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In a Nutshell: Israeli Palestinian Conflict

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The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in a Nutshell

Israeli- Palestinian conflict issues and history in brief...

  Gen. Allenby Enters Jerusalem, 1917

Divisive History

History's legacy created divisive issues between Palestinians and Israelis. Judea, home of the Jews in ancient times, was conquered by the Romans and renamed Palestine. Palestine was later conquered  and inhabited by Arabs for over a thousand years. The Zionist movement arose to restore the Jews to Israel, largely ignoring the existing Arab population. Following the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Palestine was granted to Britain as a League of Nations mandate to build a national home for the Jewish people. The Arabs resented the Jews coming in to take their land. Led by Grand Mufti Hajj Amin El Husseini, they rioted repeatedly and later revolted, creating a history of enmity between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Britain stopped Jewish immigration to Palestine. Following the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, pressure on Britain increased to allow  Jewish immigration  to Palestine.   In 1947, the UN partitioned the land into Arab and Jewish states. The Arabs did not accept the partition and war broke out. The Jews won a decisive victory, expanded their state and created several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees. The Arab states refused to recognize Israel or make peace with it. Wars broke out in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982, and there were many terror raids and Israeli reprisals. Each side believes different versions of the same history. Each side views the conflict as wholly the fault of the other and expects an apology.  More about Israel and Palestine History  Zionism

Allenby enters Jerusalem, 1917


  Settler's house in West Bank

Occupation, Land & Settlements

Israel has occupied the West bank and Gaza Strip   (about 2,200 square miles) since the 1967  6-day war, and has built settlements with a population of about 220,000, mostly in the West Bank. Palestinians demand withdrawal from all of the land conquered in the 1967 and evacuation of the settlements. Israel continued to expand settlements throughout the peace process that began in 1993 and continues to do so today. In the final status negotiations at Camp David and Taba, Israel offered to turn over 97% of the land in the West Bank and all of Gaza, as well as Arab sections of Jerusalem. This offer was turned down by the Palestinians.

Settlement house in West Bank

  PA Chairman and PLO Leader Yasser Arafat

Palestinian State

Originally formed to regain all of Palestine for the Palestinian Arabs, the Palestine Liberation Organization signaled that it would accept a two state solution in 1988. The Oslo accords  were supposed to have led to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but continued Israeli settlement and Palestinian violence and incitement degenerated into open conflict in September 2000.

Mainstream Palestinians demand a state in the West Bank and Gaza. Right wing Israelis are opposed to creating a state, because, they claim, it would be a base for terror groups. In final status negotiations, the Israeli government agreed to a demilitarized Palestinian state with limited control over its borders and resources -  a "state minus." The Palestinians have won a commitment for a state from the UN, and from US President Bush. The Road Map peace plan is intended to result in a Palestinian state. The Oslo Accords and the Road Map are opposed by Palestinian extremist groups like Hamas and by Zionist extremists.

 Commentary on the Road Map

Former PNA President (Chairman) Yasser Arafat

Temporary refugee camp in Lebanon


About 726,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their homes in 1948 in the war that followed the creation of Israel, and additional Palestinians fled in 1967. There are now about 4 million Palestinian refugees. Many of them live in crowded refugee camps in poor conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.  Palestinians demand that these refugees should have the right to return to their homes in Israel under UN General Assembly Resolution 194. Israelis note that an almost equal number of Jews fled Arab lands to Israel in 1948. Israelis oppose return of the refugees because that would create an Arab Palestinian majority and would put an end to Israel as a Jewish state. Most Palestinian groups, including the Fateh, agree, and openly proclaim that resolution of the refugee issue by granting right of return would mean the end of Israel. More about refugees.

Temporary refugee camp in Lebanon, 1949

  Rescuing victim of a Hamas terror attack

Palestinian Terror

Almost all Palestinian groups were founded with the declared aim of destroying Israel by violence, and had a history of terrorist activities. Only the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) has renounced this aim officially. In 1993, the PLO signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles, renouncing violence and agreeing to honor UN SC Resolution 242, which implicitly recognizes the right of Israel to exist. In return, Israel allowed the PLO to enter the West Bank and Gaza strip, and Palestinians gained autonomous control of most of the population of these areas.  Extremist Palestinian groups that objected to the agreements began a campaign of ambushes and suicide bombings against Israel. The Palestine National Authority claimed they could not control the dissident groups. Final status negotiations faltered in September 2000. Ariel Sharon visited the Temple mount (Haram as Sharif), which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque on September 28, though he did not enter either of the mosques.. This ignited violent riots, that were met with lethal force by the IDF. The violence became generalized "resistance," called "the Intifadeh," and involving large sectors of the population as well as the Palestine National Authority itself, and the Palestinian police force set up by the Oslo agreements. Polls indicate that about half the Palestinians believe that the aim of the Intifadeh is to destroy Israel. Since September 28, 2000, Palestinians have killed over a thousand Israelis in terror and suicide attacks. Israelis have killed over 3,500 Palestinians in "defense" operations and reprisals, including many civilians. The Intifadeh destroyed the belief of many Israelis in the possibility of peace, and destroyed the credibility of Yasser Arafat and the PLO as peace partners. Israeli retaliation and repression further embittered the Palestinians.  More about the peace process     Detailed Timeline  FATAH Constitution  PLO Charter    Hamas Charter

Rescuing a terror victim
  IDF soldier and grieving Palestinians in Jenin - Operation Defensive Wall


Israeli Repression

Israel responded to Palestinian violence at the beginning of the Oslo process by limiting the flow of Palestinian workers to Israel to prevent infiltration of terrorists, and by strict checks at border checkpoints. The border closing drastically reduced the Palestinian standard of living. Palestinians who did come to work were often subjected to humiliating searches and very long waits at checkpoints. Following terror attacks at the checkpoints, nervous IDF (Israel Defense Forces - the Israeli Army) soldiers sometimes were too quick to open fire on suspicious vehicles, killing innocent civilians. Checkpoints around Jerusalem made it difficult for Palestinians to get to work in Jerusalem and to travel between Palestinian towns.

After September 2000, Israeli reprisals for Palestinian terror raids became increasingly severe,  including assassinations of wanted terrorists that Palestinians refused to arrest. Following a series of deadly suicide bombings in March of 2002, Israel launched operation Defensive Wall in the West Bank and has since reoccupied most of the territories ceded to to the Palestinians in the West Bank. The IDF set up additional checkpoints and has kept towns under virtual siege with extended periods of curfew, disrupting work, education and daily life. Ditches surround towns, preventing people from leaving. The IDF has killed over 3,500 Palestinians, demolished houses and uprooted olive groves. After a recent IDF study showed that the demolitions do not deter suicide bombings, demolitions of the houses of suicide bombers were discontinued, but houses are still demolished for other reasons.

In addition to measures taken to ensure security, Israeli extremist settlers have harassed Palestinians, destroyed property, uprooted olive trees and killed several Palestinians in doubtful circumstances. The perpetrators are rarely identified and almost never prosecuted.  

More about the peace process. Detailed Timeline

Israeli army & civilians in Jenin, March 2002

Palestinian vehicles at checkpoint in West Bank

Palestinians waiting at a checkpoint

  Map of Central Israel showing security vulnerability

Israeli Security

The area of Israel within its pre-1967 armistice borders is slightly less than 8,000 square miles. The distance from Tel Aviv to the green line border of Israel (West Bank) is about 11 miles.( see map of distances ),  Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other Israeli cities are within artillery range of any Palestinian state. Israel therefore insists on guarantees that a Palestinian state would be demilitarized. The West Bank has enormous strategic importance to any country wishing to invade Israel. Israel therefore insists on guarantees that the Palestinian state would not allow a foreign army to enter its borders, and has insisted on bases within the West Bank.


Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinnereth)


The land has always had a scarcity of water. The Israel National Water Carrier has made possible a high population density and standard of living. The carrier pumps water from the Sea of Galilee and carries it to areas in the center and south of Israel as well as for Palestinian areas. In one day it delivers the volume of water used in all of 1948, but it is not enough. The aquifers that supply Israel's central area lie in the West Bank. The Jordan river flows through territory that would be part of Palestine. Both sides need water for survival and development and want to ensure an adequate water supply from the limited resources available. Israel has reserved for its own use a large percentage of the water in West Bank aquifers.
More about Water

Sea of Galilee


Al Aqsa Mosque, Holy to Muslims

West wall of temple ("wailing wall") holy to Jews

Wailing wall (Western Wall),
 with dome of the rock
("Mosque of Omar") in
the background

Jerusalem was to have been internationalized under the UN Partition plan. Both sides have claims on the eastern part of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the ancient capital of Judea and site of the Jewish holy temple, of which only the Western Wall remains (right). It is also the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque (left) - regarded by many as the third holiest site in Islam.  Jewish and Arab neighborhoods are closely interwoven and would be difficult to separate.   More about Jerusalem. 

Dome of the Mosque of Al Aqsa


Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Palestinian President

Current Issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Death of Yasser Arafat - Following the death of Yasser Arafat a new era began in Palestinian history and in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was elected President ("Rais") of the Palestinian National Authority with a comfortable majority in free and democratic elections. Abbas vowed to put put an end to terror and to negotiate peace based on Israeli withdrawal from all the lands of the West Bank and Gaza, a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, and "return of the Palestinian refugees."

Hamas election victory - In elections held in January 2006, the Hamas movement won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council and formed a government. This was eventually expanded into a unity government that included the Fatah, until June of 2007. The Hamas refuse to recognize the right of Israel to exist or to make peace with Israel.

Recognizing Israel - A majority of Palestinians want the  radical Hamas movement which won an upset victory over the Fateh in PLC elections in January, 2006 to recognize Israel and negotiate peace. Hamas officials say they "recognize that Israel exists" but also state that they will never recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, and will never make peace with Israel.  European and American leaders pledged not to negotiate with Hamas and not to provide aid to the Palestinians until Hamas agreed to disarm and recognize Israel. Hamas spokesmen sent mixed signals, but vowed never to recognize Israel and never to give up their claim to all of Palestine, though a majority of Palestinians apparently want them to follow the path of peace. 

Palestinian Unity and Quartet boycott - The Quartet countries have officially boycotted the Hamas led government until they agree to recognize Israel and end violence. The boycott has been circumvented to allow provision of funds for salaries directly to Palestinian employees. In March of 2007, Hamas and Fateh concluded a unity agreement in Mecca, allowing for formation of a unity government with a vague platform. Palestinians called on Western governments to recognize the new government and end the boycott. Quartet members will talk to non-Hamas members of the new government. Israel insisted it would maintain relations only with Mr. Abbas, who is President and not part of the government.

Collapse of the Palestinian authority - In June of 2007, following growing anarchy in Gaza, Hamas militants attacked Fatah/Palestinian authority positions in Gaza, including military posts, government buildings, and hospitals, and drove the Fatah out of the Gaza strip. Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the unity government and announced he would form a different government based in the West Bank. In the West Bank, Fatah militants arrested Hamas officials and Hamas fighters. At present (June 16) there are two separate governments in the Web Bank and Gaza. This makes the future of any peace process very uncertain. 

Truce and violence - Mahmoud Abbas tried to convince Palestinian militant groups to declare a truce and refrain from attacking Israel, while Israel declared that it would refrain from assassinations and hunting down wanted terrorists except in emergencies. The truce was kept imperfectly (June 2007) and flickered on and off. Israel continued to arrest wanted Palestinians and people on their way to terror attacks in the West Bank, while Palestinians continued to fire Qassam rockets (see below) from Gaza. Israeli reprisals in Gaza killed civilians as well as armed terrorists.

Security - Abbas has declared again and again that he will not use force against armed groups. At the same time, he has insisted that "the law will be enforced" and that the PNA would not permit chaos and independent actions by armed groups. The year 2005 however, was plagued by attacks of Fatah and Hamas factions against Palestinian institutions, as well as a suicide attack apparently instigated by the Syrian branch of Islamic Jihad.

Provisional State versus Final Status - The quartet roadmap calls for considering a Palestinian state within provisional borders as an option, which is favored by Israelis and the United States, while Abbas is insisting on final status status negotiations and claims he does not want a state with provisional borders.

Qassam Rockets - Beginning in 2001, Palestinian groups in the Gaza strip have been firing Qassam rockets, initially at Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip and later at civilian targets inside Israel. The firing escalated after the Hamas took power. The rockets have claimed about a dozen lives and done extensive property damage. The town of Sderot has been subject to a daily barrage of Qassam rockets in 2007.

Kidnapped Soldier - In June of 2006, groups affiliated with the Hamas, including those who later kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston, crossed the border into Israel and kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit. He is being held for ransom against freeing of an unspecified large number of Palestinian prisoners. Israel insists that serious negotiations about final status issues cannot be restarted until Shalit is returned. Palestinian negotiators were apparently offered release of over 1,000 prisoners in return for Shalit, but turned the offer down.

Israeli Security Handover - Israel is supposed to hand over security responsibilities in West Bank cities, gradually lifting the siege and returning conditions to what they were before the start of the violence in 2000. 

The "security barrier" (Apartheid Wall) - A "security barrier" being built inside the West Bank cuts off Palestinians from their lands and from other towns, and destroys olive groves and other property according to Palestinians. The route of the fence has been changed several times under international pressure. Today  (October 2005)  it includes about 7% of West Bank territory on the Israeli side of the barrier.  An International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory ruling declares the barrier to be in violation of international law. Since the barrier was built, Israeli casualties decreased dramatically, and the IDF claims that it is vital to preventing terror attacks. An Israeli Supreme Court ruling declared that the fence is not illegal in principle, but that the route must be changed to optimize the balance between security and humanitarian concerns. More about the Security Barrier ("Apartheid Wall")  

Prisoners - Israel holds thousands of Palestinian prisoners, of whom about 500 were released in February of 2005, and an additional group of over 450 are to be released soon. Palestinians want release of all prisoners, especially women and minors. Israel is unwilling to release prisoners who have served less than two-thirds of their sentence and those who were directly involved in attacks ("blood on their hands").

Disengagement - The Israeli Government decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and from 4 settlements in the West Bank, evacuating about 8,000 settlers. After the death of Yasser Arafat, it partially coordinated the move with the Palestinians. Disengagement was completed without major incidents by September of 2005, but was followed by considerable chaos within Gaza.  (Click for Israel Disengagement Map) (Click for more about disengagement ).

Safe Passage and open borders - Palestinians living in Gaza have very restricted access to the outside world. A safe passage for Gazans to the West Bank was supposed to have been implemented under the Oslo accords but never came into being. Israel favors a rail link, while Palestinians want a motor road. Most border crossings between Gaza and Israel have been closed since disengagement. The Rafah border crossing with Egypt was supposed to be closed at one point, but Palestinians overwhelmed the guards and Hamas exploded a portion of the barrier, allowing Palestinians to cross freely for a brief time before the crossing was closed again. Israel wanted the crossing to remain closed for several months, and wanted to open a crossing at Kerem Shalom in Israeli territory, which unlike Rafah, would be partly under Israeli control. In the fall of 2005, however, the Rafah Crossing was opened under European Union, Egyptian and Palestinian supervision, with Israeli remote monitoring via TV cameras. Israel promised to implement safe passage but did not do so. Even so, the crossing is open only intermittently. In the West Bank, numerous checkpoints restrict the movement of Palestinians.

Israeli Outposts - Under the roadmap, Israel had undertaken to evacuate  illegal "outposts" set up by settlers with government knowledge, but without formal approval, after March 2001. There are estimated to be about 28 such outposts by the government. Peace Now estimates there are 53 such outposts. In all, there are over 100 outposts, including those erected before the cutoff date.  The Sasson report released March 9, 2005 catalogued extensive misuse of government funds for building settlements, though most of the information had been known beforehand. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon  promised once again to evacuate the outposts. No substantial progress was made, however, as late as June 2007.


Peace Proposals

Official peace plans include the quartet roadmap, and the Arab League initiative for Arab-Israeli peace. Various informal initiatives for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been proposed. The most popular is the Geneva Accord, under which Israel would return approximately the territories outside the current route of the security fence, and cede parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, and Palestinian refugees would return to the Palestinian state, but not to Israel. The Ayalon Nusseibeh Agreement incorporates similar principles but is much less detailed. No informal accord has been approved by Israeli or Palestinian governments. (Click for more about peace plans) (Click for more about Geneva Accord

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Issues in a Nutshell