The Israeli-Palestinian Struggle
Both groups rely on force, aid from stronger nations and persuasive arguments that tell why each has a rightful claim to the land, and why the other does not.
These arguments encompass a range of thorny issues: religion, history, politics and national identity. Here's a look at those issues, and how the children of Abraham came to be locked in this era's most intractable conflict. More
An ancient bond
It’s called the Holy Land, its ancient history dear to the world’s three main monotheistic religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity. While many argue that the theological past has little to do with the nationalistic forces driving the region today, protection of religious areas and icons remains a rallying cry for the faithful.
Abraham, the Bible says, was called by God to leave his home and move to a new land, where he was to become the father of a mighty nation. His journey has become a tale of faith and transformation embraced by Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
As the story goes, some 4,000 years ago Abraham traveled from the Chaldean city of Ur — in present-day Iraq — to the land of Canaan — essentially modern-day Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The book of Genesis says God then spoke to Abraham in Canaan, saying: "To your offspring, I will give this land."
Abraham's offspring included two sons. The first was Ishmael, whom he fathered with Hagar, his wife Sarah's former servant. The other was Isaac, whom he fathered with Sarah.
Jews believe they are descended from Isaac, who, as the legitimate son of Abraham, was the intended inheritor of God's promised land. Muslims believe they are descended from Ishmael, Abraham's first-born. They say Hagar was Abraham's second wife and believe their claims to the holy land are as valid as those of the Jews.
Abraham is said to have lived 175 years, and then buried in a cave called Machpelah, in what is now the city of Hebron in the West Bank.
Abraham has become revered by three religions. In the Christian New Testament, Abraham is called "the ancestor of all who believe." The Koran mentions Abraham more often than the prophet Mohammed, who is believed by Muslims to have been a direct descendant of Abraham. Jews see Abraham as the first person to recognize their God.
Famine drove the Israelites from Canaan to Egypt and then, as recounted in the book of Exodus, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and back to conquer Canaan around 1200 B.C.E.
Until about 721 B.C.E., the Israelites ruled Canaan, calling it Israel in the north and Judea in the south, where they built their first temple in Jerusalem.
Then the Israelites were conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians, their temple destroyed and the Israelite tribes scattered.
In 539 B.C.E., some Israelites returned to Jerusalem and built their second temple, which was subsequently destroyed by Romans in 70 C.E., after a Jewish revolt. The Jews were then expelled.
This second expulsion is seen by many Jews as lasting about 2,000 years — until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 — though small Jewish populations remained while the land was in the control of others. Palestinians have said their people lived in the land throughout history, and that their ancestors predate Abraham's arrival in Canaan.
The rise of Christianity and Islam forever altered the Holy Land. It became filled with sites sacred to three religions whose adherents now compose more than half of the world's population.
Islam's two holiest sites are in Saudi Arabia — Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, and Medina, where he is buried.
But Islam's third-holiest site is in Jerusalem, in the area that holds the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
The Dome of the Rock covers a stone promontory from which Muslims believe Mohammed ascended on a miraculous night journey to heaven and back.
Jews also revere the site, which is where they believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, before being told by God that that no longer was necessary.
The Al-Aqsa mosque, which was built around 700 C.E., sits across from the Dome of the Rock, which was completed about 15 years earlier. Both buildings sit on top of the small hill that held the two Israelite temples before they were destroyed.
The Muslims refer to this hill as Haram al-Sharif, meaning "the noble sanctuary." Jews call the hill the Temple Mount, and consider one of the hill's retaining walls, the Western Wall, a holy shrine.
In addition to being home to the shrines of three religions, the Holy Land has been home to a series of conquerors. It has been ruled by Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Persians, Muslims, Christian Crusaders, and finally, the Ottoman Empire, which lost the land in World War I to the Allied powers.
Britain then ruled the area under a mandate from the League of Nations, and it was under Britain's watch that the modern struggle between Jews and Arabs for independent national homelands began.
Zionism and Arab nationalism
The push for Jewish and Palestinian nations arose primarily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In all the talk of ancient hatreds and religious feuds, it is easy to lose sight of this basic fact: The concepts for states of Palestine and Israel as we now understand them are younger than even the concept of America.
MICHAEL MASLAN / CORBIS 1870s Palestine: A man stands near a horse and rider in ancient stone ruins near the town of Lydda. Zionist Jews fleeing persecution in Europe and Russia would soon begin arriving in the area in increasing numbers, raising tensions with the Arabs.
For the people who would become the Palestinians, the seeds of a strong national identity began in the early 1800s with struggles against the ruling Ottomans, who had controlled the territory since the 1500s, and in 1834 against the Egyptians, who for a short time ruled the area. These revolts, and later revolts against other outside powers, unified Arabs from diverse backgrounds — peasants, urban traders, religious leaders — by pitting them against common enemies.
When Zionist Jews fleeing persecution in Europe and Russia began arriving in increasing numbers in the 1880s, the influx of immigrants raised tensions. A series of confrontations between Jews and Arabs began in 1920. When the British, who voiced support for Zionism, won control of the area after World War I, there was a major Arab revolt against them, too.
DID YOU KNOW ... A Semite is a person descended from Shem, Noah's son. The meaning can be expanded to include any people speaking a Semitic language, including Hebrews, Arabs, Assyrians, etc. Hence, Arabs as well as Jews who are descended from Middle Eastern roots are Semites. It also means some Jews are not Semites. The term anti-Semitic, however, was used in the late 1800s in Europe to mean hating Jews and has held that meaning since.
For Jews, the longing to return to the Holy Land had been a unifying force for thousands of years before the creation of the Jewish state.
"Next year in Jerusalem." These words are spoken annually by Jews during Passover, the holiday that commemorates the Israelite exodus from Egypt. The prayer reflects the longing of an exiled people to return to their first land, a home they believe was given to them by God.
In the late 1880s Jews faced rising anti-Semitism in Europe and violent pogroms in Russia. A few decades later, 6 million Jews died in Adolf Hitler's Holocaust. Because of all this, the idea of Zionism — the establishment of a Jewish state — gained widespread support among Jews.
THE BRITISH MANDATE
The British were given a League of Nations mandate over the former Ottoman area they called Palestine after World War I.
Frustration of the Jews and Arabs of Palestine grew as they saw no sign of imminent statehood under the mandate. Other Arab areas were granted statehood, but Palestine remained under mandate control. Jews and Arabs clashed with each other and fought the British almost immediately.
In 1936, the Arabs began a major revolt against British policies and ever-increasing Jewish immigration. The revolt ended in 1939, the same year the British released a document known as the White Paper of 1939, which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to 75,000 over five years — and none thereafter. It also prohibited future land sales to Jews, and promised Palestine independence within 10 years, presumably as an Arab-dominated state.
As tensions between Arabs and Jews became increasingly volatile and the enmity both groups felt toward the British escalated, the British mandate became ever more tenuous.
THE U.N. PARTITION
In 1947, Britain told the United Nations it was ending the Palestine mandate and handed the problem to the United Nations.
A U.N. commission recommended that Palestine be partitioned into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, with Jerusalem under international control. The United States supported that idea. The recommendation was endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly on Nov. 29, 1947 as U.N. Resolution 181.
The Arab states and the Arabs of Palestine rejected the U.N. partition, feeling that all the land was theirs. The Jews accepted the plan and on May 14, 1948, led by David Ben-Gurion, declared statehood for Israel. U.S. President Truman recognized Israel immediately, followed shortly after by the Soviet Union.
Israel was attacked the next day by the Arab states and Palestinians.
What followed was the first major Middle East war over the conflicting national aspirations of the Jews and Palestinians. The British later were to argue that the letter was worded in a way that omitted Palestine from that territory; the Arabs would say that was not the proper interpretation of the letter. The secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, between Great Britain's Sir Mark Sykes and France's Georges Francois Picot, provided for international control of the Middle East. France was to rule much of the north, including Syria and Lebanon, and the rest of the area would be under Britain's control. In 1917, Britain's Lord Arthur Balfour signed a declaration that proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to a national home in Palestine, while at the same time respecting the rights of non-Jews in the area. The Sykes-Picot division and the wording of the Balfour Declaration were written into the League of Nations' British Mandate for Palestine, which was set up in 1920 and formalized in 1922. Over the next 45 years, Arabs would gain statehood in all the areas but Palestine. The seemingly contradictory positions by the British — promising statehood for both Jews and Arabs — is seen as an effort to win the support of both groups in Britain's fight against the Ottoman Empire. In retaliation, the Irgun, one of the Jewish underground organizations, led by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, planted bombs at the British headquarters in Jerusalem's King David Hotel. Begin, in his memoirs, says three telephone calls were made to warn of the bombs, but the hotel was not evacuated. The blast killed 91 people, including Britons, Jews and Arabs, and injured 45 others.
WORLD WAR I MANEUVERING
The political maneuvering by the Allies surrounding the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I set the tone for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict throughout the 20th century.
The mandate system was developed by the League of Nations as a way for member nations to govern lands conquered by member nations. The League gave Britain and France mandates to govern Ottoman territories in the Middle East after World War I. THE KING DAVID HOTEL ATTACK
After World War II, Jewish underground forces stepped up their activity, attacking the British in Palestine with the intent of driving them out. In response to a series of attacks, the British in 1946 arrested some 1,000 Jews and confiscated reams of documents from the Jewish Agency, the office that represented the Jews to Britain.
ACME / HULTON GETTY PHOTO ARCHIVE King David Hotel: British troops carry a casualty out of the Jerusalem building after a 1946 blast that killed 91 people.
The British later were to argue that the letter was worded in a way that omitted Palestine from that territory; the Arabs would say that was not the proper interpretation of the letter.
The secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, between Great Britain's Sir Mark Sykes and France's Georges Francois Picot, provided for international control of the Middle East. France was to rule much of the north, including Syria and Lebanon, and the rest of the area would be under Britain's control.
In 1917, Britain's Lord Arthur Balfour signed a declaration that proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to a national home in Palestine, while at the same time respecting the rights of non-Jews in the area.
The Sykes-Picot division and the wording of the Balfour Declaration were written into the League of Nations' British Mandate for Palestine, which was set up in 1920 and formalized in 1922.
Over the next 45 years, Arabs would gain statehood in all the areas but Palestine.
The seemingly contradictory positions by the British — promising statehood for both Jews and Arabs — is seen as an effort to win the support of both groups in Britain's fight against the Ottoman Empire.
In retaliation, the Irgun, one of the Jewish underground organizations, led by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, planted bombs at the British headquarters in Jerusalem's King David Hotel. Begin, in his memoirs, says three telephone calls were made to warn of the bombs, but the hotel was not evacuated. The blast killed 91 people, including Britons, Jews and Arabs, and injured 45 others.
The endless wars
Modern strife in the Holy Land
NASSER NASSER / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS A Palestinian boy carrying a slingshot ducks to avoid rubber bullets fired by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah in March. Israel raided Palestinian towns and refugee camps with tanks and helicopter gunships that day, killing dozens.
In following these epic struggles over the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, it is easy to forget how small an area is involved. Modern-day Israel and the occupied territories comprise about 10,500 square miles, an area some 10 percent smaller than Vancouver Island.
THE CREATION OF ISRAEL AND THE 1948 WAR
To the Jews, the 1948 war proved they were alone in the Middle East, surrounded by hostile populations that would rather kill them than share the Holy Land. The story of how Israel was attacked in 1948 by the combined forces of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt — just a day after it declared independence — is an important part of the Israeli consciousness.
To the Arab world, the war was a humiliating defeat, another instance of pan-Arab unity proving unequal to the power of outsiders. It remains a source of bitterness to this day, with the story of how the war drove Palestinians off their lands referred to as al-Nakba, "the disaster."
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1948 Arab soldiers approach holes they blasted in Tiferet Synagogue, a stronghold of the Jewish military organization Haganah, in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 21, 1948.
At the same time, a similar number of Jewish refugees fled their homes in neighboring areas and other Arab countries because of the turmoil.
U.N. Resolution 194, passed in December 1948, endorsed the right of refugees "wanting to live at peace with their neighbors" to return to their homes or receive compensation for lost land and property. Palestinian refugees were neither compensated nor allowed to return. Arab countries, with the exception of Jordan, refused to absorb them, preferring to maintain the refugee camps for more than half a century as a way of keeping the issue from fading away.
Jewish refugees were eagerly absorbed by Israel.
After the 1948 war, Israel possessed approximately 8,000 square miles of Palestine — reducing the Arab lands set up in the 1947 U.N. partition by some 50 percent. Jerusalem was divided, with Arabs on the east side of the armistice line — the Green Line — and the Jews on the west.
DID YOU KNOW ... Ironically, the first major U.S. venture into Mideast politics saw the United States side with Egypt against Israel as President Eisenhower tried to counter Soviet involvement in the Arab state. Driven by the Cold War concern over Soviet Union influence, Eisenhower pledged military and economic support to any Middle East nation threatened by communism. However, his doctrine quickly led the U.S. to become a staunch ally of the Jewish state, the only capitalist democracy in the region.
In 1956, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, which had been run by a private British-French consortium, and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, cutting off the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel's only link to the Red Sea.
Nasser also had recently made the West uncomfortable by making a $320 million arms deal with the Soviet Union (via Czechoslovakia).
And, Nasser had been supporting violent guerrilla raids from the Sinai into Israel.
Britain and France, fearful of losing their oil-shipping lane, plotted with Israel to wrest control of the canal from Nasser.
On Oct. 29, 1956, Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula, driving the Egyptians all the way to the west side of the canal. The plan was for Britain and France to then drop troops into Egypt to "defend" the canal.
But the plan unfolded differently. The United States intervened. President Eisenhower threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan to Britain, and on Nov. 2, the United States sponsored a U.N. resolution demanding Israel's immediate withdrawal from Egypt. It was overwhelmingly approved.
Within a year, the borders had returned to their previous arrangement and Egypt regained the canal.
The incident was the first direct U.S. involvement in the affairs of the region.
THE SIX-DAY WAR, 1967
In the spring of 1967, Egypt ordered U.N. peacekeepers out of the Sinai and again closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli ships. Belligerent talk and Arab alliances made it evident that Egypt, Syria and Jordan were planning to attack Israel. In response, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike on June 5.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1967 Israeli soldiers wave their flag from a mosque in the Sinai desert.
The fighting stopped June 10. U.N. Resolution 242, which dealt with the new boundaries, has become the basis for negotiations between Israel, the Arab states and the Palestinians. An Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza now would result in the creation of a Palestinian state, not a return of the lands to Jordan and Egypt.
Resolution 242 called for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." To the Arabs, this has always meant that Israel must return to its pre-1967 borders.
Israel, on the other hand, saw great importance in the absence of the word "the" before the word "territories" in the U.N. resolution. For Israelis, "withdrawal ... from territories occupied in the recent conflict" meant something less than a full withdrawal.
In deliberations over Resolution 242, there was specific debate over the word "the." The Arab states demanded that it be included, but it was left out, indicating that the parties recognized its significance.
Resolution 242 also called for the "... acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.... " In other words, it reaffirmed the right of Israel to exist peacefully amid its Arab neighbors.
THE YOM KIPPUR WAR, 1973
After its stunning military success in the 1967 war, Israel appeared the dominant power in the region. It became more confident, holding onto the conquered territories and saying it was waiting to return them in exchange for peace negotiations.
What came, instead, was another war.
On Oct. 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. The attack caught Israel off guard. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and most of Israel was shut down for the holiday.
After suffering heavy losses — more than 2,500 Israelis would die and some 3,000 would be wounded in the 18 days of fighting that followed — Israel appealed for help from the United States.
At first, the U.S. was reluctant to aid Israel. It did not want to upset Arab states on which it had become increasingly dependent for oil. And it did not want to raise tensions with the Soviet Union, its Cold War adversary and patron of Syria and Egypt.
But after learning that the Soviets were airlifting huge amounts of weaponry to Egypt and Syria, President Nixon decided the U.S. had to act.
Six days into the fighting, the U.S. began a massive, $2.2 billion airlift of fighter planes, tanks, helicopters and munitions to Israel. It was worth it, Nixon said, "to maintain a balance of forces and achieve stability in the Middle East."
Eventually, Israel was able to turn back the Syrian and Egyptian armies and even pursue them into their own territories. In the end, Egypt lost about 7,700 soldiers; the Syrians, 3,500.
The battle between the Israelis and the Arabs raised the tensions between the superpowers considerably, and on Oct. 22 the U.S. and Russia moved to halt the hostilities by proposing U.N. Resolution 338, which called for an immediate end to the fighting and the resumption of efforts toward peace under the guidelines set out in Resolution 242. The resolution passed unanimously.
The war left Israel as the Mideast's dominant military power once again, but it also established the Arab states' ability to inflict heavy damage on Israel.
It also inaugurated the tradition of huge U.S. military aid to Israel, which continues to this day — in recent years, about two-thirds of the roughly $3 billion a year in U.S. aid to Israel has gone to the Israeli military.
RISE OF THE PLO AND INVASIONS OF LEBANON: 1970s AND 1980s
The Palestine Liberation Organization was created in 1964 with the dual aims of creating a Palestinian state and destroying Israel.
Not a key player in the region at first, the organization gained strength with the failure of Egypt in the Six Day War in 1967.
Though the PLO's stated aims were to change radically with the 1993 Oslo accords, for nearly 30 years the PLO and its leader, Yasser Arafat, supported guerrilla warfare and terrorism as a primary means of promoting the Palestinian cause.
Kicked out of Jordan in 1970 because of its destabilizing effect, the PLO soon became ensconced in Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees lived in generally miserable conditions.
The PLO came to control the network of Lebanese refugee camps, essentially creating a PLO state within Lebanon.
From its new position just north of Israel, the PLO supported guerrilla attacks on Israeli territory — attacks that in 1978 provoked an Israeli response.
Israel invaded Lebanon in March 1978 in an attempt to crush the PLO guerrillas. The operation was brief and of limited success. Four days into it, the U.N. issued Resolution 425, which demanded Israeli withdrawal and established a U.N. monitoring force in southern Lebanon to discourage fighting between Israel and the PLO.
In 1982, Israel again invaded Lebanon, this time with the intent of fully crushing the PLO. The invasion reached all the way to Beirut and succeeded in crippling the PLO and exiling Arafat to Tunisia. But the operation also turned into a quagmire for Israel that lasted three years, cost the lives of more than 650 Israeli soldiers and wounded almost 4,000 others.
The Sabra and Shatila massacres — during which Ariel Sharon, then Israeli defense minister, failed to prevent Lebanese militiamen from killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Palestinians in the two refugee camps — occurred in 1982. News of the massacres helped dampen the Israeli public's support of the war.
In 1985, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres approved the withdrawal of Israeli forces to a "security zone" in southern Lebanon. But Israeli soldiers enforcing the security zone were still targets, largely of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah (Party of God) guerrilla organization.
NATI HARNIK / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1998 Two Israeli soldiers, left, mourn their comrade Uriel Peretz, one of two soldiers killed in an ambush in South Lebanon the previous night.
THE INTIFADAS: 1987 AND 2000
The Arabic word intifada means "shaking off," and is used by Palestinians to describe periods of extended conflict with Israelis in the occupied territories and, more recently, in Israeli cities.
The first major Palestinian intifada began in 1987 in Gaza with Palestinian youths disillusioned by two decades of Israeli occupation. The tactics were far less violent than those seen in confrontations these days; Palestinians threw stones and Molotov cocktails, and Israelis fired rubber bullets in response. Strikes and boycotts were also used.
The fierceness and widespread participation of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians in the first intifada caught Israel by surprise. The intifada ended in 1993 with the Oslo accords, and Palestinians believe the power of the intifada, along with the worldwide attention it generated, pressured Israel to begin negotiating seriously with the PLO.
The second intifada began in September 2000 after years of failed peace negotiations and a provocative visit by Ariel Sharon to the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, an area known as the Temple Mount to Jews and as Haram al-Sharif to Arabs.
Continuing to this day, the second intifada is far more violent and bloody than the first, with Palestinians employing suicide bombers and guns.
Israel contends the autonomy granted Palestinians after the Oslo accords requires the Palestinian Authority to put down the current uprising.
Arafat, the head of the Palestinian Authority, condemns violence against Israeli civilians but claims to be unable to control it. Sharon, dissatisfied with this response, in March ordered a prolonged Israeli invasion of the West Bank in an effort to dismantle its "terrorist infrastructure."
ALEX ROSKOVSKY / KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS Emergency personnel work at the scene of a suicide bombing in Haifa, Israel, in March that killed 15 people. MIKE NELSON / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE A Palestinian man prays over the body of a loved one as bodies were collected at the Jenin refugee-camp hospital in April.
Negotiations and the war of words
Peace between Israel and Arabs has been elusive. Each side has lists of historic wrongs to be righted, claims to be defended and icons to be protected — and on key issues, both sides are intransigent. Talks have held promise of solutions, but true peace has always fallen victim to mutual mistrust and finger-pointing.
Three barriers to Israeli-Palestinian peace
RICHARD T. NOWITZ / CORBIS Both sides have said they won’t accept a peace deal unless it includes Jerusalem, now held by Israel.
Old City walls date from Turks' and Crusaders' 12th-century battles
Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a rocky slab said to be Jesus' grave site
Citadel fortified since 200 B.C.E.
St. James Cathedral, built over tomb of apostle James
Mount Zion, site of David's Tomb, Upper Room of Jesus' Last Supper, final resting place of Virgin Mary and the home of high priest Caiaphas, who condemned Jesus
Western (Wailing) Wall, central Jewish prayer site; built by King Herod as retaining wall
Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's most important sites; built by Caliph Omar, Islamic world's second leader
Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, ancient Mount Moriah
Dome of the Rock, Islam's third most sacred site; stone from which Mohammed is said to have ascended on night journey to heaven and back, and where Bible says Abraham offered son Isaac in sacrifice
Church of St. Anne, built by Crusaders over home of Virgin Mary's parents
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Jerusalem is considered holy by three religions that make up more than half of the world's population: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In the most dramatic example of how religious claims to the city literally overlap, Islam's Al-Aqsa mosque and the nearby Dome of the Rock sit atop the site that held the Jews' Second Temple before Romans destroyed it.
A remaining wall of the second temple, revered by Jews as the Western (Wailing) Wall, is a stone's throw from the place where Muslim worshippers congregate for prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The 1947 U.N. proposal to divide the area into Jewish and Arab nations called for Jerusalem to be under international control.
This vision was never realized. The Arabs rejected the U.N. proposal and declared war, while the Jews accepted it and declared statehood. In the fighting that ensued, Jerusalem was divided east and west between Jordan and Israeli.
Israel took control of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and has held the city since. Israel claims it as its "eternal" capital, though most nations' embassies are in Tel Aviv.
Israel has opposed any re-division of Jerusalem. Palestinians have said they cannot accept a final settlement with Israel that does not include Jerusalem as their capital.
In peace talks in 2000-01, the idea of a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, along with some sort of Muslim sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, was discussed but not finalized.
With some 3.9 million Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations, the question of their return to the land they or their ancestors left in the 1948 and 1967 wars remains a major stumbling block to peace.
Israelis maintain that letting in all refugees who wish to return would overwhelm the Jewish nature of the country and also present an unbearable security problem.
Palestinians maintain that U.N. General Assembly resolutions affirm their right to return to their homeland, particularly Resolution 194, passed in 1948 to deal with the refugee problem and other issues.
In part, Resolution 194 said:
"... Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible."
Israelis say a key phrase in the resolution is "live in peace." The Arab countries at the time refused to recognize the state of Israel, and Israel maintained that any group that refused to recognize Israel's right to exist would not live in peace.
Today, only Jordan and Egypt have recognized Israel, and it was not until the mid-1990s that the Palestine Liberation Organization removed anti-Israeli wording from its charter.
Israel, in peace talks with Palestinians in 2000 and 2001, reportedly was willing to accept only a token number of refugees — perhaps 10,000. They envisioned reparations for the others, to be paid by other nations.
Supporters of Israel argue that about as many Jewish refugees resulted from the 1948 war as Palestinian — about 700,000 for each side. The Jewish refugees fled Palestinian lands and other Arab states during the fighting. Israel eagerly accepted the Jewish refugees while the Arab states, except Jordan, refused the Palestinian refugees, many of whom have remained in refugee camps for generation after generation.
The Palestinian argument is simple: Resolution 194 says they have the right to return to their homes, and if they don't wish to return, they are due compensation.
And they argue that under the U.N.'s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a basic right of a people to live in their homeland.
THE JEWISH SETTLEMENTS
About 150 Jewish settlements dot the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, creating an enormous amount of friction between the Israelis and Palestinians.
To Palestinians, these settlements, begun after the 1967 war, represent a direct affront to their sovereignty and suggest that the Israeli government is trying to subvert a basic premise of the Oslo Agreement: that the Palestinians will be granted control over the areas in which they are the dominant population.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Since the 1993 Oslo agreement, settlement population in the West Bank has doubled and is now at about 200,000. In all, there are an estimated 400,000 Israelis in settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and in Arab east Jerusalem.
The Mitchell Report, commissioned by President Clinton to look into the causes of the upsurge in Mideast violence that began in September 2000, cited the settlements as a primary cause of violence and an obstacle to peace.
Israel, the April 2001 report said, "should give careful consideration to whether settlements ... are valuable bargaining chips for future negotiations or provocations likely to preclude the onset of productive talks."
The report also noted that many leading nations consider the settlements to be illegal under the Oslo Agreement and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from creating settlements on occupied territory before a conflict has ended. The United States has long promoted a freeze on settlement expansion, though it has stopped short of calling settlements illegal.
The settlements are seen by extremely religious Jews as confirmation of their inviolable, God-given right to live in areas thought to have been controlled by Jews in biblical times.
Also, the settlements, particularly those in the Jordan Valley, are protected by Israeli soldiers and settler defense networks. They are seen by Israel as an important first line of defense.
Labels: The Israeli-Palestinian Struggle