History Coursework Arab Israeli Conflict Summary

The Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the most bitter and enduring disputes of our time. The political and military confrontation is accompanied by heated controversies regarding the past that have led to the formation of conflicting historical narratives. The module will address questions which remain perplexing: where are the roots of the conflict to be found? To what extent was the conflict unavoidable? What role did European and global powers play in its evolution?
The module will make use of a wide range of primary and secondary sources, approaching a number of key historical events and themes through different historiographic perspectives. It will trace the emergence of Zionism and Arab nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A major theme of the module is Arab-Jewish relations and each community's perception of the other during the Ottoman period, under the British mandate and after the establishment of Israel. The module will analyse different historiographic interpretations of the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem. Local and global causes behind the wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982 as well as the Palestinian Intifadas will be evaluated. The module will also examine the rise and fall of the peace process.


To engage students in some of the lively debates surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict in both its domestic and international contexts. To do so by drawing on both secondary literature and primary sources in English.



  • 1. Introduction - historiographic narratives; the land of Israel/Palestine up to the 19th century
  • 2. Late Ottoman Palestine
  • 3. The Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate
  • 4. The Second World War and its aftermath
  • 5. From UN partition to the establishment of Israel
  • 6. The inter-state war of 1948
  • 7. The broader conflict, 1956-1967
  • 8. The broader conflict, 1967-1973
  • 9. Peace, war and uprising, 1978-1990
  • 10. The decade of hope, 1991-2000
  • 11. After Oslo


  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Zionism and early Arab nationalism
  • 3. The Arab Revolt: national and international dimensions
  • 4. The birth of the Palestinian refugee crisis
  • 5. Group presentations
  • 6. Egypt and Israel, 1949-1978
  • 7. The PLO and the First Lebanon War, 1964-1982
  • 8. The peace process and its demise
  • 9. Revision

Learning Outcomes

On completing this module students will:
a) have a deeper understanding of the origins of and key developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict
b) be able to illustrate these with concrete historical examples, and therefore
c) be able to provide the historical 'long view' on a current issue
d) have a firm grasp of the historiographical controversies surrounding this topic

In 1917 the British issued the Balfour declaration, in which they supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The League of Nations confirmed a British Mandate on Palestine, after World War I, based on the British pledge to establish a Jewish homeland. In 1920 the first riots took place in Palestine in Jaffa against Jewish immigration. With the rise in power of the Nazis in Germany Jewish immigration to Palestine increased, the Arabs of Palestine objected and began a revolt against British control. The British first suggested the Peel Plan that would have created a very small Jewish states and a much larger Arab state. The Jews accepted but the Arabs turned it down. Soon after the British issued the "White Paper" limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine.

In 1947 in the aftermath of the holocaust in which 6,000,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis, and continued fighting in Palestine, the United Nations approved a plan for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. Jerusalem was to be internationalized. The Jews accepted the plan but the Arabs did not. A war then ensued, the first part taking place between the Jews and Arabs of Palestine. During that period the Jews gained control over most of the areas given to them by the United Nations. It was during this period that the first Palestinian Refugees were created. Many left of their own volition, or from a fear of what the Israelis might do to them, some were no doubt encouraged to leave by the Israelis and some expelled. During the second stage of the war after the State of Israel was declared on May 14th 1948 the neighboring Arab states attacked Israel, all were eventually repulsed. In 1949 cease-fire agreements were signed between Israel and its neighboring Arab states. Trans-Jordan (the West Bank and East Jerusalem including on the Old City) annexed the Arab areas of Palestine and the Gaza Strip was annexed by Egypt. An uneasy peace was maintained for 18 years punctuated by violence terrorism and a war with Egypt in 1956, caled the Sinai Campaign, until 1967. That year after the Straits of Tiran was closed to Israeli shipping and Egyptian troops massed on Israel's borders, Israel launched a preemptive strike that began the Six-Day War. Israel quickly captured all of the Sinai from Egypt. During that war Jordan despite Israel's request that it stays out, began attacking Western Jerusalem. Israel responded by capturing the Old City of Jerusalem and all of the West Bank. Israel went on to capture the Golan Heights from Syria.

In 1973 Egypt and Syria attacked an overconfident Israel. Israel sustained heavy initial losses, but rebounded and succeeded in defeating both the Syrian and Egyptian Army's. The effect of the war was to convince both sides that the conflict could not be resolved by war. Both sides negotiated interim peace accords. The Syrian Accord has been effect since then. The Egyptians Accords were superseded after the visit if Egyptian President Sadat to Jerusalem by the Camp David Accords which led to a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
In 1993 an agreement was reached between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel. This agreement which became known as the Oslo Accords, resulted in the majority of the Gaza Strip and the major Arab cities in the West Bank coming under Palestinian control. It called for reaching a final accord within seven years. That accord has proved elusive to reach. After the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, a series of bombing in Jerusalem convinced many Israelis that peace was unlikely and they voted in Israeli opposition leader Prime Minister Netanyahu. He was followed by Prime Minister Barak. Barak attempted to reach a peace agreement. Prime Minister Barak and Palestinian Authority head Yassir Arafat met at Camp David. At that meeting Barak offered to give up almost all of the West Bank That conference broke down over two central points- The Right of Return of Palestinian refugees to their pre 1948 homes, something which Israel has claimed would ultimately result in the creation of two Palestinian states and the question of who would control the mount. To Jews the mount represents the location of the First and Second Temples.To Muslims it is the third most holy site in Islam. Following the breakdown of talks the Israeli opposition leader of the time Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. That visit was used as an excuse for the Palestinians to resort to violence. That violence became known as the Second Intifada, and included repeated suicide bombings on Israeli buses, restaurants and other public faces. Ariel Sharon became the Prime Minister after defeating Barak in an early election. After a particularly deadly bombing on Passover eve Israel reoccupied the major cities of the West Bank and brought an end to he terror wave.

With the terror wave stopping Sharon engaged in a two fold strategy, building a security fence between Israel and the West Bank and engaging in a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza the Hamas a Palestinian opposition group who refused to recognize the agreements between the Palestinians and Israel seized power in Gaza. They intermittently fired rockets into Israel resulting in three short wars with Israel. In the first in 2008 in which Hamas rocket fire caused considerable damage and injuries, forced Israel to send ground troops into Gaza. During the second round in 2012 Israel had deployed an missile defense system called Iron Dome. This limited the effectiveness of the Hamas missiles and as a result Israel was able to limits its response to air attacks. In the third round in 2014 the Israeli missile defense system proved very effective again, but the Hamas responded by attacks via tunnels. This forced Israel once again to respond on the ground and enter part of Gaza to destroy the tunnels. Since 2014 and uneasy quiet has reigned.


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