After nine-months-long peace talks between Israel and Palestine, mediated by the United States (U.S.), fell apart in April 2014, there has been an alarming increase in brutality and bloodshed perpetrated by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. While Palestinian teenagers were slaughtered in the West Bank by Israeli troops, Israeli teenagers were murdered by Hamas operatives. Military operations were launched by the Israeli military, and Hamas responded by rocket attacks. Several Israeli extremists burned another Palestinian teenager to death while another Palestinian teenager stabbed Israeli civilians to death. There is escalating violence swirling up today in the West Bank and Gaza. Many fear that the conflict will develop into a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising, soon.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman, Martin Schäfer, commented that, “What possibly awaits us here is something like a new intifada. That can’t be in anyone’s interest – it can’t be something anyone in Israel wants, or which any responsible Palestinian politician wants.” Nevertheless, similar to the two previous intifadas that broke out in the years 1987 and 2000, incidents of violence are getting more brutal, sporadic, and rising rapidly.
▲ Hamas. Provided by www.businessinsider.com
The Roots of the Conflict
The roots of the deadly and prolonged conflict between Israel and Palestine can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century. During World War I, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, British forces captured Palestine from the Ottoman forces. As the Ottomans supported Germany during the war, Britain sponsored a revolt by the Arabs and promised that they would be granted autonomy. At the same time, the British promised that the Jews would be able to build their homeland in Palestine. Consequently, in 1917, the British announced in the Balfour Declaration that the British government “Favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” However, they made it clear that “…nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
When the war came to an end in 1918, France was given control over Syria by the League of Nations. Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan were handed to Britain. Afterwards, the British divided the land into two. Land situated in the east of the river of Jordan was given to the Abdullah Hussain, and was called the Emirates Transjordan. This region later became parts of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Establishment of Jewish settlements were forbidden in this area. Meanwhile, land in the west of Jordan became known as the Palestinian Mandate and was controlled by the British. Due to the Holocaust by the Nazis, in the 1930s, a great influx of Jewish people migrated to the Palestinian Mandate. This created aggressive discord between the Jewish immigrants and the local Palestinians.
After 1947, the British handed over their control in the Palestinian Mandate to the United Nations (UN). To resolve the destructive strife between the Arabs and the Jews, the UN recommended a two-state solution. The UN’s plan was accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Arabs. “Palestinians thought that the border fixed by the UN was unfair, as two thirds of the populations were Palestinians and only one third was Jewish at the time,” explained Professor Cho Young-Chol (Seoul Jangshin University). Despite the rejection by the Arabs, the state of Israel was founded on May 15, 1948 and was recognized by the UN.
The Four Arab-Israeli Wars
In response, the first Arab-Israeli War between the coalition of Arab countries and Israel broke out immediately. Forces from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Lebanon fought against the Israeli forces. An armistice agreement was signed between the two factions, through the intervention by the UN Security Council (UNSC). As a result of the armistice agreement, Israel obtained more territory. Before the war, Israel’s territory was only 56 percent of the Palestinian region, but after the war they controlled 80 percent of the region, including Western Jerusalem. Eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank were annexed by Jordan and Gaza fell under the influence of Egypt. About 750,000 Palestinian Arabs were forced to leave the region out of the total population of 1.2 million people.
The first Arab-Israeli War was followed by three more wars, creating irreconcilable hatred between Israel and Arab countries. The second war in 1956 was caused by the nationalization of the Suez Canal in Egypt, which was formerly owned by Europeans. The nationalization prompted France, Britain, and Israel to organize a military response. They managed to annex Sinai but were forced to give up Sinai due to pressures from the international community.
The third war broke out a decade later in 1967, when Israel launched a pre-emptive attack on Egypt. Syria and Jordan also joined in to support Egypt. However, the war only lasted for six days and ended with Israel’s victory. Through this Six-Day War, Israel managed to seize control over the Sinai from Egypt, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan, as well as the Golan Heights from Syria. The fourth war was initiated by Syria and Egypt in 1973, to recapture the land they had lost during the previous wars but failed. The borders remained unchanged from the Six-Day War. Through a series of wars and support from European Countries and the U.S., Israel not only won all four wars but also expanded its territory.
▲ Mapping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Provided by america.aljazeera.com.
Organized Response from the Palestinians
As Israel continued to expand its territory, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed in 1964. Founded under the chairman Yasser Arafat, the PLO announced that regaining and destroying Israel were their main goals through guerilla operations. The PLO has been recognized as the representative of the Palestinian people by many states and organizations and obtained an observer position at the UN in 1974. However, the PLO has been treated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel until the Madrid Conference in 199l when the PLO agreed to abandon violence as their mode of operation. Hamas also sprung up later in the 1980s as a Palestinian military movement. It was founded by a Palestinian activist from the Muslim Brotherhood, Ahmed Yassin.
Hamas was organized during the first intifada, opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is not only the largest Palestinian militant group but also the second largest political party with a position in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Fatah is the largest political party in the PLO. However, Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by many countries including the U.S., the European Union (EU), Canada, Egypt, and Japan.
The First and Second Intifada
As Israel continued to expand its influence in the West Bank and Gaza area, systematically promoting establishment of Jewish settlements in Palestine, further anger boiled up among the Palestinians. In 1987, this anger erupted and turned into a major uprising, named the first intifada. Protests demanding Israel to stop building Jewish settlements in the West bank and Gaza lasted until 1993. The catalyst for the uprising was a traffic accident, where a truck from the Israeli military forces crashed into a Palestinian civilian car, killing four Palestinians. The demonstrations started out peacefully, involving actions such as boycotts and civil disobedience. However, they heated up as people started to become violent and throw stones at Israeli police officers; the Israel government sent the troops to Palestine, resulting in the death of many Palestinians and Israelis.
The first intifada only subsided after the signature of the Oslo Accord that granted Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza in 1993. “Israel won all the wars, but soon realized that it was very difficult to contain an intifada. The Israelis were tired of continued protests and violence and wanted peace. Thus, in the 1992 election, Yitzhak Rabin, who had the slogan ‘Land for Peace,’ was elected,” said Professor Choi. This was what led the two sides to finally sit down at the negotiation table to resolve their bloody conflict. The PLO and the government of Israel first formally recognized each other in Norway’s capital, Oslo, and agreed to stop further violence in return for reinstating some of the land captured during the Six-Day War.
The peace achieved by the Oslo Agreement did not last for long. As quite a number of people from both sides were dissatisfied with the agreement, violence continued. “The Israelis thought that further violence would stop as they returned a substantial amount of territory to the PLO. However, more bombing and acts of terrorism took place, as Hamas still wanted to destroy Israel, while the dominant party Fatah agreed to the two-state solution. As a result, Israel enforced a blockade on Palestinians, disabling the Palestinian economy. In the end, a vicious cycle of violence was created and both sides started to lose faith in a peaceful resolution,” said Professor Choi.
Due to growing discontent on both sides, a second intifada broke out in September, 2000. The intifada started out more violent than the previous one. This time the catalyst was a visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by an Israeli Politician Ariel Sharon, who was later elected as the prime minister. As the second intifada were orchestrated by Hamas, attacks became more lethal, including suicide bombings and guns. The second intifada came to an end after the death of Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO.
▲ Provided by BBC.
A Third Intifada?
Professor Choi elaborated that due to the failure of the Oslo Accord, both Israel and Palestine elected aggressive political parties that did not favor peaceful negotiations, for example election of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, in the PLO. Professor Choi said, “Also, Israel displayed weakness in guerrilla warfare. They lost in the south of Lebanon in a guerilla war with the Hezbollah. This led some in the PLO to believe that they had a chance to destroy Israel through guerrilla action. Due to the leadership vacuum on both sides promoting peaceful negotiations, and the disappointed public, violence has been escalating ever since.” Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas announced recently, “We are calling for the strengthening and increasing of the intifada[...] it is the only path that will lead to liberation.”
Turbulence in the Middle East further aggravated the relations between Israel and Palestine. Professor Choi believes that the recent surge of violence is due to the rise of Islam Fundamentalists in the region after the Arab Spring and the War in Syria. The development of social networking services (SNS), once hailed as the medium for democratic movements during the Arab Spring, turned out to be a double-edged sword, allowing Islam extremists to gain supporters and spread propaganda. Professor Choi argues that the rise of Islam extremists in neighboring countries, especially the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has encouraged extremists in Palestine as well.
Although it is unclear whether or not a third intifada will occur, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is not expected to be settled any time soon. Choi emphasized, “They both think that the time is on their side. Israel believes that, as it possesses superior military power, and has expanded their territory through winning numerous wars, it has the upper hand. Israel’s strong economy compared to Palestine boosts its confidence. On the other hand, the PLO asserts that, as Palestine’s population is rapidly growing, and as the population of Jews is aging and dwindling, after a few decades, they will be able to overtake Israel in terms of population, and increase their influence.”
As both sides are interpreting the past and the future to fit their own scripts they both believe that they do not need to settle their borders any time soon. But it is certain that continued conflict will only result in more violence and bloodshed. Strong leadership and consensus on a peaceful resolution are desperately needed on both sides so that previous steps for peace can finally lead to coexistence.