he Middle East, a plaid of interwoven cultural and religious identities, is a region where history intertwines indelibly with the present, casting long shadows over modern politics and society. This editorial aims to navigate the rich and often turbulent historical narrative that led to the emergence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—a tapestry of events that has shaped the region’s geography and continues to fuel intense debate and influence global geopolitics.
Various accounts chronicle the conflict’s origin, but notably, it can be traced back to the late 19th century, with the Jewish migration to the then Ottoman Empire. This departure was a response to pogroms and other persecutions faced by Jews in Eastern Europe, and it coincided with the rise of Zionism, a movement advocating for the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland.
A pivotal moment came with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 when Britain, in a bid to secure Jewish support, promised the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This promise galvanised the Zionist movement, underpinning their historical and religious claim to Jerusalem—or Zion. Post World War I, the defunct Ottoman Empire relinquished control of Palestine, which was subsequently administered by the British under a League of Nations mandate—a mandate heavily criticised for neglecting the aspirations for independence of the Palestinian majority inhabiting the land.
The United Nations and the Partition Plan
While we delve into the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is imperative to highlight the significant role of the United Nations in shaping the modern contours of the region. In 1947, UN Resolution 181, also known as the Partition Plan, was adopted with an ambitious objective: to divide the British Mandate of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. This resolution was a watershed in the annals of the region, setting the stage for a series of tumultuous events that would redefine the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape.
The Birth of Israel and the First Arab-Israeli War
The proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, marked a moment of jubilation for some and a catastrophe for others, leading to the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli War. By the end of the conflict in 1949, Israel had triumphed, but this victory came at a cost—approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes. The aftermath of the war saw the land divided anew, with Israel asserting sovereignty, the West Bank falling under Jordanian control, and the Gaza Strip under Egyptian administration. These divisions sowed the seeds for future discord and left an indelible mark on the socio-political dynamics of the region.
Rising Tensions and the Suez Crisis
The ensuing years witnessed escalating tensions, particularly among Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The 1956 Suez Crisis epitomises this period’s subtext. Israel’s strategic move to invade the Sinai Peninsula was a response to the palpable threat posed by the collective defence pacts among Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. This preemptive action by Israel was a significant demonstration of its resolve to safeguard its sovereignty and a foreshadowing of the region’s persistent volatility.
The Six-Day War: A Pivotal Juncture in June 1967
The tapestry of the Middle Eastern geopolitical landscape was dramatically altered in June 1967. Egyptian President Abdel Gamal Nasser’s manoeuvres created a tinderbox situation, prompting Israel to launch a preemptive strike on Egyptian and Syrian air forces, thereby initiating the Six-Day War. In a swift victory, Israel expanded its borders significantly, seizing the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. This territorial acquisition reshaped the region’s map and set the stage for decades of conflicts and peace negotiations.
The Yom Kippur War: A Return to Arms in 1973
In October 1973, six years after the Six-Day War, Egypt and Syria caught Israel off-guard with a surprise two-front attack during the holy day of Yom Kippur. The intention was clear: to reclaim the territories lost in 1967. The Yom Kippur War, a fierce conflict, ultimately ended with no decisive territorial changes. However, Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat hailed it as a psychological victory for Egypt, a claim that played a crucial role in paving the way for future discussions over the contested lands.
The Path to Peace: Camp David Accords in 1979
The historic Camp David Accords of 1979 heralded a new chapter in Middle Eastern diplomacy. Following a series of cease-fires and protracted negotiations, Egypt and Israel, represented by their heads of state, reached a monumental peace agreement. This treaty ended the war between the two nations and marked the first recognition of Israel by an Arab country. Despite this breakthrough, the Accords left a significant issue unresolved: Palestinian self-determination remained an open question, casting a long shadow over the region’s future.
Uprising and Autonomy: The First Intifada and the Oslo I Accords
By 1987, the simmering tensions in the occupied territories boiled over as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip rose against Israeli authority in an uprising known as the first Intifada. This wave of protests and civil disobedience highlighted the Palestinians’ yearning for self-governance. It culminated in the Oslo I Accords 1993, a groundbreaking interim agreement establishing a framework for Palestinian autonomy and recognising mutual legitimacy between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.
Further Steps: The Oslo II Accords in 1995
Building on the momentum of Oslo I, the 1995 Oslo II Accords expanded upon the initial agreement, delineating complex arrangements for the phased Israeli withdrawal from critical areas of the West Bank. This agreement was significant as it carved out a path for increased Palestinian self-administration across hundreds of West Bank cities and towns. However, it did not diminish the undercurrents of discontent on both sides.
Renewed Conflict: The Second Intifada
The second intifada, which erupted in 2000, was partially fueled by Palestinian exasperation over Israel’s continued dominion over the West Bank and a stagnant peace process. The catalyst for this violent uprising was the visit by Ariel Sharon, then Israeli Prime Minister, to the al-Aqsa mosque, a site of profound religious significance. In reaction to the ensuing turmoil, Israel commenced the construction of a controversial barrier wall around the West Bank in 2002, which drew widespread international condemnation, including from the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. The wall became a potent symbol of the regional divisions and enduring tensions.