What is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict about?

Wednesday 26th August 2009
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Conflicting British Promises

During WWI, Britain supported independence from Turkish rule for the mainly Arab population of Palestine, who had lived in the area for thousands of years. To gain Jewish favour, Britain also supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Awarded Palestine at the end of WWI, Britain saw how conflicting its promises were: Jews began moving to Palestine, clashing with locals who believed in their own dreams of independence.

The Holocaust

After WWII, the world saw the full horror of the Holocaust and became sympathetic to the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Sadly it was the Palestinians who had to suffer for Europe’s guilt.

Britain’s control of Palestine became a burden. Violence increased between Jews and Palestinians. Jewish terrorist groups attacked the British – most infamously blowing up their headquarters at the King David Hotel.

In 1947 Britain asked the United Nations (UN) to make a decision on the future of Palestine. The UN voted to split Palestine in half – into separate Jewish and Arab states.

Birth of Israel

On May 14 1948, Jewish leaders announced the birth of Israel. The next day surrounding Arab countries declared war on them. After a year of fighting, Israel defeated the Arab-alliance and secured its survival.

Palestinians who lived within Israel’s borders were forced to leave. If they refused, they were beaten or simply murdered. Over 750,000 Palestinians fled their homes. Today they and their descendents still live in terrible conditions in refugee camps.

Six-Day War and Occupation

In 1967, Israel initiated the Six-Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. By its end, Israel had taken control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – the only land the Palestinians had left since Israel’s creation.

Today the West Bank remains under Israeli occupation. Successive Israeli governments have funded the building of Jewish villages and towns (settlements) on occupied Palestinian land. Now there are over 300,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

These settlements violate Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, which states that ‘the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’

In 1968, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, which called for Israel to end its occupation of the territories captured after the Six-Day War. 40 years later this still hasn’t happened. The honoring of Resolution 242 remains central to any Palestinian vision of peace.

First Intifada (Uprising)

The growth of Jewish settlements on their land caused the Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to rise up in violence against both the Israeli military and Jewish settlers between 1987 and 1993.

Nightly television images of Palestinian youths hurling stones at Israeli tanks created a global awareness of the Palestinian cause.

A Flawed Peace: The Oslo Accords

In 1993 the Oslo Accords peace agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). Under the agreement, Israel would return the Gaza Strip to Palestinian control. The West Bank would be split into zones, with over 60% remaining under Israeli occupation.

In return for the Gaza Strip, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was expected to ‘control his people’ and end attacks against Israelis: an equation known as ‘land for peace.’ This would prove difficult as the majority of Palestinians viewed Oslo as a betrayal because it allowed the Israelis to escape the legal obligation of UN Resolution 242.

Second Intifada (Uprising)

Between Oslo’s signing in 1993 and 2000, the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew from 80,000 to 150,000. This proved to the Palestinians that Oslo was a sham.

Oslo collapsed at the Camp David talks in 2000. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak refused to abandon the illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, and Arafat refused the portion of land Israel deemed fit to give back.

Disheartened by political attempts to gain independence, Palestinians turned again to violence. Both sides routinely committed atrocities, and most of the victims were innocent civilians.

Gaza and Hamas

In 2005, the Israeli Government removed all Jewish settlements and military presence inside the Gaza Strip. Hamas (an Islamic party with a history of violence towards Israelis) gained control of the Gaza Strip, after a landslide victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Israel responded by closing down Gaza’s borders, causing mass unemployment and suffering.

Palestinian armed groups began firing rockets into southern Israel. In December 2008 Israel responded by heavily bombing the Gaza Strip, before invading on the ground. The conflict ended on 18 January 2009.

Human rights groups have accused Israel of committing war crimes during the invasion. Accusations include the bombing of hospitals and schools, and the shooting of civilians carrying white flags.

The Arab Peace Initiative

The Arab Peace Initiative offers the best chance of lasting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The initiative proposes establishing ‘normal’ (peaceful and respectful) relations between the entire Arab region and Israel. In exchange, Israel would completely withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories.

The immediate hope for the plan is not good – both Hamas and the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reject it.

By Nick Jones

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