The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Look into the Past

By: Sanya Shah, SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai University.            

British occupation

One of the most talked about conflicts in the world would be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,  The refusal of either sides to back down and commit to a settlement is what has led to international intervention and mayhem in the Middle East. This conflict is often perceived as a war between religious counterparts, but rather, this is a war between two ethnic groups over a historically significant land that was promised to them both by the British.

            In 1915, amidst World War I, the British signed the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence which promised the ruler of Mecca, Sharif Hussein, an Arab state including Palestine as well as recognition of an independent Arab state if he were to lead a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. A year later in 1916, the British signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a confidential treaty with the French, in which they agreed upon the terms of partition of the defeated Ottoman Empire; the British promised to keep Palestine in this treaty. Because two existing treaties were not enough, the British issued the Balfour Declaration[1] in 1917, hoping to gain the support of Jews, in which they promised to support an “establishment in Palestine of the national home for the Jewish People.”[2]

            The British occupied Palestine in 1917. Before the British occupation, Palestine was a part of Ottoman Syria. As an outcome of World War, I, Palestine was established as a mandate territory of the United Kingdom. Whilst trying to encourage cooperation between the Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the tensions between the new inhabitants and the Palestinian Christians and Muslims grew.[3] The British continued their efforts to try and honour the Balfour Declaration, so much so that within 20 years, the Jewish population in Palestine grew by 320,000 people. The Jews slowly started to drive out the Palestinians by purchasing land and evicting the Palestinian farmers that resided on that land. While the Jews were merely trying to build a strong Jewish community in a state where they were the minority, their acts did nothing but heighten the tensions between themselves and the Palestinians.

          Great Palestinian Revolt

With the year 1936 came the Great Palestinian Revolt in which Palestinian Arabs demanded independence as well as the end to the mass influx of Jewish immigrants who were trying to establish a national home for themselves.[4] This revolt was triggered by inter alia by an economic crisis, the mass immigration of the Jes in light the Jewish persecution in Germany, and Jewish acquisition of land in Palestine. The British, with help from the Jewish militia, easily defeated the Palestinians. However, their demands were taken into account, and the White Paper of 1939[5] was released at the end of the 3-year revolt. The White Paper envisaged Palestine should be a bi-national State inhabited both by Arabs and Jews. Through this White Paper, they limited the number of Jews that could enter the state and restricted them from buying land in all but 5% of the state.   policy also called for the establishment of an independent Arab Palestine which would also be the national home of the Jewish within 10 years. This led to resentment amongst both the Jews and the Palestinians, as the Jews desperately needed a place to find refuge in amidst the beginning of World War II, and the Palestinians did not want to wait another 10 years to be granted an independent state.

            Six-day war

Post World War II, the British decided to hand over the Palestine problem to the United Nations and to terminate the existing mandate. In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 181, in which they discussed the partition of Palestine into an independent Palestinian state and an independent Jewish state; this partition plan was accepted by the Jewish but rejected by the Arabs. A year later, the Arab-Israeli war broke out between Israel and its neighbouring Arab nations after the establishment of the State of Israel was declared. Israel’s victory in the war led to them occupying around 3/4th of Palestine, with the remaining land, mainly the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, under Jordan and Egypt’s control. This resulted in the expulsion or relocation of more than half of the Palestinian population. In 1967, Israel took over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in through the “Six-Day War”, and with Palestine’s defeat came the second round of their emigration. In 1980 the first Palestinian intifada, or ‘uprising’, began, which led to tensions to increase between the two ethnic groups. This intifada was sparked by Israel’s illegal occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which had been ongoing for 20 years ever since the Six-Day war ended in 1967. The Palestinians revolted by boycotting Israeli products and services, boycotting economically, and declining to perform labour work for the Israeli’s, refusing to pay taxes, making use of violence, and much more. In addition, the first intifada saw the founding and emergence of Hamas, a Palestinian fundamentalist militant organization, which later went on the excite and encourage violent behaviour towards the Israelis; Hamas went on to win many parliamentary seats during the Palestinian elections, and held a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Later, in 2002 during the second Intifada, Israel started constructing a wall around the West Bank, but illegally covered more land than they had.[6]

            After the Six-Day War ended, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted, where the topics of peace, Israeli withdrawal from land conquests through the war, the refugee problem, and the state of war were addressed. This Resolution was celebrated by the Palestinians mainly since it called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian land. In 1974, the General Assembly reaffirmed the Palestinian people’s right to national independence, self-determination, sovereignty, and return.[7]

The Series of Peace Talks & Accords

            Based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which were passed in 1967 and 1973 respectively, a Peace Conference was held in the year 1991 in Madrid.

            Through these talks, they aimed to achieve peace by negotiating between Israel and their neighbouring Arab states, and Israel and Palestine. First came the Camp David Accords, which were signed in 1978 by the Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem. These Accords formalized the Arab’s recognition of Israel as a state and their right to exist. In the first agreement, titled “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East,”[8] they highlighted the need for an establishment of a self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza, the implementation of UN Resolution 242, and the recognition of the rights of the Palestinians.[9]

            Soon, the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, or the Oslo Accords, was signed in 1993 in Washington D.C. and again in 1995 in Egypt by the Government of Israel and the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization.[10][KR1]  The Oslo Accords called for Israel’s partial withdrawal from Jericho, Gaza, and the West Bank, elections for both the newly-created Palestinian Legislative Council and Palestinian Authority, the partial release of prisoners from both sides, and the establishment of a Palestinian police department in the areas which were to be under self-rule.

A Violation of International Law

            Throughout the course of this conflict, many states have violated international law, but they haven’t yet faced the repercussions of their violation.[11] While both the Palestinians and Israelites tried to secure land and gain independence, they committed several offences, which was not overlooked by the internationally community. The major issues that still stand today include the dispute between the borders of Israel and Palestine, the illegal settlements of Jews on Palestinian land, and the Palestinian refugees right to return. Though several attempts have been made to bury these issues, no successful solution has come up as of now, which is why this conflict remains alive to this date.

            Firstly, we have the issue of Israeli and Palestinian borders, one which was previously resolved by the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 181 only to be dishonored post the Arab-Israeli and Six-Day war. Israel ended with the upper hand in both the wars, and therefore they occupied a lot of the land that was occupied and belonged to the Palestinians. Now, if both the parties agreed that they wanted to alter their borders, then the agreement would have been legitimized, but seeing that Palestine does not accept any of the Jews occupation of their land, it delegitimizes the action.

According to[KR2] International Law, specifically Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention[12], acquiring and annexing land by force is illegal, which is why Israel is seen to be violating international law[13]; the land that has been in question for several years is land that Israel acquired through their victory in the war. They violate United Nations Charter Article 2(4)[14] and 51[15] as well as the Declaration on Principle of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations, Principle A.[16]

            Independent human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council have condemned Israel for choosing to annex parts of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, which they conquered in the Six-Day war and illegally claim to be theirs.[17] The experts expanded on that and stated that if Israel were to annex the region, they would be in serious violation of the Charter of the United Nations as well as the Geneva Convention as their action would “incite war, economic devastation, political instability, systematic human rights abuses, and widespread human suffering.”

            Next, the issue of illegal settlements of Jews on Palestinian land.[18] The Israeli’s are seen to be in violation of international law, specifically Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention[19], as it is illegal to colonize occupied land and cause the emigration of the population that resided on that land. After they began building settlements on Palestinian land, over 450,000 Israeli civilians moved into those settlements, which then led to the displacement of hundreds and thousands of Palestinian civilians from their own legally owned lands. This was seen as a massive violation of human rights as it led to the torture, displacement, and harassment as they confiscated their land, imprisoned them without charges or trials, and stripped them of their jobs and work. In addition, they are also seen to be in violation of international law under Article 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 2002, which states that the “deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory” constitute war crimes.[20]

            Lastly, the issue of the Palestinians’ right to return. Since the year 1910, the people of Israel have taken, either by force or by out buying them, Palestinian land and then forced them off that land. After the wars, Israel only worsened in terms of their behaviour towards the Palestinians. Their occupation and settlements on Palestinian land led to the emigration of the Palestinians, and despite the United Nation’s recognition of the Palestinian’s right to return,[21] Israel has forbidden their entrance. The Israeli government has enacted several laws and has given the military a task to keep around 750,000 Palestinians from returning home.

 Ongoing War

            Even today, this war is one of the reasons for great hostility in the Middle East. The tensions it has caused amongst a bunch of different states makes it a conflict that has to be resolved soon, or else the repercussions will be something people won’t be able to return from. Palestinians that were displaced are still fighting to return to their homes while the Jews of Israel are trying to protect and fight for a region that is of great historical and religious importance. While the two ethnic groups fight to preserve their land, they have caused the deaths of millions, which is why the United Nations as well as many other states across the globe have tried to resolve the matters for them. Despite the number of peace talks, peace conferences, agreements, accords, and negotiations, no permanent or feasible solution has been brought to light. Until a resolution is not drawn up, Israel and Palestine are going to continue to be at war.and This subsequently leads to an alarming situation which is far from conducive to world peace.


[1] Balfour Declaration, The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica,, 27th November 2020

[2] The Balfour Declaration,, 27th November 2020

[3] Mandate for Palestine,, 27th November 2020

[4] History of the Question of Palestine,, 27th November 2020

[5] British White Paper of 1939,, 27th November 2020

[6] United Nations Resolution 181, The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica,, 27th November 2020

[7] The Right of Return of the Palestinian People,, 27th November 2020

[8] A Framework for Peace in the Middle East,, 27th November 2020

[9] Camp David Accords,, 27th November 2020

[10] The Oslo Accords and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process,, 27th November 2020

[11] The Relevance of Principles of International Law to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Rachad Antonius,, 27th November 2020

[12] Geneva Convention IV Relative to the Protection of Civil Person in Time of War of 12 August 1949,,  27th November  2020

[13] Briefing Note: Annexation under International Law and in the oPT Context,, 27th November 2020

[14] United Nations Charter: Chapter 1,, 27th November 2020

[15] United Nations Charter: Chapter 6,, 27th November 2020

[16] Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, UN General Assembly,, 27th November 2020

[17] Israeli annexation of parts of the Palestinian West Bank would break international law – UN experts call on the international community to ensure accountability,, 27th November 2020

[18] Israel Settlements and International Law,, 27th November 2020

[19] Geneva Convention IV Relative to the Protection of Civil Person in Time of War of 12 August 1949,,  27th November  2020

[20] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,, 27th November 2020

[21] United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3236,, 27th November 2020


 [KR2]To the

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