The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a deeply rooted and multifaceted dispute that traces its origins back to the late nineteenth century. To understand its complexities, we must delve into its historical background and the pivotal events that have shaped this ongoing conflict. With a significant increase in tensions, a major attack on Israel was carried out by the pro-Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas on 7 October 2023, with Hamas claiming that it fired 500 missiles. Today in this article we will make a historical study of the dispute between Israel and Palestine.
The Birth of Israel
In 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181, commonly known as the Partition Plan, with the aim of dividing the British Mandate of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was officially established, setting off the first Arab-Israeli War. This war concluded in 1949 with Israel’s victory, but it left in its wake a significant humanitarian crisis, as around 750,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes. The territory was divided into three parts: the State of Israel itself, the West Bank (bordering the Jordan River), and the Gaza Strip.
Over the ensuing years, tensions escalated in the region, particularly between Israel and its neighboring countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The 1956 Suez Crisis and Israel’s subsequent invasion of the Sinai Peninsula further heightened these tensions. In response, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria signed mutual defense pacts, anticipating potential Israeli military action. In June 1967, after a series of provocations by Egyptian President Abdel Gamal Nasser, Israel launched a preemptive strike, leading to the start of the Six-Day War. This conflict resulted in Israel gaining control of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.
The Yom Kippur War
Six years later, in 1973, the Yom Kippur War (also known as the October War) erupted when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise two-front attack on Israel to regain their lost territories. Although the war did not result in significant territorial changes, it did provide Egypt and Syria with a platform for negotiations over previously ceded land. In 1979, following several cease-fires and peace negotiations, Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords, a landmark peace treaty that marked the end of a thirty-year conflict between the two nations.
The Palestinian Question
While the Camp David Accords improved relations between Israel and its neighbors, the question of Palestinian self-determination and self-governance remained unresolved. In 1987, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip initiated the first intifada, a sustained uprising against Israeli rule. The conflict saw cycles of violence and negotiations.
The Oslo Accords
In 1993, the Oslo I Accords mediated the conflict, establishing a framework for Palestinian self-governance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It also facilitated mutual recognition between the newly formed Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel. Two years later, the Oslo II Accords expanded on the initial agreement, mandating Israel’s withdrawal from six cities and 450 towns in the West Bank.
The Second Intifada
In 2000, a combination of factors, including Palestinian grievances over Israel’s control of the West Bank, a stalled peace process, and a visit by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, led to the outbreak of the second intifada. This violent uprising persisted until 2005, leading to significant casualties and damage on both sides. In response, Israel approved the construction of a barrier wall around the West Bank in 2002, despite opposition from international bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.
Efforts to revive the peace process have been ongoing, with the United States attempting to mediate between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in 2013. However, these efforts faced disruption when Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority, formed a unity government with its rival faction, Hamas, in 2014. Hamas, founded in 1987 as a spin-off of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States since 1997.
Escalation and Ceasefire: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in Recent Years
In recent years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has seen several significant escalations and attempts at resolution, as well as ongoing tensions and violence. Here’s an overview of key events from 2014 to 2021:
2014 Gaza Conflict
In the summer of 2014, clashes in the Palestinian territories escalated into a military confrontation between the Israeli military and Hamas. During this conflict, Hamas fired nearly three thousand rockets at Israel, prompting a major Israeli offensive in Gaza. The conflict ended in late August 2014 with a cease-fire brokered by Egypt. Tragically, the fighting resulted in the loss of 73 Israeli lives and 2,251 Palestinian lives.
2015 Wave of Violence
Following the 2014 conflict, 2015 witnessed a wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that Palestinians would no longer be bound by the territorial divisions established by the Oslo Accords, reflecting growing frustration with the peace process.
2018 Gaza Protests and Escalation
In March and May of 2018, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip held weekly demonstrations at the border with Israel. These protests coincided with the seventieth anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus accompanying Israeli independence. While most of the protesters were peaceful, some clashed with Israeli forces. The United Nations reported that 183 demonstrators were killed and more than 6,000 were wounded by live ammunition during these protests.
In May of the same year, fighting broke out between Hamas and the Israeli military, marking the worst period of violence since 2014. The conflict involved rocket attacks from militants in Gaza into Israel and Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. A cease-fire was eventually reached after a twenty-four-hour flare-up.
U.S. Policy and the Abraham Accords
The Donald J. Trump administration made achieving an Israeli-Palestinian deal a foreign policy priority. In 2018, the administration canceled funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which aids Palestinian refugees, and moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a significant policy shift that was met with mixed reactions.
In January 2020, the Trump administration unveiled its “Peace to Prosperity” plan, which was rejected by Palestinians due to its support for Israeli annexation of settlements in the West Bank and control over an “undivided” Jerusalem.
The Abraham Accords
In August and September 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain agreed to normalize relations with Israel, becoming the third and fourth countries in the region to do so after Egypt and Jordan. These agreements, known as the Abraham Accords, were met with rejection by Palestinian leaders and Hamas.
Sheikh Jarrah Protests
In October 2020, an Israeli court ruled that several Palestinian families living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem would be evicted, with their land handed over to Jewish families. This decision sparked ongoing protests and legal battles over property ownership and the displacement of Palestinians.
Escalation in May 2021
In late April 2021, Palestinians began demonstrating in Jerusalem to protest the pending evictions. Tensions escalated, leading to clashes between Israeli police and demonstrators. On May 7, violence erupted at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, leaving hundreds of Palestinians wounded.
After days of violence in Jerusalem and the use of force by Israeli police, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups launched hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory on May 10. Israel responded with artillery bombardments and airstrikes, resulting in casualties and damage. The conflict lasted for eleven days and ended in a cease-fire brokered by Egypt on May 21, 2021. Tragically, more than 250 Palestinians were killed, nearly 2,000 were wounded, and at least thirteen Israelis lost their lives during this period. The conflict also caused significant damage and displacement.
Current Concerns and Recent Developments in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
There is a growing concern that a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising, could erupt, leading to renewed tensions and potentially large-scale violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United States has a vested interest in safeguarding the security of its long-standing ally, Israel, while also striving to facilitate a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian territories, which would contribute to regional stability.
Recent Political Shift in Israel
In late December 2022, Israel saw the inauguration of its most far-right and religious government in history. Led by Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and his Likud party, this coalition government includes two ultra-Orthodox parties and three far-right parties, notably the Religious Zionism party, an ultranationalist faction with affiliations to the West Bank settler movement. Netanyahu made significant concessions to secure a governing majority, which has drawn criticism. The government’s focus on expanding and developing Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is seen as a significant obstacle to a two-state solution.
Netanyahu appointed individuals with controversial backgrounds to key positions, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, the head of the Jewish Power party, who was convicted of racist incitement against Arabs, as the national security minister. Additionally, Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism faction, was appointed to oversee West Bank settlement policy. The government has also faced criticism for endorsing discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals on religious grounds and limiting judicial oversight of the government.
Escalation of Violence
In 2022, both Israelis and Palestinians experienced the highest number of conflict-related deaths since 2015. Violence has continued to escalate in 2023, particularly in the West Bank, which is on track for its deadliest year since 2005, marked by frequent Israeli incursions. Tensions have led to clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, and the situation worsened after Israel approved the construction of five thousand new settler homes in June 2023. The Israeli military has intensified its operations, including raids on sensitive locations such as the al-Aqsa mosque, operations in Ramallah resulting in injuries, and missile strikes in the Jenin refugee camp.
In May 2023, Israel engaged in a five-day battle with Gazan militants, involving nearly two thousand missile launches by both Hamas and Israeli forces. Subsequently, in July, Israel conducted a large-scale raid on the Jenin refugee camp, deploying almost two thousand troops and conducting drone strikes. This operation resulted in the death of twelve Palestinians and injuries to fifty, while Israel reported the loss of one soldier. Israel claimed that all those killed were militants. Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that this incursion was not a one-time event and that Israel intends to prevent the camp from serving as a safe haven for militant groups. In response, Hamas carried out an attack in Tel Aviv and launched missiles at Israel, further exacerbating tensions.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a deeply complex and volatile issue, with ongoing violence and political developments raising concerns about the prospects for peace and stability in the region.
October 2023: Hamas Launches Major Attack on Israel from Gaza Strip
In a significant escalation of tensions, October 2023 witnessed a major offensive by Hamas on Israel, marking one of the most significant attacks in recent years. The attack took the form of a surprise assault, with Hamas militants crossing the border into Israel and launching a heavy barrage of rockets. Additionally, Islamic Jihad announced that its fighters had joined in the attack.
Israel’s military promptly declared a state of war readiness, indicating a heightened level of preparedness for potential conflict. In response to the attack, Israel carried out airstrikes targeting Hamas positions in Gaza and initiated the mobilization of reservists, a step taken to bolster its defense capabilities.
This development underscores the ongoing volatility and fragility of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, with tensions flaring up and the risk of further violence and conflict remaining a concern for both parties and the international community. The situation continues to evolve, and efforts to de-escalate and find a lasting resolution to the conflict remain paramount.