The Israel-Palestine conflict stands as one of the most enduring and complex disputes in modern history. Rooted in deep-seated historical, religious, and political contexts, it revolves around competing claims to territory and national identity, primarily involving Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This longstanding conflict has resulted in numerous wars and cycles of violence, leaving an indelible mark on the region. To understand the origins and implications of this dispute, one must delve into its historical foundations.
How Israel Was Formed
The story of modern Israel’s establishment traces back to the aftermath of World War I when Palestine, a land that had been under Ottoman rule for over four centuries, became the subject of international intrigue. Following the war, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over Palestine in 1920, marking the beginning of an era of British rule.
During this period, the Zionist movement gained momentum. Emerging in the late 19th century, the Zionist movement aimed at establishing a national homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, where a small number of Jews resided. It was also a response to the widespread persecution and anti-Semitism that Jews faced in Europe and Russia.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917, issued by the British government, played a pivotal role. It expressed support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, laying the foundation for the eventual creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of Israel in accordance with the UN plan to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. This declaration was followed by a war with neighboring Arab states, culminating in the birth of Israel.
The Holocaust during World War II significantly contributed to Israel’s population. The genocide led to the massive displacement of Jewish survivors who sought refuge in Israel. In 1950, Israel enacted the Law of Return, granting the right of immigration to Jews from around the world to Israel. Various operations were conducted by the Israeli government to airlift Jews facing persecution to Israel.
West Bank and Gaza Strip: The Heart of the Conflict
The establishment of Israel displaced thousands of people and became the source of the festering Israel-Palestine conflict. At its core, this conflict revolves around competing territorial claims by Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas.
Israel controls much of historic Palestine, while the Palestinian Authority administers parts of the West Bank, the larger of the two Palestinian territories. The West Bank, a region of 5,655 square kilometers, is home to a diverse population, including Palestinians, Jewish settlers, and a small number of other groups. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured the West Bank and constructed numerous settlements. Parts of the West Bank are governed by the Palestinian Authority, established as a result of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993.
The other part of the Palestinian territory is known as Gaza, or the Gaza Strip, which is located between Israel and Egypt. After the establishment of Israel in 1948, Gaza was controlled by Egypt for two decades until it came under Israel’s control after the Six-Day War in 1967. In August 2005, Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip, leaving the territory under the control of the Palestinian Authority. However, in 2007, Hamas, one of the two main political parties in the Palestinian territories, won control of Gaza and has maintained its grip since. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by several countries, including the United States, and has been involved in attacks on Israel.
The Significance of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem
The city of Jerusalem holds great significance in the Israel-Palestine conflict, particularly due to its association with religious sites. The Al-Aqsa Mosque, situated in the Old City of Jerusalem, is considered the third holiest site in Islam. It is located within a larger compound known as the Al-Haram Al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, which is also referred to as the Temple Mount in Judaism. This compound is a site of deep religious importance for Jews, who come from around the world to pray at the Western Wall within the same area. Furthermore, Christians view the Temple Mount as a site associated with key events in the life of Jesus Christ.
The 1967 Six-Day War saw Israel gain control of East Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The Al-Aqsa Mosque has been a symbol of resistance and national identity for Palestinians, and several political movements have used it as a rallying point against “Israeli occupation.” The status of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque remains one of the most contentious issues in peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, as both parties lay claim to Jerusalem as their capital.
Israel and the Arab Countries
Israel has been involved in several wars with its Arab neighbors. The declaration of Israel’s independence in 1948 sparked the Arab-Israeli War, with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon opposing Israel’s creation. This war resulted in Israel’s establishment and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
In the 1965 Suez Crisis, Israel attacked Egypt after the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Israel won a swift and decisive victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, capturing the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.
In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, resulting in significant casualties and territorial adjustments. The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt in 1982 under the terms of the peace treaty signed in 1979 with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Israel also fought two wars with Lebanon, one in 1982 over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and another in 2006 against Hezbollah.
Apart from these direct conflicts, Iran has been engaged in a proxy war with Israel by funding Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel has managed to establish a “cold peace” with Egypt and Jordan after signing treaties. The Abraham Accords in 2020 led to the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.
Peace Efforts and the Two-State Solution
Numerous international actors, including the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union, have attempted to mediate and broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The Oslo Accords of the 1990s aimed to establish a framework for a two-state solution, envisioning the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, with negotiated borders and a shared capital in Jerusalem.
However, the viability of the two-state solution is increasingly questioned due to the expansion of Israeli settlements and the deep-seated mistrust between the parties. The Israel-Palestine conflict continues to be a pressing issue with no clear resolution in sight.