Timeline of the Middle East conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian struggle remains one of the most complex and most enduring of all the world's conflicts. Photo: Mikhail/Shutterstock
The Israeli-Palestinian struggle remains one of the most complex and most enduring of all the world's conflicts. Photo: Mikhail/Shutterstock
Published April 15, 2014

The land between the Jordan River and the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, which both Palestinians and Israelis claim, has been settled, resettled, conquered and reconquered throughout history, as far back as biblical times.

Here are some of the key historic events in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, which remains one of the most intractable conflicts in the world.



The Zionist Movement is formed in response to growing anti-Semitism in Europe.


Zionists begin immigrating to Palestine, then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.


The First Zionist Congress meets and issues the Basel Program, establishing for the Jewish people “a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.”

1903 to 1914

Photo: Reuters

About 35,000 Jews, most from Eastern Europe, arrive in Palestine and live alongside Arabs, still under Ottoman Rule. By 1914, the population in Palestine includes 657,000 Muslim Arabs, 81,000 Christian Arabs and 59,000 Jews.


Britain pledges support for Arab independence.


Britain issues the Balfour Declaration, which pledges its support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”


Photo: syriatoday.ca

Britain launches an offensive in Palestine, ending the rule of the Ottoman Empire and designating an area as British-mandate Palestine. The League of Nations entrusts Britain to administer Palestine in the aftermath of World War I.


Britain hands over the region east of the Jordan River to its ally, Emir Abdullah, to form the Emirate of Trans-Jordan.


Jewish population rises to 11 per cent of Palestine, causing unrest in the Arab community.


The Palestine Riots, also known as the Western Wall Uprisings, erupt; violence escalates as a result of long-simmering conflict over communal religious rights to Jerusalem’s Western Wall (the Wailing Wall).

1936 to 1939

“The Great Arab Revolt,” or “The Great Arab Uprising,” takes place. It includes a general strike and non-payment of taxes, and demands an end to Jewish immigration to Palestine, a ban on land sales to Jews, and a call for elections. More than 5,000 Arabs, 400 Jews and 200 Britons are killed.


A Royal Commission recommends the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state and a neutral sacred site state (to be administered by Britain). Jewish, Palestinian and British leaders reject the proposal.


Britain issues the MacDonald White Paper, which abandons partition of Palestine but creates an independent Palestine to be governed by Palestinian Arabs and Jews in proportion to their population, and severely curtails Jewish immigration to Palestine. Jewish and Arab leaders reject the proposal.


Photo: United Nations

Britain relinquishes its mandate over Palestine to the United Nations (UN). The General Assembly recommends creation of separate Jewish and Palestinian states. Palestinian and surrounding Arab state leaders reject the plan; a majority of their Jewish counterparts accept it.


Photo: United Nations

Britain withdraws from Palestine; David Ben-Gurion proclaims the State of Israel. The Arab-Israeli War breaks out when armies from five Arab states (Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq) invade Palestine. A Palestinian exodus begins, as 700,000 flee or are expelled from their homes. Israel annexes land under British-mandate Palestine. Jordan gains control over the West Bank; control over Jerusalem is split between Israel and Jordan.

1948 to 1960s

Photo: United Nations

Fighting continues.


The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is formed.


The Six Day War—June 5 to 10—results in Israel’s capture of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Old City of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Photo: United Nations

UN Security Council passes Resolution 242, which calls for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied” in 1967, and calls on Arab states to accept Israel’s right to “live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria accept the resolution; the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejects it until 1988. This resolution—though never fully implemented—has become the basis for subsequent peace talks and diplomatic efforts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.


“The Yom Kippur War,” or “The October War,” erupts; Egypt and Syria launch a surprise offensive against Israel in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights on the festival of Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year for Jewish people.

Photo: United Nations

The UN passes Resolution 338, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the start of peace negotiations to establish “a just and durable peace in the Middle East.”


Photo: US National Archives

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign the Camp David Accords, in which Israel hands back the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Arab states initiate a boycott against Egypt and expel it from the Arab League. In 1981, members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad assassinate Sadat.


August 16, 1982 – Time Magazine cover

The Israeli army,under then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon,invades Lebanon to block Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamic militant group, from staging attacks on Israel’s northern border. The attack, which extends to Beirut, drives Yasser Arafat’s PLO out of Lebanon and into Tunisia.


A Palestinian intifada (Arabic for “uprising”) against Israeli occupation erupts in Gaza and the West Bank. The clashes last until 1993.


Photo: United Nations

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat recognizes the State of Israel; the Palestinian National Council declares the State of Palestine, renounces terrorism and votes to accept a “two-state” solution as outlined in the 1947 UN Partition Plan 181. Israel refuses to negotiate.


Photo: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Arab states (except Egypt) and Israel sit down, for the first time, for a peace conference in Madrid.


Photo: Vince Musi/The White House

Israeli and PLO negotiators begin secret talks in Oslo, Norway. Israel recognizes the PLO and grants them limited autonomy in exchange for peace; the PLO gives up claims to Israel’s territory as defined by borders before the 1967 war. On Sept. 13, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat sign a Declaration of Principles, sealing it with a historic handshake at the U.S. White House.


Israel and the PLO reach an agreement for withdrawal of Israeli forces from most of the Gaza Strip and from the Palestinian town of Jericho in the West Bank. Talks almost end when a Jewish settler in Hebron fires on Palestinians praying at a mosque, killing 29 people.


Photo: United Nations

Arafat returns to Gaza; he is elected president of the new Palestinian National Authority in 1996.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Rabin, Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.



Photo: Arkady Mazor/Shutterstock

On Sept. 24, Afafat and Rabin sign the Oslo II agreement, which divides the West bank into three zones and outlines the second stage of Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands.

Rabin is assassinated on Nov. 4 by a Jewish religious extremist; Shimon Peres becomes prime minister.


Hamas, an Islamist political group opposed to the Oslo peace process, stage a series of suicide bombings in Israel.

Shimon Peres loses to Benjamin Netanyahu in the election for prime minister; Netanyahu, who campaigned against the Oslo accords, lifts the freeze on building new settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.


Prime Minister Netanyahu hands over 80 per cent of Hebron to Palestinian rule.


On Oct. 23, Netanyahu signs the Wye River Memorandum, brokered by the United States (U.S.), which outlines further Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.


Photo: Chameleons Eye/Shutterstock

Netanyahu loses an election to Ehud Barak; the five-year interim period defined by the Oslo accords passes.

A new Wye River accord is signed, with the goal of reviving peace negotiations.


In February, Barak and Arafat meet in a summit, but disagree over terms of withdrawal; in March, Israel hands over 6.1 per cent of the West Bank to Palestinians as part of the 1998 Wye River Memorandum.

In May, Israel unilaterally withdraws from the area of Lebanon it has occupied since 1982. In July, a peace summit between Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the U.S. presidential retreat, Camp David, fails.

Two months later, Likud leader Ariel Sharon tours the al-Aqsa/Temple Mount. His visit inflames Palestinians, and demonstrations erupt into a second intifida.

In December, Barak resigns as prime minister.


Israelis elect Ariel Sharon as prime minister; he abandons the land-for-peace formula and intensifies attacks on Palestinian militants, who retaliate by stepping up suicide bombings.


Photo: Nedal Shtieh – APA Images

Attacks and counter-attacks between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces continue; Israel re-occupies most of the West Bank.

Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

Israel begins building a barrier in the West Bank.


Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is appointed prime minister; in April, the U.S. publishes a road map for a negotiated Palestinian state. In June, Abbas calls for an end to the intifada, and Sharon declares support for “a democratic Palestinian state at peace with Israel.” Seven weeks later, violence resumes from both sides.

Photo: Atef Safadi – EPA

Abbas resigns in September and is replaced by Arafat loyalist, Ahmed Qurei.

Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

Construction of the concrete barrier continues on the West Bank.


Violence continues; Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is killed in a missile attack in March.

Photo: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Sharon announces plan to withdraw 8,000 settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip and from small settlements in the northern West Bank.

Arafat dies in November. Mahmoud Abbas succeeds him as chair of the PLO.


Abbas and Sharon announce a mutual ceasefire. Israel withdraws from parts of Gaza, despite protests from Israeli settlers.


Sharon suffers a stroke and falls into a coma; Ehud Olmert becomes Israel’s prime minister.



Hamas militants capture Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli sports columnist and former soldier of the Israeli Defense Forces. Israeli forces enter the southern Gaza Strip to free Shalit, bombing several areas and seizing Hamas officials. A battle ensues between Palestinian and Israeli forces.

Violence erupts between Fatah—which supports a two-state solution to the conflict—and Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist.


Photo Hatem Omar

In February, Fatah and Hamas meet in Mecca and agree to form a unity government; in July, Hamas forces take control of Gaza.

US Navy photo by Gin Kai/Wikimedia Commons

U.S. President George Bush hosts a conference in November, aimed at relaunching peace talks.


Ehud Olmert resigns as prime minister of Israel, following a corruption inquiry.

Photo: Kalil Hamra

Hamas agrees to a ceasefire with Israel in June, but clashes resume after six months. Israel tightens its blockade on the Gaza Strip.


White House photo by Pete Souza

Israel announces a 10-month settlement freeze on the West Bank.


Photo: Free Gaza Movement

Israeli naval forces carry out a raid on six ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing nine activists.


Photo: Eldad Carin/Shutterstock

Intermittent attacks and fighting continue.


Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Hamas and Israel agree to a ceasefire, mediated by Egypt.

Photo: United Nations

2013 to 2014

Photo: US State Department

In September, the U.S. hosts talks with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to revive the peace process. Ongoing negotiations, scheduled to last up to nine months, are expected to reach final status by mid-2014.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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