Notes on the History and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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The Arab-Israeli Conflict 1948-1996

Origins and Development of the Conflict

Lead up to the conflict

  • The early basis of the Arab-Israeli conflict concerned the right of Israeli to exist. Walter Laqueur: “The tragedy of Zionism was that it appeared on the international scene when there were no longer empty spaces on the world map”.
  • In the immediate post WWII years, violence raged within Palestine. Britain proved totally unable to deal with the situation – the apparent insolubility of the problem, worldwide imperial commitments and near economic collapse led Britain’s Labour government to decide to withdraw from Palestine. The problem was handed over to the UN.
  • UN Partition Resolution on 29 November 1947, partitioning the territory of Palestine into an Israel State and an Arab State, and an international status for Jerusalem, had been the impetus for the War of Independence/Catastrophy.
  • In this plan, Zionists were granted 60% of country, with the more fertile soil. This inequality of land size and quality led to the rejection of the partition by Arab populations, which was further irritating because prior to the partition in no district had Jews ever owned more than land than Arabs.
  • David Gilmour asserts the partition could never have worked regardless of equality in partitioning, because nations see their land in 'wholeness', and thus being an entity they cannot let be divided.
  • Both sides committed violence against one another, and by 1948 civil war this had only escalated.
  • Plan Dalet- implemented in May 1948 by the Haganah, claimed to be defensive in nature, but Ahron Breginan asserts that it became a blank check for Jewish forces to expel Arab Palestinians, as was carried out in the ensuing days of the war. Henry Cartan sees it as indication that prior to civil war, already a policy of ethnic cleansing.
  • Jaffa and Acre were taken under Plan Dalet, even though they were not part of Israel's allotted land under the UN Partition Resolution. This plan sparked negative Arab reaction which disrupted Jewish lines of communication and cut off Jewish settlements from localities Israelis already occupied.
  • By March 1948, this led to the 'battle of the roads', as Jewish forces tried to take control of communications roads, and the Arabs sought to prevent them achieving this, the Irgun massacre of Deir Yassin, which was a brutal attempt to keep Israeli supply roads open, and to warn other villages – resulted in 750,000 fleeing their villages in fear.

Following the proclamation of the state of Israel

  • 14 May 1948's Israel Independence was followed the next day by the regular armies of the Arab States, Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq invasion into Israel.
  • Initial success had been on the Arab side, but eventually began losing to Israel's forces due to; Poor communication between the Arab States, such as Egypt refusing to divulge details of their plans with their tactical partner, the Arab Legion. Military potential was limited because Arab forces depended on volunteers, not professionally trained armies. Arab States had also felt deserted by absence of leaders, and thus suffered from a lack of leadership.
  • During the civil war, UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte had introduced truces. These didn't get, or aim for peace.
  • Israel used the first truce to import arms from Czechoslovakia.
  • Bernadotte eventually offered a new peace plan, which reduced Israelis land, and thus was rejected by Jewish representatives. Israel instead expanded their borders from the UN partition to include Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Upper Galilee and Beersheba. The capture of Beersheba marked the ending of the civil war.
  • Arab States, not only Palestinians, smarting under the defeat of the 1948 war, yearned for revenge, but were not ready to challenge Israel because of its growing arsenal supplied by the US. Thus the Palestine Arab League boycott on the goods produced by Jewish firms in Palestine since the birth of Israel intensified.
  • The Israeli view is that in 1948 the Jews were merely reclaiming their traditional homeland from which they had been expelled centuries earlier, saying that the Palestinians brought the disaster on themselves. Whereas the Arab view is that the local Palestinian population, which had been living in Palestine for centuries, was pushed out of its rightful home by Israeli invaders, who were guilty of things like deliberate ethnic cleansing.
  • To the Israelis the war of 1948-49 is a glorious episode in their history, a reclaiming of their homeland, a ‘war of independence’. To the Arabs, it is a ‘catastrophe’, a tragic episode when its people were driven from their homes by foreign invaders.

Nature and Role of Nationalism
Israeli Nationalism (or Zionism)

  • The core of Zionism is that the Jewish people have a predetermined homeland and combined are a national identity, with a right to reestablish themselves in their historic location of Eretz Yisrael,
  • After the 1948 War, Israel held 79% of Palestine, passing a series of laws in the early 1950s (March 1950 Absentee Property Law, July 1950 Law of Return) which aimed to prevent Palestinian reoccupation and allow any Jew worldwide to gain Israeli citizenship.
  • Schlaim: “Israel emerged from the war economically exhausted but with superior organisation and morale, a tremendous sense of achievement, and a confident outlook on the future”
  • The 1967 Six Day War and the issue of the Occupied Territories was a double edged sword for Israeli nationalism; morale was greatly boosted, however in the long term, its implications and ramifications damaged Israeli confidence.
  • Hardcore Zionists believe that the Occupied Territories are inextricably part of Eretz Yisrael and do everything in their power to avoid their return. The Likud Party, backed by conservative groups, has exacerbated this situation, as has the settler movement.
  • After their ‘disgraceful’ invasion of Lebanon, more than 400 000 Israeli’s took to the streets of Israel to protest against their government, and the US government proclaimed the expansionist Israeli policies as the “greatest obstacle to peace.”
  • After the 1984 elections, where power was split between Labour (Peres) and Likud (Vitzhak Shamir), the country was further divided as no political consensus could be formed on the occupied territories.
  • The Israeli response to the lntifada disgraced them worldwide with Rabin’s 1988 ‘Iron Fist’ policy of “the first priority is to use might, power and beatings to restore order” attracting much condemnation with its killings of over 600 youths. Thus Lebanon and the lntifada challenged many Israeli’s to question their nationalistic ambitions for the first time.
  • The peace process was undermined by the efforts of extreme nationalist groups who believed that the creation of a Palestinian state would be the first step in the complete destruction of Israel.

Palestinian Nationalism

  • The PLO covenant of 1968 states that “Palestinians are those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine regardless of whether they were evicted from it or stayed there. Anyone born after that date of a Palestinian father — whether inside Palestine or outside it — is also Palestinian.”
  • The PLO is the most important proponent of Palestinian nationalism, formed in January 1964. They aimed to remove Zionism from Palestine, engaging in an armed struggle, and reject all historical events that occurred between 1918 and 1964. Palestinian nationalism and the PLO has had several forms since the 1948 war.
  • Palestinian nationalism grew most strongly after the 1967 Six Day War, when the Arab states demonstrated that they were in the conflict for their own objectives, and lacked the ability to fight for the rights of the Palestinian people.
  • The appalling refugee camps which many Palestinian people in both Arab and Jewish states were placed in helped to fuel nationalist terrorist attacks, as a result of a feeling of helplessness. This peaked in the early 1970s such as Black September and Munich.
  • Following the 1973 War, the Arab league recognized the PLO as the ‘sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Israel was thus forced to deal with Arafat and the PLO, rather than Hussein. They could no longer claim that ‘Jordan is Palestine’.
  • In 1974 the PLO adopted the ‘Stages Plan’ stating that a state should be achieved in any area that might be evacuated by Israel in exchange for a peace settlement. Arafat also gave his Olive Branch speech to the UN this year.
  • After Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, it became clear that the Palestinians were very united, and world attention was focused on their cause as 19 000 Palestinians died, many as a result of Maronite/Israeli slaughter at refugee camps.
  • The Intifada between 1987 and 1994 in Palestine was a very grassroots nationalistic movement: young-rock throwers cost Israel nearly US$500million and the loss of international confidence. Revisionist Zionist Schlaim feels that: “the aims of the intifada were not stated at the outset; they emerged in the course of the struggle. The ultimate aim was self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”
  • Like the Israeli’s, extreme nationalist groups were completely opposed to democratic/moderate solutions.

Pan-Arab Nationalism

  • Originally a kinship/religious concept; the European notion of political interdependence did not apply until the later 1800s. The complete notion of Pan-Arab nationalism began to develop after the 1948 War, as the Arab states perpetuated the belief in Israel that they were all totally dedicated to its destruction.
  • Pan-Arab nationalism was fostered by Egypt’s Nasser, arguably the most influential Arab leader of the 20th Century. Nasser aimed to forge Arab unity; he dreamed of leading a pan-Arabism cause.
  • Despite losing the Suez War, Arab nationalism increased as their cause became more defined. This atmosphere culminated in the union of Syria and Egypt in 1958, however this did not last long (ended officially in September1961).
  • The 1967 Six Day War marked the end of Nasser’s Pan Arab dream, despite generating an increase in Arab hostility towards Israel. In September, the Khartoum Declaration was passed: No negotiation with Israel, No recognition of Israel and No peace with Israel.
  • Schlaim: “the Arab forces mobilized to do battle against the emergent Jewish state were nowhere as powerful or united as they appeared to be in Arab and Jewish propaganda”  Schlaim: “Each of the other Arab states was also moved by dynastic or national interests, which were hidden behind the fig leaf of securing Palestine for the Palestinians.”
  • The Yom Kippur War demonstrated this loss of cooperation, as the Egyptians followed their own plan that did not support the Syrian advance, and Hussein warned Israel of the possible attack. Contrary to this however the Arab states formed a conglomerate to increase oil prices by 40-70% worldwide caused US to lose $2Obn and the EU to urge Israel to abandon their 1967 Occupied Territories.
  • The 1979 Camp David Agreements where Egypt sold out the other Arab states totally ended Pan-Arabism.
  • Zionist historian Efraim Karsh: “The actual policies of the Arab states show they have been less motivated by concern for pan-Arabism, let alone for the protection of the Palestinians than by their own interests Indeed nothing has done more to expose the hollowness of pan-Arabism than this, its most celebrated cause”.

Changing Palestinian and Israeli responses to the conflict.

Palestinian responses:

  • The general response to the 1947-48 war was to flee from the country, making 726000 Palestinians refugees. Some went to refugee camps, while others settled in neighboring Arab states.
  • As the conflict went on, with no peace, Palestinians engaged in much political activity such as fedayeen freedom fighters, launched attacks on Israel and its citizens, killing more than 360 Israelis in the period 1950-1956.
  • Generally during this stage, Palestinians relied quite a lot on other Arab states to protect them and further their interests, such as Nasser's creation of the PLO in 1964.
  • After the 1967 war, Palestinian nationalism grew into an authentic manifestation of the desire of Palestinian Arabs for self-determination. As a response to the 1967 conflict, Palestinians took greater responsibility for their fight for independence. Palestinian leaders realised that they would have to rely on their own efforts if they didn't want to continue to be thought of as refugees.
  • The PLO National Covenant asserted "armed struggle" as a means of achieving liberation. As Arafat took control of the PLO in 1969, this led to a greater Palestinian militancy.
  • During the 1960's and 70's, there was an increase in the use of terrorism by the Palestinians, e.g. the hijacking of 4 planes leading to PLO's expulsion from Jordan
  • By mid 1974, PLO and many Palestinian civilians were considering the establishment of 2 states in West Bank and Gaza – this signified a more moderate stance.
  • As a response to the increase of Jewish settlements on the OT in the 70's and 80's, there was an increase in violence, and further border attacks on Israel
  • Palestinians were largely overlooked and ignored as the 80's began, so they took their fate into their own hands in the OT. In addition, PLO was ineffectual so they had to rely on their own efforts to "shake off" Israeli rule - Intifada Dec. 1987
  • In November 1988 the PNC declared the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and Jordan severed ties with the PLO in an attempt to force Israel to negotiate with the PLO.
  • In December 1988 Arafat officially renounced terrorism and began engaging in serious discussions about peace.
  • Gulf War interrupted this process. The PLO’s support of Saddam Hussein was a big mistake and cost them much credibility. The Madrid and Oslo Peace negotiations were completely undermined by extreme terrorist acts.

Israeli responses:

  • Beginning of conflict, Israel was only interested in furthering its own aims, and obtaining security.
  • Following the 1967 War Israel found it self with a great deal more land, as well as more Arabs, encompassed within the nation. What to do with these occupied territories has been a hotly contested issue within Israeli society and politics since.
  • Israel was concerned with PLO pressure in Lebanon-after outbreak of civil war Israel didn't want Syria to gain a foothold in Lebanon and therefore planned its own military action to restrict Syrian power and destroy PLO
  • Israel was given pretext to launch attack when PLO attacked Israeli bus.
  • After Lebanese civil war, Israel was divided about the war-division amongst the people and govts.
  • Peace was a difficult task as a stalemate had developed between both sides at after the outbreak of the Intifada between Palestinian and Israeli govts —change in response by Israel was almost inevitable
  • Turn by Israel from self gain & unwillingness, to compromise and peace
  • Conflict made worse by the constant change in Israeli govt who had varying views on how to solve the conflict, the response of the Israeli’s has always heavily depended on the political climate in Israel.
  • Right wing groups were opposed to trading peace for land and establishment of an independent Palestinian state at any cost, while more moderate Israeli’s were willing to give up the dream of Eretz Israel and trust that diplomatic compromise could bring peace.

Nature and consequences of Israeli Occupation of the Occupied Territories


  • Schlaim: “The question was what to do with these territories, and to this question there was no simple answer.”
  • Lots of internal debate about whether to keep OTs.
  • From a strategic POV, by holding onto the WB, Israel could better defend its borders and major populated cities. The extra labour also created an economic boom.
  • On the other hand, some believed that if land were trading for peace with Arab neighbours, then giving up the WB would be worth it.
  • The territories were also important for the Sephardic Jews who migrated from Arab states because it gave them more status/importance.
  • The issue of the Israeli settlements in the OTs also became an area of intense internal and external debate.
  • In the late 1980s Israel would have to cope with the Intifada


  • After the 1967 war, 40% of Palestinians lived under Israeli control (about 1.3 million)
  • This increased Palestinian nationalism, as it was clear that the other Arab states could not be relied on to guarantee Palestinian self-determination.
  • PLO therefore took an increasingly radical stance and violence in the region escalated.
  • Palestinians in the OTs had very few rights – for example they could not meet in public places.
  • The Intifada of 1987 called for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to reject anything that represented Israeli rule over there lives. It came about as a result of the derelict and oppressive living conditions in the territories.


  • Arab hostility was further increased towards Israel following the 1967 War, but it also marked the end of the Pan-Arab dream.
  • The Arab nations were completely humiliated by the defeat.
  • Arab leaders met in Khartoum in September 1967 and passed the ‘three noes resolution’: no negotiation with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no peace with Israel.

What else to put? I wasn’t sure whether this part needed more… there’s already heaps of info later on.

Terrorism and violence and their impact on Israelis and Palestinian communities

Yitzhak Shamir 1977: "Terrorism is just another means of fighting a war"


  • Terrorism methods primordially emerged from the 1967 War, as the devastating Arab defeat convinced the Palestinians that they were too weak to fight an orthodox struggle
  • The Palestinian terrorist attacks after the 1967 War showed the Israelis that their 'victory' came with new problems and complications
  • Yoram Meital: "The June 1967 war dealt a new hand in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Its aftermath imprinted the adversaries with the telltale signs of victory and defeat that continued to linger on" 
  • The first Arab-Israeli war and its lead up saw large use of terror tactics by Jews, in an attempt to secure the Jewish State and remove the Arabs from the land to realize their Zionist aims
  • Israeli military planning was based around removing hostile Palestinians from Israel, and in turn destroying their communities and creating the Palestinian refugee crisis
  • Tom Segev: "Disappearing the Arabs lay at the heart of the Zionist dream, and was also a necessary condition of its existence... with few exceptions, none of the Zionists disputes the desirability of forced transfer — or its morality"
  • Ze'ev Jabotinsky: "The only way a Zionist project could be realized was unilaterally and by military force"
  • Benny Morris: "As immigration increased, so did the Jewish community's identification with the Zionist movement... the non-Zionist and anti-Zionist factors became an insignificant minority, and a large measure of sophistication was required to make the older distinction. It was unreasonable to hope that the wider Arab population, and the riotous mob which was part of it, would maintain this distinction.”


  • The use of terrorist techniques such as aircraft hijacking, assassination, massacres, and suicide bombings,
    have all had a profound impact on Israeli and Palestinian communities
  • For the Palestinians terrorism gave their situation publicity and a voice, although not necessarily once supported by all nor one to which the global sphere responded well.
  • Terrorism was largely unsuccessful in its aims Terrorist acts whilst attention grabbing, horrified rather than successfully alerting, informing and gaining sympathies of the international community. Terrorist acts were often too small to affect any political change, yet were still horrific enough to be psychologically damaging to both the Palestinian and Israeli communities.
  • Acts of terrorism and violence between Palestinians and Israelis often led to repercussions between Arab and Jewish communities around the world.

Terrorist acts were often retaliated causing a cycle of violence between Arabs and Israelis that neither side was willing to give up

Terrorist Activities and their Results

  • Deir Yassin 1948: Israeli terrorist group, the Irgun and Stern Gang, raided the village of Deir Yassin and caused the deaths of 230 Palestinians. This in turn led to Arab retaliation where 70 Jewish medical personnel were killed in an Arab ambush.
  • Black September, September 1970: Palestinian terrorists hijacked a plane, demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners in Jordan. After the hostages were released, tensions rose as civil war ensued between the Palestinians and supporters of Hussein The PLO was driven out of Jordan The Black September fiasco culminated in 3000 Palestinian deaths and 11,000 Palestinians wounded as a result of Jordanian retaliation. Long term the events in September 1970 resulted in the assassination of Jordanian PM Wafsi Tal.
  • Munich Games 1972: Eight Palestinian radicals took eleven Israeli athlete hostage, and event that resulted in the death of all the hostages and five of the Palestinians. This event had a dire impact on the Palestinians as it around international disdain, yet it was effective in making the international community realise that the Arab-Israeli conflict was an international problem and responsibility
  • Intifada 1987 The Palestinian resistance to Israeli forces in the occupied territories affected major changes for both Palestinian and Israeli communities Israel rethought occupation of territories and divisions in Israeli politics and society widened. The left saw a solution to the conflict involving the establishment of a Palestinian state and negotiations with the PLO the right wanted to retain territories and saw force as the means to end conflict
  • Israeli international relations also suffered, many criticisng their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It caused great strain on the people of Israel, greatly dividing opinion and increasing the appeal of peace to some, and extremists to others. Palestinian refugee camps were shut down, curfews imposed and many deported by the Israeli occupying forces. Intifada also created divisions amongst Palestinians which led to the creation of the extremist fundamentalist group Hamas.
  •  Avi Schlaim presents the view that while Hamas became further radicalized by the Intifada, while “it had a moderating effect on the secular Palestinians”
  • There was a change in attitude, and for once large support towards recognizing Israel and establish a Palestinian statein the West Bank and Gaza.
  • On a global scale many sympathized with Palestinian communities The images of youths and children throwing rocks at armed Israeli soldiers reversed the previous worldview of the conflict; Israelis and the small and disadvantaged state against the whole Arab world. It even gained Palestinians American support.
  • Throughout 1994, terrorist groups resorted to suicide bombings. Fifteen Israelis were killed and many others wounded when two car bombings occurred within Israel. This attack was in retaliation after a Jewish officer killed 29 Muslim worshippers. These attacks continued when 23 Israelis were killed in a Tel Aviv bus by a suicide bomber These attacks caused the Israelis to truly question whether the 'peace process' was occurring and leas to a continual and emphatic focus on Israeli security.
  • The extensive used of suicide bombers during the 90's had a large mental affect on both Israeli and Palestinian communities, It presented a situation in which no-one could truly be safe if people were willing to kill the themselves to commit acts of terrorism This created an atmosphere of unsettlement, especially amongst Israelis, as this tactic was more commonly use by Arab groups
  • Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin 4th November 1995: This event shocked the Israelis, as the well-loved PM Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli zealot making it clear that terrorism not only existed between the Arabs and Israelis but between factions within the Israeli community.
  • Arab and Palestinian terrorist groups, such as the PLO, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and the PFLP, committed large strings of smaller terrorists act with less political impact, but all the time embedding the 'siege mentality' of the Israelis and their life of fear and unrest.
  • Palestinians also experienced the continual unrest and fear of terrorist attacks from Israeli groups such as the Irgun and Stem gang and Kach, on their already unstable lives. In the climate of Palestinian suffering, notably in refugee camps and occupied territories, terrorism became easily justified and became a way of life for many, both in committing terrorist acts and in accepting the terrorism that adds to the chaos of their lives
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Attempts at Peacemaking


  • UN secured a truce in Jan 1949
  • By July 1949 neighbouring Arab states had signed separate armistice agreements with Israel
  • After the Suez Crisis of 1954, Washington sponsored a UN resolution creating the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) to supervise the territories vacated by the Israeli forces.
  • Following the 1967 (Six day) War UN issues Resolution 242 — 'peace in return for territory'; Israel called upon to return 'disputed territories' Effectively a step towards recognition (implicit) of Israel by Egypt and Jordan. Became key document in all later peace attempts.Explicit recognition and negotiations were ...

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