After 11 days of intense rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes, Israel and Hamas agreed on a ceasefire mediated by Egypt. However, this was not an exclusive event, and the landscape keeps observing tensions and hostilities from both sides on a regular basis. Therefore, a quick view at the timeline of significant events can help us grasp the nuances that lie behind the catch-worthy headlines, which can be distorted.
1897: MODERN ZIONISM
While the fundamental philosophies of the Zionist movement have existed for hundreds of years, the modern Zionist movement formally took root in the 19th century. Officially established as a political organisation in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, Modern Zionism considered Judaism not only as a religion but also as a nationality, one that deserved a nation of its own, considering the growing anti-semitism all over the world. Herzl also published a pamphlet - Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), which called for political recognition of a Jewish homeland.
1916: SYKES-PICOT AGREEMENT
A secret deal made between the United Kingdom and France to carve up the Middle Eastern territories should the Triple Entente defeat the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. Until then, Palestinian Arabs and some Jewish and Christian communities lived relatively peacefully in the modern-day- Israel-Palestinian region under the Ottoman Empire. The British administration took control of the region and termed it as the British mandate for Palestine.
1917: BALFOUR DECLARATION
"Nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all"
A letter was written by British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild, a prominent Jewish leader, expressing the British Government’s support for establishing a Jewish home in Palestine.
1922-23: LEAGUE OF NATIONS MANDATE FOR PALESTINE
More popularly known as the British Mandate for Palestine, it was a legal document adopted by the League of Nations granting the control of Palestine region to the British, also including the aim of establishing a Jewish homeland as mentioned in the Balfour Declaration, ensuring the rights and positions of other communities. Article 25 of the same allowed the British, with the consent of the League of Nations, to separately administer the territory east of the Jordan river, a right which it exercised with the formulation of the Transjordan Memorandum (1922).
Undertaken by Nazi Germany as a form of state policy, around 6 million Jews were murdered, leading several surviving Jewish communities to immigrate towards their holy Jerusalem in anticipation of forming their long-awaited national state.
1947: UN RESOLUTION 181
In light of the growing sympathies with the Jews, after discovering about the Holocaust, the UN approves a plan to divide British Palestine into two different states, one for Jews and one for establishing the case for Palestinian independence. Following this, the Jews legitimately declare the formation of Hebrew Medinat Yisra’el.
Part of the equation, Israel, gets formed. However, the issue for some decades was not Israel vs Palestine as much as it was Arab states vs the state of Israel.
1948: THE ARAB-ISRAEL WAR
Immediately after Israel declared Independence, five Arab states: Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Iraq, Syria and Lebanon gathered their forces in the Palestinian territories. What followed was a war between them and Israel, the latter emerging victorious.
The remnants of this war still echo in the region. What happened was that Israel pushed well past its borders, capturing a large chunk of the territory designated for Palestinian Arabs under the UN plan and also took control of the western half of the holy city of Jerusalem. Israel also forced several Palestinians out of their homes (The Palestinian Exodus), leading them to migrate either towards the Gaza strip or the West Bank controlled by Egypt and Jordan, respectively. While Israel further strengthened its roots in the region, the Palestinians were left wandering into stateless territories, vulnerable to many hardships.
1964: PLO IS FORMED
With no signs of their long-awaited homeland, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation is formed in 1964 with the stated purpose of “liberation of Palestine” through arms struggle. At first, it denies the state of Israel a right to existence and aims to secure all of the territories under the British Mandate for Palestine.
It has had a varied history from enjoying observer status in the United Nations since 1974 to being listed as a terrorist organisation by the USA in 1987. Gradually it has acquired a meta-physical state, where while it serves as the base, one of its dominant sects, the Fatah, has come to power in the West Bank area.
“We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand, we shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood” – President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser
THE SIX DAY WAR
“All Egypt is now prepared to plunge into total war which will put an end to Israel” – Cairo Radio
1967: THE 6 DAY WAR
A symptom of ongoing but background tensions and hostilities, the 6-day war was a brief but bloody war fought between the state of Israel and Arab states of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. In the wake of its victory, Israel not only occupied the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza Strip from Egypt, but it also annexed the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights (a high plateau area) from Syria, which it controls to this day-citing strategic reasons as the heights can be used against low-lying Israel by a hostile power.
The war has been monumental in shaping the geo-political history of the region.
By capturing the West Bank, it was the beginning of the Israeli settlements in the area, creating pockets of spheres of influence, further narrowing the chances of a unified Palestinian homeland. This also partially explains the two Intifada (s).
Having lost a significant chunk of its territory (the Sinai Peninsula) to Israel, Egypt, among other reasons as well, was compelled to reach a peace settlement with Israel. Both the nations signed the Camp David Accords brokered by the United States. In his book The World Order, Henry Kissinger, the acclaimed US diplomat and Secretary of State, states and considers this peace treaty as the beginning of Israel’s slow and gradual acceptance in the Arab world, stabilising the region in the specified aspect.
Israel was in control of the Gaza strip for a long time, from 1967 to 2005. This partly explains the rise of Hamas (victory in the council elections) in the area, which is much more hostile towards Israel compared to their secular counterparts, i.e. the Fatah.
1987: HAMAS & THE FIRST INTIFADA
Hamas (an Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement) was formed around the same time as the first Intifada aimed against Israel’s increasing intrusion and occupation into the west bank and Gaza strip. Originally, it had a dual purpose of carrying out an armed struggle against Israel, led by its military wing-the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, and to deliver social welfare programmes. Hamas would turn out to be a significant player in the coming future.
THE OSLO ACCORDS (1992-1995)
Around 1992, Norway offered to act as a mediator between Israel and Palestinians. Both the stakeholders met in the Norweigan city of Oslo for deliberation. As a result, two Oslo Accords were eventually signed, the significance of which was immense at the time. Let us briefly find out why?
OSLO ACCORDS I (1993)
Israel accepted and recognised PLO as the representatives of the Palestinians.
PLO officially renounced terrorism and recognised Israel as a country.
Both sides agreed that over the period of 5 years, Palestinian Authority would be established to allow Palestinians to some sort of self-government.
OSLO ACCORDS II (1995)
Israeli forces agreed to withdraw from the 6 largest Palestinian cities, thus further increasing the chances of Israeli withdrawal and ultimately maybe even settlements.
The West Bank was to be divided into 3 zones:
Certain areas under Palestinian control.
Areas where Palestinians had civilian control and Israel upheld security apparatus.
Certain areas under absolute Israel’s control.
While today, the Oslo Accords are criticised for having failed to bring dramatic changes in the status quo, we must not forget that they brought Israel and Palestinians on official talking terms, encouraging them to have public discourse.
CAMP DAVID II & THE II INTIFADA (2002-2005)
After Camp David results in hardly any change, the Palestinians led what is now termed as the Second Intifada, which was much more fatal for them than the first.
2005-2006: ISRAEL VACATES GAZA & RISE OF HAMAS
After decades of “illegal” occupation, Israel finally decides to withdraw its troops and settlers from the Gaza strip, leaving the Palestinians on their own. Since then, the Gaza strip has been in a near virtual blockade from both sides by Israel and Egypt.
After conducting legislative elections in the Palestinian territories for electing the second Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), Hamas scores victory by a short margin. The Fatah-in charge of the West Bank refuses to budge, hence, resulting in a civil war between the two of them. As things would turn out, Hamas expels the Fatah from Gaza and gains control over it. Meanwhile, Fatah was limited to the West Bank region.
2020: THE ABRAHAM ACCORDS DECLARATION
In a classic case of realism taking precedence over ideological ties and differences, Abraham Accords- a peace deal between the state of Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain & UAE highlights the growing but slow and gradual acceptance of Israel in the Arab quarters.
This diplomatic peace deal is historic in the sense that it is the first Arab-Israel deal in 26 years. Also, the Kingdom of Bahrain could not have signed the accord without seeking prior approval from the House of Sauds. This move might later result in a peace deal between Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of crown prince MBS (Mohammed Bin Salam).
This is a major site of concern for Palestinians as other Arab nations-one of their strongest supporters are moving aside from their cause. Iran and Qatar, as of now, remain their hope.
Having briefly gone through a long chain of complex geo-political events, let us now take a look towards the present scenario. As of now, Hamas rules over Gaza. It is much more hostile to Israel and refuses to accept its existence. Meanwhile, its counterpart, the Fatah, is much more secular, formally recognises Israel and considered as the de-facto representative of the Palestinians, also partly because Hamas, due to its activities, is flagged as a terrorist organisation by the United States, European Union and others.
Israel is gaining acceptance in the world of the Middle East. Palestinians seem to lose hopes for their much-awaited homeland. However, the picture is far from over. The growing ambitions of Iran to topple Saudi Arabia as the de-facto leader of the Muslim world shifts the narrative. Israel is no longer the foremost enemy.
In fact, the Saudi alliance might partner with Israel in countering the growing Iran, realism at play, yet again. On the other side, Iran is officially committed against Israel. In the larger scheme of achieving their ambitions, Iran might use its leverage over Hamas to flare up the Israel-Palestinian equation again.