The Arab-Israeli Conflict

views updated

The Arab-Israeli Conflict

The land located along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea is at the center of a long-standing conflict between Arabs and Jews. Both groups of people claim territorial rights over this relatively small piece of land measuring approximately 10,000 square miles, about the size of the state of Maryland. These claims are rooted in history and seek to establish who can rightfully say that this territory is their homeland (a group's native land).

The land in question has gone by various names: Palestine, Israel, and Judea, depending on which group held control. The struggle for the land has often degenerated into violence and bloodshed that has passed down through many generations. The origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict are extremely complex and difficult to understand given the differing claims and counter-claims made by Arabs and Israelis, as each has interests in controlling this region of the world. This conflict is based in religion and politics as well as the strong human desire to have a secure homeland. Because Palestinian Arabs and Israelis strongly feel that they each deserve a nation on the same land to the exclusion of the other, each group often demonstrates its hatred and mistrust for the other. These attitudes are expressions of prejudice so deeply held that Palestinians and Israelis have often participated in horrific acts of violence against each other.

While the Arab-Israeli conflict is a struggle over a small piece of land with few natural resources, it has ignited a clash in the larger Middle East and the countries where Islam (the major religious faith of Muslims in the world) is the predominant religion. Indeed, the Arab-Israeli conflict has at times caused the world's superpowers to choose sides against each other. Therefore, the struggle between Palestinian Arabs and Jews has threatened to spill over into a much larger global conflict. This longstanding conflict began with the establishment of Israel as an independent state in 1948.

The land of historic Israel and Palestine has been repeatedly invaded and conquered over the past 2,500 hundred years. According to history Hebrew tribes entered this land in the thirteenth century bce. The abbreviation bce refers to the time before the Christian era on calendars, or before the time of the birth of Christ around two thousand years ago. From the eleventh century to the sixth century bce, these tribes were known as the Israelites, and they ruled the land. At the end of this period, the Israelites (or Jews) were conquered and at times carried away as slaves by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks. In 168 bce, the Jews overcame the control of the Greeks and established an independent Jewish state called Judea. By 63 bce, the Romans were the unwelcome occupiers of Judea. In the year 135, most all of the Jews were expelled from Judea by the Romans as the result of a violent uprising led by a Jewish revolutionary named Bar Kochba.

The following are two historical timelines that give an overview of historic Israel's or Palestine's development to its current political arrangement. From these timelines, several key features provide a solid understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is important to remember that the Israeli side believes the chronology should begin early in the history of historic Israel, while the Arab side believes the proper starting point for the chronology should begin in the late nineteenth century.


The dispersal of Jews to other countries after being forced to live outside their traditional homeland.
Literally meaning a burnt sacrifice, the program pursued by the Nazis to eradicate Jews from the world leading to the murder of six million European Jews, Gypsies, Catholics, and homosexuals.
One nation promotes its interests over the interests of other nations.
A person seeking safety in a foreign country to escape persecution.
Movement that arose with the aim of reestablishing a Jewish state in Palestine.

The chronology Israelis think is most accurate and fair would include the following events:

  • 1800 bce: Abraham migrates to Canaan (ancient name for land of Palestine)
  • 70 ce: Romans destroy Jerusalem and much of the Jewish homeland; beginning of the Diaspora
  • 135: Bar Kochba revolt suppressed by the Romans; Jews expelled from Palestine
  • 632: Islamic armies conquer large areas of land, including Palestine
  • 691: Dome of the Rock mosque built on the site of the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans
  • 1516–1918: Ottoman Empire rules over Palestine
  • 1860–1904: Life of Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement
  • 1882: First group of Jews migrate to Palestine
  • 1947–48: Warfare between Jewish and Palestinian communities begins
  • 1948: Israel declares itself to be an independent state
  • 1956: Outbreak of war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries
  • 1964: Founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization
  • 1967: Outbreak of the Six-Day War between Israel and neighboring Arab countries
  • 1973: Outbreak of the Yom Kippur War between Israel and neighboring Arab countries
  • 1978: Camp David Accord signed, involving U.S. president Jimmy Carter, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin
  • 1982: Israeli invasion of Lebanon
  • 1987: Outbreak of intifada
  • 1988: Declaration of the independent state of Palestine
  • 1989: Yasser Arafat elected president of Palestine
  • 2000: Outbreak of intifada
  • 2004: Death of Yasser Arafat
  • 2006: Hamas wins surprising election in Palestine

The chronology Arabs think is most accurate and fair would include the following events:

  • 1882 Beginning of modern Jewish immigration to Palestine
  • 1897: First Zionist Congress
  • 1917: Balfour Declaration issued
  • 1918: All of Palestine occupied by Allied forces
  • 1936: Arab revolt against British rule and Zionism
  • 1939–45: World War II and the extermination of six million Jews (Holocaust) in Europe
  • 1947: Palestine problem submitted to the United Nations
  • 1948: Israel declares itself as an independent nation; war breaks out in Palestine
  • 1950: West Bank united with Jordan; Gaza Strip administered by Egypt
  • 1956: Outbreak of war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries
  • 1964: Founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization
  • 1967: Outbreak of war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries
  • 1973: Outbreak of war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries
  • 1978: Camp David Accord signed, involving U.S. president Jimmy Carter, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin
  • 1982: Israeli invasion of Lebanon
  • 1987: Outbreak of intifada
  • 1988: Declaration of the independent state of Palestine
  • 1989: Yasser Arafat elected president of Palestine
  • 2000: Outbreak of intifada
  • 2005: Death of Yasser Arafat
  • 2006: Hamas wins surprising election in Palestine

It can be readily seen that the division between the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives is centered on the beginning of the chronology. While Israelis think a much longer view of history gives the right answers to the questions regarding the status of Israel, Palestinians believe that a more just approach is to keep the discussion in the modern period. These differing points of view have proven to play a key role in the attempts to create peace between Israelis and Palestinians by discovering who has rights to the land. Therefore, coming to a conclusion about whether the Arabs or Israelis have a stronger set of claims to Palestine depends in part on one's view of history. This means trying to answer the question about who are the legitimate residents of Palestine based on who lived there first.

The development of Zionism

Although the Jews were systematically removed from Judea by the Romans, many Jews clung to the dream of returning to their homeland to reestablish the nation of Israel. This idea gathered strength in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Led by the thoughts of Leon Pinsker (1821–1891), a Russian Jew, and Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), a Jewish journalist residing in Austria, many Jews urged creating a Jewish state in Palestine. This movement became known as Zionism. Zionism is defined as the reuniting of Jewish people in Palestine. The idea of Zionism, named after a hill in biblical Jerusalem named Zion, grew through the nineteenth century. Zionism was prominent in Eastern Europe where persecution against Jews was the strongest. Zionist ideals were powerful enough to cause many European Jews to migrate to Palestine.

The growing number of Jews arriving in Palestine caused increasing strife and tension between the immigrants (people who leave their country of origin to reside permanently in another) and the Palestinian Arabs, who were the long-standing residents of the area. Generally, Arabs were not opposed to Jewish emigration to Palestine so long as it was not rooted in political motives. They did not want Jews to build up political power to rule over Arabs or establish a separate country. The greatest numbers of Arabs living in Palestine were Muslims (followers of Islam) who conquered the region in the seventh century. Because the Jews living in Palestine adhered to Judaism, the stage was set for the Arab-Israeli conflict to take on its religious characteristics. These religions have many common roots. Islam and Judaism (as well as Christianity) regard such important religious figures as Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrew prophets as key to their respective faiths. But the conflict between Jews and Arabs has intensified in part because both Judaism and Islam claim a God-given right to the land of Palestine.

Fall of the Ottoman Empire

From the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. This empire was Turkish in origin and existed from 1299 to 1922. At the height of the empire's strength it ruled the Middle East, parts of North Africa, and even a portion of southeastern Europe. The Ottomans aligned themselves with Germany during World War I (1914–18). After Germany and its allies were defeated, control of Palestine was in the hands of Great Britain.

British promises to the Arabs and Jews

As reward for siding with Britain and its allies during the war, promises were made to both Zionists and Arabs that they would have their own homelands. Sir Henry McMahon (1862–1949), the British high commissioner in Egypt, exchanged letters with a ruler on the Arabian Peninsula promising that a new Arab nation would be formed from the lands of the former Ottoman Empire. Simultaneously, a similar promise was made to the Jews in the form of the Balfour Declaration (1917). This declaration reads as follows:

His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use his best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being a clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

With the approval of the League of Nations (a world political body dedicated to resolving disputes between nations that was later replaced by the United Nations), the British enacted the principles of the Balfour Declaration and partitioned (divided) Palestine into two separate regions. For this reason, many Arabs believe they have been treated in a prejudicial way by strong western countries. For them, this was cause to think that many westerners see Arabs as an inferior group of people. The larger portion of land became known as the Emirate of Transjordan (now the modern nation of Jordan). The remaining territory, bordered by Lebanon and Syria in the north and Egypt in the south, was still called Palestine. The Arab-Israeli conflict has mostly taken place in this limited territory.

Prior to World War II, Great Britain maintained a policy designed to limit the number of European Jews migrating to Palestine. However, this policy was only partially effective. After World War II ended, the world became aware of the Holocaust. Many people began to believe that it was necessary to create an independent Jewish state. The Holocaust, literally meaning a burnt sacrifice, was the program pursued by the German Nazis to primarily eradicate Jews from Europe. The Holocaust led to the murdering of six million European Jews in addition to millions of other peoples, such as Gypsies, homosexuals, and Catholics. In 1947, the United Nations passed Resolution 187, dividing Palestine into two new states, one for Jews and one for Arabs. In 1948, the Jewish state of Israel came into existence. This move angered not only the Palestinian Arabs but Arabs in other countries surrounding Israel.

Israel at war with the Arab world

From 1948 to 1949, Israel fought a war against its Arab neighbors as a direct result of declaring its independence in 1948. This war is sometimes called the Israeli War of Independence. While the Israelis were greatly outnumbered, they were successful in defeating the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. The fighting ended in 1949 with the signing of the Rhodes Armistice (a ceasefire agreement), an agreement to at least temporarily stop fighting but did not give Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist. The conclusion of the war officially affirmed the borders of the Jewish state and added more territory to Israel. It also created a significant refugee (people seeking safety in a foreign country to escape prejudice or persecution) problem. About seven hundred thousand Palestinians were displaced from their homes. Many Palestinians fled or were expelled from Israel after the Rhodes Armistice was signed. Similarly, about nine hundred thousand Jews fled or were expelled from the Arab countries that fought against Israel. Of this number, about six hundred thousand migrated to Israel while the remainder moved to Europe or the United States.

The continuing Arab-Israeli conflict

While the Rhodes Armistice ended open warfare between Israel and its neighbors, most Arabs did not accept the principles of the armistice that included areas that should be free of military forces, called demilitarized zones. Rather, the conflict reemerged as a guerilla war where Palestinians led raids against Israel, often attacking and killing innocent Israeli citizens. The guerilla war continued into the twenty-first century. This led to a series of reprisals in the form of Israeli attacks against Palestinian military targets. These acts of revenge maintained a cycle of sustained violence between Israelis and Palestinians. However, following 1948, several conventional wars also contributed to the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The 1956 War

The first in the series of these wars was fought in 1956 from October 29 to November 6. For a variety of reasons, the Israelis believed Egypt was preparing to make war against Israel. Egypt, led by President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970), nationalized (took complete governmental control of) the Suez Canal. The Egyptians blocked Israeli ships that were passing through the canal. The canal was vital for world trade because it connected the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. Prior to its nationalization, the canal was jointly controlled by Great Britain and Egypt.

In response to Egypt's military buildup and nationalization of the Suez Canal, Israel launched an attack into the Sinai Desert (Egyptian territory) while Great Britain and France took control of the canal by force. Finally, a ceasefire was arranged by the United Nations with the backing of both existing world superpowers: the United States and the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). But Israel's military success left the country in control of the Sinai Desert and the Gulf of Aqaba. This gulf provided direct access to the Indian Ocean for Israel. Israel agreed to retreat from this captured territory only after the United Nations guaranteed Israel's continued access to these vital waterways.

The 1967 War

In 1967, Israel again went to war, this time against Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. This war is sometimes referred to as the Six-Day War because it was fought between June 5 and June 10. The war was in part fought in the Sinai Desert. Egypt's President Nasser again closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel after compelling United Nations troops to leave Egyptian territory. This move allowed Nasser to mobilize his troops in the Sinai Desert in preparation for war against Israel. Israel again defeated the Egyptian military. It also captured the Old City of Jerusalem (sometimes referred to as East Jerusalem) from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. While Israel eventually retreated from the Sinai Desert due to pressure from the United Nations, it retained control of all of Jerusalem.

The 1973–74 War

The next war between Israelis and Arabs was fought from 1973 to 1974. The war began on October 6, 1973, the date of a very important Jewish religious holiday called Yom Kippur. Egypt and Syria launched surprise attacks against Israel on two fronts that day. Often this war is referred to as the Yom Kippur War. At first this war did not go well for Israel. Other Arab countries, including Libya, joined in the struggle along with Israel's established enemies, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. As things grew difficult for the Israelis, the United States stepped in and supplied Israel with large quantities of sophisticated weapons. This aid greatly increased Israel's military capabilities and gave it the power to push its enemies back inside their own borders.

The 1982 War

In 1978, the Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO (see box) based in southern Lebanon (Israel's immediate neighbor to the north) attacked Israel. Israel responded by sending its troops into Lebanon to create a buffer zone of about 5 miles to prevent further attacks from PLO guerillas. While the United Nations sent a peacekeeping force into this region, it did not stop the fighting.

In an effort to eliminate the PLO bases in southern Lebanon, Israel attacked with the full weight of its military might in 1982. Ultimately, the PLO guerillas were forced to leave Lebanon and were dispersed into several Arab countries. A plan was brought forward by the United States to end hostilities. Israel withdrew all its forces from Lebanon in 1985. Further conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was in the form of two distinct intifadas (uprisings), one lasting from 1987 to 1993 and another in 2000 (see box).

In all wars fought between Israelis and Arabs, there has been a series of agreements and armistices, with little effect on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most of the wars and their treaties achieved little to resolve the political roadblock between Arabs and Israelis. They did nothing to decrease violence between the two populations, either.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas

The PLO was created in 1964 as a political organization to support the creation of an independent Palestinian state. After the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Yasser Arafat emerged as the president of the PLO. The PLO was not really a singular organization but was made up of various political parties that had differing perspectives on how to view and respond to Israel. While the PLO officially renounced terrorism and recognized Israel's right to exist in 1988, it was not clear that every group under the umbrella of the PLO believed that terrorism should be abandoned.

The most prominent PLO group was the political party known as Fatah. Until January 2006, Fatah was the dominant party in the Palestinian parliament. But another party known as Hamas came to power and held the majority of seats in the Parliament. Hamas still retained the view that justice and peace could only be established in the Middle East when the state of Israel was destroyed. Many believe that the political victory won by Hamas undermined the possibility of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Others thought that Hamas's win at the polls would force it to moderate its political views and renounce terrorism as well as recognize that Israel has a right to exist.

The worldwide importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict

The Arab-Israeli conflict has never been not seen by most of the world as having an impact only in the lives of Arabs and Israelis. A majority of the world's leaders have historically seen the Arab-Israeli conflict as one that has implications for the security of the world. Many have feared that this conflict could spill over the borders of the Middle East as well as cause confrontations between countries that have historically supported one side or the other. This was clearly the case when tensions rose between the world's two superpowers at the time. The United States supported Israel and the USSR supported the Arab cause in the 1973 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Israelis received military aid from the United States and the Arabs received military aid from the Soviet Union.

Much of the world's oil reserves are found within the borders of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, and a traditional Muslim country like Iran. Iranians are not ethnically Arab but support the Arab cause against Israel because most Iranians are Muslim. These countries and others showed sympathy for the plight of Palestinian Arabs. Their oil wealth gave them great economic leverage in advancing the Palestinian cause. Since many western countries depended on Middle East oil to meet their energy needs, they were compelled to give attention to the difficulties faced by Palestinian Arabs.

On the other hand, Israel had its strong supporters too. For example, the United States, Great Britain, and France were firmly resolved to support Israel's right to exist within secure borders. These countries have at times given Israel key military hardware, such as artillery shells and combat aircraft, to block attempts by Arab countries to destroy Israel. In return Israel has been a faithful ally helping countries such as the United States retain its influence in the Middle East.


Intifada is the Arabic word meaning "uprising." The intifadas have usually been in response to a perceived Israeli act of injustice that harmed the Palestinian cause. In the modern conflict of Israel and Palestine, this term usually referred to two specific events called the first (1987–93) and second intifadas (2000–05).

The first intifada took place as a revolt against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This uprising was also driven by Palestinian citizens who were facing the humiliation of having to show identity documents and special permits as they traveled into Israel to provide much-needed labor. Palestinian workers went on a general strike and got into violent confrontations with Israeli police and soldiers.

The second intifada was economic in nature. Israel sought to secure its borders against terrorist acts by blocking Palestinians from working in Israel. This intifada was made worse when an Israeli leader named Ariel Sharon (1928–) took a group of followers to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was rumored that Sharon actually went inside the Dome of the Rock mosque that sits on the Temple Mount, perhaps in defiance of Islamic beliefs. This mosque is one of the holiest sites for Muslims around the world; regular people are forbidden to enter it. Angry Palestinians responded by creating a more violent and bloody uprising.

Because the world has a keen interest in resolving the deeply felt tensions between Israelis and Arabs, many attempts have been made to arrive at a fair and long-lasting peace in this region of the world. Arab nationalism (promoting the creation of new nations) and political Zionism laid claim to the same land placing two nationalistic movements in direct conflict. Nationalism is often behind the attempt of one nation to promote its interests over the interests of other nations. When nationalist attitudes become too strong, the ideals of one nation become more highly valued than the ideals of other nations. This means there is a greater opportunity for prejudice, hatred, and mistrust to arise. Because of these nationalist attitudes, there have been many attempts in recent history to create a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, such as the 1998 Camp David Accords and the 2003 Geneva Accord. However, nothing resolved the conflict. Both sides tried to make their claims to the land the strongest not only against each other but by appealing to the court of public opinion around the world. For example, a list of the kinds of claims that each side made have the following characteristics. On the Jewish side:

The continuous presence of Jews in Israel for four thousand years.

The persecution of the Jews of the Diaspora (see box), and the Holocaust as the climax of this persecution.

The fulfillment of God's promise in the return of the land to the chosen people.

The phenomenal contribution of the Jews to the development of the land and the welfare of the world.

Arab failure to make peace with the Jews when they were willing to negotiate for peace.

The importance of the present and future security of Israel for the Jewish and Western worlds.

But Palestinian Arabs have their claims as well and oppose the Jewish side by saying:

For two thousand years, since Roman times, Palestinians have been a majority in historic Palestine, which is now Israel.

The establishment of Israel has been at the expense of the Palestinians who have been displaced through wars and other forceful means.

Palestinians are now ready to compromise and accept a share of the land, but Israel refuses to negotiate for peace.

Palestinians belong to Palestine. They do not wish to be sent away to other Arab countries.

Palestinian nationhood is as valid as Zionist nationhood, if not more so when viewed in terms of a common history, language, and culture.

The two million Palestinians that live in the occupied territories are not treated as equal citizens since they are not free to choose their own system of government.

In the background of these claims as to who are the rightful residents of Palestine is the belief that people from the other side are bad and repulsive, while those on "our" side are good. Many people in the world, including many Israelis and Palestinians, had hoped that moderate voices would come to the forefront recognizing of the rights of both the Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians and Israelis have held the common human vision of wanting to live in their own land in peace and security with the hope that justice will prevail.

The basic Israeli perspective

Israel insists that peace is impossible until Palestinians first recognize Israel's right to exist. This means that Israel maintains a strong and modern military to defend itself against what it thinks is the ultimate Palestinian goal, namely to destroy the state of Israel. Until those who govern the Palestinians as well as other Arab and Islamic countries publicly declare that Israel has a basic right to exist as a secure nation, there can be no permanent peace between Palestinians and Israelis, according to the Israeli government.

The basic Palestinian-Arab perspective

Most Arabs think Israel cannot make a legitimate historical claim to have a separate Jewish state since doing so displaces Palestinians from their homeland. Though in the long past Jews did have control of the area, this did not mean that Jews who have lived in other parts of the world for nearly two thousand years now have a right to return to Palestine and create a new Jewish homeland. Further, some Israelis believed that they had the right to expand their territory by building settlements in the West Bank. This area immediately on the west side of the Jordan River has been the homeland for a large number of Palestinians at least since World War I. Palestinian Arabs also believed that the United Nations had generated many resolutions (Resolution 194, Resolution 242, and Resolution 446) designed to protect Palestinian rights that Israel had ignored.

Possibilities for peace

Geneva Accord and the Road Map for Peace

The Geneva Accord of November 2003 was developed and written by representatives of Palestine and Israel in order to bring an end to hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. The accord became the official document recognizing the right of Palestinians and Israelis to have independent statehood. As provided in the American Task Force on Palestine website (, the Geneva Accord stated that it aspired to the view that "… both peoples need to enter an era of peace, security, and stability." Out of the Geneva Accord arose the hope that Israelis and Palestinians would cooperate and commit themselves to coexist side by side as good neighbors, that they would aspire to the well-being of Palestinian and Israeli citizens. The Geneva Accord also had a goal of not only reconciling Palestinians and Israelis but of promoting normal, peaceful relations between Israel and other Arab states.

The Road Map to Peace initiative was brought forward in a speech by U.S. Republican president George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) on June 24, 2002. With the support of many countries in Western Europe, Russia, and the United Nations, the initiative called for a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Road Map to Peace called for the Palestinian leadership to move decisively toward ending terrorism. Terrorism often took the form of suicide bombing especially against Israeli citizens. Israel was also challenged to take strong steps to support the emergence of a stable and secure Palestinian state by ending its occupation of historic Palestinian territory.

Developments in the early twenty-first century

In April 2002, Israel began construction of a security barrier to keep suicide bombers from making their way into Israel from the West Bank. The Israelis believed the security fence was necessary for the protection of its citizens. However, human rights groups, Palestinians, and much of the world complained that the barrier cut across territory that had been declared to be Palestinian by international law. This was another case of mounting tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.


The Diaspora is a term usually applied to Jews who have been forced to live outside their traditional homeland. In historic Israel, Jews were often expelled or taken into captivity by empires that conquered them. The Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires are examples of nations that participated at different times in the Jewish Diaspora. This term evokes strong emotions, as it is often employed by Zionists to support the view that Jews have a right to return to their traditional homeland to recreate an independent Jewish state.

In the early twenty-first century, many Palestinians viewed themselves as victims of a Diaspora at the hands of Jews who have displaced them from their traditional homeland. Because of this turn of events, many Palestinians were forced to live in other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Because Palestinians and Israelis believed they were the genuine victims of displacement and exile, both sides were committed to actions that led to violence and retaliation.

In January 2006, a radical Palestinian group known as Hamas (see box) won the majority of seats in Palestine's parliamentary elections. Hamas gained this political victory over the PLO (see box). The PLO had been the controlling political party in Palestine since 1967. When PLO president Yasser Arafat (1929–2004) renounced terrorism and recognized Israel's right to exist, many world leaders held high hopes for eventual peace between Israelis and Palestinians. However, a part of Hamas's charter called for the destruction of Israel. In the view of many, this meant the prospects for peace between Palestinians and Israelis were greatly reduced unless Hamas recognized Israel's right to exist. Several European countries that give financial assistance to the Palestinians threatened to discontinue this aid unless Hamas renounced terrorism and recognized Israel's right to exist.

Violence in the region escalated through much of 2006. Israel continued its occupation of Palestinian Arab territories and conducted raids into Arab neighborhoods to arrest or kill Hamas leaders. In addition, Israel launched a massive bombing and artillery attack on neighboring Lebanon that lasted weeks. The attack was in reaction to the Lebanese government harboring Hezbollah, an anti-Israeli Arab group. Peace for the region seemed as remote as ever.

For More Information


Cattan, Henry. The Palestine Question. New York: Croom Helm, 1988.

Cohen, Michael J. The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Gelvin, James L. The Israel-palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Khouri, Fred J. The Arab-Israeli Dilemma. 3rd ed. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1985.

Lesch, Ann M, and Dan Tschirgi. Origins and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Wasserstein, Bernard. Israelis and Palestinians: Why Do They Fight? Can They Stop? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.


"The Geneva Accord." American Task Force on Palestine. (accessed on November 29, 2006).

"Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)." FAS. (accessed on November 29, 2006).

About this article

The Arab-Israeli Conflict

Updated About content Print Article