No conflict can be uni-polar and always have a root cause, which may have initially instigated the beginning of the divergence. The Arab-Israeli conflict is no different. The existing tension and the perception of conflict existing in the mind of the various parties based on class, religion, gender lines creates tension on both the Israeli and Arab front.
The causes of the conflict and the ingrained reason for the conflict have been an issue of debate in the political and scholarly arena over many years. An inquiry into the area to understand the real reasons for the conflict is important from the point of view of international relation scholars.
From the very basic understanding, two parties engage in conflict when their point of views differs to the point where no mutually beneficial solution can be attained . Such conflicts may arise from two close allies or two mutually irreconcilable foes. Therefore, one must understand that social science research on conflict demonstrates various levels of reasons.
This multifaceted nature of the causes of conflict makes it one of the most intriguing areas of research for social scientists. This paper is an attempt to understand the root cause of the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis. In order to delve into the topic one must be aware of the historical background of the conflict and the recent events that have developed related to the conflict.
Studying the events related to the conflict is important for it will show the reasons, which are responsible for such a prolonged clash. The paper evaluates the reasons that may have caused the conflict and how researchers today evaluate the causes of the conflict. It will also show the current state of the conflict.
Historical Background of Arab-Israeli Conflict
The inception of the conflict was from religious inclinations. The conflict’s root may be found in the difference in religious beliefs that is, Ishmael and not Isaac was the favourite child of Abraham . The myth of the conflict had its origin in the basic beliefs of the Jews and the Muslims.
However, this paper cannot dwell any further into the mythological or theological basis of the conflict but rather try to find more concrete, political reasons why this conflict still dominates the scene as one of the longest ongoing political conflict of the world .
The historical beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict was in the nineteenth century when the Arab national Movement and the Jewish National Movement gained prominence. The quest for the Jewish homeland begun as a secular movement initially, as it did not receive the commendation of the Jewish religious sect, for many believed it to be a direct confrontation of the God to establish a state for them and not wait for the Messiah to arrive to show them the right path.
However, with the advent of the Zionist movement, the focus of the homeland movement gained greater momentum. In the late 1880s, when the Zionists arrived in Palestine, the two movements were brought in direct altercation for the first time . At the time, Palestine was still under the Ottoman Empire and the success of the Jews settled in the area was determined largely on the policies of the empire.
The then ruler, Sultan Abd al-Hamid II, negatively received Zionism and the Jews’ attempts to settle in Palestine. Zionism was viewed with negative attitude even after 1908 for it was believed to be a vehicle of the Europeans to encroach in Middle East and destabilize Istanbul’s position in the region.
The end of the Ottoman Empire was marked by political instability, and the central government’s inability to establish its authority on various districts of Ottoman Palestine . The Zionists used various means to establish their movement in opposition to the Ottoman government and established the Jews in Palestine. Therefore, the base for the Jewish homeland was laid in the late Ottoman Empire.
However, when the Zionists first tried to settle in Palestine, they faced difficulties from Palestinians. In addition, from the late 1880s, there were reports of increased communal difference between the Palestinians and the Jews in Palestine. Moreover, in 1886, the Palestinians staged the first protest against Jewish settlement efforts in the region.
The Muslim leaders like Thir al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem in 1893, saw the Jewish attempts to buy land and settle in Palestine as an attempt by Jewish settlers to increase their presence in Palestine and were perceived as a direct threat to the Arab community, which then was almost 75% of the total population .
Tel Aviv, a completely Jewish inhabited town was founded in 1909. This was one, among many, demarcations to separate the Jews from the Arabs. The Jews bought land from the Arabs and settled together to build their own community. Only in bigger cities like Gaza, did the two live together.
The Palestinian national force formed its prominence not until Second World War. However, in the first half of the twentieth century, there evolved another side to the conflict, the incumbent Arab nationalism. In 1901, the ideology of the Arabs towards an Arab Fatherland was developed and discoursed by Negib Azouri, a journalist in the magazine named Arab Independence .
The beginning of the 1920s saw increased tension in Palestine as the Jewish immigrants grew wary of the way they were treated by the British government and the way the latter had handled the situation. In 1922, Winston Churchil, the then British Colonial Secretary, issued a white paper that further restricted the interpretation of the Balfour Declaration.
The white paper directly limited the scope of the Jews making Palestine their “homeland” and implicitly suggested to restrict migration of Jews into Palestine. This was done by inclusion of an “economic absorption capacity” in the regulatory policy controlling the immigration of Jewish immigrants in Palestine .
The League of Nations too issued its mandate on Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine in 1920 . The British mandate was also approve by the League. The Arab-Israeli conflict reached a new epitome with the First World War that marked a new beginning in the conflict as Great Britain captured the Middle East, including Palestine.
Based on their promise of a Jewish homeland to the Zionists in 1917, the British Government through the Balfour Declaration, divided the Palestinians state into Arab and Jewish territory. This was reestablished through an endorsement by the League of Nations. This led to greater conflict between the Arab and the Jews in Palestine. The latter faced increased resistance from the Palestinians when they went to purchase land.
These protests often took a violent turn. The ridge drawn by the British deepened the conflict in an already divided region. This was evident in letters written by the High Commissioner of Cairo, Sir Henry McMahon. He, in one of his letters wrote, “portions of Syria lying to the west of the district[s] of Damascus … [as they] cannot be said to be purely Arab” .
The British had already entered into a negotiation with Husseign Ibn Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, and had promised to make him the leader of the first free Arab states. But when Britain defeated Turkey, it did not keep its promise to Hussein . Further, Britain went into negotiations with France in 1916 to determine how the Turkish borders could be divided to form a complementary position for both the European countries.
This was established through a Skyes-Picot agreement of 1916 . In the agreement, it was agreed that the British, French, and the Russians would govern the region around Palestine. However, no mention was made of Jewish homeland or the promised rule to Hussein. This further complicated the Arab situation.
In 1917, however, when the cost of the war weighed on British government, Arthur Belfour, the British Foreign Minister sent a letter to a prominent Jewish banker in support of Zionism. The Balfour letter offered support on part of the government for a Jewish homeland in Palestine .
The Formation of Israel
Israel was formed in 1948 and since then its relation with its neighbour-states has been embittered. One of the main reason for this is possibly the origin of Israel was through war. This war led to almost half of the Palestinian Arabs to migrate from their home and had to move to West Bank and Gaza Strip . These migrants also sought refuge in the neighbouring Arab states like Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.
The Arab countries in the region were unhappy with the unfolding of the treatment of Israel of fellow Muslims. Relationship of Israel with neighbouring countries has been strained. In 2003, there was an uneasy peace between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan; however, there was no agreement with Syria and Lebanon . An estimated number of 750,000 Palestinians were displaced in the 1947-49 war from their homes, and none were allowed to return .
The Israeli argument was that Palestinians should have taken help from their neighbouring Arab states and not from Israel, which is a Jewish state while the Palestinians argued that they have a rightful place in their own land. Process to ensure peace in the region has been ongoing for a long time, with little result.
International community too has shown eagerness and interest to solve the conflict. However, many believe that the corrupt and undemocratic Arab states in the Middle East have given rise to greater conflict in the region . A possible solution to end the problem would be to bring the Palestinians to justice without hampering the interest of the Israelis, which, however, is almost impossible, as this would also include settling the dispute of Israel with its Arab neighbours.
The Arab Israeli war of 1948 was fought between Israel and five other Arab states. This occurred when the Arab nations invaded the territories of Palestine immediately after the declaration of Israel as a free state on 14 May 1948. The United States recognized Israeli Provisional Government in 1947; however, it remained neutral in the 1948 war, through a proclamation of an arms embargo on all the warring nations.
The Partition Resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 that divided the Great Britain’s Palestinian directive into Jewish and Arab states in 1948 . The full-scale nature of the conflict that we know today, evolved after the formation of Israel as a Jewish state .
Six Day War
Once Israel was formed as an independent Jewish state, the Arab world in unison rejected to accept the existence of the state. They also threatened with violent attack and pledged to destroy the state. During this time, many organizations were formed to counter the creation of Israel like Fatah in 1959 and PLO in 1964 under the leadership of Yasser Arafat .
In 1967, the tension aggravated as Egypt along with other Arab nations stopped all bilateral talks with international and Israeli counterparts, and stationed a large number of troops along the Israeli border. The tension between the two parties escalated, and in the same year, Israel attacked and won Gaza Strip and Sinai desert from Egypt, West bank from Jordan, and Golan Heights from Syria .
After the war was over, Israel was willing to return the acquired lands to Palestine peacefully, but the Arab countries refused to negotiate and continued their fatwa against Israel . The Six Day War brought a large number of Palestinians under the Israeli governance, and there emerged a religious-political debate in Israel aimed to decide on the fate of the newly acquired land.
On the other hand, the Arab movement against Israel took a new turn, and it was decided to liberate West Bank and Gaza Strip as the first step to liberating Palestine. Arthur Goldschmidt pointed out that the US policy in terms of the Israel-Arab conflict was in form of “shuttle diplomacy” designed by Henry Kissinger, the then Secretary of State of US.
The political succession and war that operated in Iraq, Israel, and Syria led to the Rogers Peace Plan prompted by the US . In 1974, the PLO gave UN an observer status to the Palestinian Arabs and in 1975, the UN declared Zionism as a form of racism . These actions by the UN were considered biased by Israel and it went ahead to recognize UNRWA as a separate organization that was used to send back the Palestinian refugees.
In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in which the US played the role of a mediator. However, the negotiation fell apart due to the limited autonomy presented by the Israelis. In the 1990s, Israel denounced to accept PLO as a negotiating agent. In the same decade, PLO left violent movement and strove to form an independent Palestine .
In 1994, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was formed with Yasser Arafat as its appointed leader. A negotiation in Oslo led to the negotiation that Israel had to transfer Palestinian land slowly to the PLO. In a period of five years, more than ninety percent of the Palestinian land went under the control of PNA.
However, it had a separate repercussion. When Israel withdrew from Palestine, it led to the formation of an extremist organization called Hamas in the mid-1990s that started carrying out a number of terror attacks within Israel. PNA under Arafat did not take any action against these terror groups, instead helped them financially.
This continued violence by Palestinian extremist groups led to another obstacle towards a peace process between the Arabs and Israelis. The failure of the Oslo peace process was mainly due to the inability of both the sides to adhere to the agreement. Protests were voiced on both sides against the negotiating process. The negotiation held at Camp David in 2000 failed too .
The process took a violent turn when Ariel Sharon visited the holy temple of Jerusalem, the second Intifada was declared by the Palestinian Authority (PA) . In 2000, the US mediated to form a final compromise between the two parties. In this negotiation they annexed 97% of Palestine and Gaza to Israelis and gave no right to the Palestinians to return to Israel . The Taba negotiation of 2001 where these points were forwarded ended in another failure .
The areas were transferred to PA that was later re-occupied by Israel in 2002 . Israel started construction of a barrier in 2003 in Palestine, which led to a series of suicide attacks on Israel by Palestinian extremist groups . In 2005, a new aspect emerged in the tension between Israel and the Arab world when Hamas won the elections in Palestine, which was followed by a series of attacks on Israel from south Lebanon, which led to the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
In a more recent development in 2009, US President, Barack Obama, tried to mediate a negotiation between Israel and Palestine . However, during the negotiation the Palestinians maintained that the Israelis had to totally freeze “the building and expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, if they are to secure that elusive long-term peace” . This too led to an inevitable failure.
The long peacemaking process mediated by the international players, international organizations, and within the two parties have failed again and again over the years. The departure from any potent solution is based on various reasons. The next section is a discussion on the different causes that still afflicts the two parties and hinders a peacemaking process.
An Analysis of the Causes of the Conflict
From the review of the past historical events that led to the unfolding of the present Arab-Israeli conflict, the causes for the tension are further presented in this section. The first root cause for the conflict that is evident from the analysis of the historical facts is the gap in views of the two parties. The wide divergence in the views of the Israeli Jews and the Arabs is one of the main causes of the continued conflict.
Palestinians Arabs believe that the Israelis wrongly administered the dispersal of their kin from Palestine in order to meet their end desire of territorial acquisition. On the other hand, Israel’s continuously belligerent and expansionist policies has led to another dilemma. On the other hand, the Israelis believe that the main cause of the problem is the rejection of the Arabs to recognize Palestine as their homeland and the Israelis’ right to exist as an independent state.
A second reason that highlights the causes of the conflict is the foreign policy adopted by the Arab countries of the region . Most of the Arab states in the Middle East united in their fight against the Israelis in order to liberate the fellow Palestinians Arabs. However, their ideological unity shattered when one reached the operational level.
The states, which were conservative in nature, acknowledged the existence of Israel while the states governed by radical ideologies dismissed Israel’s existence and relied on confrontation. Many scholars believe the continuous confrontation with Israel of the Arab world has also created a divide amongst themselves and the partisan view of the Arabs also lead to continued resistance .
The third reason for the instability is the involvement of the international mediators like Great Britain, the US, and the UN. As the Middle East is strategically important for the developed countries, for its abundant oil resources, the great powers have tried to take either side in order to gain favours from the ruling side . For instance, the presence of Great Britain and France in the 1918s has been instrumental in shaping the conflict during the time.
Further the involvement of the US and the UN in the 1990s and then in 2000s show how the involvement of the foreign parties has been instrumental in carving the Middle Eastern political scenario . The repeated involvement of the foreign powers, the ingrained differences between the Arabs and the Israelis, and the inter-Arab relations encumbers the total of the reasons for which the conflict has been going on for so long.
Many of the disturbances and wars fought in the region have been due to these factors. For instance, in Gulf War, the involvement of the developed countries has been a salient feature while that in the Six Day War shows the inter-Arab conflict.
Abu-Lughod & A., I 1971, The Transformation of Palestine: essays on the origin and development of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Northwestern University Press, Chicago.
Attar, R 2009, ‘Arab Israeli conflict’, Contributions to Conflict Management, Peace Economics and Development 13, pp. 35-64.
Bar-Tal, D 2001, ‘Why Does Fear Override Hope in Societies’, Political Psychology 22(3), pp. 601-627.
Beydoun, C, Martin, M, Rosenberg, S & Smith, E 2009, ‘The Arab-Israel Conflict’, The Middle East Journal 63(1), p. 169.
Ghazi, AA 2009, ‘Arab-Israeli Conflict’, Middle East Journal 63(3), pp. 520-526.
Goldschmidt, A 1991, A concise history of the Middle East, Westview Press, Boulder, Col.
Liebes, T 1997, Reporting the Arab-Israeli conflict: How hegemony works, Routledge, London.
Mahler, GS & Mahler, ARW 2010, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: An Introduction and Documentary Reader, Taylor & Francis, New York.
Pappé, I 2006, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951, I.B.Tauris, London.
Quandt, WB 1977, Decade of decisions: American policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, 1967-1976, University of California Press, Los Angeles.
Quandt, WB 2010, Peace process: American diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1967., 2010., Brookings Institution Press, Brookings.
Ross, S 2004, Causes and Consequences of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Evans Brothers, London.
Safran, N 1969, From war to war: the Arab-Israeli confrontation, 1948-1967: a study of the conflict from the perspective of coercion in the context of inter-Arab and big power relations, Pegasus, New York.
Senker, C 2005, The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Black Rabbit Books, North Mankato, MI.
Shlaim, A 1996, ‘The Middle East: The Origins of Arab-Israeli Wars’, in Explaining International Relations since 1945, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Smith, CD 1995, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict, St. Martin’s Press, New York.
The Economist 2006, Discrepant historical rhythms. Web.
The Economist 2009, No time for Barack Obama to give up. Web.
Touval, S 1982, The peace brokers: Mediators in the Arab-Israeli conflict, 1948-1979, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
United States Department of State 2013, The Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Web.