Disclaimer: This is by no means a detailed account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is intended merely as a descriptive overview. For a discussion on the events and facts mentioned in the below overview, please reach out to the Middle East Crisis Regional Advisor.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about a history that belongs to many people that now identify as being different, though they share the same homeland. The differences in identity, through ethnic tensions, nationalism, religion & colonialism became more and more seemingly irreconcilable as time progressed.
Nevertheless, the international community has for decade after decade attempted to reach a diplomatic settlement. The international community has long advocated for a two-state solution, under the internationally agreed-upon 1967 borders, with West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. However, a settlement has consistently been evaded even the most senior of statesmen and women from both sides of the conflict, as well as seasoned international diplomats.
With living conditions continuing to deteriorate in Palestinian areas such as Gaza, and quality of life remaining static in the West Bank, Israeli settlements continued to encroach on to the 1967 borders of the would-be Palestinian state that had been the international agreed upon consensus of the two-state solution, the violence continued to flare on all fronts.
Almost yearly, if not more often, rockets continue to fly back and forth from the Gaza Strip into Israel and vice versa, with both sides blaming each other for the initiation of the violence and claiming “self-defense”. In the meantime, the prospects of a two-state solution seems as far away as ever. The palestinian leadership is fractured, the Israeli state is dis-interested in reaching a compromise, and it’s main enabler, the United States, is also dis-interested in mediating the conflict, instead supporting Israel under all circumstances. The international community is unable to reach a consensus, and even the Arab League is split due to the GCC Crisis (Insert hyperlink to Qatar blockade article).
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though having underwent over a century’s worth of a history of animosity, negotiations and violence, is as far away from a two-state solution as there has ever been.
Israel – Palestine
Israel: 8.7 million
Palestine: 4.9 million
5.3 million between the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Israel, Palestine Liberation Organisation, Hamas, Fatah, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan
Declared independence in 1948 after the Palestinian leadership rejected the partition plan proposed by the UN at the time, as it was seen as a surrender of their land at the time. As the world’s only Jewish-majority state, it has repeatedly fought violent wars against its Arab neighbours.
Israel has been involved in negotiations for a future two-state solution with the Palestinian leadership, though has not expressed any willingness of provide an immediate reprieve to its occupation of Palestine.
Has no diplomatic relations with Israel and has both declared war on Israel and provided assistance to Israel’s combatants in many of the subsequent wars.
Iran has had varying relations with Israel, depending on the governments in Iran and were relatively friendly before the Islamic Revolution. Since then, both countries have funded organizations that hostile to the other.
Has been invaded by Israel and had also declared war on Israel several times. Hezbollah, the Lebanese political and militant group, has sworn to liberate Palestine, with support from Iran.
Has been a combatant of Israel but the Hashemite dynasty have also maintained communication with Israel even before peace treaties were signed, as they were in 1995-6.
Similar to Jordan, has fought Israel but now has become a long standing ally and important strategic partner of Israel in the region, since signing a peace treaty in 1979.
Donates millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority. Has played a prominent role in the Arab League’s alternative to the traditional US mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In recent times, antipathy towards the Iranians has brought Israel and the Saudi governments closer together.
Led the armed struggle against Israel for the Palestinian cause until secretly signing the Oslo Accords in 1993 with Israel. The movement has also engaged in intra-Palestinian tensions with the Palestinian Authority (PA).
An internationally recognized terrorist organization which wants to end the blockade on Gaza and the occupation of Palestine. Was democratically elected in Gaza in January 2006, but there have been no elections since.
The largest faction of the PLO and although it lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2005, it retained control of the West Bank.
A political party and armed militant group in Lebanon who have engaged in a guerrilla war and conflict with Israel.
A Zionist terrorist organisation who agitated for the British to leave.
Regularly announces resolutions to try and ease tensions but these are non-binding so far have little impact.
The Arab League was formed in 1945. The main aim of the Arab league was to unify Arab nations to have a stronger global political and economic influence. The league had strongly opposed the deceleration of Israel as a Jewish state in the middle east. In 1948, the Arab league jointly attacked the state of Israel. For many years the Arab league had failed to draft a resolution to protect Palestinian civilians and to obtain peace regarding the conflict.
The OIC was formed in 1969 and consists of 57 Muslim states. The main aim of the organization regarding the conflict is to guarantee Palestine full membership in the United Nations. Additionally, the OIC believes in a two-state solution in order to obtain peace regarding the conflict.
The USA is the strongest supporter of Israel in the conflict. Historically, the US saw Israel as a key player in resisting the Soviet Union influence in the Middle East. The US supported Israel in its war against Arab countries (dates). The US-Israel relations became even stronger due to strong economic ties and the Israeli efforts in the US war against terror. Through using its right to VETO, the US acts as a shield for the Israeli side when questioned about any humanitarian violations or war crimes. Indeed, the US had used its right to VETO 42 times to protect Israel from any accusations by any UN member state.
Recently, US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This decision had been rejected by the international community, as it was seen as a step backwards stalling any progress towards a two-state solution.
The EU had been a strong supporter of the two-state solution. The EU position can be reflected through the 1980 Venice Declaration, that gave the right of existence to all states including Israel, and the 1999 Berlin Declaration that ensured the EU member states commitment for declaring Palestine as a sovereign state.
In the early 1900s, the region of the eastern Mediterranean, which is the centre of the conflict today, was under the control of the Ottoman empire. The people that inhabited this region were all Muslims, Christians and Jewish – the three abrahamaic religions that originated from this region.
With the rise of nationalism in the decades prior to the First World War, the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the region started developing a sense of national identity, as Arab Palestinians. At the same time, Jews in Palestine and across European countries started joining the Zionism nationalist movement, believing that Judaism is not only an ethnic religion but is also a national identity that deserves to have its own sovereign nation. Subsequently, people of jewish faith from all over the world began immigrating to Palestine.
After the end of the First World War, the British Empire took control over Palestine, calling it the British Mandate and allowing more Jewish immigration. The numbers of people of Jewish faith in Palestine had significantly increased by that point, which escalated the underlying tensions between Arab Palestinians, and the jews in the region, which neither identified as Arab, nor Palestinian. At that point, the British empire had promised the ethnic palestinians that they would get an independent state at the expiration of the Biritsh Mandate over Palestine. At the same time, the Brish Empire had also promised the same thing to the World Zionist Organization – promising to create a national jewish homeland in Palestine, in what is famously known as the Balfour Declaration. In effect, the British Mandate had played the ethnic and religious tensions of both groups against one another, promising each an independent state over the same land, which was an impossible promise to make. The anger and betrayal felt by both sides at the time only further instigated the underlying land-tensions between both groups. This led to very frequent, violent skirmishes by the groups, both of which were not significantly armed at the time.
The ideology of the Nazi regime in Germany had seized all state institutions, leading to the jewish population under the control of Nazi Germany to be subjected to the Holocaust. The number of Jews fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust led to an even higher number of jews settling in what was then either referred too as Palestine by the indigenous muslim and christian inhabitants, or the British Mandate of Palestine for the international community, which continued to amplify the land tensions between the two sides, causing sectarian violence to ensue.
The UN proposed a two-state solution to stop the violence. However, the Arab states, supportive of a full independent Palestinian state, saw the UN proposal as an act of settler-colonialism and declared war on the yet-undeclared Israeli state. The 1947 war resulted in the defeat of Arab states. The Palestinians, fearing repercussions by the Haganah, the now fearsome and heavily armed paramilitary group that would eventually become the Israeli Defence Forces, began fleeting their land for neighbouring states such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Haganah at the time, and the first Israeli-Prime Minister, declared the independence of the state of Israel. In the weeks and months to follow, even more ethnic palestinians fled.
By the early 1960s, Israel’s independence had been recognized by a dozen states around the world, then swelling to much of North & South America, Africa, and Western Europe. The palestinians never recognized Israeli control over the land that they either still lived on or had fled from, and were supported by all Arab states and the Arab League in their refusal of recognition. In the meantime, tensions continued to boil to the highest levels, something that has until this day never dissipated.
The Six-Day War changed the course of history, when a large number of Arab states declared war on the State of Israel. Although who the attack was initialized by is still historically contentious, Israel’s military power had taken the Arab states by surprise and it quickly gained the upper hand in combat, and expanded its self-declared borders into the Golan Heights (Syria), West Bank (Jordan) and the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt). The Arab states, shocked and dismayed at the outcome, as well as the international support they were lacking, threatened and implemented an oil embargo on all states supporting or recognizing Israel, which led to most African and Asian states severing diplomatic relations with Israel.
Egypt & Syria launched was is known as the 1973 War or the Yom Kippur War to retake the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula from the Israeli state. Egypt & Syria were then supported by a number of other Arab states, leading to early successes and advancements in the war. Israel eventually repulsed these advancements and began to advance onto Egyptian and Syrian territory itself, leading to a ceasefire being called. The Arab states directly embargoed the United States for its role in heavily assisting the Israeli side in resupplying ammunition during the war.
Has both sides began to realize that they may never be militarily ahead of the other side, the Camp David Peace Accord was signed by Egypt & Israel, formally creating a peace treaty between these two Arab states and Israel. The peace treaty was, and is, extremely controversial, with an overwhelming majority of Egyptians believing that it was a mistake. However, the Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt as a result of the Peace Accords. The Camp David Peace Accords started a new era in Arab-Israeli relations and took the conflict into a new stage. The peace treaty had secured the western israeli border; instead, the conflict began on the northern border, with Israel invading southern Lebanon. Israel mostly withdrew from southern Lebanon a year lebanon. The conflict began to take a more diplomatic perspective, as war had become too costly on all sides, with the Palestinian leadership taking their right to self-determination to the United Nations General Assembly, where recognition was and is important to the Palestinian cause.
The Oslo Peace Accords had begun, with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel signing the first ever framework towards the resolution of the conflict. As per the framework, Israel would withdraw from Gaza City and Jericho, while continuing the occupation and control over the West Bank till a two-state solution was found. The following year saw Jordan & Israel sign their own peace treaty, making Jordan the custodian of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam.
Oslo II marked the beginning of the peace process between Israel and Palestine.
Israel withdrew from all of southern Lebanon, with the exception of a couple of villages that it continues to occupy. Over the next decade, the conflict remained frozen, with both sides engaged in a peace process that never substantially reached any positive outcomes.
The Israelis unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, moving all military outposts and settlements out of the Gaza Strip. However, Israel continued to control Palestinian airspace, entry, exit and territorial water zone of the Gaza Strip. Thus, the occupation remained in place.
Hamas won by a landslide majority during the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. Israel, the US, and the EU, as well as other western countries, cut off their aid to the Palestinians as a result of the democratic elections which did not go as the had expected; as they viewed the islamist political party who rejected Israel’s right to exist as a terrorist entity.
Hezbollah infiltrated Israel in a cross-border raid, captured two soldiers and killed three others. After failing to rescue the captured, with 5 more Israeli soldiers being killed in the attempt, Israel’s military responded in a large-scale attack that became the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. The conflict led to the deaths of 1,191 Lebanese people and 165 Israelis in the one-month war. Approximately one million Lebanese and 300,000-500,000 Israelis were displaced.
The battle of Gaza began, which led to Hamas taking Gaza from Fatah.
After rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, Operation “Hot Winter” was launched by Israel, resulting in 112 Palestinian deaths and 3 Israeli deaths.
Israel launched a full-scale invasion of Gaza, code-named Operation “Cast Lead”. The 22 days of fighting between Israel & Hamas only ended after each declared separate unilateral ceasefires. The casualties of what became known as the Gaza War are disputed but according to the testimony of three Guardian films, 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including more than 300 children.
Turkish activists with the Free Gaza flotilla tried to break Israel’s naval blockade of hamas-controlled Gaza, but were intercepted by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). After an altercation on board the ship, nine Turks were shot dead by IDF gunfire.
- Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, about 30,000 Iranian Jews migrated to Israel.
Palestine became a full member of UNESCO, the education and cultural arm of the United Nations.
The United Nations General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer state status in the UN through resolution 67/19. It was adopted by the 67th session of the UN General Assembly, the date of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestininian People.
Israeli jets & helicopters launched dozens of air strikes across the Gaza Strip overnight, just hours after the bodies of three abducted Israeli teenagers were found in a shallow grave near the southern West Bank city of Hebron. Following the discovery of the bodies, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a statement blaming Hamas. Hamas denied involvement. In retaliation to the news about the three abducted israeli teenagers, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped by Israelis who beat him and burned him alive. They later confessed. Two weeks later, thousands of Israeli soldiers backed by tanks initiated an invasion of the Gaza Strip. All border areas came under fire, with tank shelling occurring every minute.
An increase of violence occurred in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict starting early September 2015 and lasting into the first half of 2016, known as the “intifada of the individuals”. Some commentators have atteibuted the increase in Palestinian violence against Israelis due to the spread of social media and the ongoing frustration over the failure of peace talks to end the decades-long occupation and the suppression of human rights.
Hamas signs a reconciliation deal intended to administrative control of Gaza transferred to the Palestinian Authority, but disputes stalled the deal’s implementation. US President Donald Trump also recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, infuriating the Arab world and western allies.
An upsurge in violence on the Gaza Border from March to August led to a long-term ceasefire being brokered by the UN and Egypt between Israel and Hamas.
There is no peace process in place. Violence & tension is rising again. Quality of life in Palestinian territories is decreasing. Israeli settlements continue to be built in violation of international law.
Israel has approved the construction of at least 6,000 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. At the same time, it gave the green light for the construction of 700 new homes for the Palestinians, an official Israeli source reported, on condition of anonymity. The announcement for Area C housing comes ahead of an expected visit to Israel on Wednesday by US envoy Jared Kushner, son-in-law of US President Donald Trump.
At least three Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the north of the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian health officials and local media, hours after three rockets were allegedly fired from the blockaded enclave.
Hezbollah militants in Lebanon on Sunday fired a barrage of anti-tank missiles into Israel, prompting a reprisal of heavy Israeli artillery fire in a rare burst of fighting between them. Although the shooting quickly subsided without casualties on either side, the situation remained volatile. The bitter enemies, which fought a month-long war in 2006, have indicated they do not want to go to war but appeared on a collision course in recent days after a pair of Israeli strikes against Hezbollah. The militant group vowed it would retaliate.
Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, running in an election that could be the fight of his political life, said he hopes to annex all Jewish West Bank settlements. Israel will build more settlements and won’t uproot settlers, Netanyahu said Sunday in a speech in the West Bank settlement of Elkana.
Qatar has cut the amount of fuel it funds for the Gaza Strip by half, sources in the Palestinian Energy Authority told Haaretz Sunday. As a result, Gazans will now get only five to six hours of electricity per day, down from the eight they were getting until now.