The Beginnings of the Territorial Conflict

An overview of Israel's relationship to the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, 1948-67.

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This article is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Agency. 

During the Six Day War of June 1967, Israeli forces took the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, the West Bank (often referred to as Judea and Samaria), and the Golan Heights. Although these "territories," with the exception of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, were never incorporated into the state of Israel, [and Israel eventually withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005] the question of their future has been a central topic in Israeli politics and is at present perhaps the most important issue dividing the major political parties.

Israeli policy regarding the territories has been influenced by diplomatic, security, economic, religious, and moral considerations, and interpreted and prioritized differently by different political leaders and parties. Many observers see the issue of the territories as the key to a resolution of the Arab‑Israeli conflict, and the peace process [when it has been active] indeed has focused on the transfer of power over increasing areas of the territories to a Palestinian Administration. It is therefore important to note at the outset that the Israeli occupation of the territories was a result, and not the cause, of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.the territories

Origins

Before 1967, the territories were administered by Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. The Golan Heights were an internationally recognized part of Syria even before the latter's independence after the Second World War. The Sinai came under British‑Egyptian rule back in 1906. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria were part of the territory defined by the United Nations in 1947 as a Palestinian Arab State.

After the Arab defeat in 1948, Egypt put the Gaza Strip under a military government, and Trans‑Jordan in 1950 annexed the area it held west of the Jordan River, which became known as the West Bank. This annexation was recognized neither in the Arab world nor in the international community. Trans‑Jordan then changed its name to Jordan.

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Jonathan Kaplan is administrative director at the Rothberg International School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.