Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Explained: Origin and Causes

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Explained: Origin and Causes

Israel and Palestine have been in political and military conflict since the start of the mid-20th century due to territorial claims and their respective assertion of sovereign rights. Note that the entire Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is part of the broader Arab-Israeli Conflict that started in 1948 and involved Israel and other Arab countries in the Near East and the Middle East.

Tensions between Israel and other Arab countries have subsided at the start of the 21st century due to the emergence of localized conflicts and other geopolitical developments in the region. However, the specific conflict between Israel and Palestine has persisted, thereby making it one of the longest-enduring conflicts in the world.

Understanding Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Origin and Causes of the Conflict Between Israel and Palestine

Emergence of Zionism Among European and Levantine Jews, and Nationalism Among Palestinian Arabs Under the Ottoman Empire

The origin of the conflict between Israel and Palestine can be traced back to the emergence and eventual expansion of nationalist ideals among the Jews and Arabs in historical Palestine during the 1900s. Note the Levant region that included present-day Israel and Palestine territories was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire since 1516

Palestinian Arabs, which included Arab Muslims and Arab Christians, comprised the majority of the Palestinian population while Levantine Jews and European Christians represented the minority. All ethnic and religious groups coexisted.

The Ottomans managed to maintain relative peace and stability in the Levant. They even opened the City of Jerusalem for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim pilgrimages. However, despite the existence of tolerance, the Jews and Palestinian Arabs were starting to create and embrace their respective nationalistic identities and aspirations.

Jews in Europe started a movement called Zionism and asserted that Judaism is not just a religion but a nationality. Thousands of European Jews began settling in Palestine during the early 1900s while some Levantine or Mizrahi Jews also embraced Zionism.

Note that the Jewish diaspora during the Middle Ages created numerous Jewish populations in different parts of the world. These included the Ashkenazi Jews in Germany and Sephardic Jews in Iberia. However, antisemitism was rampant in Europe during the Crusades and even in the Russian Empire during the 1820s and 1900s.

Adherents of Zionism asserted the need to uphold and take pride of their Jewish identity despite their persecution. They also believed that the establishment of a Jewish state in their ancestral homeland in Palestine was their best hope to feel safe.

The Christian and Muslim Arabs in Palestine began embracing a Palestinian Arab identity. These people were ethnic Arabs who were natives of Palestine. They saw themselves as subjects of the Ottomans. However, most Muslims, including Arab Muslims, viewed the Jews as “dhimmis” or people who were under their protection but remained their subordinates.

Nationalism among Palestinian Arabs grew rapidly in the 1900s due to several circumstances. These included the questionable land sales to Jews and the emergence of Labor Zionism which opposed the employment of Arabs by Jewish-owned businesses.

The continuous influx of Jews in Palestine and the emergence of Jewish nationalism through Zionism and Palestinian Arab nationalism fundamentally set the stage for future tensions over territorial rights and the subsequent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Remember that Zionists assert that they have the right over Palestine because it is their ancestral homeland.

Palestinian Arabs maintain that the land belongs to them because they are technically natives of Palestine. These Arabs were not open to handling their lands to a minor ethnoreligious Palestinian and European Jewish immigrant populations.

Collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Creation of the British Mandate for Palestine, and Impacts of the Franco-Syrian War

The end of World War I in 1918 was followed by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922. Several geopolitical agreements and pronouncements such as the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, the Balfour Declaration made in 1917, and the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence between 1915 and 1916 determined the future of Palestine.

Note that the Sykes-Picot Agreement was a secret treaty between Britain and France defined the mutually agreed spheres of influence and control in an eventual partition of the Ottoman Empire. Palestine was placed under the British control.

The Balfour Declaration supported the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine while the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence contained an agreement between Britain and Arab leaders that recognized Arab independence in the Near East and the Middle East in exchange for an Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

Nevertheless, after World War I, the League of Nations created the British Mandate for Palestine between 1919 and 1922. It was promulgated and enacted in 1923 following the fall of the Ottoman Empire the year prior.

The mandate was essentially a legal instrument that gave Britain an official administrative control over Palestine based on the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The British government eventually upheld the Balfour Declaration and McMahon-Hussein Correspondence to allow the creation of Jewish and Palestinian states in Palestine in the future.

Britain opened Palestine to European Jews. It was instrumental in expanding the Jewish population in Palestine. It also made Hebrew a language with equal status to Arabic while allowing Zionists to use their flag in official functions.

Tensions between Jews and Palestinian Arabs ensued. Several Jews wanted to expel some Palestinian Arabs out of Palestine. Numerous Arab factions including the Muslim-Christian Association and younger Palestinian Arabs vied for the inclusion of Palestine in a pan-Arab state to foil the expansion of Zionism and creation of a Jewish state.

An attempt to establish the Arab Hashemite Kingdom resulted in the Franco-Syrian War in March 1920. This conflict spilled into Palestine. These included that Battle of Tel Hai between Arab irregulars and Jewish paramilitary forces and the Jerusalem Riots.

The worsening tension between the Jews and Palestinian Arabs compelled Britain to limit the arrival of European Jews in 1930s. Jewish militias fought to resist the British rule and thwart the growing Arab nationalists. Arabs from across the Near East and the Middle East formed factions to quell both Jews and British forces in Palestine.

While the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Mandate for Palestine reinforced Jewish and Arab nationalistic aspirations, the sociopolitical and geopolitical conditions were unconducive due to the conflict interests of  these two groups.

Developments During and After World War II, the U.N. Resolution 181(II), and the Creation of the State of Israel

The situation in Palestine generally calmed down during World War II which spanned from 1939 to 1945. Most Palestinian Arabs shifted to a more moderate stance toward the Jews. The period also saw the creation of the Jewish-Arab Palestine Regiment under British command. This regiment participated in the World War II.

However, the same global conflict was somewhat responsible for worsening the conflict between the Jews and Palestinian Arabs. The influence of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler forced European Jews to move to Palestine to escape prejudice and persecution.

Some radical Palestinian Arabs such as the exiled faction of Amin al-Husseini, the architect of the Palestinian Arab movement, cooperated with the Nazis and participated in a pro-Nazi propaganda machine across the Near East and the Middle East.

World War II ended in 1945 and the United Nations was established in the same year to replace the League of Nations. This intergovernmental organization revisited the unresolved conflict between the Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

Jewish insurgency ensued in the coming years. It targeted both British and Palestinian Arab factions. The Arab League supported the cause of Palestinian Arabs through its volunteer-based Arab Liberation Army. Britain decided that the Mandate for Palestine was no longer tenable and moved to vacate the territory on September 1947.

The General Assembly of the United Nations eventually adopted Resolution 181(II) or the U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine on 29 November 1947. It recommended the adoption and implementation of a mechanism for partitioning Palestine into three territories.

An independent Jewish state and all of its territories were drawn. Palestinian Arabs were given Gaza and the West Bank. Jerusalem was designated as a Special International Regime that was open for both Jews, Palestinian Arabs, and other foreigners.

Note that the British Mandate for Palestine was set to expire on 15 May 1948. The Jews moved to announced the creation of the State of Israel on May 14 and it sparked further uproar in the amongst the Arab League. The armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq entered Palestine the following day. This marked the beginning of the First Arab-Israeli War.

Contingents from Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen also joined the war. The goal of the Arab faction was to support the Palestinian Arabs and thwart the establishment of a Jewish state despite the declaration of the creation of Israel.

Arabs across the Near East and the Middle East essentially perceived the U.N. Resolution 181(II) and the creation of the State of Israel as a form of European colonialism. Several scholars and experts saw this resolution as a failure because it became a turning point for stirring further tension between the Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

Pervading Arab-Israeli War, Expansion of Jewish Settlements, and the Modern Causes of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The origin and causes of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict cannot be pinned down exclusively on the nationalistic movements among the Jews and Palestinian Arabs that emerged during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. There are more specific factors that aggravated further the tensed situation involving Israel and Palestine.

Note that the First Arab-Israeli War ended through ceasefire and armistice agreements. Israel was victorious and ended up controlling areas in Palestine outside the borders originally drawn under the resolution of the United Nations.

Jordan annexed the West Bank and Egypt took control of Gaza. The Arab League announced the support for an All-Palestine government headquartered in Gaza on 22 September 1948. Thousands of Palestinian Arabs remained displaced due to the war. This displacement created massive refugee populations in territories around Palestine.

The Arab-Israel conflict persisted. Jordan and Egypt supported the cross-border attacks of a faction called the Palestinian Fedayeen throughout the 1950s. Further developments fueled the ongoing conflict between the Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

For example, the 1956 Suez Crisis or the Second Arab-Israel War resulted in Israel taking control of Gaza and the exile of the All-Palestine government. Israel eventually withdrew to uphold peace in the region. Egypt abandoned the All-Palestine Government in 1959 and it entered into a political union with Syria to form the United Arab Republic.

Gaza was put under the Egyptian military administration. These developments marked a setback in the entire Palestinian nationalist movement. However, the Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO was founded by Yasser Arafat in 1964.

The PLO earned the support of the majority of Arab governments and landed a seat in the Arab League. It was  both a political and military organization that became the major institution placed at the forefront of the Palestinian nationalist movement, the armed struggle against Israel, and the promotion of an independent Palestinian state.

Another war broke out between Israel and several Arab nations in 1967. It was the  Six-Day War or the Third Arab-Israeli War. It ended with Israel taking control of the Golan Heights in Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and Sinai and Gaza from Egypt.

Israel also gained control over the entirety of Palestine. Egypt entered into a peace agreement with Israel under the Camp David Accords in 17 September 1978. The Israeli government surrendered Sinai back to the Egyptian government as part of the agreement. Other Arab nations eventually made peace with Israel over the next decades.

The Arab-Israeli conflict fundamentally shifted from a large-scale regional affair to a more localized conflict in Palestine. A more contemporary cause of the Israeli-Palestine stems from the fact that Israel maintains its hold on West Bank and Gaza.

Note that the PLO remained at the top of the Palestinian plight. It moved to reclaim both West Bank and Gaza, as well as the entirety of Palestine. Its goal was to remove the Israeli government and put an end to the State of Israel. However, while its attacks persisted, the demographic composition of the entire land was changing.

Israelis began establishing permanent settlements in the West Bank and Gaza for religious, political, and economic reasons. These settlements divided further the remaining Palestinian territories and resulted in the persecution of Palestinian Arabs.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in a Nutshell: Territorial Dispute as the Root Cause of the Conflict Between Israel and Palestine

Some people might have the wrong impression that the cause of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict was religious in nature. However, although religions play a critical albeit limited role, the discussions above point to the irreconcilable territorial claims between the Jews and Palestinian Arabs as the root cause of the ongoing conflict.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine can be traced back to the Jewish and Arab nationalist movements that emerged while Palestine was under Ottoman rule, and further to the worsening tension between the Jews and Arabs that sparked during the British Mandate for Palestine and as a result of European Jewish migration to Palestine.

Zionism asserted the need for Jews to establish a Jewish state in their ancestral homeland. Arab nationalists saw Zionism as a threat and the subsequent creation of a Jewish state was deemed unfair for Palestinian Arabs who have inhabited Palestinian lands even before the arrival of the Ottomans, the establishment of the British Mandate, and the creation of Israel.

The establishment of Israeli settlements has undeniably become one of the major causes of the modern Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The permanent residences created by Israelis and placed within Palestinian territories fuel the existing tension between these two ethnoreligious groups of people while also stirring armed provocations.

Several attempts to broker peace agreements between Israel and Palestine have been made. However, in several instances, the emergence of different Palestinian militant factions and the refusal of Israel to vacate the territories its people have occupied also block attempts at creating long-lasting peace through mutual agreements.