Author: Doaa’ Elnakhala


Table of Contents

1    Background and Context 1

2    Nature of the Conflict 7

3    Protagonists  13

4    Trajectory of the Conflict 22


1     Background and Context

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict involves multiple zones of conflict, including Israel itself, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. The conflict was initially between Arab states and Israel. After the 1967 war, it gradually became Palestinian-Israeli. ‘Palestinization’ of the conflict is an outcome of Arab reservation from entering direct war with Israel.

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1.1  Historic Palestine

‘Palestine’ is a region located to the south-east of the Mediterranean, comprised of modern Israel, the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The area-or at least parts of it- is sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Since the late 19th century, it has been subjected to conflicting claims by Jewish and Arab national movements. Jewish claims to this land are based on the biblical promise to Abraham and his descendants and that Palestine was the site of the Jewish kingdom of Israel. The Palestinian claims are based on continuous residence for hundreds of years and on constituting the majority. Some Arabs add, since Abraham’s son Ishmael is the forefather of the Arabs, then God’s promise to the children of Abraham includes the Arabs too.

Waves of Jewish immigration arrived to Palestine during the Ottoman Rule and the British Mandate. In 1917, the British promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine through the Balfour Declaration. Just before the Balfour Declaration, the British promised the Arabs of Palestine an independent state on the same plot of land.[1] With support from different sources, including the British, the Jewish population in Palestine continued to gain influence and land.

Palestine was geographically demarcated by the British Mandate (map 1). Britain decided to detach east of River Jordan–known today as Jordan-to give it to the Hashemite family, which is still ruling today. The British Mandate for Palestine specifically defined Palestine as the area west of River Jordan.

Map 1: British Mandate for Palestine

After the end of World War II, Britain relinquished its Mandate over Palestine and requested the intervention of the UN. The UN proposed a partition plan (map 2 below), with a state for the Jews, another for the Palestinians, and an internationalized Jerusalem. The Arabs rejected the proposal since it gave the Jews more land than the Arabs although the latter constituted the majority. Thus, the fighting broke out between the two sides.

Map 2: Birth of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

1.2  Gaza Strip and West Bank

In 1967, Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Immediately, Israel started to build Jewish settlements on West Bank hilltops and in the Gaza Strip. These practices, as well as the occupation itself, were repeatedly condemned internationally.

Map 3: The Occupied Palestinian Territories after the Oslo Agreement

The signing of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in early 1990s divided the Territories into smaller zones (map 3 above):

  • Area A includes Palestinian population centers, under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In these areas, the PA is fully responsible for internal security, public order, and civil affairs.
  • Area B includes 450 Palestinian towns in the West Bank where the PA controls civil authorities but Israel maintains overriding security authority.
  • Area C is mostly unpopulated areas of the West Bank, where Israel alone has full administrative and security control. This zone includes areas of strategic importance to Israel and the settlements.

By the end of 2005, Israel withdrew from the Palestinian Gaza Strip and dismantled all its settlements there. Yet, Israel maintains control over Gaza’s borders, underground resources and air space. With Jewish-only roads linking different Jewish settlements cutting through the West Bank, along with the barrier project launched in 2002, the West Bank towns on the map resemble isolated islands (map 3 above).

1.3  East Jerusalem

In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel took control of West Jerusalem and Jordan the eastern part. East Jerusalem includes the old walled city, which houses important Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious sites. In June 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem. Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal capital.” Arabs consider it part of the occupied West Bank and hope to declare it their capital. Jerusalem has been witnessing Israeli attempts at completely annexing the city. As a result, the area around Jerusalem is a zone of the highest settlement activities (map 4). The city recently witnessed a wave of stabbing and ramming attacks by the Palestinian residents. The city’s holy sites are also locations of daily tensions, especially around the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif, e.g. tensions of July 2017.

Map 4: Jerusalem and settlements in 2010

1.4  The Golan Heights

The Syrian Golan Heights are a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, occupied by Israel in 1967 (map 5). They are of great political and strategic significance, since they give Israel an excellent point to monitor Syria. Moreover, they provide a natural buffer against military attack from Syria. Despite being recognized as an occupied territory, Israeli officials have repeatedly declared that the Heights would remain Israeli forever. As of 2015, the Syrian population was estimated by 20,000. More than 30 Jewish settlements are present on the Heights, with an estimated 20,000 settlers. Recently, the Heights have been experiencing daily skirmishes due to the security situation in Syria.

Map 5: The Golan Heights

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1.5  The Sinai Peninsula

The Sinai Peninsula (map 6) was occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. While the territory was returned to Egypt after the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Agreement, Sinai remains of relevance to the conflict. The Peace Treaty of 1979 put several restrictions on military presence in the Peninsula, which gave violent and terrorist groups a safe haven. The Peninsulas hosted smuggling routes involving all sorts of commodities, including arms. Many of the largely poor residents have been involved in smuggling activities including the lucrative human, drug, and weapons smuggling. Since this illicit economy has frequently fed into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and due to concerns over a spillover to neighboring countries, security of the Peninsula is of interest not only to Egypt but also to Israel.

Map 6: The Sinai Peninsula

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2      Nature of the Conflict

2.1  Religion, Territory and Ethnicity

2.1.1  Religion

Muslims believe that Palestine is an Islamic Waqf, i.e. a land that is part of the Muslim religious trust.[2] Israeli leaders believe that the Jews have a right to the land. Israel identifies itself as a Jewish state while the large majority of Palestinians are either Muslims or Christians.[3] Several sacred places for Jews and Muslims occupy the same locations, e.g. the Temple Mount to the Jews and Haram al-Sharif to the Muslims. Following the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in the 1967, Israel and Jordan agreed that the Islamic Trust would control the Islamic holy sites while Israel would be in charge of external security. Accordingly, non-Muslims, including Jews, can enter the sites as tourists and not worshippers. Expectedly, the agreement was not respected at all times. Several religious Jewish groups, e.g. the Temple Mount Faithful and the Temple Institute, repeatedly challenged the Israeli government ban on entering the Aqsa Mosque compound. One of the main goals of such groups is to rebuild the third Jewish Temple in the compound. Such groups and their activities anger the Palestinians, who are concerned that one day, Israel would take over the compound.

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2.1.2  Territory

Both the Palestinians and the Israelis are making claims about the same plot of land. There were several attempts at partitioning this land but all have failed so far. Land is the core of daily developments of the conflict. As a result of the 1948, some 750,000 Palestinians fled their homes seeking safety somewhere else. The properties of those displaced were mostly taken over by the Israeli government, under the Israeli Absentee Property Law. The law created the “Development Authority,” which is authorized to sell this land to the government, the Jewish National Fund and other public agencies. The law is still utilized today to overtake individual houses, vast tracts of agricultural land and property of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank is another proof that this conflict is also about land. The number of Jewish settlers in these settlements between 1993 and now has more than doubled to reach half a million in 2013. These settlements annex Palestinian mostly privately-owned land.

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2.1.3  Ethnicity

Following the 1967 war, the conflict started to take an ethnic form. According to Klein, “Ethnic Nationalism claims a right to National self-determination, with the nation based on a common origin and ‘tribal’ affiliation of its members, a shared history, culture, language, and most often, a common or dominant religion. From this perspective, both Zionism—the Jewish national movement—and its Palestinian counterpart are ethno-national movements”. The constitutive texts of both sides support Klein’s idea. Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. The Israeli ethnocracy manifests itself in the long-term Zionist strategy of Judaizing[4] the homeland between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Israel has established a two-tier system in the West Bank, one for the Palestinians and another for the Jewish settlers. Within this system, the Palestinian population[5] are deprived of basic services while neighboring Jewish settlers receive such services. Within this system, certain roads and public services can be used by the Israelis but not by the Palestinians. Such system has deepened the ethnic nature of the conflict.

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2.2  Manifestations of the Conflict

2.2.1 Wars and Wide Military Invasions           1948

In May 1948, immediately after the establishment of the State of Israel in conclusion of the fight between the Jewish gangs and the local Palestinian militants, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq attacked Israel. By early 1949, Israel has achieved a decisive victory against all five countries combined. The fighting was ended with the UN mediated Armistice Agreement of 1949. The Armistice Lines, also known as the Green Line, run along the borderlines of British Mandate Palestine, except in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the latter two areas, the lines were determined by the outcomes of the war. Palestine was divided into three sections: 77% under Israeli control, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem under the Jordanian, and Gaza Strip under the Egyptian (map 2). While Israel calls this war the war of independence, the Palestinian dub it as the Nakba, or the catastrophe.

Back to top           The Suez War of 1956

The 1956 war broke out on October 29, 1956 when Israel, Great Britain and France launched an attack against Egypt to depose its leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser. This attack was a reaction to Nasser’s decision to nationalize the Suez Canal and to block the Gulf of Aqaba, which barred Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Britain, which was formerly in control of the Canal, was angered by the move. France was irritated for Nasser’s support for the Algerian revolution. Through intervention of several international actors, including the U.S.A.,[6] the war ended. A ceasefire came into effect and a UN emergency force was stationed in the area. The Suez was returned to Egypt.

Back to top           1967

By 1967 Israel had built an extensive cutting-edge military capability. In 1967, the Arab media employed a rhetoric depicting the Arab states destroying Israel and throwing the Jews into the Mediterranean. The war started with Israel invading the village of Samua in the Jordanian ruled West Bank. Tensions developed into a full-scale air and artillery battle between Israel and Syria on 7 April 1967. The tension augmented and Egypt expelled UN peacekeepers that patrolled the border with Israel since 1956, and moved troops into the Sinai desert. On the Morning of 5 June, Israel launched Operation Focus, which destroyed the Arab air forces on the ground. By the sixth day, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai desert from Egypt; the Golan Heights from Syria; and the West Bank and East Jerusalem, from Jordan.

Back to top           Yom Kippur Wat of 1973

On 6 October 1973, the Syrian and Egyptian armies took Israel by surprise by launching the Yom Kippur attack, in an attempt to regain their respective territories occupied in 1967. Yet, the American backing combined with an Israeli counteract reversed the Egyptian advance. Egypt eventually fully regained Sinai through a U.S. mediated peace process in 1982. The Syrian surprise assault to regain the Golan Heights was thwarted. Syria and Israel signed an armistice in 1974 and a UN observer force has been in place on the ceasefire line since 1974. Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, a move that was not recognized internationally.

Back to top           The Lebanon War of 1982

Israel turned north to Lebanon to end the threat of the Palestinian militias stationed there. Israel invaded Lebanon on 6 June 1982. A clash between Syria and Israel ended with Israeli Air Force destroying most of Syria’s missiles batteries in Lebanon, and shooting down 27 Syrian fighter jets. Israel formed an alliance with the Christian militias and put Beirut under Siege and force PLO and Syrian forces out of the city. About two months into the siege, PLO forces began to leave. The US brokered the withdrawal of all foreign armies from Lebanon, including Israel, Syria and the PLO, and a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon. The Israeli armed forces gradually withdrew to the south, suffering mass casualties in the process. By 1985, Israel completely withdrew from Lebanon, except the Lebanese buffer zone in the south, from which it left in May 2000.

Back to top            Large-scale Operations of 2002

In February and March 2002, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, large-scale military operations. The operations involved invasions into Palestinian towns and cities that were under full Palestinian control according to the Oslo Agreement. Israel justified these incursions as self-defense against Palestinian suicide bombings. Thus, it targeted violent infrastructures, weapons, people, and tunnels. The operation dealt a serious blow to the Palestinian violent structures and isolated the late Palestinian Arafat. With continuing attacks inside Israeli city centers, Israel launched a series of other similar military operations, some of which continued through 2003.

Back to top            The Lebanon War of 2006

Desperate for ending Hezbollah’s missiles launched from south Lebanon, and provoked by the killing of 8 Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of 2 others, Israel launched a 33-day war. Although the war was launched on the Lebanese territory it was primarily between Israel and Hezbollah. During the war, Hezbollah showered the Israeli towns with rockets and Israel bombarded Lebanese towns and infrastructure. Israel however, did not achieve much on the ground.

Back to top            Military Operations in the Gaza Strip

Between 27 December and 18 January, Israel launched operation Cast Lead inside the Gaza Strip. The attacks targeted Hamas security installations, personnel and other facilities. Israel justified its assault as a response to rocket attacks. Israeli started pulling out once a cease-fire was declared. More than 13,000-largely civilians-Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded. 10 Israeli soldiers and 4 civilians were killed. The operation left the Gaza Strip in devastating destruction. Several investigations human rights organizations were started due to suspected violations by the Israeli army.

14 to 21 November 2012, Israel launched  Operation Pillar of Defence targeting Hamas’s rockets and military capabilities. 167 Palestinians were killed, including 87 civilians. Two Israeli soldiers and four Israeli civilians were also killed. Again, the operation hit the Gaza infrastructure hard, including apartment buildings, sports fields, kindergartens and power stations.

Between 8 July and 27 August 2014, Israel launched operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. During the operation, the Israeli military wiped complete neighborhoods in east of Gaza City. 2,100 -mostly civilian- Palestinians and 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians were killed. Israel was also criticized for use of disproportionate force and targeting civilians.

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2.2.2  Military Occupation

Observers and politicians are divided over when the Israeli occupation started. Some believe that the Israeli occupation started in 1948, with the war and the preceding attacks that gave birth to Israel. Others believe that the occupation started with the 1967 war when Israel annexed the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Yet, the 1948 war was followed by international recognition of the State of Israel, while the 1967 by condemnation of the occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Soon after the 1967 war, Israel established a military rule to govern the Palestinian areas.

The Israeli occupation has changed over time. Initially, Israel tried to administer the life of Palestinians and normalize the occupation while exploiting the territory’s resources, including land, water and labor. The 1990s marked a shift in this policy towards the principle of separation from the Palestinians. Israel abandoned administration of the territories while continuing to exploit non-human resources, i.e. land and water. In the latter phase, the Oslo Peace Accords established Palestinian self-rule though Israel maintained control over the borders, underground resources and the air space.

Back to top           Two Intifadas

The first Intifada was launched in late 1987 as Palestinian unarmed popular riots against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip due to Israel’s excessive controls and suppression of nationalism. The Palestinians also suffered from economic subjugation to Israel, accompanied with land confiscations. The Palestinians refrained from using firearms and explosives.

The second Palestinian Intifada came in September 2000 due to frustrations and disappointment with peace process. Israel clearly continued to decide daily practices of Palestinian. Triggered by Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, the Intifada was initially unarmed riots. Two months on, different Palestinian factions attacked Israel, one of the features that distinguished the second Intifada from the first. Employment of extensive Israeli repression assured the Palestinians that they were still under occupation despite the peace process of the 1990s.

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3     Protagonists

3.1  Israel and its successive cabinets

Israel led by its successive cabinets is one of the key players in the conflict. Knowing that Israel has no written constitution defining its borders, the question of “secure boundaries” has been a key factor throughout its history. Israel identifies itself as a Jewish and democratic state, which distinguishes it from its neighbors. About one quarter of the Israeli population is Palestinians[7] who did not leave their land in the 1948 war. Israel is a representative democracy with a Prime Minister. Different Prime Ministers adopted different policies in dealing with the conflict. While Rabin signed a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s cabinets expanded the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and launched some of the widest military operations on the Gaza Strip. Israel remains maintains control over Palestinian borders, natural resources and daily movement. This control was made possible through the construction of different barriers around the Palestinian areas, checkpoints, settlements and Jewish-only roads etc.

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3.2  The Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian Authority (PA) was established in 1993 by the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.[8] According to the agreement, the PA is to implement Palestinian self-rule by administering Palestinian Affairs in the Palestinian city centers and taking over internal security and public order responsibilities. The PA entered the Palestinian Territories in 1995. The PA cooperated with Israel on security issues, including terrorism. After the Hamas take-over of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the PA became divided into two bodies, the Fatah-controlled PA, based in the West Bank and recognized by international actors, and the Hamas-controlled PA in the Gaza Strip, which is boycotted by Israel and the West. In 2007, the Fatah-controlled PA received international and Arab funding and backing, that resulted in strengthening its security apparatus. It also has been involved in security coordination and cooperation with Israel.

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3.3  The Palestinian Factions

Along the history of the conflict, various Palestinian factions emerged, all of which have military wings that launched attacks against Israel. They all have the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of an independent state as their goals. Until the early 1980s, those factions operated from abroad. Those organized under these factions were Palestinians who were displaced by the 1948 war. As early as the 1950s, young Palestinians in the diaspora created several political parties. These factions became organized under the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964. Until the late 1960s, Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) were the most important PLO factions. The two are secular movements that launched attacks against Israel in the 1960s and 70s. In 1974, the Arab League and the United Nations recognized the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” In the 1980s, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas were established in the Palestinian Territories. These factions have religious ideologies.

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3.3.1  Fatah

Fatah is the secular nationalist party of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and president Mahmud Abbas that controls the West Bank. Fatah was leading the armed resistance against Israel in the 1960s and 1970s through the Fedayeen operations. Since its establishment in 1964, Fatah has been the largest political faction under the PLO and enjoyed unchallenged popularity among the Palestinians until the 1980s when Hamas was established.  Until the mid-1980s, Fatah advocated establishing a Palestinian state on all of historic Palestine. This has changed and in November 1988 when Palestinian National Council proposed a clear and concise peace strategy, along with explicit acceptance of UN Resolutions 242 and 338[9] and the recognition of Israel. On 13 September 1993, the PLO and Israel signed Oslo I, giving the Palestinians control over the Gaza Strip and Jericho in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was established and was granted limited autonomy to administer Palestinian cities. After settling in Gaza, Arafat’s forces did their best to demonstrate commitment to the agreement with Israel. After each suicide bombing in Israel for instance, the PA rounded up involved militants and their leaders.

The peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Fatah-led PLO officially collapsed in the summer of 2000 at Camp David, followed by the second Palestinian Intifada in September. Between that date and 2007, the Fatah militants joined other groups in attacking Israel. Fatah veterans in the West Bank established Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in October 2000. Which was among the most active violent groups in the West Bank.

Hamas’s victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections resulted in augmenting tensions between Hamas and Fatah that were culminated in direct clashes in 2006 and 2007. Hamas forces expelled Fatah leadership and operatives from the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Immediately, Abbas who became president in 2005, dismissed the Hamas government and declared a state of emergency from the West Bank. This resulted in the West Bank-Gaza Strip division with the first under Fatah control and the latter under Hamas’s. Officials of the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank signed a new security agreement with Israel mediated by the U.S.A. West Bank security forces received gendarmerie-style training funded by the U.S.A., the EU and other actors. Since 2007, there were several attempts at reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, including one in October 2017, with Hamas’s approval to give up control of the Rafah crossing to Fatah.

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3.3.2  Hamas

Hamas was founded in the Gaza Strip in 1987 as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Since its establishment Hamas has become increasingly influential, not only in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank. Hamas’s emergence coincided with political concessions by the PLO, which are detailed above. One factor that helped Hamas garner wide public support is its welfare program, through Hamas has been delivering various needed services, e.g. low-cost educational, medical, religious, social and other services. These institutions were also locations where Hamas recruited new members.

Soon after its establishment, Hamas built its military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, to lead the armed fight against Israel. The Brigades attack Israel, train new militant recruits, develop the organization’s arsenal and tactics, etc. So far, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades have orchestrated bombings, suicide bombings, rocket and tunnel attacks, kidnappings of Israeli soldiers and ambushes.

Hamas opposed the peace with Israel and launched a wave of attacks against Israel in the 1990s. Hamas also rejected the institutions established by the Oslo Accords and refused to participate in the Palestinian political process in 1996. It shifted its position in 2005 by participating first in the local elections and later in the parliamentary elections of 2006. Hamas won both elections but this victory was followed by a boycott by the international community.

Hamas’s Charter in Arabic explains that (historic) Palestine is an Islamic trust that should be liberated from the oppressors, i.e. Israel. The Charter clearly states that Hamas’s strategy for achieving its goal is Jihad, which entails militarily fighting Israel. Recently, a Hamas document was published in April 2017, which demonstrated a diplomatic shift. Hamas expressed its willingness to accept a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Previously, Hamas repeatedly identified the aspired Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

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3.4   Regional Actors

Different Arab countries, including Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Jordan, were militarily involved in the conflict. As detailed in the previous sections, these countries fought several wars against Israel. 1973, however, marks the last war launched between Israel and an Arab country, i.e. Egypt. Ever since, the role of the Arab countries did not transcend diplomacy or economic support, mostly for the Palestinians. Some Arab countries occasionally proposed peace deals with Israel but none of those plans has been implemented. For example, in 2002, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) proposed the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of 2002 that was completely rejected by Israel. The API proposed ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by normalizing relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from all areas occupied in the 1967 war. The Obama Administration tried to revive the API but these attempts have failed. Some analysts however, believe that Trump’s recent visit to KSA marked warming relations between Sunni states, led by KSA, and the U.S.A. Some believe this move may result in a rapprochement between these states and Israel and ending internal Palestinian conflicts.

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3.4.1  Qatar

For the past few years, Qatar has sided with Hamas. During an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, Qatar has called for “punishment” of Israel. Qatar has been a key truce mediator on several occasions. After having Hamas distanced itself from the Syrian regime and its allies in 2012, Qatar has become Hamas’s main source of external funding, though not necessarily directly. Qatar has largely helped Hamas through several projects, e.g. development of the Salah al-Din Road,[10] building schools and hospitals, etc. Following each Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, Qatar was among the first to contribute to the reconstruction. Doha has hosted Hamas’s leadership abroad.

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3.4.2  Egypt

Egypt is a key regional player for the Palestinian question in general and for the Gaza Strip in particular. It was one of the Arab countries that fought in both the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel. Egypt however, had switched its position from the conflict by signing a peace agreement with Israel in March 1979. Egypt continues to play a leading role as a regional player, which is evident in brokering several truces between the Palestinians and Israel.

Prior to the Arab Spring that resulted in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February of 2011, Egypt had worked closely with Israel on security issues. The period between toppling Mubarak and the military coup, which brought Sisi to power, was a period of uncertainty for Israel. During that phase, democratic elections brought the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood through the government of Mohammad Mursi. The latter government helped Hamas have a little more overture through the Rafah border. This has changed after the military coup led by the current president Sisi.

Sisi’s relations with Hamas have been unstable to say the least. The Rafah border takes the center stage of this relationship. Since the military coup of 2013, the Rafah border has been open only sporadically. Closure of the Rafah border has been one of the key pillars of the 10-year old siege over the Gaza Strip. Sisi launched several campaigns against the Rafah underground tunnels and created a buffer zone along the border with Gaza Strip. Today, there are attempts at handing border-controls in Gaza to the Consensus government under blessings from the Sisi government. Hamas repeatedly objected to the deal, claiming that it would further deepen the rift between Fatah and Hamas but has conceded following various pressures.

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3.4.3  Jordan

Jordan is one of the Arab states that participated in both the 1948 and 1967 wars. Jordan ruled the West Bank until the Arab defeat of 1967, in fulfilment of the Armistice Agreement. Jordan officially annexed the West Bank to become part of the Jordanian territory in 1950. Following the 1967, the Jordanian rule ended in the West Bank but Jordan managed to maintain guardianship over the Christian and Islamic holy sites of East Jerusalem until today. There were different proposals, sometimes by Israeli officials to transfer the Palestinians of the West Bank to Jordan as a solution to the conflict. This proposal is not accepted by the Palestinians or the Jordanians. Jordan signed a peace agreement in 1994.

During the wars of 1948 and 1967, Jordan received the highest number of Palestinian refugees. Unlike other Arab countries, Jordan granted citizenship to most of those refugees. These two influxes explain why the majority of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin. This of course makes the social, political, economic life of Palestinians and Jordanians tied up for ever. The Palestinian presence became threatening to the King of Jordan when the Palestinian militias that were located in Jordan planned a coup against him. The King however, managed to preserve his rule and kicked out the Palestinian militias to Lebanon. Jordan however, has always played an important diplomatic role in support of the Palestinian cause. Jordan has backed a two-state solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

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3.4.4  Turkey

Turkey has repeatedly announced its commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict. Following the incident of Mavi Marmara, a ship of international activist that tried to break the Gaza Siege on 31 May 2010, Ankara mostly sided with the Palestinians and was very critical of the Israeli policies, particularly the siege on Gaza. In August 2016, however, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan approved a number of laws, including one that normalizes relations with Israel. This came in the context of an agreement reached between the two parties, according to which Israel paid $20 million in compensation for the lives lost during the Mavi Marmara flotilla raid in exchange for having Turkey drop the law cases related to the incident. Turkey has frequently sent humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and has brokered several truces between the Israelis and the Gaza-based Hamas.

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3.4.5  The Shia (Hezbollah-Iran-Syria) Axis

Hezbollah, Iran, and formerly Syria have supported Hamas. Hamas- a Sunni group – has established with Hezbollah in the early 1990s, when Israel deported hundreds of Palestinians to South Lebanon. Soon after, Hamas launched its first suicide attack, a tactic of Hezbollah. Hamas learnt rocket-making and imported advanced rockets from Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Hamas was trained by Iran, Hezbollah and Syria on different military tactics. Similar to other commodities, Hamas’s supplies reached the besieged Gaza Strip through underground tunnels along the borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Syria was an ally of Hamas until the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. Hamas immediately sided with the Syrian people in their rebellion against the Assad regime. Knowing of the special relationship between Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand, and the Assad regime on the other, Hamas’s position from the situation in Syria had also marked a change in its longstanding relationship with Iran. This change resulted in closer ties between Hamas at one end, and Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey on the other. Hamas hopes that this detachment from its military and strategic allies, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, can be compensated for through new political and economic gains.

Iran was one of Hamas’s primary sources of foreign training and funds. In the 1990s, Iran provided Hamas with funds for every attack against Israel. After Hamas’s victory in the 2006 legislative elections, Iran channeled an estimate of €15-17 million per month to Hamas in governing costs. This aid, however, has gone down after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. According to Iranian and Hamas officials, both sides maintained relations but things are no longer the same.

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3.5   The International Community

Several actors in the international community are important to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including the US, the EU, and the UN. Some of the roles played by the international community were political while others were economic. The Quartet for example, is comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Its purpose is to mediate peace between Israel and Palestine.

The US has been a key player in the Peace Process during the 1990s. Israel receives the largest amount of US military aid in billions of dollars annually. This of course helps Israel maintain a cutting-edge military machine. USAID has been offering assistance in different forms to the Fatah-led West Bank-based PA. AID has been also funding several economic projects in the Palestinian Territories.

The EU focuses on humanitarian assistance. Since 2000, the EU has provided more than €700 million in humanitarian aid to help meet the basic needs of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In 2017, €0.8 million has also been allocated to support children’s education and protection. Another €0.8 million has been allocated for humanitarian coordination. The EU is also funded several good governance and rule of law projects in the Palestinian Territories.

The UN practiced different roles since the beginning of the conflict, including mediating peace and proposing solutions. Yet, its most important initiative is the United Nations Relief and Work Agency, specialized in providing assistance for the Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their homes in 1948. The UNRWA is in charge of providing basic services in the Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

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3.6  Other non-state actors

3.6.1  Bedouin tribes and tunnel “kings”

Tunnels underneath the Rafah border have received media attention only recently. They, however, have been active since the early 1980s. The tunnel business expanded overtime to involve several stakeholders, including Palestinians, Egyptians and Israelis who benefited from the prospering enterprise. Some of those involved are bribed officials and politicians, others are poor Bedouins. Overtime, a new community appeared around the tunnel business, known as the “tunnel kings,” who managed and coordinated the underground activities. Entrepreneur smugglers and tunnel owners made a fortune from the political and economic crisis in the Gaza Strip. In addition to weapons, Gasoline, rice, light bulbs, Viagra, and brides were smuggled most in 2008. The Israelis and the Egyptians were always aware of the presence of these networks. Yet, completely demolishing them was never possible because tunnellers dug elsewhere whenever their tunnels were destroyed.

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3.6.2  Israeli military industry

Several Israeli arms firms have been influential in the conflict. Those firms have close tied with the Israeli military establishment. Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Systems are examples. The Israeli army needs the defense industry to develop weapons on its behalf, but the defense contractors need to sell at large international markets. Rising international demand for the Israeli defense products means cheaper costs of these same products for the Israeli army. Surely, such companies sell more when there are wars being launched. In other words, arms firms are interested in a continuing conflict.

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4     Trajectory of the Conflict

Different proposals were made to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but none has worked. Clearly, the Palestinian and Israeli claims are extremely overlapping that a solution based on historical claims becomes very difficult, if not impossible. Overall, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict may take one of three paths; a two-state solution, one bi-national democratic state, and one un-democratic state.[11] The two-state solution with a Palestinian and Israeli states living in peace is the most supported solution by the international community but facts on the ground tell a different story. Israel has expanded its settlements in the occupied West Bank, which makes the establishment an independent Palestinian state impossible. Despite condemnation by the international community and by international law, Israel continues to send thousands of Israelis to live in the settlement. Furthermore, resources are necessary for an independent state. Land is an important resource and since Palestinian lands have been continuously confiscated since 1948, land and other resources would be scarce if a Palestinian state is established tomorrow. Water, mineral and other resources, including those in areas under the control of the PA, are in fact controlled by Israel. As part of its blockade over the Gaza Strip, Israel has imposed a naval siege, which deprives Gaza from accessing fishing zones and the much needed gas resources. Overall, the power gap between the Israelis and Palestinians is so profound that it appears hardly possible that a joint solution can be found through bilateral negotiations. Thus, a two-state solution would leave the Palestinian side in a very unprivileged situation due to this power gap.

Consequently, many analysts have declared the death of the two-state solution. A bi-national democratic state is sometimes proposed as a solution. This option is possible but very difficult. It is possible because the Israeli policies have made complete separation between the Jewish and Palestinian populations almost impossible. It is possible because natural and other resources are–in theory-shared between both side. It is difficult because both the Palestinians and the Israelis have to rethink everything, including Zionism, the Jewish state and Palestinian nationalism.

Israel however, has a third option: continue the status quo. This however, is expected to solidify an undemocratic Israeli state. Different practices, including new discriminatory laws, new settlements, new roads, new means of transportation indicate that Israel forcefully is heading in that direction. This would be a one state-solution for the two nations but based on undemocratic values and constant violations of basic human rights.

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[1] The British also struck the Sykes-Picot Agreement with the French and the Russians that contradicted their promises to the Jews and the Arabs. This agreement partitioned the Middle East, including the Palestine, into French, Russian and British zones of influence.

[2] Waqf in Arabic literally means detention. When a property is considered a waqf that means the concerned property us under detention so that its produce or income may always be available for religious or charitable purposes. When a waif is created, the property is detained or, is ‘tied up’ forever and thereafter becomes non-transferable.

[3] A small minority of Palestinian are Jews and Druze who reside in both the Palestinian territory and Israel today.

[4] Judaization is an expression that means making the land Jewish by emphasizing its Jewish elements and ignoring and sometime eliminating non-Jewish characteristics.

[5] Particularly in Area C.

[6] Eisenhower was extremely concerned that this would develop into a U.S.-Soviet confrontation and thus immediately pressured the British, French, and Israeli governments to withdraw their troops (History, n.d.).

[7] Israel refers to these Palestinians as the Arab minority.

[8] Fatah is the largest Palestinian faction in the PLO

[9] Among other things, these resolutions called on Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967, i.e. the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

[10] The longest road in the Gaza Strip and it runs for 42km from the north near Beit Hanun to Rafah in the south. The road was repeatedly damaged by the different Israeli attacks.

[11] Some argue such a trajectory resembles an apartheid state.