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Why are Israel and the Palestinians Fighting?

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Israel Palestine Map

Contrary to what most people believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not been going on for thousands of years. The Gulf League only started during World War 1 because of British and French strategic interests in the Mediterranean Sea. This was a major trading route.

The Mediterranean Sea gave, whoever controlled it, access to India.

The British Empire sought to control the Mediterranean trading route and for this reason, it was necessary to control the Suez channel.

The presence of the Ottoman Navy was a direct threat to British interests so the British and the French decided to divide the Middle East into smaller entities and countries to make it impossible for the Ottoman Empire to control the area.


During World War 1, Britain and France implemented this idea:

Sykes-Picot Agreement

British and French Ottoman Interests Map

One of the Ottoman provinces was Ottoman Syria, which included the modern countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. The British and the French divided this province. In the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, these two empires drew a line between Mosul and Baghdad out to Mount Hermon to the sea in the west.

The French controlled the north and the British controlled the south. To prevent the rise of any future regional power the region was even further divided.

Longtime friends and allies the maritime Christians receive their own piece of land and the predominant maritime region of Syria was turned into a separate country. It was named after Mount Lebanon the topographical characteristic of the region.

Prior to this, Lebanon had never before existed as an independent state. Its main reason for unity was religious demography. The British were allied with several Arab tribes and clans and they had made conflicting promises to various players.

The most important British ally was the Hashemite people who were the rulers of the Hejaz region in the Arabian Peninsula.

Neither the British nor the French intended to keep their promises and instead played all the smaller players against each other. When the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement was published by the newly established Soviet Union, it caused turmoil for the region.

Sykes Picot Agreement Map

By 1900, the Saudi clan had launched a re-conquest of the Arabian Peninsula from Kuwait. By 1925, the Saudi’s gained control over the eastern and central parts of the peninsula and establish a third Saudi state, which would eventually become modern-day Saudi Arabia.

So the Hashemite have lost the peninsula to the Saudi’s. However, the British had given the Hashemite clan two new kingdoms, one in Iraq and another kingdom to the north of the Arabian Peninsula, to be more exact, to the North of the eastern side of the Jordan River.


The Hashemite were centered on the town of Amman, this region was renamed Trans-Jordan which means the other side of the Jordan River.

Trans-Jordan or the other side of Jordan

Trans-Jordan or “the other side of Jordan”

After the British Empire withdrew in 1948, this land became Jordan and remained under the rule of the Hashemite clan and their people.

However, the native people of Jordan were still ethnically the same as the people on the other side of the Jordan River and that is why even today some politicians say that Jordan is actually Palestine because they are the same nations.

As for western Palestine, European Jews had been moving into this region under Ottoman rule since the 1880’s. They joined relatively small Jewish communities that had existed there for centuries.

This movement was part of the Jewish National Movement also known as the Zionist movement. They sought to create a Jewish state in the region.

European Jewish settlers raised funds and purchased land from property owners in Cairo and elsewhere who had game ownership of the land under the Ottomans.

Eventually, Arabs living on the land soon were evicted. This was seen from the Jewish point of view as legitimate business. From the Arab’s point of view, it was a direct assault on their livelihood.

Jewish Settlements after World War 2

Jewish Settlements after World War 2

What started as a real estate transaction, wound it up as partition, dispossession and conflict. After World War 2 the region changed again. There was a massive immigration of Jewish people after the holocaust and they slowly became the majority in the land.

During this time, nationalism had also reached the Arab world.

The newly established Syrian state and the Arab nation saw Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan as part of historic Syria they saw the Sykes-Picot Agreement as a violation of Syrian territorial integrity and opposed the existence of an independent Jewish state for the same reason they opposed Lebanese and Jordanian independence.

Syria saw the population of these territories as Syria, and not independent nations.

Nationalism also affected Jordan. After the division of the British Palestine Mandate in 1948, Jordan took control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There were deep tensions with the Palestinians and the newly arrived Hashemite people.

The rulers of Jordon, the Hashemite people, saw Israel as a guarantee of Jordanian security against the Palestinians.

The Hashemite clan never wanted an independent Palestine state as they could have granted independence between 1948 and 1967. Instead, in 1970 the Hashemite fought a bloody war against the Palestinians, forcing the Palestinian Liberation Organization out of Jordan and into Lebanon.

This became known as Black September and it was followed by another war, the Lebanese civil war, in which Syria actually invaded Lebanon to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah.

Just like Jordan, Syria was unwilling to accept the concept of Palestinian statehood. This is where the modern tensions between Lebanon, Syria, Hezbollah, Jordan and the Palestinians come from.

Egyptian Interests

Aside all of this, Egypt does not recognize the Palestinian nationhood. In 1948, the Egyptian army drove into Gaza because Egypt saw Gaza as an extension of the Sinai Peninsula and so an extension of Egypt.

Gamal Abdel Nasser

Gamal Abdel Nasser

A few years later in 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power in Egypt. His ambitions went even further. He had a vision of a single, secular and socialist united Arabian republic. This concept became a reality in 1958 when Egypt and Syria joined hands and formed a new federation.

The new union became a threat to Jordanian national interest and the Hashemite kingdoms of Jordan and Iraq joined each other and established a confederation called the Arab Federation.

This Alliance collapsed in the same year because the Hashemite rulers in Iraq had lost control of the land in a coupe by nationalist military officers.

The dream of Nasser for a United Arab Republic went even further than just Egypt and Syria. This idea also saw Palestine as part of this union and not as an independent state and this is where Yasser Arafat’s role came into play.

Yasser Arafat Thinking

Yasser Arafat

Arafat was allied with Nasser and promoted Arab nationalism. A key point to Arab nationalism was Palestine but Arab nationalism did not necessarily imply an independent Palestinian Republic.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that Nasser’s vision of a socialist union of Arab nations was hostile to the conservative monarchies (aka the Saudi’s) in the Arabian Peninsula. Nasser intended to throw these monarchs as was done in Iraq.

This in turn triggered the Arab cold war. On the one side, you had the Arab Socialist Republics backed by the Soviet Union and on the other side; you have the conservative monarchies backed by the United States. In the end, Palestine is at the crossroads of the Arab world.

It is critical to understand that Palestinian nationalism did not simply emerge just against Israel. Palestinian nationalism represents a challenge to the Arab world. Syria sees Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel as historic Syrian lands and claims to have rights to those lands.

Egypt follows the mission of Nasser for a United Arab Republic and central to this plan is expanding its territories to Palestine and Israel.

While working towards this outcome, Egyptian and Syrian interests clash over Palestine so Saudi Arabia must get involved, as they need to protect their interests against the Nasser anti-monarchy concept.

Then there is the Hashemite clan in Jordan, which is still very fearful that the last vestige of Hashemite monarchy could collapse under the weight of Palestinians.

The direct enemy of Palestine is Israel but even if Israel ceased to exist, Jordan Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia would all immediately clash over Palestine.

The end of Israel does not guarantee a Palestinian state as the challenges for Palestine go well beyond its borders.


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