Conflict in Palestine

Though the Israel-Palestine dispute is regard by many as one of the most intractable, it has also given rise to many important examples of conflict transformation.

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By Kirthi Jayakumar

The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the longest on-going conflicts in the world, with the latter seeking recognition as a state.

Historical background

In the 19th Century, the landmass that forms the states of Israel and Palestine today was inhabited by a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural populace. These people had different religious affiliations – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – and lived largely in peaceful coexistence. In the latter half of the 19th Century, as happened in most parts of the world, a group of religiously-driven people decided to colonize the landmass. They were called Zionists, who sought to create a Jewish Homeland.

Initially, the advent of the Zionists did not pose a threat. However, when they began to express their intentions of actually seeking to take over the land in order to create a homeland for the Jews, the inhabitants felt threatened. Fighting broke out, and violence reached new levels. During the Second World War, Adolf Hitler’s rise and the subsequent Holocaust encouraged an exodus of Jewish people into Palestine, which in turn led to the conflict’s escalation.

In 1947, the United Nations decided to intervene and divided-up the region, recommending that 55% of Palestine be given to a Jewish state; even though at that time the Jewish group represented only about 30% of the total population, and owned under 7% of the land.

Between 1947 and 1949, massive violence occurred. Israel conquered 78% of Palestine and three-quarters of a million Palestinians were made refugees. Over 500 towns and villages were obliterated and a new map was drawn-up, in which every city, river and hillock received a new, Hebrew name. In 1967, Israel conquered more land following the Six Day War and occupied the final 22% of Palestine that had eluded it in 1948 – namely, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Post-war, Israel also occupied parts of Egypt (since returned) and Syria (which remain under occupation). In 1973, the Yom Kippur War saw Syria and Egypt embarked on a surprise attack on Israel on the holiest day of the Hebrew Calendar. The war spiralled out of control when Jordan, Iraq and other Arab Nations either joined in or offered staunch support. In 1978, the Camp David Accords were signed with Egypt by Israel, with Israel withdrawing from the Sinai Peninsula and agreeing to future negotiation over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 1979, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed, with Egypt becoming the first Arab country to officially recognize Israel. In all the years between, violence continued.

On December 8, 1987, the First Intifada began – the first official Palestinian resistance through violence, strikes and civil disobedience. Israel responded with tear gas and plastic bullets, plus live ammunition. Multiple instances of violence took place, culminating in the Camp David Summit between Israel and Palestine, which collapsed after Palestine rejected a proposal drafted by US and Israeli negotiators. The Second Intifada occurred in September 2000 after a visit from the Israeli opposition leader to the disputed Temple Mount.

In April 2003, the Road Map for Peace was instituted at the behest of the Quartet on the Middle East, comprising the USA, The European Union, Russia and the United Nations. In July that year, the International Court of Justice offered a non-binding Advisory Opinion noting that the Israeli West Bank barrier was illegal under international law, by virtue of being an unlawful act of annexation.

Violence has since continued. But presently, there are myriad talks aimed at securing a Two-State Solution, with Palestine laying claim to statehood and recognition as a state before the United Nations.

The conflict and its implications today

The conflict itself has two basic issues – the status of refugees and Israel’s continued occupation of privately-owned land in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. In keeping with the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, these territories were supposed to finally culminate in a Palestinian state. However, after several years of Israel’s continuing confiscation of the land and steadily worsening conditions, the Palestinian population rebelled in an uprising, called the “Intifada” – meaning “shaking off” in Arabic – at the end of September 2000. Today, Israel has been recognized in the United Nations, as a state, and Palestine is knocking on the doors of the United Nations to be officially recognized. Recognition may bring room for both states to embark upon a peaceful solution.

Kirthi Jayakumar is a Lawyer, specialized in public international law and human rights. A graduate of the School of Excellence in Law, Chennai, Kirthi has diversified into research and writing on public international law and human rights. She has worked as a UN Volunteer, specializing in human rights research in Africa, India and Central Asia and the Middle East. She also runs a journal and consultancy that focuses on international law, called A38.

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