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Israel and Palestinian Conflict

ConflictIsrael And Palestinian Conflict

The Mideast: A Century of Conflict

A Seven-Part Series Traces the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute
September 2002 -- NPR News is presenting this special series on the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to bring context and perspective to the story, and to help listeners understand the complex situation in the Mideast, the history, and the consequences of the confrontation. To accomplish this, NPR has gone to leading historians of the region to document the deep and conflicting roots of today's Middle East.

The Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting over control of the same piece of land for nearly a century. They are also fighting over each significant episode in that history. Each side has its own version of events. The series, reported by Diplomatic Correspondent Mike Shuster, is NPR's attempt to revisit the significant episodes of that history and give both Palestinian and Israeli historians an opportunity to explain how they see it differently.

Part 1: Theodor Herzl and the First Zionist Congress

Jews living in Europe suffered for many years from varying degrees of anti-Semitism, and many had longed to return to the biblical land of Israel. But not until Theodor Herzl (pictured at left) published his pamphlet Der Judenstaat, or "The Jewish State," did Jews in Europe begin to formulate a political solution to anti-Semitism. Zionism emerged as the political movement to create a Jewish state. Herzl brought his followers together in the first Zionist Congress in Switzerland, in 1897, to formulate the movement's goals and strategies. Herzl had little interest in the Arabs who lived in Palestine, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire.

Part 2: The Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate

In 1917, 20 years after the first Zionist Congress, Great Britain declared itself in favor of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. (Arthur James Balfour, author of the declaration, is pictured at left.) Britain gained control of Palestine at the end of World War I, and in 1922, the League of Nations gave a mandate to Britain to rule Palestine, envisioning that the territory would eventually be granted independence. Britain attempted to bridge the political interests of both the Zionist settlers and the indigenous Palestinian Arabs, but violence broke out between the two communities almost from the start. It culminated in the Arab revolt of 1936, which left hundreds of Arabs and Jews dead. Britain proposed partitioning Palestine, an idea the Palestinians rejected and for which the Zionists had little enthusiasm. When World War II broke out, Great Britain was ready to leave Palestine.

Part 3: Partition, War and Independence

Once it was clear that Germany had lost the war, the Zionists in Palestine turned on the British. Underground armed Jewish groups began to attack the British army, as well as the Palestinians. The violence escalated, and by 1946, Great Britain decided to turn the whole issue of what would happen to Palestine over to the newly established United Nations. The U.N. proposed partitioning it into two states, one Jewish, one Arab, and the General Assembly voted in favor of that solution in November 1947. The Arabs rejected the proposal, and fighting broke out in Palestine almost immediately. In May 1948, the Zionists declared independence. (David Ben-Gurion pictured reading declaration.) Four Arab states invaded the new state of Israel, and in the ensuing war, three-quarters-of-a-million Palestinians fled their homes and became refugees. The Jews won the war, and a cease-fire was declared in early 1949.

Part 4: The 1967 Six Day War

No Arab state had made peace with Israel, and in 1967, events conspired to bring war between Israel on the one hand, and Egypt, Syria, and Jordan on the other. The Israelis attacked Egypt first, on June 5, 1967, but most historians agree the pre-emptive Israeli strike was defensive in nature. Nevertheless, in the first day, Israel nearly destroyed Egypt's air force, and struck deep into the Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian territory. After six days of war, Israel had seized all of the Sinai and Gaza from Egypt, the West Bank and all of Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. All of these newly occupied territories would become the object of subsequent wars and the peace process, especially the West Bank and Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli control.

Part 5: From the 1973 Yom Kippur War to Peace with Egypt

Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel in October 1973 to regain their lost territories. The shock of the attack, and the strength of the Arab assault, led to a reassessment of the political and military balance in the Middle East. Israel recovered militarily, but its leaders understood they needed to enter serious negotiations with the Arabs. This was the era of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy and the beginning a succession of peace processes. The Palestinians, led by Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, understood that they could no longer rely on Arab states like Egypt and Syria to fight for them. But the PLO also began to understand a compromise with Israel was necessary, especially after Egypt's Anwar Sadat (pictured) signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Part 6: From the First Intifada to the Oslo Peace Agreement

By 1987, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had been living under Israeli occupation for 20 years. They were frustrated and angry, and their anger broke out into open rebellion in December 1987. The Palestinians threw stones; the Israeli army shot at them and broke their arms. Israel's government was divided between the right-wing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party (pictured), who eventually came around to favor negotiations with the Palestinians. As the Intifada stretched into two and three years, more and more Israelis concluded it was time to settle with the Palestinians. In 1992, Rabin was elected prime minister, and he authorized secret negotiations with the PLO in Oslo. The Israelis and the Palestinians signed the Oslo peace agreement in 1993 on the White House lawn.

Part 7: The Second Intifada and the Death of Oslo

There were many reasons that the Oslo process didn't succeed. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli right-wing fanatic in 1995. After that, the Hamas organization carried out a series of deadly suicide bombings in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. In 1996, Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister. He slowed the implementation of the Israeli withdrawal from West Bank areas, even as he increased the pace of Jewish settlement on the West Bank. President Clinton stepped in to try to give new life to the peace process, which still had the support of the majority of Israelis. In 1999, Netanyahu's coalition fell apart, and he was defeated in a bid for re-election by Ehud Barak. Clinton brought Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat together for a final round of negotiations at Camp David in 2000, but the attempt failed. The second Intifada broke out soon thereafter, and the violence has escalated since, bringing with it profound distrust on both sides, and an Israeli reoccupation of Palestinian cities, carried out by Israel's new leader, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. For the information click here.


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