Explainer: What's the Israel-Palestinian conflict about and how did it start? | Inquirer News

Explainer: What’s the Israel-Palestinian conflict about and how did it start?

/ 08:23 AM October 31, 2023

Smoke rises after Israeli strikes on the seaport of Gaza City

Smoke rises after Israeli strikes on the seaport of Gaza City, in Gaza, October 10, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The war between Israel and Hamas, which stormed Israeli towns and kibbutzes bordering Gaza in a shock attack on Oct. 7, is the latest in seven decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has destabilized the wider Middle East.

In Hamas’ rampage, some 1,400 Israelis, mainly civilians, were killed and 229 taken hostage. In response, Israel hammered Gaza with air strikes before troops and tanks poured into the small coastal enclave in a ground assault expected to meet fierce resistance from Hamas and other Islamist militants. Medical authorities in Hamas-run Gaza said on Monday that 8,306 people – including 3,457 minors – had been killed in the enclave.


What are the origins of the conflict?

The intractable conflict pits Israeli demands for security in what it has long regarded as a hostile Middle East against Palestinian aspirations for a state of its own.


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.

Palestinians lament Israel’s creation as the Nakba, or catastrophe that resulted in their mass dispossession and blocked their own dreams of statehood.

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.

Israel, a close U.S. ally, contests the assertion that it drove Palestinians from their homes and points out it was attacked by five Arab states the day after its creation. 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% 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 and the Golan Heights from Syria and occupied them ever since.


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 Palestinian fighters under Yasser Arafat were evacuated by sea after a 10-week siege. 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.

In 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza, which it had captured from Egypt in 1967. But Gaza saw major flare-ups of fighting in 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021 that involved Israeli air raids and Palestinian rocket fire, and sometimes also cross-border incursions by either side.

As well as wars, there have been two Palestinian intifadas (uprisings), in 1987-93 and again in 2000-05. The second saw waves of Hamas suicide bombings against Israelis and Israeli tank and air strikes on Palestinian cities.

What attempts have there been to make peace?

In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty, ending 30 years of hostility. In 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, shook hands on the Oslo Accords on limited Palestinian autonomy. In 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan.

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 their Passover seder.

Further peace efforts have been stalled since 2014 when talks failed between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington.

Palestinians boycotted dealings with the 2017-21 administration of U.S. President Donald Trump since it reversed decades of U.S. policy by refusing to endorse the two-state solution – the peace formula that envisages a Palestinian state established in territory that Israel captured in 1967.

Where do peace efforts stand now?

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has focused on trying to secure a “grand bargain” in the Middle East that includes normalization 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 are at the core of the dispute.

Two-state solution: An agreement that would create a state for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel. Hamas rejects the two-state solution and is sworn to Israel’s destruction. 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 recognized internationally. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without specifying the extent of its jurisdiction in the disputed city, and moved the U.S. 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.

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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 of its borders.


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