Understanding the situation in Israel and Gaza

What started with tit-for-tat kidnappings and murders perpetrated by individuals in the West Bank and Jerusalem has escalated into an air (and now ground) offensive between Israel and Gaza. Recent attempts at a ceasefire have failed as both sides enter into the second week of hostilities and the death toll rises. Below is a compilation of scholarly articles published in International Studies Quarterly that might give readers better insight into the current crisis.

How might we understand the broader social ramifications of the current crisis?

As was evident after Israel’s 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead, a major concern in the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict is the toll on and targeting of civilians on both sides. [Smith, 2002*] examines the legal language used by hi-tech states to legitimate collateral damage through the blurring of distinctions between combatants and civilians.

[Carpenter, 2005] problematizes the rhetorical use of protecting “women and children” in conflicts such as this, highlighting that such a focus ignores protecting adult male civilians and furthers gender stereotypes. At the same time, deploying such “gender essentialisms” is part of a strategic process that is more likely to result in international attention and response.

[Lebovic & Voeten, 2006*] examine the effects of naming and shaming states committing human rights abuses in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, finding that reputation and social conformity matter.

What explains the persistence of violence?

Why does Gaza continue to launch rockets into southern Israel given Israel’s overwhelming military advantage? [Findley & Young, 2011*] suggest that terrorism is more likely to occur against governments who are unable to “credibly restrain themselves from abusing their power in the future.”

[Allen & Fordham, 2011] also explore why some weaker states continue to resist their more powerful adversaries, finding evidence in both rationalist (cost/benefit) and alternative (state preferences and ideation) explanations.

Additionally, [Findley & Edwards, 2007] investigate why significant power asymmetries between opponents do not always play out the way the dominant power anticipates. Illustrating their analysis with the Chechen mobilization of the 1990s, they suggest that group-specific social institutions have the potential to increase the capabilities of the weaker side, which is often ignored by the dominant power.

As perhaps illustrated by the Second Intifada, youth bulges coupled with economic stagnation might also increase the likelihood of political violence. [Urdal, 2006]

What does this mean for the future of the peace process?


Failed peace agreements and stalled talks have haunted the Israel/Palestine conflict for decades. [Goddard, 2012*] examines the successful settlement of another entrenched conflict (Northern Ireland) and determines that the role played by brokers was paramount to the agreement.

Often, Israel and the Palestinians are brought to the negotiating table after lengthy “shuttle” diplomacy from outside states such as the U.S. [Ghosn, 2010] analyzes how the contextual factors that bring each side to the table influence what happens at that table.  

While Israel vacated Gaza in 2005, the boundaries of the occupied territories, particularly the West Bank, remain up in the air and an important sticking point in past negotiations. Yet evidence suggests that signing international boundary agreements goes a long way in promoting more peaceful relations. [Owsiak, 2012]

Egypt’s often-fraught relationship with Israel has played a big role in establishing the contours of the Arab-Israeli conflict. [Stein, 2011] explores how Egypt came to accept its neighbor through the Camp David consensus, arguing that interests trump identity in explaining state behavior.

[Tessler, Nachtwey, & Grant, 1999] find that the traditional belief that women are more peace-prone than men does not hold in countries of the Middle East, suggesting that the specific nature of the conflict plays a greater role on women’s attitudes toward its resolution.

Specifically focusing on Palestinians, [Sahliyeh & Deng, 2003*] find evidence to the contrary – that women are indeed more peace-prone. However, they also find that Palestinians’ support of or opposition to the peace process is related to their trust in the robustness and accountability of their own domestic political institutions, as well as in the credibility of Israel’s commitment to peace.

* Ungated ISQ articles available to the general public for a limited time

Discuss this Article
Louis Cooper
Wednesday, August 6, 2014 8:39 AM
Thank you for the work that goes into a post like this.

Re Owsiak (2012) and his finding that signing boundary agreements promotes peace, regardless of regime type: it would be sort of surprising if he'd found anything else, though it's useful to have an intuition confirmed. However, the question of causation, at least to judge from the abstract, remains unclear: is it the fact of the boundary agreement that causes future peaceful relations, or is the key thing the conditions that led to the boundary agreement in the first place? In other words, if states' relations are such that they can agree on their boundaries and sign a formal treaty, then it may be that relative level of 'friendliness', rather than the formal agreement (the treaty or piece of paper itself) that is the cause of future peaceful relations. Perhaps the article deals with this issue; I've only read the abstract.

Separately and more pertinently to the I/P conflict, Owsiak's conclusion may suggest that Israel and the PA should sign a boundary agreement even if they can't agree on 100 percent of the (West Bank) boundary; an agreement delimiting (as the geographers say) or delineating 90 percent, for example, of the boundary, leaving the remaining 10 percent in some kind of disputed or provisional status and/or sending it off to an arbitration panel, might be a good idea if achievable. Unfortunately, it's unlikely to happen, since the dominant assumption seems to be that there's not much point in signing an agreement unless the two sides agree on 100 percent of the outstanding issues.
sunny yadav
Thursday, July 26, 2018 1:55 AM
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sunny yadav
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