How should we think about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict? Please note: how comes before what. Before coming to any substantive conclusions – certainly before taking sides – we must be clear as to how the issue ought to be approached. It would be a mistake to start in normative mode. A moral value judgment must be made: I would certainly not advocate avoiding it. But we must not start with moral value judgments. Assigning blame for atrocities is not a good starting point. In any violent conflict, both sides may – and often do – commit hideous atrocities: wantonly kill and maim unarmed innocent people, destroy their homes, rob them of livelihood. And of course all these atrocities must be condemned.
Since occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel has been the only sovereign state in British Mandate Palestine. Palestinians have been living either as second-class citizens in the Jewish state; or as colonized residents of the West Bank and Gaza with no human or political rights; or as refugees dispersed and stranded in neighboring Arab countries, in often extremely difficult conditions. The chances of Palestinians overcoming exile and exercising their right of return seem as far away as ever. Hardly more promising are the immediate prospects for ending the Israeli occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza in accordance with the international and Arab consensus, in place since at least 1976 and rejected by the United States and Israel.