One of the things people often say when discussing Israel and Palestine is that the issue is complicated. But many people don’t understand why it is so complicated and that has led to another thing people say … that while a resolution may be complicated, the conflict isn’t complicated; Arabs simply want Israelis dead.
While the first statement is most definitely true, the second most definitely is not true even though our current North American climate – with significant fear of Muslims unfortunately dominating discussions – has done nothing to discourage unquestioned belief of this.
And so, despite my limited expertise in World History, I wanted to give a very brief overview of why this conflict is so complicated — and this will only look at the last 100-ish years. While I am sure there will be inaccuracies, if interested, feel free to dig deeper and I believe you will find I am trying to portray a factual telling of the events.
In ancient history — dating back to the Baylonians, and many times since — the Hebrew people were often forced to flee their traditional lands. While there have always been some Jewish people living in Palestine, significant numbers began returning in the 1800s and 1900s.
In the late 1800s, international support for creating a Jewish State began to rise and at the end of World War I (1917 to be precise) a formal document was drafted outlining the goal of creating such a State.
At the time, Britain was in charge of Palestine and began efforts to make this a reality. The major barrier to such a plan was the fact that Palestine was the home (both traditionally and in modern times) of over 700,000 Arabs (estimates vary and I am too lazy to find an exact number … but it was a lot).
There were many attempts at a solution put forward, but all revolved around the need for two States to be formed. Issues always arose because of the fact that while under British control, large numbers of Jewish people were immigrating to Palestine and the proposed two-state solutions would have left Arabs as a minority in both states and/or would force the relocation of hundreds of thousands of Arabs.
And so, after years of trying, Britain informed the newly formed UN they no longer wanted to maintain control of Palestine and would turn over jurisdiction of the area. They didn’t see a way toward a resolution to the issue and did not wish to continue as the ones solely responsible for administering the region.
The UN formed a committee to look at the best governance model for the region and proposed a two-state partition be formed, with the City of Jerusalem governed separately from both states by an international body (UN). This resolution was passed in November 1947, but with every Arab state voting against the partition.
The Palestinian and Arab opposition was based on the fact that the majority of the land would be given to Jews who at the time owned very little comparatively and much of the land given to Palestinian Arabs was unfit for agriculture. Britain (still in charge of the region) did not wish that the plan be forced on the Arab population and continued to argue that any plan that did not receive support from both sides would result in widespread violence and civil war.
The day after the passing of the UN partition plan, that violence did begin in Palestine. Jewish joy at the prospects of soon having their own nation was matched with Palestinian outrage at the prospects of having their land taken away. The civil war that followed was exactly what had been anticipated by the British.
In the middle of this civil war, the Jewish Agency (an organization that united several resistance organizations that had the goal of forcibly removing the British from Palestine in order to allow unlimited immigration back into the region) declared the establishment of a Jewish State on 14 May 1948, which was immediately recognized by the US and then many other nations. As such, the partition plan was never implemented.
With the declaration of the State of Israel, the civil war turned into the Arab-Israeli war as Arab states refused to recognize the nation of Israel. This was expected by the political powers behind the formation of Israel and because many within the Agency expected it, they had declined to identify the boundaries for the newly formed State stating internally that if they were able to obtain more land than outlined in the UN partition plan, why would the limit themselves to just what had been given them?
The war led to over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs having to flee or being expelled from their homes.
Many of these people fled to Gaza or the West Bank, which at the time were controlled as occupied territories by Egypt and Jordan respectively. This remained the case until 1967 when, due to rise in attacks on Israel from these locations (and others – and which continue to this day), Israel went on the offensive to defend its national security. In doing so, it took over control of Gaza, the West Bank and all of Jerusalem.
These territories are not considered part of Israel by the international community and are considered occupied territories. None of the Palestinians living in these areas are Israeli citizens and are not afforded the same rights as Israelis for this reason. Israel also refuses to withdraw from these regions as they feel doing so would be detrimental to their national security. The feeling is that recognizing the UN partition boundaries would place them at a huge risk and so they cannot allow it.
In 1980, Palestinians declared their own independence as a state, but have not achieved the same international recognition as the State of Israel, despite using the same UN partition plan as justification that was used by the Jewish Agency in 1948.
The Palestinians — and many Arab countries — continue not to recognize the State of Israel because they feel its declaration of statehood was unjust to the 700,000 Arabs who were displaced as a result (and the many others who did not leave). The stated goals by many organizations to not stop until the State of Israel no longer exists grew from this feeling of injustice. They do believe Israel has no right to exist because the land declared as the State of Israel was taken from them without their consent.
Israel believes that the State of Palestine has no right to exist because to allow it would jeopardize its own security and so it has not only continued to occupy the “disputed territories”, but has encouraged the settlement of these lands by Jewish people in order to further press their right to the land.
The majority of the world (represented by the UN) believes Israel was and is a recognized nation, but continues to believe a two-state solution is what is truly required in order for there to be a just peace for everyone in the region. This has not changed from the time the plan for Israel and Palestine was approved in 1947.
Despite over 100 years of discussing such a solution, none has yet been implemented …