History of Israel and Palestine

History of Israel and Palestine

The history of the modern conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people has its roots in the early twentieth century, with the end of World War I and the dissolution of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. For centuries, the territory of Palestine had a majority Muslim population, with small minorities of Christians and Jews. In the late 1800s, a European Jewish movement known as Zionism emerged, and its adherents worked to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Immediately, Zionists began immigrating to the region.

After World War I, former Ottoman territories were awarded to other countries by the League of Nations, and Palestine was one of several placed under British control. While all of the other British-controlled territories eventually became independent states, Palestine remained under British control, as mandated by the League of Nations, so that a Jewish state could be established in principle, as outlined in the "Balfour Agreement".

The Palestinian Mandate resulted in an influx of Jewish immigrants to the Arab territory beginning in 1922, which increased during the 1930s due to Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe. The Jewish presence in the territory angered the Arab inhabitants, who demanded independence and recognition as a state in 1937. After ten years of trying to quell the mounting violence from both Palestinians and Jews, Britain relinquished control of the Palestinian territory, handing it over to the United Nations. The UN suggested the territory become two separate states, one Palestinian (comprising 45 percent of the land) and one Jewish (comprising the other 55 percent), with the volatile city of Jerusalem as an international territory that would be shared by both. Palestinian citizens rejected the UN resolution, and immediately began a violent uprising, attacking Jewish towns and settlements.

As a result of the persecution and mass murder of Jews during World War II, Zionism garnered more support from moderate Jews, many of whom had initially opposed the movement. With this increased support, the Zionists created the proposed Jewish state of Israel, and declared its status as an independent nation in May of 1948. Though the UN had designated only 55 percent of the land for the Jewish state, Israel occupied 77 percent of the Palestinian territory as a result of the 1947-48 civil war between Jewish settlers and Palestinians. This included most of Jerusalem, even though Jewish leaders had agreed to the UN-proposed "corpus separatum" ("separate body") for the city. The remaining 23 percent of the Palestinian territory consisted of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, was controlled by Jordan and Egypt, respectively.

Israel continued to assert its dominance in 1967, when it began what is now referred to as the Six-Day War, in which Israel occupied both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, effectively taking over the entirety of the Palestinian territory. The United Nations Security Council intervened after about 500,000 Palestinians fled the territory into Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, calling for Israel to relinquish its control over its 1967 acquisitions, and allowing for the return of these Palestinian refugees.

The United Nations did everything in its power to provide legitimacy to the sovereignty of the Palestinians, even allowing the PLO official representation within the UN. The official stance of the United Nations has long been that the Palestinian people have the right to self-governance and national independence. During the 1970s, the Palestinians and Israelis agreed that the escalating violence in the region was preventable and that a compromise was necessary. With the support of the United Nations, the Palestinians proposed that Israel relinquish its hold on the West Bank and Gaza and allow the Palestinians to establish a state in the two territories.

In 1987, the Palestinian people launched a resistance effort, or intifada (Arabic, "uprising"), against what they viewed as an Israeli occupation of their land. The intifada was not a government-sanctioned action, but rather an uprising organized by the citizenry. At first, the resistance involved mostly civil disobedience and other forms of non-violent protest, but quickly escalated to more violent means, such as throwing rocks and homemade explosives at Israeli troops. Though the PLO publicly claimed it was not behind the intifada, Israelis blamed the Palestinian leaders for the uprising, and officially branded the PLO as a terrorist organization.

Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, which established that Israel would withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank over a period of five years, the PLO formed the Palestinian Authority (PA) as an interim government with municipal powers over the areas from which Israel was withdrawing. Yasser Arafat was elected president of the PA. Based on the language of the Oslo Accords, Israel's withdrawal should have been completed by 1999, but for a number of reasons the pullout was delayed. A meeting in 2000 between US President Bill Clinton, President Arafat, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak did not resolve the dispute over the legitimacy of a Palestinian state, with Arafat walking out of the talks. This provided the driving force for another, much more violent intifada in September of 2000, and lasting for nearly four years.

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