Current Events in Israel-Palestine Relations
Since January 2004, the Palestinians and Israel have been engaged in a Hamas-proposed ten-year truce, which will result in Israel's phased withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank. Though the truce has been generally observed, Hamas has engaged in a handful of attacks against Israel, and prior to their 2005 withdrawal from the territories, Israeli forces attacked settlements in Gaza, in order to kill Hamas gunmen.
Israel officially withdrew from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, ending its military rule, but maintaining control over the Gaza airspace and coastline. The Palestinian Authority has praised this step, but feels that retaining control over the airspace and seaways still constitutes an Israeli occupation.
Hamas protested the legitimacy of the 2005 Palestinian presidential election, in which Mahmoud Abbas replaced Yasser Arafat. The Abbas campaign had promoted the idea of peaceful negotiation and a non-violent approach toward Israel. Hamas followed this up with a victory in the parliamentary elections of 2006. This electoral victory removed the Fatah party from power. A military conflict ensued, which ended with Fatah being relegated to the West Bank and Hamas gaining control of the Gaza Strip. Soon after, Western powers placed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Gaza. As a result, the Palestinian population in the region experienced widespread unemployment and began to rely on an extensive black market economy for everyday goods. Food supplies and goods and materials of all kinds are smuggled into Gaza through a series of hundreds of tunnels constructed along Gaza's southern border. United Nations officials reported in January 2008 that the blockade on Gaza was beginning to have a critical impact on the region's population.
Further, the United States and European nations identified Hamas as a terrorist organization and viewed its rule of the Palestinian Authority as illegitimate. In order to resolve the economic pressures placed on the Palestinian Authority by the US and Europeans, the Hamas-led Palestinian government announced that it would resign to allow a new "Unity" government to take power, working with Chairman Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. The goal of this government was based on the reopening talks with Israel. A new peace plan sponsored by France and Spain had intended to help the Palestinians install a more moderate cabinet, aiding the peace talks with Israel.
On December 27, 2008, the Israeli military launched a full-scale military effort against Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip. The initial operation involved wide-scale aerial engagement of targets within the Gaza Strip by the Israeli air force. On January 3, 2009, Israel's military action against Hamas began to implement ground forces, with Israeli troops, tanks and artillery crossing into the Gaza Strip along the northern border.
International leaders, including representatives of the United States and the United Nations, reacted to Israel's incursion into the Gaza Strip by repeatedly stating that aggression between both sides should halt immediately so that an armistice can be reached. Israel reacted by stating it was acting in its own defense against forces that continue to target its people, and that it would not halt its action until it was convinced that Hamas's ability to wage rocket attacks was significantly curtailed. As the campaign continued, widespread civilian casualties among Palestinians were reported. Although Israeli forces continued to attest that they avoid civilian casualties wherever possible, they claimed that Hamas forces use civilian infrastructure such as schools and mosques to store weapons and artilleries. United Nations officials reported that the situation in the Gaza Strip had developed into a humanitarian crisis, with the population being left without adequate supplies of food, water and access to medical care. As of mid-January 2009, no significant progress toward a ceasefire had been made by international officials or by representatives of Israel and Hamas.