10 Essential Facts about the Mideast Conflict

Last Updated: 04/29/2021 22:06    | Print This Page | |

1: In the summer of 2000, Israel offered the Palestinian Arabs 97 percent of the land they claim to be fighting for, making Israel the first and only country ever to offer the Palestinian Arabs a homeland. This offer was rejected with no counter-offer from the Palestinians.

At the urging of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, U.S. President Clinton announced on July 5, 2000, his invitation to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to come to Camp David to continue their negotiations on the Middle East peace process.

On July 11, the Camp David 2000 Summit convened.

Barak's offer to the Palestinians was the most substantial and far-reaching that had ever been made. In Israel, people were stunned by the extent of the concessions that he was prepared to make. It is unclear whether the Israeli public were prepared to support Barak's deal. However they were never given the opportunity to endorse the proposals, as Arafat rejected them out of hand. According to media reports, Barak's offer included:

  • Israeli withdrawal from 95 percent of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip
  • The creation of a Palestinian state in those areas
  • The removal of isolated settlements that would be transferred to Palestinian control
  • Slices of Israeli land to be included in the Palestinian state to compensate for the percentage of the West Bank to become Israeli
  • Palestinian control over parts of Jerusalem including most of the Old City
  • “Religious Sovereignty” over the Temple Mount (rather than Israeli sovereignty, which had been in effect since 1967)

President Clinton, and others who participated, put the blame for the failure of the talks squarely on Arafat and the Palestinian negotiators for declining and not making any counteroffers or continuing the negotiation.

2: Like the United States, Israel is a democracy. Israel's Parliament includes men, women, Jews and Arabs.

Israel is a parliamentary democracy with legislative, executive and judicial branches. The head of the state is the president, whose duties are mostly ceremonial and formal; the office symbolizes the unity and sovereignty of the state. The Knesset, Israel's legislative authority, is a 120-member unicameral parliament which operates in plenary session and through 14 standing committees. Its members are elected every four years in universal nationwide elections. The Knesset has 10 Arab members.

The government (cabinet of ministers) is charged with administering internal and foreign affairs. It is headed by a prime minister and is collectively responsible to the Knesset.

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3: Israel ensures complete equality of all individuals irrespective of religion, race or sex. These civil rights are granted in Israel's Declaration of Independence and Declaration of Establishment.

The Declaration of Independence (May 1948) states that the State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

All citizens of Israel, no matter what religion are free to practice the religion of their choice.

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (1948) guarantees freedom of religion for all. Each religious community is free, by law and in practice, to exercise its faith, to observe its holidays and weekly day of rest and to administer its internal affairs. Each has its own religious council and courts, recognized by law and with jurisdiction over all religious affairs and matters of personal status such as marriage and divorce. Each has its own unique places of worship, with traditional rituals and special architectural features developed over the centuries.

There are roughly 6 million people living in Israel. Jews make up 77.2 percent of Israel's population, Muslims 15.4 percent, Christians 2.1 percent, Druze 1.6 percent and unaffiliated citizens 3.5 percent. The percentage of Israeli residents who are Arab is 19 percent, about the same as it when the country was established in 1948. (palestinefacts.org)

All citizens, regardless of their religion, may participate in the political process.

The 120-member Knesset is Israel's legislature. Members of Knesset (MKs) are elected every four years within the framework of parties that compete for the electorate's votes. Each party chooses its own Knesset candidates as it sees fit. The major function of the Knesset is to legislate laws and revise them as necessary. Additional duties include establishing a government, taking policy decisions, reviewing government activities, and electing the President of the State and the State Comptroller. Some Arab parties: National Arab Party, United Arab List, Hadash.

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4: The West Bank and Gaza Strip are disputed territories, claimed by Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. (UN Resolution 242)

After the Six Day War in 1967, the Arab States had no interest in peace, despite overtures from Israel. Israel advocated direct negotiations between the parties, without prior conditions, aimed at the conclusion of binding peace agreements. Until peace was made, the Israel Defense Forces were deployed on the new cease-fire lines, and the areas occupied in the Six Day War came to be administered by an Israeli Military Government. Jerusalem was reunified at the end of June 1967, and the whole city was thus brought under Israeli law.

  1. UN Security Council Resolution 242 calls on all parties to the conflict to negotiate a solution
  2. It anticipates that Israel will withdraw to secure borders (not specified in the resolution) in exchange for peace guarantees from the Arab parties

Resolution 242 was adopted by the United Nation Security Council on November 22, 1967. While the Israeli side accepted the resolution, the Palestine Liberation Organization rejected the deal entirely because, among other reasons, it recognized Israel's existence. The resolution called for the “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict... termination of all claims or states of belligerency...” and the recognition that “every State in the area... [has the] right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

While the Palestinian Arabs did not recognize Resolution 242 for years, today the Arabs interpret the resolution as calling for a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the captured territories. Yet the British and Americans who authored the resolution had worded it in such a way as to allow Israel to retain some of the territory acquired. Arthur Goldberg, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations put it best when he explained: “The notable omissions -- which were not accidental -- in regard to withdrawal are the words 'the' or 'all' and 'the June 5, 1967 lines'.... The resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.”

The British Ambassador who drafted the resolution, Lord Caradon, stated, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.”

The territory of the West Bank (i.e., Judea and Samaria) and Gaza Strip were captured by Israel in a defensive war. The Jordanian occupation of the West Bank from 1947 to 1967, or the Egyptian occupation of the Gaza Strip, by contrast, had been the result of an offensive war in 1948.

5: Israel gained control of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza (sometimes referred to as the “disputed territories”) in 1967 after defeating Egypt, Syria and Jordan in a pre-emptive strike after those countries surrounded Israel with troops, launched repeated terrorist attacks, and threatened to “put an end to Israel.”

These days, some people reflexively refer to the “occupied territories” without ever asking the question how they fell into Israel's hands in 1967. Once again, there are those in the Arab world who seek to rewrite history and impute expansionist motives to Israel, but the facts are clear. Here's a quick summary of some of the major events leading up to the Six Day War:

  1. On May 16, 1967, Cairo Radio announced: “The existence of Israel has continued too long. The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel.” On the very same day, Egypt demanded the withdrawal of UN forces which had been stationed in Gaza and Sharm el-Sheikh since 1957. Three days later, the UN announced it would comply with the Egyptian request.
  2. On May 19, Cairo Radio said: “This is our chance, Arabs, to deal Israel a mortal blow of annihilation...”
  3. On May 23, Egyptian President Nasser declared his intention to block the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, thus effectively severing Israel's vital trade (supply) links with East Africa and Asia. Israel replied that under international law this was a casus belli, an act of war.
  4. On May 27, Nasser said that “our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel.”
  5. On May 30, Jordanian King Hussein placed Jordanian forces under Egyptian control. Egyptian, Iraqi, and Saudi troops were sent to Jordan.
  6. On June 1, Iraq's leader added his thoughts: “We are resolved, determined, and united to achieve our clear aim of wiping Israel off the map.”
  7. On June 3, Radio Cairo hailed the impending Muslim holy war.
  8. On June 5, Israel, surrounded by Arab forces likely (poised) to attack at any moment, launched a preemptive strike. Within six days, Israel had defeated its adversaries and, in the process, captured land on the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian fronts. Israel had made strenuous efforts, via UN channels, to persuade King Hussein to stay out of the war. Unlike the unremitting hostility of Egypt and Syria toward Israel, Jordan and Israel had quietly cooperated, to some degree, and shared concerns about the Palestinians' aggressive designs. Years later, King Hussein publicly acknowledged that his decision to enter the 1967 war, in which he lost control of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made.

Shortly after the Six Day War, Israel indicated its desire to negotiate peace with its Arab neighbors. While Israel was unprepared to relinquish the eastern half of Jerusalem -- which contained Judaism's holiest sites and which, despite the terms of the Israeli-Jordanian armistice agreement, had been entirely off limits to Israel for nearly 19 years (while Jordan desecrated dozens of synagogues in the Old City) -- it was willing to exchange the seized territories for a comprehensive settlement. But Israel's overtures were rebuffed. An unmistakable response came from Khartoum, Sudan's capital, where Arab leaders issued a resolution on September 1 announcing the three “no's”: “no peace, no recognition, and no negotiation.”

6: Three major attempts to destroy Israel have been carried out by the Arab world: in 1947, 1967 and 1973. Although many neighboring Arab countries today still wish to destroy Israel, Israel still seeks peace. Israel has forged peace agreements with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994), and have lived in peace with these countries ever since.

1947-1949 -- War of Independence

Early in the war, from November 29, 1947 until April 1, 1948, the Palestinian Arabs took the offensive, with help from volunteers from neighboring countries. The Jews suffered severe casualties and passage along most of their major roadways was disrupted. Starting in April 1948, the Haganah took the initiative, and in six weeks was able to turn the tables by capturing the Arab sections of Tiberias, Haifa and later also Tzfat and Acco.

From mid-May to mid-July, the critical phase of the war, came the simultaneous, coordinated assault on the new State of Israel by five regular Arab armies from neighboring countries (Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq), with an overwhelming superiority of heavy equipment -- armor, artillery and air force. From then through the negotiated agreements that ended the war in 1949, Israel not only ejected the invading Arab forces, it also captured and held some 5,000 sq. km. over and above the areas allocated to it by the United Nations.

1967 -- The Six Day War

Armed forces in the Arab countries were mobilized. Israel was confronted by an Arab force of some 465,000 troops, over 2,880 tanks and 810 aircraft. The armies of Kuwait, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq were contributing troops and arms to the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian fronts.

Faced with few choices, on June 4, 1967 the Cabinet authorized the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense to decide on appropriate steps to defend the State of Israel. On June 5, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt and captured the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. Despite an Israeli appeal to Jordan to stay out of the conflict, Jordan attacked Israel and thereby lost control of the West Bank and the eastern sector of Jerusalem. Israel went on to capture the Golan Heights from Syria by the time the war ended on June 10.

1973 Yom Kippur War

The Yom Kippur War began with the unprovoked assault on Israel by Egyptian and Syrian military forces. They acted simultaneously against Israeli forces on the Suez Canal in the south and the Golan Heights in the north. The attack took place on October 6, 1973 -- Yom Kippur -- the holiest day of the religious year in Israel, a time obviously calculated to catch the Israelis off-guard.

While the bulk of the combat was between Isreal and the forces of Egypt and Syria, at least ten other Arab states (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, Lebanon and Jordan) actively aided the Egyptian-Syrian war effort with personnel, military equipment, or financial support. Palestinian Arabs shelled Israeli civilian towns from Lebanon and also fought with the attacking armies.

Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty

Egypt Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, marking the end of 30 years of relentless hostility and five costly wars. The treaty was preceded by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem (1977), at the invitation of Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin, as well as the signing of the Camp David Accords (1978) which constituted a basis for peace between Egypt and Israel and between Israel and its other neighbors.

Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty

The peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, signed at the Aqaba-Eilat border crossing (October 1994), was preceded by a meeting of King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington three months earlier when the two leaders proclaimed an end to the state of war between their countries. Although de facto at war with each other for 46 years, Israel and Jordan had maintained secret contacts and concluded mutually beneficial agreements throughout that entire period.

7: The West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza were never controlled by any Palestinian government or organization until 1993, when Israel agreed to give the Palestinian Authority certain controls under the Oslo Peace accords.

Jews have lived in the West Bank and Gaza Strip throughout recorded history, until the 1948 War of Independence, when they were forced to flee the invading Arab armies. Indeed, some of the current Jewish settlement communities existed prior to 1948, when they where overrun by invading Arab armies and destroyed. Kfar Etzion and other villages in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem corridor fell to Arab forces in May 1948 and those captured were massacred. Sons and daughters of Jews who lived there until 1948 were the first to return after the 1967 war.

Israel's administration of the territory in 1967 replaced Jordan's control of the West Bank and Egypt's of the Gaza Strip. Egypt and Jordan gained control of these areas during the 1948 War with the newly established Israel, which according to the 1947 UN Partition Plan, were to be part of the independent Arab state to be established alongside an independent Jewish state. Neither Jordan nor Egypt had legal sovereignty over these areas. Israel maintains that these areas can thus not be considered “occupied territories” under international law, since Israel did not “occupy” them from another sovereign nation, but are “disputed territories” over which there are competing claims, and whose future must be determined through negotiations. Since 1967, Israeli governments have maintained a willingness to withdraw from areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a component of a comprehensive peace agreement with the Arabs, but it has proved impossible to negotiate such an agreement despite many attempts.

With the negotiating deadlock, Israel found itself with a million Palestinian Arabs under its control and began administering the territories in what has become wrongfully known as the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel hoped that its authority over the Palestinians in these areas would be short-lived. Since Israel did not annex or incorporate the West Bank and Gaza into Israel proper, it could not apply the civil, democratic laws that govern Israeli civilian life to the residents of the territories and those territories continue under military administration.

The Oslo Accords (or “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements”) were signed on September 13, 1993 by representatives of the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Washington ceremony was hosted by US President Bill Clinton who smiled as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ended decades as sworn enemies with an uneasy handshake.

The Oslo Accords committed both parties to a range of obligations. Since then, claims of “Oslo violations” have come thick and fast. The interim agreements were intended to build trust between the parties as preparation for negotiations on a final settlement. As is now clear, however, Israel found little reason to regard the PLO as a trustworthy partner, and little hope of future peaceful coexistence with a Palestinian state on its border.

The main points of the Oslo Accords (or Declaration of Principles = DOP):

  1. Transfer of Powers to the Palestinians (West Bank and Gaza)
  2. The DOP does not prejudge the Permanent Status on issues certain issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements and borders.
  3. Security remains an Israeli responsibility.

With 20-20 hindsight it is now clear that the Oslo process, “land for peace,” has only encouraged Israel's enemies. The terrorist violence has risen and fallen since 1993, but the trend line is always up, more violence and terror directed against Israel and Jewish people in the territories. There is always an excuse -- the settlements, the refugees, the checkpoints, etc. etc. -- but even as Israel has partially withdrawn, has given the Palestinian Authority control of 95 percent of the Palestinian population, has offered more and more concessions and has agreed to peace plan after peace plan, all that comes back from the Palestinians is terror and more demands.

8: Israeli Settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are not illegal under any international law.

In 1948, when the British government partitioned Israel, they offered the Jews certain land, and the Arabs certain land. The Arabs never agreed, and instead attacked Israel. Therefore, Israel is not violating any agreements.

The last binding international legal instrument in the West Bank and Gaza was the League of Nations Mandate, which explicitly recognized the right of Jewish settlement in all territory allocated to the Jewish national home in the context of the British Mandate.

None of the signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians restrict the building or expansion of settlements. Indeed, the issue of settlements is specifically noted as an issue that will only be discussed during final status negotiations, the final stage of the peace process. The only prohibition in these agreements is that neither side take steps to change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, such as unilateral declarations of statehood or annexation, prior to final status negotiations. The Israeli government has voluntarily frozen the building of new settlements, dismantled some (very important) but recognizes the needs of existing settlements to meet the changing needs of their residents, such as the expansion of existing homes to accommodate growing families.

The official U.S. position has been over the years that settlements are legal. The Carter administration for a short time held that settlements were illegal, a position overturned by the Reagan administration.

The Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply to settlements even though you will often hear the claim that it does. Israel took over the land in a defensive war in 1967 from rulers (Jordan, Egypt) who themselves had recently acquired control of the land by aggressive war. The only internationally recognized agreements are those of the Oslo process which do not in any sentence prohibit settlements. At some points in time Israel has voluntarily agreed to a temporary halt to new settlements in anticipation of negotiating breakthroughs. But the repeated reversion to terrorism by the Palestinian Arabs has ended such restraint. The endlessly repeated refrain about “occupied territories” is propaganda, since a) the territories never belonged to Palestinian Arabs, B) the Palestinian Authority was given control of the areas, and c) the only reason Israel continues to exert control is in reaction to Palestinian Arab violence.

At Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001 Israeli Prime Minister Barak offered to redeploy and uproot settlements from up to 95 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip.

9: There have been roughly as many Jews displaced from Arab Nations as Arabs displaced from Israeli territory. Israel has absorbed the Jewish refugees, yet the Arab world refuses to accept the Palestinian Arabs into their countries.

There have been two refugee populations created by the Arab-Israeli conflict, not one. There were an estimated 754,000 Jews in Arab countries in 1948, the year of Israel's establishment; today, by contrast, there are fewer than 8,000, the bulk of whom live in Morocco and Tunisia.

While world attention has been focused on the Palestinian refugees, the plight of Jews from Arab countries, hundreds of thousands of whom became refugees as well, has been largely ignored. Indeed, many experts believe that the size of the two groups was roughly comparable. But there was one profound difference -- Israel immediately absorbed the Jewish refugees, while the Palestinian refugees were placed in camps and deliberately kept there as a matter of calculated Arab policy and with the complicity of the UN.

There is no comparable situation in the world today where a refugee population has been cynically exploited in this way. Until now, only one Arab country -- Jordan -- has offered citizenship to the Palestinian refugees.

The other 21 Arab countries, with their vast territory and common language, religion, and ethnic roots with the Palestinians, have refused to do so. Sadly, they appear to have little interest in alleviating the plight of refugees living in often squalid camps for two and three generations. Rather, they want to breed hatred of Israel and thus use the refugees as a key weapon in the ongoing struggle against Israel.

Throughout history, refugees have been settled by their allies and kinfolk in neighboring lands. But for Arab leaders to allow Palestinians to settle in neighboring countries would be to admit that the wars of 1948 and 1967 really ended as they did. Thus, Arab leaders pushed Palestinians into squalid, “temporary” camps to provide the world with a pathetic, swarming testament to -- as they see it -- the barbarity of “the Zionist entity.” Meanwhile, the number of Palestinian refugees has ballooned from 800,000 to 3.5 million.

10: The combined land size of Arab countries is 650 times the size of Israel -- i.e., Israel is the size of New Jersey, and the Arab countries are the size of the United States, all of Central America and Mexico combined.

  • Arab dictators control 13,486,861 sq. km. in the Middle East, and Israel controls 20,770. (Palestinefacts.org)
  • The Population of Israel is roughly 6 million, compared to 300 million living in the surrounding Arab countries.
  • The Arab nations are represented by 21 separate countries. There is only one Jewish nation with a tiny country, Israel.

Where did the name Palestine come from? - The name Palestine refers to a region of the eastern Mediterranean coast from the sea to the Jordan valley and from the southern Negev desert to the Galilee lake region in the north. The word itself derives from “Plesheth”, a name that appears frequently in the Bible and has come into English as “Philistine”. Plesheth, (root palash) was a general term meaning rolling or migratory. This referred to the Philistine's invasion and conquest of the coast from the sea. The Philistines were not Arabs nor even Semites, they were most closely related to the Greeks originating from Asia Minor and Greek localities. They did not speak Arabic. They had no connection, ethnic, linguistic or historical with Arabia or Arabs.

The Philistines reached the southern coast of Israel in several waves. One group arrived in the pre-patriarchal period and settled south of Beersheba in Gerar where they came into conflict with Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. Another group, coming from Crete after being repulsed from an attempted invasion of Egypt by Rameses III in 1194 BCE, seized the southern coastal area, where they founded five settlements (Gaza, Ascalon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gat). In the Persian and Greek periods, foreign settlers - chiefly from the Mediterranean islands - overran the Philistine districts.

From the fifth century BC, following the historian Herodotus, Greeks called the eastern coast of the Mediterranean “the Philistine Syria” using the Greek language form of the name. In AD 135, after putting down the Bar Kochba revolt, the second major Jewish revolt against Rome, the Emperor Hadrian wanted to blot out the name of the Roman “Provincia Judaea” and so renamed it “Provincia Syria Palaestina”, the Latin version of the Greek name and the first use of the name as an administrative unit. The name “Provincia Syria Palaestina” was later shortened to Palaestina, from which the modern, anglicized “Palestine” is derived. more...