To better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we propose a reading of the major stages of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by distinguishing three scales.
- The territorial scale: understanding what is at stake, the reasons, and the actions
- of Israelis and
- The scale of the Arab world, which can be divided into two groups with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with plural and often divergent interests:
- The neighboring Arab countries: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt. Few oil and gas resources.
- The other countries of the Arab world: Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen. Oil and gas resources.
- The international scale: how the rest of the world reacts to or influences the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including through the work of the UN.
Period of the Israeli War of Independence (1948 to 1956)
The situation in 1949, as the previous article → Why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?, was that of a ceasefire delineating Israeli and Arab territories by a Green Line.
The Palestinians had no control over the war, and 700,000 of them were forced into exile. Some remained in Palestine, either in the new Israeli territory or in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza; others fled to neighboring Arab states. Until then called “Arabs of Palestine”, a real common identity was built among Palestinians. The Palestinians did not have their own citizenship at that time, but the politicization of their common history accelerated Palestinian nationalism.
A majority lived in camps with high poverty levels, close to Palestine, characterized by a high birth rate and high unemployment.
Israel extended its area widely, bordering the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, which is managed by Egyptian forces.
Scale of the Arab world:
Palestinians are received in the Arab world, which takes care of them with a UN agency, while denying them naturalization. The Arab states did not always act in the interests of the Palestinians, who in return sought to remain in control of their own fate, and specifically in control of the refugee camps.
Thus, Jordan and Syria, who wanted to establish a large Arab state under their government, competed with Palestinian sovereignty. Similarly, the influence of Nasserite pan-Arabism (Egypt) and the Ba’ath complicated the Palestinian cause.
The UN, while advocating repatriation of the refugees, set up UNRWA, an agency that provided relief and education. This status, which includes all Palestinians or their descendants who lost their homes because of the 1948 war, corresponds to half of the Palestinian population, a record in the world.
Suez War period (1956 to 1967)
The Suez War took place from October 29, 1956 to November 7, 1956. Two European states, France and the United Kingdom, made a secret agreement with Israel and invaded Egypt. This coalition was defeated by the United States and the USSR, the two great powers of the world during the Cold War.
The conflict resulted in a military victory of Israel against Egypt, and the arrival of the United Nations, brings them guarantees of security along the border in the east of Egypt, even if Nasser, leader of Egypt and winner of the war against all odds, can ask for the withdrawal of peacekeepers.
Scale of the Arab world:
The Jews of Egypt were forced into exile after the Suez War.
The situation of the Palestinian refugees, which was supposed to be temporary until the next victory against Israel, became permanent. The Arab states on which these ambitions rested disappointed the Palestinians, so that a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) took its place to represent the Palestinians, founded in 1964 in Cairo on the initiative of the Arab League. It has its own charter, headquarters and army.
In France, the Suez War was generally supported. In the United Kingdom, there were more protests against the Suez War. After Israel’s takeover of Sinai, the USSR said it was ready to commit nuclear weapons, with NATO indicating that it would do the same in this case. The United States demanded the withdrawal of the French and the British. The balance formed by the two giants, the United States and the USSR, dominated the European powers in the eyes of the world.
Six-Day War period (1967 to 1973)
Although for Nasser (Egypt), the traditional Arab forces are not able to defeat the Israeli army, the need to keep the hand in the Arab world, under pressure from Fatah and Syria from 1966, pushes him to confront Israel again. Nasser demanded an end to the UN presence along the border between Egypt and Israel, and after having forbidden access to the Straits of Tiran, he began to send troops to Sinai. Israel reacted quickly and launched the war, winning in only six days, from June 5 to 10, 1967. The result was a total occupation of Palestine by Israel, and a new mass exodus of Palestinians, their camps being controlled by Israel.
After the Six-Day War, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) turned even more towards Arab socialism and armed revolution. The organization, however, retained its democratic functioning and remained secular.
The nationalist Fatah movement, a member of the Socialist International, which had gained influence since 1959, advocated a new form of warfare to defeat Israel, namely a revolutionary war of regular raids, leading to a general uprising. Israel in turn deliberately ignored the existence of Fatah in its official discourse, blaming Arab states for Palestinian terrorism instead.
Scale of the Arab world:
Israel imposed its authority over Palestinian camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
At the end of the Six-Day War, a Khartoum Summit of eight signatories (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Kuwait, and Sudan) produced a resolution stating “three no’s”: no to peace Israel, no to recognition of Israel, and no to negotiations with Israel.
In 1972, King Hussein (Jordan) wanted to form a large Arab state consisting of two provinces, Jordan and Palestine. This proposal was very badly received in the Arab world, especially by Egypt and the PLO, which threatened anyone who participated in this enemy idea, and created a Palestinian National Front to reject this project.
The UN Security Council passed Resolution 242 on November 22, 1967, which called for, among other things, the“Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the territories occupied during the recent conflict,” and referred to the Palestinians only as refugees:“to achieve a just settlement of the refugee problem.” This resolution divided the Arab countries, since Syria refused it, while Egypt and Jordan accepted it.
Yom Kippur War period (1973 to 1987)
In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. But their armies were defeated by Israel, which retained its 1967 gains.
In March 1977, the Palestinian National Council (the PLO’s parliamentary institution) indicated that it wanted to liberate the occupied territories first, the ultimate goal being the liberation of Palestine as a whole.
Palestinian attacks on Israel resumed at a steady pace. Israel decided to invade southern Lebanon in order to expel the PLO, which was carried out in 1982. A coalition of France, Italy, and the United States stopped the invasion, allowing Yasser Arafat to take refuge in Tunis.
Scale of the Arab world:
The Arab summit in Algiers in November 1973 changed the “three no’s” line (see Six-Day War period) to instead call for a just peace conditioned on a return to the Green Line (i.e., the borders at the end of the War of Independence, in 1949). King Hussein (Jordan) disagreed, wanting to give Jordan a greater role, but without success.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) definitively acquired during this period its legitimacy and authority to represent the Palestinian people. It also began to be represented in the major international organizations, but still lacked recognition from the United States.
The attention of the Arab world was focused less on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than on the war in Lebanon after 1975 and between Iraq and Iran after 1980. The Iranian Republic, a Shiite country that is an enemy of Israel, wanted to rally the Arab world by allying itself with Baathist-Alawite Syria. It was opposed to Ba’athist-Sunni Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Syria, with the support of Iran and Hezbollah, invaded Lebanon with the ambition to expand its borders.
The UN Security Council passed Resolution 338 in October 1973 to end the Yom Kippur War. A ceasefire was called for, to be followed by negotiations to bring about peace.
The United States wanted the PLO to accept Israel’s right to exist, as well as UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. Israel remained its strategic ally and, together with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, could constitute a bulwark against Sovietism.
It was under the aegis of American President Carter that Egypt and Israel conducted secret negotiations and then signed the Camp David Accords in September 1978, for which Menachem Begin (Israel) and Anwar Sadat (Egypt) received the Nobel Peace Prize. A peace treaty between the two countries followed on 26 March 1979: this was bad news for the Palestinians, who lost support, while the Arab League excluded Egypt from its ranks, moving its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis.
The nine members of the European Community relied on UN Security Council Resolution 242 to consider peace.
Period of the first Intifada (1987 – 1993)
A public outburst links the accidental death of four Palestinians with the murder of an Israeli two days earlier, causing crowd protests at the funeral to escalate. This was the trigger for the first intifada, in a context of misery and resentment among Palestinians towards Israel, especially since the Six Day War.
The movement evolved into civil disobedience and demonstrations. The youngest, children and teenagers, are important actors of this first intifada, and women also participate. Everything is done to provoke the Israeli army, by throwing stones, explosive devices, sabotage, and by a public mobilization campaign.
Israel reacted by sending a large number of soldiers, about 80,000 men, who began a much stronger repression.
In 1988, Yasser Arafat proclaimed the independence of the State of Palestine for the PLO, strengthened by the success of the intifada.
From 1991 onwards, the violence diminished. The intifada will nevertheless have reminded us of the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by welding the Palestinians together a little more and inflicting economic losses on Israel.
Scale of the Arab world:
The PLO was driven out of Lebanon after the Syrian offensive, which now occupied the north of Lebanon, with Israel occupying the south. It established its headquarters in Tunis, and acquired a religious character, Islamic in this case. In October 1985, this headquarters is bombed by Israel, this technical feat at more than 2000 km from the Israeli base is condemned by the UN.
The Arab countries no longer make the Palestinian question a priority, while the PLO is accused of not taking sufficient account of the lives of the Palestinians.
Since 1988, the newly created Hamas has been competing with Fatah to lead the PLO.
The broadcasting of images of the first intifada aroused a certain empathy of the rest of the world towards the Palestinians, particularly in view of the use of violence by Israel against civilian children, which the PLO used in its communication.
The USSR wished to resolve conflicts in the world involving armed struggle through the diplomatic channels of the UN. It asked for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through mutual recognition, and let Soviet Jews join Israel.
The Gulf War pits Iraq, which has just annexed Kuwait, against a coalition of 35 states led by the United States.
Oslo Accords period (1994-2000)
A Palestinian Authority to administer the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is the result of the Oslo Accords (see international scale). Yasser Arafat was elected president in 1996.
Arab world scale:
Jordan signs peace with Israel in 1994.
After the Gulf War, the United States engages in negotiations to restore peace in the Middle East. U.S. President Bill Clinton succeeded in bringing together Yasser Arafat (for the Palestinians) and Yitzhak Rabin (for the Israelis) in September 1993, who agreed on several points: the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, while Israel recognized the PLO’s legitimacy. These Oslo agreements were completed in 1995 by a second stage, Oslo II. The peace process will not go much further than this mutual recognition, as positions become more radical again, and the objectives of the agreements are not met or are delayed.
Period of the second Intifada (2000 to 2021)
The visit of the Israeli Ariel Sharon, at that time a member of parliament, to the Esplanade of the Mosques caused a scandal and provoked Palestinian demonstrations. Strongly repressed, the death of a Palestinian child became a symbol, and the violence continued. A month later, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized a series of suicide attacks. The second Intifada lasted mainly until 2005, and is still active today but to a much lesser degree.
Hamas (a Palestinian movement distinguished by its Islamism) and Fatah (a Palestinian movement distinguished by its nationalism, which made it lead the PLO) are two Palestinian factions but rivals, and they engage in a war of influence to lead the Palestinian Authority, which even becomes material and concrete during exchanges of fire.
Hamas won the legislative elections in 2006, which should have allowed it to lead the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas therefore proposed that Hamas form a new government. Faced with the suspension of international aid, which viewed the election results unfavourably, Hamas and Fatah agreed on a Palestinian national unity government, with the posts shared between them.
This did not prevent Hamas from launching an offensive against Fatah, and Mahmoud Abbas in particular, in the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Hamas succeeded in taking control, relegating the power of the Palestinian Authority in that territory.
This Palestinian division did not erase the conflict with Israel, against which Hamas has been launching rockets regularly since then, with Israel declaring a blockade of the territory at the end of June 2007, and then retaliating each time with bombings against Gaza.
The Gaza war in 2008 and 2009 was also characterized by an Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Confrontations broke out again in the following years, and bloody Israeli operations in response to attacks from Palestine continue to this day.
In January 2013, the Palestinian Authority was dissolved by Mahmoud Abbas to become the State of Palestine, while the PLO retained its role as the voice of the Palestinians.
In 2020, the Israeli population is 8.5 million. The Arab population in Israel is 1.4 million, with the majority living in the Galilee (especially in the city of Nazareth). In the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip there are 4.8 million Palestinians.
The Gaza Strip in particular is very densely populated, with its population increasing from 70,000 in 1948 to 1.8 million today, coupled with very high poverty.
In November 2012, the State of Palestine was formalized at the UN, incorporating it as an observer state.
In December 2017, Donald Trump officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and has the U.S. embassy transferred there, in accordance with a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1995, but constantly postponed since. This decision, which goes the way of Israel, provokes protests from the Palestinians. During demonstrations perceived as violent, Israel uses weapons, resulting in more than 50 deaths.