Leading up to the UN security council vote on Palestinian statehood on Friday, Impact will be publishing a series of articles on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Here is a short guide to the most important aspects of the conflict.
Where did it start?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict first began in the late 1800’s with Jewish migrants moving to Palestine. Sporadic acts of violence came about due to the tension caused by the new settlements. These were exacerbated when Britain and France took control of the region during WW1 and set up what some Arabs saw as a pro-Zionist administration. The 1929 Palestine Riots, which included the Hebron massacre, resulted in the deaths of 116 Arabs and 133 Jews, as relations deteriorated between the two ethnic groups.
On May 14th 1948 the British Mandate for Palestine ended and, as part of the UN partition, an independent state of Israel was declared. The vote at the UN over this issue was opposed by the entire Arab League, but still gained enough international support to pass. Following this, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan all invaded Israel, sparking the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, often called the War of Independence by Israelis and al-Nakba, meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, by the Palestinians. The War resulted in many Palestinians leaving or being expelled, and massacres on both sides. The war lasted until early 1949 when the countries signed the Armistice agreement, establishing the green line, which laid down the new borders of Israel (who had annexed territory beyond the original UN partition during the war) and those of the surrounding Arab states. The War resulted in many Palestinians leaving or being expelled as well as a multitudes of Jews fleeing Arab countries and arriving in Israel.
1967 Six Day War
After increased hostility from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and a build-up of their troops along the borders, Israel launched what they described as a “pre-emptive”‘ strike, annihilating the opposing air forces that were assembled along Israel’s borders. This led to a crushing victory against the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan within six days. As a result of this war, Israel gained the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from the Egyptians, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.
Intifadas (Palestinian uprising)
The First Intifada lasted from 1987 to 1993. It involved mass demonstration throughout the Palestinian territories and was the first time Palestinians acted together as a nation. It involved riots throughout the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem as a result of ongoing tensions during the Israeli control of the Palestinian people. More than 1,000 Palestinians were killed and IDF’s response was condemned internationally.
The Second Intifada started in 2000 when Ariel Sharon visited the temple mount where the Al-Aqsa mosque lies, a place sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and in a speech claimed “the Temple Mount is in our hands and will remain in our hands. It is the holiest site in Judaism and it is the right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount”. The resulting Palestinian anger over what was seen as a provocation by Sharon sparked mass protests, general strikes, and armed violence, including suicide bombings. The Second Intifada ended in 2005 with 1,074 Israelis dead and 7,520 wounded, most of them civilians, while Palestinians had 5,616 killed and thousands detained.
On 25th June 2006, 19 year old Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas militants close to the Israel-Gaza border. For Israel, his return had been high on the agenda, and he was recently released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners that were being held by Israel.
In late 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a military attack on Gaza in response to Hamas’ rocket campaign against Israel. The conflict lasted three weeks and many in the International Community declared it a disproportionate response.
The current Israeli government is a right-wing coalition headed by the Likud party leader Binjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Many international leaders have found him very difficult to deal with; during his first stint as Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999, Clinton reportedly couldn’t stand him, while Obama has also had many disagreements with Netanyahu. Last week, after a G20 press conference, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Obama accidentally left their microphones on, which led to assembled journalists overhearing Sarkozy brand Netanyahu “a liar”.
The Palestinians formed the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, also known as the PLO, in 1964. This was the first time a national identity was formed. A few years later, Yasser Arafat became the head of the PLO. During his time as leader he was accused of orchestrating many attacks against Israelis, including the Munich bombings, where members of the Israeli Olympics team were kidnapped in Munich and later killed during a botched rescue attempt. Nevertheless, he also participated in peace talks and was partially responsible for the moderation of the PLO in recent years, which become Fatah, the political party. Arafat was later awarded the joint Nobel Peace Prize with Israelis Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, for their work in bringing about the Olso negotiations. Since Arafat’s death, Fatah has been under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas.
In 1988, Hamas was founded out of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ charter calls for the dissolution of the state of Israel and has been described as a modern Mein Kampf, though the party have since claimed to have ideologically moved away from the charter (albeit, it is yet to be amended). Hamas are currently headed by Khalid Mish’al. The group generally takes a more aggressive stance than Fatah, rejecting the idea of a two-state solution as anything but a temporary measure.
Palestinians had their first elections in 2006, following Israeli withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In Gaza, Hamas defeated Fatah, who had moderated since Arafat’s death. The Fatah-Hamas conflict ensued, which continued until a reconciliation agreement earlier this year. This has yet to be ratified and at present could be seen as nothing more than a token gesture by both sides.
Differences between the West Bank and Gaza
The Israeli responses to Gaza and the West Bank have been very different. Since Hamas came to power in Gaza, Israel has put a blockade on Gaza, disallowing the transport of many items. Recently, the blockade was eased on non-military goods, but many say this is not enough. Most experts on international law have declared the blockade illegal.
In the West Bank, the Israelis built the separation wall, which runs along the border of the West Bank with entry and exit through checkpoints. While the Israelis say that successful suicide bombings have dropped dramatically since the building of the wall, Palestinians and human rights organisations believe that it breaches Palestinian human rights and liberties.
Settlements in the West Bank, which were built by Jewish settlers, have become a flashpoint in the conflict recently. Palestinians claim this to be stolen land; many of the settlers represent the most right-wing of Israeli society and inhabit the region to stop Palestinians living on land which they think is their biblical right to own. Settlers complicate the foundation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank as the government would have to forcibly remove them from their villages, something which happened before in 2005 and led to violent clashes between settlers and the Israeli military.
Attempts for Peace
While Israel has made peace with Egypt and Jordan, peace with the Palestinians has not been as easy to achieve. Over the past decade there have many attempts to draw up an agreement by which the Palestinians gain control of the West Bank with land-swaps for the major Israeli settlements. The most recent of these talks was in 2008, which was disrupted by the aforementioned Operation Cast Lead.