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Israeli-Palestinian Relations In 21st Century

Israel is the world's only Jewish state, located just east of the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians, the Arab population that hails from the land Israel now controls, refer to the territory as Palestine, and want to establish a state by that name on all or part of the same land.

Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, both want the same land. This is the basis of the conflict.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a main cause of the lack of intra-Mediterranean integration. The signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993 raised hopes for the political and economic development of the region and the spurring of democratization across the Arab world. The expected resolution of the conflict would have had positive effects on the rest of the region as well, in both political and economic terms. Palestine would have become the first truly democratic Arab state. Sixteen years later, with the collapse of the oslo process, those hopes have dissipated and the conflict remains the prime source of instability in the region.

Origin Of The Conflict

The conflict begins from the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire began in the 14th century and colonized all of the middle east. Towards the approachment of the 19th century, the empire had slowly started to disintegrate or weaken. During the 19th century, a wave of nationalism began in the whole of Europe. Jewish were no exception. The same nationalism was seen spreading among the Jews. A movement called Zionist movement took force in Israel. Zionist movement is the movement where Jewish citizens expressed their desire to go back to Israel which they considered as their holy land and where the Jewish religion originated.

The Zionist movement called for the establishment of a nation state for the Jewish people in Palestine, which would serve as a haven for the Jews of the world and in which they would have the right for self-determination. Zionists increasingly came to hold that this state should be in their historic homeland, which they referred to as the Land of Israel.Another reason as to why the Jews wanted to go back to Israel was because of the Jewish persecution that was occurring throughout Europe. This was during the 1890's.

Although this desire of Jews was not very popular or did not gain too much momentum, this changed due to Balfour Declaration of 1917. This is where Britain comes into picture. Britain was the world's largest colonial power. Balfour Declaration is considered as the foundation of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict. The Balfour Declaration was seen by Jewish nationalists as the cornerstone of a future Jewish homeland on both sides of the Jordan River, but increased the concerns of the Arab population in the Palestine region.

Arab-Israel Conflict

In 1917, when the World War I was going on and Ottoman Empire was on the verge of losing, Sir Arthur Balfour who was the British Foreign Minister gave a declaration that the British will provide the Jewish their national home in Palestine. But the British were cunning. On the side, they signed an agreement of the name Sykes-Picot agreement with France and Russia and in this they had decided to keep Palestine with themselves. Publically, they assured that Palestine will be for the Jews but privately they were planning to capture and control Palestine. They also promised Palestine to the Arabs because they were against the Ottoman Empire.

After the end of World War I, a new administration was initiated in Palestine and this administration was called the British Mandate of Palestine. In this Mandate, migrations were in huge number, divide and rule policies were applied. Jews began to purchase lands from Arabs. They evicted the local Palestinian Arabs.This led to the formation of small settlements which were called the Jewish settlements. The Arab population in Palestine opposed the increase of the Jewish population because the new immigrants refused to lease or sell land to Palestinians, or hire them.] During the 1920s relations between the Jewish and Arab populations deteriorated and the hostility between the two groups intensified.

In 1936, due to the result of this mandate, Arabs revolted against the British. To suppress this revolt, the British took help of Jews by forming Jewish militia.But after the suppression of this revolt, the British realized that it would have to bring certain changes to appease the Arabs. And for this, Jewish migrations were restricted. This led to widespread anger among the Jews including the Jewish militia who then started plotting against the British.

Then World War II began. The holocaust killed around 2 million Jews. Because of the recurring conflict between the Arabs and the Palestinians, the matter of Israel was handed over to the UN. This led to equal division of areas between a Jewish state and Palestine Arab state. The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

Half of Jerusalem's population was Muslim and the other half was Jewish. So the UN decided that there will be international control over Jerusalem.As soon as this announcement was made all the neighbouring Arab countries around Israel started attacking Israel.This led to the beginning of the first Arab-Israel war of 1948-49. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Trans Jordan attacked the newly created state. Israel won the war and extended its boundaries. But there was a humanitarian crisis related to refugees that started. Nearly 7 lakh people were migrated or displaced. The control of the Gaza strip went to Egypt and the West Bank was handed over to Jordan.And the remaining areas were handed over to Israel.

A few years later, in 1967, another war called the Six Day War was fought between Egypt,Jordan,Syria and Israel. As a result of this war, Israel captured Golan Heights, Gaza, Sinai Peninsula and West Bank. There was crushing defeat of Arab nations. Israel further tripled its area. But afterwards, these captured territories had been returned back by Israel due to diplomatic reasons. Sinai Peninsula was handed back. Gaza and West Bank are still under the control of Israel even today.

In 1978, Sinai was returned to Egypt and in return Egypt recognised the state of Israel. This was an important milestone for Israel because it was the first time that an Arab state decided to recognize Israel.This was a diplomatic victory for Israel.Slowly, most Arab states started to make peace with Israel. There was no more wars between nations.

Palestine-Israel Conflict

Although there were no more outright wars between Arab nations and Israel, Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) carried on struggle for independent Palestine using both political and terror tactics.

The 1st Intifida (uprising) took place between 1987-93. During this period, protests and boycotts were rampant. Israel had not given complete rights to Palestinian people.There was military control over West Bank. There was large scale violence. Around 100 Jews and 1000 palestinians died. During this uprising, a new organization was established called Hamas which was more nationalistic and extremist which believed that Israel had no right to exist.

In 1993, for the first time there was a peaceful compromise between Israel and Palestine. This was called the Oslo Accords. After secret negotiations in Oslo, the agreement was signed in Washington DC. According to the terms, PLO would give Israel the recognition of State. And on the other hand, Israel would recognize PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Also, as a consequence of this settlement, a Palestinian authority was built for self governance of West Bank and Gaza.

Palestine-Israel conflict in the 21st century

After 5 years, the peace process failed in the year 2000. This led to the beginning of 2nd Intifida (2000-05). The triggering factor of the 2nd intifada was Ehud Barak, who was the president of Israel,along with 1000 security guards went to Temple Mount which was considered as a holy place for both Jews and Muslims. This led to violence. The 2nd Intifida was more violent than the 1st one. Around 1000 Jews and 3200 Palestinians died. There was continuous bombing of buses and terrorist attacks.

After the Intifida

After the Intifida, there were changes in thinking and policies. There was a rightward shift of politics. The government of Israel decided to manage the conflict and not solve it. As a result, there was withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza strip in 2005, because they were aware that no matter what settlement happens in the future, Gaza will not become a part of Israel. After the withdrawal, elections were conducted and Hamas won the election and became more influential in 2006. They captured the whole of Gaza by evicting another party named Fatah in 2007. Hamas started launching rockets into Israel.

After obtaining the new found power the blockading of Gaza started. Blockading means sealing off a place to prevent goods or people from entering or leaving. The condition of Gaza has deteriorated in the last 10 years due to this blockade. Three wars were fought in Gaza in the year 2008, 2012, 2014. These are also called as the Gaza Wars. Thousands have died. Both Hamas and Israel have targeted civilians.

Following the November 2004 death of long-time Fatah party PLO leader Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat, Fatah member Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian National Authority in January 2005. One key allegation which emerged against the Palestinian Authority after Arafat's death was that over the years Arafat and Fatah officials had received billions of dollars in aid from foreign nations and organizations and had never used this money to develop Palestinian society.

It was alleged that the money was used for Arafat's personal expenses. These allegations gradually grew in prominence, which increased Palestinian popular support for the group Hamas, which was often perceived by the Palestinian society as being more efficient and honest, primarily because it had built various institutions and social services.

Hamas also stated clearly that it did not recognize Israel's right to exist and did not accept the Oslo peace process nor any other peace process with Israel. in addition, Hamas has openly stated through the years that it has encouraged and organized acts of terrorism against Israelis over the years.

The strengthening of the Hamas organization amongst the Palestinians, the gradual disintegration of the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah organization, and the Israeli disengagement plan and especially the death of Yasser Arafat led to the policy change of the Hamas movement in early 2005 which started putting greater emphasis to its political characteristics of the organization.

In 2006 Palestinian legislative elections Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council, prompting the United States and many European countries to cut off all funds to the Hamas and the Palestinian Authority insisting that the Hamas must recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous peace pacts. Israel refused to negotiate with Hamas, since Hamas never renounced its beliefs that Israel has no right to exist and that the entire State of Israel is an illegal occupation which must be wiped out.

EU countries and the United States threatened an economic boycott if Hamas will not recognize Israel's existence, not renounce terrorism and shall support the peace agreements signed between the PLO and Israel in the past. Hamas officials have openly stated that the organization does not recognize Israel's right to exist, even though the organization expressed openness to hold a long-term truce. Hamas is considered by Israel and 12 other countries to be a terrorist organization and therefore not entitled to participate in formal peace negotiations.

A fragile six-month truce between Hamas and Israel expired on December 19, 2008. Hamas and Israel could not agree on conditions to extend the truce. Hamas blamed Israel for not lifting the Gaza Strip blockade. Israel accuses Hamas of violating the truce citing the frequent rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli cities.

The Israeli operation began with an intense bombardment of the Gaza Strip, targeting Hamas bases, police training camps, police headquarters and offices.Civilian infrastructure, including mosques, houses, medical facilities and schools, were also attacked. Israel has said many of these buildings were used by combatants, and as storage spaces for weapons and rockets.

Hamas intensified its rocket and mortar attacks against targets in Israel throughout the conflict, hitting previously untargeted cities such as Beersheba and Ashdod. On January 3, 2009, the Israeli ground invasion began. The operation resulted in the deaths of more than 1,300 Palestinians. Since 2009, the Obama administration has repeatedly pressured the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and reignite the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian people.

Issues faced by Israel and Palestine:

  1. The first issue is the status of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is considered as a holy site for Jews, Muslims and Christians. The east part is muslim populated and the western part is Jewish populated. Holy shrines are situated in the centre.

    Israel controls the city and restricts access to holy sites. Jerusalem has not been internationally accepted as the capital of Israel. Although Israel recognizes Jerusalem as its capital,the world considers Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel.
  2. The second major issue is the Palestinian refugees. After the 1948 and 1967 wars, many refugees migrated to Syria, Jordan,Egypt and many other Arab countries house the refugees. The largest refugee camp in Damascus, the capital of Syria, is trapped in the fight between ISIS and the Syrian Government. The already displaced people are further re-displaced.
  3. Israel's security concern over terrorist activities and civilian attacks.
  4. Israel's military occupation of West Gaza is a matter of concern for Palestine. The army controls the whole of West Bank. Blockading of Gaza has totally ruined Gaza. It has become one of the poorest areas in the world.
  5. Israeli settlements in West banks by providing incentives. This is illegal as declared by the UN. But Israel believes that if there is an increment in the population,then it would automatically lead to the creation of a new State.
  6. The West Bank Wall was created by Israel across the entire Palestine borders which has restricted the freedom of movement of the Palestinian people.

Suggestions for resolving the conflict:

  1. A two state solution should be taken into consideration where two counties will be formed, one Israel and the other Palestine. This was what the UN suggested in 1947, but Israel did not heed to it.
  2. Each party has to understand the legitimacy of each other's narrative.
  3. Both parties should reach common grounds by talks.


Books referred:
  1. Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution
  2. The Israelis and Palestinians: Small steps to peace headliners
Websites Referred:

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