Palestine: Background

The dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is one of the longest unresolved conflicts in modern history. Beginning with the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, for more than 58 years the conflict has cost thousands of lives, involved neighboring countries in major wars, and unsettled the politics of the entire region. Palestinians and Israelis, the United States, and most of the world want the conflict to end. Given the almost universal desire for peace, Global Exchange believes that understanding the obstacles to peace is crucial, and that it is our role as a human rights organization to call attention to dimensions of this conflict that have been historically neglected in the United States. This is especially important because so many Americans want the United States to play a constructive role in ending it.

Some of the obstacles that stand in the way of peace have received much attention in this country. Suicide bombings directed against Israeli civilians have been massively condemned, and the Palestinian leadership subjected to relentless diplomatic, economic and military pressure from both Israel and the U.S. to find and arrest the bombers. Global Exchange condemns violence directed against civilians, and we mourn the deaths of all innocents—Israelis who have been the victims of bombings, and the much larger number of Palestinian civilians killed by the Israeli military and by settlers.
We also oppose the policies of the Israeli government—and the United States' support for them—which, in our view, prevent any peace resolution and guarantee that neither Palestinians nor Israelis can live their lives in safety. Three million Palestinians have lived since 1967 under a humiliating and oppressive Israeli military occupation that deprives them of basic human rights, civil rights, and sovereignty in their lands—the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. International law (the 4th Geneva Convention) prohibits colonization and seizure of territories seized in war, and 46 United Nations resolutions have affirmed Israel's obligation to withdraw. Yet Israel has carried out a policy of annexation and colonization in these areas that includes substantial government financial assistance to settlers. The pace of settlement construction and the number of Israeli settlers have doubled since the beginning of the Oslo peace process early in the 1990s, contradicting Israel's claimed intentions to be seeking an end to the conflict. Despite U.N. and ICJ pressure to dismantle what Israel calls a "separation wall" to keep militant Palestinians out of Israel—the wall continues to conceal illegal settlements in the West Bank, suggesting that Israel views them as permanent Israeli territory, and cementing the annexation of the Palestinian land upon which the settlers now live.
Millions of other Palestinians live as refugees in other Arab countries (as well as one million in Israel proper), after fleeing wars in 1948 and 1967. According to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948) and subsequent resolutions, these refugees have the right to return to their homes, or to be compensated for their losses. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indicated that refugees might be allowed to return to a future Palestinian state, even his "best offer" refused all the right to return to homes in Israel itself. However with the recent addition of hard liners such as Avigdor Lieberman to his cabinet, these promises may never materialize. Israeli peace advocates like Reinhardt and Uri Avneri join Palestinians like Marwan Bishara in criticizing Israel's refusal to take even the important symbolic step of acknowledging responsibility for the refugee problem. Undeniably, many refugees have been mistreated in the countries to which they fled, and undeniably, the suffering of the Palestinian refugees has been used by oppressive regimes in the region to divert attention from their own failings. A solution to the refugee problem will help to refocus attention on other significant issues in the region, such as democratization and economic development.
Israel receives more U.S. foreign aid on a regular basis than any other country. Global Exchange believes that U.S. citizens need to be fully apprised of the situation in the territories that Israel controls, and that when they are, they will insist that aid be reduced until Israel abides by international law and agreements to which it has been a party. The United States cannot act as "broker" of a peace settlement when it so clearly favors Israel despite evidence of Israeli obstructionism.
As a human rights organization, Global Exchange believes that without fundamental change in the U.S. policy towards the Middle East, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular, peace will be unattainable. Our Palestine Human Rights Program supports:
  • A balanced U.S. policy that seeks to end Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories captured in 1967.
  • International recognition and backing for a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, with full trade, diplomatic, and territorial rights guaranteed under international law.
  • A just and durable resolution of Palestinian refugee claims based on existing UN Security Council resolutions.
  • Full legal, political, and civil rights for Palestinians living within the borders of Israel.
  • Our education and advocacy program includes educational tours to Palestine/Israel, investigative delegations in the occupied territories, nationwide speaking tours in the U.S., work with the media, and congressional and policy maker education programs. 


We also organize demonstrations and participate in anti-war mobilizations.

We seek to:


  • Educate and mobilize to bring an end to U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic support to Israel for its occupation policies.
  • Work with and create coalition partnerships with non-governmental and peace organizations in Palestine, Israel, the U.S., and elsewhere that support a just and lasting resolution of the conflict.


More information:

Primer on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

The Palestinian Diaspora: A History of Disposession