Background  
History, Maps, Glossary
  
History from PCUSA

________________________



We must think differently, look at things in a different way.
 Peace requires a world of new concepts, new definitions.
            Yitzhak Rabin
The material on this page is a compilation of articles primarily found at two webpages of the Presbyterian Church USA:
    http://www.pcusa.org/worldwide/israelpalestine/background.htm#1
    http://www.pcusa.org/worldwide/israelpalestine/merip.htm
(Therefore you will find that some sections repeat a few details from those just above them.)

We have used the Presbyterian sources for we appreciate their effort at objectivity and their recognition of areas where the historical record is much disputed.

The Presbyterian website provided links to two others to augment their own information, and we have inserted that additional information in the appropriate places below, and cited those where they occur.

- One of those additional sources is the BBC news website: http://news.bbc.co.uk
- The other is a resource from End the Occupation:
   Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer by Phyllis Bennis
         http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?list=type&type=52

To read more of the "Primer" by Phyllis Bennis, click here>>

What is the background of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict?


Genesis and Evolution of the Conflict1

Contrary to a diversionary, popular myth that “Arabs and Jews have fought for two thousand years,” it may be rightly asserted that the beginning of that conflict is traceable to the end of World War I, when European powers brought an end to more than four centuries of Ottoman domination in the Middle East. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the region was carved up by the Europeans into countries with boundaries that protected their interests in trade and in the area's resources.

The Land and the People

In the 19th century, following a trend that began earlier in Europe, people around the world began to identify themselves as nations and to demand national rights, foremost the right to self-rule in a state of their own (self-determination and sovereignty). Jews and Palestinians both began to develop a national consciousness, and mobilized to achieve national goals. Because Jews were spread across the world (in diaspora), their national movement, Zionism, entailed the identification of a place where Jews could come together through the process of immigration and settlement. Palestine seemed the logical and optimal place, since this was the site of Jewish origin. The Zionist movement began in 1882 with the first wave of European Jewish immigration to Palestine.

At that time, the land of Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. However, this area did not constitute a single political unit. The northern districts of Acre and Nablus were part of the province of Beirut. The district of Jerusalem was under the direct authority of the Ottoman capital of Istanbul because of the international significance of the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem as religious centers for Muslims, Christians and Jews. According to Ottoman records, in 1878 there were 462,465 subject inhabitants of the Jerusalem, Nablus and Acre districts: 403,795 Muslims (including Druze), 43,659 Christians and 15,011 Jews. In addition, there were perhaps 10,000 Jews with foreign citizenship (recent immigrants to the country), and several thousand Muslim Arab nomads (bedouin) who were not counted as Ottoman subjects. The great majority of the Arabs (Muslims and Christians) lived in several hundred rural villages. Jaffa and Nablus were the largest and economically most important Arab towns.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, most Jews living in Palestine were concentrated in four cities with religious significance: Jerusalem, Hebron, Safad and Tiberias. Most of them observed traditional, orthodox religious practices. Many spent their time studying religious texts and depended on the charity of world Jewry for survival. Their attachment to the land was religious rather than national, and they were not involved in -- or supportive of -- the Zionist movement which began in Europe and was brought to Palestine by immigrants. Most of the Jews who immigrated from Europe lived a more secular lifestyle and were committed to the goals of creating a Jewish nation and building a modern, independent Jewish state. By the outbreak of World War I (1914), the population of Jews in Palestine had risen to about 60,000, about 33,000 of whom were recent settlers. The Arab population in 1914 was 683,000.

Who are the Palestinians?

      Today this term refers to the Arabs -- Christian, Muslim and Druze -- whose historical roots can be traced to the territory of Palestine as defined by the British mandate borders. About 3 million Palestinians now live within this area, which is divided between the state of Israel, and the West Bank and Gaza; these latter areas were captured and occupied by Israel in 1967. Today, over 700,000 Palestinians are citizens of Israel, living inside the country's 1949 armistice borders. About 1.2 million live in the West Bank (including 200,000 in East Jerusalem) and about one million in the Gaza Strip. The remainder of the Palestinian people, perhaps another 3 million, lives in diaspora, outside the country they claim as their national homeland.            

The largest Palestinian diaspora community, approximately 1.3 million, is in Jordan. Many of them still live in the refugee camps that were established in 1949, although others live in cities and towns. Lebanon and Syria also have large Palestinian populations, many of whom still live in refugee camps. Many Palestinians have moved to Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries to work, and some have moved to other parts of the Middle East or other parts of the world. Jordan is the only Arab state to grant citizenship to the Palestinians who live there. Palestinians in Arab states generally do not enjoy the same rights as the citizens of those states. The situation of the refugees in Lebanon is especially dire; many Lebanese blame Palestinians for the civil war that wracked that country from 1975-91, and demand that they be resettled elsewhere in order for the Lebanese to maintain peace in their country. The Christian population of Lebanon is particularly anxious to rid the country of the mainly Muslim Palestinians because of a fear that they threaten the delicate balance among the country's religious groups.

Although many Palestinians still live in refugee camps and slums, others have become economically successful. Palestinians now have the highest per capita rate of university graduates in the Arab world. Their diaspora experience has contributed to a high level of politicization of all sectors of the Palestinian people.

Who are the Palestinians? Where did they come from?
From End the Occupation

Palestinian Arabs are descendants of the vast Arab/Islamic empire that from the seventh century, had dominated Palestine with the rise of Arabic language and Arab/Islamic culture.--While the majority of Palestinians were peasants, Palestinian cities, especially Jerusalem, were hubs of Arab civilization, where scholars, poets and scientists congregated and where, enriched by a constant influx of traders, they forged the city's identity as an important national center.--Islam's religious and moral teachings remained the dominant social forces, but small indigenous Jewish communities remained. They were the remnants of Palestine's ancient Jewish kingdom that was conquered by Rome in 70 AD, its people largely scattered.--Along with groups of Christians, those Palestinian Jews maintained their faith and separate communal identities within broader Palestinian society throughout the rise of Islam. Like most parts of the Arab world, national consciousness for Palestinians grew in the context of demographic changes and shifts in colonial control. During the 400 years of Ottoman Turkish control, Palestine was an identifiable region within the larger empire, but linked closely with what was then known as Greater Syria.

With World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine became part of the British Empire. But even before that, beginning in the 1880s, the increasing influx of European Jewish settlers, brought about a new national identity--a distinctly Palestinian consciousness--among the Muslims and Christians who were the overwhelming majority of Palestinian society. The indigenous Palestinians-Muslims and Christians- fought the colonial ambitions of European Jewish settlers, British colonial rule during the inter-war period, and the Israeli occupation since 1948 and 1967.

Who are the Israelis? Where did they come from?
From End the Occupation

Israel defines itself as a state of and for the Jewish people, and about 80 percent of the population are Jews. It is, however, a country of immigrants, and unlike the indigenous Palestinian Israelis, the vast majority of Jewish Israelis (or their ancestors) have come to Israel from all over the world in the last 120 years, but mostly since 1948. The tiny communities of indigenous and intensely orthodox Jewish communities in places like Safed and Jerusalem, have largely remained separate from mainstream or even the "regular" ultra-orthodox Israeli Jewish population.

Two-thirds or so of Israel's Jews are Arabs--they or their ancestors emigrated to Israel from Morocco or Yemen, from Iraq or elsewhere in the Arab world. A small percentage of Israeli Jews are Africans, mainly Ethiopians; and the rest are what is known as Ashkenazi, or European Jews, of which about one-fifth are Russians who arrived in the 1990s.

It was European and Russian Jews, back in the 1880s, who first began significant Jewish immigration to what was then Ottoman Turkish- and later British-ruled Palestine. They came fleeing persecution and violent pogroms, or communal attacks, in czarist Russia and eastern Europe, and they came in answer to mobilizations organized by a movement known as Zionism, which called for all Jews to leave their countries of origin to live in a Jewish state in Palestine. The use of Hebrew, created as a modern language in the early 1900s, an orientation towards Europe and the U.S. rather than to the neighboring Middle East, and nearly universal military service (excepting only Arabs and ultra-orthodox Jews) became the central anchors around which national consciousness was built.

Israel defines itself as a state of the entire Jewish people, not simply a state for its own citizens. It encourages Jewish immigration through what is known as the Law of Return, under which any Jew born anywhere in the world, with or without pre-existing ties to Israel, has the right to claim immediate citizenship upon arrival in Israel, and the right to all the privileges of being Jewish in a Jewish state--including state-financed language classes, housing, job placement, medical and welfare benefits, etc. In most circumstances only Jews have the right to immigrate to Israel; the indigenous Palestinians and their ancestors are denied that right despite the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

What's the difference between Jews and Israelis?
From End the Occupation

Technically Jews are a religious grouping; in the real world Jews are defined by a complex web of religious, cultural, ethnic and other communal ties. Israelis (excluding Palestinian citizens of Israel) are Jews who are Israeli citizens.

Language often gets confusing, and is often used in sloppy ways, both internationally and within Israel itself, where "Jews" is often used interchangeably with "Israelis" or "settlers." As a result, Palestinians in the occupied territories often fall into the habit of conflating the terms.

The Zionist Movement

At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the area known as Palestine, by then marginalized by the Ottomans, was home to more than 600,000 Muslim and Christian Arabs, and 25,000 Jews. 2 Most of the latter segment of that population was brought to Palestine from Europe as part of a movement, known as the “Zionist Movement,” 3 that sought to provide Jews safety from waves of anti-Semitism, and to resettle them in a homeland related to the ancient people of biblical Israel. Another 40,000 European Jews had been added to Palestine's population by 1914 when World War I started; though by the time it ended, the Jewish population of the area had dropped from about 85,000 to 56,000, 4 through emigration.

Zionism
                                 
      Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, is a modern political movement. Its core beliefs are that all Jews constitute one nation (not simply a religious or ethnic community) and that the only solution to anti-Semitism is the concentration of as many Jews as possible in Palestine/Israel and the establishment of a Jewish state there. The World Zionist Organization, established by Theodor Herzl in 1897, declared that the aim of Zionism was to establish "a national home for the Jewish people secured by public law."

Zionism drew on Jewish religious attachment to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel). But the politics of Zionism was influenced by nationalist ideology, and by colonial ideas about Europeans' rights to claim and settle other parts of the world.

Zionism gained adherents among Jews support from the West as a consequence of the murderous anti-Jewish riots (known as pogroms) in the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Nazi genocide (mass murder) of European Jews during World War II killed over six million, and this disaster enhanced international support for the creation of a Jewish state.

There are several different forms of Zionism. From the 1920s until the 1970s, the dominant form was Labor Zionism, which sought to link socialism and nationalism. By the 1920s, Labor Zionists in Palestine established the kibbutz movement (a kibbutz is a collective commune, usually with an agricultural economy), the Jewish trade union and cooperative movement, the main Zionist militias (the Haganah and Palmah) and the political parties that ultimately coalesced in the Israeli Labor Party in 1968.

The top leader of Labor Zionism was David Ben-Gurion, who became the first Prime Minister of Israel.

A second form of Zionism was the Revisionist movement led by Vladimir Jabotinsky. They earned the name "Revisionist" because they wanted to revise the boundaries of Jewish territorial aspirations and claims beyond Palestine to include areas east of the Jordan River. In the 1920s and 1930s, they differed from Labor Zionists by declaring openly the objective to establish a Jewish state (rather than the vaguer formula of a "national home") in Palestine. And they believed that armed force would be required to establish such a state. Their pre-state organizations that included the Betar youth movement and the ETZEL (National Military Organization) formed the core of what became the Herut (Freedom) Party after Israeli independence. This party subsequently became the central component of the Likud Party, the largest right wing Israeli party since the 1970s

Although many Jews became Zionists by the early 20th century, until the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany and the institution of a "Final Solution" to exterminate world Jewry, most Jews were not Zionists. Most orthodox Jews were anti-Zionist. They believed that only God should reunite Jews in the Promised Land, and regarded Zionism as a violation of God's will. Some Jews in other parts of the world, including the United States, opposed Zionism out of concern that their own position and rights as citizens in their countries would be at risk if Jews were recognized as a distinct national (rather than religious) group. But the horrors of the Holocaust significantly diminished Jewish opposition or antipathy to Zionism, and following World War II most Jews throughout the world came to support the Zionist movement and demand the creation of an independent Jewish state.

Although orthodox Jews continued to oppose the creation of a Jewish state for several more decades, they supported mass settlement of Jews in Palestine as a means of strengthening and protecting the community. And following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, most orthodox Jews who previously had resisted Zionism adopted the belief that Israel's overwhelming victory in the war was a sign of God's support, and a fulfillment of God's promise to bring about the Messianic era. The areas captured and occupied in 1967, especially the West Bank, were important to religious Jews because they are the core of the biblical Land of Israel (Judea and Samaria). Consequently, Israel's victory in 1967 gave rise to a more religious variation of Zionism. Some existing political parties representing orthodox Jews came to embrace religious nationalism, and new parties and movements formed to advocate Israel's permanent control and extensive Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza.

The religious-nationalist parties and groups that constitute the far right of the Israeli political spectrum maintain a hard line on matters relating to territory and the Arab-Israeli conflict. They have allied with the Likud Party. Although the Labor Party also has supported Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza, a key difference is a willingness to consider a territorial compromise with Palestinians as a means of ending the conflict. The Likud and its allies oppose any territorial withdrawal. In 1977, the Likud won the national election, for the first time unseating the Labor Party that had governed Israel since independence. Since then, Likud and Labor have alternated as the governing party, sometimes forming coalition governments when neither could achieve a clear electoral victory.

A minority of Jewish Israelis belongs to left-wing Zionist parties, which formed a political coalition known as Meretz in the 1980s. Meretz often joins Labor-led governments. Leftist Zionists are fully committed to maintaining Israel as a Jewish state, but tend to be more willing than the Labor Party to compromise on territorial issues, and have relatively greater sympathy for Palestinian national aspirations for a state of their own. A tiny minority of ultra-leftist Jewish Israelis identify themselves as non- or anti-Zionists. Some of them aspire to see all of Israel/Palestine transformed into a single state with citizenship and equal rights for all inhabitants, and others advocate the creation of a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sykes-Picot Agreement
from BBC website

The Sykes-Picot agreement was a secret understanding concluded in May 1916, during World War I, between Great Britain and France, with the assent of Russia, for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.

The agreement led to the division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine into various French and British-administered areas. The agreement took its name from its negotiators, Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and Georges Picot of France.

Some historians have pointed out that the agreement conflicted with pledges already given by the British to the Hashimite leader Husayn ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, who was about to lead an Arab revolt in the Hejaz against the Ottoman rulers on the understanding that the Arabs would eventually receive a much more important share of the territory won.

The Balfour Declaration
from BBC website

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was the first significant declaration by a world power in favour of a Jewish "national home" in what was known as Palestine.

Historians disagree as to what the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, intended by his declaration. The letter has no mention of the word "state", and insists that nothing should be done "which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".

The letter was addressed to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Britain. It became an important arm of the movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine.

The British Mandate in Palestine

By the early years of the 20th century, Palestine was becoming a trouble spot of competing territorial claims and political interests. The Ottoman Empire was weakening, and European powers were entrenching their grip on areas in the eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine. During 1915-16, as World War I was underway, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, secretly corresponded with Husayn ibn `Ali, the patriarch of the Hashemite family and Ottoman governor of Mecca and Medina. McMahon convinced Husayn to lead an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, which was aligned with Germany against Britain and France in the war. McMahon promised that if the Arabs supported Britain in the war, the British government would support the establishment of an independent Arab state under Hashemite rule in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, including Palestine. The Arab revolt, led by T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") and Husayn's son Faysal, was successful in defeating the Ottomans, and Britain took control over much of this area during World War I.

But Britain made other promises during the war that conflicted with the Husayn-McMahon understandings. In 1917, the British Foreign Minister, Lord Arthur Balfour, issued a declaration (the Balfour Declaration) announcing his government's support for the establishment of "a Jewish national home in Palestine." A third promise, in the form of a secret agreement, was a deal that Britain and France struck between themselves to carve up the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and divide control of the region.

After the war, Britain and France convinced the new League of Nations (precursor to the United Nations), in which they were the dominant powers, to grant them quasi-colonial authority over former Ottoman territories. The British and French regimes were known as mandates. France obtained a mandate over Syria, carving out Lebanon as a separate state with a (slight) Christian majority. Britain obtained a mandate over the areas which now comprise Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jordan.

In 1921, the British divided this region in two: east of the Jordan River became the Emirate of Transjordan, to be ruled by Faysal's brother 'Abdullah, and west of the Jordan River became the Palestine Mandate. This was the first time in modern history that Palestine became a unified political entity.

Throughout the region, Arabs were angered by Britain's failure to fulfill its promise to create an independent Arab state, and many opposed British and French control as a violation of their right to self-determination. In Palestine, the situation was more complicated because of the British promise to support the creation of a Jewish national home. The rising tide of European Jewish immigration, land purchases and settlement in Palestine generated increasing resistance by Palestinian Arab peasants, journalists and political figures. They feared that this would lead eventually to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Palestinian Arabs opposed the British Mandate because it thwarted their aspirations for self-rule, and opposed massive Jewish immigration because it threatened their position in the country.

In 1920 and 1921, clashes broke out between Arabs and Jews in which roughly equal numbers of both groups were killed. In the 1920s, when the Jewish National Fund purchased large tracts of land from absentee Arab landowners, the Arabs living in these areas were evicted. These displacements led to increasing tensions and violent confrontations between Jewish settlers and Arab peasant tenants.

In 1928, Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem began to clash over their respective communal religious rights at the Wailing Wall (al-Buraq in the Muslim tradition). The Wailing Wall, the sole remnant of the second Jewish Temple, is one of the holiest sites for the Jewish people. But this site is also holy to Muslims, since the Wailing Wall is adjacent to the Temple Mount (the Noble Sanctuary in the Muslim tradition). On the mount is the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, believed to mark the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on a winged horse.

On August 15, 1929, members of the Betar youth movement (a pre-state organization of the Revisionist Zionists -- click here for more info) demonstrated and raised a Zionist flag over the Wailing Wall. Fearing that the Noble Sanctuary was in danger, Arabs responded by attacking Jews throughout the country. During the clashes, sixty-four Jews were killed in Hebron. Their Muslim neighbors saved others. The Jewish community of Hebron ceased to exist when its surviving members left for Jerusalem. During a week of communal violence, 133 Jews and 115 Arabs were killed and many wounded.

European Jewish immigration to Palestine increased dramatically after Hitler's rise to power in 1933, leading to new land purchases and Jewish settlements. Palestinian resistance to British control and Zionist settlement climaxed with the Arab revolt of 1936-39, which Britain suppressed with the help of Zionist militias and the complicity of neighboring Arab regimes. After crushing the Arab revolt, the British reconsidered their governing policies in an effort to maintain order in an increasingly tense environment. They issued a White Paper (a statement of political policy) limiting future Jewish immigration and land purchases. The Zionists regarded this as a betrayal of the Balfour Declaration and a particularly egregious act in light of the desperate situation of the Jews in Europe, who were facing extermination. The 1939 White Paper marked the end of the British-Zionist alliance. At the same time, the defeat of the Arab revolt and the exile of the Palestinian political leadership meant that the Palestinian Arabs were politically disorganized during the crucial decade in which the future of Palestine was decided.
     
British White Paper of 1939

It was during World War I that the British took control over the area, by encouraging an Arab rebellion against the Ottomans. An Arab revolt, led by T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) and Faisal, son of Hussein ibn Ali, patriarch of the Hashemite family and Ottoman governor of Mecca and Medina, had been the outcome of a secret agreement between Sir Henry McMahon, Britain's high commissioner in Egypt, and Hussein. However, Britain had made other promises during the war that conflicted with the McMahon-Hussein understandings. In 1917, the British Foreign Minister, Lord Arthur Balfour, issued a declaration (the “Balfour Declaration”) announcing his government's support for the establishment of a “Jewish national state in Palestine.” 5 Another promise was made between Britain and France that they would divide control over the region. The two nations subsequently persuaded the League of Nations, in which they were the dominant powers, to grant them authority over the former Ottoman territories. The British and French regimes were known as “mandates.” France obtained a mandate over Syria, carving out Lebanon as a separate state, while Britain obtained a mandate over Palestine (which now comprises Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip). 6 In 1921, the British divided this region into two parts: east of the Jordan River became the “Emirate of Transjordan,” to be ruled by Faisal's brother Abdullah, and west of the Jordan River became the Palestine Mandate. This was the first time in modern history that “Palestine” became a unified political entity. 7 In the ensuing period, Arab anger was mounting over the British failure to fulfill its promise to create an independent Arab state, and was fueled by Britain's promise to support the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Clashes of violence would break out between Arabs and Jews. In the 1920s, when the Jewish National Fund purchased large tracts of land from absentee Arab landowners, the Arabs living in these areas were evicted. Those displacements led to increased tension and violent confrontations between Jewish settlers and Arab peasant tenants. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 had become at once a consolidation of Britain's imperialist goals in Palestine, and a warrant for an envisioned future national, political entity for world Jewry. Reinforced by rising anti-Semitism in Europe and a growing sense of political nationalism among European Jews, more Jewish settlers immigrated to Palestine. Combined with sentiments of religious fervor over the sacred sites, Arabs and Zionist Jews continued to clash. During the summer of 1929 in a confrontation in Hebron, for example, sixty-four Jews were killed, while their Muslim neighbors saved others. In one week of communal violence, 113 Jews and 115 Arabs were killed and many more wounded. The Jewish community ceased to exist when its surviving members left for Jerusalem. 8 A tidal wave of manifest racism that spread with the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in 1933 led to the horrific tragedy of the Jewish Holocaust in Germany in which about six million Jews were tortured and exterminated. Mass emigration of European Jewish survivors ensued; and large numbers of immigrants were taken by Zionist organizations to Palestine, leading to new land purchases and the establishment of Jewish settlements there. Palestinian resistance to British control and Zionist settlements climaxed in the Arab revolt of 1936-39, which Britain suppressed with the help of Zionist militias and the complicity of neighboring Arab regimes. After crushing the Arab revolt, the British reconsidered their governing policies in order to maintain order in an increasingly tense environment. They issued a White Paper (a statement of political policy) limiting future Jewish immigration and land purchases. The Zionists regarded that as a betrayal of the Balfour Declaration, and a particularly egregious act in light of the desperate situation of the Jews in Europe, who were facing extermination. The issuance of the 1939 White Paper marked the end of the British-Zionist alliance. At the same time, the defeat of the Arab revolt and the exile of the Palestinian leadership meant that the Palestinian Arabs were politically disorganized during the crucial decade in which the future of Palestine was decided. 9
    
The Partition of Palestine


Following the Second World War, the Jewish population had reached more than half a million. Political pressures were building in the U.S. and Europe, as were Jewish and Arab attacks on British Mandate troops and Jewish terrorist actions against the Arab population. The British wanted out of a situation they could not control. They requested that the recently established United Nations determine the fate of Palestine. With no effective voice calling for the protection of Arab rights and interests and western nations anxious to atone for their silence during the holocaust, the western-dominated United Nations assumed the role of addressing the conflict. 10 The “question of Palestine,” as it is often referred to in U.N. discourse, was first brought before its General Assembly in 1947, when the assembly decided to partition Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, with special international status for Jerusalem (UNSC 181). Though the proposed Palestinian state did not materialize, the land was partitioned in 1949 when an armistice divided the new Jewish state from other parts of the Mandate of Palestine. The West Bank and Gaza became distinct geographical units that, between 1948 and 1967, were ruled by Jordan. In 1950, Jordan annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and extended citizenship to Palestinians living there. Gaza remained under Egyptian military administration. Several wars were fought in the area, but in June 1967, Israel, during the six-day June war involving Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, captured and occupied these areas, along with the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Israel established a military administration to govern the Palestinian residents of the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. Under this arrangement, “Palestinians were denied any basic political rights and civil liberties, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of political association. Palestinian nationalism was criminalized as a threat to Israeli security, which meant that even displaying the Palestinian national colors was a punishable act. All aspects of Palestinian life were regulated, and often restricted by the Israeli military administration.” 11 In the name of maintaining Israel's security, other Israeli policies of collective punishment of the Palestinian people have been exercised in the form of restricted movement and extended house imprisonments (referred to as “curfews”), closure of roads and schools, mass arrests and detentions without charges, torture, death in Israeli camps and prisons by abuse and neglect, home demolitions, expulsions and deportations, massive land confiscations, uprooting of entire fields of olive trees, and destruction of citrus groves. With steady political and financial support from the United States, hundreds of colonies (often called “settlements”) have been built for hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers and immigrants on confiscated lands, in violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The United Nations Partition Plan

Following World War II, escalating hostilities between Arabs and Jews over the fate of Palestine and between the Zionist militias and the British army compelled Britain to relinquish its mandate over Palestine. The British requested that the recently established United Nations determine the future of Palestine. But the British government's hope was that the UN would be unable to arrive at a workable solution, and would turn Palestine back to them as a UN trusteeship. A UN-appointed committee of representatives from various countries went to Palestine to investigate the situation. Although members of this committee disagreed on the form that a political resolution should take, there was general agreement that the country would have to be divided in order to satisfy the needs and demands of both Jews and Palestinian Arabs. At the end of 1946, 1,269,000 Arabs and 608,000 Jews resided within the borders of Mandate Palestine. Jews had acquired by purchase 6 to 8 percent of the total land area of Palestine amounting to about 20 percent of the arable land.

On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab. The UN partition plan divided the country in such a way that each state would have a majority of its own population, although some Jewish settlements would fall within the proposed Palestinian state and many Palestinians would become part of the proposed Jewish state. The territory designated to the Jewish state would be slightly larger than the Palestinian state (56 percent and 43 percent of Palestine, respectively) on the assumption that increasing numbers of Jews would immigrate there. According to the UN partition plan, the area of Jerusalem and Bethlehem was to become an international zone.

Publicly, the Zionist leadership accepted the UN partition plan, although they hoped somehow to expand the borders allotted to the Jewish state. The Palestinian Arabs and the surrounding Arab states rejected the UN plan and regarded the General Assembly vote as an international betrayal. Some argued that the UN plan allotted too much territory to the Jews. Most Arabs regarded the proposed Jewish state as a settler colony and argued that it was only because the British had permitted extensive Zionist settlement in Palestine against the wishes of the Arab majority that the question of Jewish statehood was on the international agenda at all.

Fighting began between the Arab and Jewish residents of Palestine days after the adoption of the UN partition plan. The Arab military forces were poorly organized, trained and armed. In contrast, Zionist military forces, although numerically smaller, were well organized, trained and armed. By the spring of 1948, the Zionist forces had secured control over most of the territory allotted to the Jewish state in the UN plan.

On May 15, 1948, the British evacuated Palestine, and Zionist leaders proclaimed the state of Israel. Neighboring Arab states (Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq) then invaded Israel claiming that they sought to "save" Palestine from the Zionists. In fact, the Arab rulers had territorial designs on Palestine and were no more anxious to see a Palestinian Arab state emerge than the Zionists. During May and June 1948, when the fighting was most intense, the outcome of this first Arab-Israeli War was in doubt. But after arms shipments from Czechoslovakia reached Israel, its armed forces established superiority and conquered territories beyond the UN partition plan borders of the Jewish state.

In 1949, the war between Israel and the Arab states ended with the signing of armistice agreements. The country once known as Palestine was now divided into three parts, each under separate political control. The State of Israel encompassed over 77 percent of the territory. Jordan occupied East Jerusalem and the hill country of central Palestine (the West Bank). Egypt took control of the coastal plain around the city of Gaza (the Gaza Strip). The Palestinian Arab state envisioned by the UN partition plan was never established.

Palestinian Arab Refugees
 
      As a consequence of the fighting in Palestine/Israel between 1947 and 1949, over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs became refugees. The precise number of refugees, and questions of responsibility for their exodus are sharply disputed. Many Palestinians have claimed that most were expelled in accordance with a Zionist plan to rid the country of its non-Jewish inhabitants. The official Israeli position holds that the refugees fled on rders from Arab political and military leaders. One Israeli military intelligence document indicates that at least 75 percent of the refugees left due to Zionist or Israeli military actions, psychological campaigns aimed at frightening Arabs into leaving, and direct expulsions. Only about 5 percent left on orders from Arab authorities. There are several well-documented cases of mass expulsions during and after the military operations of 1948-49 and massacres and atrocities that led to large-scale Arab flight. The best-known instance of mass expulsion is that of the 50,000 Arabs of the towns of Lydda and Ramle. The most infamous atrocity occurred at Deir Yasin, a village near Jerusalem, where estimates of the number of Arab residents killed in cold blood by Israeli fighters range from about 125 to over 250.

The June 1967 War
 
After 1949, although there was an armistice between Israel and the Arab states, the conflict continued and the region remained imperiled by the prospect of another war. This was fueled by an escalating arms race as countries built up their military caches and prepared their forces (and their populations) for a future showdown. In 1956, Israel joined with Britain and France to attack Egypt, ostensibly to reverse the Egyptian government's nationalization of the Suez Canal (then under French and British control). Israeli forces captured Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, but were forced to evacuate back to the armistice lines as a result of UN pressure led by the US and the Soviet Union (in an uncharacteristic show of cooperation to avert further conflict in the Middle East). By the early 1960s, however, the region was becoming a hot spot of Cold War rivalry as the US and the Soviet Union were competing with one another for global power and influence.

In the spring of 1967, the Soviet Union misinformed the Syrian government that Israeli forces were massing in northern Israel to attack Syria. There was no such Israeli mobilization. But clashes between Israel and Syria had been escalating for about a year, and Israeli leaders had publicly declared that it might be necessary to bring down the Syrian regime if it failed to end Palestinian commando attacks against Israel from Syrian territory.

Responding to a Syrian request for assistance, in May 1967 Egyptian troops entered the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel. A few days later, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser asked the UN observer forces stationed between Israel and Egypt to evacuate their positions. The Egyptians then occupied Sharm al-Shaykh at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula and proclaimed a blockade of the Israeli port of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba, arguing that access to Eilat was through Egyptian territorial waters. These measures shocked and frightened the Israeli public, which believed it was in danger of annihilation.

As the military and diplomatic crisis continued, on June 5, 1967 Israel preemptively attacked Egypt and Syria, destroying their air forces on the ground within a few hours. Jordan joined in the fighting belatedly, and consequently was attacked by Israel as well. The Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies were decisively defeated, and Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

The 1967 war, which lasted only six days, established Israel as the dominant regional military power. The speed and thoroughness of Israel's victory discredited the Arab regimes. In contrast, the Palestinian national movement emerged as a major actor after 1967 in the form of the political and military groups that made up the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Occupied Territories


The West Bank and the Gaza Strip became distinct geographical units as a result of the 1949 armistice that divided the new Jewish state of Israel from other parts of Mandate Palestine. From 1948-67, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was ruled by Jordan, which annexed the area in 1950 and extended citizenship to Palestinians living there. During this period, the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian military administration. In the 1967 war, Israel captured and occupied these areas, along with the Sinai Peninsula (from Egypt) and the Golan Heights (from Syria).

Israel established a military administration to govern the Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.  Under this arrangement, Palestinians were denied many basic political rights and civil liberties, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of political association. Palestinian nationalism was criminalized as a threat to Israeli security, which meant that even displaying the Palestinian national colors was a punishable act. All aspects of Palestinian life were regulated, and often severely restricted by the Israeli military administration. For example, Israel forbade the gathering wild thyme (za`tar), a basic element of Palestinian cuisine.

Israeli policies and practices in the West Bank and Gaza have included extensive use of collective punishments such as curfews, house demolitions and closure of roads, schools and community institutions. Hundreds of Palestinian political activists have been deported to Jordan or Lebanon, tens of thousands of acres of Palestinian land have been confiscated, and thousands of trees have been uprooted. Since 1967, over 300,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned without trial, and over half a million have been tried in the Israeli military court system. Torture of Palestinian prisoners has been a common practice since at least 1971, and dozens of people have died in detention from abuse or neglect. Israeli officials have claimed that harsh measures and high rates of imprisonment are necessary to thwart terrorism. According to Israel, Palestinian terrorism includes all forms of opposition to the occupation (including non-violence).

Israel has built hundreds of settlements and permitted hundreds of thousands of its own Jewish citizens to move to the West Bank and Gaza, despite that this constitutes a breach of international law. Israel has justified the violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international laws governing military occupation of foreign territory on the grounds that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not technically "occupied" because they were never part of the sovereign territory of any state. Therefore, according to this interpretation, Israel is not a foreign "occupier" but a legal "administrator" of territory whose status remains to be determined. The international community has rejected the Israeli official position that the West Bank and Gaza are not occupied, and has maintained that international law should apply there. But little effort has been mounted to enforce international law or hold Israel accountable for the numerous violations it has engaged in since 1967.
                                    
The PLO

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) came into being in 1960, in an effort to regulate Palestinian nationalism. The Arab defeat in 1967 enabled the more militant Palestinians to take over the PLO, and to gain some independence from Arab regimes. It included different political and armed groups of varying ideological orientations. Yasser Arafat, chairman of Fatah, PLO's largest political group, became PLO chairman in 1968. Though initially based outside of Israel, the PLO, like many other resistant movements, engaged in militant activities within Israel. There were other, more militant Palestinian groups that also carried out acts of violence against Israeli soldiers and citizens. Those included, for example, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Jihad and Hamas. Ironically, the latter, whose name in Arabic is an acronym for “Islamic resistance movement,” was initially enabled by Israel to undermine the PLO and its leadership and to divide the Palestinians. 12

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
    
The Arab League established the PLO in 1964 as an effort to control Palestinian nationalism while appearing to champion the cause. The Arab defeat in the 1967 war enabled younger, more militant Palestinians to take over the PLO and gain some independence from the Arab regimes.

The PLO includes different political and armed groups with varying ideological orientations.

Yasser Arafat [who died in 2004] [was] the leader of Fatah, the largest group, and [was] PLO chairman since 1968. The other major groups are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and, in the occupied territories, the Palestine Peoples Party (PPP, formerly the Communist Party). Despite factional differences, the majority of Palestinians regard the PLO as their representative.

In the 1960s, the PLO's primary base of operations was Jordan. In 1970-71, fighting with the Jordanian army drove the PLO leadership out of the country, forcing it to relocate to Lebanon. When the Lebanese civil war started in 1975, the PLO became a party in the conflict. After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the PLO leadership was expelled from the country, relocating once more to Tunisia.

Until 1993, Israel did not acknowledge Palestinian national rights or recognize the Palestinians as an independent party to the conflict. Israel refused to negotiate with the PLO, arguing that it was nothing but a terrorist organization, and insisted on dealing only with Jordan or other Arab states. It rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state, insisting that Palestinians should be incorporated into the existing Arab states. This intransigence ended when Israeli representatives entered into secret negotiations with the PLO, which led to the Oslo Declaration of Principles.
                            
Role of the United Nations

Up to 1967, the Palestine problem was discussed as part of the larger Middle East conflict or in the context of its refugee or human rights aspects. As a consequence of the war in 1967, the security council adopted Resolution 242, on November 22 of that year, declaring the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, calling for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the Palestinian territory occupied earlier that year, including Jerusalem, and from the other occupied Arab territories, affirming respect for the right of all states in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized boundaries and the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination; and addressing the refugee problem. On November 10, 1973, following the Sinai War, the security council adopted another resolution (338) that called on all parties to start immediately to negotiate the implementation of UNSC 242. It was only in 1974 that the question of Palestine was reintroduced in the U.N. General Assembly's agenda as a national question, and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were reaffirmed and specified. In Resolution 3236, adopted November 22, 1974, the assembly stated that those rights included: the right to self-determination without external interference; the right to national independence and sovereignty; and the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property, from which they had been displaced and uprooted. The assembly also stated that the realization of those rights was indispensable for the solution of the question of Palestine. In 1976, the security council recognized that the Palestinian issues were “at the heart of the Middle East problem,” and that “no solution could be envisaged without fully taking into account the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.” 13 The United Nations' Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People urged the council to promote action for a just solution, taking into account all the powers conferred on it by the Charter of the United Nations. The recommendations of the committee included a two-phase plan for the return of Palestinians to their homes and property; a timetable for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories by June 1, 1977, with the provision, if necessary, of temporary peacemaking forces to facilitate the process; an end to the establishment of settlements; recognition by Israel of the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories pending withdrawal; and endorsement of the inherent right of Palestinians to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty in Palestine. Along with those recommendations, there was the recognition of the United Nations' historical duty and responsibility to render all assistance necessary to promote the economic development and prosperity of the future of the Palestinian entity.

It is significant to note that the recommendations made in its first report to the security council in June 1976 by the U.N.'s Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People were not adopted by the council, due to the negative vote of the United States, a permanent council member, and thus have not been implemented. They were, however, endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the General Assembly. The assembly reaffirmed that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East “could not be established without the achievement of a just solution of the problem of Palestine based on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.” The United Nations, through the ongoing work of its Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people, has continued to address the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The October 1973 War

After coming to power in Egypt in late 1970, President Anwar Sadat indicated to UN envoy Gunnar Jarring that he was willing to sign a peace agreement with Israel in exchange for the return of Egyptian territory lost in 1967 (the Sinai Peninsula). When this overture was ignored by Israel and the US, Egypt and Syria decided to act to break the political stalemate. They attacked Israeli forces in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights in October 1973, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. The surprise attack caught Israel off guard, and the Arabs achieved some early military victories. This prompted American political intervention, along with sharply increased military aid to Israel. After the war, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pursued a diplomatic strategy of limited bilateral agreements to secure partial Israeli withdrawals from the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights while avoiding negotiations on more difficult issues, including the fate of the West Bank and Gaza. By late 1975 these efforts had exhausted their potential, and there was no prospect of achieving a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement.

In late 1977, Sadat decided to initiate a separate overture to Israel. His visit to Jerusalem on November 19, 1977 led to the Camp David accords and the signing of an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979.
                                    
Treaty with Egypt

A number of significant events, occurring independently of United Nations' intervention, provided some hope for a peaceful settlement. A bold initiative taken by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in late 1977 when he visited Jerusalem culminated in signing a peace treaty with Israel, which occurred at Camp David in 1979, after some intensive negotiations hosted by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The Camp David accords consisted of two agreements: the first formed the basis of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty; the second proposed to grant autonomy to the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and to install a local administration for a five-year interim period after which the final status of the territories would be negotiated. Only the Egyptian-Israeli part of the Camp David agreements was implemented. The Palestinians and other Arab states rejected the autonomy concept because it did not guarantee full Israeli withdrawal from areas captured in 1967 or the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Meanwhile, Israel continued to confiscate Palestinian lands and build new Israeli settlements in violation of the commitments it made at Camp David.     

Camp David I

In September 1978, President Jimmy Carter invited Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Camp David, a presidential retreat in Maryland. They worked out two agreements: a framework for peace between Egypt and Israel, and a general framework for resolution of the Middle East crisis, i.e. the Palestinian question.

The first agreement formed the basis of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty signed in 1979. The second agreement proposed to grant autonomy to the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and to install a local administration for a five-year interim period, after which the final status of the territories would be negotiated.

Only the Egyptian-Israeli part of the Camp David accords was implemented. The Palestinians and other Arab states rejected the autonomy concept because it did not guarantee full Israeli withdrawal from areas captured in 1967 or the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. In any case, Israel sabotaged negotiations by continuing to confiscate Palestinian lands and build new settlements in violation of the commitments Menachem Begin made to Jimmy Carter at Camp David.  
                                    
The First Intifada

Despite the inclusion of a plan to realize self-determination for the Palestinians, the PLO and neighboring Arab states viewed Egypt's separate peace treaty with Israel as a betrayal.  Eventually, though, the PLO sent signals that it could accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel and might be prepared to desist from violent attacks against it. It was in November 1985 that a more explicit enunciation of that Palestinian position was made gaining an acknowledgement by the United States that there may be room for negotiation with the Palestinians. No significant action followed to demonstrate a serious intention to seize an opportunity for peace. And so it was in the context of that inaction, as well as Israel's unremitting repression of the Palestinian people, that a mass uprising involving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, mostly women, youth, and children, started in 1987. Known as the “intifada,” (Arabic for “awakening,” or, literally, “shaking off one's sleep,”), and organized primarily by local communities, the uprising took different forms of civil disobedience, many of which involved intense confrontation between Palestinian civilians and the Israeli army. Lasting for several years, the intifada was met with fierce response from the Israeli military. Under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin, then defense minister, the Israeli army killed more than one thousand Palestinians including more than two hundred under the age of sixteen. Hundreds more were wounded or maimed, as army commanders had instructed Israeli troops to shoot or break the bones of demonstrators. Countless others suffered untold psychological trauma, not to mention the economic and social upheaval that resulted from the intifada and Israel's attempt to squelch it . And though it drew unprecedented international attention and presented the Israeli occupation with a serious challenge, by 1990 the intifada lost its cohesive force, as many of its leaders had been killed or arrested. Political divisions and violence within the Palestinian community escalated.

The First Intifada
  
      In December 1987, the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza started a mass uprising against the Israeli occupation. This uprising, or intifada (which means "shaking off" in Arabic), was not started or orchestrated by the PLO leadership in Tunis. Rather, it was a popular mobilization that drew on the organizations and institutions that had developed under occupation. The intifada involved hundreds of thousands of people, many with no previous resistance experience, including children, teenagers and women. For the first few years, it involved many forms of civil disobedience, including massive demonstrations, general strikes, refusal to pay taxes, boycotts of Israeli products, political graffiti and the establishment of underground schools (since regular schools were closed by the military as reprisals for the uprising). It also included stone throwing, Molotov cocktails and the erection of barricades to impede the movement of Israeli military forces.

Intifada activism was organized through popular committees under the umbrella of the United National Leadership of the Uprising. The UNLU was a coalition of the four PLO parties active in the occupied territories: Fatah, the PFLP, the DFLP and the PPP. This broad-based resistance drew unprecedented international attention to the situation facing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and challenged the occupation as never before.

Under the leadership of Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin, Israel tried to smash the intifada with "force, power and blows." Army commanders instructed troops to break the bones of demonstrators. From 1987 to 1991 Israeli forces killed over 1,000 Palestinians, including over 200 under the age of sixteen. By 1990, most of the UNLU leaders had been arrested and the intifada lost its cohesive force, although it continued for several more years. Political divisions and violence within the Palestinian community escalated, especially the growing rivalry between the various PLO factions and Islamist organizations (HAMAS and Islamic Jihad). Palestinian militants killed over 250 Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the occupation authorities and about 100 Israelis during this period.

Although the intifada did not bring an end to the occupation, it made clear that the status quo was untenable. The intifada shifted the center of gravity of Palestinian political initiative from the PLO leadership in Tunis to the occupied territories. Palestinian activists in the occupied territories demanded that the PLO adopt a clear political program to guide the struggle for independence. In response, the Palestine National Council (a Palestinian government-in-exile), convened in Algeria in November 1988, recognized the state of Israel, proclaimed an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and renounced terrorism. The Israeli government did not respond to these gestures, claiming that nothing had changed and that the PLO was a terrorist organization with which it would never negotiate. The US did acknowledge that the PLO's policies had changed, but did little to encourage Israel to abandon its intransigent stand.
                                    
The Persian Gulf War
    
Hurtful to the cause of the Palestinians was the PLO's opposition to the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991. They were effectively isolated, and their financial aid from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was cut off. Nevertheless, following the war, the U.S. saw the need to stabilize its position in the Middle East by promoting a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also were anxious to remove the instability created in the region by the conflict. The United States influenced Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to open negotiations with the Palestinians and the Arab states. Secret negotiations were held. Those led to a multilateral International Peace Conference that was held in Madrid in October 1991. Many subsequent negotiating sessions took place in Washington between a Palestinian delegation that notably excluded the PLO and any representatives from East Jerusalem. Very little progress was achieved. Israel's announced strategy, under Shamir, was to drag out the negotiations “for ten years,” by which the annexation of the West Bank would be accomplished. In 1992, a new government in Israel, led by the Labor Party, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin promised rapid conclusion of an Israel-Palestinian agreement. Instead, the Washington negotiations became stalemated. Human rights in the West Bank and Gaza further deteriorated, and by December more than four hundred Palestinians were expelled on the grounds of being radical Islamic activists, without being tried or convicted. This, in turn, gave rise to increased radicalism and violent attacks by militant Islamists against Israeli targets, which brought on further repression by Israel. It was becoming apparent to the government of Israel that the threat of radical resistance by Hamas and Jihad was becoming greater. “The fear of radicalism,” combined with the weakness of the PLO after the Persian Gulf War, and the stalemate in Washington negotiations “brought the Rabin government to reverse the long-standing refusal to negotiate with the PLO.” 14     
                                    
The Madrid Conference

US and Israeli failure to respond meaningfully to PLO moderation resulted in the PLO's opposition to the US-led attack on Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. The PLO did not endorse Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, but it saw Saddam Hussein's challenge to the US and the Gulf oil-exporting states as a way to alter the regional status quo and focus attention on the question of Palestine. After the war, the PLO was diplomatically isolated. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia cut off financial support they had been providing, bringing the PLO to the brink of crisis.

After the Gulf War, the US sought to stabilize its position in the Middle East by promoting a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Despite their turn against the PLO, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were anxious to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and remove the potential for regional instability it created. The administration of President Bush felt obliged to its Arab allies, and pressed a reluctant Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to open negotiations with the Palestinians and the Arab states at a multilateral conference convened in Madrid, Spain, in October 1991. Shamir's conditions, which the US accepted, were that the PLO be excluded from the talks and that the Palestinian desires for independence and statehood not be directly addressed.

In subsequent negotiating sessions held in Washington, DC, Palestinians were represented by a delegation from the occupied territories. Participants in this delegation were subject to Israeli approval, and residents of East Jerusalem were barred on the grounds that the city is part of Israel. Although the PLO was formally excluded from these talks, its leaders regularly consulted with and advised the Palestinian delegation. Although Israeli and Palestinian delegations met many times, little progress was achieved. Prime Minister Shamir announced after he left office that his strategy was to drag out the Washington negotiations for ten years, by which time the annexation of the West Bank would be an accomplished fact.

A new Israeli Labor Party government led by Yitzhak Rabin assumed office in June 1992 and promised rapid conclusion of an Israel-Palestinian agreement. Instead, the Washington negotiations became stalemated after December 1992, when Israel expelled over 400 Palestinian residents of the occupied territories who were accused (but not tried or convicted) of being radical Islamist activists. Human rights conditions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip deteriorated dramatically after Rabin assumed office. This undermined the legitimacy of the Palestinian delegation to the Washington talks and prompted the resignation of several delegates.

Lack of progress in the Washington talks and deterioration of the economic and human rights conditions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip accelerated the growth of a radical Islamist challenge to the PLO. Violent attacks against Israeli targets by HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement) and Islamic Jihad further exacerbated tensions. Ironically, before the intifada, Israeli authorities had enabled the development of Islamist organizations as a way to divide Palestinians in the occupied territories. But as the popularity of Islamists grew and challenged the moderation of the PLO, they came to regret their policy of encouraging political Islam as an alternative to the PLO's secular nationalism. Eventually, Yitzhak Rabin came to believe that HAMAS, Jihad and the broader Islamic movements of which they were a part posed more of a threat to Israel than the PLO.

Autonomy Agreement

A “Declaration of Principles” was signed at the White House on September 13, 1993. It was based on mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, and drew up plans for Israel to withdraw, in stages, from particular areas of the Occupied Territories that would be governed by a Palestinian Authority (P.A.). Parenthetically, it should be added that as the P.A. took over the rule of the “autonomous areas,” a highly centralized form of government was adopted that involved Yasser Arafat at every level of decision-making. And though the authority ostensibly espouses an ideology of democracy, the concentration of power in its apparatus has tended toward undemocratic practices. There have been many human rights violations; and corruption is feared to be prevalent. However, the challenges of the Israeli occupation presented the Palestinians with little choice but to accept the authority's present leadership as the struggle for self-determination continues.

The "Declaration of Principles" led to a further agreement signed in Oslo, Norway, in 1993, to proceed on the implementation of the principles declared earlier in Washington. In retrospect, the Oslo plan was "deeply flawed" as the key issues such as the extent of the territories to be ceded by Israel, the nature of the Palestinian entity to be established, the future of Israeli settlements, and settlers, water rights, the resolution of the refugee problem and the status of Jerusalem were set aside to be discussed in "final status" talks. 15  The plan devised a negotiating process "without specifying an outcome;" it had no diplomatic support from the Arab world, was impeded by Israel's "reluctance to relinquish control over the occupied territories and unwillingness to make the kinds of concessions necessary to reach final status agreement." Clearly the plan was not acceptable to many Palestinians, especially radical Islamists.

The Palestinians were divided; yet, Arafat was the only one with sufficient prestige to proceed with negotiations. During the protracted interim period of the Oslo process, the Israeli government, under either Likud or Labor, built new settlements in the Occupied Territories, expanded existing settlements, constructed a network of bypass roads to enable Israeli settlers to travel from their settlements to Israel proper without passing through Palestinian inhabited areas. "These projects were understood by Palestinians as marking out territory that Israel sought to annex in the final settlement." The Oslo accords "contained no mechanism to block these unilateral actions of Israel's violations of Palestinian human and civil rights in areas under its control." 16 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (1996-99) basically avoided engaging seriously in the peace process, which he "distrusted and fundamentally opposed." 17

Resumption of negotiations took place with some momentum in 2000, after the election of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, of the Labor Party, in 1999. By then, a series of "painfully negotiated Israeli interim withdrawals left the Palestinian Authority with direct operational control of some 40 percent of the West Bank and 65 percent of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian areas were surrounded by Israeli controlled territory with entry and exit controlled by Israel." 18

The Oslo Accords

The weakness of the PLO after the Gulf War, the stalemate in the Washington talks, and fear of radical Islam brought the Rabin government to reverse the long-standing Israeli refusal to negotiate with the PLO. Consequently, Israel initiated secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway directly with PLO representatives who had been excluded from the Madrid and Washington talks. These negotiations produced the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles, which was signed in Washington in September 1993.

The Declaration of Principles was based on mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO. It established that Israel would withdraw from the Gaza Strip and Jericho, with additional withdrawals from further unspecified areas of the West Bank during a five-year interim period. During this period, the PLO formed a Palestinian Authority (PA) with "self-governing" (i.e. municipal) powers in the areas from which Israeli forces were redeployed. In January 1996, elections were held for a Palestinian Legislative Council and for the presidency of the PA, which was won handily by Yasir Arafat. The key issues such as the extent of the territories to be ceded by Israel, the nature of the Palestinian entity to be established, the future of the Israeli settlements and settlers, water rights, the resolution of the refugee problem and the status of Jerusalem were set aside to be discussed in final status talks.

The PLO accepted this deeply flawed agreement with Israel because it was weak and had little diplomatic support in the Arab world. Both Islamist radicals and local leaders in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip challenged Arafat's leadership. Yet only Arafat had the prestige and national legitimacy to conclude a negotiated agreement with Israel.

The Oslo accords set up a negotiating process without specifying an outcome. The process was supposed to have been completed by May 1999. There were many delays due to Israel's reluctance to relinquish control over the occupied territories, unwillingness to make the kinds of concessions necessary to reach a final status agreement, and periodic outbursts of violence by Palestinian opponents of the Oslo process, especially HAMAS and Jihad. During the Likud's return to power in 1996-99, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu avoided engaging seriously in the Oslo process, which he distrusted and fundamentally opposed.

A Labor-led coalition government led by Prime Minister Ehud Barak came to power in 1999. Barak at first concentrated on reaching a peace agreement with Syria. When he failed to convince the Syrians to sign an agreement that would restore to them less than all the area of the Golan Heights occupied by Israel in 1967, Barak turned his attention to the Palestinian track.

During the protracted interim period of the Oslo process, Israel's Labor and Likud governments built new settlements in the occupied territories, expanded existing settlements and constructed a network of bypass roads to enable Israeli settlers to travel from their settlements to Israel proper without passing through Palestinian-inhabited areas. These projects were understood by most Palestinians as marking out territory that Israel sought to annex in the final settlement. The Oslo accords contained no mechanism to block these unilateral actions or Israel's violations of Palestinian human and civil rights in areas under its control.

Final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were to have begun in mid-1996, but only got underway in earnest in mid-2000. By then, a series of painfully negotiated Israeli interim withdrawals left the Palestinian Authority with direct or partial control of some 40 percent of the West Bank and 65 percent of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian areas were surrounded by Israeli-controlled territory with entry and exit controlled by Israel.

The Palestinians' expectations were not accommodated by the Oslo accords. The Oslo process required the Palestinians to make their principal compromises at the beginning, whereas Israel's principal compromises beyond recognition of the PLO were to be made in the final status talks.
     
Camp David II

Subsequent efforts to keep the peace process alive brought the Israelis and Palestinians to further negotiations when U.S. President Clinton invited Barak and Arafat to Camp David in July 2000 to conclude a “final status,” which was long overdue. It was then that Barak was said to have made his presumably irresistible offer to the Palestinians, which was, in fact, a far more extensive withdrawal from the West Bank than any other Israeli leader had publicly considered.

What he did offer, in reality, as may be seen on maps presented at Camp David and Wye River talks, was a territorial fragmentation of the West Bank, where noncontiguous parts of the West Bank clearly isolated the Palestinians in inaccessible ghettos. Barak insisted that: Israel would not return to pre-1967 borders; East Jerusalem with its 175,000 Israeli settlers would remain under Israeli sovereignty; Israel would annex settlement blocs in the West Bank containing some 80 percent of 180,000 Jewish settlers; and Israel would accept responsibility for the huge refugee problem it had created. Each one of those points was clearly in contravention of the resolutions adopted by the United Nations.

It was not surprising that Arafat refused the Barak “offer,” or that the “peace process” was once again idled. It is significant that the United States has assumed the role of the sole “sponsor” of the peace process, while it has also maintained the position of being Israel's staunchest supporter. It has consistently used its veto power in the U. N. Security Council to protect Israel from actions and criticism the council finds unacceptable. It has not allowed even its allies a significant role in seeking an Arab-Israeli settlement. “Even the breakthrough of the Oslo talks had to be formalized in Washington, and the U.S. has made no effort to involve Norway or other intermediaries further.” 19

The special relationship between the U.S. and Israel makes clear that “the United States does not have a single foreign policy for the Middle East. Rather there is an Israel policy and a policy for all other areas. The two are frequently at odds in ways that contribute to regional instability … At the heart of U.S. tensions with many countries in the Middle East is their frustration with an open American double standard that always favors Israel.” 20 Therefore, it should not be surprising that Palestinian anger with Israel and frustration with the United States continues to mount, and that no progress has been made in the way of peace between Israel and the Palestinians or with other neighbors. The credibility of the U.S. as an “honest broker,” and its role as the only intermediary allowed at the table, come into serious question so long as it maintains a stance of unconditional commitment to support the goals and practices of Israel's government.
    
Camp David II

In July 2000, President Clinton invited Prime Minister Barak and President Arafat to Camp David to conclude negotiations on the long-overdue final status agreement. Barak proclaimed his "red lines": Israel would not return to its pre-1967 borders; East Jerusalem with its 175,000 Jewish settlers would remain under Israeli sovereignty; Israel would annex settlement blocs in the West Bank containing some 80 percent of the 180,000 Jewish settlers; and Israel would accept no legal or moral responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. The Palestinians, in accord with UN Security Council resolution 242 and their understanding of the spirit of the Oslo Declaration of Principles, sought Israeli withdrawal from the vast majority of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem, and recognition of an independent state in those territories.

The distance between the two parties, especially on the issues of Jerusalem and refugees, made it impossible to reach an agreement at the Camp David summit meeting in July 2000. Although Barak offered a far more extensive Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank than any other Israeli leader had publicly considered, he insisted on maintaining Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. This was unacceptable to the Palestinians and to most of the Muslim world. Arafat left Camp David with enhanced stature among his constituents because he did not yield to American and Israeli pressure. Barak returned home to face political crisis within his own government, including the abandonment of coalition partners who felt he had offered the Palestinians too much. However, the Israeli taboo on discussing the future of Jerusalem was broken. Many Israelis began to realize for the first time that they might never achieve peace if they insisted on imposing their terms on the Palestinians.  

Didn't Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak make the most generous offer in history to the Palestinians? Why did they reject it?

from End the Occupation

President Clinton, understanding the difficulties and potential pitfalls that lay ahead, had promised both parties that he would not blame either side if the talks collapsed. But when the talks broke down he pointed his finger squarely at Yasir Arafat and the Palestinians. Perhaps the most widely repeated claim after Camp David was that of Barak's "generous offer" to the Palestinians. It was, we were told over and over again, the most generous offer any Israeli official had ever made.

That statement, technically, is absolutely true. It is also, however, absolutely irrelevant. The standard against which any serious diplomatic offer made by a country illegally occupying another must be viewed, is not how well it compares to earlier offers made by that same illegal occupying power. It must be judged against the requirements of international law. And from that standard, Barak's offer was far from generous. The "generous offer" was a myth.

What was more important than how generous it was compared to earlier Israeli offers, was the simple fact that, according to Clinton negotiator Robert Malley, it was simply not true that "Israel's offer met most if not all of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations." That was the reason Palestinians rejected the offer. One can certainly question the wisdom of a diplomatic strategy that did not provide an immediate counter-proposal to an unacceptable offer. But there should be little difficulty in understanding why Palestinian negotiators would reject an offer based on a set of disconnected pieces of territory amounting to only 80 percent of the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine; a network of roads, bridges and tunnels accessible only to Israeli settlers and permanently guarded by Israeli soldiers; permanent loss of water resources; no shared sovereignty in Jerusalem; the right of return for refugees not even up for discussion; and with 80 percent of the illegal settlers to remain in place.

What would a Palestinian "state" as determined by Oslo/Camp David have looked like?


In October 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared Israel would not return to the 1967 borders as required under international law. He said Jerusalem would remain unified and under exclusive Israeli sovereignty, and that most of the settlements would remain. Further, he described the Palestinian "entity" to be created as something that would be "less than a state."

What Israel proposed at Camp David in August 2000 (the first occasion when final status issues were directly negotiated), was a Palestinian "state" in something approaching 80 percent of the West Bank plus Gaza. The capital would not be in Jerusalem, although some limited municipal authority in Palestinian neighborhoods might be granted. The 20 percent of the West Bank that Israel would keep would be made up of the settlements, military bases, and, crucially, the bypass roads that effectively divide the West Bank into separate regions. It was as if someone's house had been occupied against their will for many years, and they were suddenly told that they could have all the rooms back, but the occupier was going to keep control of the hallways between the rooms. How much of a home would that be?

Israel proposed maintaining control of two major east-west highways, which would cut the West Bank into three completely separate, non-contiguous areas. Key water sources, underground aquifers, would remain under Israeli control, as would external borders and air space. About 20 percent of the West Bank settlers, primarily from small isolated settlements, would be resettled inside Israel; the other 80 percent, including the large settlement blocs, would remain under Israeli jurisdiction and under the protection of the Israeli army; the Palestinian state would have no authority over the Jewish settlers.

The Fall 2000 Uprising
                                 
      The deeply flawed "peace process" initiated at Oslo, combined with the daily frustrations and humiliations inflicted upon Palestinians in the occupied territories, converged to ignite a second intifada beginning in late September 2000. On September 28, Likud leader Ariel Sharon visited the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) in the company of 1000 armed guards; in the context of July's tense negotiations over Jerusalem's holy places, and Sharon's well-known call for Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, this move provoked large Palestinian protests in Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers killed six unarmed protesters. These killings inaugurated over a month of demonstrations and clashes across the West Bank and the GazaStrip. For a brief period, these demonstrations spread into Palestinian towns inside Israel.

In relative terms, the second intifada is already bloodier than the first. As in the previous intifada, Palestinians threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers, who responded with rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition. But both sides have employed greater force than in 1987-1991. The militant wing of Fatah, which has coordinated many street actions, now has a substantial cache of small arms and has fired often on Israeli troops. The Israeli military response escalated dramatically after two soldiers, allegedly "lost" in the PA-controlled West Bank town of Ramallah, were killed October 12 by a Palestinian mob returning from the funeral of an unarmed young man whom soldiers had shot dead the day before. The IDF attacked PA installations in Ramallah, Gaza and elsewhere with helicopter gunships and missiles. Subsequently, the IDF has not always waited for Israelis to die before answering Palestinian small arms fire with tank shells and artillery, including the shelling of civilian neighborhoods in the West Bank and Gaza.

For these actions and the use of live ammunition to control demonstrations of unarmed Palestinians, several international human rights organizations have condemned Israel for use of excessive force. The UN Security Council passed a similar condemnation, from which the US abstained, and on October 20, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution condemning Israel. Israel, the US and four Polynesian island nations voted no, and a third of the assembly abstained. Despite a truce agreement at Sharm al-Sheikh, a later agreement to quell violence between Arafat and Shimon Peres and Bill Clinton's attempts to restart negotiations in January 2001, the second intifada did not look like it would end soon. In December 2000, Barak called early elections for prime minister to forestall a likely vote of no confidence in the Knesset. He will face Ariel Sharon in the February 6 election. To date over 350 people, about 90 percent of them Palestinian, have been killed in the violence. While the outcome of the uprising is very unclear, it is probably impossible to resume the Oslo peace process without major modifications to its basic framework. The Palestinian street has definitively rejected Oslo, and top officials of the PA now say that UN resolutions must form the basis of future final status talks.

What is this second "intifada"? How is this uprising different from the first intifada of 1987-1993?
From End the Occupation

The second uprising, that began September 2000, came seven years after the first intifada ended with the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Oslo did not bring about the actual goals of the first intifada-the end of occupation and creation of an independent Palestinian state-but it did hold out the hope that the new diplomatic "peace process" would lead inexorably to such a result. So the mass mobilizations, the daily commercial strikes, the tax resistance, the stone-throwing children that characterized the first intifada came to a halt.

After seven years, and especially after the collapse of the Clinton-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian summit at Camp David in August 2000, Palestinians faced the harsh reality that Oslo had been much more about "process" than about peace. Living conditions and the economy had all seriously deteriorated throughout the Oslo years. Israel's military occupation had become increasingly harsh-closures preventing Palestinians from entering Israel were expanded to prevent travel within and between the West Bank and Gaza; military checkpoints proliferated throughout the "swiss cheese-style" maze of Israeli and partial Palestinian authority; house demolitions continued; and settlement construction nearly doubled throughout the occupied territories since Oslo.

The second intifada was the response to those lost hopes and deteriorating lives. Initially it took similar forms to the first intifada-mass protests in the streets against Israeli military checkpoints surrounding Palestinian cities, including children and youths throwing stones at the tanks and armored vehicles, characterized the first weeks' mobilization. But the Israeli response was far more brutal this time around than it had been during the first intifada; the stone-throwing protesters the day after Sharon's provocative visit to the Haram al-Sharif were met with withering fire, killing four and wounding hundreds on the steps and even inside the mosques. The Israeli military immediately began using live fire and tank-fired weapons where once tear-gas and rubber bullets might have been used first, and soon helicopter gunships and U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter bombers became regular parts of the Israeli arsenal in the occupied territories.

By March 2002, Amnesty International reported over 1,000 Palestinians had been killed; more than 200 of them were children. In response, Palestinians changed their tactics. The mass street demonstrations largely ended, as the lethal Israeli price exacted for marches and stone-throwing rose. Instead, small armed Palestinian factions took over from the public in challenging the Israeli military occupation forces. Since the Oslo process had created the Palestinian Authority, there were now Palestinian police and security forces armed with rifles and kalashnikovs, and they used their arms both to protect Palestinian demonstrators and civilians, and sometimes to directly challenge the checkpoints and Israeli soldiers. One result was that killing on both sides escalated-but the deaths and injuries were disproportionately Palestinian (about four times as many), and initially the Israeli victims were almost all soldiers and settlers inside the occupied territories.

As the intifada settled into a kind of war of attrition, 24-hour shoot-to-kill curfews were imposed on Palestinian cities and villages for long periods, imprisoning people in their homes and bringing to an end the mass public participation in the streets that had characterized the first intifada. The city of nablus, with a population of over 100,000 has been under curfew for more than 90 days continuously as of mid- September 2002.
                                    
The Situation in 2003

Life in Israel/Palestine recently has been more difficult than could have been imagined a decade ago when Rabin and Arafat signed their “Declaration of Principles” on the lawn of the White House. Hardly a day passes without reports of intense violence between the Israeli forces and settlers and Palestinian militants. Bloody assaults on Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinian extremists, including suicide bombers, and massive military attacks by the Israelis targeting individuals, groups, and entire segments of the Palestinian population, have kept the situation in constant turmoil. The escalation of these conditions reached terrifying proportions especially during late 2002 and the early months of 2003 when the world's attention was diverted as the U.S. was preparing to attack Iraq. 21 And, while those preparations were building up, there was genuine anxiety among many Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel over what the Israeli government might do in case of an immanent Gulf war.

Recalling the large-scale expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, and experiencing continuing smaller-scale deportations, natives of Palestine have been horrified at the possibility of mass exiles. Often referred to as "transfer," and compared sometimes to ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, fear of the familiar expulsion practice is reinforced in the psyche and consciousness of the Palestinians by expressions of the Israeli public favoring their removal. 22 There are currently 3.6 million registered Palestinian refugees, one-third of whom live in fifty-nine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. The refugee problem already constitutes a major obstacle to peace, given that the United Nations, in General Assembly Resolution 194, provides for the refugees' right to return to their homes in what became Israel, or to compensation. The feared expulsion of more Palestinians would, in effect, eliminate any remaining hope for a political settlement with Israel.

The picture is bleak. During the past thirty months, whenever it has seemed that matters could not be worse they got worse. The present chapter of the history of this conflict began when, on September 28, 2000, then-Likud leader, now prime minister, Ariel Sharon, accompanied by one thousand armed guards, visited the Dome of the Rock/Al-Aqsa Mosque/the Western Wall area (a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews, and is known to Jews as the Temple Mound, and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif). In the context of tense negotiations over Jerusalem's holy places taking place in July between the Israeli and Palestinian delegations, and Ariel Sharon's call for the annexation of East Jerusalem, his move provoked large Palestinian protests in Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers killed six Palestinian protesters. The killing triggered further demonstrations that sparked a widespread movement that came to be known as the Second Intifada, or al-Aqsa Intifada. The incident evolved into a spiral of violence that has left hundreds of Israelis, soldiers and civilians, and more than two thousand Palestinians, mostly civilians, dead and many more wounded. As in the first intifada, Palestinian youth threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers and tanks.

Unlike in the previous confrontations, Palestinian fighters have used small arms and fired often on Israeli soldiers; the more militant among them have been carrying out a series of horrific suicide bombings mostly against crowds of civilian Israelis. The Israeli military, on the other hand, having responded mostly with rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition in the first intifada, has now employed heavy artillery and attack helicopters. As violence continues, Israel persists in its policies of land expropriation; settlement building and expansion; demolition of houses and destruction of private property; mass arrests; round-the-clock shoot-to-kill curfews; siege and closure; plundering of Palestinian towns, villages, and refugee camps, leaving in its wake large numbers of innocent victims, described with scorn as "collateral damage"; arbitrary arrest, detention, and harassment of civilians; extrajudicial executions 23 and murderous raids; the devastation of farmlands; and the construction of bypass roads, and a 25-foot-high concrete wall that is expected to be 200+ miles long when completed, with trenches, electric fences, sensors, cameras, and armed watchtowers. Repeatedly, the Palestinians have appealed to the United Nations for providing peacekeeping and monitoring forces, but their requests were blocked by Israel.

In a statement of the chairperson of the U. N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People delivered in the autumn of 2002 before a gathering of representatives of more than 120 governments and some fifty nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), he said, "A further blow compounding this situation is the fact that the Palestinian economy lies in tatters. Poverty and unemployment are rising exponentially, the public health and hygiene sectors have crumbled and the Palestinian Authority is in disarray. Instead of concentrating their efforts on the building of a democratic state, and pursuing its economic development, the Palestinians are reduced to the daily struggle for survival, in which, according to the sad comment of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), pauperization and food insecurity affect millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza." 24 "The unbearable suffering," the statement continued, "and inhuman collective reprisals thus imposed on the Palestinian civilian population undoubtedly constitute grave violations of the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, and of the very clear obligations which Israel is mandated to fulfill." In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, Israel has equated its military offensive against the Palestinians with the United States' "war on terrorism."

Prime Minister Sharon, who in the space of two years has flown to the United States no fewer than seven times, has asked for another $4 billion in additional military assistance, in addition to the $3 billion annual grant it receives automatically, plus $8 billion in commercial loan guarantees. 25 It is relevant to note that besides the annual cash grants for military and economic assistance given to Israel at the beginning of each year, and without the usual conditions attached to project aid given to other countries, the United States has converted all previous loans extended to Israel to grants, and Congress now continues the annual practice. 26 The Israeli government has energetically supported the U.S.' push for war against Iraq on grounds of the latter's noncompliance with seventeen U.N. resolutions. So, it should be relevant to question Israel's noncompliance with more than fifty U.N. resolutions. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke truth when, in his address on the U.N.-called Day of Palestinian Solidarity last November, he declared it a "day of mourning, a day of grief," and sited the state of crisis and the deplorable situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories "with no end in sight." Indeed, there can be "no end in sight" if the apparent Sharon-Bush Middle East policy partnership prevails. In alliance with some evangelical Christians, the course plotted by powerful Sharon-backers in the Administration "began with benign neglect of the Mideast peace process as Intifada II escalated.

September 11 provided the impulse for a military campaign to consign Saddam Hussein to the dustbin of history. Mr. Sharon provided the geopolitical ammo by convincing Mr. Bush that the war on Palestinian terrorism was identical to the global war on terror. Next came a campaign to convince U. S. public opinion that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were allies in their war against America . . . the strategic objective is the antithesis of Middle Eastern stability. . . ." 27 Confronted with these sobering realities, the inevitable question of seriousness about a future peace in Israel-Palestine imposes itself. Critical reform of Palestinian institutions, perhaps even a change of leadership, is essential, primarily for the benefit of the Palestinian people themselves. However, to take root and produce tangible results it must, for a start, be matched by "Israeli measures that would create favorable conditions for the resumption of economic activity. This includes the conclusion of a Palestinian/Israeli security agreement ensuring the end of all forms of violence, withdrawal from Palestinian-controlled areas, the immediate cessation of settlement activity, the lifting of restriction on the movement of people, goods and essential services, and the disbursement of all outstanding value-added tax and customs revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority." 28 Those are the required first steps on what may be a long and difficult road to peace. The goal that was unanimously endorsed by Resolutions 181, 242 and 338, and that has pointed the direction of any hope for peace in the region, however, remains clear: namely to end the occupation of lands captured in 1967, and to give back to the Palestinian people their freedom.
    
Conclusion


At this point, the words of the U.N. secretary-general ring true: “There is no end in sight.” The thought is echoed by many ordinary Palestinians: “There is no reason for optimism, no future.” This is not, however, the conviction of the people of faith. For “what is faith? Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities we do not see.” 29 Our faith is in God who, according to our Reformed understanding, is sovereign over all nations, peoples, and governments, and is Lord of history and of human destiny.

God's ways are the paths of justice, truth, and peace; and in God's time, these shall prevail. Our faith impels us to move forward with hope against all that may drive us to despair. In faith we see beyond a future to be realized beyond what we see today. We strive, therefore, and challenge those entrusted with the power and authority to act, toward the norm by which all thoughts, decisions and actions are to be measures and judged, namely, that which God has already shown: For what are God's demands of all of us other than evidences of just action, passions for loving-kindness, and a humble walk with God.” 30
    
Endnotes

   1. This section draws extensively on official public records of the United Nations, as well as a study prepared by the Reverend Walter Owensby, former associate for International Affairs in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Washington Office, as one of the resources offered by an ecumenical Middle East Forum and posted on Web sites of participating church-related organizations, and a series of research articles prepared by Joel Benin and Lisa Hajjar for the Middle East Report and Information Project. Those works, referenced below as appropriate, are used and posted on, or via link to, PC(USA)'s Website by permission.
   2. See a study titled, “U.S. Policy and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Where Are We and How Did We Get Here?” prepared by Walter Owensby, for the CWSW Middle East Forum. [LINK TO http://www.cmep.org/documents/uspolicy.htm ]
   3. Zionism is a modern political movement that, in its essence, expresses Jewish nationalism. Drawing on Jewish religious attachment to Jerusalem and the Biblical Land of Israel ( eretz Ysrael) , yet political in ideology, the main driving force behind the movement is the belief that all Jews are one nation, and not simply a religious or ethnic community, and that their freedom from persecution and anti-Semitism is to settle as many Jews as possible in a national state to be called Israel in the land of Palestine. Influenced by colonial ideas about Europe's rights to claim and settle other parts of the world, the World Zionist Organization, founded by Theodor Hertzl in 1897, declared that the aim of Zionism was ‘Establish a national home for the Jewish people secured by public law.” (See article on “Zionism” in a special edition of MERIP: The Middle East Research and Information Project titled, “Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Primer,” by Joel Benin and Lisa Hajjar, January 2001.
   4. Owensby, W. op. cit.
   5. MERIP, Primer, p. 4.
   6. Ibid
   7. Ibid
   8. Ibid , p. 5.
   9. Ibid , p. 6.
  10. Owensby, W. op. cit.
  11. Primer , p. 10
  12. Ibid, p. 15.
  13. United Nations: The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights: Information Note. New York, 2002, p. 2.
  14. Primer, p. 15.
  15. Ibid
  16. Ibid
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. Owensby; op. cit.
  20. Ibid
  21. For an analysis of the impact of a war on Iraq, see an article (posted on the Web site of the PC(USA)) prepared by the Reverend Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Christmas Evangelical Lutheran of Bethlehem, who has served in the first half of 2003 as mission partner in residence, jointly on the staff of the Worldwide Ministries Division and the faculty of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
  22. “Recent polls show more than 40 percent of the Israeli public is in favor of ‘transferring' Palestinians out of the Occupied territories, and as many as one-third favor expelling Palestinians who are full citizens of Israel. The premise is that such deportations would enhance national security and solve the ‘demographic problem.'” (See “Prevent Mass Expulsions of Palestinians Under Cover of War with Iraq,” published by the American Friends Service Committee. Philadelphia: October 2002, following a visit to Israel and Palestine by an international Quaker delegation. [ Bold type is part of the statement .])
  23. Since November 2000, according to the Israeli human rights organization B'tselem, Israel has conducted 85 extrajudicial executions–or ‘targeted killings' in Israeli parlance–of Palestinian militia leaders and security personnel suspected of involvement in attacks on Israelis. In a February 17, 2003, article by the editor and associate editors of Middle East Report Online, citing the B'tselem figure, Chris Toensing and Ian Urbina referred to a recent report in The Forward, a New York-based Jewish weekly, asserting that” US and Israeli legal experts have met in recent months to discuss methods of justifying the legality of assassination.” They added, “According to high-level Israeli sources, US representatives had approached Israeli government jurists to hear about methods of confronting possible challenges, either in international or domestic courts, to ‘targeted killings' that might be sanctioned by Washington.” (See “Israel, the US and ‘Targeted Killings'” MERIP , February, 2003.)
  24. Statement by Papa Louis Fall, November 2002, translated from the French.
  25. See article by Arnaud de Borchgrave titled, “A Bush-Sharon Doctrine,” in the Washington Times , February 14, 2003.
  26. Owensby, W. op. cit.
  27. Ibid . See also, in the same article, a further elucidation based on a paper published in 1996 by the Israeli think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.”
  28. Annan, Kofi, statement on International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, delivered at the United Nations, New York, on November 29, 2002.
  29. The Letter to the Hebrews, 11:1 (NEB).
  30. The Book of Micah, 6:8, translated from the Hebrew.