The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians may seem simple at first: two peoples are competing for the same land. But during all the years that the conflict has been unresolved, more and more complications have arisen.
The conflict concerns today’s Israel as well as the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel occupied during the Six-Day War in 1967.
Prior to World War II, these areas were part of the so-called Palestine Mandate, administered by Britain on behalf of its predecessor, the United Nations. After the war, the UN decided to divide Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab part. When the state of Israel was proclaimed in May 1948, the surrounding Arab states went on the offensive. The war lasted just over a year and ended with Israel expanding its territory significantly. Since then, several wars have been fought between Israel and neighboring countries. Even today, only Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel.
According to directoryaah, most Arabs living in Palestine fled or were expelled during the war in 1948. The dominant organization on the Palestinian side, the PLO, has recognized Israel since 1988 but claims the right of all refugees to return, which Israel says no to.
In the early 1990s, a peace process was initiated that would lead to a two-state solution, that is, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. A Palestinian government with certain powers was established, but the peace process stalled and the Palestinian government has had to make do with very limited autonomy.
The peace negotiations that have taken place in recent years have all gone awry. In addition to the negotiations, the Palestinians have succeeded in raising their status within the UN system, and in the autumn of 2014, Palestine was recognized as a state by the Swedish government.
Discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have often focused on a two-state solution. Israelis and Palestinians should have the right to their respective states in the disputed area, which consists of Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The two-state solution was a prerequisite for the peace process of the 1990s. But it failed and subsequent developments have not brought the parties closer to a solution.
The war that followed the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948 was a great victory for the new state. Arab troops attacked Israel after the proclamation, but they were unprepared and ill-equipped. During the war, Israel was able to expand its territory.
Of the Palestinian state that the UN planned for (see How the State of Israel came to be ), virtually nothing remained. In addition to parts that Israel had taken over, Jordan had seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip had come under Egyptian rule. The UN wanted to put Jerusalem under international control, but neither Israel nor Jordan agreed. When Jordan annexed East Jerusalem, Jews were prevented from visiting the Wailing Wall, the last remnant of a Jewish temple in ancient times.
For the Palestinians, the war of 1948-1949 was a disaster, al-Nakba. In 1948, between 700,000 and 900,000 Arabs may have lived in areas that later became Israel. After the war, perhaps 160,000 remained. Most of the others were in refugee camps outside Israel, mainly in the Gaza Strip, Jordan (including the West Bank) and Lebanon.
In May 1949, Israel became a member of the United Nations. All Jews had the right to immigrate. Most had previously come from Europe, but the war between Israel and the Arab states had triggered persecution of Jewish minorities in the Arab world. More than 850,000 Jews living there fled, and two-thirds of them went to Israel. In 1948, there had been 630,000 Jews in the country; four years later, the number had doubled.
While the Israelis began to build their new state in the 1950s, the Palestinians organized a resistance. In 1959, Yasir Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinians formed the Fatah movement in exile, which later became the leading force in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The Arab states had not given up hope of regaining the territories that Israel controlled. When Egypt, Jordan and Syria entered into a defense alliance in 1967 and increased pressure on Israel, Israeli aircraft went on the offensive. In the so-called Six-Day War, Israel conquered Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the West Bank, including eastern Arab Jerusalem from Jordan. Israel took the Golan Heights from Syria. East Jerusalem was annexed and thus placed under Israeli law.
For the Palestinians, the Six-Day War meant that the last remnants of historic Palestine fell into Israeli hands. In the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, Palestinians flocked to movements seeking to liberate Palestine.
In 1973, Israel was attacked by neighboring countries during the so-called October War. This time, too, Israel resigned with the victory.
After the war, the PLO changed policy. The PLO also decided that the liberation would not only take place by military means but also by political means.