Israel became a nation during a rough birthing process emerging from a maelstrom of conflict and geopolitical hostility. As James Fite, Liberty Nation’s editor-at-large, reports, the Jewish state finds itself once again mired in conflict: “Fighting continues between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in charge of Gaza, as each side ‘avenges’ previous attacks in tit-for-tat escalations.” As of this writing, according to Reuters, 1,750 rockets have been launched into the “central and southern regions of Israel.” An Israel Defense Force (IDF) spokesperson said that the Israeli “Iron Dome” missile defense system destroyed up to 90% of the incoming rockets.
The recent escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas, a State Department-designated terrorist organization representing the Palestinian people in Gaza, is just the latest of what has been a 74-year era of violence in the Middle East. This persistent hostility toward Israel has been around since it became a nation with the passage of the 1947 United Nations Resolution 181 (also known as the “Partition Plan).
Past Arab-Israeli Wars
The plan divided what had been the British Mandate of Palestine into two sections: An Arab state, and a Jewish state. The Jewish leaders accepted the two-state solution; the Arabs did not. The first Arab-Israeli War resulted, and in 1949 Israel claimed victory. Around 750,000 Palestinians were displaced, and the territory was divided into the state of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), and the Gaza Strip.
Israel claims with a significant degree of credibility that the Arab refugee migration out of its land need not have happened. “Had the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN resolution, not a single Palestinian would have become a refugee,” the Jewish Virtual Library explains. Nonetheless, the Palestinians did not, and large refugee cities sprang up – along with the strife that comes with them.
As is the case so often, the seeds of the Middle East conflict started long before this current dust-up. If one pulls on the historical thread, the end turns up at the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Puffed up with the adrenaline of a great military victory in World War I, the victors divided up significant portions of the world, whether those regions were part of the war or not. Concerning Palestine, as an overture, in early November 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote a letter to “Britain’s most illustrious Jewish citizen, Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.” This letter would become the Balfour Declaration and the foundational document influencing the establishment of the “mandate system” where the British were “entrusted with the Administration of Palestine.”
Having established the tacit understanding that Britain supported a Jewish homeland, the Jews’ population grew over the years before the 1947 UN resolution creating Israel. The Council on Foreign Relations provides an insightful account in its report, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. During the subsequent years, the tensions between Israel and its neighbors Egypt, Jordan, and Syria could not be contained. Prompted in June of 1967 by Egyptian military maneuvers, Israel attacked its western neighbor Egyptian and Syrian air forces in a conflict known as the Six-Day War.
Israel came out the winner and gained control over the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.
Six years later, in 1973, in what is referred to as the “Yom Kippur War,” Egypt and Syria, in a “surprise two-front attack,” attempted to regain the territory lost in 1967. The attempt was a failure, but Egypt and Syria did gain the opportunity to negotiate previously lost territories, however. Following several ceasefires, in 1979, Egypt and Israel agreed to a peace treaty at Camp David that “ended the thirty-year conflict between Egypt and Israel.” What wasn’t resolved was the “Palestinian question.” Would the Palestinians gain some self-determination and self-government?
The failure to deal with Palestinian autonomy and self-rule led in 1987 to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians taking on the Israeli government with rioting and violence in the first intifada.
Unsuccessful Peace Initiatives
The Oslo I and Oslo II Accords in 1993 and 1995, respectively, addressed how the Palestinians would be governed. The two accords resulted in a “framework for the Palestinians to govern themselves in the West Bank and Gaza. The accords also established “mutual recognition” between the Israeli government and a newly formed Palestinian Authority (PLA). Israel also agreed to withdraw from six cities and 450 towns located in the West Bank.
But peace was elusive as Palestinian grievances over Israeli control of the West Bank persisted. A visit to the al-Aqsa mosque, and extremely important Islamic holy site, by the then-Israeli Prime Minister sparked more violence and the second intifada. The violence lasted from 2000 to 2005 and prompted the Israeli government to construct a barrier wall encircling the West Bank.
The United States in 2013 attempted to broker yet another peace process between the Israeli government and the PLA. Still, it too failed when in 2014, the PLA’s political party, Fatah, joined forces with its former rival Hamas. From that point forward until now, Hamas has been a constant belligerent. In 2014 the organization fired about 3,000 rockets into Israel, which responded with decisive military action. Eventually, Egypt facilitated a ceasefire in 2014, but not before 73 Israelis and 2,251 Palestinians had been killed.
Again in 2018, Hamas initiated hostilities, firing over 100 rockets into Israel, provoking Israeli airstrikes against fifty targets in Gaza in just 24 hours. The Trump administration in 2018 made it a priority to work toward a deal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. However, attempts at bringing the two parties together were not successful, despite U.S.-brokered agreements between the Jewish state and several Arab nations.
So, for the last three years, the conflict has continued with varying degrees of intensity. Palestinians fire rockets at Israel, and Israel retaliates. Most recently, as Reuters reports: “Four days of cross-border fighting showed no sign of abating, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the campaign ‘will take more time.'” Israeli officials said Gaza’s ruling Hamas group must be dealt a strong deterring blow before any ceasefire. According to Fox News, over 1500 rockets have fallen on Israel in the past 48 hours.
Despite calls from the international community and the Biden administration for de-escalation of the conflict, no such cessation is in sight. The neighborhood of violence in which Israel lives has not changed, and if history is a harbinger of the future, that neighborhood will likely not see peace any time soon.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.