What is the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

- - Current Affairs

IN A NUTSHELL

It is a tussle between the Arabs and the Jews as to whom the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea belongs to. UN divided the land 50–50 between the Arabs (called Palestine) and Jews (called Israel) but Israel by force has captured much of Palestine, driving many Palestinians as refugees to the neighboring countries.

COMPREHENSIVE

Before going into the details of the issue we need to look at the geography of the region. Israel and Palestine together form the region called the Holy Land. This is divided into geographical parts like the

Golan Heights
West Banks
Jordan River
Cis Jordan and Trans Jordan
Dead Sea
Gaza
Negev Desert

Also look at the neighbors of Israel:

The issue is of the region of Israel and Palestine which was earlier called the Holy Land. As of today Israel + Palestine = Holy Land. The same land has some other names too, like:

Israel
Canaan
Al Sham
Levant
Palestine
The Promised Land
This region is called the Holy Land because it one of the most sacred places for Muslims, Jews and Christians- all the Abrahamic religions and this is the bone of contention.

First we must acquaint ourselves with some nomenclatures.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ISRAEL AND PALESTINE

  1. Palestine is the region next of West Banks and the Gaza strip. Israel is the rest of the part of the Holy Land i.e., Golan Heights, Negev desert and the shores of the Mediterranean sea. In other words, the Holy Land without the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
  2. Palestine has 93% Muslims and 6% Christians and almost negligible size of Jews. Israel has 74.8% Jews 17.6% Muslims(20.8% Arabs). For the sake of simplicity we treat Muslims as the same as Arabs here.
  3. The official capital of Palestine is East Jerusalem, but the de-facto capitals are Ramallah and Gaza City, which is the largest Palestinian city (as of 2018 there are two separate Palestinian governments) since EJ it is currently under Israeli control. Capital of Israel is Jerusalem but not internationally recognized. Internationally recognized capital is Tel Aviv. All the embassies, with the exception of that of the United States and a few other countries, are in Tel Aviv.

       

The green coloured area is Israel and the orange coloured area is Palestine.

For now, we assume the following:

  • Jews ~ Israelis
  • Arabs ~ Muslims ~ Palestinians.

ORIGIN OF THE CONFLICT

The Ottoman Empire (Turkish Empire) which was started around the 13th century and captured almost the entire of the North Africa, South Eastern Europe and the Middle East but started disintegrating at the end of 19th century.

The Holy Land was situated in Ottoman Empire at the confluence of Europe, Africa and Asia. Hence over the past many years it as witnessed many travelers among these regions.

In the 19th century, there was a spring of Nationalism in Europe. There was an urge to make nationalistic identities. Nations like Italy, Germany emerged which were, earlier, divided into many petty states. There was a unification on nationalism- Italians, Germans, etc.

Similar nationalism emerged in Jews. Theodor Herzl wrote much about the Jewish nationalism. He supported Zionism/Zionist movement. Zionist movement is the name of the movement in which the Jewish wanted to return to the Holy Land-

The land where their religion originated and where there was a Jewish kingdom around 3000 years ago.

One more reason for this migration was the persecution of the Jews in different parts of the Europe. Not only in Germany but also in France, Russia, Italy, Poland and especially in the East European countries were they persecuted, their religion was banned at different times.

But this migration was not on a large scale when it started but it increased in leaps and bounds by the WW1.

  1. The main reason for this was the BALFOUR DECLARATION by the British in 1917. This is deemed to be the root of the entire conflict.

Just see the shrewd game of the British ( Same as the Divide & Rule implemented in India by the British and diving India and Pakistan on religion basis) . They entered into three agreement on the same piece of land with three different parties and three different contradictory promises. Obviously, they could not fulfil all, yet they promised.

Who was behind the Balfour Declaration?

Arthur Balfour

Birth: Scotland, 1848

Death: England, 1930

Arthur Balfour, who first served as prime minister of the United Kingdom, and more importantly, later as foreign secretary during the government of David Lloyd George, is the author of the declaration.

Lionel Walter Rothschild 

Birth: England, 1868

Death: England, 1937

A descendant of the powerful Jewish Rothschild banking family, Walter Rothschild was a Zionist and a close friend of Chaim Weizmann. Though he retired from parliament by 1910, he remained active as a figurehead of the British Jewish community and served as the president of the English Zionist Federation. He was the recipient of the Balfour Declaration.

Chaim Weizmann

Birth: Russian Empire (Now Belarus), 1874

Death: Israel, 1952

Chaim Weizmann, who later became the first president of Israel, was a Russian Zionist and chemist who was arguably the most influential figure in procuring the Balfour Declaration.

While Theodore Herzl was referred to as the “father of political Zionism”, Weizmann was viewed as the one who put the plan into action.

After receiving a doctorate in chemistry in Switzerland, he went to England and took up work as a scientist with the British government during the first world war (WWI).

His contributions, mainly developing a process to produce synthetic acetone for explosives, made him well connected to the upper echelons of the British government, including former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, then foreign secretary Arthur Balfour and diplomat Mark Sykes.

In his autobiography, Lloyd George reportedly wrote that the Balfour Declaration was offered to Weizmann, who became a British citizen, as a reward for his contribution to the war effort.

At Balfour’s request, Weizmann and Lord Rothschild drafted the Declaration in a manner that would suit Zionist interests.

Weizmann lobbied hard for more than two years to publicly commit Britain to building a state for the Jews in Palestine. He argued that a Jewish state was in the interest of England.

In a 1914 letter to the Manchester Guardian, now known as The Guardian newspaper, Weizmann wrote:

“Should Palestine fall within the British sphere of influence, and should Britain encourage a Jewish settlement there, as a British dependency, we could have in 20 to 30 years a million Jews out there – perhaps more; they would develop the country, bring back civilization to it and form a very effective guard for the Suez Canal.”

The colonial undertones in his views are evident. In his first visit to Palestine in 1907, he is quoted as describing the country as follows: “a dolorous country it was on the whole, one of the most neglected corners of the miserably neglected Turkish Empire … Neither the colonies nor the city settlements in any way resembled, as far as vigor, tone and progressive spirit are concerned, the colonies and settlements of our day.”

Weizmann is also credited with the famous quote in 1919 in which he said: “By a Jewish National Home I mean the creation of such conditions that as the country is developed we can pour in a considerable number of immigrants, and finally establish such a society in Palestine that Palestine shall be as Jewish as England is English, or America American.”

When the WW1 was on and the Ottoman Empire was on the verge of defeat, the Foreign minister of England, Sir Arthur, gave a declaration that they(British) would give Jewish people the land in the Holy Land for their settlement and establishment if they fight in their favor. They did so to lure the Jewish to fight against the Arabs of the Ottoman Empire and drive the last nail in their coffin.

At the same time, the British entered into a secret agreement with France and Russia. The SYKES-PICOT agreement . They had divided the entire Middle east among the three countries as to which country would belong to which country after the War was over. UK had kept the Holy Land for itself, along with Trans Jordan which together were called the British mandate of Palestine. The British also held Mesopotamia now called Iraq. Syria & Lebanon for France and Turkey for Russia. Therefore, on one agreement they kept the Holy Land for themselves and in another they promised to give it the Jews.

UK also entered into a third agreement with the Arabs to revolt against the Ottoman(Turkish) Empire. So they pitted Arabs against Turks. In reward, Arabs were promised the Holy Land.

AFTER WW1

After the WW1, a new government is formed in the Holy Land called the British Mandate of Palestine. This led to a huge migrations as they had promised a separate land for the Jews in Balfour Declaration. Jews population rose to 30% which earlier during the Ottoman Rule was only 3%. But now the British followed the Divide and Rule policy and made different laws for Jews, Muslims and Christians. Jews started buying lands in the Holy land and evicting the Arabs(Muslims) from their land. They initially bought land in bits and pieces and later evicted the Arabs from the lands which were in between theirs. These formed the Jews settlements.

Owing to this Sykes-Picot agreement, the Arabs revolted against the British in 1936. To suppress this revolt the British took help of the Jewish Militias. Militia is a form armed group which is not trained for military operations and generally not the official manifestation of the legitimate violence by state. They are formed by local, unskilled people. British aided the formation of this militia. Also to pacify the Arabs, they put restriction on the migration of Jews. Like, this year more than 10,000 Jews cannot enter the Holy Land. This restricted back-fired and and the Jewish militia turned against the British and made Guerrilla attacks on their army personnel. These were but sporadic.

Soon, the WW2 started in 1939. So did the HOLOCAUST in Europe. This was the Jewish genocide in Germany by Hitler. Around 6 million Jews were killed as well as 5 million others. Then, there was a sense among the Jews living in Europe that the Hobson’s choice is to flee to the Holy Land or the Palestine as it is the only land where we would be safe. Thus the Zionist movement got fanned.

CREATION OF ISRAEL

The issue of the Holy Land had become very complex and the British withdraw from it and handed over the issue to the newly formed UN. Whether to make a separate country for Jews or not?

The vote went in favor of Israel- the new country for the Jews.

The entire Holy Land was divided into a Palestine State (for Arabs) and the Jewish State of Israel (for the Jews). The division of the land was 50-50. 50% land went to Israel and 50% to Palestine. Palestine got the West Banks and the Gaza strip. The rest of the land went to Israel.

The problem was with Jerusalem. Half of the population here was Jewish and the other half Muslims. So this went to the international control under the UN. Just like Chandigarh which is the capital of Punjab and but the control is the Central Government(UT). No sooner was the announcement made than the Israel’s neighboring countries attacked Israel.

ARAB-ISRAEL WAR 1948–49

Egypt, Syria, Trans-Jordan and Iraq(All Arab countries) attacked the newly formed Israel(Jewish country) but Israel was not only able to save itself but also turned the table and extended its boundaries and captured more land than it was guaranteed in 1947. But this created a humanitarianism crisis. All the Arabs from Israel migrated to the Arab countries as refugees. Around 7 lakh people were displaced.

Egypt had intruded up to the Negev region. The Israeli forces drove them out to the Gaza strip where a truce between the two armies was signed and the control over the Gaza strip went to Egypt and similarly the West Bank went to Jordan. The country Palestine which was formed by the UN no longer existed or was too inconsequential for existence.

For some years the stalemate continued but again there was a war in 1967.

SIX DAY WAR 1967

This war is so called because it lasted for six days. The relationship between Egypt, Jordan and Syria with the Israel was never good. They were constantly at loggerheads. These countries deployed their armies on Israel’s border but Israel preemptively struck them. Israel captured the Golan heights, Gaza, West Banks and the Sinai Peninsula. This was a crushing defeat of the Arab nations and Israel tripled its area.

1973 YOM KIPPUR WAR

Egypt and Syria again attacked Israel to regain their territory of Sinai peninsula and Golan Hills respectively. Yom Kippur is the most significant festival of the Jews as Diwali is for Hindus, Eid for Muslims and Christmas for Christians. Initially, Israel faced some losses but was able to repulse the attack. This war led to the talks with Egypt.

CAMP DAVID ACCORDS 1978

According to this accord ,Sinai peninsula was returned to Egypt and Egypt recognized Israel as a country. This was of great significance as Egypt was the first country in the Arab world to recognize Israel as a country. This was a very controversial issue but slowly all the Arab countries buried the hatchet with Israel and made peace. The Arabs had lost the wars three times till now. So there were no more straight wars between the Arab countries and Israel but now began the Palestine-Israel war.

PALESTINE-ISRAEL WAR

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO formed in 1964) continued the struggle for independent Palestine using both political and terror tactics. PLO conducted many plane hijackings as well in 1960s and 70s.

1st INTIFADA 1987-93

“Intifada ” in the Arabic language means ‘uprising’. Against the Camp David Accords, 1978, they started boycotts and protests which slowly turned violent on a very large scale. Initially, there were only small protest demonstrations. Around 100 Jews and 1000 Palestinians died. Another organization like PLO came up- the HAMAS . It was more nationalistic and extremist in nature. The basic difference between PLO and HAMAS is that PLO recognized Israel but just wanted a separate country “Palestine” to be carved for them as mandated by the UN whereas HAMAS was not ready to accept the very existence of Israel. For them the Holy land was theirs and was only Palestine. Therefore, they are not on the same board and at perpetual disagreement with each other.

OSLO ACCORDS 1993

For the first time, there was a huge peace agreement between the two main conflicting parties: Israel and PLO. After secret negotiations in Oslo, there was an agreement signed at Washington DC in the presence of Bill Clinton. The agreement was that PLO recognized Israel as a country. In turn, Israel recognized PLO as the representatives of the Palestinian people. Earlier, PLO was declared a terrorist organization and and banned. But this was temporary and only for 5 years. After 5 years, there was supposed to be a final agreement between the two parties. Also Palestine was given “Palestine authority” to govern Gaza and the West Banks under the Israeli umbrella.

CAMP DAVID -II 2000

The peace talks which were supposed to be held after 5 years were held in 2000 but to vain. It failed. Peace process broke down.

2nd INTIFADA 2000-05

Hardly had the talks failed in the Camp David-II, the second Intifada started. The main reason was that the Israeli Prime minister Ariel Sharon had entered the Temple Mount with his thousands security guards which is a sacred place for the Jews as well as the Muslims. The Arabs got irked. This second Intifada[12] was more violent than the first one. More than 1000 Jews and 3200 Palestinians were killed. Bombings of buses, terrorist attacked were the order of the day.

AFTER THE INTIFADA

There was a change in the attitude of the Israeli Government with respect to the Palestine issue. Earlier, they wanted to “solve” the issue but now realizing that the issue was too complex to solve, they wanted to “manage” it. There was a huge policy shift and a a rightward shift in the parties. Israel withdrew its troops from the Gaza strip in 2005 accepting that whatsoever the agreement would be Gaza would not become part of Israel. The HAMAS successfully contested the elections of Gaza, 2006 and became more influential in the Gaza. The part affiliated to PLO- Fatah, lost it miserably. HAMAS drove away Fatah from Gaza. The complication hence increased. Now Israel has to talk to two parties- Hamas and Fatah.

HAMAS started firing rockets at Israel. In turn, Israel started blockading of Gaza.

Israel has made check points in Gaza which not only limit the supply of ammunition but also items like food, help from UN, etc. This exacerbates the humanitarianism crisis in Gaza. Unemployment in Gaza has reached 40%. People don’t have provision for safe drinking water, electricity.

Due to this hostility, there have been THREE WARS between Gaza and Israel- 2008, 2012, 2014. All these wars have been fought in Gaza playing havoc with the public infrastructure. Gaza has made many tunnels across the border with Israel thorough which terrorists of HAMAS enter Israel cause bombings and return to Gaza. Many civilians in both the lands have died due to this warfare violating the Geneva convention.

On December 6, 2017 President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

epaselect epa06371975 US President Donald J. Trump signs his proclamation about his controversial decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his plan to relocate the US embassy to that city, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA 06 December 2017. The move breaks with years of American foreign policy and could lead to unrest in the Middle East. EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO

He stated that the American embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In his statement Donald Trump did not mention East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, but he did say that United States recognition did not resolve the dispute over Jerusalem’s borders. President Trump explicitly stated his support for maintaining the status quo of the holy sites within the Old City. Following the announcement, Trump signed the waiver, delaying the move by at least another six months.

Following Trump’s announcement, American embassies in Turkey, Jordan, Germany and Britain issued security alerts for Americans traveling or living in those countries. The United States also issues a general warning for Americans abroad about the possibility of violent protests. The American consulate in Jerusalem has restricted travel of government employees to Jerusalem’s Old City. The US Embassy in Jordan banned employees from leaving the capital and children of embassy employees were told to stay home from school.

Israeli and Palestinian responses

Israel

Jerusalem on May 7, 2018
On December 6, shortly after Trump’s statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the announcement was a “historic landmark” and praised the decision as “courageous and just”. During his remarks Netanyahu said there is “no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel”, adding that Jerusalem has “been the capital of Israel for nearly 70 years”. He later said that he has heard condemnation about the announcement but has “not heard any condemnation for the rocket firing against Israel that has come and the awful incitement against us”.

Palestinian Authority and Hamas

Palestinian officials said the announcement disqualifies the United States from peace talks. Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah said the policy change “destroys the peace process”. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech where he said the decision meant the United States was “abdicating its role as a peace mediator”. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki similarly said the United States could no longer act as a mediator in the peace process because it had become a party to the dispute. Adnan al-Husayni asked the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

MAJOR ISSUES HINDERING PEACE AGREEMENTS

1. Status of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is the holiest place for the Jews, third holiest for the Muslims and also for Christians as Jesus was crucified here. Eastern part is Muslim populated and the Western part is Jew populated. In between the 2 sections are situated the holy shrines. Israel controls the cities and the holy shrines. Sometimes, it puts certain bans like restricting men of the age of 18-50 from entering the sites fearing any terrorist or violent activities. But Jerusalem is still not accepted as the capital of Israel internationally.

2. Palestinian Refugees

The 1948 and 1967 wars made many Palestinian refugees. Syria, Jordan, Egypt and many other countries still house more than 5 million or 50 lakh refugees. The bone of contention is that these refugees feel that in any agreement these refugees must be given the right to return to the Israel but Israel blatantly refuses to do so. Israel feels that if these 50 lakh people return to Israel then it will be a great threat to Jewish nation. With 8 million Jews in Israel, if 5 million Arabs come back then their dominance will significantly be reduced.

3. Security concerns

Israel wants Gaza or the Hamas to first stop terrorist or civilian attacks. Hamas, on the other hands, wants first the blockading of Gaza to be removed and military operations in the West Bank to stopped.

4. Settlements in the West Banks

Israel had said in early 1950s that Jews must go and settle in the territory of the West Bank and they would provide them the security. Israel had made land quite cheap for the Jews to settle in this territory of the Palestinians. And this is illegal as per the UN’s order. UN had given West Banks to Palestine and not to Israel. This encroachment was similar to the one done in early 1920s-30s after WW1 by the Jews for the Jewish settlements. Israel feels that if there are more number of people of Jews in West Bank, it would automatically get incorporated in Israel.

5. Water resources

The entire region is a desert. Even Palestine’s share of water is being taken by Israel. Water distribution is also a major issue.

6. THE WEST BANK WALL

Israel is building a wall along the boundaries of the West Bank territory of Palestine to enclose it. The walls are around 15-20 feet tall. There are some gaps in the wall for transportation but they are very few. This has limited the West Bank territory to the mercy of Israel. Reason that Israel gives for this is that they want to curb terrorist activities.

Israel-Palestine Conflict- Latest Updates:

Gaza targeted military tunnels to which Israel responded and pummeled it with air strikes, army clashes and artillery fire. 13 Palestinians were said to be killed. The operation of Israel included 160 air-crafts.

Recently Israel’s Defense Minister gave his approval for mobilization of 9,000 more reservist troops as fighting is not ceasing with Hamas. Also Israel’s military spokesman has said that forces are massing on the border with the Gaza Strip.

The sad part is the number of people who have lost their lives in this tussle. As per Gaza’s Health Ministry, 83 Palestinians, including 17 children along with 7 women have been killed. In addition to this more than 480 have been wounded in the violence between Israel and Hamas. Here is a tweet reshared by the Foreign Ministry of Israel related to the attacks.

Major reason of violence:
The current violence, like in past happened due to conflicting claims over Jerusalem home to major holy sites of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION

TWO STATE SOLUTION: Israel must accept that there exists two states. Palestine and Israel. Each party has to understand the legitimacy of the other’s narrative.

The British government remains unrepentant after all these years. It has yet to take any measure of moral responsibility, however symbolic, for what it has done to the Palestinians. Ironically, members of the British parliament have declared that the use of the term “Zionist” is both anti-Semitic and abusive. But the truth is, not only was Rothschild a Zionist, Balfour was, too. Zionism, then, before it deservedly became a swear word, was a political notion that Europeans prided themselves to be associated with.

In fact, just before he became Prime Minister, David Cameron declared, before the Conservative Friends of Israel meeting, that he, too, was a Zionist. His successor, Theresa May, even celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, ‘with pride’.

To some extent, being a Zionist remains a rite of passage for some Western leaders. One hundred years later, the British government is yet to possess the moral courage to take responsibility for what their government has done to the Palestinian people.

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