Israel-Palestine Conflict

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See also: Arab-Israeli Conflict
(PD) Map: CIA World Factbook
Map of Israel, showing the Palestinian territories (The West Bank and Gaza Strip) and parts of the surrounding Arab states.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, is an intermittent and ongoing series of clashes between the State of Israel and the people under the Palestinian Authority, with occasional spillover into neighboring countries. The conflict has, in some form or another, started in the late 19th century, lasted the whole of the 20th century and into the 21st, and a solution still remains elusive.

Robert Kaplan, a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, has suggested the two sides are, under present circumstances, unable to find a solution and are each driving to more extremism. He writes that the most recent Israeli government, while the most recalcitrant to date, accurately reflects the mood of the Israeli electorate, tired of not being to find a credible Palestinian negotiating partner as Hamas, officially committed to the destruction of Israel, cannot agree with Fatah, now the minority party.[1] While actual Hamas policies are actually more nuanced, using the principle of hudna, the words of the Hamas charter remain threatening.

If that is indeed the case, foreign intervention will be needed to break the deadlock. There have been many proposals.

Current approaches to solution

There are three broad classes of solution, not including the militarily unlikely destruction of Israel. One rejects the idea that there is a Palestinian identity. The other two differ as to the permanent political home of the Palestinians.

Approach Palestinian identity Palestinian home Future identity of Israel
Zero-state solution No Generally assumed to be Jordan and Egypt Jewish state
One-state solution Yes Combined current Israel and Palestine Multicultural
Two-state solution Yes Separate Israel and Palestine Jewish state

The Quartet, of the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States, recommends a two-state solution. Recently, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized a solution will have to involve Jerusalem as the capital of two states. [2]

Terrorism and counterterrorism

Groups based in the West Bank and Gaza have bombarded Israel, and launched terrorist attacks into Israel. One argument for a continuing Israeli presence in the West Bank is that it is close to the critical areas of Israel. Rocket fire is now principally from Gaza, although reduced by major Israeli operations in the 2009 Gaza conflict.

After Hamas win

Following the Hamas electoral victories, Israel reduced imports to Gaza in June 2007, and closed all border crossings in January 2008. The New York Times quoted Yair Lapid, a well-known Israeli journalist, in the daily Yediot Aharonot.

The objective of the operation in Gaza is to prevent the Qassam fire. But the operation in Gaza is causing Qassams to be fired. The Qassam fire will, in turn, bring about the next operation in Gaza, which will lead to the next round of Qassam fire. Everyone is playing his role; each side pretends to be the initiator, while well aware in its heart of hearts that it is just as trapped as the other side is.”[3]

Israeli raids to stop the rocket fire escalated to the January 2009 "Operation CAST LEAD", a large military action.

Israeli presence in Palestine

For a variety of political and security reasons, Israel has been establishing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. There are obvious emotional reasons while Palestinians would consider this an encroachment.

Geneva Convention issues

It is also controversial in international law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that: ‘The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies’. As far as occupation, the International Committee of the Red Cross has consistently maintained that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to these lands, and Israel is in the formal role of Occupying Power: [4] "Common Article 2: “the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.” The conditions of “armed conflict” between “two or more of the High Contracting Parties,” as set forth in the article, are fulfilled in that there was a war between two signatories, Israel and Jordan. " UN Resolution 242 does not accept the right to establish civilian settlements, based on and especially Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention.[5]

Arguments that Article 49 applies

"The authoritative commentary of this convention prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross[4] states that this prohibition was adopted to prohibit the colonization of occupied territories. It does not distinguish between forcible and non-forcible population transfers and prohibits any and all population transfers from the occupying power to occupied territory." [6]

On 9 June 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled unanimously in an advisory opinion that the Fourth Geneva Convention was applicable to the occupied Palestinian territories and that Israeli settlements there are illegal.[7] This included the opinion of Thomas Buergenthal, the US judge at the International Court and who, whilst exercising his discretion to refrain from hearing the case, concurred with the Court’s finding on the illegality of Israeli settlements.

Israeli position

Stated in 2001, the position of the State of Israel is that: [8] "Jewish settlement in West Bank and Gaza Strip territory has existed from time immemorial and was expressly recognised as legitimate in the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations, which provided for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Jewish people's ancient homeland. Indeed, Article 6 of the Mandate provided as follows:

The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use"

"Some Jewish settlements, such as in Hebron, existed throughout the centuries of Ottoman rule, while settlements such as Neve Ya'acov, north of Jerusalem, the Gush Etzion bloc in Judea and Samaria, the communities north of the Dead Sea and Kfar Darom in the Gaza region, were established under British Mandatory administration prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. To be sure, many Israeli settlements have been established on sites which were home to Jewish communities in previous generations, in an expression of the Jewish people's deep historic and religious connection with the land."

With respect to the Convention, "the principle was intended to protect the local population from displacement, including endangering its separate existence as a race, as occurred with respect to the forced population transfers in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary before and during the war. This is clearly not the case with regard to the West Bank and Gaza."

  • Israel has a historic right to settle in these areas
  • The Fourth Geneva Convention is not relevant to this situation.

Humanitarian issues

Even assuming that the settlements are legal, the conduct of Israeli forces in the West Bank has been questioned as violations of international humanitarian law.


Israel has constructed walls and other barriers, which it held were necessary for its security. Various Palestinian buildings were destroyed, and roads made impassable for travel inside Palestine. The International Court of Justice observed,[7]

observes that the route of the wall as fixed by the Israeli Government includes within the “Closed Area” (between the wall and the “Green Line”) some 80 percent of the settlers living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Recalling that the Security Council described Israel's policy of establishing settlements in that territory as a “flagrant violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Court finds that those settlements have been established in breach of international law. It further considers certain fears expressed to it that the route of the wall will prejudge the future frontier between Israel and Palestine; it considers that the construction of the wall and its associated régime “create a ‘fait accompli' on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case, . . . [the construction of the wall] would be tantamount to de facto annexation”. The Court notes that the route chosen for the wall gives expression in loco to the illegal measures taken by Israel, and deplored by the Security Council, with regard to Jerusalem and the settlements, and that it entails further alterations to the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It finds that the “construction [of the wall], along with measures taken previously, . . . severely impedes the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self‑determination, and is therefore a breach of Israel's obligation to respect that right.

The Court then considers the information furnished to it regarding the impact of the construction of the wall on the daily life of the inhabitants of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (destruction or requisition of private property, restrictions on freedom of movement, confiscation of agricultural land, cutting‑off of access to primary water sources, etc.). ...Lastly, the Court finds that this construction and its associated régime, coupled with the establishment of settlements, are tending to alter the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and thereby contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention and the relevant Security Council resolutions.

As references, the Court cited the:

While there are precedents for derogation of human rights rules "where military exigencies or the needs of national security or public order so require. It states that it is not convinced that the specific course Israel has chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives and, holding that none of such clauses are applicable, finds that the construction of the wall constitutes “breaches by Israel of various of its obligations under the applicable international humanitarian law and human rights instruments”. The court concluded"Israel cannot rely on a right of self‑defence or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall. The Court accordingly finds that the construction of the wall and its associated régime are contrary to international law.

Settlements and the peace process

United Nations envoy David Falk said, in October 2010, that both the settlements in the West Bank, and continued Israeli development in East Jerusalem, make long-term success in the peace process increasingly unlikely. The Palestinian Authority wants to place its capital in East Jerusalem...The extension of the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem by way of unlawful settlements, house demolitions, revocations of Palestinian residence rights, makes it increasingly difficult to envisage a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem. You have to disconnect between an inter-governmental peace process and an illusion that at the end of this process is an independent sovereign Palestinian state." [9]

Along with a direct appeal to the UN for sovereignty, the PA threatened to abrogate the Oslo Accords if the talks break down. "We can’t remain committed to the agreements that were signed with Israel forever,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official and an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, "while the other party has violated the agreements and even canceled them. Rabbo said PLO had already recognized the existence of Israel when it signed the Oslo Accords in 1993.

Back then, all we got from Israel was recognition of the PLO as the body representing the Palestinians. We didn’t get from Israel recognition of the Palestinian state and its borders. Unfortunately, our recognition [of Israel] was complete, while their recognition was partial and insufficient. This is the situation today and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past.”[10]

Responding to Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement that the PA had no option other than direct negotiations with Israel, and going to international bodies was "unrealistic",[11] President Abbas said that his government might well go directly to the United Nations. "Settlements are a unilateral step taken by Israel. Is there anything clearer than settlements and invasions and roadblocks and all that has been done on Palestinian land?" [12]

Politics of settlements

Support of the settlements is a strong issue for right-wing Israeli political parties, which variously see the historic area of Judea and Samaria, or a larger Greater Israel, as an Israeli right. The motivation varies, ranging from economic to religious. A number of U.S. Christian Zionism movements believe that a greater Israel is a prerequisite for Armageddon.

A New York Times article discussed the financial support, by nongovernmental associations, of settlements in the West Bank:

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas. "[13]

Historical background

Israel-Palestine Conflict before partition

For more information, see: Israel-Palestine Conflict before partition.

The conflict's origins trace back to the late 19th century. Initially, the Zionist movement advocated the return of Jews to ancient homeland of Israel, known to its Arab inhabitants and most of the world as Palestine. Often fleeing pogroms and inspired by Zionist ideas, several tens of thousands of Jews had immigrated to Palestine by the start of World War I. The Palestinian Jewish population, which stood at roughly 24,000 in 1880, swelled to approximately 90,000 in 1914. Already in 1891, some Arab notables sent a petition to Constantinople demanding an end to Jewish immigration and land purchase.[14]

At the end of War War I, the Muslim Ottoman Empire, which had been in control of Palestine, and indeed much of the Middle East, was dissolved. Palestine became a mandated territory of the United Kingdom. During World War I, British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour had issued the Balfour Declaration, a statement that the UK supported the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, as long as the civil rights of the Arab population were preserved.

British rule begins

Following its handover to the British, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased greatly. Between 1915 and 1931, British Palestine received almost as many Jewish immigrants as it had in the entire time before World War I. This alarmed the Arabs, and tensions between the two communities increased, leading to rioting on several occasions in the 1920's and 1930's. Again in 1936, Palestinian Arabs, demanding an end to all Jewish immigration, rioted, launching attacks on Jewish towns and farms, and clashing with British police.[15]

At this time, British officials looking for a solution to the problem began to propose the division of Palestine into Jewish and Arab components. Since Jews and Arabs were both scattered throughout the country, and since both would want control of the holy city of Jerusalem, just how to divided the area up proved an almost unsolvable problem. Attempting to reduce tensions, British also restricted further Jewish immigration to Palestine.

The Holocaust

As the Nazis came to power in 1933 and began persecuting Jews, immigration to Palestine became an ever more attractive option. T. After the war, most of Europe's surviving Jews had lost their homes and livelihoods, and needed a new place to rebuild their lives. The Holocaust had also had a profound psychological effect on the Jews-many, rightly or wrongly, believed that their non-Jewish neighbors had been complicit in their persecution, or at least allowed it to happen.

They began to feel that they would never be truly safe an any country were they were a minority-which, at the time, was everywhere in the world. Many began to see Zionism as the solution, and what was once a minority opinion among Jews quickly became mainstream. The number of Jews wishing to go to Palestine exploded.

Civil war

Tensions, meanwhile, between Arabs and Jews in Palestine increased radically, even though the British had completely closed Palestine to Jewish immigration. Jewish terrorist groups such as Irgun and the Stern Gang were formed to throw off British rule and establish a Jewish state by force. They attacked the British as well as the Arab population, who they saw as enemies conspiring against the Jewish people. In 1946, Irgun bombed the southern wing of the King David Hotel, in Jerusalem, which the British had established as their headquarters.

The situation in Palestine was rapidly escalating into a civil war, with Jews attacking Arabs, Arabs increasingly retaliating, and the British coming under fire from both. Feeling unable to do any more to solve the problem, and wanting to wash its hands of the whole situation, the British asked the newly created United Nations to come up with a solution.

Division of Palestine proposed by UNSCOP (compare with map in introduction, which shows territory the Israelis actually took during the war)

Preparation for partition

The UN created the United Nations Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP), to study the problem and officially recommend a solution. In 1947, UNSCOP, returning to the earlier British proposals of partition, recommended that Palestine be divided into two non-contiguous areas-a Jewish state with a slight Jewish majority and an Arab state with a large Arab majority. Jerusalem and the area surrounding it were to be administered by the United Nations. The Jews accepted the plan, but the Arabs vehemently rejected it, claiming that giving half of Palestine to a minority of its population-many of whom, moreover, had only recently arrived from foreign countries-was unfair, especially since many Arabs would wind up living in the Jewish state. Nevertheless, the plan was supported by practically all western countries, who ensured its passage by the United Nations. The passing of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947 immediately prompted Arab attacks on Jewish population centers and traffic, thus signalling the start of the civil war in Palestine. While there were counter-attacks by the mainstream and splinter Jewish militias, the community generally engaged only in defensive operations through March of 1948, when, with the war going poorly, there was a shift to offensive operations.

Partition and the War of 1948

For more information, see: 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Following the 1948 declaration of Israeli independence, fighting broke out that overran all but the West Bank and Gaza. The Israelis annexed large areas that UNSCOP's partition plan had allocated to the Arabs. Most of the Arab population of these areas fled and became refugees.

Mainstream Israeli historians and some other historians focus on the large numbers of refugees who chose to flee of their own free will or responded to Arab calls for evacuation. Official Arab and revisionist Israeli historiography, and some other historians, focus on the refugees who were expelled by Israeli troops. In 1949, the Arab states and Israel agreed to a truce.

Following the war, the region slipped into an uneasy peace. The Palestinian refugees, about 750,000 people, stayed in nearby Arab countries, where the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a special organization created by the UN to care for the refugees, built camps for them. Jordan allowed Palestinians in its territory full citizenship, and annexed the West Bank in 1950. The other Arab states did not allow their refugee populations citizenship, and denied them access to high-paying jobs and confined the majority of them to the camps, which over time grew into large, impoverished slums.


The Rise of the PLO

For more information, see: 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

The Six-Day War shocked the Arab world. For the Palestinians, nothing could hide the fact that, twice, their Arab allies had gone up against Israel only to suffer resounding defeats. A new militancy began to spread among the Palestinians, calling for them to fight Israel themselves, rather than leave it to the other Arab states.

In 1964, the Arab countries had brought together a collection of Palestinian parties into an umbrella group, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), dedicated to the military destruction of Israel. For most of its early years, however, it had been controlled by individuals influenced by Nasser and had not led an independent existence.

In 1969 however, a charismatic Palestinian politician, Yasser Arafat, maneuvered himself into the PLO presidency. He placed members of his own party, Fatah, in control at the expense of the now, to many Palestinians, discredited Egyptians and Syrians. The PLO began, increasingly, to take on an independent existence.

The organization, however, suffered a major setback. In September 1970, the government of Jordan, concerned that the PLO was becoming a threat to its power, moved against the organization and suppressed it. The PLO leadership and many of its members fled to Lebanon, where they established a new base in that country's many Palestinian refugee camps.

Black September evolved as a terrorist action group under the PLO. Since moving to Lebanon, the PLO had waged a terrorist campaign against Israel, exploding bombs in Israeli cites, infiltrating soldiers across the border to attack Israeli civilians. Its Black September subgroup murdered eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

In 1978, PLO terrorists operating from Lebanon hijacked an Israeli bus and eventually killed most of its passengers, prompting Israel to invade Lebanon to root out the PLO. For the rest of the 1970's and into the 1980's, the Arab-Israeli conflict was dominated by the Israel-PLO struggle in Lebanon and acts of PLO terrorism-some of them quite deadly.


For more information, see: 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, Nasser died in 1970 and was replaced by Anwar Sadat, who advocated continued war with Israel, and made plans with Syria for another surprise attack. On October 6th, 1973, the Egyptian and Syrian armies, supported by Iraq, launched a surprise attack on Israel, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. At first, the Arab armies did well, with Egypt advancing into the Sinai and Syria retaking parts of the Golan Heights. Then, the war swung back in Israel's favor. By the second week, the Golan Heights had been retaken. On October 15th, an Israeli force under General Ariel Sharon pushed through a weak point in Egyptian lines and crossed the Suez canal. On October 26th, the parties agreed to a UN-brokered cease-fire. Farther peace negotiations, however, failed.

Early Egyptian successes, however, strengthened national pride, and may have made it politically possible for Sadat to make a later peace initiative to Israel. That initiative secured one of Israel's fronts with Palestine, and also allowed some cooperation with respect to Gaza.

The First Intifada

Meanwhile, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, known since 1967 as the Occupied Territories, the next chapter of the long conflict was unfolding Since their takeover by Israel in the Six-Day war, Palestinians in the territories had been, essentially, second class citizens, subject to arbitrary actions such as Israeli house demolitions. The territories' bad economies' and high unemployment, and the failure of PLO terrorism to do anything other than add more names to the tally of innocent deaths, grab headlines, and lead to massive Israeli retaliation all contributed to a growing sense of frustration and disillusionment.

In 1987, riots broke out in Jabalia refugee camp, in response to the earlier deaths of several Palestinians in an accident at Erez border crossing. The riots soon spread throughout the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Palestinians launched strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience actions, and most famously, threw rocks at Israeli soldiers. The events soon became known as the Intifada, an Arabic word which literally translates to "shaking off", but in has the same meaning as "uprising" in English. Although the Intifada was at first mostly spontaneous, the PLO quickly sponsored the disturbances and soon established its leadership.

The Intifada continued for years. Palestinians often rioted violently, and were brutally suppressed by Israeli troops. Between 1987 and 1993, over 1000 Palestinians were killed by Israelis, as opposed to about 160 Israelis killed by Palestinians. The UN condemned Israel for its violence against the Palestinian population

After 1993, the Intifada gradually petered out. Earlier, the PLO had begun negotiating with the Israelis, on a possible final end to the conflict. In 1993, the two sides reached a breakthrough that, at last, offered hope of a permanent solution.

The Oslo Accords

The Second Intifada


  1. Robert D. Kaplan (21 April 2009), "Do the Palestinians Really Want a State? Why landlessness may be its own source of power", Atlantic Monthly
  2. Jerusalem must be capital of both Israel and Palestine, Ban says, United Nations, 28 October 2009
  3. Steven Erlanger (19 January 2008), "Israel Closes All Gaza Border Crossings, Citing Palestinian Rocket Attacks", New York Times
  4. 4.0 4.1 Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention (5 December 2001), Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 5 December 2001, International Committee of the Red Cross
  5. Israeli Settlements and International Law, Settlements in Palestine, 10 September 2009
  6. Victor Kattan (7 April 2010), "The US-Israel Standoff over Settlements", JURIST, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
  7. 7.0 7.1 Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, International Court of Justice, 9 July 2004, Press Release 2004/28
  8. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (20 May 2001), Israeli Settlements and International Law
  9. "UN envoy: Settlements major obstacle to Palestinian state", Jerusalem Post, 22 October 2010
  10. Khaled Abu Tuameh and Herb Keinon (23 October 2010), "If talks fail, we will renege on Oslo accords, PA warns", Jerusalem Post
  11. Reuters (24 October 2010), "Netanyahu to Palestinians: Unilateral actions will not advance peace process", Haaretz
  12. "Abbas: Settlements are a unilateral step taken by Israel", Haaretz, 25 October 2010
  13. Jim Rutenberg, Mike McIntire, Ethan Bronner (5 July 2010), "Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank", New York Times
  14. Martin Gilbert, Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, pg. 3
  15. Martin Gilbert, Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, pgs. 18-21