Islam's aggressive recruiting and expansionism lead them to claim Jewish sites as their own (Dome of the Rock started like that in some ways) and lay claim to the legacy of Judaism, even though the Koran is NOT an extension of the Torah like the New Testaments are but rather a different work that uses some of Jewish mythology in the complicated tapestry it weaves. Christianity is a revision of Judaism. Islam is a fanfic/re-imagining.
I'm not sure how to feel or what to think about the religious situation. I'm not a fan of religion in general, but I think that in the Arab-Israeli situation it is incredibly pernicious, especially because it is so ingrained into the government of the Arab states. Religious attachments to certain sites is a real problem though, from being a large part of what inspires those awful settlers to be such pricks.
So what's to be done? I think the catalyzing event to the solution, if there will be one, will be the Palestinians putting the future ahead of the past. This is difficult in Arab culture, where blood debts are owed for every affront, but it's the only solution. Look at South Africa. Mandela was a terrorist, although he was much more concerned with military and government targets than innocent civilians, who recognized that peace is a compromise. What did he get? He got free elections and an end to Apartheid. What did he not get? He did not get revenge on the oppressing authorities (and the Apartheid regime was in some ways worse than the Israeli occupation, though there were fewer direct clashes) or redistribution of resources. It was a compromise. So far it seems to have worked. When you're fighting from an unequal position you can't expect to receive everything you ask for. Life generally doesn't work that way. Arafat, in comparison, walked away from the table after being offered 97% of what he has a right to ask for (he wants all of Israel but he ain't getting that. Ever.) He had legitimate complaints about the offer, chief among them was the lack of fresh water access for the Palestinians since the Israelis would have still controlled the Golan Heights. The Israelis had legitimate concerns about turning the heights over to a terrorist, because they'd been shelled from said heights throughout the 1960s and didn't want to go back to that. The solution would have been international intercession. The building of desalination plants for the Palestinian state so they could have independent fresh water access. Arafat didn't give this a chance to happen. Until someone over there does it's going to remain a bloody conflict. The Palestinians also have to crack down on the rogue terrorist groups like Hamas. If Israel gives back the occupied territories and the terrorists don't stop attacking, well they might invade again. Most Americans supported the right of the U.S. to invade Afghanistan after it harbored terrorists, but for some reason don't grant Israel the same right. You can't harbor an enemy army and say that you're not involved in the conflict. International relations don't work that way.
I see the Israeli-Palestinian situation as one where both sides are to blame for significant aspects of the conflict. Neither has acted honorably and both have blood on their hands. In general, and even moreso recently, the Israelis have acted LESS immorally than the Palestinians and have made more of a good-faith effort to resolve the conflict. The Palestinians continue to act like spoiled brats, and receive the support of the International community, which is a cadre of dictator states and spineless jellyfish countries like France (I'll explain why the French government is a piece of shit in another post.) The Palestinian people, of course, are not entirely to blame for this. They are poor, uneducated, and benighted by the trashy brainwashing known as Wahabbism. Their leadership has failed them utterly. The Palestinian terrorists and leadership benefits from the subjugated status of the people. It creates a common enemy that unites them. It gives an excuse for unreasonable authority.
As for the role of the world? It should be one of mediation and support. I don't particularly love the U.S. channeling of funds to Israel, though I understand the strategic reasoning it is mostly a cold-war rationality. Neither do I like the ridiculous condemnation of the dictatorships/spineless countries. It only serves to fuel the conflict and drive the sides away from one another. If the sides want a place to meet and talk it should be offered. If they need financial support to make peace work that should be offered as well. The situation is just too volatile to be allowed to continue over a few tens of billions of dollars.
I haven't covered every facet of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, especially not the depths and nuance of the history, because it's impractical. I welcome discussion, but I'm not going to have my mind changed by minor details about some affront committed by one side or the other. Both are guilty of atrocities, but one has a much stronger tendency towards it.