Less than a hundred years ago, there was no the country of Israel. Instead, there was the Palestine region, which had existed for many centuries. Looking through the historical books, Israel was one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
What happened to this country? To answer the question, there is no need to return thousand or two thousand years back. One just has to look back to the late 1800’s to find out that Palestine was under the Ottoman Empire. It was a multicultural land of about 80% Muslim, 50% Christian, and 5% Jewish residents. They all lived together, practicing their religions fairly and harmoniously without significant conflict at all. In the late 1800’s, the minority of the Jewish native population decided to create their homeland. At that time, there was a movement called political Zionism. They developed a wonderful, shining slogan: “A land without people for a people without land”. Political Zionism was a belief that they needed to build a Jewish state somewhere in the world. They considered Uganda, Argentina, and parts of North America for the Jewish state, and eventually they settled on Palestine due to Biblical connections from more than two thousand years before. This slogan became true except for the fact that the land was actually not without people, but it was fully inhabited. That became the reason for the conflict that has lasted for many years and is not solved today.
Since 1874, the Jerusalem area has been allocated from the Ottoman Empire, which was controlled directly from Istanbul. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Palestine was perceived by international Jewish community organized at the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 as an enemy of Jewish statehood. Zionist Organization started taking practical steps to spread Jewish religion among the Palestine population. During this period, many Jewish towns and settlements were built (Tel Aviv in 1909, Ramat Gan in 1921, Herzliya (Hertsl) in 1924, Netanya in 1929). The flow of Jewish immigrants from Europe, America, Asia, and Africa dramatically increased. Native population of Palestine had felt the lack of land and fresh water resources even before the Jews settled in the territory. That is why Jews were met by the Palestine people without hospitality. They were supposed to defend themselves, and that is actually what they continue doing now. In 1917, during the World War I, Palestine was occupied by British troops and became the mandated territory of the United Kingdom (from 1920 to 1947).
The idea of creating separate Arab and Jewish states in Palestine first appeared in the 1930s. In 1937, the Royal Commission proposed a plan of distribution of mandated territory into three parts. The first part, covering the northern territory of Palestine and including Galileo and part of the coastal strip, had to be a Jewish state. The second one, occupying the territory of Samaria, Negev, southern right bank of the Jordan, Tel Aviv, and Jaffa geographically separated from them, had to serve for creating the Arab state. According to the plans of the Commission, the rest of the territory was supposed to be left under the British control as the mandate area. Except for the mountains of Judah, this part included the centers of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian culture: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. The World War II prevented the implementation of this plan.
After the War, the question of the partition of Palestine was revived. Jewish organizations remembered the horrors of the Holocaust and demanded an immediate declaration of the state of Israel. The scheme of Palestine division proposed by the UN in 1947 was totally different from the pre-war political reconstruction plans for the region. According to the resolution number 181 UN General Assembly, Jewish state increased its area due to Arab territories to the south. The Jewish state had to include three unrelated parts of the territory, and the Arab state – four. UN Resolution broke ethnic parity. Due to the Negev desert areas, Jewish state appeared to occupy more territory than it had to.
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In 1948, there was only the Jewish state created on the territory of Palestine that was called Israel. Peaceful coexistence of two hostile states with different religious and cultural viewpoints, which did not have clearly defined boarders, was impossible. This conflict is the longest running one in the world history.
When speaking about the factors which have led to the conflict, it is important to mention the following ones:
- Territorial (attempts of both nations, Palestinian Arabs and Jews, to conquer the same territory);
- Ideological (Jews did not have plans according to the future of Palestine people, who were supposed to leave their homeland to give the chance to other nations to build their state);
- Religious (existence of totally different religions in the same territory );
- Economic (blockade of the strategic trade routes);
- Legal (non-execution of the agreements of the United Nations and other international organizations by the sides);
- Political (intervention of other countries into the conflict between Israel and Palestine state).
The analysis of the conflict allows identifying several key stages:
- The Arab-Israeli war in 1948 (the first war);
- The Suez crisis in 1956 (the second war);
- The Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and 1973;
- Camp David peace process 1978-79;
- War in Lebanon in 1982;
- The peace process of 90 years (Camp David Agreement, 2000);
- Intifada (2000).
On November 29, 1947, the majority of UN General Assembly voted for the abolition of the British Mandate regime in Palestine and advocated for the establishment of two independent states – Arab and Jewish ones on this territory. The Declaration of Independence of Israel was proclaimed by D. Ben Gurion in 1948. Having received the territory, the Jews started evicting Palestinian Arabs from their native lands. Thus, the most urgent and dramatic side of the Palestinian problem was the situation of refugees. Thus, about 960 thousand people were forced to leave the Jewish country.
The establishment of an independent Jewish state was initiated at the second session of the General Assembly of UN. It was the very time when the confrontation with the Palestinian problem between the United States and the Soviet Union on the one hand and Britain on the other hand started.
From April, 1947 to May, 1948, the Palestinian problem was repeatedly discussed at the sessions of the General Assembly of UN and the UN meetings of the Security Council. The United States supported the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine, offering a variety of plans for its future structure. The Soviet Union discussed against the abolition of British mandate in Palestine. It advocated for forcing the British troops to leave the territory and creating a twofold Arab-Jewish federal state. However, this proposal was rejected by both Arab and Jewish representatives. Later on, the Soviet Union suggested creating two independent states on the territory of Palestine.
In April 1947, the UN decided to create a special committee for the Palestine problem. It consisted of the representatives from Australia, Canada, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia. Most representatives signed the document with the proposal to create two states on the territory of Palestine.
In accordance with Resolution number 181, two states – Jewish and Arabic ones had to be formed on the former mandated territory of Palestine. The city of Jerusalem was allocated in a separate international area. This resolution abolished British mandate in Palestine. Independency of both states had to be proclaimed on August 1, 1948. This perspective satisfied the foreign policy interests of both the U.S. and the USSR. The USSR was willing to capture the territory of Israel, which was rich in oil. The same goal was set out by the United States. The main obstacle to the realization of Soviet and U.S. Middle East policy was the Great Britain’s domination in this region, which led to the confrontation of the U.S. and the USSR.
In spite of the international situation, the independent State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948. The first provisional government was headed by Ben-Gurion. This state was immediately recognized by the USA and the USSR.
Meanwhile, the Arab countries were preparing for the war. Great Britain decided not to interfere into solving the Arab-Jewish conflict and refused from the mandate in Palestine (May 15, 1948). On the same day, the Palestinian territory was occupied by the regular forces of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The governments of these countries and Saudi Arabia and Yemen declared war on Israel. That was the time when the first Arab-Israeli (Palestinian) war began. The war in Palestine lasted by 1949. At the beginning of the war, Arab countries achieved success. Arab Legion conquered the central part of Palestine, including the old part of Jerusalem.
Israel relied on the support of the international community, which was reflected in the provision of military assistance from the United States, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. Palestine suffered defeat and lost much of the territories, which were conquered by Israel.
The war finished on July, 1949, by signing the Armistice Agreement with Egypt (February 24), Jordan (April 3), and Syria (July 20). It was temporary and did not solve the territory problem. In spite of this, the representatives of the Arab countries communicated with Israel through the delegates of the UN, emphasizing the fact that they were not going to recognize Israel as the independent state.
Thus, the first Arab-Israeli war resulted in the problem of the Middle East crisis – one of the key challenges of post-war international relations.
The Palestinian problem was becoming worse. The establishment of a Palestinian state did not come true for the following reasons:
- The large part of the Palestine state was occupied by Israel;
- The Palestine state was divided between Egypt and Jordan;
- Many countries had their own plans encroaching on the territories of Palestine and Israel.
After this war, more than 900 thousand Palestinians became refugees.
Preventive war was Israel’s response to the growth of Egypt’s military activity near the border between them and the requirement of the UN peacekeepers to leave the Sinai Peninsula. The balance of forces and strategic situation in the region was favorable for Israel. There were nearly 150,000 soldiers among the Egyptians, but half of them fought in the civil war in Yemen at that time. Jordan numbered 55,000 soldiers. Some of them fought in Yemen as well. The total amount of Israel army exceeded the number of 260,000 soldiers.
Ending of the war is associated with two events. Firstly, the resolution of the UN according to which the fight had to be immediately stopped was approved on June 6. Secondly, providing the further attack of Israel, the USSR would be supposed to stop it by their force.
The Six Day War became one of the most mysterious events in the world history. It is difficult to believe that Egyptian army was totally destroyed in 6 days.
The result of the war was impressive for Israel. The following territories were totally occupied by Israel:
- The Sinai Peninsula;
- The Golan height;
- Western bank of the Jordan;
- Gaza Strip.
The most important result was that entire Jerusalem was captured. This event had a great ideological importance as far as all Jewish holy places were controlled by Israel. After the war, Eastern Jerusalem experienced the period of recovering, and Arabs and Jews were entitled to equal rights. As a result, all land that had to become the basis of the Palestine state was controlled by Israel. That is why Palestine people take Israelis for the enemies.
After the victory of Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, Israel occupied Judea, Samaria (Western bank of the Jordan), and Gaza Strip inhabited mostly by Palestinian Arabs. Some of them became the refuges having been forced to leave their homeland. The territories which were under the control of Israel in 1967 are considered by the UN, EU, USA, and Russia to be occupied lands.
After 80 years, there were real prospects for a peaceful way out of a long Middle East conflict. In 1987, the Israeli government was forced to find a compromise for the Palestine problem. On July 31, 1988, King Hussein of Jordan announced the suspension of administrative and other relations of his country with the West Bank of Jordan. In November 1988, the independence of the State of Palestine was proclaimed.
Changes in the world have led to the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict came out of the global confrontation between the USSR and the USA. The Palestinian-Israeli agreement in Oslo (1992) showed significant positive changes. Both countries recognized each other, but that was not for good.
In total, five Arab-Israeli wars have shown that there is no side between both countries that could cause any decisive defeat. The situation changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the bipolar world.
Despite the difficult situation in the Palestinian territories, attempts to resolve the conflict are still being made. However, these attempts have not given any results so far. This is understandable, as the countries continue insisting on their basic requirements and are ready to find solution in the details, but not in the main things. As long as this situation persists, all existing problems will also exist. Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on for a long time, and the current situation does not allow anyone to hope for a quick solution.
Taking into consideration all historical events that are described above, less than a hundred years ago Israel as a nation without a country was weak and exhausted by the discrimination. The confrontation between Israel and Palestine that has been lasting for the whole century can be compared with the fight between David and Goliath. David was not actually tough enough to kill his enemy, but he won due to his strong belief. Nowadays, Israel is the most powerful state among the countries in the Middle East, and, thus, “Goliath” is not a threat for Israel anymore. According to an assessment by Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Centre, “The strategic balance decidedly favours Israel, which has continued to widen the qualitative gap between its own military capability and deterrence powers and those of its neighbours” (Mearsheimer and Walt 3-12).
Since the time of creating a state, Israel has received huge financial support from the USA. Since the World War II, the United States provided Israel with 3 billion dollars per year. This US protection helped Israel to win the wars and protect the country from its enemy, but the conflict between Israel and Palestine still exists. There is no price that can stop the fight. David Grossman spent seven weeks investigating the situation in Israel. The result of his work, the book The Yellow Wind, states that Israel cannot grant the Arabs full citizenship, as they are too numerous to be absorbed into the Jews’ population. There is no way for those two nations to live together, because if the Arabs receive this opportunity, they will control the government soon. That is the only price, but it costs too much for Israel, which Grossman regards as “nothing less than the loss of the country soul”.
The Israeli-Palestine conflict cannot be solved until there is any solution to the following problems:
- The status of Jerusalem;
- Palestinian refugees;
- Israeli settlements;
Those problems lead to the aggravation of the situation in the conflict zone.
As far as both sides issue the demands, which are unable to be realized, the conflict is not on the way to the better future.
In general, the problem of Palestinian refugees remains a major source of tension in Arab-Israeli relations. In spite of all peacekeeping measures that are taken by the international community, the way to solve this conflict will be found when both sides start trying to figure it out on their own.