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Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Related subjects Recent History

Israel, with the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights
Israel, with the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an ongoing dispute between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is part of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict and is essentially a dispute between two national identities with claims over the same area of land.

The modern roots of the conflict can be traced to the late 19th century, which saw a rise in national movements, including Zionism and Arab nationalism. Zionism, the Jewish national movement, which was established largely as a response to European anti-Semitism, sought the creation of a Jewish Nation-State in the territory of Palestine, Eretz Israel, the historical Jewish homeland, which at that time was part of the Ottoman Empire. To this end, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund encouraged immigration and funded purchase of land.

Following World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the region came under the control of the United Kingdom through the Sykes-Picot Agreement and a League of Nations mandate. Palestinian and Jewish nationalism opposed each other harder and harder, as in the 1920 Palestine riots, the 1921 Palestine riots, the 1929 Hebron massacre and the Great Arab Revolt.

This violence and the heavy cost of World War II led Britain to turn the issue of Palestine to the United Nations. In 1947, the U.N. approved the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Palestinian Arab leaders supported by the Arab League rejected the plan and the next day, a civil war started in Mandatory Palestine. Jewish and Palestinian Arabs fought against each other. Arab foreign volunteers entered Palestine to fight with the Palestinians and when Haganah took the offensive on April 1948, the Palestinian society collapsed and a massive exodus started.

On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence. Five Arab League countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq) intervened in the conflict, launching the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. As a result of this war, Israel captured territory that changed its borders, but left Jerusalem a divided city. In the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip from Egypt, and East Jerusalem including the Old City and its holy sites, which Israel annexed and reunited with the Western neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The status of the city as Israel's capital and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were to remain sources of bitter conflict.

For decades after 1948, Arab governments had refused to recognize Israel and in 1964 the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded with the central tenet that Palestine, with its original Mandate borders, is the indivisible homeland of the Arab Palestinian people. In turn, Israel refused to recognize the PLO as a negotiating partner. In 1988, Yasser Arafat stated that he recognized Israel's right to exist.

An attempt to broker a "two state solution," that is the creation of separate Jewish and Palestinian states, was seen in the Oslo peace process, where Israel and the PLO negotiated, unsuccessfully, to come to a mutual agreement. During the Oslo process, which began in 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organization was permitted autonomy to run Palestinian affairs in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in the form of the Palestinian National Authority with the understanding that it would uphold recognition of and mutual co-existence with Israel. However there was continual contention over whether actual events and conditions proved that there was greater acceptance of Israel's existence by Palestinian leaders or a commitment by Israel to stop settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians, according to all major polls, agree that a two-state solution is the best way to end the conflict. Most Palestinians view the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of their future state. Most Israelis also accept this solution. A handful of academics advocate a one-state solution, whereby all of Israel, the Gaza Strip, and West Bank would become a bi-national state with equal rights for all.

Core issues in the conflict are the future of the remaining Israeli settlements built in the occupied territories, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and the status of Jerusalem, along with the refusal of some Palestinian groups to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state and Israel's reluctance to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel asserts that one major condition of Palestinian sovereignty over any territory must be acceptance of mutual co-existence and elimination of terrorism by the Palestinians. Some Palestinian groups, notably Fatah, a political party founded by PLO leaders, claim they are willing to foster co-existence if Palestinians are steadily given more political rights and autonomy. In 2006, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council, where it remains the majority party. While Hamas has openly stated in the past that it completely opposed Israel's right to exist, indeed its charter states this, there is some evidence that its position may have softened somewhat recently. However, Israel contends that Hamas's leaders have consistently refused to recognize Israel in any valid way.

The most recent round of peace negotiations began at Annapolis, USA in November, 2007. These talks aim to have a final resolution by the end of 2008.


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulted from competing Jewish and Arab national aspirations for the region of Palestine, conflicting promises by the British in the forms of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence and the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and several outbreaks of violence between Jewish and Arab residents of the region of Palestine.


The area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, known to some as Palestine and to others as Eretz Israel, was controlled by various national groups throughout history. A number of groups, including the Canaanites, the Israelites, the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, Turks, Crusaders, and Mamluks controlled the region at one time or another. From 1516 until the conclusion of World War I, the region was controlled by the Ottoman Empire.


Arthur James Balfour.
Arthur James Balfour.

From 1915 to 1916, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, corresponded by letter with Hussein ibn Ali, the father of Pan Arabism. In these letters, later known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, McMahon promised Hussein and his Arab followers the territory of the Ottoman Empire in exchange for assistance in driving out the Ottoman Turks. Hussein interpreted these letters as promising the region of Palestine to the Arabs. Conversely, McMahon and the British government claimed that Palestine was excluded from the territorial promises.

In 1916, Britain and France signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the colonies of the Ottoman Empire between them. Under this agreement, the region of Palestine would be controlled by Britain. In a 1917 letter from Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild, known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British government promised "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", but at the same time required "that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".


In 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate. Like all League of Nations Mandates, the British mandate derived from article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant, which called for the self-determination of former Ottoman Empire colonies following a transitory period administered by a world power. The Palestine Mandate recognized the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and required that the mandatory government "facilitate Jewish immigration" while at the same time "ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced."

In 1920, disagreements over Jewish immigration as well as incitement by Haj Amin Al-Husseini led to an outbreak of violent Arab disturbances against the Jews of Jerusalem. The following year, violence erupted again during the Jaffa Riots. In response, Britain established the Haycraft Commission of Inquiry. In 1929, violence erupted again in the form of the riots, the Hebron massacre, and the Safed massacre, which were documented by the British in the Shaw Report.

Violence erupted again during the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. The British established the Peel Commission of 1936-1937 in order to put an end to the violence. The Peel Commission concluded that only partition could put an end to the violence and proposed the Peel Partition Plan. There was no consensus in the Jewish community regarding the partition plan; while the Jewish community accepted the concept of partition not all members endorsed the implementation proposed by the Peel Commission. The Arab community rejected the Peel Partition Plan in its entirety.

Abandoning the Peel partition plan, Britain issued its White Paper of 1939. The White Paper sought to accommodate Arab demands regarding Jewish immigration by placing a quota of 10,000 Jewish immigrants per year over a five-year period from 1939 to 1944. After 1944, the White Paper required Arab consent for further Jewish immigration. The White Paper was seen by the Jewish community as a revocation of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Nonetheless, due to Jewish persecution in the Holocaust, Jews continued to immigrate illegally in what has become known as Aliyah Bet.


After World War II, Zionists exerted continuous pressure to relocate Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. These efforts caused difficulties for the British authorities before the international community, since they still rigorously applied the policies against further Jewish immigration outlined in the 1939 White Paper. Arab leaders expressed reservations about this immigration, as well as the political aspirations related to Zionism.

UN General Assembly.
UN General Assembly.

During this period, some Zionist groups, such as the Haganah and Irgun, began to launch attacks on the British military in Palestine, in order to end British rule there. As the conflict went on, the British government asked the United Nations to look into the question of how to politically manage conflicting claims within Palestine. The United Nations formed a special committee, UNSCOP, and eventually proposed a two-state solution, with a Jerusalem/Bethlehem enclave internationalized. On 29 November 1947, the U.N. adopted a Partition Plan . The Plan was accepted by the Yishuv but rejected by the Arab League representing the Arab states. Immediately, a civil war broke out in Palestine and British troops began evacuating the country.

Violence intensified. In February, Arab volunteers entered Palestine. The Jewish sector of Jerusalem became isolated. In April, the Haganah took the offensive and defeated Arab Palestinians and volunteers, and took control of different mixed localities. A massive exodus of Palestinian Arabs began.

On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence. Several Arab armies entered Palestine. After six weeks of heavy fighting, particularly around Jerusalem, all parties agreed to a truce. During the truce, Israel reinforced her forces and, after the truce, Israel took the initiative and defeated the Arab armies. By the conclusion of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel had greatly expanded its borders and signed ceasefire agreements with all its Arab neighbors.

The 1948 conflict led to several massacres that occurred both before and after Israel's Declaration of Independence. While each case was unique, both sides of the conflict bore some responsibility for the massacres. Expulsions also occurred on both sides. The 1948 conflict resulted in thousands of casualties on both sides and an exodus of Palestinian Arabs. The exact causes of this exodus are a source of dispute among historians; some claim that the Palestinian villagers were forcibly expelled while others claim that the villagers fled in fear before Israeli forces arrived. Whatever the reasons behind it, this exodus created the Palestinian refugee problem, which has remained unsolved.

Palestinians are defined by the United Nations Relief Works Agency ( UNRWA) as those who lived in Palestine between 1946-1948 or their descendants. Aid is given by the United Nations to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in refugee camps in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. The number of Palestinian refugees has since increased to several million.


PLO Fatah Hamas PIJ PFLP
The emblems of major Palestinian organizations include a map of present-day Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. (Significant populations of Palestinians and Israelis alike claim a right to the entire region).

By the end of 1949, only 150,123 Palestinians remained within Israel. For this reason, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took a back seat to the broader Arab-Israeli conflict during this time.

Meanwhile, Palestinian volunteers played a crucial role in the Egyptian-Israeli conflict. Beginning in 1950, Egypt began using fedayeen (guerillas) to conduct a proxy war against Israel. These units of Palestinians—often trained and equipped by Egypt—would infiltrate across what was then the Israeli-Egyptian border at Gaza, and conduct guerrilla raids against Israeli targets (mostly civilian in nature). In the first five years of the 1950s, "884 Israelis were wounded or killed by" Palestinian fedayeen trained and sent into Israel by the Egyptians. The fedayeen attacks were cited as being among the factors leading up to the Israeli decision to participate in the Sinai Campaign in 1956.

The scope of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict again broadened after Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the Six-Day War.

Oslo peace process (1993-2000)

A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words peace in Arabic and Hebrew. Similar images have been used by several groups proposing a two-state solution to the conflict.
A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words peace in Arabic and Hebrew. Similar images have been used by several groups proposing a two-state solution to the conflict.

In 1993, Israeli officials and Palestinian leaders from the Palestine Liberation Organization strove to find a peaceful solution through what became known as the Oslo peace process. A crucial milestone in this process was Yasser Arafat's letter of recognition of Israel's right to exist. In 1993, the Oslo Accords were finalized as a framework for future Israeli-Palestinian relations. The crux of the Oslo agreement was that Israel would gradually cede control of the Palestinian territories over to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. The Oslo process was delicate and progressed in fits and starts, but finally came to a close when Arafat and Ehud Barak failed to reach agreement. Robert Malley, special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, has confirmed that Barak made no formal written offer to Arafat. Consequently, there are different accounts of the proposals considered. However, the main obstacle to agreement appears to have been the status of Jerusalem.

Map of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, showing areas of formal Palestinian authority in dark green and Israeli-administered areas in light green.
Map of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, showing areas of formal Palestinian authority in dark green and Israeli-administered areas in light green.


Peace Initiatives (2002)

Road Map for Peace

One peace proposal, presented by the Quartet of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States on September 17, 2002, was the Road map for peace. This plan did not attempt to resolve difficult questions such as the fate of Jerusalem or Israeli settlements, but left that to be negotiated in later phases of the process. Israel did not accept the proposal as written, but called out 14 "reservations" or changes before they would accept it, which were unacceptable to the current Palestinian government. The proposal never made it beyond the first phase, which called for a halt to Israeli settlement construction and a halt to Israeli and Palestinian violence, none of which was achieved. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated around this period that further unilateral withdrawals from some West Bank settlements might be undertaken if the peace process seemed to be stalled.

Arab Peace Initiative

The Arab Peace Initiative (Arabic: مبادرة السلام العربية) is a peace initiative first proposed by Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, then crown prince, in the Beirut Summit. The peace initiative is a proposed solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular.

The initiative was initially published on 28 March 2002 in Beirut Summit, and agreed on again in 2007 in the Riyadh Summit. The peace initiative achieved the unanimous consent of all members of the Arab League, including both the Hamas and Fatah Palestinian factions.

Considered a progressive proposal that would end the Arab-Israeli conflict, unlike the Road map for peace it spelled out "final-solution" borders based explicitely on the UN borders established before the 1967 Six-Day War. It offered full normalization of relations with Israel, in exchange for the withdrawal of its forces from all the Occupied Territories, including the Golan Heights, to recognize "an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as a "just solution" for the Palestinian refugees.

Although initially rejected by Israel, the Arab Leage continues to raise it as a possible solution, and meetings between the Arab League and Israel have been scheduled.


Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon announced a controversial disengagement plan in December 2003. Israel was to remove all of its civilian and military presence in the Gaza Strip, (namely 21 Jewish settlements there, and four in the West Bank), but continue to supervise and guard the external envelope on land excepting a border crossing with Egypt, which is jointly run by the Palestinian National Authority in conjunction with the European Union. Israel also maintained exclusive control in the air space of Gaza. The Israeli government argued that "as a result, there will be no basis for the claim that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory," while others argued that the only effect would be that Israel "would be permitted to complete the wall (that is, the Israeli West Bank Barrier) and to maintain the situation in the West Bank as is."

Israel implemented their disengagement plan in August-September 2005, and it was initially popular with most Israelis, helping Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to win the following election after Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke. As preparation for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Fatah and Hamas had called a cease-fire on attacks against Israel in February 2005. CNN reported in 2006 that Fatah and Hamas "stuck to the cease-fire it announced in February 2005, but other groups did not sign on and have continued attacks against Israel." Nevertheless, Israel continued to target militants inside Gaza whom it alleged had planned or carried out attacks on Israel, including some members of Hamas. Then in June 2006, violence on both sides escalated. Israel killed a Hamas official in a missile attack on June 5; then on June 6 militants from the "Popular Resistance" group fired rockets into Israel which produced no casualties; Israel launched airstrikes against those militants and others, killing five. On June 9, an explosion on a Northern Gaza beach, killed seven and wounded 20 amongst the Palestinian families picnicking on the beach. In response, Hamas declared a calling off of what they described as a "16-month-old cease-fire" due to 'Palestinian streets public pressure'.

Since that time, Israeli military incursions into Gaza and Palestinian rocket attacks towards Israeli cities have continued to this day. Later in June 2006, Corporal Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old Israeli IDF soldier, was abducted by Palestinian militants. Israel carried out a military operation against targets in Gaza, which it claimed to be in response to Palestinian attacks. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert stated that Israel's goal was not to reacquire control of the Gaza Strip, and that the IDF would withdraw once its operations were completed.

Hamas's victory in the 2006 elections for Palestinian Legislative Council, and Ismail Haniyeh’s ascension to the post of Prime Minister further complicated the peace process. Hamas openly states that it does not recognize Israel's right to exist, although they have expressed openness to a long-term hudna or truce.

In early 2007, Hamas and Fatah met in Saudi Arabia, and reached agreement to form a new unity government. Haniyeh later resigned, and a new unity coalition government of both Fatah and Hamas took office in March 2007. In 2007, the coalition of Hamas and Fatah collapsed, and the two engaged in a physical struggle. Eventually, Fatah was defeated in Gaza, and Hamas took over full control of the Gaza Strip. Fatah retains control of the West Bank. Gaza has been subjected to economic sanctions due to Hamas' non-recognition of Israel, and sporadic fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has continued. Hamas has made recent attempts to renew a cease-fire with Israel, but Israel has so far rejected their offer.

Major issues between the two sides

Since the Oslo Accords, finalized in 1993, the government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) have been officially committed to an eventual two-state solution. However, there are many major issues which remained unresolved between the two parties.

The status of the occupied territories

The West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem—territories which Israel conquered from Egypt and Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War—are the subject of contentious legal, ethical and political dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.

Occupied Palestinian Territories is the term used by the UN in the conflict. The Israeli government uses the term Disputed Territories, to indicate its position that some territories cannot be called occupied as no nation had clear rights to them and there was no operative diplomatic arrangement when Israel acquired them in June 1967. The area is still referred to as Judea and Samaria by some Israeli groups, based on the historical regional names from ancient times.

In 1980, Israel outright annexed East Jerusalem. The United Nations rejected this annexation on August 20 of that year. Israel has never annexed the West Bank or Gaza Strip, and the United Nations has demanded the "[t]ermination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force" and that Israeli forces withdraw "from territories occupied in the recent conflict" - the meaning and intent of the latter phrase is disputed. See United Nations Security Council Resolution 242#Semantic dispute.

It has been the position of Israel that the most Arab-populated parts of West Bank (without major Jewish settlements), and the entire Gaza Strip must eventually be part of an independent Palestinian State. However, the precise borders of this state are in question. In 2000, for example, Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat an opportunity to establish an independent Palestinian State composed of the entire Gaza Strip and 92% of the West Bank. Due to security restrictions, and Barak's opposition to a broad right of return, Arafat refused this proposal.

Some Palestinians claim they are entitled to all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Israel says it is justified in not ceding all this land, due to security concerns, and also because the lack of any valid diplomatic agreement at the time means that ownership and boundaries of this land is open for discussion. Palestinians claim any reduction of this claim is a severe deprivation of their rights. In negotiations, they claim that any moves to reduce the boundaries of this land is a hostile move against their key interests. Israel considers this land to be in dispute, and feels the purpose of negotiations is to define what the final borders will be.

Other Palestinian groups, such as Hamas, insist that Palestinians must control not only the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, but also all of Israel proper. For this reason, Hamas views the peace process "as religiously forbidden and politically inconceivable."

Holy places

Israel has grave concerns regarding the welfare of Jewish holy places under possible Palestinian control. When Jerusalem was under Jordanian control, no Jews were allowed to visit the Western Wall. In 2000, a Palestinian mob took over Joseph's Tomb, a shrine considered sacred by both Jews and Muslims, looted and burned the building, and turned it into a mosque. There are unauthorized Palestinian excavations for construction on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which could threaten the stability of the Western Wall. Israel, on the other hand, has seldom blocked access to holy places sacred to other religions, and never permanently. Israeli security agencies routinely monitor and arrest Jewish extremists that plan attacks, resulting in almost no serious incidents for the last twenty years. Moreover, Israel has given almost complete autonomy to the Muslim trust ( Waqf) over the Temple Mount.

Palestinians have grave concerns regarding the welfare of Christian and Muslim holy places under Israeli control. They point to the several attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Masjid al Aqsa) since 1967, including a serious fire in 1969, which destroyed the south wing, and the discovery, in 1981, of ancient tunnels under the structure of the mosque which some archaeologists believe have weakened the building structures on the Al Aqsa (Haram ash-Sharif). In the ensuing confrontations, more than 70 Palestinians died . Some advocates believe that the tunnels were re-opened with the intent of causing the mosque's collapse. The Israeli government claims it treats the Muslim and Christian holy sites with utmost respect (see previous paragraph).

Mutual recognition

The Oslo peace process was based upon Israel ceding authority to the Palestinians to run their own political and economic affairs. In return, it was agreed that Palestinians would promote peaceful co-existence, renounce violence and promote recognition of Israel among their own people. Despite Yasser Arafat's official renouncement of terrorism and recognition of Israel, some Palestinian groups continue to practice and advocate violence against civilians and do not recognize Israel as a legitimate political entity. Simultaneously, at the time of Hamas's victory in the 2006, polls indicated that 66% of Palestinians supported mutual recognition and a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

It is widely felt among Israelis that Palestinians did not in fact promote acceptance of Israel's right to exist. Palestinians respond that their ability to spread acceptance of Israel was greatly hampered by Israeli restrictions on Palestinian political freedoms, economic freedoms, civil liberties, and quality of life. Many feel that their own opposition to Israel was justified by Israel's apparent stifling of any genuine Palestinian political and economic development.

Israel cites past concessions, such as Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August, 2005, which did not lead to a reduction of attacks and rocket fire against Israel, as an example of the Palestinian people not accepting Israel as a state. Palestinian groups and Israeli Human Rights organizations (namely B'tzellem) have pointed out that while the military occupation in Gaza was ended, the Israeli government still retained control of Gaza's airspace, territorial water, and borders, legally making it still under Israeli control. Practically, they also point out that mainly thanks to these restrictions, the Palestinian quality of life in the Gaza Strip has not improved since the Israeli withdrawal. Furthermore, given that the Israeli army has run incursions into the Gaza Strip on various occasions, closed off its borders, and placed an embargo on the region, the Gazan economy has since gone into free fall. This has led and continues to result in warnings of the Palestinian population becoming more radicalized unless conditions improve.

Many significant Palestinian militant groups refuse to recognize Israel's existence, based on their belief that Israel has repeatedly taken Palestinian resources and violated their perceived rights. Based on this, they seek to destroy Israel at some point in the future. It is unclear how much popular support they have. In response, some Israeli groups and individuals oppose any territorial or political concessions to Palestinians.

The question of Palestinian refugees

The number of Palestinians who fled Israel following its creation and their descendants now stands at around four million.

Palestinian negotiators have so far insisted that refugees, and all their descendants, from the 1948 and 1967 wars have a right to return to the places where they lived before 1948 and 1967, including those within the 1949 Armistice lines, citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN General Assembly Resolution 194 as evidence.

The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 declared that it proposed the compromise of a "just resolution" of the refugee problem. It is not currently understood what is meant by "just resolution"; a similar concept was offered by the Israeli government, but rejected outright by the Palestinians in the Summer 2000 Camp David negotiations.

Although many Israelis are open to compromise on the issue, by means such as the monetary reparations and family reunification initiatives offered by Ehud Barak at the Camp David 2000 summit, the majority of Israelis find a literal, comprehensive right of return for Palestinian refugees to be unacceptable. The most common arguments given for this opposition are:

  • Israel's official response is that one factor in the persistence of the Arab refugee problem was the refusal of any Arab government except Jordan to offer the Palestinian Arabs citizenship. This produced much of the poverty and economic problems of the refugees, according to MFA documents. There were other much larger refugee problems after World War II which were eventually solved, while this one persisted.
  • Palestinian flight from Israel was not compelled, but voluntary. During the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Arab Higher Committee and the Arab states encouraged Palestinians to flee, in order to make it easier to rout the Jewish state. This point, however, is a matter of some contention. Certain actions on the part of Jewish militias were considered to provoke Palestinians to leave Israel. Still, such cases were relatively rare, and the vast majority of Palestinians fled of their own accord. Since most Palestinians chose their status as refugees themselves, some argue that Israel is therefore absolved of responsibility. In fact, a 1952 memorandum submitted to the League of Arab States by the Higher Arab Committee reveals that Arab states officially agreed to take responsibility for these refugees at the height of the Palestinian exodus, until such time as Israel would be destroyed:

Arab leaders and their ministries in Arab capitals ... declared that they welcomed the immigration of Palestinian Arabs into the Arab countries until they saved Palestine.

  • Historical legal precedent from the Middle East supports this contention. Since none of the 900,000 Jewish refugees who fled anti-Semitic violence in the Arab world were ever compensated or repatriated by their former countries of residence—to no objection on the part of Arab leaders—a precedent has been set whereby it is the responsibility of the nation which accepts the refugees to assimilate them.
  • Most Israelis hold that the inflow of millions of poor refugees (almost none of whom were properly integrated by the surrounding Arab countries) will simply exceed the region's dwindling resources.
  • Although Israel accepts the right of the Palestinian Diaspora to return into a new Palestinian state, their return into Israel would be a great danger for the stability of the Jewish state; an influx of Palestinian refugees would lead to the destruction of the state of Israel. Because a right of return would make Arabs the majority within Israel, this would essentially seal the fate of the Jewish state. As Fatah explains: “To us, the refugees issue is the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state.”

Palestinian and international authors have justified the right of return of the Palestinian refugees on several grounds:

  • Several authors included in the broader New Historians assert that the Palestinian refugees were chased out or expelled by the actions of the Haganah, Lehi and Irgun. A report from the military intelligence SHAI of the Haganah entitled "The emigration of Palestinian Arabs in the period 1/12/1947-1/6/1948", dated 30 June 1948 affirms that:

"At least 55% of the total of the exodus was caused by our (Haganah/IDF) operations." To this figure, the report’s compilers add the operations of the Irgun and Lehi, which "directly (caused) some 15%... of the emigration". A further 2% was attributed to explicit expulsion orders issued by Israeli troops, and 1% to their psychological warfare. This leads to a figure of 73% for departures caused directly by the Israelis. In addition, the report attributes 22% of the departures to "fears" and "a crisis of confidence" affecting the Palestinian population. As for Arab calls for flight, these were reckoned to be significant in only 5% of cases...

  • The traditional Israeli point of view arguing that Arab leaders encouraged Palestinian Arabs to flee has also been disputed by the New Historians, which instead have shown evidence indicating Arab leaders' will for the Palestinian Arab population to stay put.
  • The Israeli Law of Return that grants citizenship to any Jew from anywhere in the world is viewed by some as discrimination towards non-Jews and especially to Palestinians that cannot apply for such citizenship nor return to the territory from which they were displaced or left.
  • The strongest legal basis on the issue is UN Resolution 194, adopted in 1948. It states that, "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible." UN Resolution 3236 "reaffirms also the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return". Resolution 242 from the UN affirms the necessity for "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem," however, Resolution 242 does not specify that the "just settlement" must or should be in the form of a literal Palestinian right of return.

Israeli settlements

In the years following the Six-Day War, and especially in the 1990s during the peace process, Israel re-established communities destroyed in 1929 and 1948 as well as established numerous new settlements on the West Bank. These settlements are now home to about 350,000 people. Most of the settlements are in the western parts of the West Bank, while others are deep into Palestinian territory, overlooking Palestinian cities. These settlements have been the site of much intercommunal conflict.

Insistence by some Palestinians that all Jewish communities within the territories to be part of a Palestinian state be removed. This includes ancient communities ( Hebron), communities destroyed in 1948 and since re-established ( Gush Etzion), and settlements established since 1967. The Palestinian position on the Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem is unclear.

The issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and, until 2005, the Gaza Strip have been described as an obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, by the international media; as well as the international political community (including the US, the UK, and the EU). These actors have also called the settlements illegal under international law, however Israel disputes this. Furthermore, the ICJ as well as international and Israeli human rights organizations consider the settlements illegal. Whilst several scholars and commentators disagree, citing recent historical trends to back up their argument, it has not changed the view of the international community and human rights organizations.

As of 2006, 267,163 Israelis lived within the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The establishment and expansion of these settlements in the West Bank and (at the time, the) Gaza Strip have been described as violations of the fourth Geneva Convention by the UN Security Council in several resolutions. The European Union and the General Assembly of the United Nations consider the settlements to be illegal. Proponents of the settlements justify their legality using arguments based upon Article 2 and 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention, as well as UN Security Council Resolution 242. On a practical level, some objections voiced by Palestinians are that settlements divert resources needed by Palestinian towns, such as arable land, water, and other resources; and, that settlements reduce Palestinians' ability to travel freely via local roads, owing to security considerations.

In 2005, Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, a proposal put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was enacted. All Jewish residents in the Gaza strip were evacuated, and all residential buildings were demolished.

Various mediators and various proposed agreements have shown some degree of openness to Israel retaining some fraction of the settlements which currently exist in the West Bank; this openness is based on a variety of considerations, such as: the desire to find real compromise between Israeli and Palestinian territorial claims, Israel's position that it needs to retain some West Bank land and settlements as a buffer in case of future aggression, and Israel's position that some settlements are legitimate, as they took shape when there was no operative diplomatic arrangement, and thus they did not violate any agreement.

President George Bush has stated that he does not expect Israel to return entirely to the 1949 armistice lines, due to "new realities on the ground. One of the main compromise plans put forth by the Clinton Administration would have allowed Israel to keep some settlements in the West Bank, especially those which were in large blocs near the pre-1967 borders of Israel. In return, Palestinians would have received some concessions of land in other parts of the country.

Israeli security

Without the West Bank, Israel would be only nine miles across at its narrowest point, close to its greatest population centre. Many fear that this would leave it vulnerable to any future attacks by an Arab alliance. Moreover, such an army would be fighting from the higher ground of the West Bank, and would find its invasion made easier, since it would not have to cross the Jordan River.

The threat of Qassam rockets fired from the Palestinian Territories into Israel is also of great concern. In 2006--the year following Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip--the Israeli government recorded 1,726 such launches, more than four times the total rockets fired in 2005. Many Israelis see this as evidence that greater Palestinian autonomy necessarily comes at the expense of Israel's ability to defend itself against threats from the Palestinian territories.

Contrarily, many maintain that Israeli concessions will result in reduced friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and that this will in turn bring about a reduction of violence.

House demolition in the occupied territories

A factor in the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is the demolition of homes in the areas conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have demolished and continue to demolish Palestinian homes in the occupied territories. The reasons for these demolitions are a subject of heated dispute.. Israel justifies the demolition of Palestinian homes on the grounds of deterrence against alleged terrorists and their families and as a means of counter-terrorism and as self-defense to protect Israeli citizens. Human Rights groups such as Amnesty International oppose the demolitions claiming they are in violation of international law, and accuse the Israelis of Collective punishment against innocent Palestinians and annexation of Palestinian land for the benefit of Israeli settlements.

Borders and international status

In the past Israel has demanded control over border crossings between the Palestinian territories and Jordan and Egypt, and the right to set the import and export controls, asserting that Israel and the Palestinian territories are a single economic space.

Palestinians insist on contiguous territory which will in turn rupture the existing territorial contiguity of Israel. In the interim agreements reached as part of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority has received control over cities (Area A) while the surrounding countryside has been placed under Israeli security and Palestinian civil administration (Area B) or complete Israeli control (Area C). Israel has built additional highways to allow Israelis to traverse the area without entering Palestinian cities. The initial areas under Palestinian Authority control are diverse and non-contiguous . The areas have changed over time because of subsequent negotiations, including Oslo II, Wye River and Sharm el-Sheik. According to Palestinians, the separated areas make it impossible to create a viable nation and fails to address Palestinian security needs; Israel has expressed no agreement to withdrawal from some Areas B, resulting in no reduction in the division of the Palestinian areas, and the institution of a safe pass system, without Israeli checkpoints, between these parts. Because of increased Palestinian violence to occupation this plan is in abeyance. The number of checkpoints has increased; resulting is more suicide bombings since the early summer of 2003. Neither side has publicized a proposal for a final map. (Some maps have been leaked. These, purporting to show Israeli proposals, are reputed to come from the Israelis and the Palestinians ).


Some groups in Israel assert that the Palestinian Authority is corrupt, that it provides tacit support for extremists via its relationship with Hamas and other Islamic militant movements, and at times calls for the destruction of Israel. This makes it, in Israeli perception, unsuitable for governing any putative Palestinian state or (especially according to the right wing of Israeli politics), even negotiating about the character of such a state. Because of that, a number of organizations, including the previously ruling Likud party, declared they would not accept a Palestinian state based on the current PA. (Likud's former leader Ariel Sharon, publicly declared that he rejected this position as too radical).

A PA Cabinet minister, Saeb Erekat, declared this indicates that Israel is seeking to maintain its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza . Israel has not recognised a Palestinian state, and has resorted to extrajudicial killings of suspects within the West Bank and Gaza who it claims have planned and led terrorist attacks within Israel. Some international observers have recommended that negotiations proceed anyway, claiming that internal Palestinian reform can be undertaken if negotiations make progress.


The West Bank and Israel form a strip only up to 80 kilometers wide. Israel has insisted on complete Israeli control of the airspace above the West Bank and Gaza as well as that above Israel itself. A Palestinian compromise of joint control over the combined airspace has been rejected by Israel.

Palestinian army

Israel does not wish the Palestinians to build up an army capable of offensive operations, considering that the only party against which such an army could be turned in the near future is Israel itself. However, Israel has already allowed for the creation of a Palestinian police that can not only conduct police operations, but also carry out limited-scale warfare. Palestinians have argued that the IDF, a large and modern armed force, poses a direct and pressing threat to the sovereignty of any future Palestinian state, making a defensive force for a Palestinian state a matter of necessity. To this, Israelis claim that signing a treaty while building an army is a show of bad intentions.

Current status

The Oslo peace process obligated both sides to work towards a two-state solution, as noted above. However, during the process itself, there were numerous acts of violence by both sides. Israelis claimed they were acting only in response to Palestinian acts of terrorism. Palestinians claimed they were only carrying out legitimate resistance, against numerous violations by Israel of Palestinian rights, and political sovereignty.

In addition, during this process, both sides expressed dissatisfaction and grievances with the other side. The main Israeli allegation was that Palestinians were actively inciting and funding terrorism against Israel. The main Palestinian complaint was that Israel was repeatedly violating Palestinian rights, which made it pointless to attempt to persuade ordinary Palestinians to accept Israel.

In 2006, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council, prompting the United States and many European countries to cut off all funds to the Palestinian Authority. The US cited three conditions that the Palestinian government would need to satisfy for a resumption of aid: an end to violence, recognition of Israel, and adherence to the Road Map for Peace. Palestinian critics stated that the US and Israel themselves complied with none of these conditions, and that Israel's support of the Road Map was accompanied by 14 reservations which, they say, drain it of its substance. Furthermore, they assert that Israeli violence against Palestinians continues without discussion. Israel states that its recent military operations are in response to Hamas's frequent rocket attacks from Gaza into Sderot, and on other Israeli cities.

In early 2007, Hamas and Fatah met in Saudi Arabia and reached agreement to unite their respective parties. In March 2007, Fatah and Hamas took office under a new unity coalition government. There remained much debate as to whether the PNA was now a credible negotiating authority, and whether sanctions should be lifted. When the Fatah-Hamas coalition collapsed and armed conflict ensued, the debate changed to whether the newly separated Fatah was a credible negotiating partner.

In June 2007, Hamas militarily defeated Fatah in the Gaza Strip in response to attacks. Critics said Fatah had attempted an overthrow and possible coup, funded and assisted by the United States, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, engineered by US National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy Elliott Abrams, led by Mohammed Dalan. Various forces affiliated with Fatah engaged in combat with Hamas, in numerous gun battles. Most Fatah leaders escaped to Egypt and the West Bank, while some were captured and killed. Fatah remained in control of the West Bank, and President Abbas formed a new governing coalition, which some critics of Fatah said subverts the Palestinian Constitution and excludes the majority government of Hamas.

In line with their policies, Israel, the United States, and several allied governments, have censured Hamas for its non-recognition of Israel. They have also assisted President Abbas and Fatah, who hold stances in favour of recognition of Israel. It is the position of the UN, the International Criminal Court, and a vast majority of the international community that Israel and the Palestinians should come to a peaceful resolution based on international laws, UN Resolutions, reciprocal recognition of self-determination and human rights.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the occupied Palestinian territory (OCHoPT) was established in late 2000 as a response to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza caused by military incursions and closures (See also: Second Intifada). The office monitors the conflict and presents figures relating to both internal-violence and direct conflict clashes.*

Casualty figures for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the OCHAoPt
(numbers in brackets represent casualties under the age of 18)
Year Deaths Injuries
Palestinians Israelis Palestinians Israelis
2005 216 (52) 48 (6) 1260 (129) 484 (4)
2006 678 (127) 25 (2) 3194 (470) 377 (7)
2007 396 (43) 13 (0) 1843 (265) 322 (3)
Total 1290 (222) 86 (8) 6297 (864) 1183 (14)

* All numbers refer to casualties of direct conflict between Israelis and Palestinians including in IDF military operations, artillery shelling, search and arrest campaigns, Barrier demonstrations, targeted killings, settler violence etc. The figures do not include events indirectly related to the conflict such as casualties from unexploded ordnance, etc. or events when the circumstances remain unclear or are in dispute. The figures include all reported casualties of all ages and both genders.

Casualty figures for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the 1936-1939 Great Arab Revolt
Source Cited by Deaths
Palestinians Israelis
Arnon-Ohana, 1982, 140 Morris, Righteous Victims p 159. 4,500 (killed by other Arabs)
Various Morris, Righteous Victims p 159. 3,000 to 6,000 several hundred

Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy and treaties

  • One State Solution
  • Paris Peace Conference, 1919
  • Faisal-Weizmann Agreement (1919)
  • 1949 Armistice Agreements
  • Camp David Accords (1978)
  • Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty (1979)
  • Madrid Conference of 1991
  • Oslo Accords (1993)
  • Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace (1994)
  • Camp David 2000 Summit
  • History of the Arab-Israeli conflict
  • Peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • Projects working for peace among Israelis and Arabs
  • List of Middle East peace proposals
  • International law and the Arab-Israeli conflict

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