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Understanding the Israel-Palestinian Conflict: Key Factors include statehood, land, Jerusalem, and refugee issues.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A History of War and Struggle

The Origins of the Conflict

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas is just one chapter in a long history of war and turmoil between Israelis and Palestinians. This conflict has spanned over seven decades, involving external powers and destabilizing the Middle East region.

The roots of the conflict lie in the Israeli demands for security in a region they perceive as hostile, juxtaposed with the Palestinian aspirations for an independent state of their own. The modern State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, by David Ben-Gurion, offering a safe haven for Jews who sought refuge from persecution and longed for a national home on land they believed they had deep ties to over generations.

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However, the creation of Israel, known as the Nakba or catastrophe to Palestinians, resulted in their displacement and dashed dreams of statehood. In the aftermath, around 700,000 Palestinians, comprising half of the Arab population in British-ruled Palestine, were either forced to flee or driven from their homes, finding themselves in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

Israel, a close ally of the United States, disputes the claim that it expelled Palestinians from their homes, emphasizing that it was attacked by five Arab states the day after its establishment. Although armistice agreements halted the fighting in 1949, no formal peace agreement has been reached.

It is important to note that Palestinians who chose to stay during the war form the Arab Israeli community, constituting approximately 20% of Israel’s population.

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Major Wars in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has witnessed several major wars since its inception. In 1967, Israel launched a preemptive strike against Egypt and Syria, igniting the Six-Day War. As a result, Israel has occupied the West Bank, Arab East Jerusalem (captured from Jordan), and Syria’s Golan Heights ever since.

The Yom Kippur War started in 1973 when Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli positions along the Suez Canal and Golan Heights. Israel managed to push back both armies within three weeks.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, leading to the evacuation of Palestinian fighters under Yasser Arafat after a ten-week siege. Another war erupted in Lebanon in 2006 when Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers, prompting Israel to retaliate.

In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza, which it had captured from Egypt in 1967. However, Gaza has experienced significant escalations in violence in 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021, involving Israeli air raids and Palestinian rocket fire, often accompanied by cross-border incursions by both sides.

Alongside these wars, two Palestinian intifadas or uprisings occurred between 1987 and 1993, as well as from 2000 to 2005. The second intifada witnessed waves of Hamas suicide bombings targeting Israelis.

Peace Attempts: A Struggle for Resolution

Throughout the conflict, various attempts have been made to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty, ending three decades of hostility. In 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the limited Palestinian autonomy outlined in the Oslo Accords. Additionally, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994.

The Camp David summit of 2000, involving President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Yasser Arafat, failed to reach a final peace agreement. In 2002, an Arab plan offered Israel normal relations with all Arab countries in exchange for a complete withdrawal from the lands occupied during the 1967 Middle East war, the establishment of a Palestinian state, and a just solution for Palestinian refugees.

Since talks collapsed between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington in 2014, peace efforts have stalled. Palestinian authorities have boycotted dealings with the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump after it refused to endorse the two-state solution, which envisions the establishment of a Palestinian state within the territories Israel captured in 1967.

The Current State of Peace Efforts

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has been actively pursuing a “grand bargain” in the Middle East, which includes normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s two holiest shrines. However, the recent conflict poses a diplomatic challenge not only for Riyadh but also for other Arab states, including some Gulf Arab nations adjacent to Saudi Arabia, that have signed peace agreements with Israel.

Main Israeli-Palestinian Issues

Several key issues lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

  • A Two-State Solution: This entails creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel. However, Hamas, a prominent Palestinian group, rejects this solution and calls for Israel’s destruction. Israel insists on demilitarizing any Palestinian state to ensure its own security.
  • Settlements: Jewish settlements built on land occupied by Israel in 1967 are deemed illegal by most countries. Israel disputes this, citing historical and biblical connections to the land. The continued expansion of settlements remains a contentious issue between Israel, the Palestinians, and the international community.
  • Jerusalem: Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, which houses significant religious sites for Muslims, Jews, and Christians, as the capital of their state. Israel maintains that Jerusalem should remain its “indivisible and eternal” capital. However, the international community does not recognize Israel’s claim to the eastern part of Jerusalem. In 2018, former U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated the U.S. embassy there, without specifying the extent of its jurisdiction in the disputed city.
  • Refugees: Approximately 5.6 million Palestinian refugees, including descendants of those who fled in 1948, reside in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Gaza. Many remain stateless, with around half of registered refugees living in overcrowded camps. Palestinians have long demanded the right of return for refugees and their descendants. Israel maintains that resettlement must occur outside its borders.

Understanding these issues is crucial in comprehending the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the challenges faced in finding a lasting solution.

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