What's the Israel-Palestinian conflict about and how did it start?

US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat took part in the Camp David summit in 2000, but failed to reach a final peace deal

Reuters
Published : 1 Nov 2023, 06:41 PM
Updated : 1 Nov 2023, 06:41 PM

The war between Israel and Hamas militants who stormed Israeli towns and kibbutzes from the Gaza Strip on Oct 7, is the latest in seven decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has destabilised the wider Middle East.

In Hamas' rampage, some 1,400 Israelis, mainly civilians, were killed and 229 were taken hostage.

In response, Israel carried out airstrikes before troops and tanks poured into Gaza in a ground assault, all with the declared aim of wiping out the Islamist militant group.

Medical authorities in Hamas-run Gaza said on Nov 1 that 8,796 people - including 3,648 children - had been killed in the enclave.

WHAT ARE THE ORIGINS OF THE CONFLICT?

The conflict pits Israeli demands for security in what it has long regarded as a hostile Middle East against Palestinians' aspirations for a state of their own. Hamas rejects the two-state solution and is sworn to Israel's destruction.

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly agreed a plan to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states and for international rule over Jerusalem. Jewish leaders accepted the plan giving them 56 percent of Palestine land. The Arab League rejected the proposal.

Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the modern state of Israel on May 14, 1948, establishing a safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution and seeking a national home on land to which they cite deep ties dating to antiquity.

Violence had been intensifying between Jews and Arabs however, and a day after Israel was created, troops from five Arab states attacked.

In the war that followed, some 700,000 Palestinians, half the Arab population of what was British-ruled Palestine, fled or were driven from their homes, ending up in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinians lament this as the 'Nakba', or catastrophe. Israel contests the assertion that it forced the Palestinians out.

Armistice agreements halted the fighting in 1949 but there was no formal peace. Palestinians who stayed put in the war and their descendants today make up about 20 percent of Israel's population.

WHAT MAJOR WARS HAVE BEEN FOUGHT SINCE THEN?

In 1967, Israel made a pre-emptive strike against Egypt and Syria, launching the Six-Day War. Israel captured the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip from Egypt and occupied them.

An Israeli census that year put Gaza's population at 394,000, at least 60% of them Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israeli positions along the Suez Canal and Golan Heights, touching off the Yom Kippur War. Israel pushed both armies back within three weeks.

Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and thousands of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters under Yasser Arafat were evacuated by sea after a 10-week siege. Israeli troops pulled out of Lebanon in 2000.

In 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza. Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006, and seized full control of Gaza in 2007. Gaza saw major flare-ups of fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel in 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021.

In 2006, Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers in the volatile border region and Israel launched military action, triggering a six-week war.

Besides wars, there have been two Palestinian intifadas, or uprisings, from 1987 to 1993 and 2000 to 2005. During the second, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups carried out suicide bombings against Israelis, and Israel carried out tank and air strikes on Palestinian cities.

WHAT ATTEMPTS HAVE THERE BEEN TO MAKE PEACE?

In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty.

In 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Arafat shook hands on the Oslo Accords establishing limited Palestinian autonomy. In 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan.

US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat took part in the Camp David summit in 2000, but failed to reach a final peace deal.

In 2002, an Arab League plan offered Israel normal relations with all Arab countries in return for a full withdrawal from the lands it took in the 1967 Middle East war, the creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees. The presentation of the plan was overshadowed by Hamas, which blew up an Israeli hotel full of Holocaust survivors during a Passover seder meal.

Further peace efforts have been stalled since 2014.

Palestinians stopped dealing with US President Donald Trump's 2017-2019 administrationafter he broke with decades of US policy by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

WHERE DO PEACE EFFORTS STAND NOW?

The administration of US President Joe Biden has focused on trying to secure a "grand bargain" in the Middle East that includes normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, custodian of Islam's two holiest shrines.

The latest war is diplomatically awkward for Riyadh as well as for other Arab states, including some Gulf Arab states next to Saudi Arabia, that have signed peace deals with Israel.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ISSUES?

A two-state solution, Israeli settlements on occupied land, the status of Jerusalem, agreed borders, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Two-state solution: An agreement that would create a state for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel. Israel has said a Palestinian state must be demilitarized so as not to threaten its security.

Settlements: Most countries deem Jewish settlements built on land Israel occupied in 1967 as illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and biblical ties to the land. Continued settlement expansion is among the most contentious issues between Israel, the Palestinians and international community.

Jerusalem: Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes the walled Old City's sites sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike, to be the capital of their state. Israel says Jerusalem should remain its "indivisible and eternal" capital.

Israel's claim to Jerusalem's eastern part is not recognised internationally. Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, without specifying the extent of its jurisdiction in the disputed city, and moved the US embassy there in 2018.

Refugees: Today about 5.6 million Palestinian refugees - mainly descendants of those who fled in 1948 - live in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. About half of registered refugees remain stateless, according to the Palestinian foreign ministry, many living in crowded camps.

Palestinians have long demanded that refugees should be allowed to return, along with millions of their descendants. Israel says any resettlement of Palestinian refugees must occur outside its borders.