The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began before the State of Israel was created in 1948. Tensions between the Zionist Jews and Arabs in the area now divided into Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, ran high when the territory to which each lays claim was still part of the Ottoman Empire. During the period of the British Mandate (1920-1948), those tensions erupted numerous times into violent clashes, causing thousands of deaths. In recent years, direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority have been taking place since September 2010, between United States President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and ended when Netanyahu refused to extend the freeze for settlements in the West Bank. During the freeze the West Bank had remained ‘no man’s land’. The ultimate aim of the direct negotiations is reaching an official ‘final status settlement’ in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by implementing a two-state solution, with Israel remaining a Jewish state, and the establishment of a state for the Palestinian people. There are two primary issues at the core of this continuing conflict. First, there is the inevitably destabilising effect of trying to maintain an ethnically preferential state, particularly when it is largely of foreign origin. Second, Israel’s continued military occupation and confiscation of privately owned land in the West Bank, and control over Gaza, are extremely oppressive, with Palestinians having minimal control over their lives. According to the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993, these territories were supposed to finally become a Palestinian state. However, after years of Israel continuing to confiscate land and conditions steadily worsening, the Palestinian population rebelled. This uprising, called the ‘Intifada’, began at the end of September 2000.
Under that peace blueprint, the Palestinian Authority is to rein in militants, and it has embarked on a US backed law and order campaign in the occupied West Bank. But Hamas, a militant group whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel, is in control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas has rejected Western calls to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace deals. Hamas controls Gaza, while the Fatah party controls the West Bank.
More than 40 per cent (1.9 million people) of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are refugees, many of whom live in crowded camps. Socio-economic conditions in Gaza, which is subject to the most severe restrictions, have deteriorated particularly sharply and the population is increasingly reliant on food aid. At the end of 2008, Israel launched a major operation in Gaza with the declared aim of stopping Hamas militants from firing rockets into the Jewish state. The offensive, the biggest in four decades, killed hundreds including many civilians.