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A Brief History of Israel and Palestine and the Conflict

Ami Isseroff

Introductory Note
Geography and Early History
The Jewish Kingdoms
From Roman to Ottoman Rule
The British Mandate
Modern History
Recent Events

"The past isn't dead; it isn't even past." William Faulkner.

"No two historians ever agree on what happened, and the damn thing is they both think they're telling the truth."  Harry S. Truman.

Introductory Note

History, and different perceptions of history, are perhaps the most important factors in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Accounts of history, interpreting history in different ways, are used to justify claims and to negate claims, to vilify the enemy and to glorify "our own" side.  Dozens of accounts have been written. Most of the accounts on the Web are intended to convince rather than to inform.

This very brief account is intended as a balanced overview and introduction to Palestinian and Israeli history, and the history of the conflict. It is unlikely that anyone has written or will write an "objective" and definitive summary that would be accepted by everyone, but it is hoped that this document will provide a fair introduction.

It would be wrong to try to use this history to determine "who is right," though  many "histories" have certainly been written by partisans of either side, with precisely that purpose in mind. Those who are interested in advocacy, in collecting "points" for their side, cannot find the truth except by accident. If they find it, and it is inconvenient, they will bury it again. This account intends to inform, and nothing more. Two separate documents explain how I think we should gather facts and learn about the conflict, and the importance of words in making Middle East history, as well as in understanding it. A timeline provides details of many events not discussed in this history, and source documents provide additional background. Serious students will also refer to the bibliography for more information and different viewpoints, and will always seek out primary source documents to verify whatever claims are made about those documents or about quotes from those documents.

Click here for a brief overview of issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Click here for a perspective on the changing nature of the Israeli - Palestinian/Zionist - Arab/ Jewish-Muslim conflict.

Geography and Early History of Israel and Palestine

The land variously called Israel and Palestine is a small, (10,000 square miles at present) land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. During its long history, its area, population and ownership varied greatly. The present state of Israel occupies all the land from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean ocean, bounded by Egypt in the south, Lebanon in the north, and Jordan in the East. The recognized borders of Israel constitute about 78% of the land. The remainder is divided between land occupied by Israel since the 1967 6-day war and the autonomous regions under the control of the Palestinian autonomy. The Gaza strip occupies an additional  141 square miles south of Israel, and is under the control of the Palestinian authority.

Palestine has been settled continuously for tens of thousands of years. Fossil remains have been found of Homo Erectus, Neanderthal and transitional types between Neanderthal and modern man. Archeologists have found hybrid Emer wheat at Jericho dating from before 8,000 B.C., making it one of the oldest sites of agricultural activity in the world. Amorites, Canaanites, and other Semitic peoples related to the Phoenicians of Tyre entered the area about 2000 B.C. The area became known as the Land of Canaan. (Click here for historical maps and some details of early history)

(Click here for books about Israel & Palestine before 1918 )

The Jewish Kingdoms of Ancient Judah and Israel

The archeological record indicates that the Jewish people evolved out of native Cana'anite peoples and invading tribes. Some time between about 1800 and 1500 B.C., it is thought that a Semitic people called Hebrews (hapiru) left Mesopotamia and settled in Canaan. Canaan was settled by different tribes including Semitic peoples, Hittites, and later Philistines, peoples of the sea who are thought to have arrived from Mycenae, or to be part of the ancient Greek peoples that also settled Mycenae.

According to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites, or a portion of them, out of Egypt. Under Joshua, they conquered the tribes and city states of Canaan.  Based on biblical traditions, it is estimated that king David conquered Jerusalem about 1000 B.C. and established an Israelite kingdom over much of Canaan including parts of Transjordan. The kingdom was divided into Judea in the south and Israel in the north following the death of David's son, Solomon. Jerusalem remained the center of Jewish sovereignty and of Jewish worship whenever the Jews exercised sovereignty over the country in the subsequent period, up to the Jewish revolt in 133 AD.

The Assyrians   conquered Israel in 722 or 721 B.C. The Babylonians conquered Judah around 586 B.C.  They destroyed Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, and exiled a large number of Jews.  About 50 years later, the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylonia. Cyrus allowed a group of Jews from Babylonia to rebuild Jerusalem and settle in it. However, a large number of Jews remained in Babylonia, forming the first Jewish Diaspora. After the reestablishment of a Jewish state or protectorate, the Babylonian exiles maintained contact with authorities there. The Persians ruled the land from about 530 to 331 B.C. Alexander the Great then conquered the Persian Empire. After Alexander's death in 323 B.C., his generals divided the empire. One of these generals, Seleucus, founded a dynasty that gained control of much of Palestine about 200 B.C. At first, the new rulers, called Seleucids, allowed the practice of Judaism. But later, one of the kings, Antiochus IV, tried to prohibit it. In 167 B.C., the Jews revolted under the leadership of the Maccabeans and either drove the Seleucids out of Palestine or at least established a large degree of autonomy, forming a kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem. The kingdom received Roman "protection" when Judah Maccabee was made a "friend of the Roman senate and people" in 164 B.C. according to the records of Roman historians.

Palestine From Roman to Ottoman Rule

About 61 B.C., Roman troops under Pompei invaded Judea and sacked Jerusalem in support of King Herod. Judea had become a client state of Rome.  Initially it was ruled by the client Herodian dynasty. The land was divided into districts of Judea, Galilee, Peraea and a small trans-Jordanian section, each of which eventually came under direct Roman control. The Romans called the large central area of the land, which included Jerusalem, Judea. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, Judea, in the early years of Roman rule. Roman rulers put down Jewish revolts in about A.D. 70 and A.D. 132. In A.D. 135, the Romans drove the Jews out of Jerusalem. The Romans named the area Palaestina, at about this time. The name Palaestina, which  became Palestine in English, is derived from Herodotus, who used the term Palaistine Syria to refer to the entire southern part of Syria, meaning "Philistine Syria." Most of the Jews who continued to practice their religion fled or were forcibly exiled from Palestine, eventually forming a second Jewish Diaspora. However, Jewish communities continued to exist in Galilee, the northernmost part of Palestine. Palestine was governed by the Roman Empire until the fourth century A.D. (300's) and then by the Byzantine Empire. In time, Christianity spread to most of Palestine. The population consisted of Jewish converts to Christianity and paganism, peoples imported by the Romans, and others who had probably inhabited Palestine continuously.

During the seventh century (A.D. 600's), Muslim  Arab armies moved north from Arabia to conquer most of the Middle East, including Palestine. Jerusalem was conquered about 638 by the Caliph Umar (Omar) who gave his protection to its inhabitants. Muslim powers controlled the region until the early 1900's. The rulers allowed Christians and Jews to keep their religions. However, most of the local population gradually accepted Islam and the Arab-Islamic culture of their rulers. Jerusalem became holy to Muslims as the site where, according to tradition, Muhammed ascended to heaven after a miraculous overnight ride on his horse Al-Buraq. The al-Aqsa mosque was built on the site generally regarded as the area of the Jewish temples.

The Seljuk Turks conquered Jerusalem in 1071, but their rule in Palestine lasted less than 30 years. Initially they were replaced by the Fatimid rulers of Egypt. The Fatimids took advantage of the Seljuk struggles with the Christian crusaders. They made an alliance with the crusaders in 1098 and captured Jerusalem, Jaffa and other parts of Palestine.

The Crusaders, however, broke the alliance and invaded Palestine about a year later. They captured Jaffa and Jerusalem in 1099, slaughtered many Jewish and Muslim defenders and forbade Jews to live in Jerusalem. They held the city until 1187. In that year, the Muslim ruler Saladin conquered Jerusalem. The Crusaders then held a smaller and smaller area along the coast of Palestine, under treaty with Saladin. However, they broke the treaty with Saladin and later treaties. Crusade after crusade tried unsuccessfully to recapture Jerusalem.

The crusaders left Palestine for good when the Muslims captured Acre in 1291. During the post-crusade period, crusaders often raided the coast of Palestine. To deny the crusaders gains from these raids, the Muslims pulled their people back from the coasts and destroyed coastal towns and farms. This depopulated and impoverished the coast of Palestine for hundreds of years.

In the mid-1200's, Mamelukes, originally soldier-slaves of the Arabs based in Egypt, established an empire that in time included the area of Palestine. Arab-speaking Muslims made up most of Palestine's population. Beginning in the late 1300's, Jews from Spain and other Mediterranean lands settled in Jerusalem and other parts of the land. The Ottoman Empire defeated the Mamelukes in 1517, and Palestine became part of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Sultan invited Jews fleeing the Spanish Catholic inquisition to settle in the Turkish empire, including several cities in Palestine.

In 1798, Napoleon entered the land. The war with Napoleon and subsequent misadministration by Egyptian and Ottoman rulers, reduced the population of Palestine. Arabs and Jews fled to safer and more prosperous lands. Revolts by Palestinian Arabs against Egyptian and Ottoman rule at this time may have helped to catalyze Palestinian national feeling. Subsequent reorganization and opening of the Turkish Empire to foreigners restored some order. They also allowed the beginnings of Jewish settlement under various Zionist and proto-Zionist movements.  Both Arab and Jewish population increased. By 1880, about 24,000 Jews were living in Palestine, out of a population of about 400,000. At about that time, the Ottoman government imposed severe restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchase. These were evaded in various ways by Jews seeking to colonize Palestine. 

The Rise of Zionism - Jews had never stopped coming to "the Holy land" or Palestine in small numbers throughout the exile. Palestine also remained the center of Jewish worship and a part of Jewish culture. However, the Jewish connection with the land was mostly abstract and connected with dreams of messianic redemption.

In the nineteenth century new social currents animated Jewish life. The emancipation of European Jews, signaled by the French revolution, brought Jews out of the Ghetto and into the modern world, exposing them to modern ideas. The liberal concepts introduced by  emancipation and modern nationalist ideas were blended with traditional Jewish ideas about Israel and Zion. The marriage of "love of Zion" with modern nationalism took place first among the Sephardic (Spanish and Eastern) Jewish community of Europe. There, the tradition of living in the land of the Jews and return to Zion had remained practical goals rather than messianic aspirations, and  Hebrew was a living language. Rabbi Yehuda Alcalay, who lived in what is now Yugoslavia, published the first Zionist writings in the 1840s. Though practically forgotten, these ideas took root among a few European Jews. Emancipation of Jews triggered a new type of virulent anti-Jewish political and social movement in Europe, particularly in Germany and Eastern Europe. Beginning in the late 1800's, oppression of Jews in Eastern Europe stimulated emigration of Jews to Palestine.

The Zionist movement became a formal organization in 1897 with the first Zionist congress in Basle, organized by Theodor Herzl. Herzl's grandfather was acquainted with the writings of Alcalay, and it is very probable that Herzl was influenced by them. The Zionists wished to establish a "Jewish Homeland" in Palestine under Turkish or German rule. They were not concerned about the Arab population, which they ignored, or thought would agree to voluntary transfer to other Arab countries. In any case, they envisioned the population of Palestine by millions of European Jews who would soon form a decisive majority in the land.  The Zionists established farm communities in Palestine at Petah Tikva, Zichron Jacob, Rishon Letzion and elsewhere. Later they established the new city of Tel Aviv, north of Jaffa.  At the same time, Palestine's Arab population grew rapidly. By 1914, the total population of Palestine stood at about 700,000. About 615,000  were Arabs, and 85,000 to 100,000 were Jews. (See population figures).  Additional information about Zionism  and British Zionism   Click here for books about  Zionism. Photo history of Zionism   Zionism and the Creation of Israel

World War I - During World War I (1914-1918), the Ottoman Empire joined Germany and Austria-Hungary against the Allies. An Ottoman military government ruled Palestine. The war was hard on both Jewish and Arab populations, owing to outbreaks of cholera and typhus; however, it was more difficult for the Jews. For a time, the Turkish military governor ordered internment and deportation of all foreign nationals. A large number of Jews were Russian nationals. They had been able to enter Palestine as Russian nationals because of the concessions Turkey had granted to Russian citizens, and they had used this method to overcome restrictions on immigration. They had also maintained Russian citizenship to avoid being drafted into the Turkish army. Therefore, a large number of Jews were forced to flee Palestine during the war. A small group founded the NILI underground that fed intelligence information to the British, in order to free the land of Turkish rule. The Turks eventually caught members of the NILI group, but the information they provided is said to have helped the British invasion effort.

Britain and France planned to divide the Ottoman holdings in the Middle East among themselves after the war. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 called for part of Palestine to be under British rule, part to be placed under a joint Allied government, and for Syria and Lebanon to be given to the France.  However, Britain also offered to back Arab demands for postwar independence from the Ottomans in return for Arab support for the Allies and seems to have promised the same territories to the Arabs. In 1916, Arabs led by T.E. Lawrence and backed by Sharif Husayn revolted against the Ottomans in the belief that Britain would help establish Arab independence in the Middle East. Lawrence's exploits and their importance in the war against Turkey were somewhat exaggerated by himself and by the enterprising publicist Lowell Thomas. The United States and other countries pressed for Arab self-determination. The Arabs, and many in the British government including Lawrence, believed that the Arabs had been short-changed by the British promise to give Syria to the French, and likewise by the promise of Palestine as a Jewish homeland.  The Arabs claimed that Palestine was included in the area promised to them, but the British denied this.

The British Mandate for Palestine

The Balfour Declaration - In November 1917, before Britain had conquered Jerusalem and the area to be known as Palestine, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration. The declaration was a letter addressed to Lord Rothschild, based on a request of the Zionist organization in Great Britain. The declaration stated Britain's support for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine, without violating the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities. The declaration was the result of lobbying by the small British Zionist movement, especially by Dr. Haim Weizmann, who had emigrated from Russia to Britain, but it was motivated by British strategic considerations. Paradoxically, perhaps, a major motivation for the declaration may have been the belief, inspired by anti-Semitism, that international Jewry would come to the aid of the British if they declared themselves in favor of a Jewish homeland, and the fear that the Germans were about to issue such a declaration.

After the war, the League of Nations divided much of the Ottoman Empire into mandated territories. The British and French saw the Mandates as instruments of imperial ambitions. US President Wilson insisted that the mandates must foster eventual independence. The British were anxious to keep Palestine away from the French, and decided to ask for a mandate that would implement the Jewish national home of the Balfour declaration, a project that would be supported by the Americans. The Arabs opposed the idea of a Jewish national home, considering that the areas now called Palestine were their land. The Arabs felt they were in danger of dispossession by the Zionists, and did not relish living under Jewish rule.

Arabs lobbied the American King-Crane commission, in favor of annexation of the Palestine mandate area to Syria, and later formed a national movement to combat the terms of the Mandate. At the instigation of US President Wilson, the King Crane commission had been sent to hear the views of the inhabitants. At the commission hearings, Aref Pasha Dajani expressed this opinion about the Jews, "Their history and their past proves that it is impossible to live with them. In all the countries where they are at present, they are not wanted...because they always arrive to suck the blood of everybody..."

By this time, Zionists had recognized the inevitability of conflict with the Palestinian Arabs. David Ben Gurion, who would lead the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) and go on to be the first Prime Minister of Israel, told a meeting of the governing body of the Jewish Yishuv  in 1919 "But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question...We as a nation, want this country to be ours, the Arabs as a nation, want this country to be theirs."

   Click here for books about: The British Mandate Zionism  < Palestine & Palestinians

The Zionists and others presented their case to the Paris Peace conference. Ultimately, the British plan was adopted. The main issues taken into account were division of rights between Britain and France, rather than the views of the inhabitants.

In 1920, Britain received a provisional mandate over Palestine, which would extend west and east of the River Jordan. The area of the mandate (see map at right) given to Britain at the San Remo conference was much larger than historic Palestine as envisaged by the Zionists, who had sought an eastern border to the West of Amman.  The mandate, based on the Balfour declaration, was formalized in 1922.  The British were to help the Jews build a national home and promote the creation of self-governing institutions. The mandate provided for an agency, later called "The Jewish Agency for Palestine," that would represent Jewish interests in Palestine to the British and to promote Jewish immigration. A Jewish agency was created only in 1929, delayed by the desire to create a body that represented both Zionist and non-Zionist Jews. The Jewish agency in Palestine became in many respects the de-facto government of the Jewish Yishuv (community). 

Palestine, Map of British Mandate with Transjordan

The area granted to the mandate was much larger than the area sought by the Zionists. It is possible, that as Churchill suggested in 1922, the British never intended that all of this area would become a Jewish national home. On the other hand, some believe that Britain had no special plans for Transjordan initially. In his memoirs, Sir Alec Kirkbride, the British representative in Amman, wrote that "There was no intention at that stage [1920] of forming the territory east of the river Jordan into an independent Arab state." (Kirkbride, Alexander, A crackle of thorns, London, 1956 p 19) 

However, Abdullah, the son of King Husayn of the Hijaz, marched toward Transjordan with  2,000 soldiers. He announced his intention to march to Damascus, remove the French and reinstate the Hashemite monarchy. Sir Alec Kirkbride,  had 50 policemen. He asked for guidance from the British High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel,  and Samuel eventually replied that  it was unlikely Abdullah would enter British controlled areas. Two days later, Abdullah marched north and by March 1921, he occupied the entire country. Abdullah made no attempt to march on Damascus, and perhaps never intended to do so

In 1922, the British declared that the boundary of Palestine would be limited to the area west of the river. The area east of the river, called Transjordan (now Jordan), was made a separate British mandate and eventually given independence (See map at right) . A part of the Zionist movement felt betrayed at losing a large area of what they termed "historic Palestine" to Transjordan, and split off to form the "Revisionist" movement, headed by Benjamin Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky.

Palestine: Map of British Mandate for Balestine and Transjordan

The British hoped to establish self-governing institutions in Palestine, as required by the mandate. The Jews were alarmed by the prospect of such institutions, which would have an Arab majority. However, the Arabs would not accept proposals for such institutions if they included any Jews at all, and so no institutions were created. The Arabs wanted as little as possible to do with the Jews and the mandate, and would not participate in municipal councils, nor even in the Arab Agency that the British wanted to set up. Ormsby-Gore, undersecretary of state for the colonies concluded, "Palestine is largely inhabited by unreasonable people."

Arab Riots and Jewish immigration - In the spring of 1920, spring of 1921 and summer of 1929, Arab nationalists opposed to the Balfour declaration, the mandate and the Jewish National Home, instigated riots and pogroms against Jews in Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa and Haifa. The violence led to the formation of the Haganah Jewish self-defense organization in 1920. The riots of 1920 and 1921 reflected opposition to the Balfour declaration and fears that the Arabs of Palestine would be dispossessed, and were probably attempts to show the British that Palestine as a Jewish National home would be ungovernable. The major instigators were  Hajj Amin El Husseini, later Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Arif -El Arif, a prominent Palestinian journalist. The riots of 1929 occurred against the background of Jewish-Arab nationalist antagonism. The Arabs claimed that Jewish immigration and land purchases were displacing and dispossessing the Arabs of Palestine. However,  economic, population and other indicators suggest that objectively, the Arabs of Palestine benefited from the Mandate and Zionist investment. Arab standard of living increased faster in Palestine than other areas, and population grew prodigiously throughout the Mandate years. (see Zionism and its Impact).  The riots were also fueled by false rumors that the Jews intended to build a synagogue at the wailing wall, or otherwise encroach upon the Muslim rule over the Temple Mount compound, including the Al-Aqsa mosque. The pogroms led to evacuation of most of the Jewish community of Hebron. . The British responded with the Passfield White Paper. The white paper attempted to stop immigration to Palestine based on the recommendations of the Hope Simpson report. That report stated that in the best case, following extensive economic development, the land could support immigration of another 20,000 families in total. Otherwise further Jewish immigration would infringe on the position of the existing Arab population.  However, British MPs and the Zionist movement sharply criticized the new policy and PM Ramsay McDonald issued a "clarification" stating that Jewish immigration would not be stopped.

Jewish immigration swelled in the 1930s, driven by persecution in Eastern Europe, even before the rise of Nazism. Large numbers of Jews began to come from Poland owing to discriminatory laws and harsh economic conditions. The rise of Hitler in Germany added to this tide of immigration. The Jewish Agency made a deal, the Hesder, that allowed Jews to escape Germany to Palestine in return for hard currency that the Reich needed. The Hesder saved tens of thousands of lives.

Arab Revolt and the White Paper - In 1936 widespread rioting, later known as the Arab Revolt or Great Uprising,  broke out. The revolt was kindled when British forces killed Izz al din El Qassam in a gun battle. Izz al Din El Qassam was a Syrian preacher who had emigrated to Palestine and was agitating against the British and the Jews. The revolt was coopted by Husseini family and by Fawzi El Kaukji, a former Turkish officer, and it was possibl financed in part  by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Thousands of Arabs and hundreds of Jews were killed in the revolt, which spread rapidly owing to initial unpreparedness of the British authorities. About half the 5,000 residents of the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem were forced to flee, and the remnant of the Hebron Jewish community was evacuated as well.

The Husseini family killed both Jews and members of Palestinian Arab families opposed to their hegemony. The Yishuv (Jewish community) responded with both defensive measures, and with random terror and bombings of Arab civilian targets, perpetrated by the Irgun (Irgun Tsvai Leumi or "Etsel,"). Etsel was the military underground of the right-wing dissident "revisionist group" headed first by Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky, who seceded from the Zionist movement, and later by Menachem Begin.  The Peel commission of 1937 recommended partitioning Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab one. The commission's recommendations also included voluntary transfer of Arabs and Jews to separate the populations. The Jewish leadership considered the plan but the Palestinian and Arab leadership, including King Saud of Saudi Arabia , rejected partition and demanded that the British curtail Jewish immigration. Saud said that if the British failed to follow Arab wishes in Palestine, the Arabs would turn against them and side with their enemies. He said that Arabs did not understand the "strange attitude of your British Government, and the still more strange hypnotic influence which the Jews, a race accursed by God according to His Holy Book, and destined to final destruction and eternal damnation hereafter, appear to wield over them and the English people generally." 

In response to the riots, the British began limiting immigration and the 1939 White Paper decreed that 15,000 Jews would be allowed to enter Palestine each year for five years. Thereafter, immigration would be subject to Arab approval. At the same time, the British took drastic and often cruel steps to curtail the riots. Husseini fled to Iraq, where he was involved in an Axis-supported coup against the British and then to Nazi Germany, where he subsequently broadcast for the Axis powers, was active in curtailing Jewish immigration from neutral countries and organized SS death squads in Yugoslavia. (More about he Arab Revolt or Great Uprising).

The Holocaust - During World War II (1939-1945), many Palestinian Arabs and Jews joined the Allied forces. though some Palestinian and Arab leaders were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Jews had a special motivation for fighting the Nazis because of Nazi persecution of Jews and growing suspicions that the Nazis were systematically exterminating the Jews of Europe. These suspicions were later confirmed, and the extermination of European Jews came to be known as the Holocaust.  The threat of extermination also created great pressure for immigration to Palestine, but the gates of Palestine were closed by the British White Paper.  In 1941 the British freed Jewish Haganah underground leaders in a general amnesty, and they joined the British in fighting the Germans.

Illegal Immigration - The Jews of Palestine responded to the White Paper and the Holocaust by organizing illegal immigration to Palestine from occupied Europe, through the "Institution for Illegal Immigration" (Hamossad L'aliya Beth).  Illegal immigration (Aliya Bet)  was organized by the Jewish Agency between 1939 and 1942, when a tightened British blockade and stricter controls in occupied Europe made it impractical, and again between 1945 and 1948. Rickety boats full of refugees tried to reach Palestine. Additionally, there were private initiatives, an initiative by the Nazis to deport Jews and an initiative by the US to save European Jews.  Many of the ships sank or were caught by the British or the Nazis and turned back,  or shipped to Mauritius or other destinations for internment. The Patria (also called "Patra") contained immigrants offloaded from three other ships, for transshipment to the island of Mauritius. To prevent transshipment, the Haganah placed a small explosive charge on the ship on November 25, 1940. They thought the charge would damage the engines.  Instead,  the ship sank, and over 250  lives were lost.  A few weeks later, the SS Bulgaria docked in Haifa with 350 Jewish refugees and was ordered to return to Bulgaria. The Bulgaria capsized in the Turkish straits, killing 280. The  Struma, a vessel that had left Constanta in Rumania with about 769 refugees, got to Istanbul on December 16, 1941. There, it was forced to undergo repairs of its engine and leaking hull. The Turks would not grant the refugees sanctuary. The British would not approve transshipment to Mauritius or entry to Palestine. On February 24, 1942, the Turks ordered the Struma out of the harbor. It sank with the loss of 428 men, 269 women and 70 children. It had been torpedoed by a Soviet submarine, either because it was mistaken for a Nazi ship, or more likely, because the Soviets had agreed to collaborate with the British in barring Jewish immigration.  Illegal immigration continued until late in the war, apparently without the participation of the  Mossad 'aliya Bet.  Despite the many setbacks, tens of thousands of Jews were saved by the illegal immigration.

The Biltmore Declaration - Reports of Nazi atrocities became increasingly frequent and vivid. Despite the desperate need to find a haven for refugees, the doors of Palestine remained shut to Jewish immigration. The Zionist leadership met in the Biltmore Hotel in New York City in 1942 and declared that it supported the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish Commonwealth. This was not simply a return to the Balfour declaration repudiated by the British White Paper, but rather a restatement of Zionist aims that went beyond the Balfour declaration, and a determination that the British were in principle, an enemy to be fought, rather than an ally. 

Assassination of Lord Moyne - On November 6, members of the Jewish Lehi underground  Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet Zuri  assassinated Lord Moyne in Cairo. Moyne, a known anti-Zionist, was Minister of State for the Middle East and in charge of carrying out the terms of the 1939 White Paper - preventing Jewish immigration to Palestine by force. The assassination did not change British policy, but it turned Winston Churchill against the Zionists. Hakim and Bet Zuri were caught and were hanged by the British in 1945.

The Season ("Sezon") - The Jewish Agency and Zionist Executive believed that British and world reaction to the assassination of Lord Moyne could jeopardize cooperation after the war, that had been hinted at by the British, and might endanger the Jewish Yishuv if they came to be perceived as enemies of Britain and the allies. Therefore they embarked on a campaign against the Lehi and Irgun, known in Hebrew as the "Sezon" ("Season"). Members of the underground were to be ostracized. Leaders were caught by the Haganah, interrogated and sometimes tortured,  and about a thousand persons were turned over to the British.

Displaced PersonsAfter the war, it was discovered that the Germans had murdered about six million Jews in Europe, in the Holocaust. These people had been trapped in Europe, because virtually no country would give them shelter. The Zionists felt that British restriction of immigration to Palestine had cost hundreds of thousands of lives. The Jews were now desperate to bring the remaining Jews of Europe, about 250,000 people being held in displaced persons camps, to Palestine.

United Resistance - In the summer of 1945, the Labor party came to power in Great Britain. They had promised that they would reverse the British White Paper and would support a Jewish state in Palestine. However, they presently reneged on their promise, and continued and redoubled efforts to stop Jewish immigration.  The Haganah attempted to bring immigrants into Palestine illegally.  The rival Zionist underground groups now united, and all of them, in particular the Irgun and Lehi ("Stern gang") dissident terrorist groups, used force to try to drive the British out of Palestine. This included bombing of trains, train stations, an officers club and British headquarters in the King David Hotel, as well as kidnapping and murder of British personnel. In Britain, newspapers and politicians began to demand that the government settle the conflict and stop endangering the lives of British troops.

The US and other countries brought pressure to bear on the British to allow immigration. An Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry recommended allowing 100,000 Jews to immigrate immediately to Palestine.  The Arabs brought pressure on the British to block such immigration. The British found Palestine to be ungovernable and returned the mandate to the United Nations, successor to the League of Nations. The report of the Anglo-American Committee provided a detailed summary of the British mandate period and the security situation in Palestine, as well as a report on the effects of the Holocaust and the condition of European Jewry.

Partition - The United Nations Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommended that Palestine be divided into an Arab state and a Jewish state. The commission called for Jerusalem to be put under international administration The UN General Assembly adopted this plan on Nov. 29, 1947 as UN  Resolution (GA 181), owing to support of both the US and the Soviet Union, and in particular, the personal support of US President Harry S. Truman. Many factors contributed to Truman's decision to support partition, including domestic politics and intense Zionist lobbying, no doubt. Truman wrote in his diary, however,  "I think the proper thing to do, and the thing I have been doing, is to do what I think is right and let them all go to hell."

The Jews accepted the UN decision, but the Arabs rejected it. The resolution divided the land into two approximately equal portions in a complicated scheme with zig-zag borders (see map at right and  see Partition Map and detailed partition map). The intention was an economic union between the two states with open borders. At the time of partition, slightly less than half the land in all of Palestine was owned by Arabs, slightly less than half was "crown lands" belonging to the state, and about 8% was owned by Jews or the Jewish Agency. There were about 600,000 Jews in Palestine, almost all living in the areas allotted to the Jewish state or in the internationalized zone of Jerusalem, and about 1.2 million Arabs. The allocation of land by Resolution 181 was intended to produce two areas with Jewish and Arab majorities respectively. Jerusalem and environs were to be internationalized. The relatively large Jewish population of Jerusalem and the surroundings, about 100,000, were geographically cut off from the rest of the Jewish state, separated by a relatively large area, the "corridor," allotted to the Palestinian state. The corridor included the populous Arab towns of Lod and Ramla and the smaller towns of Qoloniyeh, Emaus, Qastel and others that guarded the road to Jerusalem. (Click for Large Detailed Map)

Map of Israel-Palestine UN Partition Plan 1947

It soon became evident that the scheme could not work. Mutual antagonism would make it impossible for either community to tolerate the other. The UN was unwilling and unable to force implementation of the internationalization of Jerusalem. The Arab League, at the instigation of Haj Amin Al-Husseini, declared a war to rid Palestine of the Jews. In fact however, the Arab countries each had separate agendas. Abdullah, king of Jordan, had an informal and secret agreement with Israel, negotiated with Golda Meir, to annex the portions of Palestine allocated to the Palestinian state in the West Bank, and prevent formation of a Palestinian state. Syria wanted to annex the northern part of Palestine, including Jewish and Arab areas.

Modern History

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The War of Independence - 1948 War (the 'Nakba') - The War of Independence or 1948 War is divided into the pre-independence period, and the post-independence period. Clashes between Israeli underground groups and Arab irregulars began almost as soon as the UN passed the partition resolution. During this time, Arab countries did not invade, though the Jordan legion did assist the in the attack against Gush Etzion, a small block of settlements in the territory allocated to the Palestinian state, south of Jerusalem.

Pre-Independence - During the period before Israeli independence was declared, two armies of Arab irregular volunteers, let by Haj Amin El Husseini in the Jerusalem area, and by Fawzi El Kaukji in the Galilee, placed their fighters in Arab towns and conducted various aggressive operations against the Jewish towns and village under the eyes of the British. Kaukji and his irregulars were allowed into Palestine from Syria by the British, with the agreement that he would not engage in military actions, but he soon broke the agreement and attacked across the Galilee. The Arab irregulars were met by the Zionist underground army, the Haganah, and by the underground groups of the "dissident" factions, Irgun and Lehi.

In Jerusalem, Arab riots broke out on November 30 and December 1 1947. Palestinian irregulars cut off the supply of food, water and fuel to Jerusalem during a long siege that began in late 1947. Fighting and violence broke out immediately throughout the country, including ambushes of transportation, the Jerusalem blockade, riots such as the Haifa refinery riots, and massacres that took place at Gush Etzion (by Palestinians) and in Deir Yassin (by Jews). Arab Palestinians began leaving their towns and villages to escape the fighting. Notably, most of the Arab population of Haifa left in March and April of 1948, despite pleas by both Jewish and British officials to stay.

The British did little to stop the fighting, but the scale of hostilities was limited by lack of arms and trained soldiers on both sides. Initially, the Palestinians had a clear advantage, and a Haganah intelligence report of March, 1948 indicated that the situation was critical, especially in the Jerusalem area.   It is generally agreed that April 1948 marked a turning point in the fighting  before the invasion by Arab armies, in favor of the initially outnumbered and outgunned Jewish forces. To break the siege of Jerusalem, the Haganah prematurely activated "Plan Dalet" - a plan prepared for general defense that was supposed to have been implemented when the British had left. It required use of regular armed forces and army tactics, fighting in the open, rather than as an underground. It also envisioned the "temporary" evacuation of Arab civilians from towns in certain strategic areas, such as the Jerusalem corridor. This provision has been cited as evidence that the Zionists planned for the exodus and expulsion of Arab civilians in advance.

The Haganah mounted its first full scale operation, Operation Nahshon, using 1,500 troops. It attacked the Arab villages of Qoloniyah and Qastel, occupied by Arab irregular forces after the villagers had fled, on the road to Jerusalem and temporarily broke the siege, allowing convoys of supplies to reach the city. Qastel fell on April 8, and the key Palestinian military commander, Abdel Khader Al-Husseini was killed there. Qoloniyeh fell on April 11. In the north, Fawzi El-Kaukji's "Salvation Army" was beaten back at the battle of Mishmar Haemeq on April 12, 1948. These successes helped convince US President Truman that the Jews would not be overrun by Arab forces, and he abandoned the trusteeship proposal that the US had put before the UN earlier.  Following attacks by Arab irregulars, the Irgun attacked the Arab town of Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv. Palestinians fled en masse despite the pleas of the British to remain.

The Arab Invasion - The governments of neighboring Arab states were more reluctant than is generally assumed to enter the war against Israel, despite bellicose declarations. However, fear of popular pressure combined with fear that other Arab states would gain an advantage over them by fighting in Palestine, helped sway Syria, Jordan and Egypt to go to war. While officially they were fighting according to one plan, in fact there was little coordination between them.

On May 14, 1948, the Jews proclaimed the independent State of Israel, and the British withdrew from Palestine. In the following days and weeks, neighboring Arab nations invaded Palestine and Israel (click here for map). The fighting was conducted in several brief periods, punctuated by cease fire agreements ( truces were declared June 11 to July 8, 1948 and July 19- October 15, 1948).

In the initial stage, notable successes were scored by the Egyptian and Syrian armies. In particular, the Egyptians, backed by tanks, artillery, armor and aircraft, which Israel did not have, were able to cut off the entire Negev and to occupy parts of the land that had been allocated to the Jewish state.  In his book, "In the Fields of Phillistia," Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery recounts how the Egyptian army attempted a massed armored strike against Tel Aviv. Palestinian attempts to set up a real state were blocked by Egypt and Jordan. Jordan kept to its agreement not to invade areas allocated to the Jewish state, but Syria and Egypt did not. The strike was turned back by a few recently arrived Messerchmidt aircraft, bought from Czechoslovakia. The Syrians made some advances into the territory that had been allotted to the Palestinian state.

While Jordan did not invade Jewish territory, the Arab Legion blocked convoys to besieged Jewish Jerusalem from its fortified positions in Latroun. Jerusalem was to have been internationalized according to UN General Assembly Resolution 181 and  UN General Assembly Resolution 303.The Jordanian positions at Latroun (or Latrun) could not be overcome despite several bloody attacks. To get around it, the Israelis ultimately built a "Burma Road' that was completed in June of 1948 and broke the siege of Jerusalem.

The first cease fire and the Altalena - A cease fire in June gave all sides time to regroup and reorganize. This marked a critical stage in the fighting. The Arab side made a crucial error in accepting the truce. The Israelis took advantage of the cease fire to reorganize and recruit and train soldiers. They were now able to bring in large shiploads of arms, despite the treaty terms, and to train and organize a real fighting force of 60,000 troops, giving them a real advantage in troops and armament for the first time. The truce probably saved Jerusalem, which had been on the brink of starvation. During the long truce, the underground armies of the Haganah, Palmah, Irgun and Lehi were amalgamated into a single national fighting force, the Israel Defense Force (IDF). The revisionist Irgun movement attempted to bring a shipload of arms into Israel on a ship called the Altalena, in order to maintain a separate fighting force. Israeli PM Ben Gurion ordered the IDF to sink the Altalena when Irgun leader Menahem Begin refused to give up its cargo of arms.  The Palestinians and Arabs did not use the time well. A large shipment of arms intended for the Palestinians was blocked by the IDF/Haganah and never reached Syria. Arab states were reluctant to commit more men to the struggle or to spend more money.

Resumption of the war - The war with the Egyptians had been static, as they were isolated in the "Falluja" pocket in central Israel. After the cease fire expired, Israel took the war with the Egyptians to their territory and entered the Sinai peninsula. The IDF was forced to withdraw after encounters with British aircraft.

In the center, the IDF cut a swath of land to open the "corridor" between Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. During the "ten days" period of fighting between the two truces, they invaded the Arab towns of Lod and Ramla that had been blocking the road to Jerusalem and expelled most of the Palestinians living there, after killing a large number. They destroyed numerous small Palestinian villages surrounding Tel-Aviv, so that virtually no Palestinians were left in central Israel. (Click here for a map of Palestine before 1948)

The Arab defeat and the birth of the refugee problem - Despite initial setbacks, better organization and intelligence successes, as well as timely clandestine arms shipments, enabled the Jews to gain a decisive victory. The Arabs and Palestinians lost their initial advantage when they failed to organize and unite. When the fighting ended in 1949, Israel held territories beyond the boundaries set by the UN plan - a total of 78% of the area west of the Jordan river. The UN made no serious attempt to enforce the internationalization of Jerusalem, which was now divided between Jordan and Israel, and separated by barbed wire fences and no man's land areas. Click here to view a map of the UN plan for Jerusalem and Jerusalem as divided under the armistice agreements. The rest of the area assigned to the Arab state was occupied by Egypt and Jordan.  Egypt held the Gaza Strip and Jordan held the West Bank.   About 726,000 Arabs fled or were driven out of Israel and became refugees in neighboring Arab countries. The conflict created about as many Jewish refugees from Arab countries, many of whom were stripped of their property, rights and nationality, but Israel has not pursued claims on behalf of these refugees (see Jewish refugees of the Arab-Israel conflict).

The Arab countries refused to sign a permanent peace treaty with Israel. Consequently, the borders of Israel established by the armistice commission never received de jure (legal) international recognition. Arabs call the defeat and exile of the Palestinian Arabs in 1948 the Nakba (disaster).

The UN arranged a series of cease-fires between the Arabs and the Jews in 1948 and 1949. UN GA Resolution 194 called for cessation of hostilities and return of refugees who wish to live in peace. Security Council Resolution 62 called for implementation of armistice agreements that would lead to a permanent peace. The borders of Israel were established along the "green line" of the armistice agreements of 1949. (Click here for a map of the armistice lines (so called "green line") . These borders were not recognized by Arab states, which continued to refuse to recognize Israel.  Though hostilities ceased, the refugee problem was not solved. Negotiations broke down because Israel refused to readmit more than a small number of refugees. The USSR, initially in favor of the Zionist state, now aligned itself with the Arab countries. Despite continued US support for the existence of Israel, US aid to Israel was minimal and did not include military aid during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were equipped with surplus arms purchased third hand and with French aircraft and light armor. The Arab countries, especially Syria and Egypt, began receiving large quantities of Soviet military aid. The Arab League instituted an economic boycott against Israel that was partly honored by most industrial nations and continued in force until the 1990s.

Israel: Map of Green line armistice borders, 1948

Map of the Israel  "Green Line" Borders

The Sinai Campaign - Following the overthrow of King Farouk of Egypt by the free officers headed by Naguib and Nasser, Egypt made some moves toward peace with Israel. However, in 1954, an Israeli spy ring was caught trying to blow up the US Information agency and other foreign institutions in Egypt. The goal was to create tension between the US and Egypt and prevent rapprochement. In Israel, both Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon and Prime Minister David Ben Gurion disclaimed responsibility for the action, and blamed each other. This incident came to be known variously as "the Lavon affair" and "the shameful business." (click here for details).  Egypt became suspicious of Israeli intentions, and began negotiating to purchase large quantities of arms. When they were turned down by the West, the Egyptians turned to the Eastern bloc countries and concluded a deal with Czechoslovakia. Egyptian President Gamal Nasser also closed the straits of Tiran and Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. Israeli strategists believed that Egypt would go to war or force a diplomatic showdown as soon the weapons had been integrated, and began looking for a source of arms as well. Israel concluded an arms deal with France. A series of border incursions by Palestinians and by Egyptians from Gaza evoked increasingly severe Israeli reprisals, triggering larger raids. The assessment of Israeli "activists" like Moshe Dayan was that Israel should wage preventive war before Egypt had fully integrated the new weapons.

In the summer of 1956, Israel, France and Britain colluded in a plan to reverse the nationalization of the Suez canal. Israel would invade the Sinai and land paratroopers near the Mitla pass. Britain and France would issue an ultimatum, and then land troops ostensibly to separate the sides.  The plan was carried out beginning October 29, 1956. Israel swiftly conquered Sinai. The US was furious at Israel, Britain and France. UN General Assembly Resolution 997 called for immediate withdrawal.  Israeli troops remained in Sinai for many months. Israel subsequently withdrew under pressure from the UN and in particular the United States. Israel obtained guarantees that international waterways would remain open to Israeli shipping from the US, and a UN force was stationed in Sinai.

Israel and the Arabs: Map of Sinai Campaign, 1956

Sinai Campaign - Map

The beginning of the Fatah - Yasser Arafat, an Egyptian Palestinian who grew up in the Gaza strip and had been a member of the Ikhwan (Muslim Brothers) and the Futuwwah or Futtuwah (officially called "Nazi Scouts" according to Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, 1999, page 124, Palestinian armed faction of Grand Mufti Hajj Amin El Husseini) was recruited by Egyptian intelligence while studying in Cairo in 1955, and founded the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS). In 1957 he moved to Kuwait and together with Khalil Al Wazir (Abu Jihad) Farouq Qadumi, Khalid al Hassan and others founded the Palestine Liberation Committee, later renamed the Fatah (reverse acronym for Harakat Tahrir Filistin - the Palestine Liberation Movement) modeled on the Algerian FLN.

The 1967 6-Day War - Tension began developing between Israel and Arab countries in the 1960s. Israel began to implement its National Water Carrier plan, which pumps water from the Sea of Galilee to irrigate south and central Israel. The project was in accordance with a plan proposed by US envoy Eric Johnston in 1955, and agreed to by Arab engineers. Arab governments refused to participate however, because of the implied recognition of Israel. In secret meetings, Israel and Jordan agreed to abide by the water quotas set by the plan.

The newly formed Palestinian Fatah movement seized on the Israeli diversion as an "imperialist event" that would catalyze their revolution, and Yasser Arafat began calling for war to eliminate Israel. In the Fatah newspaper, Filistinunah, ("our Palestine") Arafat ridiculed Egyptian President Nasser and other Arab leaders for their impotence, and called for effective action against Israel. Nasser decided to found the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a "tame" alternative to the Fatah, and placed Ahmed Shukhairy, an ineffective and bombastic diplomat at its head.

The Syrians, who had broken with Nasser's pan-Arabism, countered by supporting Fatah and attempted to take over the Fatah group. Syrian army intelligence  recruited terrorists for actions against Israel, giving credit for the operations to Fatah. The first of these actions was announced on December 31, 1964, an attack on the Israel water carrier at Beit Netopha, but in fact no attack had taken place. A second attempt was made on January 2, 1965, but the explosives charge was disarmed. However, successful attacks soon followed on January 14 and February 28. These minor terrorist activities received great publicity in the Arab world, and were contrasted with the lack of action and bombastic talk of Gamal Nasser, challenging Nasser's leadership. This ferment is considered the catalyst of the events that brought about the 6-day war. It is a moot point whether it is to be attributed to Syrian rivalry with Nasser, or as Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians claim, to the Fatah movement. Faced with the "heroic" deeds of the Palestinians under Syrian tutelage, Nasser was pushed to an increasingly bellicose stance.

In several summit conferences beginning in 1964, Arab leaders ratified the  establishment of the PLO, declared their resolve to destroy Israel, and decided to divert the sources of the Jordan river that feed the Sea of Galilee, to prevent Israel from implementing the water carrier plan. The Syrians and Lebanese began to implement the diversions. Israel responded by firing on the tractors and equipment doing the work in Syria, using increasingly accurate and longer range guns as the Syrians moved the equipment from the border. This was followed by Israeli attempts to cultivate the demilitarized zones (DMZ) as provided in the armistice agreements. Israel was within its rights according to the armistice agreements, but Moshe Dayan claimed many years later that 80% of the incidents were deliberately provoked. The Syrians responded by firing in the DMZs (Click here for a map of the demilitarized zones). When Israelis responded in force, Syria began shelling Israeli towns in the north, and the conflict escalated into air strikes.  The USSR was intent on protecting the new Ba'athist pro-Soviet government of Syria, and represented to the Syrians and Egyptians that Israel was preparing to attack Syria. As tension rose, Syria appealed to Egypt, believing the claim of the USSR that Israel was massing troops on the Syrian border. The claim was false and was denied by the UN.

Against this background, in Mid-May, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser began making bellicose statements. On May 16, 1967, a Radio Cairo broadcast stated: "The existence of Israel has continued too long. We welcome the Israeli aggression. We welcome the battle we have long awaited. The peak hour has come. The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel." On the same day, Egypt asked for the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) from Sinai and the Gaza Strip. UN Secretary General U Thant agreed to remove the troops on May 18. Formally, the troops could only be stationed in Egypt with Egyptian agreement. However, for a long time it was believed that Nasser had really hoped U Thant would not remove the troops, and that he could use the presence of the UN troops as an excuse to do nothing.

On May 23, Nasser closed the straits of  Tiran to Israeli shipping. The United States failed to live up to its guarantees of freedom of the waterways to Israel. A torrent of rhetoric issued from Arab capitals and in the UN. At the UN, PLO Chairman Ahmed Shukhairy announced that "if it will be our privilege to strike the first blow" the PLO would expel from Palestine all Zionists who had arrived after 1917 and eliminate the state of Israel. In a speech to Arab Trade Unionists on May 26, 1967, Nasser justified the dismissal of the UNEF, and made it clear that Egypt was prepared to fight Israel for Palestinian rights. He also attacked the Jordanians as tools of the imperialists, stepping up the constant pressure on Jordan's King Hussein.

Despite the bellicose rhetoric, analysts such as Avi Shlaim (The Iron Wall) and others believe that each country was dragged into the conflict by inter-Arab rivalry and did not contemplate a war. Nasser never intended to attack Israel according to Shlaim. He had been dragged into the conflict by Soviet maneuvers and Syrian fears and his need to claim leadership of the Arab world according to them. Be that as it may, according to Michael Oren, recently declassified documents reveal that the Egyptians in fact planned to attack Israel on May 28, 1948. The plan, codenamed operation Dawn, was discovered by Israel. The Israelis told the Americans. US President Johnson told Soviet Premier Kosygin, and Kosygin wrote to Nasser. Nasser understood that he had lost the element of surprise and called off the attack. Nonetheless, on May 29, 1967, Nasser was still speaking of confrontation with Israel. He told members of the Egyptian National Assembly,  "God will surely help and urge us to restore the situation to what it was in 1948."

IDF officers began pressuring the civilian establishment to declare war, because it was considered that an Arab attack might be imminent, and because Israel's ability to maintain its army fully mobilized is limited, but Prime Minister Eshkol was reluctant to take action, and Foreign Minister Abba Eban opposed unilateral action, which he believed would be against the wishes of the United States. Ariel Sharon now admits that he and others, including Yitzhak Rabin, had discussed the possibility of a sort of coup, in which government officials were to be locked in a room, while the army started the war, but the idea never got passed the stage of thinking out loud.  

On May 30, Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt, readying itself for war. King Hussein stated: "The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived. We have reached the stage of serious action and not declarations." 

On June 4, Iraq likewise joined a military alliance with Egypt and committed itself to war. On May 31, the Iraqi President Rahman Aref announced, "This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear--to wipe Israel off the map."

US and Israeli assessments were that Israel would win any war handily, despite the huge superiority in armor, aircraft, and troops favoring the combined forces of the Arab countries. Prior to 1967, Israel had gotten almost no military aid from the United States. Egypt and Syria were equipped with large quantities of the latest Soviet military equipment. Israel's main arms supplier was France. On paper, Israel had almost as many aircraft as the Egyptians, but the Israeli aircraft were mostly old, and even the Super-Mirages were no match for the Mig-21 fighters acquired by Egypt from the USSR. On paper, the IDF had a large number of "tanks" matching or almost matching the arms of the Arab countries. However, while Syrians and Egyptians were equipped with late model Soviet heavy tanks, many of the Israeli "tanks" were in fact tiny French AMX anti-tank vehicles, and the heavy tanks were refurbished WWII Sherman tanks fitted with diesel engines. Israel had also been allowed to purchase about 250 M-48 Patton tanks from the US in 1965.  The Israeli and Jewish public, and some in the government, believed that there was a mortal threat to Israel. Thousands of graves were dug in Tel Aviv public parks in anticipation of the heavy casualties.

The Israeli government probably did not want war, and some at least were fearful of war. Ben Gurion berated Chief of Staff Itzhak Rabin for making aggressive statements that had, according to him, escalated the conflict and gotten Israel into trouble. Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol appeared hesitant, and stuttered in a dramatic radio speech to the nation. Under great public pressure from opposition parties, a unity government was formed. Foreign Minister Abba Eban tried in vain to obtain from the US a guarantee that they would reopen the straights of Tiran. At first, President Johnson promised an international flotilla, and warned Israel not to attack on its own. However, the US was unable to initiate any international action, and reversed its position, hinting broadly that Israel would have to handle the problem itself.

Israel could not maintain total mobilization indefinitely. When it became apparent that Egypt would not stand down, Israel attacked the Egyptians beginning on June 5, 1967. In the first hours of the war, Israel destroyed over 400 enemy aircraft to achieve total air superiority. Israeli troops quickly conquered the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza. Jordanian artillery began firing at Jerusalem on the first day of the war, despite a warning by Israeli PM Levi Eshkol to stay out of the war, and then the Jordan Legion advanced and took over the headquarters of the UN (Governor's house - Armon Hanatziv ) in Jerusalem. After warning King Hussein repeatedly to cease fire and withdraw, Israel conquered the West Bank and Jerusalem. During the first days of the war, Syrian artillery based in the Golan Heights pounded civilian targets in northern Israel. After dealing with Egypt, Israel decided to conquer the Golan heights, despite opposition and doubts of some in the government, including Moshe Dayan, who had been appointed defense minister. (see map of territories occupied in 1967) and despite the fact that the UN had already called for a cease fire.  Israel agreed to a cease fire on June 10, 1967 after conquering the Golan Heights. UN Resolution 242 called for negotiations of a permanent peace between the parties, and for Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967. More details here: 6-day war

The aftermath of the war - The 1967 6-Day war changed the perceived balance of power in the Middle East and created a new reality. Israel had acquired extensive territories - the Sinai desert, the Golan heights and the West Bank, that were several times larger than the 1948 borders. (Click here to view a map of Israeli borders after the 6 day war). Nasser had been able to attribute the Egyptian defeat in 1956 to British and French support of the Israelis. Though he tried to blame the 1967 defeat on support supposedly given by the US Sixth fleet, this was clearly untrue.

According to analysts such as Fouad Ajami, the disastrous defeat of the Arabs spelled the end of the Pan-Arab approach advocated by Gamal Abdul Nasser and contributed to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. It should be remembered however, that Nasser and the pan-Arabists always viewed themselves as heads of the Islamic world as well as the Arab world.

While Israel had acquired territories and a military victory, it also marked a new day for Palestinian aspirations. The defeat brought about a million Palestinian Arabs under Israeli rule. After the war, the fate of the Palestinians came to play a large role in the Arab-Israeli struggle. The Fatah organization (The Movement for Liberation of Palestine) was founded about 1957 (though it was formalized much later), and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization)  was founded in 1964. Both had the declared aim of destroying Israel. After the 6-day war, Ahmad Shukairy, who had headed the PLO, was replaced as chairman by Yasser Arafat who headed the Fatah. Fatah and the PLO now had freedom of action, without the restraints of the discredited Arab regimes. Since all parts of Palestine were now under Israeli control, Fatah actions did not directly threaten Arab governments.  In time, the Palestine Liberation Organization  became recognized by all the Arab states and eventually by the UN as the representative of the Palestinian people. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat addressed a session of the UN General Assembly in 1974. Israel strongly opposed the PLO because of its terrorist acts against Jews and because of its charter aims of destroying the state of Israel and expelling Jews who had arrived after 1917.

Israel and the Arabs: Map of 6 Day war cease-fire lines 1967

Map of Israel-Arab Cease Fire Lines 1967

The Israeli government was undecided concerning its plans for the territories. The United States pressured Israel to make a statement calling for withdrawal from the conquered territories in return for peace. On June 19, 1967, the government decided to offer Egypt and Syria return of the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights for a peace settlement to be negotiated directly. The offer apparently did not include the Gaza strip, and called for demilitarization of Sinai. In the Golan, Israel offered to withdraw to the international border rather than the 1949 armistice lines, not including the territory conquered by Syria in 1948.  J ordan and the West Bank were not mentioned. The offer was transmitted in secret through the United States, but was turned down. Egypt and Syria refused to negotiate with Israel.

At the request of Jordan's King Hussein, Ya'akov Herzog met with him in the offices of his physician in London, on the evening of July 2, 1967. According to Herzog's notes of the meeting, Hussein discussed the reasons why he had been forced to go to war at length. He said that if there were to be peace, there would have to be peace with honor, however he did not ask for peace. He did not reply when Herzog asked him if he was offering peace, but said he would reply in time. Israel did not have a concrete peace proposal for Jordan. Herzog offered his private view, that there should be an economic confederation. (This meeting is documented in Segev, Tom, Israel in 1967 (1967: Veharetz shinta et paneiha - in Hebrew only), 2005, pp 530-536). 

Religious and nationalist groups began agitating for annexation and settlement of areas in the West Bank and Golan heights. Some government ministers including Pinchas Sapir, Zalman Aran of the Labor party and the NRP's Yaakov Shimshon Shapira feared the demographic problems that would arise from conquering all those Arabs. Shapira also pointed out that annexing the West Bank would lend credence to claims that Israel was a colonialist enterprise. Menachem Begin and Yigal Alon favored annexation. Moshe Dayan proposed that the Arabs of the West Bank should be given autonomy, but Menachem Begin, who was later to favor the plan, objected. He believed large numbers of Jews could now be brought to Israel to settle the territories, and the Arabs would be given a choice between becoming citizens or leaving.

The Mossad had proposed a Palestinian state under Israeli protection in a report dated June 14, 1967 (Segev, 1967, pp 537-538), but this was not accepted. According to some sources, in the summer of 1967, Moshe Dayan received a delegation of notables who proposed self-rule for the West Bank, but he rejected the offer.

By July 1967, Yigal Alon had submitted his "Alon Plan" which called for Israeli retention of large parts of the West Bank in any peace settlement for strategic reasons.   An increasing number of settlements were established as it became evident that Arab states would not negotiate with Israel. A decisive turning point was the Khartoum Arab summit, in August and September of 1967, which seemed to shut the door on the possibility of negotiations with Israel or recognition of Israel in any form. The Khartoum resolutions may not have been an insurmountable barrier to peace. In 1970, King Hussein of Jordan supposedly offered to make peace in return for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and return of the holy places, but the offer was politely turned down.

A second landmark was the "Zionism is Racism" resolution passed by the United Nations in 1975, which gave credibility in Israel to claims of Israeli extremists that opposition to settlements was opposition to Israel, and that Israel was essentially alone in a hostile world and could expect no justice. The resolution was repealed in 1991, but similar sentiments surfaced at a UN conference in Durban in 2001. Likewise in  November 1975, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Harold H Saunders, told a US House Committee that the US now recognized the importance of the Palestinian national issue in the conflict, and hinted broadly that the US would be willing to facilitate a solution that took account of Palestinian rights, if the PLO would recognize the relevant UN resolutions, including Israel's right to exist, and would be amenable to a reasonable compromise.  This policy was to bear fruit eventually in the Oslo Peace Process, after PLO Chairman Arafat announced PLO acceptance of UN Resolution 242 in 1988.

Meanwhile however, settlement expansion became official Israeli policy after the opposition revisionist Likud party came to power in 1977, and continued during the Oslo accords. As of 2003, about 220,000  Israelis had settled in areas of the West Bank and Gaza, and an additional 200,000 were settled in areas of Jerusalem and environs conquered in 1967. About 15,000 Jews were settled in the Golan heights taken from Syria. (Click for Map of Israeli West Bank Settlements-2002)

The War of Attrition - After the 6-Day war, Egyptian president Nasser launched the war of attrition on the Suez canal, breaking the cease fire. In Israel, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had died and was replaced by the hawkish Golda Meir. The sides fought to a standstill in increasingly bloody exchanges that included participation by Soviet pilots on the Egyptian side. Under US pressure, a second cease fire was signed in August 1970, with both sides declaring officially their acceptance of UN Resolution 242. Nasser died shortly thereafter, and was replaced by Anwar Sadat. Sadat tried repeatedly to interest Israel in partial peace deals in return for partial Israeli withdrawal, and the US and UN tried to mediate peace through the offices of Gunnar Jarring. Nothing came of these peace efforts, partly owing to the stubborn attitude of Israeli PM Golda Meir, who insisted that Israeli troops would not budge until there was a peace agreement in place. Sadat continued to alternate peace plans with threats of war, but he was not taken seriously in Israel. Israeli army intelligence as well as the government were convinced that Israel had absolute military superiority and that Egypt would not dare to attack until it had rebuilt its army. Therefore, the best course seemed to be to wait until the Arab countries met Israel's terms.

The October War (Yom Kippur War) - In October 1973, Egypt and Syria launched another war against Israel, after the Israeli government headed by Golda Meir rebuffed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's offers to negotiate a settlement. The Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal on the afternoon of October 6, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish religious calendar. The Israeli government had ignored repeated intelligence warnings. They were convinced that Israeli arms were a sufficient deterrent to any aggressor. Sadat had twice announced his intention to go to war, but nothing had happened. When the intelligence reports were finally believed, on the morning of the attack, PM Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan decided not to mobilize reserves.

The Israelis were caught by surprise in more ways than one. Egyptians poured huge numbers of troops across the canal unopposed and began setting up a beachhead. The Israel Army had neglected basic maintenance tasks and drill. As troops mustered, it became apparent that equipment was missing and tanks were out of commission. The line of outposts built as watch posts along the Suez canal - the Bar Lev line, was used instead as a line of fortifications intended to hold off the Egyptians as long as possible. A tiny number of soldiers faced the Egyptian onslaught and were wiped out after stubborn resistance. The Soviets had sold the Egyptians new technology - better surface to air missiles (SAM) and hand held Sager anti-tank weapons. Israel had counted on air power to tip the balance on the battlefield, and had neglected artillery. But the air-force was initially neutralized because of the effectiveness of SAM missiles, until Israel could destroy the radar stations controlling them. Futile counterattacks continued in Sinai for several days as Israeli divisions coped with traffic jams that prevented concentration of forces, and with effective Egyptian resistance.

Meanwhile, less than 200 Israeli tanks were left guarding the Golan heights against far superior numbers. Syrians made serious and at first unopposed inroads in the Golan as Egyptians crossed the Suez canal and retook a strip of the Sinai peninsula. After suffering heavily losses, Israel reconquered the Golan.  Click for map of Syrian Front

In Sinai, Israel troops crossed the canal. General Ariel Sharon, disobeying the orders of cautious superiors,  tried to run ahead of logistics and support to develop the bridgehead on the Egyptian side of the Suez canal. This small force was reinforced after bridges were put across the canal, and the Israelis cut off the entire Egyptian third army. (Click for map of Egyptian front )  Cease-fires ended most of the fighting within a month. About 2,700 Israeli soldiers and 8,500 Arab soldiers died in the war As a result of the war, the Golda Meir was forced to resign as Prime Minister of Israel, making way for Yitzhak Rabin, who had been Israeli ambassador to the US and previously Chief of staff of the IDF. Click for details of the Yom Kippur War

Oil Embargo - In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, Arab states led by Saudi Arabia declared an oil embargo, targeting the United States and the Netherlands in particular for their support for Israel. Oil production was reduced by 340 million barrels from October to December of 1973. Prices soared from $3 to over $11 a barrel, due to panic stockpiling as well as actual shortages. Oil sold to European countries eventually made its way to the United States and the Netherlands in any case, but there were nonetheless long lines for gasoline and overnight price increases. The embargo continued until March of 1974. The embargo heightened the perception that Arab countries could exercise political leverage by controlling the oil supply. It probably helped motivate European diplomatic moves that were conciliatory to the Arabs, and played a part in the invitation of Yasser Arafat to address the UN General Assembly, granting of a permanent observer status at the UN to the PLO and passage of the Zionism is Racism resolution in 1975. 

Peace With Egypt - Subsequent shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger resulted in partial Israeli withdrawals from the Sinai peninsula, under much less favorable terms than could have been obtained before the war. Right-wing opposition leader Menahem Begin was adamant in his opposition to any withdrawals. However, in 1978, Egypt led by Anwar Sadat, and Israel, now led by Menahem Begin, signed the Camp David framework agreements, leading to a Peace treaty in 1979. Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982.

The PLO in Lebanon and the Lebanese Civil War -  Lebanon became increasingly unstable as Maronite Christians found their once--dominant position threatened by demographic changes which gave Muslims an increasingly large majority. Tensions between different religious groups were exacerbated by clan rivalry. Lebanon also has a relatively large population of Palestinian refugees, who incurred the animosity of native Lebanese, especially the Christians.  A revolt by the PLO against the Jordanian government led to the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan in 1970. PLO fighters streamed into Lebanon, incited tension between Muslims and Christians and turned Lebanon into a base for attacks on Israel. In 1975, an attack by Christian Phalangist militias on a bus carrying Palestinians ignited the civil war.  the Christian Phalangists and Muslim militias massacred at least 600 Muslims and Christians at checkpoints, beginning the 1975-1976 civil war. Full-scale civil war broke out, with the Palestinians joining the Muslim forces, controlling an increasingly lawless West Beirut. Lebanese political and social life descended into chaos, characterized by a grim routine of car bombs, assassinations and harassment and killing of civilians at roadblocks set up by warring militias. 

On January 20, 1976, PLO fighters, possibly reinforced by a  Syrian PLO contingent that had entered Lebanon in 1975, destroyed the Christian towns of Jiyeh and Damour, massacring about 500 people. In March, Major Saad Haddad formed the Southern Lebanese Army (SLA), a militia intended to protect Christian residents of southern Lebanon, which was allied with Israel  In June, 1976, with the Maronites on the verge of defeat,  President Elias Sarkis called for Syrian intervention. With the agreement of the Americans and the Israelis, the Syrians entered Lebanon ostensibly to protect the Christians and the fragile Lebanese multi-ethnic multi-religious constitution, but also to further long-standing Baathist ambitions to make Lebanon as part of Greater Syria.  On August 13, 1976, under the protection and with the probable active participation of the Syrian army, the Christian Phalangist militia attacked the Tel al-Za'atar refugee camp and killed as many as 3,000 civilians.

After an attack on a bus on the Haifa-Tel-Aviv road, in which about thirty people were killed, Israel invaded Lebanon in March 1978. It occupied most of the area south of the Litani River in Operation Litani. In response, UN Security Council resolution 425 called for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces and the creation of an UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), charged with maintaining peace.

Israeli forces turned over positions inside Lebanon along the border to the SLA. The SLA and Israel set up a 12-mile wide security zone to protect Israeli territory from attacks across the border, and to protect local residents from the PLO, which had been occupying their villages and using them as bases for shelling Israel.  This southern area became an "open border" area separated by the "good fence,"  allowing Lebanese residents to find work in Israel. Attacks and counter attacks along the northern border of Israel continued. In July of 1981 a cease-fire between Israel and the PLO was brokered by the US. It was generally honored by both sides. Nonetheless, the PLO continued to gather strength and dig in in southern Lebanon.

The 1982 War in Lebanon (Peace for the Galilee) - On June 3 1982, terrorists of the Abu Nidal faction, not controlled by the PLO, shot Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov in the head in London. In response, Israel invaded Lebanon in force. Most analysts believe that the shooting of Argov served only as an excuse for an operation planned by defense Minister Ariel Sharon with the tacit approval of the US administration. The Iranian Islamist regime sent its Pasdaran revolutionary guards, who had previously organized the takeover of the US embassy in Teheran, into Lebanon, and began organizing a resistance movement, The Hizb Allah (party of Allah) or Hizbolla.

The Israel invasion  resulted in expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon to Tunis in August.  The war aroused furor in Israel as the army exceeded the official war aims. On September 14, 1982, the Lebanese President-elect, Bashir Gemayel, an Israeli ally, was killed by a large bomb that was apparently planted by Syrian intelligence. Ostensibly to maintain order, the Israeli government decided to move into West Beirut. They allowed or sent their Lebanese Phalangist Christian allies into the Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian refugee camps.  The Phalangists committed a massacre in Sabra and Shatilla, killing about 700 people and exciting the wrath of the international community as well as the Israeli public. An Israeli commission of inquiry led by judge Kahan indirectly implicated Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and several others in the massacres, noting that they could have foreseen the possibility of the violence and acted to prevent it. The Kahan report resulted in the resignation of Sharon as defense minister. Israel subsequently extricated itself slowly from Lebanon.  As Israel withdrew, Lebanon became increasingly lawless. Beirut life came to be characterized by gunfire, kidnappings and bombings.  Attempts by the US to restore order failed owing to large scale suicide bombings of a marine barracks and the US embassy. The US withdrew and Lebanon, especially Beirut, deteriorated into chaos. Order was restored only after Lebanon became essentially a satellite of Syria. Israel continued to maintain a presence in south Lebanon until 2000, when the last Israeli troops were withdrawn by PM Ehud Barak.

The Pollard Affair - In November 1985, Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American employee of the US Naval Anti-Terrorist Alert Center was arrested for spying for Israel. He pleaded guilty in a plea bargain deal, but the US government apparently reneged on the deal and Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987, an exceptional sentence relative to similar cases. The affair was a severe embarrassment to US-Israeli relations and raised the specter of "double loyalty" accusations for American Jews. At the same time, Pollard became a cause celebre of the Zionist right, who pointed out that he had been used and abandoned by the Israeli government, which did little to secure his freedom.

The First Intifada  - While the fortunes of the PLO waned, Palestinians in the occupied territories took their fate into their own hands. Beginning in 1987, a revolt called the Intifadeh began in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The revolt was initiated by local residents and involved mostly low-level violence such as rock throwing, winning sympathy for the struggle of the Palestinians against the Israeli occupiers.  By 1991 however, the Intifadeh had all but ended. 

The Oslo Peace Process

Following the Gulf war, US pressure, the ongoing break up of the USSR and favorable international opinion made it possible to convene negotiations toward settlement of the Palestinian problem.  In 1993 and 1995, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles and The Oslo Interim Agreement. which created the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), a supposedly temporary entity that would have the power to negotiate with Israel and to govern areas of the West Bank and Gaza evacuated by Israel. Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994.  The peace process with the Palestinians led to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and most cities and towns of the West Bank by early 1996. In January 1996, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank elected a legislature controlled by the Fatah faction, with Yasser Arafat  as Chairman (titled "Rais" - "President" by the Palestinians) to administer these areas. As the Israelis withdrew, Palestinians took control of these areas. About 97% of the Palestinians in these areas were nominally under Palestinian rule, but the area controlled by the Palestine National Authority amounted to about 8% of the land. Israel embarked on an accelerated settlement program, building thousands of housing units in the West Bank, and doubling the number of settlers there by 2004. 

Though the  PLO had agreed to end forego violence in the Oslo declaration of principles, attacks on settlers continued. Ominously, even before the Oslo declaration of Principles, on April 16, 1993, a Hamas suicide bomber exploded a car bomb at Mehola in the West Bank, killing himself and one Israeli. On February 25, 1994, a disgruntled right-wing settler, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, killing 30 people before being killed himself. In retaliation, the Hamas carried out several suicide attacks in Israel beginning in April of 1994. The peace process became increasingly unpopular in Israel. On November 4, 1995, Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a young right-wing fanatic, Yigal Amir, at a peace rally. He was replaced by Shimon Peres, who oversaw the signing of the Oslo Interim agreement. A rash of Hamas suicide bombings in the spring of 1996 and inept campaign strategy caused Peres to lose the election held in May of 1996 to Likud party head Benjamin Netanyahu, who was an opponent of the Oslo process. Nethanyahu decided to complete a controversial underground tourist attraction in Jerusalem by opening a gate between two tunnels. Arab sources spread the false rumor that the gate endangered the foundations of the Al-Aqsa mosque. This caused several days of rioting and numerous casualties.

Despite Nethanyahu's opposition to the Oslo process, in January of 1997 Israel and the PNA signed an interim agreement on Hebron. The IDF withdrew from most of Hebron, leaving an enclave of about 500 settlers living in the middle of an Arab city, protected by the IDF. Negotiations at the Wye River Plantation in October of 1998 produced agreements on further withdrawal of Israeli troops and renewed Palestinian commitments to prevent terror and incitement. However, most of the provisions of the agreement were not carried out by the Palestinians, and the Israelis did not withdraw as stipulated in  the Wye agreements while Netanyahu was in office. In May of 1999  Benjamin Netanyahu was voted out of office, and Labor party head Ehud Barak became Prime Minister. Barak continued settlement expansion programs, but he vowed to pursue peace negotiations actively. Barak first tried to renew negotiations with Syria, but Syrian President Hafez Assad rejected an offer related through US President Clinton, which  would have given Syria most of the Golan heights except for access to the sea of Galilee.

Barak turned his attention to the Palestinians. Israel made the troop withdrawals mandated by the Wye agreements, and negotiators began working toward a final settlement. Barak offered to turn over Abu Dis, a suburb of Jerusalem, to be used as the Palestinian capital. However, this offer was withdrawn in the wake of violence that broke out in mid-May of 2000.

Recent Events

The Second Intifada

Negotiations for a final settlement at Camp David in the USA, in July, 2000 ended in deadlock. Palestinians insisted that refugees should have the right to return to Israel, which would produce an Arab majority in Israel. Israel insisted on annexing key portions of the Palestinian areas and on leaving most settlements intact, and offered only a limited form of Palestinian statehood. Palestinians claim that the only offers made at Camp David included cantons or "Bantustans" that would make up the Palestinian State. This apparently characterizes initial Israeli proposals. However, in his book, The Missing Peace, 2004, Dennis Ross presents a map, shown at right, that supposedly reflects the US compromise proposal at Camp David, to include about 91% of the territory of the West Bank. Both sides agreed on Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Palestinian violence erupted on September 28, 2000, triggered by a visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple mount in Jerusalem. This location, called the Haram as Sharif in Arabic, is also the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque, holy to Muslims. False rumors spread that Sharon had entered the mosque, helping to fan the unrest.  The US called a summit conference in Sharm-El Sheikh in October, in order to bring about an end to the violence. Both sides vowed to put an end to the bloodshed and return to negotiations. At the conference, it was also agreed to set up a US led investigative committee that would report on the causes of the violence and make recommendations to the UN. This eventually resulted in the Mitchell Report.  Shortly thereafter, however, Arab leaders and Yasser Arafat met in an extraordinary Arab League Summit in Cairo, and issued a belligerent communique praising the Intifada and calling for an international investigative  commission rather than the one agreed upon in Sharm El Sheikh. About two weeks later a suicide bombing in Jerusalem put an end to the truce.

Time was running out for  negotiations, as Israeli PM Ehud Barak faced elections and US President Clinton had completed his term of office. Negotiations in Washington in December of 2000 failed to produce an agreement. President Clinton provided  Bridging proposals and requested that the sides agree to the them by December 27. The outcome has been deliberately obscured by many, but Dennis Ross, chief US negotiator, was unequivocal in his memoir (Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace, 2004, pp 753-755).

According to Ross's summary, (and as published in the Bridging proposals) Clinton's proposal gave the Palestinians about 97% of the territory of the West Bank and sovereignty over their airspace. Refugees could not return to Israel without Israeli consent. An international force would remain in the Jordan valley for six years, replacing the IDF. Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the Haram as Sharif (temple mount) would be incorporated into Palestine. Saudi Arabian ambassador Prince Bandar Ibn Sultan said, "If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won't be a tragedy, it will be a crime." (Ross, The Missing Peace, 2004, p.748).

The Israeli government met on December 27 and accepted the proposals with reservations, which according to Ross, were "within the parameters."  The Palestinians equivocated. The deadline passed, and no definitive Palestinian reply was forthcoming. According to Ross, on December 29, he told Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei):     

Mark my words, they [the US] will disengage from the issue and they will do so at a time when you won't have Barak, or Amnon or Shlomo, but at time when you will have Sharon as Prime Minister. He will be elected for sure if there is no deal, and you 97% will become 40-45 percent; your capital in East Jerusalem will be gone; the IDF out of the Jordan Valley will be gone; unlimited right of return for refugees to your own state will be gone.

Abu Ala replied:

"I am afraid it may take another fifty years to settle this issue."

(Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace, 2004, p. 755)

The map at right was presented by Ross in The Missing Peace. It illustrates the approximate boundaries of the Palestine state under the Clinton bridging proposals, omitting land to be ceded by Israel to Palestine.

Click for larger map

Map of Clinton Bridging Proposals, December, 2000

 At a memorial dinner held in November 2005 in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, President Clinton said that Chairman Yasser Arafat had made a "colossal historical blunder" in refusing the terms, causing the breakdown of the peace process. (Haaretz, Nov. 14, 2005).  

Palestinian negotiators present a different version. On November 13, 2005, the Palestinian Authority International Press Center related these remarks of Palestinian Minister of Information, Nabil Sha'at, on the anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat:

He also set out that Israel has never endeavored to reach a final solution during the second Camp David negotiations, putting to rest the rumor which tells that Israel proposed for the Palestinians a state with 97% of the West Bank and 10% of the Jordan Valley.

He went ahead as saying, "all what was circulated that Israel proffered to the Palestinian side great concessions is incorrect," asserting that Israel rejected to give back Jerusalem to the Palestinian, and above all it kept adamant to annex the settlements blocs to the city of Jerusalem.

Minister Sha'at made clear that this point led the negotiations of Camp David II to a gridlock.

What was suggested by Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister, was only to give Arafat a presidential headquarters in the Old City of Jerusalem, but the late president rebuffed this suggestion roundly, he added.

However, Palestinians have never disputed the published version of President Clinton's bridging proposals in which it is quite clear that the Palestinians would have sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem, including the Haram as Sharif (temple mount).

In last minute negotiations at Taba on January 21-27 2001, under European and Egyptian patronage,  the sides failed to reach a settlement despite further Israeli concessions.  Though both sides agreed to a joint communiqué saying they had never been so close to agreement, substantive disagreements remained about the refugee issues and  final settlement maps. Israeli PM Barak broke off negotiations on January 28, 2001, suspending them until after the elections. Barak had hoped to reach a deal he could present to the Israeli public, and was angry and disappointed. Negotiations were terminated because Barak,  who had furthered the peace process, was voted out of office at the beginning of February and replaced by a right wing government headed by Ariel Sharon.

No official maps were actually presented by or to the sides during the negotiations. Following the failure of the negotiations, the Palestinians continued to claim that Israel had offered only "Bantustans" in the West Bank. The Israeli government did not publish any maps. Dennis Ross, who headed the US negotiating team, summarized the proposals presented by the USA in the maps presented above. The Gush Shalom group and the Foundation for Middle East Peace also published a map of an offer made by the Barak government at Taba (Click here for details of the different maps). One of the major outstanding questions was the refugee problem. U.S. President Clinton had believed there were only differences of wording between the Israeli and Palestinian approaches. Clinton's Bridging proposals called for allowing refugees to return from abroad to the Palestinian state. They could return to Israel only with the agreement of Israel. However, at Taba, the Palestinian proposal called for eventual return of all the refugees to Israel. This proposal was unacceptable to Israel as it would create an Arab majority in Israel and put an end to Jewish exercise of the right to self-determination.

Violence continued into 2001 and 2002, despite attempts by the Mitchell commission and others to restore calm. The terror attack on the World Trade Center in the US on September 11, 2001, had direct repercussions for the Israel-Palestine conflict. On the one hand, Arab and Islamic countries tried to leverage on the need for their cooperation in the war against terror to win concessions for the Palestinians. On the other, many Americans began to view terrorist actions in a new light, as organizations such as Hamas and Hizbulla came to be linked with the Al-Qaeda group of Osama Bin-Laden. Particularly damaging for the Palestinians were the demonstrations held in favor of Bin Laden, and evidence linking a boatload of illegal arms intercepted by Israel, the Karine A, with Iranian support for the PNA. The boat was intercepted on January 3, 2002, on the day that  US envoy Anthony Zinni arrived to attempt to arrive at a settlement. Against this background, the US and EU seemed to give Israel wider latitude for action against the Palestinians. Israel made increasing incursions into Palestinian areas, and confined PNA Chairman Arafat to his compound in Ramalah. but the Palestinians stepped up attacks on soldiers as well as suicide bombings.

The Saudi Peace Proposal and the Palestinian State Resolution - Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah made a dramatic proposal to end the long Arab war against Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories, withdrawal in the Golan and appropriate arrangements regarding Jerusalem and the refugees. This proposal, modified to be more specific about refugee issues, was adopted by a meeting of the Arab League, and eventually became incorporated in the quartet roadmap plan. On March, 12, 2002  the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1397, calling on the sides to stop the violence once again, mentioning the peace plan of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, and for the first time since 1947 calling for creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. 

Operation Defensive Wall

Meanwhile however, terror and suicide attacks and Israeli reprisals continued. Yasser Arafat declared a cessation of violence several times, but this did not seem to affect the frequency or severity of suicide bombings and ambushes. The Israelis, for their part, continued with their policy of assassinating wanted men in the Palestinian areas. During the last week in March, as General Zinni was again coming to the Middle East, the Palestinians launched a successful suicide attack almost every day, in addition to many unsuccessful ones. A blast at the Park Hotel in Nethanya killed 27 people as they were celebrating Passover. Israel launched a massive raid, operation Defensive Wall, intended to root out terror infrastructure, including reoccupation of Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and other towns. Israel claimed that only about 50 were killed in the Jenin refugee camp, mostly members of the Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs suicide brigades. Palestinians charged that the Israelis had committed a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, killing over 500 people. These charges were repeated by most news sources in Europe, though they were later retracted.  Human rights groups who entered the Jenin refugee camp after the Israeli invasion reported that there was a great deal of damage and that the IDF had probably committed war crimes by preventing medical aid, but that only about 50 people had been killed, more than half of whom were terrorists, confirming the Israeli version of events.

Suicide attacks abated, but did not stop. During the course of the fighting, Israel captured numerous documents providing evidence that Yasser Arafat had personally approved the organization of terror cells, and that the PNA treasury had approved payments for suicide-bomber explosive belts. The Israelis captured or killed numerous persons suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. The IDF also destroyed records, building, roads and other innocent civilian infrastructure of banks, NGOs and other organizations clearly not involved in terror. Later in the fighting, the IDF managed to locate Marwan Barghouti, head of the Fatah Tanzeem, and to capture him. Israel claimed it has evidence of complicity by Barghouti in numerous terrorist acts, and it eventually put him on trial, condemning him to five life sentences for complicity in murder. Critics argued that it would be impossible to put an end to terror by military activity in the absence of progress toward a peaceful solution. However, following Defensive Wall, the number and frequency of successful terror attacks began to decline, as the Israeli security forces made better and better use of intelligence gathered during the operation to detect and stop attacks. The number of attempted attacks did not decrease noticeably however.

During the aftermath of operation Defensive Wall, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who needed quiet in Israel and Palestine to leave the US free hand to organize an alliance against Iraq, arrived to try to end the violence. Powell's mission did not accomplish anything. He was unable to get the Israelis to withdraw completely from the areas they had reoccupied, nor could he get the Palestinians to agree to a cease fire. Demonstrations and public outrage in Arab countries, fueled by charges of a massacre, prompted UN action.  UN resolution 1402 directed that Israel withdraw from the territories immediately.  By the time Powell had left, Israel had withdrawn from some towns, but Yasser Arafat was still imprisoned in Ramallah, and the Israelis  were besieging the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where armed Palestinians had sought refuge from the IDF. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1403, expressing dismay that resolution 1402 had not been implemented.  On April 19, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1405, calling for an an impartial investigative team to be send to determine the truth of Palestinian allegations. Israel objected to the composition of the team. Israel at first agreed to the investigation, but later backtracked and blocked it, claiming that the composition and procedures of the investigation would be unfair to Israel, and that the UN had reneged on initial agreements about the investigation. Opposition to the investigation was fueled by Israeli memories of the recent Durban conference as well as by the infamous Zionism is Racism resolution of the UN, which was recalled repeatedly in public debate.

Israeli PM Ariel Sharon visited the US in May of 2002, under pressure from the US administration to advance a peace program that could be acceptable to Palestinians and the Arab states. The two discussed plans for a regional summit to be held later in 2002, and the Israelis presented documents that they claim prove the involvement of Yasser Arafat and the PNA in terrorist activities. News of a suicide bombing committed by the Hamas came while Bush and Sharon were meeting, causing the Israeli PM to cut the visit short and return to Israel.

The  sieges of Muqata and Church of Nativity were also resolved in May 2002. Militants in the Church of Nativity were exiled to Cyprus and Europe. Some of the wanted men in the Muqata compound in Ramallah were jailed in Jericho, but others apparently remained in the Muqata. The head of the PFLP allegedly coordinated a suicide attack from his cell in Jericho. At the end of May, under pressure for democratic reform, Yasser Arafat signed into law the Basic Law or constitution of the Palestinian transitional state. The law states that Palestinian law will be based on the principles of  Islamic law (Sha'ariyeh).

In June, following another wave of Palestinian suicide attacks, Israeli forces essentially reoccupied all of the West Bank. The Israeli government was quick to claim that the re-occupation would not continue indefinitely, but later indicated otherwise. President Bush made a long awaited speech on Middle East policy calling for a Palestinian state, but insisting on democratic reform of the Palestine National Authority.

In August and September 2002, several attempts at Palestinian cease fire initiatives were foiled by refusal of extremist groups to participate and by Israeli acts such as the killing of Salah Shehadeh, head of the military wing of the Hamas in a missile attack on Gaza that cost the lives of 13 civilians. Shehadeh was replaced by Mohamed Deif.  August and September witnessed a six week respite from major suicide and terror attacks, facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian plan to return full Palestinian authority in Gaza and Bethlehem first. However, this fizzled after several violent attacks in Gaza. At the beginning of September, Israeli security forces foiled several suicide attack attempts and detected a truck laden with 1300 pounds of explosives and gas tanks, that was to be used by Palestinians in a suicide attack.

The PLC convened in September to approve the new cabinet chosen in line with reform efforts. PLC cabinet members refused to ratify the cabinet until Yasser Arafat would allow a Prime Minister to share power. Instead, Arafat agreed to elections in January, 2003, despite Israeli occupation. Arafat's popularity was at a nadir. The elections never took place.

The period of relative calm came to an end with  suicide bombings in Umm El Fahm and in a Tel-Aviv bus. The Israeli government proceeded with an attack on Gaza including entry into Gaza city and besieged Yasser Arafat and  an estimated 200 others in the Muqata compound in Ramala. Israel demanded that Palestinians give up wanted persons who had taken refuge in the Muqata including Palestinian preventive security boss Tawfiq Tirawi. Arafat remained defiant. Israel destroyed all buildings in the compound except the main one, promising not to harm Arafat. After a rumor was spread that Israel was about to blow up the Muqata, widespread demonstrations took place in the West Bank and Gaza, resulting in four deaths. The USA exerted pressure on Israel to stop destroying buildings in the Muqata and to withdraw. Despite a UN resolution,  Israel continued the siege. Arafat's popularity with Palestinians  soared. Eventually, the siege was lifted, but Arafat remained confined to Ramalla and isolated. A second siege was reinstituted in the fall. (Click here for commentary on the Muqata Siege)

In April of 2002, the US government initiated a series of consultations with a group of diplomats that became known as the "Quartet." The quartet evolved a roadmap for a settlement, including Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and establishment of a Palestinian state.

In October of 2002, the Labor party withdrew from the Israel unity government. PM Ariel Sharon initiated immediate elections, to be held January 28.  Ariel Sharon's Likud Party won a sweeping mandate to continue hard line policies against the Palestinians. The Israel Labor party refused to form a unity government. Israel continued to occupy most of the West Bank.

During this period, the US continued to mass forces for an invasion of Iraq, and the US and quartet partners continued to advance the quartet road map for middle east peace. The quartet partners and especially the US pressured the Palestinians to commit to a thoroughgoing reform of their government that would eliminate corruption and support for terror. It was proposed that Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would assume the post of Prime Minister, overshadowing and displacing the still-popular Yasser Arafat.

The Iraq War, the Roadmap and Palestinian Reform

On March 20, 2003, US, British and Australian forces invaded Iraq. The Palestinians had supported Saddam Hussein and his regime had provided payments for families of suicide bombers, as well as sheltering Palestinian militants. US forces entered Baghdad on April 9, and President Bush declared the war over on May 1. The war produced an upheaval in the Middle East and especially affected the Palestinians. Arabs were astounded by the swiftness of Iraq's collapse. Arab governments including the Palestinians hurried to make conciliatory gestures and talk of democracy, at the same time criticizing the US occupation of Iraq, which generated a great deal of resentment. Mahmud Abbas was elected Palestinian PM on April 29, however the violence did not abate. Israelis made bloody raids in Gaza and elsewhere on the day of his election. A few hours later, Fateh and Hamas perpetrated a suicide attack at a Tel Aviv night club, and the next day Israel began extensive raids in the territories. In violation of the roadmap, Yasser Arafat put himself in charge of organizing a new unified security force. As it had promised the Palestinians, the US released an updated road map on April 30 immediately after the election of Abu Mazen. (Click here for commentary on the roadmap).

At a festive summit held on June 4 in Aqaba, Israeli PM Sharon and Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) pledged to fulfill the conditions of the road map and shook hands in the presence of US President George Bush.  Abu Mazen called for an end to violence. Click here for more commentary on the roadmap.

Islamist extremist Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders vowed to continue violence. Soon after the summit, four Israeli soldiers in Gaza were killed in a joint operation that included not only the Islamist extremists but also the Fatah movement of Abu Mazen. Israel began dismantling about ten of the 100 illegal outposts, but dismantled only uninhabited ones. On June 10, Israel tried to assassinate Hamas leader Ahmed Rantissi, kindling fury among Palestinians and eliciting criticism from the US. On June 11, a Hamas suicide bombing killed 16 Israelis in a bus on the main street of Jerusalem. On August 20, a suicide bombing killed 21 people on a bus in Jerusalem. The following day, Israel assassinated Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab, possibly  in retaliation. Israel also announced that the lives of all Hamas leaders were forfeit, and made several assassination attempts, some unsuccessful against Hamas leaders, including the aged and crippled "spiritual leader" of the Hamas.  As the Hudna (truce)  unraveled, there were threats and rumors of attempts on the life of PNA PM Mahmud Abbas by Palestinian extremists. In the following days, Israel moved into the West bank for a security clean up intended to last several days. Abbas and his Gaza Security Chief Mohamed Dahlan began to move against Palestinian terrorists as required by the roadmap, whereupon Yasser Arafat moved to replace Dahlan with Gibril Rajoub and to put security and the interior ministry in the hands of his supporters. Abbas announced that he would not act against terrorists on September 4, but this did not save his political career.  Abbas resigned on September 6, and Ahmed Qureia ("Abu Ala"), an Arafat supporter, was appointed PM in his stead. Qureia vowed a tough line against Israel. On September 8, EU leaders moved to ban the political wing of the Hamas and prevent monetary contributions to it.

On the evening of September 10, 2003, twin suicide bombings in Jerusalem and outside the Tzrifin Army base near Rishon Le Zion claimed a total of 15 lives. A period of quiet was broken by a suicide bombing in a Haifa restaurant on October 4, attributed to Islamic Jihad. Palestinian PM designate Ahmed Qurei and the PA condemned the bombing, but refused to commit to taking action against terror groups. In retaliation, Israel invaded Gaza as well as Jenin, and on October 5 they struck at a base in Syria that Israel claimed was training Palestinian terror groups. This was the first Israeli attack on Syrian territory since the Yom Kippur (Ramadan) war in 1973. A long period of relative abatement in Palestinian attacks ensued, but Israel continued attacks on Palestinian targets with considerable loss of civilian life. Suicide attacks continued from time to time, done by either the Hamas and Islamic Jihad Islamist factions or by the Fatah Al Aqsa brigades, a faction of Yasser Arafat's Fatah group over which the PNA has apparently lost control. Suicide bombings were carried out December 25 2003, January 14, 2004, January 29, 2004, and February 22, by the "moderate" Fatah Al Aqsa brigades as well as by the Hamas and by the Popular Front for the liberation of Palestine.

Geneva Accord - Israeli opposition political leaders and Palestinian leaders announced an agreement in principle on conditions for a final settlement. The agreement, which has come to be known as the Geneva Accord, proposed historic concessions by both sides. Israel would give up sovereignty in Arab portions of Jerusalem, while the Palestinians would explicitly renounce the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. Though it has no formal standing at present, the agreement has gotten widespread publicity, including support from US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and warm words from PNA Chairman Yasser Arafat. The Israeli government has denounced the agreement and the people involved in it, and tried to block advertisements for the agreement in the public media. Likewise, Palestinian extremists and their allies have denounced the agreement.

The Security Barrier (also called "Security Fence" "Apartheid Wall") - A major issue of the 2003 Israel election campaign had been the erection of a security barrier (fence, wall) advocated by dovish Israel Labor party. The barrier was to be erected along the Green line and would help to prevent suicide attacks in Israel. A similar barrier in Gaza had reduced infiltration to zero. The right, including Ariel Sharon's Likud party, opposed the barrier, because it would create a de-facto border as they thought, dividing Jerusalem, and putting most of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank outside the protection of the security arrangements. Sharon and the Likud won the election by a landslide majority, sending the Labor party and the leftist Meretz party into total disarray.

During 2003, PM Ariel Sharon adopted and adapted the barrier concept, changing the route to include major Israeli settlements and including a projected eastern portion that would envelope the Palestinians in two enclaves. As the barrier went up, it became evident that it would trap many Palestinians who would be cut off from their fields and places of work, some on the Israeli side of the 1948 armistice Green Line, and some on the Palestinian side. In populated areas where it is most visible, the barrier is in fact a forbidding cement wall, though it is a fence over most of its extent. Palestinian groups and Israeli peace groups began an intense protest campaign. On December 8, 2003, the UN General Assembly met in Emergency session and adopted resolution ES-10/14, which asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague for an advisory opinion on the legality of the barrier. The ICJ began its hearings on February 24. Israel boycotted the hearings, but submitted a brief saying that the court should not rule on the matter. About 30 other countries including the United States and several EU countries, submitted briefs saying that the court should not rule on the matter because it was a political question rather than a legal one, and likewise did not attend the hearings. Most of these countries also criticized the barrier as illegal or a hindrance to peace negotiations. Zionist and Israeli groups organized demonstrations at the Hague, and Palestinians organized counter demonstrations. The Israelis brought a bombed out bus and stressed that the wall prevents suicide attacks. The Palestinians used the hearings as a platform for de-legitimizing the occupation. ( Click here for maps and details about the security barrier/fence/wall)

On July 9, the International Court of Justice delivered its advisory opinion on the Israeli security barrier. The court ruled that the barrier violates human rights and that Israel must dismantle it. Israel announced that it would not abide by the court decision, but it did plan changes in the route of the barrier to satisfy requirements of the Israeli High Court.

Israeli Corruption Scandal - Ever since Ariel Sharon's election in 2003, a pall of suspicion had fallen over him and other Likud party members owing to allegations of bribery and underworld influence. In January 2003, David Appel, a close associate of Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, was indicted for bribery charges. The charge sheet alleged that he had bribed Sharon, Sharon's son and Deputy PM Ehud Ohlmert. The obvious question was whether or not Sharon would be indicted (see commentary for details).

Controversial Prisoner Exchange - After many months of negotiations through a German intermediary, Israel and the Lebanese Hizbollah movement agreed to an exchange of prisoners on very one-sided terms on January 29, 2004. Israel freed over four hundred live Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners and returned a large number of bodies in return for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by the Hizbullah and killed, and one civilian, reserve army officer Elhanan Tannenbaum, a shady "businessman" who lied about the way in which he was kidnapped, and gave the Hizbullah a free commercial on El-Manara Television. (see commentary for details).

Assassination of Sheikh Yassin - Israel had been targeting Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin for assassination for many months. Following a suicide attack in the port of Ashdod, the IDF stepped up operations against Islamists in Gaza, and announced again that all Hamas leaders were targets for assassination. On March 22, Israeli intelligence ascertained that Ahmed Yassin, founder and leader of the Hamas Islamist movement, had gone to prayers without his wife and children, and the green light was given to assassinate him. The assassination of the crippled old man, who was nonetheless responsible for instigating the deaths of hundreds of people, and for sabotaging the peace process, drew protests from most of the world, and vows of revenge from Hamas. The assassination probably had little strategic value, and was carried out to bolster the failing popularity of Israeli PM Ariel Sharon.  (see commentary and sources for details).

Disengagement Plan and Letter of Assurance from George Bush

 A proposal of the Israel Labor Party, led by Amram Mitzna, during the 2003 election campaign, was that if negotiations with the Palestinians fail, Israel should withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza strip and perhaps from parts of the West Bank, and try to live its life behind the security barrier. Ariel Sharon and the Likud damned this proposal as defeatism, but toward the end of 2003, Sharon himself announced that he was drawing up a unilateral withdrawal plan, to be carried out "in 6 months" (a date later postponed). The plan for withdrawing from all of Gaza met with intense opposition from fellow Likud party  members and from settlers. Reports in late February indicated that Israel was still confiscating land to build security barriers for Gaza settlements, even though Sharon had supposedly earmarked the settlements for evacuation.  In April, 2004, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon traveled to the US and on April 14 he met with US President George Bush, to get American backing and assurances for Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan. Bush provided a letter stating   that the the US accepts the disengagement plan and that the roadmap remains the only peace plan backed by the United States. In addition, to help Sharon gain popularity for the plan in Israel, Bush stated that the US believes Palestinian refugees should be settled in the new Palestinian state, rather than Israel, that in his view, Israel should not have to withdraw to the borders of the 1949 armistice, and that the US acquiesces in the Israeli security fence. Sharon reiterated Israeli commitment to the roadmap and pledged that the security barrier was a temporary expedient and not a final border. Bush's letter carried little weight in future negotiations, and reiterated stands taken by former President Clinton on refugees and borders. Nonetheless, it created an uproar throughout the Muslim world. The disengagement plan was defeated in a Likud party referendum on May 2, 2004, whereupon Sharon proposed a modified version of the plan. Also in May, Israel conducted extensive military operations in Gaza in Operation Rainbow, killing over 40 persons, leaving thousands homeless, and arousing international ire. In late October, the Israeli parliament (Knesset) passed the first reading of the disengagement law, ultimately causing the right-wing National Religious Party to leave the government, and reducing the government to a minority of 55 seats.

Assassination of Abdel Azis Rantisi - On April 17, 2004, the IAF killed newly elected Hamas leader Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantissi. Dr. Mahmoud Zahar was apparently elected in his place, but no official announcement was made for fear of Israeli retaliation. Zahar is reportedly the last of the seven founders of the Hamas still alive. The others were all assassinated by Israel.

Government of Ahmed Qurei - On November 12, 2003, after a long period of negotiations, Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei formed a permanent government and moves began to institute a cease fire and renew negotiations with the Israelis. However, very little came of these moves.  On November 19, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1515, endorsing the quartet road map for peace and calling upon the sides to fulfill their obligations to the road map plan. However, the Israeli incursions continued, and for their part, the Palestinians seemed unwilling or unable to control terrorist groups. Prospective meetings between Ahmed Qurei and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon were announced, rumored, vaunted and then evaporated. For a time, Qurei announced that he would not meet with Sharon until Israel stopped building its security barrier (see below). However, when Sharon announced his unilateral disengagement plan and it appeared to be in earnest, Qurei became concerned that the withdrawal without any negotiations would be a victory for the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, political rivals of the PLO who run the PNA, and who are grooming themselves to inherit leadership of the Palestinians. Qurei then announced that he would be ready to meet with Sharon, and that a meeting would definitely take place by the end of February. However, negotiations to set the agenda of this meeting were postponed for various reasons, including suicide bombings and Israeli assassinations.

Chaos in Gaza -Meanwhile, it became evident that Qurei was not really able to govern, despite some successes in improving financial transparency as demanded by the EU and USA. By the beginning of 2004 there were several reports of chaos, disunity and lawlessness in the Palestinian territories. At the end of February, ex-security-chief Mohamed Dahlan indicated that the Palestinian Authority could not rein-in the dissident Fatah Al-Aqsa brigades that had been responsible for several suicide bombings. Attempts to unify the security forces, blocked by Arafat, ended in dissension and bitter recriminations. On February 26, Chairman Arafat promised to hold long-postponed elections, but many Palestinians did not believe he would keep his promise. In Nablus, lawlessness reigned and the Mayor resigned.

On the weekend of July 18, 2004 violence broke out in Gaza between factions of the Fatah. One group kidnapped police chief Ghazzi Jibbali and several French nationals, and later released them, on condition that Jibbali will stand trial. Yasser Arafat reorganized security, appointing his nephew, Musa Arafat, to be in charge of Palestinian security forces. Opposition forces reacted by storming Musa Arafat's headquarters. Subsequently, PM Ahmed Qurei announced his resignation, which was not accepted by Arafat, but Qurei insisted he would resign anyway. Arafat announced that he is withdrawing the appointment of Musa Arafat, but then announced that Musa will remain in charge of security in Gaza. Subsequent agitation for reform elicited more declarations from Arafat, but when these were not implemented, Palestinian legislators announced that they would adjourn in protest.

Security situation in 2004 - During the spring and summer of 2004 there were no successful major terror attacks within Israel, despite numerous attempts. Israelis and Palestinians attributed the relative quiet to the partially constructed separation barrier and better Israeli intelligence. Israel continued to arrest and kill Palestinians belonging to terrorist organizations, and to occupy Palestinian cities in the West Bank. On August 31, 2004, Hamas perpetrated a double suicide attack in Beersheba, in revenge for the killings of their leaders. The attackers came from the area south of Hebron in the West Bank, where no fence had been built. The attack accelerated construction of the barrier, and Israel took bloody revenge by bombing a Hamas training camp in Gaza. In October of 2004 Israel conducted operation Days of Repentance to overcome Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns. The operation killed many civilians and left many others homeless.

Syrian Israeli Peace Talks

Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks - Following the Madrid peace conference, Syria and Israel initiated peace talks, and by May of 1995 they had supposedly completed a fairly detailed peace agreement that would involve Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which Israel had occupied in 1967 and later annexed. The Syrians in return would recognize Israel, allow normal trade and allow an Israeli early warning station on Syrian territory. The Israeli promise to retreat from the entire Golan was given indirectly by PM Yitzhak Rabin to US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, as a "deposit" to be presented to the Syrians if they agreed to all other Israeli terms. This deposit was also termed the "pocket," since allegedly, Rabin told Christopher to "keep this in your pocket" until all other conditions are met. During the negotiations, Christopher violated the understanding with Rabin and told Assad about "the pocket."   During the period when negotiations were continuing, Rabin often repeated the slogan. "The depth of of the withdrawal will be equivalent to the depth of the peace," indicating that in return for real peace, Israel would be willing to withdraw to the armistice lines.  However, negotiations with the Rabin administration were not pursued, and Rabin was assassinated on November 5, 1995. Negotiations were renewed by PM Ehud Barak in January of 2000. These negotiations broke down finally on March 27, 2000.  Syria insisted on beginning negotiations from the point at which they had left off, including the "deposit" of PM Rabin. Rabin had in fact promised the June 4 lines in the "deposit," but Barak was unwilling to meet those demands. Nonetheless, under US pressure, Barak agreed to honor the pledge to retreat to the line of June 4, 1967 with minor modifications.  US President Clinton presented Assad with an Israeli proposal to withdraw to June 4 lines based on mutually agreed borders, according to the map at right. The proposal was in accord with previous agreements made with the Syrians. Nonetheless, Assad refused.  On June 10, 2000, Hafez Assad died, and was replaced by his son Bashar. The Syrian-Israeli peace track faded into the background.

Syria, which had opposed Iraq in 1991 and cooperated with the US, cooperated with Saddam Hussein in the 2003 Iraq war. After the war, Syria hosted Iraqi exiles and apparently sheltered insurgent groups. The US became increasingly unhappy with Syria's real or alleged role in the Iraq insurgency, and administration officials began pressuring Syria to stop insurgents from crossing from Syria into Iraq, and to stop supporting terrorist groups including the Hizbollah in Lebanon and the Hamas,  which has offices in Damascus On December 12, 2003, President Bush signed into law the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003. These called for sanctions against Syria if they did not stop supporting terror, and or Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The US administration continued to pressure Syria and, after Syria meddled in the Lebanese presidential elections, the UN passed Security Council Resolution 1559 calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Syria ostensibly complied, withdrawing all of its troops from Lebanon by April 2005, following the assassination of the popular Lebanese politician Rafiq Hariri. However, assassinations of anti-Syrian activists continued. 

Map of Israeli Golan Heights Peace Offer to Syria - March 2000
This map shows the actual Israeli offer conveyed to President Assad in March of 2000 by President Clinton and refused out of hand. The offer was based on the borders of June 4, 1967 with very minor deviations. From Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004, Map 10.


Renewed Peace feelers from Syria -  Following the passage of the Syria Accountability Act in the United States, Syria announced that it was ready to renew negotiations with Israel over a peace treaty, without preconditions, but stated that the negotiations should continue where they had been interrupted. Syria renewed the call at various times through November of 2004. In some versions, the proposal was for negotiations "without conditions" while in other cases the Syrians called for negotiations "without conditions based on the deposit" (the promise of Yitzhak Rabinto withdraw to the cease fire lines of 1949). Israel's response to these overtures has been cool, since no pressure emanated from the US regarding renewal of negotiations, and President Assad's government continued to shelter the Hizbullah and Palestinian "resistance" groups. (See commentary Here and Here). Though President Katzav called for pursuing the Syrian peace initiative, PM Ariel Sharon and the foreign ministry insisted that before talks begin, Syria must stop support for terrorist organizations. Israel assassinated Hamas leader Izz El-Deen Al-Sheikh Khalil in Syria on September 26, 2004, and apparently attempted to assassinate another Hamas leader in Damascus in December.

Death of Yasser Arafat

Palestinian Authority Chairman and long-time leader Yasser Arafat died November 11, 2004 leaving an uncertain future. Some signs indicated that  the death of Arafat had opened up new possibilities for peace, as well as for reform and democracy in the Palestinian authority.

Preparations for Palestinian elections began in an orderly way, with Mahmoud Abbas the leading candidate. Fatah el-Aqsa brigades leader Marwan Barghouthi, jailed by Israel for his involvement in multiple terror attacks, announced his candidacy as an independent, but later withdrew under pressure from the Fatah in mid-December. During his campaign, Abbas promised repeatedly to continue to fight for a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, and for right of return of Palestinian refugees. However, he also told the London newspaper As Sharq al Awsat that the violent Intifada was a mistake, and that Palestinians must pursue their goals by diplomatic means. Incitement against Israel in Palestinian media was toned down on the directive of Abbas. There were no successful violent attacks against civilians within Israel during this period, but mortars were fired on Israeli settlements in Gaza and terrorists blew up an Israeli army border post at the Gaza-Egypt border. Israel continued to arrest and assassinate Palestinian terrorist leaders,  to occupy Palestinian West Bank cities, to raid targets in Gaza in reaction to Palestinian actions, to destroy homes and olive groves and to harass Palestinians at checkpoints. Several Palestinian children were killed during these raids. The Israeli army was criticized in Israel and abroad for carelessness with civilian lives and possible war crimes.

Relations with Egypt -  Following the death of Arafat, Israeli-Egyptian relations improved, and Egyptian President Mubarak had warm words for Israeli PM Ariel Sharon. In the beginning of December, Egypt released an Israeli, Azzam Azzam, who had been in jail for eight years on espionage charges that he denied. At the same time, Israel released six Egyptian students who were accused of plotting to kill Israeli soldiers, and later Israel freed a number of Palestinian prisoners as a "gesture to Egypt," though Israeli and Egyptian actions were supposedly unrelated. In mid-December, Egypt, Israel and the US signed a Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) treaty that would give Egypt trade advantages in the USA for cooperative ventures with Israeli participation. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman visited Jerusalem. Despite the improved relations, the Egyptians did not return their ambassador, who had been recalled following the outbreak of violence in 2000.

Abbas Succeeds Arafat

On January 9 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestine National Authority, receiving about 61 percent of the vote. Mustafa Barghouthi, his closest rival, received about 20% of the vote.  Over 60% of eligible voters participated, despite difficulties owing to the Israeli occupation and a boycott of the elections by the Islamist groups (See commentary here). US President George Bush invited Abbas to Washington, after several years during which Palestinian leaders had not been welcome in the White House, and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon announced that he would call Abbas and plan a meeting.

Unity government in Israel - Owing to disaffection of the Israeli right with the disengagement plan of PM Ariel Sharon, the National Religious Party left the government, and dissenting members of Sharon's Likud party tried to block formation of a unity government with the Labor party. The center Shinui party was forced out of the government, and instead a coalition was formed with the Israel Labor party and the small United Torah Judaism party. This government was approved by a narrow margin (58 to 56) with several Likud members abstaining.

Sharm El Sheikh Conference - Following his election, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Palestinian factions to end the violence and negotiated a truce agreement. Palestinian police were deployed throughout Gaza with explicit orders to prevent terror attacks. The sides agreed to meet at a summit conference hosted by Egypt in Sharm El Sheikh on February 8, 2005. At the conference, attended by Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Mubarak as well as the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, both sides announced an end to the violence. Israel would be releasing over 900 Palestinian prisoners and gradually withdrawing from Palestinian cities according to newspaper reports. Egypt and Jordan announced that they were returning their ambassadors to Israel. The Intifadah was deemed to be officially over. (see commentary.) However, following the pattern of previous conferences of this type, the peace was soon shattered by a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on February 25, apparently perpetrated by an Islamic Jihad group controlled from Damascus. Israel announced it was freezing the planned handover of Palestinian towns to PNA security. Mahmud Abbas condemned the bombing and the PNA made some arrests. (see commentary)

Disengagement Decision - Shortly after the Sharm El Sheikh conference, the Israeli Knesset, followed by the Israeli cabinet on February 20, approved the disengagement plan , which calls for unilateral evacuation of 21 settlements in Gaza and 4 in the West Bank by the summer of 2005. The disengagement was to be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister, promised to help ensure quiet during the evacuation. Click for Map

London Conference - on March 1, 2005, a conference hosted by Great Britain was held in London. The purpose of the conference was to organize financial support for the Palestinian government and to assist in organization of Palestinian security. Israel did not attend the conference, and bilateral issues were not touched upon directly. However, Palestinian President Abbas said that ending the occupation and achieving peace was a priority goal for the Palestinians. 

Cairo Conference and Tahidiyeh - In mid March, Palestinian militant groups met in Cairo and agreed to a tahidiyeh (lull in the fighting) - less than a full truce or hudna. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups began moving to rejoin the PLO and the Hamas announced its intention to participate in the May elections of the Palestine Legislative Council. Israel withdrew from Jericho, and a week later, from Tulqarm. Israel held up withdrawal from a third Palestinian city later in the month, because it claimed the Palestinian Authority was not disarming terrorists as it should have been under the roadmap. Israel continued to catch militants planning attacks or smuggling arms during this period, but Palestinian Authority forces also spotted and stopped terrorist activities. At the end of March, rebellious militants of the Al-Aqsa brigades, discontent with changes in the Palestinian Authority, fired on Abbas's headquarters in Ramallah. Though at first authorities announced a hard line against the extremists, Abbas later reconsidered and decided to try and smooth over the differences. Tawfik Tirawi, head of Palestinian Intelligence in the West Bank, resigned because, he wrote, little was being done to implement the rule of law.

Arab Summit and Peace Proposal - An Arab summit in Algiers ignored most of the pressing issues in the Arab world, and turned down a fresh peace initiative by King Abdullah of Jordan. Instead, it  reiterated its support for the version of the Saudi Peace Plan passed in 2002 in Beirut that had been rejected by Israel. Israel  indicated that the proposals are now outdated due to changes in the reality of the Middle East. 

Illegal Outposts -  In March 2005, the Israeli government accepted a report on Illegal outposts prepared at the request of the government by Talia Sasson.  The report investigated the status of a large number of illegal outposts, built without proper permits and government authorization in the West Bank since March of 2001. It described systematic lawlessness and diversion of funds used to finance the outposts. There are about 20 or 30 such outposts that were supposed to have been evacuated under the roadmap peace plan . Repeated government decisions and attempts to evacuate these outposts have not availed. The government appointed a committee to study the report, but no action was taken.

Settlement Controversy - Palestinians were upset by the advancing Israeli security barrier, which isolates Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and by announced Israeli plans to build several thousand new housing units in the E1 area, near the settlement of Ma'aleh Edumim, east of Jerusalem. Under the Geneva Accord, Ma'aleh Edumim would be included in Israel, but the roadmap peace plan forbids construction in settlements.  In his letter to Ariel Sharon in reply to Sharon's formal statement of the disengagement plan, President Bush had stated that the borders of the final settlement would take into account changes due to large Israeli population concentration in the occupied territories. The Israeli announcement may have been designed to test this statement, and to bolster Sharon's flagging popularity among right-wing supporters.  US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador Dan Kurtzer first condemned the Israeli announcement. This reaction elicited a hail of ridicule from right-wing critics of Sharon and from former PM Ehud Barak, who claimed it was proof that the U.S. promise was worthless. Rice and Kurtzer then reversed themselves and  denied that there were any differences of opinion with Israel over the settlement plans.

Motion in no direction - During April and May, both Ariel Sharon and Mahmud Abbas visited with the President of the United States. Symbolically, this visit was very important, because it signaled that the US was ending the isolation of the Palestinian Authority that it had begun when Arafat failed to take action against terrorists. President Bush promised the Palestinians $50 million in direct aid in addition to larger sums already allocated for aid through NGOs, and stated that the borders of the 1949 armistice were the basis for any agreement. This last statement caused some controversy in Israel for some reason, but turned out to consistent with the wording of the letter Bush had given Ariel Sharon in April, 2004. Despite the fanfare, neither the meeting with Sharon nor the meeting with Abbas produced any visible change in Israeli unwillingness to make concessions to the Palestinians or in Palestinian unwillingness to take decisive steps to end terror by outlawing terrorist groups, disarming the terrorists, actively combating attacks, arresting wanted men and collecting illegal arms. The Israelis released about 400 prisoners as a good will gesture to Abbas. This number included, for the first time, prisoners "with blood on their hands," who had been involved in attacks that resulted in bloodshed. However, the Palestinians belittled this gesture as meaningless, since most of the prisoners were near the end of their sentence, and a large number of prisoners remain in Israeli jails. The Palestinians pointed out that none of the prisoners held from before 1994 had been released, so the prisoner release did not fulfill the conditions agreed upon in Sharm El Sheikh.

Attempted and successful Palestinian attacks, and particularly mortar and missile attacks on Gaza settlements and Negev towns continued. Palestinian President Abbas traveled to Gaza and secured a half-hearted commitment from extremist factions to honor the "Tahidiyeh" as long as Israel did, but repeated Palestinian attacks and Israeli reprisals and arrests of wanted men continued. Israeli forces caught a 15 year old boy suicide bomber at a checkpoint in the West Bank and later caught a young woman en route to carry out a suicide bombing attack on an Israeli hospital, sent by the Fatah El-Aqsa brigades. According to Palestinian statistics, Israel killed about 40 Palestinians in the period, wounded 411 and arrested nearly a thousand civilians, many for illegally staying in Israel. Most of the dead were wanted men or were in the course of carrying out an attack. In late June, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived, met with the sides and announced that the sides had agreed to destroy the houses of Gaza settlers after Israeli withdrawal.  

On June 21, 2005, Sharon and Abbas met in a long-awaited summit, but nothing at all appeared to result from the meeting, other than an announcement by Ariel Sharon that he had attained Palestinian consent to coordination of the Gaza pullout.  Israel would make no concessions on security unless the Palestinians acted against terrorists, and the Palestinians would not act decisively against terrorists.  No communique was issued and the Palestinian leadership announced its profound disappointment. Palestinians announced that a large number of  wanted terrorists  had agreed to join the Palestinian police, while the Israelis announced they had convinced US AID to donate $500 million in medical equipment to Palestinian hospitals. For its part, the US ended its ban on diplomatic visits to Gaza that had begun 18 months previously, when AID officials were killed in a terrorist attack, resuming visits of US diplomatic personnel.

As violence flared following the summit, Israel launched air attacks against rocket launchers in Gaza, killed several Islamic Jihad terrorists  and also announced it was resuming its policy of targeted killings of Islamic Jihad terrorists. 

In Palestine, demonstrations and even armed attacks continued against the leadership. The popularity of the Hamas, now a contender in legislative elections, continued to rise, perhaps abetted by rumored and actual meetings between EU officials and Hamas representatives and repeated calls in the US for recognition of the Hamas. Both the British and PM President Abbas called on Hamas to end violence and join the political process, but Hamas initially refused, while accepting a short term truce. President Abbas announced that legislative elections would be delayed for several months in order to implement changes in the election law. At the beginning of July Abbas invited the Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join a unity government.

The impasse during this period is attributable to several factors. Neither side is politically strong enough to offer concessions on final status. Such negotiations are pointless as long as Ariel Sharon insists that Jerusalem cannot be divided and Abbas insists that Jerusalem must be the Palestinian capital and that there will be no "compromise" on the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Abbas must produce a Fatah win in the legislative elections and cannot do anything that will antagonize extremist sympathizers. On the other hand, Sharon has staked everything on the disengagement process, leaving him with little support for any other concessions. If any concessions are followed by Palestinian violence, that may be used as a reason to stop the disengagement. As Palestinian attacks against Israeli settlements continued, and as right-wing agitation against the disengagement escalated, Israel support for the withdrawal move dwindled from over 65% to about 50%.However, the new IDF chief of staff, Dan Halutz, indicated that no military exigency would stop the disengagement. It could only be stopped by a political decision. Israel also warned that if necessary it would take drastic steps to ensure that settlements and soldiers were not attacked during the evacuation.

Disengagement Protests - Settlers protesting the disengagement carried out increasingly aggressive protests, which including blocking roads in Israel, violence against Palestinians, police and IDF soldiers, and calls for soldiers to refuse to participate in evacuating settlers. At the end of June, settler-supporters who took up residence in Maoz Yam, an abandoned Gaza hotel,  attempted to take over Palestinian houses and attacked an 18 year old Palestinian youth. Israeli police raided the hotel and removed the settlers by force. On July 13, the Israeli government closed the Gaza strip to Israeli citizens who were not residents of the settlements, to foil a planned march organized by the Yesha (settlers') council.

The truce is broken - On July 13 a terrorist of the Islamic Jihad originating in Tul Karm carried out a suicide bombing in Netanya, resulting in the deaths of five people. The IDF reoccupied to Tul Karm, arrested several Islamic Jihad members and killed a Palestinian policeman who opened fire on them. The Hamas in Gaza retaliated with a rain of rocket fire on Gaza settlements and Israeli towns, killing one. The IDF in return launched rocket attacks in Gaza and a manhunt for Hamas military leaders in the Hebron area, resulting in the deaths of 8 or more Hamas members, some of them killed while on their way to launch fresh rocket attacks. On July 15, a violent battle broke out  between Palestine National Authority forces trying to restore order and Hamas members in Gaza. Two Palestinian civilian bystanders were killed in the attack.

Implementation of Disengagement - Israeli evacuation of Gaza settlements and four West Bank settlements began on August 15 and was completed August 24. Despite threats of civil war and demonstrations by right-wing Zionist groups, the evacuation was completed without major violence. One woman set herself on fire in protest and died of her wounds. Some protestors threw unidentified substances that may have included paint, turpentine and caustic soda at police. After completing the evacuation, IDF killed 5 wanted Islamic Jihad men in Tul Karm. The disengagement was completed ahead of schedule.  As Israel withdrew there were increasing omens of impending chaos. Former PNA official Moussa Arafat, a relative of Yasser Arafat, was murdered by Palestinians angry about corruption. On September 11, the last Israeli soldiers left Gaza. On September 12, the settlements were officially handed over to the Palestinians.

Subsequently a passage was opened between Gaza and Rafah in Egypt to ensure that Palestinians are not cut off from the world. Egyptians, Palestinians and EU representatives monitor the passage to prevent smuggling of arms, but Israelis claim that Palestinians are smuggling in substantial qualities of arms.  Under pressure from the United States, Israel agreed to implement safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank using busses, but did not implement it. Qassam rockets continued to be fired on Sderot and were now also fired on Ashqelon just north of Gaza. Israel responded with air strikes to create a buffer zone

On January 4, 2006, Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke, leaving the leadership of Israel and the new Kadima party in the hands of Ehud Olmert  Olmert appeared to take some vigorous action against settler lawlessness, denouncing the destruction of olive trees, calling for evacuation of illegal outposts, and at the end of January, IDF and police forces staged a confrontation with settlers who had infiltrated part of the Arab Suq in Hebron and destroyed property there. The settlers evicted the Arabs, claiming that the land was owned by a Jewish Yeshiva and that they were the lawful inheritors. However, the IDF had not given them permission to occupy the properties. After a dramatic confrontation however, the government appeared to back down, compromising on peaceable removal of the settlers in return for a promise that they could soon return to the properties "lawfully."

Hamas Victory - In elections held January, 26,  2006, the radical Hamas movement won an upset victory over the Fateh. Hamas won about 74 of the 133 seats in the Palestine Legislative Assembly. The movements that had led the Palestinians for about 40 years, the Fateh and the PLO seemed to be on their way to the opposition. Under the Palestinian constitution, Mahmoud Abbas remains President with broad powers. European and American leaders pledged not to negotiate with Hamas and not to provide aid to the Palestinians until Hamas agreed to disarm and recognize Israel. Hamas spokesmen sent mixed signals, but vowed never to recognize Israel and never to give up their claim to all of Palestine, though a majority of Palestinians apparently want them to follow the path of peace. The Hamas-led government was sworn in on March 29, 2006. The Fatah refused to join the coalition because Hamas would not recognize the PLO as the representatives of the Palestinian people, and would not agree to honor past agreements of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, including the Oslo agreements that recognize the existence of Israel and which form the basis of legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli Elections - In elections held March 28, 2006, the Kadima party led by Ehud Olmert gained 29 seats, more than any other party, while the right-wing Likud, formerly the governing party, got only 12 seats, signaling the end of the domination of Israeli politics by settler ideology

Hamas in power - The international community suspended aid to the Hamas-led PNA government, causing an acute financial crisis. Iran and Russia freed funds for use of the Hamas, and Hamas politicians smuggled cash into Gaza under the eyes of European monitors in Rafah, in order to pay salaries of Palestinian security forces and workers. International donors eventually agreed on a mechanism for disbursing funds through Palestinian NGOs and for paying salaries directly to employees, and on June 24, EU donors announced a 105 million Euro aid package that would be distributed by this method. By the end of June however, Palestinians had apparently received only some partial salary payments from the cash smuggled by the Hamas.

Hamas formed a new security militia headed by Jamil Abu Samhadana, leader of the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees. This security force was declared illegal by President Mahmoud Abbas, who organized yet another Fatah-based militia. Fighting between Hamas and Fatah broke out, including killings and kidnappings of officials on both sides. Life in Gaza became increasingly chaotic, as Palestinian rights organizations documented a steady stream of internecine political violence, criminal violence and random killings. Samhadana was killed in an Israeli air-raid in early June, apparently as he was reviewing a rehearsal for a terrorist attack. 

Palestinians continued an almost daily rain of Qassam rockets on Israeli towns within the green line, in particular, the little town of Sderot. At the same time, Israel continued arrests and targeted killings of terrorist leaders whom it claimed were planning attacks, and in return the Islamic Jihad and Hamas vowed revenge.

About 1000 Qassam rockets fell up to June 2006. The Qassam rockets grew in size and range, and the attacks had killed at least 9 to 11 people in all, including 5 residents of Sderot. Israel responded with artillery fire into empty fields and other psychological warfare, and then took to attacking the launching sites. At approximately the time of one such attack, several members of a Palestinian family were killed on a beach in Gaza, though Israel denied that their attack was responsible. Subsequent Israeli attacks missed their targets and killed civilians. On June 25th, just as PNA announced the conclusion of an agreement on a truce with Israel, Hamas attacked an Israeli army border outpost at Kerem Shalom, killing two soldiers and capturing a third. Hamas offered to trade the soldier for Palestinian prisoners. Israel refused to negotiate and began a siege of Gaza and later invaded in operation "Summer Rains" in an attempt to force Palestinians to return the soldier alive and stop the rain of Qassam rockets. (updated to July 8)

Palestinian Prisoners' Document- Palestinians of various factions approved a document May 11 calling for national unity. The document called for right of return of the refugees and continued violent resistance against Israel, the latter in violation of provisions of the Roadmap  for Middle East Peace. It also called for establishment of a Palestinian state in the boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza Strip prior to the 1967 war, and for negotiations with Israel to be conducted by PNA President and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Many believed that the document implied recognition of Israel.  A crisis was precipitated when Abbas demanded that Hamas accede to the document or accede to results of a referendum to approve the document. Hamas and Fatah gunmen carried out various acts of violence. A revised version of the Palestinian Prisoners Document was approved  Hamas made it clear that it would not recognize Israel. The revised document also limited the historic PLO acceptance of UN Resolution 242 (guaranteeing the right of all states to exist in peace) by excluding any provisions that might violate Palestinian "rights."

Hezbollah attack and Israeli response - Operation Just Reward - On the morning of July 12, Hezbollah terrorists crossed the blue line border from Lebanon to Israel and attacked an Israeli army patrol, killing 3 and capturing 2 soldiers. An additional soldier died the following day and several were killed when a tank hit a mine, while pursuing the captors. At the same time, Hezbollah began a series of rocket attacks on northern Israel. In subsequent days, Israel carried out massive but selective bombing and artillery shelling of Lebanon, hitting rocket stores, Hezbollah headquarters in Dahya quarter of Beirut (see Beirut Map) and al-Manara television in Beirut, and killing over 220 persons, many of them civilians. Hezbollah responded with several hundred rocket attacks on Haifa, Tiberias, Safed and other towns deep in northern Israel, killing at least 13 people to July 18 (See Map of Hezbollah Rocket Attacks). A Hezbollah Iranian supplied C-802 missile hit an Israeli missile cruiser off the cost of Beirut, killing 4. Hezbollah rockets also sank a Cambodian ship and damage an Egyptian one. The G-8 democratic industrial powers, meeting in St Petersburg, issued a statement calling for an end to violence, return of the soldiers and compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and UN Security Council Resolution 1680, which call for disarming militias. (See statement of the G-8 on the Lebanon-Israel Crisis )

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Middle East Source Documents- Arab-Israel Conflict

Zionism - Definition and Early History

Understanding the Middle East I - Finding the Truth
Understanding the Middle East II - Words about Words

The Evolution of the Conflict from Arab-Israeli to Palestinian-Israeli to ??
In a nutshell: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
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Israel-Palestine Timeline

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IRAQ History and Resources

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Iraq- Source Documents

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A Brief History of Egypt  - A capsule history of Egypt since earliest times.
A Brief History of modern Iran - From the Qajars to present day.
Inside Al-Qaeda

Biography - Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen)
Biography - Yasser Arafat
Biography - Shimon Peres
Biography - Ahmed Qurei (Abu-Ala)
Biography - Yitzhak Rabin
Biography - Ariel Sharon

Population of Palestine before 1948
British support for restoration of the Jews
President Harry S. Truman and US Support for Creation of Israel
The Lavon Affair - Israel and Terror in Egypt
Palestinian Parties
The Hamas
The Palestinian Refugees
The Growth of Palestinian Identity
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