An Outline History and Background to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

No history is truly objective, but rather betrays the outlook of the person writing it. I have attempted to be as objective as possible but welcome comments and corrections. Send them to my blog on this website or contact me today. I have no desire to misrepresent any people group or religious group, but rather to help people understand the historical background in order to pray for and promote reconciliation. I shall avoid using theterm “Jew” or “Jews,” except in quotations, out of sensitivity to Jewish people, because the terms have so often be used with an anti-Semitic emphasis. If it is clear that a correction- or a balancing comment – needs to be made, I shall readily make it. Tony Higton. © Tony Higton

A. The general historical background: Conquerors of the land

AD 70

Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans. Many Jewish people were killed or driven from the land.


The Jewish people in Israel rebelled against Rome under the leadership of Simon Bar Kochba, who was regarded by many as the Messiah. The rebellion was suppressed and Bar Kochba killed.


The Romans drove the Jewish people out of Jerusalem following the Bar Kochba revolt, and re-named Judea Palaestina. Most Jewish people left the land but a Jewish community remained, mainly in Galilee.

[313-636 Byzantines persecuted Jewish people in the land]


The Roman Emperor Constantine, who converted to Christianity promoted Christianity in the land and was intolerant of Jewish people.


The Persians invaded the land and were welcomed by the Jewish residents.


The Byzantines re-occupied the land, restored Christianity and expelled the Jewish residents.


Jerusalem was conquered by Caliph Omar. Jewish people and Christians were given protection. Muslim rule lasted almost uninterrupted until the early 20th century, except for the Crusader periods.


The Arabs persecuted the Jewish people.


The Seljuks (Turkish Muslims) conquered Jerusalem.


The Egyptian Fatimids formed an alliance with the Christian crusaders and captured Jerusalem, Jaffa, etc.


The First Crusade from the Christian West took place and many inhabitants of the land were killed. Synagogues were destroyed. The crusaders broke their alliance with the Seljuks. They banned Jewish people from Jerusalem. The Crusader Kingdom lasted for 200 years except for a brief period of rule by the Muslim leader Saladin which was welcomed by the inhabitants.


The Muslim leader Saladin conquered Jerusalem. The Crusaders made and broke alliances with Saladin. Subsequent Crusades failed to re-conquer the city.


The Muslims captured Acre in 1291 and the Crusaders finally left, except for mounting raids on the coast. The Muslim rulers therefore depopulated and destroyed coastal towns which impoverished the coastal area for centuries.


Palestine became part of the Mameluke Empire. The Mamelukes were originally slaves of Egyptian Arabs. They practised tolerance but the land became impoverished.

Late 1300s

Jewish people migrated to Jerusalem and other parts of Palestine from various Mediterranean countries particularly Spain.


The Ottoman Turks defeated the Mamelukes. The Turkish Sultan invited Jewish people who fled the Spanish Inquisition to settle in the land (as well as other parts of the Turkish Empire).


Napoleon invaded Palestine. Arabs and Jewish people fled the land. Palestinian nationalism probably began to develop at this time because Palestinian Arabs revolted against Turkish rule.


The Turkish authorities created the Ottoman Land Code requiring individual owners of agricultural land to register it. Most land had never been registered and it led to peasants being deprived of the right to live on their traditionally-held land. The ruling classes took advantage of this and registered huge areas of land as their own, depriving the peasants.


Arab and Jewish immigration increased and there were now some 24,000 Jewish people in Palestine. The Ottomans then severely restricted Jewish immigration and encouraged Muslims from around the empire to move to Palestine.

Arguments that Palestine was “A land without a people”

Some Zionists claim that:

1. Palestine was basically sparsely populated in the 19th century: it was “a land without a people.”

2. There was large-scale Arab immigration into the land.

3. Palestinians are descended from a variety of invaders of the land: Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mongols, Europeans, Arabs, Turks and Jewish people.

Arguments that Palestine was a well-populated land which was dispossessed

1. In fact, there were about 500,000 Arabs in Palestine in 1890, 700,000 in 1919 and 1,324,000 in 1947.

2. The population growth is said to be due to natural growth, which is credible. An Israeli scholar wrote that between 1931 and 1945 Arab immigration averaged only about 900 per annum.

3. Palestinians claim they are descended from original Semite descendants of the original occupants of the land over 2-3,000 years.

4. There is evidence that many of the early Zionists were aiming at the dispossession of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine.[i]

5. Land was sold to Jewish purchasers by absentee landlords under the 1858 Ottoman Land Code and sometimes this was the first time peasant farmers realised their land was no longer their own.

B. Anti-Semitism

The history of anti-Semitism is an important factor in understanding Jewish Zionists’ determination to have and maintain a safe Jewish homeland and their fears of losing it. The notes for this will be found in “An outline history of Anti-Semitism

C. Arab problems with the West

The history of Arab problems with the Western world is an important factor in understanding Arab suspicions and resentments. The notes for this will be found in “An Outline History of Arab Problems with the West.”

D. The period leading to the declaration of the State of Israel


The first Aliyah (“going up to the Land”) of Jewish people took place as they fled from the Russian pogroms (persecutions of Jewish people). The Ottoman Turks were hostile to this return.


The Dreyfus Affair stimulated Theodore Herzl to begin the Zionist Movement (Jewish movement to promote return to the land). Zionists were a minority amongst Jewish people until after World War II.


The First Zionist Congress was held in Basle, Switzerland. Herzl stated: “The aim of Zionism is to create a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, secured by public law.” He later wrote in his diary: “In Basle I established a Jewish State. If I were to say that aloud today, universal laughter would be the response. Maybe in 5 years, certainly in 50, everybody will recognise it.” Most Zionists gave no thought to the Arabs in Palestine but assumed they would agree to emigrate. The Zionists set up agricultural settlements at places like Petah Tikva, Zichron Jacob and Rishon Letzion.


The second Aliyah from Russia took place and Tel Aviv was founded by the Zionists.


Between 85,000 and 100,000 Jewish people lived in Palestine by 1914, together with about 615,000 Arabs.


The Anglo-French Sykes-Picot Agreement planned to divide Palestine between the British and the Allies with France being given Lebanon and Syria. However the British also said they would back Arab independence in these same territories in exchange for Arab support in the war. The Arab Revolt against the Turks, led by Lawrence of Arabia, took place on this understanding. Other countries, including the US supported Arab independence.


Victorious British General Allenby entered Jerusalem and established British rule over the land. Also Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, following representations from Chaim Weizmann, made the Balfour Declaration: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” This was approved by the Cabinet and the Americans. The Arabs felt betrayed and let down by both the Balfour Declaration and the handing over of Syria to the French because of the British promises of independence. The British denied that they had included Palestine in the offer of Arab independence.


The British Administration in Jerusalem showed little sympathy for the Jewish people and withheld the publication of the Balfour Declaration. They were supportive of Haj Amin al-Husseini and helped him become the Mufti of Jerusalem.


The American King-Crane Commission was sent to Palestine to seek local opinion and the Arabs lobbied for Palestine to be annexed to Syria.

The Jewish Yishuv (community in Palestine) met to hear David Ben Gurion say: “We as a nation want this country to be ours. The Arabs as a nation, want this country to be theirs.” The inevitability of conflict was being recognised.

The Paris Peace Conference was more concerned with the interests of Britain and France than of the local people.


The San Remo conference provisionally granted the Palestine Mandate to Britain. It included what is now Jordan. Arab nationalists, feeling betrayed by the British, rioted in 1920 and again in 1921, attacking Jewish people under the leadership of Hajj Amin El Husseini, who was later to become Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Jewish nationalists organised themselves into the Haganah, a self-defence organisation.


The British removed Transjordan (renamed Jordan in 1953), which formed 78% of the British Mandate of Palestine and closed it to Jewish people. So 78% of the British Mandate of Palestine became an Arab (Palestinian state). However it remained legally part of the Mandate until 1946.

The extent of Palestine

Zionists claim that Jordan should therefore be the only Palestinian state. Extreme Zionists hold that Palestinians should move from the West Bank (7% of Mandate Palestine) and Israel (15% of Mandate Palestine) into what is now called Jordan.

Palestinians claim that the whole of the Mandated territory belonged to them, so they claim the right to a Palestinian State on the West Bank and Gaza. Extreme Palestinians believe the State of Israel must be dismantled and removed so that the Palestinian State can comprise the whole of the land West of the Jordan, including Israel.


Britain formally received the Mandate and was supposed to further the aims of the Balfour Declaration. However, Jewish immigration to Palestine was limited to numbers which could be “economically absorbed.”


The Jewish Agency, envisaged by the Mandate, was set up in Palestine and became a de facto Jewish government of the Yishuv. There were more Arab nationalist riots this year, partly caused by Arab fears that Jewish people were going to undermine Arab control of Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa Mosque. The British Passfield White Paper stated that only a further 20,000 Jewish families should be allowed into Palestine. However Britain backed off from that position. In fact, during the 1930s Jewish immigration increased largely because of the growth of Nazism in Germany.


The Arab Revolt took place after the British killed a prominent Arab anti-British and anti-Jewish agitator. Hundreds of Jewish people and Arabs were killed. The extreme, right wing Zionist group, the Irgun, carried out terror attacks against both the Arabs and the British. One of its leaders was Menachem Begin who later became Prime Minister of Israel.


The British Peel Commission recommended partition of the land into an Arab state and a smaller Jewish state but this was firmly rejected by the Arabs.


During World War II Jewish immigration was reduced further to 15,000 per year. The British ruthlessly suppressed the riots and Husseini fled to Iraq where he became a strong supporter of Germany. After the war 100,000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were denied entry to Palestine by the British. There were many attempts at illegal immigration but boats of Jewish refugees and holocaust survivors were turned back. Tragically some sank. The Zionists came to regard Britain as an enemy and on November 6 1942 Jewish extremists members assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Minister of State for the Middle East. Pressure increased on Britain to allow greater Jewish immigration and this led to Britain deciding to return the Mandate to the League of Nations, forerunner of the UN. In 1947 only 700 per month were allowed in to the land by the British.

November 29th 1947

On the recommendation of the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP), the United Nations General Assembly decided by a two-thirds majority that the land should be partitioned into Arab and Jewish states. The US under President Truman worked hard to achieve this result. 65% of Americans favoured it and in the Autumn (Fall) of 1947 the President received 62,850 postcards, 1,100 letters and 1,400 telegrams urging him to use his influence in the UN in favour of a Jewish state. However the State Department and Defense Department tried to dissuade him.

The Jewish State was to be basically the Negev desert, the Coastal plain from Jaffa to Haifa and Eastern Galilee. The rest, including the West Bank and Gaza, was to be an Arab State. Almost half of Palestine (West of the Jordan) was already owned by 1.2 million Arabs, 8% was owned by 600,000 Jewish people and the rest (almost 50%) belonged to the state. The Jewish people accepted the plan but the Arabs rejected it.

December 17th 1947

The Arab League Council decided to fight against the Jewish people and was allowed to use British bases and equipment. So began what Jewish people called the War of Independence and Palestinians call the Nakhba (“Disaster”). The Arabs rioted and besieged Jerusalem. Tragically there were massacres on both sides. Jewish people were massacred at Gush Etzionand Arabs were massacred in Deir Yassin. There were well-documented instances (e.g. Ain al-Zeitoum and Er-Rama) where the Israelis demanded Muslims left their villages for Lebanon on pain of death. Some Israeli historians claim that many war crimes: murders, massacres, and rapes took place. But most Palestinian refugees made their own decision to flee the country for fear of their lives. In April 1948 most Arabs left Haifa. Some Arabs were told by Jewish forces that they were to be removed from their homes temporarily. But in many cases this led to permanent exile. In 1952 a memorandum from the Higher Arab Committee shows that Arab states did agree to take Palestinians until fledgling Israel could be destroyed, although some Israeli historians claim that the Arab governments really wanted the refugees to stay in Palestine.

Arguments for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees

Palestinians (and some Israelis) argue that:

1. The refugees were forced out of their homes by the Israelis.

According to a 1948 (Israeli) Haganah report:

  • 55% of refugees left because of Haganah (IDF) action
  • 15% left because of action by the Irgun and Lehi
  • 2% were directly expelled by the Israeli military
  • 1% fled because of psychological warfare
  • 22% left out of general fears
  • 5% left at the encouragement of Arab governments.

2. UN Resolutions 194 (1948) and 3236 call for the repatriation of the refugees. Resolution 242 calls for a just settlement but is not specific.

Arguments against the repatriation of Palestinian refugees

Many Israelis argue that:

1. The refugee flight was voluntary, often encouraged by Arab governments (although no evidence of such encouragement has been found).

2. The fact that none of the 900,000 Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries were compensated or repatriated shows that it is the responsibility of the receiving countries to assimilate them.

3. Repatriation would destroy Israel because there would be an Arab majority in a democratic state. Thus the safe Jewish homeland would be destroyed by democratic vote.

May 14th 1948

The Jewish people declared the State of Israel and the British left Palestine.

E. The period since the establishment of the State of Israel

May 15th 1948

Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and some Saudi Arabian forces entered the land. They were superior in numbers to the Jewish fighters but not well-equipped and with no central command structure. The Egyptians advanced to 30km from Tel Aviv. Transjordan did not invade territory which the UN had designated for a Jewish state and Palestinians claim that was the general Arab position. Iraq advanced to 15km from the sea and Syria entered Upper Galilee. The Arab Legion took up a position at Latrun (half way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) to block Jewish access to Jerusalem so the Jewish forces built a “Burma Road” to bypass it in June 1948, breaking the siege of Jerusalem. There was a ceasefire which allowed the Jewish forces to bring in reinforcements. The various Jewish resistance groups came together as the Israel Defence Force (IDF). The IDF captured Ramle and Lod and destroyed Arab villages in the area.


Jordan occupied the West Bank. The Arab-Israeli fighting ended with Israel controlling 78% of the territory West of the Jordan. Some 726,000 Arabs fled or were driven out as refugees. A similar number of Jewish refugees left Arab countries.


Jordan unilaterally annexed the West Bank. The Arab League was unhappy about this but Britain (and Pakistan) recognised the annexation. Egypt began training and sending out fedayeen (Palestinian guerrillas) to attack Israeli targets. 884 Israelis were injured or killed.


Israel, France and Britain collaborated to stop President Nasser of Egypt nationalizing the Suez Canal. The UN called for a withdrawal. Israel occupied the areas it had conquered in the Sinai Peninsular for some months.


Fatah (The Movement for Liberation of Palestine) was founded.


Yasser Arafat began the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).

May 30th 1967

Egypt, Iraq and Syria mobilized

June 5th 1967

The Six Day War began and Israel destroyed the Egyptian Air Force and Army in the Negev Desert in Southern Israel. Israel went on to take over the Sinai Peninsular from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. Jewish people had access to the Wailing Wall and declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

November 22nd 1967

The UN passed resolution 242 calling for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in June 1967 and for the recognition of Israel’s right to exist within secure borders. The 1967 war frustrated the united Arab approach to Israel and encouraged Islamic fundamentalists. It also meant a million Palestinians were under Israel’s rule. Arafat became head of Fatah as well as the PLO and the PLO became increasingly recognised as the voice of the Palestinians.


The PLO was expelled from Jordan after it revolted against the government and it moved to Lebanon.

October 6th 1973

The Yom Kippur War: On Yom Kippur (the holiest day in the Jewish calendar when Israel “closes down”) Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. After two days of Arab advance the tide turned and Israel drove Syria out of the Golan Heights and pushed Egypt back beyond the Suez Canal.


Arafat addressed the United Nations General Assembly and the UN granted the PLO observer status.


Civil war in Lebanon between the Muslims and Christians. The Syrians were called in to help the situation.

March 1976

Israel invaded Lebanon after PLO shelling of Israel from South Lebanon.

September 5th-17th 1978

Camp David Peace Accords: Sadat (Egypt), Begin (Israel) and Jimmy Carter met at Camp David September 5 -17, 1978, and agreed a peace plan based on UN Security Council Resolution 242 with Egypt, Israel and Jordan participating in resolving the Palestinian problem to ensure autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza within five years. Peace and normal relations between Israel and Egypt were also agreed as was a pledge to use the same principles to achieve peace treaties between Israel and Jordan and Syria.


Israel passed the Jerusalem Law declaring all of Jerusalem the “eternal and indivisible capital of the State of Israel.”


Ceasefire in Lebanon.


Israel withdrew from Sinai.

June 1982

Israel re-entered Lebanon after a Palestinian faction assassinated the Israeli Ambassador in London. Iranian-backed Hezbollah was founded in Lebanon.

August 1982

The PLO was expelled from Lebanon and moved to Tunis.

September 1982

Israel’s allies, the Lebanese Phalangist Christians massacred about 700 people in the Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian refugee camps. An Israeli commission of enquiry conclude that Israeli Minister of Defence Ariel Sharon and others should have foreseen this and could have prevented it. Sharon resigned. Israel eventually withdrew from Lebanon.


The first Palestinian Intifada (uprising) began in the West Bank and lasted until 1991. The violence consisted mainly of rock-throwing together with demonstrations, civil disobedience, strikes, demonstrations, tax resistance and boycotts of Israeli products.

July 31st 1988

Jordan renounced its claim to the West Bank.

15th November

The Palestine National Council declared the independence of the Palestinian State (in principle). The PLO accepted UN Resolution 242 (the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in June 1967 and recognition of Israel’s right to exist within secure borders).

October 1991

The Madrid Conference, hosted by Spain and co-sponsored by the USA and the USSR, invited Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians to negotiate towards peace treaties and a two stage plan for Palestinian self-government. These were the first-ever public bilateral talks between Israel and its neighbours (except Egypt).

August 20th – September 13th 1993

The Oslo Accords: The “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements” was finalized in Oslo, Aug 20, 1993, and publicly signed by Arafat (PLO), Rabin (Israel), Russia and the US at the White House Sep 13, 1993 in the presence of Bill Clinton following secret negotiations (esp. the Madrid Conference). It agreed to Palestinian self-government after a 5-year interim with the Palestinian areas divided into Area A – full control of the Palestinian Authority, Area B – Palestinian civil control, Israeli security control and Area C – full Israeli control, except over Palestinian civilians (Israeli settlements and security zones). Israel recognised the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and the PLO recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist and renounced terrorism, violence and its desire for the destruction of Israel. Economic co-operation was agreed. However violence, particularly suicide bombing, increased.


The Israel-Jordan peace treaty resulted from the Madrid Conference.

November 4, 1995,

Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, was assassinated by an extreme right wing Israeli, Yigal Amir, whilst attending a peace rally.

September 28th 1995

The Oslo Interim Agreement (Oslo 2) gave the Palestinians self-rule in Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Tulkarm and some 450 villages.

The politics of water

Water is a contentious political issue in the Middle East.

Israel extracts much of its water from two large aquifers which straddle the Green Line (the 1967 borders which could become the border between Israel and a new state of Palestine). Israel consumes 82% of the water of one aquifer and 80% of the other.

In Oslo 2 both sides agreed to maintain “existing quantities of utilization from resources.” Israel agreed to supplement the Palestinians’ water production and allow drilling in one aquifer.

January 1996

The Palestinian National Authority was formed with Yasser Arafat as chairman. Violence, particularly suicide bombing, increased.

October 23rd 1998

The Wye River Memorandum: This was an agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu, Arafat (PLO) and Bill Clinton to implement the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza (Sep 23, 1995), calling for setting up of Area A – under full control of the Palestinian Authority, Area B – under Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control and Area C – under full Israeli control, stopping terrorism, co-operating over security, promote Palestinian economic development. It was agreed by the Knesset but failed because of the 2000 Al Aksa Intifada.


Sharm el-Sheikh meeting restored Palestinian rule over the Gaza Strip.

July 2000

The Camp David meeting chaired by President Clinton failed to achieve agreement over the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

September 28th 2000

The second Intifada began precipitated by Ariel Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount.

Violence in the second intifada

Over 1000 Israelis were killed (1300 from September 2000 to December 2006) in terror attacks, including suicide bombing and Qassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s response included:

  • limiting the flow of Palestinian workers to Israel to exclude terrorists,
  • stricter checks (sometimes with humiliating searches with excessive waits) at border checkpoints.
  • closing the border, so undermining Palestinian standard of living. Jerusalem checkpoints hindered Palestinians getting to work or travelling to other Palestinian towns. Palestinian towns were subject to extended curfew.
  • assassinating wanted terrorists.
  • killing over 3,500 Palestinians, demolishing houses (now discontinued) and uprooting olive groves.
  • extreme Israeli settlers harassing and even killing Palestinians, destroying their property and uprooting olive trees.

October 2000

Another Sharm el-Sheikh meeting was arranged by the US and both sides agreed to return to negotiations.

April 30th 2001

The Mitchell Plan: Following the Sharm el-Sheikh meetings in 1999 & 2000, this called for an end to violence, co-operation over security, the PA to stop terrorism, Israel to freeze settlement activity, lift closures, transfer Palestinian taxes to the PA, and cease destroying Palestinian property.

April 30th 2001

The Road Map: This was a 3-phase peace process drafted April 30, 2003 to achieve a full settlement by 2005 (but it failed to do so).

Phase 1 (Spring 2003): Ending violence, normalising Palestinian life and building Palestinian institutions, affirming Israel’s right to exist and aiming at a two-state solution.

Phase 2 (June-Dec 2003): an international conference to be held after Palestinian elections to support Palestinian economic recovery.

Phase 3 (2004-5): second international conference on Palestinian state with provisional borders leading to a final, permanent status resolution in 2005, including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements; and, a comprehensive Middle East settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria, to be achieved as soon as possible. The resolution on Jerusalem would protect the interests of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

June 13th 2001

The Tenet Plan: This was proposed by CIA Director George Tenet and called for a cease-fire, Israeli-Palestinian co-operation over security, arrest of terrorists by the PA, release of non-terrorist prisoners, end of closures and minimizing of checkpoints by Israel.


The Saudi Peace Plan: This plan, drawn up by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, requires Israel to withdraw from all territories seized in 1967 (West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights) in return for all Arab states recognising Israel’s right to exist with secure borders. It seems to allow Israel to have sovereignty over the Wailing Wall, to transfer some Israeli land in exchange for West Bank land. It does not mention the right of return to Israel of Palestinian refugees. The Arab League adopted the plan.

The issue of Israeli settlements on the West Bank

The Jewish settlements in the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria, as the settlers call it) are a constant source of friction, with the international community saying they are illegal, a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention and a barrier to peace.

By 2006 267,163 Israelis lived within the West bank and East Jerusalem. Settlements have appropriated agricultural land and diverted water and other resources. There presence heightens security concerns and this leads to Palestinians being restricted in their movement along local roads.

The Palestinian argument for removal of the settlements is obvious.

Israel, on the other hand, claims it needs to keep some land in the West Bank for security reasons. They also claim that some settlements were established when there were no diplomatic relations and so they did not violate any agreement.

The position of the US is that Israel might need to retain some settlements near the 1967 borders and therefore should compensate the Palestinians by giving them Israeli land elsewhere.

12th March 2002

The UN passed Resolution 1397 calling for a Two-State solution. It welcomed the Saudi Initiative and called for cessation of violence and implementation of the Tenet plan and Mitchell report

October 2003

The Geneva Accord, a meeting between Israeli opposition leaders and the Palestinians agreed in principle that Israel would hand over Arab areas of Jerusalem and the Palestinians would renounce the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.


The Israelis began to build the security wall (which is mostly a fence) dividing Israel from the Palestinian areas. The wall has led to great difficulties for the Palestinians as some of it is on Palestinian land and farmers are sometimes separated from their land.

19th November 2003

The UN passed Resolution 1515calling for implementation of the Road Map.

May 4th 2004

The Quartet Plan: The Middle East Quartet (US, Europe, Russia and UN) issued a communique in New York, calling for a two state solution, a freeze on Israeli settlements, PA action to stop terrorism, Israel to avoid civilian casualties, ease the humanitarian and economic plight of the Palestinian people and cease deportations, confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property and destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure.

November 11th 2004

Yasser Arafat died.

January 9 2005

Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestine National Authority

February 8, 2005

A Sharm el-Sheikh conference brought together Israeli and Palestinian leaders together with King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt. They agreed to end violence. Israel agreed to release some 900 Palestinian prisoners and begin withdrawing from Palestinian cities. But the violence continued.


Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza.

January, 26, 2006

Hamas, a radical Islamic group, won a surprise victory in the Palestinian elections.

June 26th 2006

Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza continued and Gilad Shalit, a 19-year old Israeli soldier was kidnapped. As a result Israel launched Operation Summer Rains against Gaza but Olmert made it clear Israel had no intention of re-taking Gaza.

July 2006

The Lebanon War: Following rocket attacks on Northern Israel by Hezbollah, Israel attacked Lebanon. A ceasefire took place on August 14th. Israel was humiliated by being unable to destroy Hezbollah and the government of Ehud Olmert became very unpopular.

November 26th

A ceasefire in Gaza was signed between the Palestinians and Israelis, and the latter withdrew but it was broken by the extreme Islamic Jihad. Israel exercised some restraint.

December 23rd 2006

Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert met for the first time and Olmert agreed to release Palestinian taxes frozen by Israel, to release some Palestinian prisoners and to remove some checkpoints.

February 8th 2007

Tensions grew between Fatah and Hamas but with the backing of the Saudis, both sides agreed to form a Palestinian Unity government. It was short-lived, lasting only until June 14th.

June 14th 2007

Anarchy reigned in Gaza and Hamas drove Fatah out of the Gaza Strip. Abbas dissolved the unity government and announced he would set up a new government based in the West Bank. Fatah proceeded to taken action against Hamas people in the West Bank.

Israeli security concerns

Israel is a very powerful nation, the sixth most powerful in military terms in the world. However, it does have real concerns and fears about security:

  1. It is a very small country (the size of one of the bigger English counties). From the West Bank to:
    • Tel Aviv (a main centre for trade and industry) is only 11 miles
    • Haifa, its chief port, is only 21 miles
    • Ben Gurion Airport is only 6 miles
    • The country is only 9 miles across near Tel Aviv (75 seconds flying time). And the West Bank is high ground overlooking the important coastal plain of Israel, which has strategic military value.
  2. It is surrounded by enemies or countries it feels it cannot trust, including:
    • Hamas with its Qassam rockets in Gaza
    • Hezbollah with its long-range rockets in LebanonSyria which indulges in war-like statements at times
    • Iran which threatens its destruction
  3. A Palestinian State, although hopefully peaceable initially, could easily turn against Israel, which would mean an enemy on its doorstep.
  4. Israel is under constant threat of terrorism.
  5. It is dependent largely on US assistance and finance and could collapse if this were to be radically reduced.
  6. It is threatened with extinction as a Jewish state demographically. If the Arab Israeli birthrate continues to be higher than that of Jewish Israelis this could mean that, as a democracy, Israel could become an Arab State within a few decades. This causes Israeli Jewish people to feel threatened at a very fundamental level, after almost 2000 years of persecution, as a people without a land, culminating in the Holocaust (a vivid, present memory for them). They cannot contemplate losing their (relatively) safe Jewish homeland and returning to that.
  7. It knows that Islamic theology teaches that once a country is ruled by Muslims (as Palestine was for centuries) committed Muslims will not rest until it returns to Muslim rule. Islam thinks in the long term and is very patient, waiting until the time for this to happen arrives.

Palestinian national aspirations

Palestinians affirm that:

  1. Palestine has been an Arab country since the 7th century AD.
  2. The Israelis acquired much Arab land illegally in the 1940s and directly or in effect drove out many Palestinian people from the land during the Nakhba
  3. Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank in 1967.
  4. A Palestinian state will restore the dignity and freedom of the Palestinian people after decades of humiliation and oppression.

© Tony Higton

[i] The well-known Zionist humanist, Ahad Ha’am warned that the settlers must under no circumstances arouse the wrath of the natives … ‘Yet what do our brethren do in Palestine? Just the very opposite! Serfs they were in the lands of the Diaspora and suddenly they find themselves in unrestricted freedom and this change has awakened in them an inclination to despotism. They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause and even boast of these deeds; and nobody among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination ..’

“… The same lack of understanding he found in the boycott of Arab labour proclaimed by Jewish labour … ‘Apart from the political danger, I can’t put up with the idea that our brethren are morally capable of behaving in such a way to humans of another people, and unwittingly the thought comes to my mind: if it is so now, what will be our relation to the others if in truth we shall achieve at the end of times power in Eretz Yisrael? And if this be the “Messiah”: I do not wish to see his coming.’

“Ahad Ha’am returned to the Arab problem … in February 1914 … ‘[the Zionists] wax angry towards those who remind them that there is still another people in Eretz Yisrael that has been living there and does not intend at all to leave its place. In a future when this illusion will have been torn from their hearts and they will look with open eyes upon the reality as it is, they will certainly understand how important this question is and how great our duty to work for its solution’.” Kohn, Hans, “Ahad Ha’am: Nationalist with a Difference” in Smith, Gary (ed.): Zionism: The Dream and the Reality (New York, Harper and Row, 1974), pp. 31-32. quoted in The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem: 1917-1988, Part I published by the United Nations.

In a memorandum to Lord Curzon on 11 August 1919, Balfour wrote: “The contradiction between the letters of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine than in that of the ‘independent nation’ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are.

“The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.

“In my opinion that is right. What I have never been able to understand is how it can be harmonized with the (Anglo-French) declaration of November 1918, the Covenant, or the instructions to the Commission of Enquiry.

“I do not think that Zionism will hurt the Arabs, but they will never say they want it. Whatever be the future of Palestine, it is not now an ‘independent nation’, nor is it yet on the way to become one. Whatever deference should be paid to the view of those living there, the Powers in their selection of a mandatory do not propose, as I understand the matter, to consult them. In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate;…” British Government, Foreign Office No. 371/4183 (1919), quoted in The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem: 1917-1988, Part I published by the United Nations.

A Zionist Commission to Palestine in April 1918 (consisting of Chaim Weizmann and Zionist representatives from France and Italy, accompanied by British officials) made proposals to the British Foreign Office for consideration at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon commented to Balfour:

“… As for Weizmann and Palestine, I entertain no doubt that he is out for a Jewish Government, if not at the moment then in the near future …

“What all this can mean except Government I do not see. Indeed a Commonwealth as defined in my dictionary is a ‘body politic’ a ‘State’ an ‘independent community’ a ‘republic’.

“I feel tolerably sure therefore that while Weizmann may say one thing to you, or while you may mean one thing by a national home, he is out for something quite different. He contemplates a Jewish State, a Jewish nation, a subordinate population of Arabs, etc. ruled by Jews; the Jews in possession of the fat of the land, and directing the Administration.

“He is trying to effect this behind the screen and under the shelter of British trusteeship.

“I do not envy those who wield the latter, when they realize the pressure to which they are certain to be exposed. …”

British Government, Foreign Office No. 800/215 (1919), quoted in The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem: 1917-1988, Part I published by the United Nations.

Ben Gurion: sometimes Ben Gurion is quoted out of context as supporting a violent dispossession of the Palestinians when he says: “after we constitute a large force following the establishment of the state – we will cancel the partition and we will expand throughout the Land of Israel.” In context, Ben Gurion opposes such violence in favour of the method of “mutual understanding and Jewish-Arab agreement.” It is difficult to see how Ben Gurion could have expected this to be acceptable to the Palestinians and some have said his words were simple diplomacy. The quotations in context are as follows:

Ben-Gurion: The starting point for a solution of the question of the Arabs in the Jewish State is, in his view, the need to prepare the ground for an Arab-Jewish agreement; he supports the Jewish State, not because he is satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we constitute a large force following the establishment of the state – we will cancel the partition and we will expand throughout the Land of Israel.

Shapira: By force as well?

Ben-Gurion: Through mutual understanding and Jewish-Arab agreement. So long as we are weak and few the Arabs have neither the need nor the interest to conclude an alliance with us… And since the state is only a stage in the realization of Zionism and it must prepare the ground for our expansion throughout the whole country through Jewish-Arab agreement – we are obliged to run the state in such a way that will win us the friendship of the Arabs both within and outside the state.