Arab-Israeli Conflict

The genesis of the Arab-Israeli conflict predated the 1948 creation of the modern state of Israel. Ottoman colonialism had scarred the Middle East for centuries. During World War One, French and especially British intervention in the region exacerbated an already heated conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestinian region. The political trend toward nationalism also encouraged the Zionist ideology.

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Zionism began as a loosely organized grassroots movement in Europe during the late nineteenth century that encouraged Jews in Diaspora to claim a homeland territory in Palestine. Zionism was not a universal theme among Jews, and in fact many Jews living in Palestine and abroad opposed the creation of a modern Israeli nation-state (Beinin & Hajjar). The primary impetus of Zionism was to create a political nation-state with distinct geographic boundaries in Palestine. The new nation would encompass ancient Jewish territories including those regions and cities held sacred by both Muslims and Jews.

As early as 1882, Jews in Europe began to migrate en masse to Palestine (Beinin & Hajjar). During the First World War Zionism became embedded in British foreign policy, arguably as a means to assert European political hegemony. The Allied victory completed the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the entire Middle East fell under the control of France and Great Britain.

The 1917 Balfour Declaration issued by Great Britain became the first official Zionist policy initiative. The Balfour Declaration represented part of the way Great Britain would carve up its Middle Eastern territories: with little regard for the will of the Arab people. Great Britain and France essentially took advantage of a fragmented Arab population, which had been living under Turkish Ottoman rule and which had yet to establish any clear nationalist policies. The dismantling of the Ottoman Empire enabled European political intervention in the Middle East and the creation of what can easily be called artificial political boundaries throughout the region. Moreover, a growing market for fossil fuels created an important financial and political impetus for European interventionism in the Middle East.

Jews and Arabs had been coexisting in the Palestinian region throughout the Diaspora but Arabs far outnumbered both Jews and Turks in the region. Zionism threatened Arab sovereignty, limiting the amount of self-determination Arabs had in the wake of World War One. The influx of Jews into the region, which was officially supported and sponsored by Great Britain, led to civic unrest in the region. By the late 1920s violence erupted. The Hebron Massacre marked the first real warlike conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. Between 1936 and 1939 Arabs led a revolt against both the British and the Jewish immigrants. Great Britain agreed to restrict the number of Jewish immigrants to Palestine.

However, burgeoning anti-Semitism in Europe fostered Zionism and Jews continued to immigrate to Palestine in spite of the restrictions. The atrocities of World War Two offered the ultimate impetus for Jewish migration and for the creation of a Jewish nation-state. Violence continued to plague Palestine and by the 1940s the United Nations intervened to help create peace and stability in the region. In 1947 the United Nations created a special committee on Palestine. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) advised a two-state solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict, suggesting the creation of a Jewish state based on demographic patterns of settlement. The British mandate over Palestine ended immediately before Israel declared independence and claimed sovereignty over the territories outlined in the UNSCOP plan. Arabs in the entire Middle East but especially those living in Palestine opposed the UNSCOP plan for a two-state solution to the conflict, and strongly opposed the creation of a Jewish state. Immediately after Israel declared its independence, a coalition of Arab states invaded Israel, starting the first Arab-Israeli War. Israel prevailed, and conquered territories beyond those claimed in the original UNSCOP partition. Israel gained control of 77% of Palestinian territories and the remainder was divided between Jordan and Egypt (Beinin & Hajjar).

Thus, the UNSCOP proposal for a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict was dismissed and a Palestinian state was never created: leading to the subsequent decades of resentment and violence throughout the entire Middle East. Jewish residents of Arab countries throughout the region were persecuted violently and most fled to Israel. Palestinians were forced into refugee camps. Palestinians living in Israel are Israeli citizens but experience systematic discrimination (Beinin & Hajjar).

The conflict in the Middle East escalated further as Egyptian leader Gamal Abder Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal and restricted Israeli movement through it. By also joining military forces with Syria, Egypt seemed to be taking a particularly aggressive anti-Israel stance. In 1956 Israel responded by invading the Sinai Peninsula, aided by the French and British. Although Israel initially secured capture of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, international pressure forced Israel to rescind its claims (“The Arab-Israeli Conflict”).

Syrian and Egyptian aggression continued against Israel. The formation of the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO) further aggravated regional tensions. In 1967, Israel launched a preemptive strike on multiple fronts. The June 1967 war lasted only six days, during which Israel successfully captured the West Bank from Jordan, reclaimed the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, and annexed the Golan Heights from Syria. From then on, Israel’s borders have been referred to in terms of pre-1967 and post-1967 boundaries. Arab-Israeli conflict has intensified since the Six Day War and peace has eluded the region in spite of numerous attempts at resolutions championed by the international community. Many if not most Arab leaders do not recognize the state of Israel, hindering peace negotiations.

In 1979, the United States spearheaded negotiations between Israel and Egypt during the Camp David Accords. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat agreed to recognize the state of Israel in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula. In 1993, Jordan and Israel reached a peace negotiation after the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords also encouraged mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel, but skirmishes, terrorist attacks, and outright warfare continue to erupt periodically. Israel has proclaimed intentions to either scale down Jewish settlements in the West Bank or withdraw entirely but efforts seem stalemated. Recent efforts show some hope for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

The only reasonable way to end the Arab-Israeli conflict is to create a Palestinian State. Unfortunately, the boundaries of that state remain in dispute. Israel must be willing to surrender some of its territories, and anti-Israeli terrorist organizations must be squelched systematically. The possibility of creating an international zone in parts of Israel would also allow for zones of neutrality. Both Israeli and Arab points-of-view are valid, and both sides share joint complicity for the problems plaguing the Middle East. Concerted efforts to dismantle terrorist organizations will help stabilize the region too.


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