By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, July 17, 2006; 6:49 PM
Israel's conflict with the Palestinians dates back more than half a century. Thousands of Palestinians were displaced by the 1948 conflict sparked by the creation of the Jewish state. With one of the world's most effective and well-armed militaries, the Jewish state defeated Arab armies in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Israel also put down two Palestinian uprisings while continuing to settle territories once claimed by Arabs and to pursue peace negotiations with Palestinian leaders.
Israel has repeatedly taken military action in Lebanon to repel its armed enemies. In 1968, Israel responded to Palestinian firing on Israeli airliner by blowing up 13 civilian passenger planes at Beirut's airport. In 1978, Israeli forces attacked Palestinian forces using southern Lebanon to stage attacks on Israeli civilians. In 1982, they invaded Lebanon seeking to drive out Palestinian forces led by Yasser Arafat and to establish a pro-Israeli government led by Lebanese allies. An estimated 18,000 people died in that conflict, the vast majority of them civilians, according to human rights groups.
By 1985, Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon to a 10-mile buffer zone on Israel's northern border. The failed invasion caused a political crisis in Israel that discredited its chief architect, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. When Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that emerged in the wake of the Israeli invasion, began attacking Israeli troops and firing short-range missiles into Jewish border settlements, Israel responded with military campaigns in 1993 and 1996 to clear the area of Hezbollah supporters. An estimated 150 civilians were killed in the latter action. In 2000, Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon altogether.
Israel has also pursued peace negotiations with Palestinians, starting with the 1993 Oslo accords, which envisioned the creation of a Palestinian state on territory relinquished by Israel. The agreements were rejected by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups, which launched a series of suicide bombings on Israeli buses in 1995 and 1996, killing scores of people and undermining public support for the peace accords. Negotiations continued through 2000, culminating in talks brokered by President Clinton at Camp David where Israelis presented what they thought was a generous offer to settle remaining differences. The Palestinians rejected the offer as a recipe for Israeli domination.
Shortly thereafter, Palestinian street protests turned into a violent uprising known as Al Aqsah intifada. Israel refused to deal with Arafat and launched a counteroffensive, including tighter control of the Palestinian population, the targeted assassination of Palestinian leaders and the construction of security barrier to prevent Palestinians from entering Israeli territory. The intifada wound down in 2004 as Hamas and other rejectionist groups, reeling from Israeli actions, called off further attacks.
With no acceptable Palestinian negotiating partner, Israel turned to unilateral moves to improve its security. In September 2005, Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza, leaving the territory under Palestinian control. When Hamas swept parliamentary elections in January 2006 to take control of the Palestinian government, Israel and the United States responded by seeking to cut off virtually all international assistance to the Hamas-led government.
When Hamas militants captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on June 25, Israeli forces reentered Gaza seeking to pressure the Palestinians into releasing him.