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Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Updated: Wed, 23 Jul 2014

At A GlanceBack to top

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in a dispute over land claimed by Jews as their biblical birthright and by the Palestinians, who seek self-determination.

Despite repeated attempts to end the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, there is no peace settlement in sight.

Neither side has fulfilled the commitments it made under the 2003 roadmap – a phased timetable designed to lead to a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, put together by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Under that peace blueprint, the Palestinian Authority was to rein in militants, and it embarked on a U.S.-backed law-and-order campaign in the occupied West Bank. But Hamas, a militant group whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel, beat rival Fatah party in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Fatah retained control of the West Bank. Hamas rejects Western calls to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

Despite the roadmap's call for a halt to Israeli settlement activity, Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank and in Arab East Jerusalem.

Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement in May 2011, but it was not implemented until 2014. Under the deal, a U.S.-backed unity government was formed in June 2014 and elections are to be held within six months. Israel says it rejects any government that includes Hamas.

More than 50 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza – 2.2 million people – are refugees, many of whom live in crowded camps.

Life in the Palestinian territories has got worse in recent years and economic hardship has deepened.

Socio-economic conditions in Gaza, which is subject to the most severe Israeli restrictions, have deteriorated particularly sharply and the population is increasingly reliant on food aid.

Since the end of 2008, Israel has launched three major operations in Gaza with the declared aim of stopping Hamas militants from firing rockets into the Jewish state. The most recent began in July 2014.

In DetailBack to top

Today's tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours date back to the early 20th century when Jews began migrating in significant numbers to Palestine, then under Ottoman Turkish rule.

The ensuing struggle for land and self-determination by both peoples led to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, a series of Israeli-Arab wars, two lengthy Palestinian uprisings and waves of Palestinian refugees.

Although modern Zionism - the idea of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine – began in the late 19th century, the land of Israel has been central to Jewish consciousness since Jewish exile in biblical times. Small Jewish communities lived peacefully in Palestine side by side with both Muslim and Christian Arabs for centuries.

But centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews during World War Two, led to growing pressure for a Jewish homeland. In November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a plan to partition Palestine, then under British mandate, into Arab and Jewish states. In May 1948, Jews living in Palestine declared the establishment of the state of Israel.

Five Arab countries invaded immediately, and in the ensuing conflict some 750,000 Palestinians fled the fighting or were forced to leave their homes. A similar number of Jews migrated to Israel from their homes in Arab states amid fears of a backlash against them.

Many Jews saw the creation of Israel as the embodiment of their long-held aspiration for a land of their own, but for Palestinians the loss of their homes and land in 1948 became known as "al Nakba" – the catastrophe.

A second wave of Palestinians was displaced during the 1967 war that pitted Israel against Jordan, Egypt and Syria. In the six days of fighting, Israel captured the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – as well as the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. An estimated 500,000 Palestinians fled, according to the United Nations – mostly to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) began operations in 1950, initially as a temporary response to the humanitarian crisis created by the new refugees. Today, the agency is the main body meeting the needs of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria with basic services such as education, healthcare and social services.

The tents that made up the first refugee camps gradually gave way to the concrete buildings that make up today's camps as it became clear that no solution to their plight was in sight.

Since then, Palestinian refugee camps have grown upwards rather than out, with residents building new storeys to accommodate the new generations being born. Conditions are often overcrowded, with poor sanitation. There are high levels of unemployment, and rising levels of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The status of the refugees is a key issue in peace talks, with many Palestinians claiming the "right of return" – the right to go back to their homes in what is now Israel. Some still hold keys to the family homes they lost in 1948.

Israel fears that agreeing to this concession would be disastrous, largely because the higher Palestinian birth rate means the number of Palestinians would soon outstrip the Jewish population. Israel's own "law of return" allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to settle in Israel and take up citizenship. Under the citizenship rules, many Palestinians who marry Arab Israelis are denied Israeli residency.

The two parts of the Palestinian territories are, in fact, two areas about 45 km (30 miles) apart. The West Bank is between Jerusalem – long claimed as a capital by both Palestinians and Israelis – and Jordan to the east, while Gaza is a tiny strip along Israel's western Mediterranean coast.

Intifada and securityBack to top

After the 1967 war, successive Israeli governments began building Jewish settlements on the newly occupied land. Generally built on high ground, many settlements overlook Palestinian towns and villages, and there are tensions between the two communities. U.N. Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice have both declared the settlements illegal under international law, but Israel has rejected the rulings and continues to expand its settlements.

In 1987 a Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, broke out in protest against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians vented their anger by throwing rocks at soldiers and tanks near their camps and homes; there were also roadside shootings at Israeli vehicles and assaults on settlers.

The Israeli military retaliated harshly against the Palestinian population as a whole. They used a system of checkpoints to control the movement of people and goods around the West Bank, imposed curfews at times of high security and detained many Palestinians, often without charge or trial.

Although groups of prisoners are periodically released, large numbers remain in custody.

In 1993, following the Oslo Peace Accords, Israel agreed to establish limited Palestinian self-rule in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian territories were divided into three zones: Area A under full Palestinian control; Area B under Palestinian civil authority and Israeli security control; and Area C under full Israeli control. About 60 percent of the West Bank is in Area C.

The Palestinian Authority, headed by Yasser Arafat, was set up to run the new autonomous areas.

Little progress was made in the following years towards a final peace settlement and disillusionment set in among Palestinians.

A second Intifada broke out in 2000, sparked by a controversial visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Al Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, a site sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

Amid growing concerns about the number of suicide bombings against Israelis by Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas, the Israeli army re-occupied cities in the West Bank. It tightened up security measures around the Palestinian Territories, preventing thousands of Palestinians from going to work and trade in Israel.

In 2003, Israel made a unilateral decision to dismantle all Jewish settlements in Gaza and some settlements in the West Bank. In 2005, around 8,000 settlers were forcibly evicted from Gaza by the Israeli army, along with 500 from the West Bank, and moved into alternative accommodation provided by the Israeli government.

Many of the settlers, some of whom believe Israel has a biblical claim to Gaza and the West Bank, felt betrayed.

The Gaza Strip came under Palestinian control. The area, 40 km long and 10 km wide, is home to around 1.7 million Palestinians and is one of the most densely populated places on earth.

In January 2006, Hamas won parliamentary elections and became the lead player in the Palestinian national unity government.

In June 2007, a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah led to fighting between armed factions on the streets of Gaza in which around 100 people died. Hamas declared control over Gaza, leading President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Hamas-led unity government and set up an emergency, Fatah-based government in the West Bank.

Israel tightened border restrictions at its Gaza borders after the Hamas takeover. Gaza’s economic life has suffered and relief organisations have found it difficult to get aid to the Palestinian population.

The border crossing into Egypt at Rafah is theoretically run by the Palestinians under EU monitoring.

Egypt closed the border after Hamas' takeover, except to allow food and medicine into Gaza, and to allow a few Gazans - including those seeking medical treatment or to study - into Egypt. In May 2011, a new Egyptian government under President Mohamed Morsi re-opened the border for people and eased visa restrictions on Palestinians. The Egyptian military closed the border again when it ousted Morsi in 2013.

Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement in May 2011, mediated by Egypt, but it was not implemented until 2014 because of disputes over power-sharing and the handling of the conflict with Israel. A unity government was formed in June 2014, with presidential and parliamentary elections to be held within six months.

Israel says it rejects any government that includes Hamas and refuses to hold peace talks with it. It also announced plans to build 3,000 more settler homes, and barred three Gaza-based ministers from travelling to the West Bank to be sworn in.

The unity government is backed by the United States. Its prime minister is based in the West Bank and most senior positions are held by members of the previous Palestinian Authority government. All ministers have accepted Quartet principles.

Hamas effectively retains its security grip in Gaza in the absence of Fatah forces there. Hamas’ militia there, the Qassam Brigades, numbers 25,000, and it also controls a further 20,000 armed personnel.

 Gaza is still mainly run by about 43,000 employees hired since Hamas took over. But they have not been paid in months. Another 70,000 employees in Gaza, not hired by Hamas, have for years been paid by the PA to stay at home in order to weaken the Hamas government, the  International Crisis Group (ICG) says.

The two sides agreed to a unity government because of changes in neighbouring countries – particularly Egypt – caused by the Arab uprisings of 2010 and 2011, the ICG said.

Fatah lost a reliable ally when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. Hamas became more willing to work with Cairo after its parent organisation – Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood – began to play a growing role in Egyptian politics.

Gaza offensivesBack to top

Hamas called off a six-month truce with Israel in December 2008 and stepped up rocket attacks, citing Israeli raids and the continuing blockade of the enclave

Israel launched its biggest offensive in Gaza in four decades. It said its aim was to stop militants firing rockets into Israel.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 1,417 people including 926 civilians were killed during Israel's Dec. 27-Jan. 18 offensive. Israel lost 10 soldiers and three civilians in the fighting. Israel estimated 1,166 Palestinians were killed, 295 of them civilians.

The air raids damaged hospitals, water supply systems, the U.N. compound, mosques and government buildings as well as private homes. Israel accused Hamas of sheltering among the civilian population and using sites such as mosques and schools as military posts.

Israel was criticised for using white phosphorous - which can cause severe burns - in civilian areas.

The fighting triggered protests around the world, and there were calls for a ceasefire from the United Nations, United States, European Union, Arab League, Russia and other countries.

Israeli government officials said the offensive’s goals included weakening Hamas by killing its fighters and destroying its rocket arsenal. Israel also bombed a network of tunnels to Gaza from neighbouring Egypt, which had allowed Palestinians to smuggle in weapons.

In July 2010 Israel said it was taking steps to reduce the number of civilian casualties in future wars, and would restrict the use of white phosphorous.

In November 2012, Israel launched another major operation that began with the killing of Hamas's military chief Ahmed Al-Jaabari in a precision air strike on Nov. 14. It said the attack was in response to escalating missile strikes from Gaza. The following day two rockets from Gaza targeted Tel Aviv, the first attack on Israel's commercial capital in 20 years.

Israel followed up its attack by shelling Gaza from land, air and sea, and mobilised tens of thousands of military reservists along the border with Gaza.

Some 170 Palestinians – including many children – were killed in Gaza and six Israelis were killed by rocket fire before an Egypt-mediated ceasefire took effect on Nov. 21.

Tensions escalated again in June 2014 when three Israeli teenagers were abducted in the West Bank. Hamas did not confirm or deny a role in the kidnapping. Israel arrested hundreds of Hamas activists, and Hamas retaliated by launching hundreds of rockets from Gaza, targeting Tel Aviv. Israel began shelling Gaza on July 8 and sent in ground troops on July 18, aiming to destroy Hamas’s missile stores and a large network of tunnels used to smuggle goods in and out of Gaza.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded, many of them civilians, and a few Israeli soldiers and civilians have also been killed.

The abducted Israeli teenagers were later found dead, as was a Palestinian teenager abducted in East Jerusalem in a suspected revenge murder for which several Israelis were arrested.

West Bank barrierBack to top

In the West Bank, Israel continues to build a controversial "security barrier" it began in 2002, a 712 km construction which is part-wall, part-fence separating Israeli settlements from Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

The Palestinians, pointing to the barrier's frequent divergence from the 1949 Green Line and its enclosure of parts of the West Bank, call the construction a land grab.

Some West Bank farming villages lost farmland to the Israeli side and are subject to a system of permits and checkpoints before they can get to their olive groves and orchards. Palestinian communities and aid agencies say the barrier also prevents people from going to work or school and accessing health services.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued an "advisory opinion" – a judgment with no legal force – declaring the barrier illegal. Israel rejects the ruling, saying the barrier is crucial to its defence.

A 2014 report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) gives an in-depth summary of the humanitarian impact of the barrier.

The violence of the Intifada prompted Israel to punish suspected militants for attacks by demolishing their family homes. The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem says Israel demolished 664 homes as punishment for suspected militant activities until the practice was officially ended in February 2005. A few more homes were demolished in 2009.

The Israeli authorities have also long pursued a policy of demolition for homeowners who they say lack the necessary building permits. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) says thousands of Palestinian houses have been demolished since 1967, making many families homeless.

The majority of house demolitions are carried out during military operations, says ICAHD.

The humanitarian pictureBack to top

Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods around the Palestinian Territories, using checkpoints, closures and curfews, affect every aspect of daily life for Palestinians.

Socioeconomic conditions are worst in Gaza, where Israeli closures are more severe than in  the West Bank.

An international economic boycott of the Hamas-led government after its election win in January 2006 exacerbated the situation. Western donor nations, including the European Union, withheld direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, though money was still channelled to the region through individuals or other organisations.

From March 2006, an estimated 140,000 Palestinian civil servants – the breadwinners for around a million people – went without their full wages for almost a year and a half because Israel halted the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority. The situation was resolved when Israel finally transferred the money to the PA.

When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel tightened its blockade on goods to Gaza, and foreign donors pledged billions of dollars in aid in a public show of support for Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas.

In June 2007, the EU resumed direct aid to the Palestinian Authority after Abbas' Fatah party set up an emergency government in the West Bank.

The Israeli blockade has devastated Gaza's economy. A third of Gaza’s workforce is now unemployed, the World Bank says. Gaza’s exports have fallen 97 percent since 2007, according to Oxfam.

In June 2010, Israel partly relaxed its grip in response to international pressure, allowing in more trade goods. But it continued to ban cement and steel – both needed to help rebuild after Israel's 2008/9 Gaza offensive. Israel says such materials – unless for specific foreign-sponsored projects – could be used to make bunkers and weapons.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority connected almost all residential areas to the electricity grid, and improved water and sanitation networks in areas under its control.

In Gaza, 80 percent of people depend on aid, and almost all the water from Gaza's aquifer is undrinkable, according to the United Nations. The aquifer is the territory's only natural source of fresh water.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and UNRWA supply food aid, but chronic malnutrition and dietary-related diseases have risen, especially among children.

Basic healthcare is provided by the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA and other aid agencies, but health services are limited and fragmentary. Despite the use of mobile health clinics to reach cut-off villages in the West Bank, difficulties in getting through checkpoints mean many people don't get the treatment they need, especially in hospitals. Gaza has suffered a chronic lack of medicines since 2006, according to the World Health Organization.

Gaza's health system suffers from the Israeli blockade, but also from a lack of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas authorities in Gaza. A Palestinian Authority funding crisis has worsened the situation.

The conflict has affected people's mental health and behavioural problems, particularly among adolescents, have risen.

Restrictions on movement prevent teachers and pupils getting to school, affecting education across the Palestinian Territories. According to the U.N. Children's Fund, UNICEF, tens of thousands of children's education is regularly disrupted.

In Gaza, regular fuel shortages also bring public services to a grinding halt.

A poverty survey carried out in Gaza by UNRWA in 2010 showed that the number of refugees living in abject poverty had tripled to 300,000 after Israel's tightening of its blockade in 2007. These people could not get enough food and lacked the means to buy even the most basic items such as soap, school stationary and safe drinking water.

A coalition of British aid agencies published a report in March 2008 saying the blockade had created the worst humanitarian crisis in Gaza in 40 years.

As Gaza became a more risky place to work, several aid workers were kidnapped by militant groups, though few were held for very long and there have been no abductions of late.

A six-ship flotilla carrying aid and activists to Gaza in May 2010 tried to break Israel's blockade. Nine activists died in clashes when Israeli marines intercepted the flotilla and boarded the ships.

Foreign businesses are encouraged to invest in the Palestinian Territories, but the Israeli blockade makes both Gaza and the West Bank difficult environments to operate in.

Tunnels between Gaza and Egypt became an important means of transporting goods in and out of Gaza, including building materials, fuel and food.

Egypt closed most of the 1,200 smuggling tunnels in 2013, fearing they were being used to supply weapons to militants in the Sinai Peninsula. The closure severely cut Hamas’ income  from taxing the tunnel trade.

Israel sought to destroy many of the tunnels during its offensive in Gaza in 2014.

Peace processBack to top

There have been many attempts to resolve the conflict since the 1967 war.

Negotiations brokered in secret by the Norwegians in the early 1990s looked promising initially. The Oslo Peace Accords, sealed with an iconic handshake between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn in 1993, were hailed by many as the start of a peace process that would lead to a permanent end to the conflict.

Both sides made key concessions. The Palestine Liberation Organisation recognised Israel's "right to exist in peace and security", while Israel promised that its troops would withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza in stages. A self-governing Palestinian Authority would be set up for a transitional five-year period, with a view to arriving at a final settlement.

But optimism faded as Palestinians continued to live under restrictions imposed by the Israeli military occupation, while Israelis despaired at attacks by militant Palestinians.

The most recent peace plan, the roadmap, was drawn up in 2003 by the Quartet - the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations. It put aside contentious issues such as the refugees' right to return, the status of Jerusalem, and the borders of a Palestinian state, and set out a two-year timetable by which agreement on a final settlement might be reached.

During the first phase, the Palestinians would commit to a crackdown on militants, while Israel would cease settlement building and act with military restraint.

But soon after the roadmap was agreed, violence on both sides ended the incipient peace process. Israel decided unilaterally in 2003 to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

The construction of settlements and the "security barrier" led some experts to question the viability of the two-state solution. They argued that Israeli infrastructure in the Palestinian Territories is so well established as to rule out a genuinely independent Palestine. It is not clear how the alternative - a one-state solution - would work, as Jews would be a minority in a single state, an unacceptable prospect for most Israelis.

Although the roadmap was not formally abandoned, the peace process was effectively put on hold.

But global awareness of the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to events in Iraq, Lebanon, and the "war on terror", along with concern about the emergence of two rival administrations within the Palestinian Territories, revived Western leaders' interest in diplomatic efforts to end the crisis.

In November 2007, at a conference hosted by the United States in Annapolis, Maryland, Israeli and Palestinian leaders relaunched the first formal peace talks in seven years. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Abbas promised to try to reach agreement on the terms of a future Palestinian state. They failed.

In 2009, new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to negotiate with the Palestinians and accepted the prospect of a Palestinian state for the first time. He insisted on the "natural growth" of West Bank settlements to meet the needs of expanding populations, despite pressure from the U.S. administration to curb their expansion.

U.S.-mediated direct peace talks began in September 2010 but soon collapsed.

In 2011, Abbas appealed to the United Nations to recognise Palestine as a state, saying this was necessary following the breakdown of peace talks. His appeal was turned down.

U.S.-mediated talks began again in July 2013, but stalled in April 2014 when Israel refused to carry out the last of four waves of prisoner releases unless it received assurances the Palestinian leadership would continue the talks beyond the end of that month.

Abbas responded by signing 15 international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war and occupations. Israel condemned the move as a unilateral step toward statehood.

Israel has frozen the peace talks since April, saying it will not negotiate with a government that includes Hamas.

Key factionsBack to top

Hamas

Hamas – an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement – emerged during the 1980s Palestinian uprising and led a suicide bombing campaign over the next decade as part of its stated aim of destroying Israel. The Gaza-based group built popular support through a social welfare programme providing healthcare, education and social services to the Palestinian population.

Hamas gained increasing popularity among Palestinians due to a perception that, in contrast to its rival party Fatah, it was free of corruption. It won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006, taking 76 out of 132 seats, and became the lead player in a Palestinian national unity government. Hamas is considered a "terrorist" organisation by the European Union and the United States, and its election victory triggered an aid boycott by western donor governments.

In June 2007, growing rivalry between Hamas and Fatah supporters in Gaza led to street fighting which killed around 100 people. Hamas won the power struggle, effectively taking over the government of Gaza. As a result, the Palestinian president and leading Fatah politician Mahmoud Abbas sacked the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, and set up a separate administration in the West Bank.

Its militia, the Qassam Brigades, numbers about 25,000 people.

Hamas denounces the notion of direct talks with Israel and does not recognise Israel's right to exist.

Fatah

Fatah, founded in 1965 by the late leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat, is the mainstream Palestinian nationalist movement. It has run the Palestinian Authority since 1994, when it took control of the Palestinian areas following the Oslo accords.

Growing disenchantment with the leadership among ordinary Palestinians led to the party losing Palestinian elections to Hamas in January 2006 and becoming part of a coalition government. Since June 2007, its authority has been confined to the West Bank.

Fatah, whose strongest support base lies in the West Bank, recognises Israel's right to exist and is formally committed to peace talks with Israel.

Islamic Jihad

Emerging in Gaza in the 1970s, Islamic Jihad is a militant movement whose exact affiliations are unclear. Its funding is believed to come from Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. It operates mainly in the West Bank and Gaza, and has claimed responsibility for many suicide bombings against Israelis, along with attacks in Lebanon. Like Hamas, its goal is the destruction of Israel.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades

Formed by disaffected young men after the second uprising erupted in 2000, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades is nominally associated with Fatah. It has carried out many attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, but Fatah does not officially recognise it and it is a moot point how much control Fatah leaders have over its activities.

The Israeli authorities have killed many of the group's leaders. Over recent years, many of the group's members have received amnesty from Israel in return for laying down their weapons.

Popular Resistance Committees

The Gaza-based PRC is a break-away militant group that emerged from the second Intifada in 2000. It has been involved in numerous attacks on Israelis, often in joint operations with other groups.

The Army of Islam

This little-known, Gaza-based faction made headlines when it kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in March 2007. The group follows al Qaeda-style principles and is closely linked to Gaza's powerful Doghmush clan.

It worked with Hamas to capture Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 but the two groups broke apart over Johnston's kidnap. The Army of Islam released Johnston after negotiations with Hamas.

LinksBack to top

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is an authoritative English-language source of news and comment on developments in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

The Alternative Information Center is a useful source of news and analysis from the Palestinian Territories.

Until August 2012, the Bitterlemons website published comment articles edited by both a Palestinian and an Israeli to help foster understanding between the two sides. The articles are still available.

The U.S.-based Middle East Report has detailed analysis of the latest developments from the region.

The U.N. news service IRIN reports on humanitarian developments.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has information about refugees in the Palestinian Territories and neighbouring Arab countries, including numbers and locations for camps in the West Bank and Gaza.

Human Rights Watch reports on human rights violations in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' monthly Humanitarian Monitor publishes detailed situation reports from the ground.

Belgian-based International Crisis Group has news and analysis.

The World Bank publishes economic statistics from West Bank and Gaza.

TimelineBack to top

Creation of state of Israel

1897 - After centuries of European anti-Semitism, World Zionist Organisation established to try and create a Jewish state in Palestine

1918-1947 - Britain occupies Palestine and commits to help establish a national Jewish home in Palestine. Large number of Jews migrate to Palestine, creating tensions between the Arabs and Jews there. British recommendation of partition into Jewish and Arab states rejected by Palestinians who demand an end to Jewish migration. But many more Jews flee to Palestine because of Nazi Holocaust in Europe

1947 - U.N. General Assembly recommends partitioning Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem "internationalised"

May 1948 - Jewish settlers declare formation of state of Israel

Wars and Israeli expansion

1948 - Before May, Jewish forces fight Arab armies and occupy 77 percent of Palestine, according to U.N. figures. Immediately after the May declaration, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq invade but swiftly defeated. Egypt gains control of Gaza Strip

750,000 Palestinians flee fighting or expelled by Jewish troops, according to U.N.. Most move to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and Gaza Strip

Thousands of Jews flee Arab countries to Israel and refused right to return

1950 - Jordan annexes West Bank

1964 - Arab League of Arab States founds Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)

1967 - Six Day War after Israel launches what it calls pre-emptive strike on Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces. After brief fighting, Israel occupies West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, Syrian Golan Heights and Egyptian Sinai Peninsula

500,000 Palestinians flee to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, according to U.N.. Israel starts building Jewish settlements in occupied territories

1973 - Egypt and Syria launch attacks to regain land lost in the 1967 war, but fail

1977 - Egyptian President Anwar Sadat initiates peace process which results in 1982 withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied Sinai

1982 - Israel invades Lebanon, partly to expel PLO and establish a pro-Israeli government. PLO disperses to other Arab countries. Israeli troops end their conflict with Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in 2000.

First Palestinian Intifada

1987 - The first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, begins against growing number of Israeli settlements in occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip

Peace talks

1991 - U.S. holds international summit with Israel, Syria and joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Washington organises bilateral talks after the summit, with little progress

1993 - Secret Norwegian-brokered negotiations begin, culminating in Israel's military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip - except areas surrounding Jewish settlements - and from Jericho in the West Bank

1994 - Exiled PLO leader Yasser Arafat returns to Gaza for first time and heads the Palestinian National Authority set up to run newly autonomous areas

1995 - Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin assassinated by an Israeli extremist. Benjamin Netanyahu takes office in 1996 and Oslo peace talks begin to unravel

2000 - Peace talks end with failed Camp David summit

Second Palestinian Intifada

2000 - Palestinian militants begin series of suicide attacks. Israel responds with increased number of air strikes, incursions into Palestinian areas and killing militant leaders. Many Palestinian cities isolated and kept under curfew for lengthy periods

2002 - Israel re-occupies West Bank cities and begins building 600 km-long (370 miles) barrier separating West Bank from rest of Israel

2003 - Attempts to revive peace process fail. The roadmap, a peace plan drawn up by the Quartet - European Union, Russian Federation, U.N. and U.S., is signed by Palestinians and Israel, but quickly derails

Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories

Israel announces policy of "unilateral disengagement" from Gaza Strip

2004 - Arafat dies, replaced by former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas

2005

- Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declare informal ceasefire. Palestinian militant groups say not bound by pledges, but agree to observe de facto truce

- Israeli soldiers remove 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza Strip and West Bank and formally withdraw military bases in September, ending 38 years of occupation

2006

- Sharon suffers massive stroke. Ehud Olmert becomes interim prime minister, saying will talk to Palestinians, but only if they disarm

Hamas wins Palestinian parliamentary elections, defeating Fatah. U.S. and EU brand Hamas a terrorist group

- Major international donors, including U.S. and EU, suspend direct aid to Hamas-led government

Olmert elected prime minister and rejects negotiations with Palestinians. Promises Israelis "permanent" eastern borders - including within the West Bank- by 2010

- Mounting violence in Gaza fuelled by power struggle between Fatah and Hamas loyalists

- Palestinian militants capture Israeli soldier, triggering major Israeli incursion into Gaza. Israel arrests most Hamas cabinet members

- Israel begins air and land offensive against Lebanon after fighters from Lebanese militant group Hezbollah seize two Israeli soldiers and kill eight in cross-border raid

- Ceasefire declared and Israeli forces begin withdrawing from Lebanon. At least 1,200 people in Lebanon and 157 Israelis killed during fighting. U.N. peacekeeping force deploys along southern border

- Negotiations on Palestinian unity government collapse. Relations between Fatah and Hamas continue to deteriorate. Israeli incursions into Gaza intensify

- Fragile Gaza ceasefire takes hold

- Abbas tries to break deadlock over unity government by calling for early elections. Hamas declares any new election would be a "coup" attempt and unconstitutional

Israel announces plans for first new West Bank settlement since 1992, and agrees to release $100m of Palestinian tax revenues

2007

- New Palestinian unity government sworn in, cabinet comprising Fatah, Hamas, independent and left-wing MPs

- Fatah and Hamas battle for control of Gaza. Hamas defeats Fatah militarily in Gaza. Abbas disbands unity government and declares state of emergency

- Israeli and Palestinian leaders agree at conference hosted by U.S. President George Bush in Annapolis to begin talks to reach full agreement on a future Palestinian state by the end of 2008

- $7.4 billion in aid pledged at donor conference in Paris

2008

- Negotiators start first formal peace talks in seven years

Gunmen in Gaza destroy large sections of Gaza-Egypt border wall. Hundreds of thousands cross to buy food, supplies

- At least 110 people killed in Israeli aerial and ground assault in Hamas-ruled Gaza, described by U.N. as "disproportionate use of force" and by Israel as an operation to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into southern Israel

Major aid agencies say humanitarian situation is worst since 1967

- Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad says he has secured $1.4bn of new investments in business projects in West Bank and Gaza

- Hamas and Israel agree a ceasefire to stop rockets being fired into Israel and halt Israeli incursions into Gaza

Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells U.N. Human Rights Council that Israeli shelling in 2006 of northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, an area used by militants as a staging point for rocket attacks on Israel, may constitute a war crime

- EU envoy Tony Blair says Gaza banks near collapse. Heavy flooding in Gaza damages homes and sewage systems. After weeks of talks, Egypt releases draft proposal to end Hamas-Fatah rift

- New round of Gaza violence threatens June ceasefire. U.N. officials warn of a humanitarian crisis as essential supplies run low

- Hamas calls off truce. Israel pounds Gaza with bombs and missiles in biggest offensive in four decades, with the declared aim of stopping Hamas firing rockets into Israel

2009

- Israel sends in tanks and troops. Palestinians say more than 1000 killed and thousands injured

- Hamas and Fatah leaders hold first in a series of reconciliation talks in Cairo

- Netanyahu sworn in as prime minister, head of new coalition government. Pledges to negotiate with Palestinians

- U.S. President Barack Obama meets Netanyahu and calls for Palestinian statehood and a curb on West Bank settlements

- Netanyahu accepts prospect of Palestinian state for first time, but insists on growth of West Bank settlements and other conditions rejected by Palestinian Authority officials

ICRC says Israeli blockade is preventing reconstruction of Gaza. Israeli officials say easing of blockade depends on progress towards release of Israeli soldier held by militants in the Gaza Strip since 2006

Jul - U.N. says will take a year to clear half a million tonnes of rubble left over from Dec/Jan Israeli offensive in Gaza. Israel allows first shipment of building materials into Gaza since the offensive

Aug - First Fatah congress since 1989. Hamas clashes with Islamist group Jund Ansar Allah

Sep - Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas meet in New York

Oct - Hamas refuses to allow elections in Gaza without Hamas-Fatah reconciliation

Nov - Abbas says will not stand for re-election. U.N. General Assembly accuses Israel and Hamas of war crimes in Dec/Jan Israeli offensive in Gaza

2010

Mar - U.S.-Israel tensions rise when, during visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Israel announces plan to build new homes in East Jerusalem. Middle East Quartet calls on Israel to freeze settlement expansion

May - U.S.-mediated indirect talks between Palestinian Authority and Israel

Nine people die when Israeli soldiers board ships carrying aid and activists to Gaza

Jun - Israel allows a wider range of goods into Gaza

Aug - Israel says it will cooperate with U.N. investigation into May's deadly raid on aid shipments to Gaza

Sep - U.S.-mediated direct peace talks begin. Netanyahu refuses to extend moratorium on settlement expansions, putting peace talks at risk. Hamas threatens attacks against Israel. United Nations says Israel violated international law in May's raid on aid shipments to Gaza

Oct – Abbas says direct peace talks will collapse unless U.S. persuades Israel to end settlement building within one month. Palestinians reject Israeli offer to freeze settlement building if Palestinians recognise Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people

Nov – Israel passes law requiring two-thirds Knesset majority or national referendum for withdrawal from East Jerusalem or Golan Heights

U.N. says life for Gazans has not improved since Israel eased its blockade

Dec - U.S. formally abandons efforts to make settlement freeze a basis for peace talks, and says will pursue proximity talks

Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia recognise independent Palestinian state "on the 1967 lines". Israel eases ban on exports from Gaza but not to Israel

2011

Apr – Israel says Palestinian Authority cannot have peace with both Israel and Hamas

May – Hundreds wounded and some killed by Israeli gunfire, as tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters mark Nakba along Israeli borders with Gaza, Syria and Lebanon

Fatah, Hamas sign reconciliation deal, agreeing to form unity government and hold elections within a year. Netanyahu calls the unity pact a "tremendous blow to peace"

Egypt opens Rafah border crossing with Gaza

Jun - Talks on formation of Palestinian unity government postponed. Palestinian Authority votes to seek U.N. recognition of Palestinian state in September

U.N. report says Gaza unemployment has risen steeply and wages have fallen since the start of Israeli sanctions in 2006

Jul – Undeclared Gaza-Israel ceasefire since 18 April ends with a sharp rise in the number of rockets fired from Gaza in late June and July, and increased Israeli attacks on smuggling tunnels and militant targets

Sep – Abbas asks United Nations to recognise Palestinian statehood with full membership of United Nations. Hamas rejects the move as “begging” for statehood. Netanyahu says peace can only be achieved through direct talks. Quartet urges return to peace talks

European Union and United States condemn Israeli plans to build 1,100 new housing units in East Jerusalem as counterproductive to negotiations on peace talks

U.N. report into May 2010 raid on Gaza-bound protest flotilla says Israel used excessive force but blockade of Gaza is legal

Oct – Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, seized by Hamas in 2006, is released in exchange for release of 1,207 Palestinians

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticises Israeli plans to build 2,600 housing units in East Jerusalem

Palestine is granted full membership of UNESCO. The United States immediately cuts funding to the organisation

Nov -  In protest at Palestine’s admission to UNESCO, Israel freezes transfers of tax and customs revenues to the Palestinian Authority for four weeks. Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal meet in Cairo for first time since May reconciliation agreement

2012

Feb – Hamas, Fatah agree to form unity government under Abbas and hold general elections in coming months. Hamas leaders in Gaza oppose the deal. Hamas announces that its political leadership in exile has moved from Syria to Egypt and Qatar

Mar – Violence escalates between Gaza and Israel, following Israel’s killing of Popular Resistance Committees leader Zuhair al-Qaissi

Apr – Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israel hold hunger strike to protest conditions of imprisonment

Sep – Rising prices trigger widespread demonstrations, strikes and rioting in West Bank

Oct – Emir of Qatar becomes first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas seized control. Fatah win Palestinian Authority municipal elections, held in 93 of 353 municipalities and boycotted by Hamas

Israel intercepts Gaza-bound ship carrying activists, including European MPs

Nov – Israel launches major attack on Gaza, saying it is a response to escalating missile strikes

U.N. General Assembly votes to upgrade the status of Palestinians to that of a “non-member observer state”

2013

Mar – Israel resumes tax transfers to PA, which had been suspended in 2012 after Palestinians gained U.N. non-member observer status

Netanyahu apologises to Turkey for 2010 Gaza flotilla deaths

May –  Hamas and Fatah agree to form unity government in July 2013

Knesset passes law that moves Bedouin communities from villages unrecognised by Israeli law into newly built towns, escalating Jewish-Arab tensions within Israel

July – U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations begin in Washington

Egyptian army closes smuggling tunnels into Gaza, following fall of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi

Dec – U.S. intensifies diplomatic efforts to resolve impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

Gaza humanitarian situation deteriorates due to fuel shortage, aggravated by extreme winter weather, floods

UNRWA calls for end of Israeli blockade to allow recovery efforts. Israel opens Gaza crossing to allow entry of gas, water pumps

2014

Jan – Sharon dies

Feb – U.N. says Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in West Bank displaced nearly 600 people in 2013, double the 2012 figure

Mar – Israel reneges on pledge to release 30 Palestinian prisoners

Apr – Israel republishes tenders for more than 700 housing units in East Jerusalem. Abbas signs applications to join 15 international treaties/conventions including Geneva Convention. Israel threatens sanctions

Fatah and Hamas promise to form a unity government

Jun – Fatah and Hamas form a unity government, plan for presidential and parliamentary elections within six months. Israel announces plans to build an additional 3,000 settler homes

Three Israeli teenagers are kidnapped in the West Bank and later found dead. Israel rounds up hundreds of Hamas activists in West Bank. Hamas responds by firing rockets into Israel

July – Israel launches air and land attacks on Gaza

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