Posts Tagged ‘Yassir Arafat’

1. Arab Culture and the Influence of Islam

Monday, September 15th, 2008

It is necessary at this juncture to preface the historical-political dissertation by explaining the nature of Arab culture and the influence of Islam on the international scene since, inevitably, diverse cultural perspectives have a bearing on the manner in which the Jewish and Arab populations in Palestine/Israel view and deal with each other. As events globally have demonstrated, the Israel-Arab conflict encompasses wider issues. The West in general and Europe in particular, is now experiencing a potential threat to its democratic values evidenced by an increasing penetration into its culture of Islamic fundamentalism whose ideology rejects the validity of and equality among differing belief systems.


Islamic theology as expressed in the Qu’ran ignites and fuels the divergence between cultures. It declares that Islam is supreme and denigrates those who are non-Muslims. Such an ideology is in conflict with western values and with those espoused particularly in Israel.  Israel is viewed by the West and considered by herself as a politically western oriented state governed by a Jewish cultural majority with significant religious minorities, organised and functioning under a democratically elected political regime which is more or less accountable to its constituents. In this respect she differs markedly from the culture prevailing among her Arab-Islamic neighbours.

Although Western readers may not recognise a number of social and political factors inherent in Israeli and Arab society as differing from their own, the Palestinian conflict with the Jewish State of Israel must be viewed against a background of Arab tradition rooted in tribal culture, upon which Qur’anic doctrines have been superimposed. While these may change over time, there are certain national characteristics of a people which are generally accepted and globally recognised. For example, one acknowledges as being valid:  the English “stiff upper lip”, the German obsession with thoroughness, the Japanese preoccupation with courtesy and honour, and Italian volatility.  Psychologists have asserted that personality is predetermined by the genetic blueprint which can produce important societal outcomes mediated through outlook and behaviour.

Sania Hamady, in her ‘Temperament and Character of the Arabs’, makes the point that while one cannot categorise all Arabs as having the same characteristics, beliefs and value systems,  it is nevertheless possible to determine through statistical analysis some basic core characteristics which may be found in the majority of a population. Where the characteristics of a particular population are examined, the frequency of specific character identifiers can be represented on a graph expressed as a symmetrical bell-shaped frequency-distribution curve with the mouth of the bell facing downwards. In a commonly seen distribution-curve, the most frequently expressed characteristics are located at the peak of the curve – which generally appears in the middle as ‘normal’ curve, with individual exceptions and deviations from the majority being represented in the tail extremities of the curve near and its base-line.

    “[I]n getting socialized, the individual embodies his culture and becomes a representative of its patterns of behaviour and its values. Those reared in the same social institutions tend to show certain regularities that are common and salient in their behaviour. Characteristic of them are central tendencies towards common ways of thinking, acting and feeling. On these cultural regularities and central tendencies in behaviour the concept of national character is built. It stands for the common denominator of characteristics, with individuals varying from it in different directions and degrees. This concept does not correspond to the total personality of an individual, but describes the pattern of the culturally regular character. In studying the character of a cultural group one starts with certain assumptions…[I]t is recognised that cultural character is subject to change and that as such, no statement about it can be absolute.” (p.12)

Two premises underlie Hamady’s description:

  1. In statistical analysis although individual personalities may vary, the peak shows the generally exhibited characteristics of a population.
  2. Different Arab populations – such as Egyptians contrasted with Libyans; Iraqis with Moroccans or Bedouin in contrast with fellahin peasants – may show different centralising tendencies such that the peak of bell curve is skewed in favour of certain characteristics while the tails still account for individual deviations from the norm. The same may be said in analysing the differences between Jewish and Palestinian-Arab populations.

For sake of convenience and brevity some of these differences are summarised below in point form. They have been derived from the seminal works of Islamist authority, Professor Bernard Lewis, (‘The Multiple Identities of the Middle East’, ‘Cultures in Conflict’ and The Political Language of Islam) and other psychological and anthropological research studies into the characteristics of Arab society. In addition to that of Hamaday, four additional works among the many others may assist readers in gaining an understanding of some of the Arab cultural characteristics which have had an impact on Jewish-Islamic relations generally and continue to have on the current Israel-Palestine ideological political conflict in particular: David Pryce-Jones, ‘The Closed Circle’; Raphael Patai, ‘The Arab Mind’; Philip C. Salzman, ‘Culture and Conflict in the Middle East’ and M. Kedar, Asad In Search for Legitimacy. Salzman and Kedar in particular show how the Arab tribal culture has a direct impact on the Middle East conflict generally and on Israeli-Palestinian relations in particular.

(Philip Carl Salzman, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East (Prometheus Books, Amhurst, NY, 2008;  M. Kedar, Asad In Search for Legitimacy, Sussex Academic Press, Brighton, 2005, especially Chapter 6, “Psychological Elements” (hereinafter “Kedar” )

See also Salzman, The Middle East’s Tribal DNA (“Tribal DNA”);  The Iron Law of Politics, Vol 23, No.2  Politics and Life Sciences, 20,  (“Iron Law of Politics”) where the author argues that only two out of “Equality”,” Personal Freedom” and “Peace” can be achieved at the same time. All three values cannot be attained simultaneously http://www.meforum.org/article/1813 ; Stanley Kurtz, I and My Brother Against My Cousin, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/014/947kigpp.asp;

Richard Landes, Salzman on Tribal Islam: Insights of an Anthropologist,  The Augean Stables, April 7, 2008, http://www.theaugeanstables.com/category/islam/ ; also  Edward Said and the Culture of Honour and Shame: Orientalism and Our Misperceptions of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 13 Israel Affairs, Issue 4 October 2007, pages 844 – 858 http://www.theaugeanstables.com/conspiracy-theory-article/ ;  J.G. Peristiany,  Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1966;

These references may provide the non-professional lay reader with some insight into Arab culture and the effect which some of its characteristics impact on Israeli-Palestinian relations in particular, and the increasing clash between Islamic fundamentalism and Western democratic values in general. The references may assist in identifying the assumptions underlying decision-making in the Arab world and the manner in which they differ from the process in the West. A failure by the early Israeli leadership and by the American, European and British politicians and diplomats – especially the British – to understand these differences and take them into account has contributed significantly to the continuation of the Arab-Jewish conflict:

  • Power within Arab society is structured upon tribal protocols and based upon family kinship by virtue of which members are to be protected against external attack and secured in their advancement beyond the family – (witness Saddam Hussein’s power in Iraq). Salzman expresses it thus:
    “Arab culture addresses security through “balanced opposition” in which everybody is a member of a nested set of kin groups, ranging from very small to very large. These groups are vested with responsibility for the defense of each member and responsible for harm any member does to outsiders. If there is a confrontation, families face families, lineage faces lineage, clan faces clan, tribe faces tribe, confederacy faces confederacy, sect faces sect, and the Islamic community faces the infidels. Deterrence lies in the balance between opponents. Any potential aggressor knows that his target is not solitary or meagre but rather, at least in principle, a formidable formation much the same size as his.”
    Balanced opposition is a “tribal” form of organization, a tribe being a regional organization of defense based on decentralization and self-help. Tribes operate differently from states, which are centralized, have political hierarchies, and have specialized institutionssuch as courts, police, tax collectors, and an army—to maintain social control and defense. (Tribal DNA) (gma emphasis)
  • In kinship or tribal group disputes with an outsider, success in attaining an objective or ambition by one family or group is viewed as a loss for or restriction upon the other. It is a zero-sum game because failure threatens tribal identity;
  • Low level violence is an important mechanism of social control. It is proof of serious intention and the will to proceed in the group interest no matter what the rights or wrongs. If employed in retaliation immediately after an alleged offence, it acts as a deterrent against future attack;
  • However, verbal threats of violence are used in Arab society to intimidate an adversary without necessarily ending in violence; there is a proclivity to substitute words for actions – a factor sometimes misunderstood in Western society;
  • Leadership is achieved not by election but by the male acquisition of power, respect and authority arising out of conflict with and competition among contemporaries. Leadership is therefore constantly challenged. The power holder will mount challenges against other power holders within his own group and his equals in the region;
  • Leaders maintain their positions by the creation of reciprocal relationships among their supporters. In return for financial largesse and the appointment of family, friends and close supporters to positions of power and wealth, the leader builds a network of personal obligations towards himself. It was in this manner that Yassir Arafat, supported by his Tunisian political dependants who accompanied him to Gaza in 1994, was able to control the political and commercial activities in the Palestinian populated territory.  In contrast to Western society, meritocracy is not the acknowledged criterion for advancement in the Arab world. In fact, it may be the reverse, if it presents a challenge to the leader’s authority;
  • In the Arab world, the acquisition of honour, pride, dignity and respect and the converse – avoidance of shame, disgrace and humiliation are major keys to Arab motivation and justification of conduct.
    First, fulfillment of obligations according to the dictates of lineage solidarity achieves honor. Second, neutral mediators who resolve conflicts and restore peace among tribesmen win honor. Third, victory in conflicts between lineages in opposition brings honor. Violence against outsiders is a well-worn path for those seeking honor. Success brings honor. Winners gain; losers lose. Trying, short of success, counts for nothing. In Middle Eastern tribal culture, victims are despised, not celebrated.”(Tribal DNA)
    The honour-shame axis is particularly important in Arab culture as is perceived arrogance on the part of an opponent who asserts a counter-claim or an unjustified claim to honour.

    These may have been crucial factors which constrained both President Asad of Syria and Yasir Arafat from moving forward in their respective peace negotiations with Israel. Asad demanded an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines despite UN Resolution 242 to the contrary; Arafat was unable to retreat from the political position regarding the ‘Right of Return’ into which he had committed himself to the Palestinian masses.

Interestingly, Kedar’s recent research into the emotive and psychological elements of the speeches of Asad and others as published in the Syrian press, shows a consistent reference to the following psychological spectra: (see Chapter 6 especially)

  • Honour versus Shame: manifested in expressions of interpersonal communication, greetings and in public behaviour such as hosting meetings, protocol positioning among leaders for photo shots at public gatherings and among their respective entourages. Shame on the other hand can only be expunged by revenge. Failure so to act results in the accrual of honour to the other side.
    “Honor for Arabs in the Middle East is a constant concern and worry, as it is easily challenged and lost. [I] can be increased by timely and effective action. …[The] quest for honor encourages or leads  to offensive action by individuals or groups against others  for [its] rewards … [R]elations…are shaped by the competition for honour”  (Salzman p.107)
  • Courage versus Fear:  acts of bravery bring honour while fear expresses cowardice especially in war and discourages those who seek to escape the risks, hardships and losses which invariably follow.
  • Tenacity versus Deference: tenacity in maintaining the legitimacy of Arab demands while its opponents – Israel -  in making concessions defers to Arab supremacy.
  • Loyalty versus Treachery: loyalty to the Arab nation and the need for its protection versus treachery for which the punishment is death.

They illustrate the remarkable difference in Arab cultural values and political postures from those expressed generally in the West and in Israel particularly.

In the resolution of a dispute, for example, the payment of compensation for injury caused by a victor and its acceptance by the victim brings honour to the victor and shame to the vanquished. Whereas in Western society, fair compensation for injury caused is accepted as being due on the merits of the case without the factor of shame entering the equation and having political consequences.  This may to some degree explain why the Palestinian refugees have continued to refuse compensation and rehabilitation in preference to their continued assertion of a right of return. This has been exacerbated by most of the countries in which they reside where they have not been given opportunities to become assimilated – employment, ownership of property and citizenship (Saltzman interview 24.07.08)

  • The Arab mind tends to give greater weight to wishes expressed in thought and speech than to what exists in reality; to what he wishes things to be, rather than to what they are objectively. (Patai, p.175)
    Kedar develops the last point – that what is wished in thought and speech becomes a major part of the reality in decision-making. He considers emotion, rather than logic, as playing a more important part in Arab society than in the West. Arab leaders choose their words not as a mere rhetorical device to win support, but as a bonding function between the ruler and the ruled. Leaders, such as Asad and Arafat, did not present themselves as the heads of government or revolutionary organisations.
    “Rather [they are] the object of an emotional relation, as an older brother, a kindly father are revered teacher, a distinguished leader a source of pride and a model to emulate; and from there it is only a small step to “the sun of the nations”, infallible (ma’sum) like Mohammad the Prophet, or the eternal ruler by the Grace of God” (Kedar p. 208)

It may be fair to conclude that Arab audiences identify with their leaders, and in being persuaded by rhetoric tend to be less analytical and critical than a western audience when listening to speeches, promises and aspirations of their respective leaderships. If this is so, it goes some way to explaining why Arab political decision making tends to be consensual rather than confrontational, thus hiding the real divisions in society. However, even the emergence and creation of a clear cut opposition with an agenda different from the then ruling elites would not necessarily bring about a peaceful assumption of power were it to win an election. Position and power in Arab society does not purport to be based on meritocracy (as the West believes its system to be so based) but on family and tribal connections.


In comparing segmentary societies, such as those of the traditional Arabs, in contrast to complex Western societies,

    “the [former] base order on a balance of coercive potential and effective force, each segment ready and able to mobilize and apply coercion in defense of its interests, and rely on the deterrent influence of a balance of force to maintain order. In these societies, [most] men are warriors, and all men must concern themselves with effectively applying coercion in defense of their interests. Facing a serious dispute or an injury, threatened or actual, the men of a segment mobilize to act militarily…”

    [On the other hand,] complex societies, based on divisions of labor among specialized occupations, can support a state apparatus that claims to monopolize legitimate coercive force. Only agents of the state, such as police and soldiers, are authorized to apply coercion on behalf of the society at large, and self-help is outlawed. Weapons and skills training for coercion are largely restricted to agents of the state. Formal procedures are instituted to draw upon established codes for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Individuals in a conflict commonly turn to lawsuits rather than taking direction action. Thus most men in a complex society are not directly involved in the maintenance of order. Physical coercion by agents of the state is ideally restricted to the ultimate recourse and rarely should be applied.”  (Salzman, Iron Law of Politics p.30)

This dichotomy is characteristic of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and raises the issue as to whether the two societies can ever peacefully coexist alongside each other without a considerable cultural shift in the traditional values of both.

For Arabs, power is decentralised and self-help provides the basis of security. The bearing of arms is an expression of masculine maturity and the right to resort to force is personal. The tribe helps provide for basic needs rather than the State, which is seen essentially as a herdsman who shears (taxes) rather than tends (provides services) his sheep (the civil population). The more remote state institutions are from him, the greater the Arab freedom to set his own priorities and needs – subject to those of his family, sect and tribe.  For Arabs personal honour, freedom and equality reside outside the Rule of Law, rather than subject to it, and appear to be more important than peace. Indeed it is sometimes said that the underlying norm of Arab society is that of war with intermediate periods of peace

In contrast, for Jews tribal group-identity and allegiances do not generally exist. Peace has a higher value for them; it is imprinted as an intrinsic and continuous theme in Jewish prayers and daily language and it is a constant, with war being intermittent and even then only when thrust upon them. Although equality tends to be traded off in favour of personal freedom, communal obligations imposed by the central power of the State try to redress the imbalance between individuals. Conflict between individuals or between the rights of the individual and those of the State are resolved by independent courts of justice.

Traditionally the carrying of books rather than arms was the Jewish norm. To the extent that military training and weapons have become necessary for security, their provision and legal use resides in the exclusive control and authority of the State and is subject to its direction. So does the maintenance of the public peace and good order.  For Israeli Jews, their political leadership is freely elected from among candidates who present themselves as being capable as well as being accountable to the electorate – at least in theory if not always in practice.  If they fail to gain re-election, power and authority is transferred without violence to those who succeed to office. While the avoidance of personal humiliation and loss of face is important, it does not reach the same level as that in Arab society

Matters become more problematic when one of the societies advances its values with a greater religious consciousness than the other. An even greater chasm is created where the religious dogma of one group embraces death and martyrdom in support of its cause while the other views the sanctity of life as one of its highest values.

3. Jewish-Israeli Narrative

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Israel’s frame of reference and perception of the conflict is different from that presented by the Palestinians. She claims that the Jewish people, whom she represents in part, has had an unbroken connection with ‘Eretz Yisrael’ – the Land of Israel from before the rise of Christianity and Islam, notwithstanding their exile by the Romans in the first century.

“Judea capta est,”  inscribed on the arch of Titus (“Judea has been captured”)  memorialises the Roman victory over the Jews, their majority forced into exile, taken into slavery and later dispersed throughout the Roman Empire for over two millennia. Throughout this period, they were denied both freedom of national self-expression and the claim of their “right of return” to re-establish a patrimonial sovereignty in their homeland.  For the remnant in Palestine, there followed subjugation and suffering under the oppressive yoke of successive conquerors: Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Mameluke and Ottoman. The Jewish remnant was a spent force, militarily and politically, but it nevertheless maintained a physical and spiritual continuity in and with the Land.  Acting as caretakers, Jews maintained a vigorous religious presence, mainly in urban centres throughout the country (see Chapter II below), praying for the “return unto Zion”, a day on which Jewish national sovereignty would be, prophetically, restored as it had been under the previous Babylonian exile. That day was to come on November 29, 1947 when the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181.


Until the eighteenth century, the Jewish people in the Diaspora were seen both as a religion and as a nation.

  • As a nation they made attempts to return to the Land but were frustrated by conflicts from emanating from without.
  • As a religious group, they were compared to Christians and Muslims and as a nation, they could be compared to Turks or Frenchmen.

However, civic unity in Christianity and in Islam especially, was based on uniformity of belief, within neither of which could Jewish destiny be fulfilled. This made it absolutely impossible for a Jewish group to be anything other than second-class subjects.

It needed the sixteenth century reformation in Christianity and the rise of the nation state in the eighteenth, for Jewish religious imperatives to be redirected and asserted towards the possibility of reviving the notion of a Jewish State in Palestine. However, religious motivation from within was insufficient to meet the economic and political challenge. It required the addition of European anti-Semitism later in the nineteenth century to motivate secular and emancipated Jews to organise politically – in a decentralised movement, meeting centrally at its annual congresses – to advance their political objective for matters.

The emergence of the possibility of the establishment of Israel as a Jewish State came to materialise as a consequence of World War I which saw the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and World War II which saw the decline of the British Empire. As central power became less effective, so burgeoned the demand for self-determination and the illegitimacy of colonialism backed by American democratic ideals.

In the political restructuring of Europe and the Middle East following the conclusion of WWI, the articulated voice of the Jewish people made itself heard among the nations as did the voices of the Arabs. Although both Zionists and some Arab leaders saw the possibility of working together in regional co-operation, the Great Powers had their own interests in the Middle East to consider:

  • America wanted political stability in the region, secure access to oil and to replace Britain as the Great Power;
  • France sought to protect what was left of her commercial and cultural interests despite the fact that she played no significant part in the war for control of the Middle East;
  • Britain maintained her belief in a continuing need to be able to control – a little or no cost to herself – the Suez Canal to ensure a secure passage to India, access to the Iranian and Syrian oil fields and her commercial interests in the Far East.
    Co-incidentally she also had an interest in containing the expansion of French influence in the region.

For the Allies, an independent and unified Arab Middle East did not bode well if they were to achieve these diverse and conflicting objectives.  To the extent that Jewish interests coincided with those of the Great Powers generally, and of Great Britain in particular, they were accommodated, but in so doing they were played off against Arab tribal sensibilities and Islamic religious principles.

Israel’s contemporary claim to legitimacy is premised on:

  • an uninterrupted physical, spiritual and cultural connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel since before the second century – as expanded in Chapter II;
  • involuntary dislocation and dispersion  of the majority the Jewish people from the land since the second century;
  • the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after World War I which gave the impetus to the rise of both Jewish and Arab nationalism;
  • the victory of the Allies over the Central  powers and the disposition of the conquered territory in accordance with a new regime introduced into international law – mandate or trustee territory;
  • the Balfour Declaration expressing its support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
  • The Treaty of Sevres 1920, under which Turkey ceded its sovereignty over Palestine and accepted the Balfour declaration with its incorporation into the Mandate as an international agreement. This formed a constituent part of the Middle East post war settlement between the Allied and Central Powers in which Turkey, Britain and the United States participated and in which both Jews and Arab expressed their interests.

Notwithstanding attempts by the British mandatory power to frustrate the clear objectives of the Mandate, and despite the fomentation of Islamic religious opposition against the establishment of a Jewish homeland, the Jewish people succeeded in creating a viable political and economic entity.


British financial investment and a colonial style of government coupled with an infusion of Jewish capital, migration and labour brought a higher standard of living to the Palestinian population – both Arab and Jewish
-  than that enjoyed in the neighbouring states.


However, the economic advances in Palestine attracted Arab immigration from outside of its borders.  Rather that regulating such Arab
migration, the British Administration, contrary to the terms of the Mandate, placed restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine which prevented the creation of a Jewish majority in cis-Jordan – Palestine;

  • Arab violence fomented by anti-Zionist elements in the British Administration, and the continued demographic Jewish imbalance made more favourable to the Arabs by British immigration policy ultimately led to violence between Arab and Jew.
  • The Mandatory found its solution in a proposal to partition the territory lying to the west of the Jordan River between Arab and Jew while retaining certain strategic locations to itself.
  • The Jews accepted the Mandatory’s partition proposal but the Arabs rejected it.


World War II intervened, creating the Holocaust.

Although this tragedy gave a big impetus towards partition, British policy remained steadfastly against any change in its Palestinian immigration policy, with the result that Jews became actively obstructive to continued British rule, both civilly and militarily:

  • Britain, unable to control the violence directed against her Administration, referred the matter to the United Nations General Assembly;
  • The Assembly recommended in Resolution 181, passed on November 29, 1947, the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.
  • Again the Jews accepted the proposal, but the Arabs rejected it.

Britain decided to surrender its mandate. In the process of the British military withdrawal, armed conflict broke out between Jews and Arabs with the British Administration publicly taking a more or less neutral stand while surreptitiously assisting the Arabs.

On the day following the final British withdrawal on May 14, 1948:

  • The Jewish population of Palestine declared themselves as the self governing state of Israel in accordance with the UNGA Resolution and the major powers (excluding Britain) accorded her international recognition.
  • The Arab Palestine failed to follow the same course.


Instead,

  • contrary to international law, five Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish State but failed to eliminate her;
  • Jordan became an occupying power of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria including Jerusalem) and Egypt took control of the Gaza strip.

In the process,

  • between 600,000 and 800,000 Arab Palestinians left or abandoned their homes on the advice of the Arab leadership, or for fear of Jewish brutality which failed to emerge, while a number Palestinians were driven out in the military confrontation between Jewish forces and the Arab armies;
  • the Jewish population living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank (Etzion Block) and Gaza were killed or evicted; and
  • the surrounding Arab states evicted, without compensation, their Jewish population which numbered over 800,000 in consequence of the establishment of the Jewish state.

A humanitarian problem was thus created:

  • the majority of Palestinian Arab refugees found themselves languishing in camps located in the Jordanian controlled West Bank and Egyptian controlled Gaza or in camps located in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
  • Apart from Jordan, Palestinian Arab refugees were neither offered citizenship nor otherwise absorbed by their host states.
  • The new State of Israel absorbed all the Jewish refugees driven out from the Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, and those Jews evicted from the Arab states.

The United Nations ultimately arranged a cease fire between the belligerents:

  • Israel organised itself as a civic society within the cease fire-lines as determined in Armistice Agreements made between herself and the invading states- Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt respectively, while reserving her claims over the territory held by Jordan and Egypt.

However:

  • the Armistice Agreements were constantly breached by Arab terrorist infiltration emanating out of Jordan and Egypt; and
  • Egypt breached international law and the Armistice Agreement with Israel by blockading the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping intermittently from 1948 until 1956, thereby prevented free access to the Israeli southern port of Eilat, as well as closing the Suez Canal to all shipping bound for other Israeli ports. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Foreign+Relations/Israels+Foreign+Relations+since+1947/1947-1974/FREEDOM+OF+NAVIGATION-+INTRODUCTION.htm ;
  • The blockade was broken by a joint British, French and Israeli attack on the Suez Canal in 1956 in response to Egypt’s nationalisation of the international waterway. As part of the withdrawal arrangements, UN peace-keeping troops were stationed along the Egyptian border with Israel while the maritime nations gave their undertaking to support Israel should Egypt seek to re-impose its blockade.

In 1967,

  • Egypt re-imposed its maritime blockade in the Straits of Tiran and closed the Canal to Israel shipping;
  • the maritime nations failed to implement their guarantee,
  • the UN removed its peace-keeping force; and
  • the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan were poised in offensive mode against Israel which was threatened with annihilation.

Israel’s appeals to the Security Council were in vain and on June 5, 1967 she executed pre-emptive self defensive strikes against Egypt, and Syria and retaliated against Jordanian attack, in what later became known as the “Six Day War.”

  • Israel overcame the immediate threats facing her and gained control and occupation of
    • the previously held Jordanian positions on the West side of the Jordan River including Jerusalem;
    • Egyptian occupied Gaza Strip and Egyptian sovereign territory in Sinai;
    • Syrian sovereign territory in  the Golan Heights
  • The Arabs rejected Israeli offers of peace at the Khartoum: “no negotiation; no recognition and no peace.”
  • The United Nations Security Council passed UNSC Resolution 242 which was accepted by both Jews and Arabs. Unfortunately the terms of the Resolution have been interpreted differently by the parties.

With intensive American support, extended peace negotiations took place between Israel and her adversaries in the 1980’s and a cold peace reigns between Israel and Egypt which regained all of  the territory it lost in 1967.
A slightly warmer peace pertains with Jordan which relinquished in favour of the Palestinians all its claims to the territory lying to the west of the Jordan River.

In taking military control of the West Bank and Gaza, over which no state has exercised legitimate sovereignty since the Ottoman defeat in 1920, Israel has the best claim to title based on the Treaty of Sevres 1920, Article 95; Palestine Mandate 1922, Article 8 and on the UN Charter, Article 80.

  • Based on the above international agreements and also consistent with the laws of belligerent occupation Israel, has also erected a number of military outposts in the West Bank territory to maintain the peace as well as establishing a number of civilian settlement blocks in the West Bank. Some of these have been erected on land owned by Jews prior to 1948 and others on undeveloped and unoccupied public or waste land owned by the Ottoman government in 1918.
  • While not illegal, a significant number of settlements have created a political obstacle to peace.

Following secret direct negotiations between Israel, led by Yitzhak Rabin, and the PLO, headed by Yassir Arafat, the parties succeeded – with Norwegian and American assistance – to agree the Oslo Accords in 1993 which included

  • mutual recognition of the opposing party;
  • an undertaking by Israel for a transfer of civilian powers to a Palestinian Authority, the members of which were to be chosen by Palestinians within the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza in free and democratic elections;
  • an interim arrangement on Palestinian self government by the Palestinian Authority for a period of five years; and
  • an undertaking to commence negotiations on a number of “Final Status” issues within three years of the commencement of the interim agreement- from which such issues had specifically been excluded.
    The Accords provided for and resulted in:
  • recognition by Israel of Palestinian aspirations and of the PLO as representing the Palestinian population in negotiations;
  • PLO recognition of Israel as having a legitimate existence;
  • An undertaking by the PLO to cease violence and to resolve its conflict with Israel by negotiation;
  • the admission into Gaza and the West Bank from their exile in Tunis, of the PLO political leadership and military of elements of  its organisation in the form of a “strong police force” to maintain the peace and suppress terrorism in Palestinian self governing territory;
  • a withdrawal and redeployment of Israeli forces from a large proportion of the Palestinian urban territory it captured in 1967; and
  • Palestinian self rule exercised over approximately 95% of the Palestinian population;

Unfortunately the parties have been able to resolve the political issues which appear to remain outstanding between them- sovereignty over Jerusalem, the extent of territorial; adjustments secure borders and the “Right of Return” of Palestinians refugees. Neither has there been a cessation of Palestinian violence.  In 2000, final status negotiations between Israel and the PLO broke down and the Palestinians resorted to armed attack on Israel’s civilian population waged by suicide bombers recruited, trained, armed and operationally directed by Hamas, an organisation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Fatah, one of the militant wings of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

To counteract these attacks Israel has:

  • initiated targeted killings against the Palestinian terrorist leadership;
  • temporarily re-entered a number of  Palestinian cities in 2002 to eliminate  terrorist nests and destroy bomb building factories;
  • attempted to prevent the smuggling of weapons and armaments through subterranean tunnels between the Gaza Strip with Egypt; and
  • commenced the erection of a terrorist security barrier situated mainly on  previously held Arab land on the West Bank beyond the 1948 Israeli-Jordanian cease fire lines, the route of which has been adjusted many times to minimise the personal and economic hardship to Palestinians.
    The barrier has dramatically reduced Israeli civilian casualties but its erection has brought international condemnation and an adverse advisory non-binding opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The opinion has, however, been subjected to serious professional criticism as being politically motivated and based on incorrect factual information. The ICJ opinion is inconsistent with a number of rulings made by the Israel Supreme Court based on detailed and actual facts on the ground.

International intervention in the search for a resolution to the conflict has been renewed as part of a global concern over continuing instability in the Middle East generally which has given rise to fears of an interruption or even a cessation in oil supplies to the West and the bringing into question by certain Middle Eastern powers of Israel’s very legitimacy.

The United States, under its own auspices and those of the United Nations, the European Union and Russia initiated a new peace proposal – “A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (Road Map) in 2003. Thus far, the initiative has failed to produce any concrete results towards a rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians.


In order to reduce continuing military confrontation between Israel and Palestinian militants, Israel took unilateral action and withdrew her military occupation and civilian settlements completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005, leaving the physical infrastructure and economic assets in the form of extensive greenhouses available for Palestinian use.

Palestinian elections held in 2005 brought victory to the Hamas party, whose declared political and military objectives are the elimination of Israel as an independent Jewish State. Since then an internecine conflict has been carried on between Hamas and Fatah for control over the Palestinian Authority, its assets and political largesse funded from abroad.

The Gaza Strip, now completely controlled by Hamas, is currently (2008) being employed both for smuggling weapons and ammunition from Egypt contrary to the Oslo Accords and as a staging area for the launching of short and medium ranged rockets directed against Israel civilian targets located inside Israel ‘proper’ i.e. well within the ‘green’ 1948 cease fire line.