Peace cannot be achieved until Jerusalem’s status is decided

Peter Byrne

May 21, 2021

Stretching back decades, there have been discussions between Israel and its Arab neighbours with the aim of bringing peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite these efforts, an end to hostilities has not been realised, as shown most recently by the latest flare up in the conflict.

A major roadblock to achieving a peaceful resolution is the status of Jerusalem and this must be recognised if progress is to be made – which it simply must be.

At the time this is being written, the recent flare up in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has led to hundreds of deaths in the region, and the figure would be much higher were it not for the effectiveness of the Israeli missile defence system protecting its civillians: the Iron Dome.

The rocket attacks and antitank missiles fired from Gaza and Israel’s defensive strategic strikes on terror sites and the damage caused by them should give new impetus to resolving the conflict. So, given the moment we are living in, the need for a strategy to achieve peace – and the recognition of Jerusalem’s significance within that – is particularly poignant.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Territories claim Jerusalem should be their capital. As a country with the right to self-determination within its borders, Israel officially appointed Jerusalem as its capital and there are several Israeli government institutions being on the city’s western side and an increasing number of embassies such as the US, the Czech Republic and most recently Kosovo.

Integral to establishing mutual understanding on both sides and moving towards the de-escalation of the ongoing conflict is the settling of Jerusalem’s status in a way that is accepted by both sides. As in any conflict, emotions are high, which makes progress difficult to make. Despite this, progress must be made for the benefit of the affected people.

There is undeniable tension about how each side views the other. The Israeli government believes, and there is evidence to confirm, that education programs, television programmes and summer camps run by the Palestinian Authority seek to indoctrinate children to fear and loathe Israel, thus breeding a perpetual culture of hate.  This campaign of misinformation by the Palestinians means that peace is always one generation of school children further away.

Settling the status of Jerusalem is contingent on stopping the breeding of hate in the Palestinian system. Without that, there will be little chance of meaningful negotiation.

On the other hand, there has been criticism of Israel over its inability to end its territorial disputes with the Palestinians. One of the key reasons the UAE entered the Abraham accords was to pre-empt annexation in the West Bank.

Both sides distrust the other’s intentions but resolving the question of Jerusalem’s status cannot happen until goodwill and tolerance enter the debate.

In the past, the Palestinian Authority has rejected not only concessions to be made on their part, but to recognise Israel as legitimate. Reconciliation is reliant on both parties bringing truly peaceful intentions to the table as well as a willingness to agree to disagree about some very sensitive issues and achieve a compromise.

If further death is to be avoided, then attitudes need to change. Emotional and societal differences are a significant hurdle, but achieving peace is not impossible.

Tolerant and respectful bilateral dialogue and a willingness to concede on both sides seems to be the best way forward. There is precedent for two conflicting sides settling their differences and ending a longstanding conflict.

Peace was achieved in Northern Ireland when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 ending many years of conflict. Although the historical context and the peoples involved differ in many ways, the commonality emphasised here is the attitude shift despite the hurt that was and will be required for an agreement to be reached.

The ongoing crisis demonstrates that peace and the two-state solution simply cannot be achieved until Jerusalem’s status is decided. The security of the people living in the city and their desire to live without fear of violence must be the priority in the minds of both sides’ leaders. It is the prevention of further death and misery that is being sought here. One thing is certain: perpetual war will not solve the problem, but dialogue and tolerance will.


  • Peter Byrne

    Peter Byrne is a Policy Fellow of The Pinsker Centre, a campus-based think tank which facilitates discussion on global affairs and free speech.

Written by Peter Byrne

Peter Byrne is a Policy Fellow of The Pinsker Centre, a campus-based think tank which facilitates discussion on global affairs and free speech.

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