Part of a series of brief posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine
Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine
During the British Mandate
As Jewish migration developed momentum during the British Mandate period, and as the British commitment (in the 1917 Balfour Declaration) to support the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” alarmed the indigenous population, there was growing unease among the Palestines. There were sporadic outbreaks of violence and several major cases of civil violence.
The Shaw Enquiry which was set up after the riots in 1929 observed as follows:
In less than 10 years three serious attacks have been made by Arabs on Jews. For 80 years before the first of these attacks there is no recorded instance of any similar incidents. It is obvious then that the relations between the two races during the past decade must have differed in some material respect from those which previously obtained. Of this we found ample evidence. The reports of the Military Court and of the local Commission which, in 1920 and in 1921 respectively, enquired into the disturbances of those years, drew attention to the change in the attitude of the Arab population towards the Jews in Palestine. This was borne out by the evidence tendered during our inquiry when representatives of all parties told us that before the War the Jews and Arabs lived side by side if not in amity, at least with tolerance, a quality which to-day is almost unknown in Palestine.Shaw Enquiry
The Palestinian resistance was increasingly directed towards Britain and took the form of demands for independence, but there were major incidents that involved considerable numbers of Jewish casualties in Jaffa, Hebron and Jerusalem.
With the failure of diplomacy to avert the UN partition plan, the Palestinians participated in the armed conflict following Israel’s declaration of independence. Unlike the irregular Jewish forces, the Palestinians had very little military training and even less equipment. While the Arab Legion had considerable success, the troops which had been deployed by Egypt, Iraq and Syria were no match the better organized and better led Jewish forces. Many of the latter had been trained by the British and seen action against the Axis powers in World War Two.
Palestinian Liberation Organization
The PLO was established in 1964 with the objective of defeating Israel by armed struggle with a view to restoring Palestine sovereignty. It quickly became the principal representative of the Palestinian people, and eventually Jordan relinquished its claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem and West Bank in favor of the PLO. While the PLO never achieved any significant military success against Israel inside Palestine, it gained notoriety through several terror attacks including hijacking of airliners and the killing of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. At a time when the Arab states seemed impotent in the face of Israel’s military supremacy, the PLO enjoyed broad popular support. After being expelled from Jordan in September 1970, the PLO established a strong presence in Lebanon where it played a significant role in the Lebanese civil war. The PLO was expelled from Lebanon after the 1982 Israeli invasion and its base of operations was then in Tunisia.
Eventually the PLO opted for a diplomatic solution, and accepted UN Resolution 242, which proposed a two-state model with “secure and recognized boundaries.” Since 1993 the PLO has recognized Israel’s right to exist, accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and has renounced armed struggle in its quest for a Palestinian state. Both Israel and the USA have recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.
The ‘Intifada’ was essentially a spontaneous civil uprising in response to multiple irritants arising from the conditions of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It largely involved demonstrations by unarmed young Palestinians and reflected a loss of confidence in the capacity of stablished Palestinian elites to improve the situation. Israel responded to the Intifada with increased police and military activity. More than a thousand protestors were killed, many thousands were jailed, and hundreds were exiled. Several hundred Palestinians were also killed by the PLO on suspicion of collaboration with Israel. While the Intifada had few tangible outcomes, it was a public relations disaster for Israel as stone-throwing Palestinian youths evoked the biblical images of David confronting a Goliath dressed in Israeli military fatigues. It most likely contributed to the success of the secret discussions leading to the Oslo Accords, as it energized the Palestinian leadership and challenged the Israeli narrative.
The Oslo Accords
The 1993 Oslo Accord represented the first direct agreement between Israel and the PLO. This led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority with some degree of self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank, with continuing Israeli control of security, taxation, etc. The status of Jerusalem (along with Palestinian refugees and other matters) was to be resolved as part of “permanent status negotiations” beginning no later than 1996. The provision of the Oslo Accords, including a second set of agreements signed in 1995, have never been fully implemented. Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin who signed the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat at the White House in 1993 was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish extremist in November 1995.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank
While there had been some Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line (especially Efrat near Bethlehem, Gush Etzion near Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim near Bethany) after 1967 and prior to the Oslo Accord, there has been a marked increase in Jewish settlements—including considerable expansion of existing settlements—since 1993. These Jewish colonies are intended to create ‘facts on the ground’ to ensure a more favorable outcome for Israel in the event of a final peace agreement, and those being created in a ring along the eastern boundary of Jerusalem are designed to isolate Arab East Jerusalem from the West Bank. These settlements often begin as military outposts, with Palestinian land being appropriated by the military occupation authority for security reasons. Others have started as illegal land grabs by small groups of activists. Generous subsidies and tax concessions are in place to encourage Israeli Jews to move to these peripheral settlements, many of which have been connected to Jerusalem by commuter rail and road networks. While located inside the boundaries of Palestine (in Area C), these settlements—which are illegal under international law—are under Israeli civil law, while their Palestinian neighbors are under military law even if living in Area A or B.
Frustrations with the lack of tangible improvements for Palestinians exploded with a more violent second Intifada following a provocative visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque by the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon in September 2000. There were outbreaks of armed conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces in areas such as Bethlehem and Jenin, while the whole period saw numerous suicide bombing attacks against civilian targets inside Israel. One of the outcomes was the construction of a physical barrier, more or less along the lines of the 1949 armistice agreement, to prevent easy movement of Palestinians into Israel from the West Bank. Israel increasingly discouraged the employment of Palestinians from the West bank on projects inside Israel and those seeking daily entry were subjected to strict security measures. Following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, the intifada subsided, with the conflict between Hamas and the PLO becoming a major fault line in Palestinian society. Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections, but the Palestinian Legislative Council has not convened since Hamas expelled the PLO from Gaza in 2007.
The Islamic Resistance Movement (for which HAMAS is an acronym), was founded in 1987 during the First Intifada. Whereas the PLO was essentially a secular national movement, Hamas has clear religious foundations (Sunni Islam) and has also rejected the recognition of Israel by the PLO. It seeks to establish an Islamic state incorporating the whole of historic Palestine. Where the PLO leadership is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective, Hamas enjoys widespread popular support and won the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The Council has never been summoned and the PLO has ruled by presidential decree, despite losing control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007. Hamas is now quite active on the West Bank and was expected to win the 2021 Parliamentary elections, which were cancelled in May this year. Hamas has been supported by Iran and Qatar, but is regarded as a terror organization by the US and Israel. Australia and the UK regards its armed wing as a terror organization, but not Hamas itself.
Hezbollah (‘Party of Allah’) is a Shia Islamic resistance movement, based in Lebanon and with strong ties to both Syria and Iran. Hezbollah has become the dominant force in Lebanese politics, and won a majority of seats in the 2018 elections. It has been active in the Syria civil war in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime. Hezbollah was created in the aftermath of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and has considerable military experience as well as substantial missile capacities. Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has engaged in occasional inconclusive military exchanges with Israel.