It is a common misconception that the Israel-Palestine conflict is purely along the religious line or primarily due to the same; if you have similar beliefs, then you couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, religion is a primary reason when it comes to the various conflicts in the Middle East, but the conflict in Israel is much more than that.
As with many other conflicts in the mid-20th century, you can easily put the blame on the post-colonization policies of the Britishers. Divide-and-rule, as they called it, has been the bane of existence for many nation-states in the 21st century.
What exactly is Israel, and Where is it?
Well, Israel is located in the region popularly known as the Middle East, between the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the Northern shore of the Red Sea. It is bordered by several Islamic countries, such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. It has partial recognition in the UN (not recognized by every UN member state). Its capital is Jerusalem (with limited recognition due to the disputed nature of the city), and it is a Jewish State. In its Basic Law, Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state and a nation-state for Jewish people.
Jewish people have had a long demand for a separate nation-state for several centuries. During the rise of nationalism and the Zionism movement in Europe in the late 19th century, Jewish migration started to pick up. The area was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire at the time, which allowed limited migration of Jewish people into the area now known as Israel (& Palestine).
After the defeats of the Ottomans in the First World War (also known as the Great War), the disputed region fell under British control as British Mandate for Palestine. The British (& French), under the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promised the Jewish people a separate state to govern. But it wasn’t the only promise the British made with regard to the Ottoman territory. They had already promised the ruler of Mecca something along the same line if he rose against Ottoman rule and aided the British effort in the war. So naturally, conflict was bound to happen sooner or later.
And conflict did happen. Initially, the British were very open when it came to Jewish immigration. One thing to keep in mind is that Jewish immigration was already up in the late 19th century, and the British didn’t really do anything to curtail it. But in the late 1930s, there comes a rapid shift in British policy in regard to the British Mandate to Palestine. Unchecked Jewish Immigration had gone on for too long, and with a high density of Jewish communities in Palestine came a demand for a Jewish state. Naturally, the British were opposed to it and soon followed limitations on Jewish immigration, resulting in the formation of Jewish militias to combat both British as well as Palestinian Arabs. The conflict between the local Arabs and the Jewish community had been going on for quite a while, but it soon turned extremely violent, and with the holocaust in Europe, the demand for a separate Jewish state, a safe haven for all Jews across the globe, reached a peaking point.
Post World War II – Formation of Israel & Palestine & War
After the Second World War, the UK, which till then had governed the disputed area as the British Mandate for Palestine, turned the Palestine problem to the newly established United Nations for resolution. On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted the Plan as Resolution 181 (II). The resolution recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem. The partition plan, a four-page document, outlined the dissolution of the British Mandate, the delineation of boundaries of the newly formed states and the city of Jerusalem, and the withdrawal of British forces from the disputed territories. The withdrawal has to be done by August 1, 1948, and the formation of two new states by no later than October 1, 1948. The resolution was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine but was rejected by the Arab Nations and leaders in the region. A civil war broke out between the communities after the adoption of Resolution 181 (II) by the UN General Assembly.
Israel already declared its independence on May 14, 1948, and the next day war broke out between Israel and the military coalitions of the Arab States Arab League, consisting of Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and foreign volunteers. The war resulted in Israeli victory and control of over 60% of the designated Arab state in a UN resolution; the remaining region was annexed by Transjordan. A large exodus of Arabs living in Israeli-occupied territories happened.
Years after the formation of Israel – Immigration & Continued Conflict with Neighbors
The 1950s resulted in an increase in the immigration of Jews to Israel, resulting in the formation of PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in 1964 with the purpose of “liberation of Palestine” through armed struggle. PLO considers itself the “sole legitimate representative of Palestinian people” and is recognized by over 100 states. PLO has enjoyed observer status in the UN since 1974 and was considered a terrorist organization by US and Israel until the 1991 Madrid conference.
Tensions became increasingly heightened, months prior to June 1967, between Israel and its neighbor resulting in border skirmishes. Closure of the straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping vessels by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, breaking its 1956 agreement with Israel, resulting in the breakout of hostilities between Israel and the Arab Coalition(see following image). The Six-Day War, also known as June War, resulted in overwhelming Israeli victory and capture of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank of the Jordan River (including East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights by Israeli forces.
After the Six-Day War, many of the neighbors signed Peace treaties with Israel, and the conflict moved from an Arab-Israel to an Israel-Palestine one. The 1970s saw major terror campaigns orchestrated by PLO and other terrorist organizations in the disputed territories, primarily due to the establishment and heavy migration in the occupied territories by settlers, making it clear to the world that Israel has no intention of giving the territories back.
First & Second Intifada and the signing of Oslo Accords
The First Intifada began in 1987 and was a series of sustained Palestinian protests, which resulted in violence, in many cases against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank & Gaza Strip., resulting in huge casualties on both sides. The intifada lasted from December 1987 until the Madrid Conference in 1991, though some date its conclusion to 1993, with the signing of the Oslo Accords. The signing of the Oslo Accords resulted in the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by an Israeli ultranationalist opposed to the peace accords.
After the failure of the 2000 Camp David Summit and the subsequent breakdown in the peace process, the Second Intifada was called on by the Palestinian National Assembly and various militant groups resulting in a greater no of casualties, both civilians and security personnel.
There have been several peace plans proposed, including the current one by US President Donald Trump, but a comprehensive diplomatic solution has evaded international efforts and, in general, left the international community disillusioned about the prospect of peace in the disputed region. Violence has ebbed and flowed in the past 70 years, and with PLO suspending the recognition of Israel in 2018, any chance of peace right now seems few and far between.
A timeline of Israel-Palestine Conflict
Israel’s PM has announced plans to annex Jordan Valley and the northern part of the Dead Sea. These areas are part of the Palestinian Territories, according to the UN 1947 proposal. Read more about it here.
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