The History of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

On 11/29/1947, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a plan to divide Arab lands into Israel, Palestine, and an internationally-administered zone encompassing Jerusalem. After the state of Israel was declared on 5/14/1948, Arab states invaded Israel, angry over the loss of their land. During the subsequent war, Israel annexed more Arab territory than had been granted to them by the U.N., and many Arabs were displaced and rendered stateless. Though the war officially ended in 1/1949, hostilities continued. After a threat of invasion, Israel attacked Egypt on 10/29/1956 and occupied the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Due to international protest, Israel withdrew from these areas. Following a blockade by Egypt of Israel's port on the Gulf of Aqaba, and shelling of Israel from Syria's Golan Heights, Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan, and Syria on 6/5/1967. Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Arab sector of Jerusalem (the Occupied Territories).

On 11/22/1967, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution, calling for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. Israel refused, but the U.N. Security Council did not intervene. Instead, Arab states refused to recognize Israel as a state, and Arab terrorist organizations were formed to fight against the occupation. Israel has been the focus of guerrilla warfare since then, resulting in the injury and death of Israeli soldiers, Palestinian guerrillas, and both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

The Peace Process has been ongoing since 1993. The Declaration of Principles was signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) on 9/13/1993. The Gaza-Jericho Agreement was signed in 5/1994, and the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip was signed on 9/28/1995. The Palestinian Authority was established as an interim measure, and Israel withdrew from its occupation of the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, but not from all of the Occupied Territories. Israel ceded most civil authority to the Palestinian Authority for areas under its jurisdiction. However, when the Palestinian State was not established as expected, an Intifada began on 9/13/2000. 

Terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad continue to undermine the Peace Process and the Palestinian Authority by committing terrorist acts against Israeli civilians. The Palestinian Authority has failed to effectively arrest, prosecute, and punish those who have committed terrorist acts. And Israel has responded to Palestinian terrorist attacks with collective punishment of all Palestinians. Israel has used disproportionate military force against Palestinian demonstrators and noncombatant civilians and has oppressed all Arabs in the Occupied Territories. Israel has destroyed Arab homes, denied Arabs building permits, and established Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, taking Arab land without compensation.

On 3/12/2002, the U.N. Security Council again endorsed full recognition of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and demanded an end to the violence. On 3/28/2002, 21 Arab states and the Palestinian Authority indicated that they would grant Israel full recognition if it withdraws to the pre-1967 borders. Some Israelis support such a withdrawal, but others want Israel to incorporate within itself all lands they believe were granted to Jews by God.

Following Palestinian terrorist attacks that resulted in the deaths of Israeli civilians, on 3/29/2002, Israel began incursions and reoccupation of areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Many civilian Palestinians have been killed and lost their homes as a result. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has exhorted Israel to end this reoccupation, but the U.N. Security Council has failed to intervene. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was confined to his headquarters in Ramallah by Israeli forces from then until his death on 11/4/2004.

On 6/18/2002, the Palestinian Authority presented an outline of a peace proposal, which made concessions on the status of Jerusalem and refugees, but insisted that Israel retreat to the pre-1967 borders to allow for formation of the Palestinian state. However, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon indicated that the time is not "ripe" for a Palestinian state, and began building a "security barrier" between the West Bank and Israel, including part of the Occupied Territories within Israel.

On 6/24/2002, President Bush said that he envisioned the existence of Palestine alongside Israel within 3 years, but would only support the creation of a Palestinian state after democratic leaders, not compromised by terror, were elected in the Palestinian Authority, and after reforms were instituted, creating a constitutional democracy with an independent and effective parliament and judiciary. On 4/30/2003, the "Road Map" peace plan was launched, and on 11/19/2003, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in support of the plan. In addition, on 11/24/2003, Ariel Sharon announced a Disengagement Plan -- a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli forces -- if the "Road Map" is unsuccessful.

On 7/9/2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the "security barrier" violated international law and must be dismantled. Though Israel said it would ignore the ruling, it did modify, somewhat, the location of the barrier. On 10/26/2004, the Knesset approved the Disengagement Plan, in spite of fierce opposition.

Following Yasser Arafat's death on 11/4/2004, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority on 1/9/2005. On 2/8/2005, Mahmoud Abbas met with Ariel Sharon and agreed to end the Intifada in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities and release of 900 prisoners. On 2/20/2005, the Israeli cabinet approved the Disengagement Plan, and disengagement was accomplished by 9/22/2005, which included evacuation of forces and eviction of Israeli settlers from 25 settlements in the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank.

On 1/26/2006, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Because Hamas is considered a terrorist organization and is opposed to peace with Israel, many countries cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority. Though a Fatah-Hamas coalition was attempted on 6/26/2006, it failed, and armed conflict ensued. Fatah created an extralegal coalition to govern the West Bank that excluded Hamas, and Hamas took exclusive control of the Gaza Strip on 6/14/2007.

While international aid was restored to the West Bank following 6/14/2007, Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip. Though it was supposed to be lifted with the 6/19/2008 ceasefire, it continued. This blockade has created a humanitarian crisis for West Bank civilians, because it prevents importation of food, medicine, fuel, and other necessities.

In 5/14/2008, Tony Blair, the Special Envoy of the Quartet (the U.S., Russia, the E.U., and the U.N.), announced a new peace plan based on the Peace Valley Plan. However, little has yet been accomplished with this initiative.

In response to Hamas' continuing rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli towns, killing Israeli civilians, on 12/27/2008, Israel began air strikes targeting the Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. A ground offensive began 1/3/2009. Israel ended its attacks on 1/13/2009, and withdrew from Gaza on 1/21/2009. Because of the close proximity to civilian institutions and residences, 926 Palestinian civilians were killed, including 410 children. (Israel disputes these numbers.) 3 Israeli civilians were killed. A U.N. investigation has concluded that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. Israel's blockade continues, as does Hamas' attacks on Israel.

True peace can still be realized: when Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 borders; when a viable Palestinian state is recognized along with Israel; when all Jewish settlements in Palestine withdraw or pay just compensation for the land and recognize the sovereignty of Palestine; when sovereignty over Jerusalem is shared by both Israel and Palestine; when Israel and Palestine allow all displaced stateless Arabs to return to their homes or provide an alternate just settlement for them; when water resources are shared equitably between Israel and Palestine; when Israel and Palestine recognize the human rights of all their residents and recognize them as citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion; and when Israel and Palestine commit to mutual security and enforcement of law. An international peace-keeping force is probably necessary to stop the cycle of violence in the interim.

[For a history of the conflict, see Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict by Jews for Justice in the Middle East, Mideastweb's Recent History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Issues in a Nutshell, and Wikipedia article on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. For timelines of the conflict, see Mideastweb's Timeline 1993-2005, and Mideastweb's Timeline 2005-present. For information on the Peace Process, see U.S. State Department website. See the text of the Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee Final Report of 4/30/2001 (Mitchell Report). See the Quartet's Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the  Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. See also the Arab Peace Initiative. For information on the human rights crisis, see Amnesty International website; Human Rights Watch report: Israel and the Palestinian Authority. To read the U.N. Security Council Resolutions relating to Israel & Palestine/the Occupied Territories, see the U.N. website on Palestine; Yale Law School Avalon Project website.]