Palestinian-Israeli Relations

The ongoing struggle and the Middle East peace process.

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Following the Six Day War, there was much debate about what to do with these occupied territories. Eventually, Israel allowed--and sometimes encouraged--its citizens to settle some of the strategic and historic areas in this region. Many Jews who settled these districts--traditionally called Judea and Samaria--believe in their right to all of Palestine promised by the British in 1917. Some of these settlers, particularly religious ones, trace their right to the land to God's biblical promise to Abraham.

The religious aspects of the conflict also became especially apparent in discussions of who should rightfully own Jerusalem and its Temple mount, an area layered in religious meaning. For Jews it is the site of the original, ancient Israelite Temple. To Muslims, it is the site of two great mosques, the religious center for Palestinian Muslims. Further complicating matters, Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, and a united Jerusalem has often been a key platform of Israeli governments. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have insisted upon East Jerusalem as the capital of any future Palestinian state.

In addition to the settlements and the control of Jerusalem, the status of Palestinian refugees is another crucial issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are more than four million Palestinian refugees--a number that includes those who left their homes during the 1948 war and their descendants--who live in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Traditionally, Palestinians have insisted that a right of return for these refugees be part of any final peace deal. Israel has rebuffed this demand, as an influx of several million Palestinians would be both logistically unrealistic and would threaten the Jewish character of the state.

Ongoing Violence, Attempts at Peace

In 1987, with the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada (uprising--literally "shaking off" in Arabic), pressure on the Israeli government to find a solution to the problem of the territories mounted. As part of the 1993 Oslo accords, signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Israel agreed to begin military withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and Gaza, and follow a five-year process of "empowering" the Palestinians toward territorial self-government. There were, however, many hurdles in reaching permanent peace, not least of which was the 1995 assassination of Rabin by a right-wing Israeli extremist.

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