History, Maps, Glossary
Understanding the Conflict


Life is not simple, and therefore history,
which is past life, is not simple.

                   David Shannon
If you have ever wondered “Why is there so much violence in the Middle East?”, “Who are the Palestinians?”, “What are the occupied territories?” or “What does Israel want?”, then this is the book for you.

With straightforward language, Phyllis Bennis, longtime analyst of the region, answers basic questions about Israel and Israelis, Palestine and Palestinians, the US and the Middle East, Zionism and anti-Semitism; about complex issues ranging from the Oslo peace process to the election of Hamas. Together her answers provide a comprehensive understanding of the longstanding Palestinian–Israeli conflict.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, and Director of its New Internationalism Program. She is also a Fellow of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her areas include U.S. unilateralism and empire, the Middle East (particularly Israel-Palestine and Iraq), and US-United Nations relations. Her books include Before & After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis, Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN, and Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader. She is on the steering committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and works closely with the United for Peace and Justice coalition in the U.S. and with numerous anti-war organizations in the global peace movement.

This electronic version of the primer was made available to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation with permission from the Trans-Arab Research Institute (TARI). TARI provides scholarly studies oriented towards understanding the present social, cultural, economic and political issues confronting Middle Eastern societies.

This book is published by Olive Branch Press, an imprint of Interlink Publishing Group, Inc., which publishes socially and politically relevant non-fiction, concentrating on topics and areas of the world often ignored by the Western media.

Titles also include works on a wide range of contemporary issues such as Middle East studies, African studies, women's studies, religion and translated works by academics of international stature.

This book is also published in association with TARI.

Send inquiries and orders for the hard copies of the Primer by email to
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Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict:
A Primer

By Phyllis Bennis
Published in 2006

Internet Source:

Click a question below to read the answer.

PART ONE: The Crisis

Why is there so much violence in the Middle East? Isn't there violence on both sides?

Why should Americans care about violence in the Middle East?

Why is the Middle East so important to the U.S. and internationally?

What caused the current crisis?

Why is the current level of violence so intense?

Isn't Israel just trying to fight against terrorism, just like the U.S. in Afghanistan?

Who are the "suicide bombers" and why are they killing themselves and others?

Why are only Palestinians carrying out these suicide bombings?

Are all Palestinians terrorists or supporters of terrorism?

Why are Palestinians in Israel at all?

What are the occupied territories?

What does "military occupation" mean?

What is the fence that Israel is building in the occupied territories?

What is "transfer"? Why did talk of "transfer" of Palestinians increase during the build-up to war in Iraq?

Who are the Israeli settlers? Why are the Israeli settlements located outside Israel's borders?

What do the Palestinians want?

What does Israel want?

If Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, why are there so many Palestinians in the eastern part of the city?

Who controls the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip?

Why does Israel still occupy those areas?

Who are the Palestinians? Where did they come from?

Why are Palestinians still living in refugee camps? Where are they from and why don't they go home?

What is the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)?

What is the Palestinian Authority (PA)?

Who are the Israelis? Where did they come from?

What's the difference between Jews and Israelis?

PART TWO: The Other Players

Why is the Israel-Palestine conflict so important on the global stage? Why does the rest of the world care, and get so involved, in this conflict in such a small place?

What is the international response to the Israel-Palestine conflict? Is there international agreement?

Why hasn't the U.S. been part of that consensus?

Why is the U.S. the central player in the Middle East?

What explains the U.S.-Israeli "special relationship"?

Is the U.S. an "honest broker" in the conflict?

How does the U.S. support Israel?

Why was the Bush administration so much less involved than the Clinton administration in Israel-Palestine diplomacy?

What is the Bush administration Middle East policy all about?

Where does U.S. aid to Israel fit in the broader scheme of U.S. foreign aid? Does the U.S. provide aid to the PA also?

Didn't the U.S. support creation of the Palestinian Authority? Why did the U.S. treat it differently than the PLO, which Washington usually tried to undermine or sideline?

Who else should be at the center of Middle East diplomacy?

Didn't the United Nations create the State of Israel? Why didn't it create a State of Palestine too? Why doesn't it now?

Why is Israel so often criticized in the UN? Aren't other countries just as guilty of human rights violations?

What is the role of the UN in the Middle East these days? Why isn't the UN in charge of the overall peace process?

Why is Israel isolated from Arab countries in the region and in the UN and other international forums?

Since Jordan's population is about 2/3 Palestinian and there are 21 other Arab countries, why do the Palestinians insist on having a new state of their own?

Don't the Arab countries want to destroy Israel and drive the Jews into the sea?

How does Israel see its role in the Middle East region?

What role does Europe play in the conflict? Why doesn't it do more?

PART THREE: Recent History
[published in 2006]

Why did the current crisis begin?

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

This whole thing happened after the famous handshake on the White House lawn. Wasn't that supposed to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians?

What was the Oslo process? How did the Oslo process start?

Why didn't the Oslo process work?

What were Oslo's "final status" issues? Why were they so difficult?

Whose capital is Jerusalem?

Who are the Palestinian refugees and why won't Israel let the refugees return home?

What happened to settlements and settlers during the years of the Oslo process?

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

What happened at Camp David? Why did it fail?

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

What would a comprehensive peace have looked like at Camp David?

PART FOUR: Looking Backwards (1990-91)

What was the Madrid peace conference in 1991?

What happened to Israel and Palestine during the 1991 Gulf War?

What was the first "intifada" all about?

What were conditions like in the occupied territories before the first intifada?

How did Israel come to be in control of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem?

What was the international community's response to the 1967 War?

What was the U.S. relationship to the occupation?

What was the 1982 Lebanon war all about? What was Ariel Sharon's role?

What caused the Sabra-Shatila massacre in Lebanon?

Were the Palestinians demanding national rights and an independent state before the 1967 war?

How was the PLO viewed in the Arab Middle East, the UN and in the rest of the world?

What is Zionism? Do all Jews support Zionism?