In the 7th Century, the Arab conquest of Palestine assimilated its inhabitants (who are today known as the Palestinians).
In the year 1516, the land was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. In 1831, Muhammad Ali, the Egyptian viceroy, occupied Palestine. Under him and his son, the region was opened to European influence. Although Ottoman control was reasserted in 1840, Western influence continued, and immigration from the West into Palestinian lands continued. Among the many European settlements established, were the Jewish contingents, (including Russian Jews) who were the first to come. Palestine retained Christian and Jewish minorities until the twentieth century. In the later part of the 19th century, Zionism emerged as a nationalist movement to restore the land of Israel as “the promised land” for the Jewish people.
Hamas is an Islamic militant group founded in 1987 with the stated goal to ‘liberate Palestine through violent jihad’.
During World War I Great Britain seized Palestine, from the control of the Ottoman Empire. After that war, the League of Nations granted Great Britain a mandate over Palestine. In the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the British promised the Zionists the right to create a Jewish national home in Palestinian lands.
Jewish immigration to Palestine followed increasing prosecution of Jews in Europe. The Arab inhabitants of Palestine resisted such immigration from the outset. Great Britain, unable to control the land after World War II, returned the mandate to the United Nations.
The first attempt to solve the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine resulted in the UN partition plan, which was welcomed by the Jews, but opposed by the Palestinians and the Arab countries. The plan established a division of the area into seven parts with multiparty borders and corridors, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem sharing international status. These “checker boarded” boundaries proved fruitless.
Continued antagonism between Arabs and Jews proved that this particular solution was futile. In 1948, after the declaration of the Independent State of Israel, Arab states tried to oppose it by force, but Israel emerged victorious in its war of independence. The tensions between Arabs and Jews in Palestine would pave the way for many conflicts that today remain unsolved.
The 1967 Six Day War
During the Six Day War, in 1967 Israel used its military strength to expand its borders by occupying the Sinai Peninsula (Egyptian land), and the Golan Heights (Syrian land), a move that the Arab League condemned as aggressive territorial aggrandizement. After this conflict, the United Nations adopted a Security Council Resolution (known as UNSCR 242) that re-emphasized every state’s commitment under Article II of the U.N. Charter to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means.” U.N. Resolution 242 further called upon Israel to return lands that were occupied after the dispute. However, Israel failed to cooperate. During this period, the United States emerged as a close ally of Israel. It repeatedly exercised its veto power in the Security Council to ensure that enforcement actions against Israel could not be taken.
The unity between Fatah and Hamas has been fragile, and provides a challenge for Israel, the United States, and the European Union, who regard Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The 1973 Yom Kippur War
In 1971, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat raised possibilities of overseeing a peaceful agreement with Israel. Israel failed to respond to this opportunity, and Anwar Sadat threatened war. The following year Sadat pleaded for the United States to take measures for Israeli withdrawal of occupied territory (in accordance with U.N. resolution 242). Sadat believed, mistakenly, that the United States, Israel’s greatest supporter, was in a unique position to pressure Israel into compliance, and enforce Resolution 242. Sadat appealed to the Soviet Union to use its influence to coax Israel into withdrawing troops from the occupied regions. But the Soviet Union refused to intervene, seeking to demonstrate an attitude of détente with the United States. Frustrated with Israel’s refusal to engage in diplomacy, Sadat organized a coalition of Arab states to attack Israel on the afternoon of October 6th, 1973, the holy day of atonement. Egypt attacked Israel from the Sinai Peninsula, and Syria attacked from the Golan Heights. The coalition of Arab States consisted of forces from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Kuwait, Tunisia, Sudan, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Egypt and Syria received support and weapons from the Soviet Union, while Israel received financial support as well as supplies from the United States, resulting in mass casualties for both sides.
The United Nations Security Council met immediately following the outbreak of the conflict. Resolution 338, adopted on October 24, demanded an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and commencement of negotiations. The ceasefire was successfully implemented, and peace talks followed. On December 21, 1973, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the United States and the U.S.S.R. began negotiations under the observance of the United Nations. The United States possessed the influence that could prompt Israeli withdrawal, and indeed the U.S. recognized its responsibility. While this peace negotiation did not lead to substantive agreements, its success lay in the establishment of a dialogue process.
Resolution 338 is significant for emphasizing the need for dialogue in order to arrive at a peaceful solution. Since 1973, there have been numerous meetings between Arab states and Israel. The United Nations, the League of Arab States and the United States have overseen dialogue regarding the issue.
Past UN actions
As mentioned above, this Resolution, adopted during the Yom Kippur War, established the dialogue process.
On November 22, 1974, The United Nations General Assembly met to consider the rights of the Palestinian people. The result was Resolution 3236, which “Reaffirms the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in Palestine, including: The right to self-determination without external interference; [and] the right to national independence and sovereignty.” It also includes clauses such as the right of return for Palestinian refugees displaced during the war.
The First Camp David accord dealt with the more broad future of the West Bank and Gaza, and “provided for the election of a self-governing Palestinian authority to replace the existing Israeli Military Government.”
However, perhaps the most significant establishment of this Resolution was the official United Nations Recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people. While they have not obtained full membership in the United Nations, they are an observing member, allowed to participate in debate at sessions, without the right to vote.
Camp David Accords- A Framework for Peace
In September 1978, President Jimmy Carter met with Israeli Prime minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, to establish what came to be known as the Camp David Accords. There two agreements were established: “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East,” and “The Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt.” The Second Camp David Accord provided for Israeli withdrawal of the Sinai and the opening of diplomatic relations “under a U.N. flag.” It called for cooperation with Resolution 242, a United Nations Resolution that was passed in the aftermath of the six day war. Resolution 242 calls for the “Withdrawal of Israel’s armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict [and the] Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for an acknowledgment 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 bound areas free from threats or acts of force.”
The Resolution stipulated the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Sinai Peninsula, the establishment of demilitarized zones, and the use of United Nations peacekeeping missions. Guidelines and timelines for the withdrawal stated that within months after signing the agreement withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula would commence. The First Camp David accord dealt with the more broad future of the West Bank and Gaza, and “provided for the election of a self-governing Palestinian authority to replace the existing Israeli Military Government.” In this agreement both Israel and Egypt agreed to recognize and abide by the 4th Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in occupied territories. Israeli Prime Minister Begin agreed to take steps towards recognizing the full autonomy of the people of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. It called upon Egypt, Israel and Jordan to oversee the process of providing the Palestinian state with autonomy.
Two countries made concessions that seemed impossible only years before its occurrence. The world was filled with hope that peace could in fact be a reality, a fact that was mirrored when Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin received the Nobel Prize following Camp David. However, when the two leaders returned to their home countries, hope began to fade.
Both leaders were faced with harsh criticism from their governments who felt that the concessions had gone too far. Anwar Sadat was criticized for arrogating to himself right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians, without allowing them a voice. When Prime Minister Begin faced harsh pressure in Israel he reassured the Knesset that he would not “under any conditions or in any circumstances” allow for the creation of an autonomous Palestinian state. This disheartened the international community, who had seen the Camp David Accords as a step towards a two-state solution. In November 1978, all of the Arab states except Egypt gathered in Baghdad to discuss means to prevent the implementation of the Camp David Accords.
Israel found itself unable to negotiate because of pressure from the United States who advised Israel against concessions that would have been crucial for the agreement.
Egypt then faced an even more serious crisis: complete isolation by the Arab League, which had condemned Sadat as a traitor to the Arab cause. President Anwar Sadat was later assassinated. However despite the Camp David Accord’s many flaws, and subsequent opposition to it, it succeeded in establishing official diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt, and enabling the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai Peninsula in 1979. Most significantly, the Camp David Accords mark the first recognition of Israel’s right to exist by another major Arab State.
In 1991, the Madrid Conference was convened by the United States and Russia in order to encourage the Arab states to begin bilateral agreements with Israel. Nations present included Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Egypt. Major concessions came from Jordan, which agreed to commence peace talks Israel in turn agreed to a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and this led to a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994. Jordan became the second Arab country to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
In 1993 agreements took place in Oslo to solve a key issue: Israel and Palestine’s acknowledgement of each other’s legitimacy. The main agreements established were that Israeli troops would withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. In addition, a ‘Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority’ would be set up for a five-year transitional period, leading to a permanent settlement based on resolutions 242 and 338. This agreement also pointed toward a two-state solution. Diplomatically and politically, this was a success, but could not be fully implemented due to the violent opposition from Hamas.
Camp David Accords 2000
In 2000, Israeli and Palestinian authorities met to discuss critical final status issues: a one- state versus a two- state solution, the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees’ right of return. During the negotiations, Israel offered the Gaza Strip, a territory of mostly Palestinian people, a significant portion of the West Bank, and Islamic guardianship of significant sites in Jerusalem, along with a promise to contribute finances to a fund for Palestinian Refugees. Yasser Arafat offered Israeli control of the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem in exchange for the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. However, in the end, neither side was satisfied, nor was any agreement reached. During these negotiations, the issues discussed were more precise than ever, and it brought to light the key themes of conflict that are still on the table today.
The death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, his replacement by Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 has raised mild hopes that the road map process may potentially be revived.
Saudi Peace Plan
In 2002, the League of Arab States gathered to discuss the issue of Israel’s borders, and its relationship to its Arab neighbours. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah introduced what became known as the Saudi Peace Initiative. Under this agreement, Israel’s borders would be redrawn to its original 1967 boundaries, there would be an appropriate solution found for the refugees including a right of return. In exchange Israel would gain recognition by Arab States. Israel found itself unable to negotiate because of pressure from the United States who advised Israel against concessions that would have been crucial for the agreement.
In 2003, the U.N., along with Russia, the United States, and the European Union, established the “Roadmap to peace” process, which called for the creation of a Palestinian State along with recognition of Israel’s right to exist (the two-state solution). The Roadmap to Peace proposed a 3-phased process: “1) Both sides would issue statements supporting the two-state solution, the Palestinians would end violence, act against ‘all those engaged in terror’, draw up a constitution, hold elections and the Israelis would stop settlement activities and act with military restraint. 2) Would see the creation, at an international conference, of a Palestinian state with ‘provisional borders.’ 3) Final agreement talks.”
The plan was originally designed to be implemented in 2005, but has yet to have any effect. The “Roadmap to peace” was a plan initiated by U.S. president George W. Bush that was meant to be completed in 2005. However, the international community and the United States largely diverted these attempts by the war in Iraq. This also generated a general mistrust in the United states intentions in the Middle East.
Today the Roadmap to Peace functions as a basis for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. The Israeli government has claimed that the Palestinians have failed to subdue suicide bombers and gunmen of Hamas and other extremist groups that claim to represent the Palestinian cause; the Palestinians argue that Israel was never genuinely committed to ending its expansion of settlements despite having promised to do so. The death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, his replacement by Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 has raised mild hopes that the road map process may potentially be revived.