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History of Arab Israel Conflict

The Superpowers have pursued strategic, economic and ideological interests in

the region.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Jewish immigration into the western section, Palestine, increased and Palestinians
feared that their majority would soon be eroded.
The conflict between Arabs and Israelis has been one of the most continuous and
complex in the post-war world. Although casualities have not been as high as one
might expect for such a prolonged dispute, the risks of great power involvement have
been high. The Superpowers have pursued strategic, economic and ideological
interests in the region and, as a result, have regularly found themselves entangled in
dangerous confrontation.
The local conflict has involved a number of states but it is made even more byzantine
by the fact that the core and crux of the problem pits a fragile Israeli state against an
unrepresented, politically fragmented and militarily weak Palestinian people. The
conflict is essentially rooted in the strong and ancient claims of two peoples to a
single tiny slice of Mediterranean coastline at the crossroads of the Middle East.
Israeli claims hark back to Biblical times when a Jewish kingdom dominated the area
and Jews were the majority population in the 1,600 years before the Roman
occupation. Rome conquered the territory it called Palestine (after the Philistines who
lived along the coast) and expelled the Jews.
By the ninth century the vast majority of the remaining population had become
Islamic and, with the odd interlude such as the Christian Crusaders, the area remained
firmly under Muslim control.
In the nineteenth century, when nationalist movements were helping shape European
states and Jews were persecuted in Europe, many Jews were attracted to the notion of
Zionism the creation of a Jewish homeland in Zion (a Hebrew word for Israel).
For centuries, Israel had remained the focus of prayers and cultural identification of
Jews scattered around the globe. Jewish settlers began returning to Israel, a land then
held by the crumbling Turkish Ottoman Empire.

The British took over Palestine from the Turks in 1917 and successive British
government managed to promise some form of home rule to both Jews and Arabs. In
1920, British control was codified in a League of Nations Mandate from which Britain
soon split an eastern section which was later to form the Kingdom of Jordan.
Jewish immigration into the western section, Palestine, increased and Palestinians
feared that their majority would soon be eroded. While riots in Palestine led Britain to
restrict Jewish immigration, anti-Semitism in Europe, especially in Hitlers Germany,
increased the pressure for Jews to find refuge in Israel.
In 1937 Britain proposed partition of the territory, a move which most Jews supported
but the Arabs rejected. During the Second World War the Jews suspended their
attacks on British rule to aid the war effort in Europe.
With the end of the Second World War and the knowledge that six million Jews had
died in the Nazi holocaust, pressure grew for massive settlement in Israel. Britain,
already weakened by the war, handed the Palestine problem to the United Nations.
The General Assembly (with both Soviet and American support) voted on 29
November 1947 to partition the territory. Jews accepted the plan, which gave them
56% of the land but most of the rich agricultural areas to the Palestinians.
Neighboring Arab states rejected the plan the Palestinians were not asked and
when the state of Israel was proclaimed on 14 May 1948, six Arab states invaded.
Although the Jewish state was not expected to survive such an onslaught, by January
1949 ceasefires established Israels de facto frontiers as 20% larger than provided for
in the partition resolution (yet this was still only 17% of the original Palestine
Most of the remaining 80% of Palestine was occupied by the Kingdom of Jordan.
Neither Jordan, nor Egypt which occupied the Gaza Strip, sought to establish a
Palestinian state, preferring to keep the spoils.
Although Arab states did not integrate their brethren into their states, Israel took in
a larger amount of Jews from Arab countries and beyond. Between 1948 and 1972,
Israel took 580,000 Jews from Arab countries (including 260,000 from Morocco and
129,000 from Iraq), 600,000 from Europe, 60,000 from Iran, 20,000 from India and a
further 100,000 from the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. In 1984-85 yet another
10,000 Ethiopian Jews were air-lifted to Israel.

Egypt antagonized British and French interests by nationalizing the Suez Canal and by
receiving modern Soviet arms. In 1955 Nasser closed access to Israels southern port
of Eilat on the Gulf of Akaba and, in October 1956, Israel, Britain and France colluded
in an attack on Egypt.
The United States and the Soviet Union forced all three to quit by March 1957 and
the United Nations agreed to send 3,000 men to patrol the Israel-Egypt frontier and
keep the Gulf of Akaba open.
In 1964 a group of Palestinian liberation movements joined together to form the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But the conflict continued to be primarily
between Israel and established Arab states. In May 1967, Nasser demanded that UN
forces leave the frontier, imposed a blockade on the Gulf of Akaba and mobilized his
Israeli forces struck a pre-emptive blow on 5 June 1967 and in six days took the Sinai
peninsula from Egypt, the west bank from Jordan and the Golan heights from Syria.
Superpower forces had been put on alert as the Soviet Union sought to deter Israel
from totally humiliating Moscows Arab allies (Jordan, however, was armed by the
This time the United States was not prepared to force an Israeli withdrawal and
Israel was convinced that its victory was so devastating that Arab states would give
up their hope of eliminating the Jewish state.
In November 1967 the United Nation Security Council passed Resolution 242, which
called for recognition of all states in the area and evacuation of territory occupied in
the 1967 war (but not the 1948 one). Israel accepted the Resolution (as did the Great
Powers) but the Arab states did not.
Following the failure of the established Arab states to defeat Israel with conventional
military power and Israeli occupation of all Palestine, the PLO and its splinter allies
sought to take their fate into their own hands. PLO forces fought King Hussein of

Jordan for power in 1970 and, despite a campaign of international terror (notably
aircraft hijacking), the PLO under Yasser Arafat was forced to set up headquarters in
Anwar Sadat, in conjunction with Syria, launched a surprise attack on Israel on 6
October 1973 (the Jews holiest day, Yom Kippur). Despite early Arab military gains,
Israeli forces eventually took even more territory than they had held after 1967.