The Turning Points in the Arab Israeli Conflict


A brief introduction

In the history of the Arab Israeli conflict, there are many important events. Some of these events constitute a time at which a decisive change occurs affecting the course of the conflict. It is key for those interested in the Middle East politics to understand the turning points in the Arab Israeli conflict that had transformed the rules of the game in the conflict, and gave it different dimensions as they occurred. These events are World War II, the Israeli independence, the Six-Day war, the 1973 war , the 1982 Israeli  invasion of Lebanon, the Intifada and the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. Focusing on these events does not mean that other events (major and minor such as the 1956 Suez War, the shooting of the Palestinian kid Muhammad al-Dura, the suicide attacks carried by the different Palestinian groups, the Gaza war etc...) are insignificant. The significance of these events –that I did not consider as turning points-  simply do not reach as far as changing the course of the conflict.

World War II (1939-1945)

The Churchill White Paper documents called for a bi-national independent state in Palestine where Arabs share government with Jews .The paper also suggested imposing limits on the number of Jews immigrating to Palestine (Bickerton and Klausner 2016, 136-137). Putting together Arab and Jewish rejection of the White Paper and the tragic WWII events of the Holocaust led the Jews of Israel demand the British to repeal the White Paper and authorize Holocaust survivors to move to Israel. The British refusal led to many terrorist attacks against British interests. Planned by Menachem Begin, later to become an Israeli prime minister, the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946 was an example showing the humiliation of the British (Bickerton and Klausner 2016, 161). A humiliation that will later lead to the end of the British mandate over Palestine and the return of the mandate to the United Nations in 1948.

Israeli Independence (1948)

The declaration of Israel’s independence is a turning point in the Arab Israeli conflict. In May 1948, the United Kingdom relinquished its Mandate over Palestine and disengaged its forces. On the same day, the Jewish Agency proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel on the territory allotted to it by the partition plan. Fierce hostilities immediately broke out between the Arab and Jewish communities. The next day, regular troops of the neighboring Arab States intervened to assist Palestinian Arabs (The United Nations 2003). If the World War II ramifications led to stronger Jewish nationalism and assertion of the right of Holocaust survivors to immigrate to Palestine, the declaration of independence provided Jewish nationalism with a state and opened the door for a worldwide Jewish immigration the newly created state of Israel on the territories drawn in the UN partition plan. This event also marked the beginning of military and paramilitary confrontations between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. The creation of the state of Israel followed by hostilities that created a major humanitarian crisis, with almost 750,000 Palestinians uprooted from their land and becoming refugees (Ibid). The uprooting of Palestinians from their lands in the newly created state would factor into one of the major obstacles to peace in decades to come, which is the Palestinian refugees’ right to return.

The Six-Day war

The Six-Day war in 1967 marked a spectacular victory by Israel. The new map of Israel expanded three times larger compared to 1949 (Bickerton and Klausner 2016, 284). The 1967 war ramifications pushed Palestinians to live under Arab governments where an authentic manifestation of the desire of Palestinian Arabs for self-determination grew as the years passed. Palestinian groups representing Palestinian interests came into being and Palestinians realized that they were facing two enemies –reactionary Arab regimes and Israel-, which led to the significant growth of Palestinian nationalism that culminated in a reorganized Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat in late 1960s (Bickerton and Klausner 2016, 285). The 1967 war is crucial to the redefinition of Israel’s internationally recognized borders (1967 borders) and the growth and consolidation of Palestinian nationalism.

The 1973 War

If Israel’s war against Arab neighbors was stunning in 1967, in 1973 war Israel came close to losing and suffered important economic and human losses.  Israel could, however maintain military superiority. The 1973 war helped Egypt regain territories lost to Israel and paved the way for diplomacy at least with Egypt and Jordan. The 1973 war has proven that the Arabs could cooperate and that they could keep their intentions a secret. It showed that Arab soldiers could fight bravely and well when properly trained and motivated and that they could handle the most technologically advanced weapons. It also proved that Israel was not invincible (Bickerton and Klausner 2016, 325). This war marks the first time Israel withdraws from territories it had occupied in a military conflict. It marked an end to the idea that Israel is an expansionist state, gave hope to the Arabs who were not engaged in the post 1973 peace process that coordinated military effort can bring back lost territories. At the same time, this war created a precedence in the engagement of diplomacy in the management of the Arab Israeli conflict with Israel, Egypt and Jordan first on board.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon (1982)

Charles D. Frielich in study “Israel in Lebanon—Getting It Wrong: The 1982 Invasion, 2000 Withdrawal, and 2006 War” states: “the war in 1982 was designed to be a short operation. Indeed, the primary military phase –the actual invasion- was. Once the invasion ended, however, Israel’s entire strategy began unraveling and this episode proved to be just the beginning of an eighteen-year saga in Lebanon. Israel staged a partial withdrawal in 1983 and in 1985 withdrew to a narrow “security zone” along the border. By 1984, Syria had recovered from the fighting and succeeded in reasserting its control over Lebanon, forcing it to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel and ending the Israeli–Maronite alliance. Radicalization of the Shiites, partially in response to the invasion, contributed to the establishment of Hezbollah at this time (Freilich 2012, 44). In brief, the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and underestimation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s involvement with a major Shiite population in Southern Lebanon –deeply affected by this invasion- led to the formation of a fundamentalist and yet militarily sophisticated organization (Hezbollah) that will design the first Israel defeat in the Arab Israeli conflict. In the past, the PLO –Israel aimed to eradicate from Lebanon- could be persuaded by the Arab countries to accept the consensus of the Arabs.  In other words, the PLO demands were manageable and not religiously indoctrinated. Today, Israel due the Lebanese invasion have to deal with Hezbollah, a greater force embracing an unmanageable religious ideology. This war extended the conflict to include Iran and its proxies and further pushed away Syria from the peace prospects.

The 1987 Intifada

The first Intifada affected the course of the conflict because it had led to a series of events that brought new dimensions.  The uprising gave birth to Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas -backed by Iran and inspired by Hezbollah-. The Intifada led to the Jordanian disengagement from the West Bank. Following was the Declaration of the State of Palestine at the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers in 1988. The intifada also paved the way for Arafat to condemn terrorism –As his authority was challenged by the growing Islamist Hamas movement-, accepts UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and recognizes the State of Israel (JMCC 2009). According to B’Tselem, 1,489 Palestinians were killed along with 185 Israelis. Among the victims, 304 Palestinians were minors and 94 Israelis were civilians (Ibid). The Likud ruling started losing support gradually until the Labor took over in 1992 when bilateral peace negotiations started. The Intifada brought Islamic radicalism to the Palestinian political scene competing with the secular forces led by the Fatah in the PLO which forced Arafat to recognize Israel and open up for peace. The same Intifada led to the downfall of the Likud and the power shift in favor of the Labor party, the only major party in Israel that could engage in the peace process.

The Israeli Withdrawal from Lebanon (2000)

The Unilateral withdrawal of Israel from Southern Lebanon in 2000 while under continuous attacks by Hezbollah marked the first ever-recorded defeat of Israel in the Arab Israeli conflict. Every year, Arabist and Islamist organizations celebrate what they call “the anniversary of the defeat of Israel” (Alalam 2015). Israeli politicians see the unilateral withdrawal as a strategic anathema. Ehud Barak sought to create an “invisible wall” of international legitimacy, which would deny Hezbollah justification for further attacks (Freilich 2012, 48). However, the withdrawal was more perceived in the context of the Arab Israeli conflict as a major military score on the Arab side and would inspire a greater belief in violence for land rather than land for peace.  According to Freilich, One of the primary reasons for the perceived failure of the unilateral withdrawal in 2000 was the outbreak of the second Intifada (Ibid). The 2000 withdrawal has given a new direction in the conflict where the Islamic Republic of Iran, the state behind the first perceived Israeli military defeat since its creation in 1948, would be the official sponsor in the fight against Israel. Iran’s new involvement brought ambiguity to conflict where the Iranian backed parties seem to rely more on religious views –often messianic- rather than views based on international legitimacy.




Alalam. 2015. How Hezbollah Changed Israeli Occupation into a Defeat in 2000. Accessed July 30, 2017.

Bickerton, Ian, and Carla L. Klausner. 2016. A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. London and New York: Routeledge.

Freilich, Charles D. 2012. Israel in Lebanon—Getting It Wrong: The 1982 Invasion, 2000 Withdrawal and 2006 War. Vol. 6. Accessed July 28, 2017.

JMCC. 2009. The 1st Intifada. Accessed July 29, 2017.

The United Nations. 2003. The Question of Palestine. Accessed July 28, 2017.

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