A Brief History of the Conflict
The Arab-Israeli conflict dates back to the mid-20th century when the Israeli state was being created. On May 14, 1948, only a day after Israel was declared a state, the armies of five Arab nations invaded the newly created country (Palmer 27). The Palestinian region had been colonized by Britain. Toward the end of the colonial period, the United Nations passed the Resolution 181 (Partition Resolution) that would lead to the division of the Palestinian region into Jewish and Arab states. To reduce the possibility of conflict, it was further decided that areas of religious significance would remain under the jurisdiction of the UN. The Arabs in Palestine declined this arrangement, viewing it as being favorable to the Jewish side. This case marked the onset of a conflict that would result in war between Israel and Palestine, assisted by its Arab allies.
The United States attempted to strike a middle ground for the two opposing sides. On one hand, the US supported the Partition Resolution adopted by the UN. On the other hand, the US encouraged negotiations between the Jews and Arabs in the Middle East (Anderson, Seibert, and Wagner 15). The efforts by the US did not bear fruits. Soon, fighting erupted between the two opposing sides. The fighting commenced with attacks being waged by disorganized bands of Arabs affiliated with the Arab Liberation Army. Volunteers from the neighboring Arab countries also joined the onslaught (Palmer 28). The attacks targeted Jewish establishments, including cities and other settlements, as well as the Jewish armed forces. At the time, the Jewish armed forces consisted of the Haganah, an underground militia based in Palestine and two smaller groups, the LEHI and Irgun. The attacks by the Palestinian Arabs aimed to derail the partition efforts, thus preventing the creation of the Israeli state. The Jews for their part hoped to establish control over the territory they had been allotted under Resolution 181.
When Israel announced its independence on 14thMay 1948, the fighting took a more intensified turn with Palestine’s neighbors joining forces against it (Israel). The new wave of attacks was more organized. It targeted Tel Aviv, the capital of the newly created Israel. Israel resisted the attacks waged by Palestine and its allies. Therefore, Israel was fighting against armies from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt (Palmer 43). Saudi Arabia had also volunteered a group that was being commanded by the Egyptian forces. As the conflict intensified, British-affiliated forces from Transjordan successfully intervened in areas that had been declared part of the Arab state by the UN partition resolution. Meanwhile, the Israel forces managed to gain momentum after an intensive battle with the joint Arab forces.
The fighting continued for the rest of the year, despite efforts by the UN to broker a ceasefire. By February 1949, no formal truce had been reached between the warring sides. However, the five neighbors agreed to a truce with Israel in separate agreements. The joint forces had been weakened by the ceasefire agreements. Israel moved in to occupy part of the territory that had been granted to Palestinian Arabs under the Resolution 181 of the UN. Meanwhile, Jordan and Egypt retained control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively. The armistice lines entered into between Israel and its neighbors were upheld until 1967 when the conflict resurged.
The Historical Claims over the Land
It is no doubt that the Israeli-Arab conflict was premised on historic struggles for the land in the region. The Palestine region is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Historically, the land was referred to as ‘Holy’ since it was the birthplace of two major religions, namely, Judaism and Christianity. A third religion, Islam, also revered the region. Additionally, major world’s civilizations sprouted in this region, including the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Roman civilizations. Therefore, to the inhabitants, these historical events resulted in their special attachment to the land. The conflict between Israel and Palestine was inspired by the urge to control this holy land.
Greeks who arrived in the area in the 12th century B.C. coined the name Palestine from the word ‘Philistia’. They settled in the stretch of the land between modern-day Gaza, Jaffa, and Tel Aviv. Before then, Canaanites had lived in the region for over a century, becoming the earliest known inhabitants of Palestine. The Jews later arrived in the land from Egypt. A long-standing war emerged between the Jews and Canaanites. However, the Jews later prevailed and established a prosperous kingdom in the region. When the Israeli kingdom collapsed under the conquest of the Babylonians, the Jews were dispersed across Asia, Europe, and North Africa (Palmer 103). To date, more Jews live outside Israel (the Diaspora). Some of the Jews who had been exiled during the Babylonian conquest opted to return to their Palestinian home after the Persian Empire granted them permission of return.
Jews in the Diaspora conceived the Zionist spirit in the early 1880s. In 1896, Theodore Herzl wrote a pamphlet titled “The Jewish State.” Herzl called for the Jews to return to their holy land in the Middle East (Anderson, Seibert, and Wagner 94). To achieve this goal, Herzl argued that a Jewish state would need to be created. A congress established by Herzl petitioned the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which was in control of the holy land to grant a Jewish state. Even as the sultan rejected this request, many Jews were already immigrating to Palestine without the sultan’s authority. Meanwhile, a group of Jews fleeing prosecution in Russia had established a Zionist colony in Galilee in 1882. By 1900, there were over 4500 Jewish settlements in Palestine. The return of Jews in large numbers marked a revival of the conflict in the region between Jews and non-Jews. Despite having lived in the Diaspora for nearly two millennia, the Jews maintained contact with their homeland. This situation is evidenced by the preservation of their language and traditions.
The Arab attachment to the holy land is a relatively newer phenomenon. It began in the 7th century when Islam was taking shape as a major world religion. As Mohamed and his followers were spreading Islam, they attempted to capture Jerusalem (Palmer 29). Mohamed’s successor, Caliph Omar, captured the city in 638AD from the Byzantines. Omar proceeded to erect a mosque on the site where the Jewish temple had existed. Historians have claimed that the capture of Jerusalem was part of the efforts to diminish the importance of Mecca as the holiest place in Islam. The claim was made because power struggles and assassinations in the areas around Mecca had made it difficult to conduct pilgrimage at this place. Therefore, Jerusalem would offer a suitable alternative for a pilgrimage spot. There was also an urge to compete with the historical importance of the Church of Holy Sepulcher where Jesus had been buried.
The Peace Process
The peace process refers to intermittent efforts to end the protracted conflict between Israel and Palestine. Peace talks began in the late 1960s. The talks have existed parallel to the conflict. Some of the Palestine’s allies, for instance, Egypt-Israel (1979), and Israel-Jordan (1994), entered into peace agreements with Israel. However, the core of the conflict, the Israeli-Palestine dispute, has remained undeterred by these peace talks. This section outlines the major events that have marked the efforts to resolve this conflict.
Resolution 242. The resurgence of war in 1967 called for peace talks. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 242 on 22 November 1967. The resolution has been termed as the guiding principle for the subsequent peace plans in the region. The Resolution 242 called for Israel to withdraw its forces from the regions of the Arab state that it had occupied during the previous conflict. Additionally, the resolution called for states in the region to acknowledge and respect the sovereignty and territorial independence of its neighbors. Resolution 242 was regarded as imprecise. It was prepared under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which provides recommendations rather than orders. Nevertheless, peace resolutions that followed had a bearing on Resolution 242, including the Resolution 338. Resolution 338, which was passed in October 1973, called for the total implementation of Resolution 242.
Camp David Accords, 1978. The period between the end of the 1967 war and the Yom Kippur War (October 1973) was a relatively peaceful moment. After this war, peace reigned again. This time, it seemed that a long-term understanding had been forged between the opposing sides. For instance, in 1977, the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, paid a historic visit to Jerusalem (Palmer 46). The then president of United States, Jimmy Carter, capitalized on this newly found peace to invite Sadat and Menachem Begin (Israeli Prime Minister) for peace talks. After 12 days, two agreements were reached. The first agreement was named the A Framework for Peace in the Middle East. Under this accord, principles of peace were laid down. Additionally, the agreement expanded on Resolution 242 and the “Palestinian Problem.” Under this agreement, a self-governing authority would be established in the Gaza and West Bank regions. The greatest pitfall with the agreement was that Palestinians had not been part of the talks, a situation that culminated in this agreement. This way, the Palestinians were poised to reject the agreement, which they felt was not representative of their views.
The second agreement reached by the Carter-led talks was known as The Camp David Framework for the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel. This accord followed the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Sinai. For the first time, a major Arab nation (Egypt) recognized Israel as a sovereign state. These talks marked the most successful negotiations of the entire Israeli-Arab conflict. The treaty has stood the test of time by helping to strengthen Israel’s position. Nevertheless, the peace between Israel and Egypt has been riddled with challenges. President Sadat was indeed assassinated over his instrumental role in the Carter-led peace talks.
The Madrid Conference, 1991. The conference was co-sponsored by the Soviet Union and the US. It aimed to follow up the Egypt-Israel treaty by urging the remaining Arab countries to sign agreements with Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) did not attend the negotiations. Instead, it opted to send a joint delegation with Jordan. Israel rejected this joint delegation. The only success recorded under the Madrid conference was the Jordan-Israel peace treaty of 1994.
Oslo Agreement. After nearly four decades, a direct agreement was forged between Israel and Palestine, represented by PLO. President Bill Clinton witnessed the talks that occurred secretly under Norwegian auspices. The Oslo agreement provided for a systematic withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza. An interim authority would then be set up to govern the regions for five years before a permanent settlement was established. Again, this agreement was based on Resolutions 242 and 338.
Camp David, 2000. In 2000, President Bill Clinton led talks to address some major issues that had been left behind in the Oslo agreement. They included border issues, Jerusalem, and the status of refugees. During the talks, Israel offered Gaza and the Negev desert. The Palestinians rejected this deal, a situation that led to the failure of Camp David. This case led to a resurgence of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Other initiatives followed suit, including Tabla 2001, Arab Peace Initiative 2002, Roadmap, 2003, and the Geneva Accord, 2007. The most recent peace agreement was held in 2010, presided by the US President Barack Obama (dubbed, Washington, 2010). President Obama persuaded Israel Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to halt the construction of settlements in the West Bank pending negotiations. However, the Palestinians rejected this offer because it did not cover East Jerusalem. The Palestinians wanted the negotiations to adhere to the lines established in 1967. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have met only once since the Washington talks collapsed.
The Prospects of Peace and Conflict
Throughout the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, various issues have remained contentious. One of these issues is the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees. Palestine advocates for its refugees to be allowed to return to the Israeli territory, a proposal that Israel has always rejected. In 2000, the Camp David negotiations collapsed because Israel rejected this proposal by Palestine yet again. Another issue is that Palestine has consistently declined to recognize Israel as a sovereign state. Considerable disagreements have been witnessed regarding the future of Jerusalem. The Palestinian leadership prefers solutions rather than roundtable negotiations with Israel. As seen by Palestinians, this solution would require an outside force to compel Israel to withdraw from West Bank. To this effect, Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues have attempted to obtain statehood recognition by the United Nations without having to enter into negotiations with Israel. Historically, these negotiations have not been favorable to the Palestinians who prefer to give nothing by way of concessions. Furthermore, Palestinians believe that engaging in further negotiations would only lead them to compromise on various issues.
Given these circumstances, the prospects of reaching a lasting peace solution between Israel and Palestine are grim. Arguably, the Palestinians would only warm up to a deal that ensures that West Bank comes permanently under Palestinian rule. On the other hand, Israel would prefer a 10-year provisional agreement. This way, the Palestinians would not need to forgo their demand for their refugees to return to the Israeli territory. Additionally, Palestinians would not be compelled to acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty. However, the Palestinians would be required to cease their incitement against Israel. For a long time, Palestine has been engaged in spreading the violent message against Israel through the media, mosques, and schools. This move is thought to jeopardize any chances of a peace deal being brokered between the two sides. In addition, Palestine would be asked to cease its agitation against Israel on the global arena. In exchange for Palestine’s cooperation, Israel would be required to refrain from constructing more settlements in the West Bank and instead pave the way for a Palestinian self-governance. Importantly, Israel would need to embark on economic empowerment for Palestinians in the West Bank through joint business ventures.
The future of peace settlement between Israel and Palestine lies in a more moderate Palestinian leadership and one that adopts a global perspective. To some extent, the hard-line stance that is characteristic of the Israeli leadership would need to change. The net effect will be a less tensed political climate, thus allowing for open negotiations from both sides. If a Palestinian state arose, its survival would be inherently dependent on Israel because the West Bank and Gaza regions have limited resources and that the Palestinian leadership is already dysfunctional. Poverty and a dysfunctional leadership would only serve to worsen the current situation by increasing the resentment by the Palestinians against Israel. The international community would respond by demanding Israel to address the economic and political situation in Palestine through territorial concessions. This strategy would lead to a new wave of conflicts, this time with Israel being on the defensive side.
Therefore, a permanent solution should come by way of regional cooperation with all moderate Arab states being involved. Important key players in the new solution would be Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. The best way to assuage Palestinians while the same time maintaining the Jewish state intact would be through creating a Jordanian-Palestinian state. This way, the landlocked Palestinian state (West Bank) would have access to the sea through Jordan. The large open lands in Jordan would offer space for the Palestinians to erect new cities. In addition, Palestinian youths would have an opportunity to work for the joint Palestinian-Jordan army, thus doubling up as a solution to unemployment. Similarly, Egypt can intervene by granting the open lands in Sinai to Gaza Palestinians. This move would ease the current crowding in Gaza. Israel would then provide its input by way of investments to facilitate the economic development of the region.
The Context of the Palestinian and Israeli Politics
Palestinians have come to believe in the lack of hope for an end to the conflict with Israel. Decades of violence and poverty have been the norm in the region. Recent developments have seen an increasing number of young Palestinians dedicated to attacks against Israeli civilians. The Israeli government blames this rising violence on propaganda against Israel spread by Palestinian media and learning institutions (Palmer 104). For instance, Palestinian authorities have deliberately misled the Palestinian public that Israel intends to block access to the holy Temple Mount. It is clear to most observers that Palestine is less committed to the peace process compared to Israel. Therefore, any attempts to attain peace in Gaza and West Bank will likely collapse until such a time when Palestinians show more willingness to enter into concessions with Israel. However, the Palestinians are not looking for peace, but rather justice. They view Israel as the oppressor and themselves as the victims. This perception has resulted in the use of violence to express their grievances.
In 2005, following the death of Yasser Arafat, Abbas became the new president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas’ Fatah party backed him to power. The new administration was faced with pressure from the Quartet (the UN, the United States, the UK, and Russia) to renounce the use of violence to achieve its mission. Abbas’ administration was also required to recognize Israel as an independent state. Importantly, the new administration was required to accept all previous negotiations that had been reached between Israel and Palestine (Palmer 103). However, Hamas had won the majority of legislative seats, thereby carrying the power to consider such requirements. Hamas responded by maintaining that it would only honor these requirements if Israel was willing to acknowledge the rights of Palestinian people. In 2007, the US made deliberate efforts to empower Fatah to fight Hamas, resulting in a major battle between the two parties. To date, the governance of Gaza and West Bank is divided between Hamas and Fatah.
Meanwhile, President Abbas appointed Salam Fayyad as the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Fayyad was a US-educated economist who had worked with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He hoped to rely on his economic background to transform Palestine economically. He further hoped that the economic empowerment would lessen the aggressive stance of the Islamic jihadists and Hamas. In 2013, Fayyad resigned a frustrated man after his efforts failed to bear fruit. Meanwhile, Israel was making efforts to manage the Gaza strip. In 2007, with the help of Egypt, Israel tightened its blockade of the region. Throughout 2007 to 2012, Israel maintained an onslaught on the Gaza region, hoping to contain the terrorist situation. However, these attacks by Israel intensified Hama’s popularity in the area.
The Palestinian Authority has sought alternative means to peace, including petitioning the UN to recognize it as a member state. In 2012, during the 67thanniversary of the Resolution 181, Abbas petitioned the UN General Assembly to accord Palestine the same status that is enjoyed by Vatican. This request received overwhelming support with 138 votes being cast for the request. Despite Palestine being accorded this status, the situation on the ground has not changed. Israel has continued to occupy both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, this vote paved the way for Palestine to pursue justice in the International Criminal Court against Israeli officials for crimes committed during this occupation.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be traced to the mid-1940s when Israel was declared a sovereign state under the Partition Resolution. At the time, many Jews who had been exiled during the Babylonian conquest of the Israel kingdom returned, causing tensions with the Arabs who had inhabited the Palestine region since 7th AD. The tension resulted in a war and intermittent conflicts that have subsisted to date. Experts believe that a long-term solution to the conflict will require both sides to adopt a soft stance. Additionally, the neighboring Arab nations, particularly, Egypt and Jordan, would need to come to the aid of Palestine to ensure that a lasting solution is achieved.
Anderson, Roy, Robert Seibert, and Jon Wagner. Politics and Change in the Middle East. Routledge, 2011.
Palmer, Monte. Politics of the Middle East. F.E. Peacock Publishers, 2002.