Time for a history refresher.
In 1917, Lord Balfour, in his capacity as British Foreign Secretary, wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild, leader of the Zionist movement. This letter became known as the Balfour Declaration, and is the first governmental document supporting the establishment of a Jewish homeland.
After the first World War, the League of Nations partitioned the Ottoman Empire, and assigned mandates to various nations (Italy, Britain, France) to cover the middle east region. Britain was assigned a mandate over Palestine, a region that covers present-day Israel and Jordan, plus the Golan Heights region (claimed by Syria). The LoN mandate specifically addresses the goal of restoring a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Emir Faisal, leader of the Arabic faction that had overthrown the Ottomans, signed an agreement with Chaim Weizman and other Zionist leaders at the 1919 Paris Peace conference. “Mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people,” it said, “and realizing that the surest means of working out the consummation of their national aspirations s through the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab states and Palestine.” Furthermore, the agreement looked to the fulfillment of the Balfour Declaration and called for all necessary measures “...to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible to settle Jewish immigrants upon the land through closer settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil.”
The cooperation was to be short-lived, however, as strains began to appear in the relationship within 18 years. A group of Arabic leaders began to protest Jewish advances into the region, and after three years of rioting, the British decided to limit Jewish immigration to a small portion of Palestine, the area west of the Jordan River.
In 1947, the United Nations called for an end to the British Mandate, and began looking at ways to establish a Jewish homeland. (The Holocaust in Europe drove home a need for such a state). 15 UN representatives debated the issue—11 called for the creation of two separate nations, 3 called for a unitary state with Arab and Jewish provinces, and one nation abstained. A partition plan was drawn up, based solely on population. Jerusalem was in international city, not under the control of either Arabs or Jews. The plan was not wholly satisfactory to either group, but the Jews agreed to the partition, The Arabs refused.
While the negotiations dragged on, Britain announced that they were withdrawing their administration of the Mandate on May 15, 1948. The day before the British left, Jewish leaders announced the formation of the State of Israel. Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Transjordan invaded. The Israelis were able to repulse the invasion, and by the time hostilities had ended, were in control of more territory than they had under the UN partition plan.
At this point, events began to take a sinister turn. Jordan annexed the West Bank in 1950, and began destroying or desecrating dozens of synagogues. Further, hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Arab countries found themselves targets for hatred and contempt; these Jews would form a large majority of the immigrants into Israel over the next few years of the nation’s existence.
It’s interesting to note that during this period, when Egypt and Jordan controlled the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, no mention was made of establishing a Palestinian state in these territories. If such a request had been made, however, it is unlikely that it would have been considered.
In 1951, Egypt began a new economic blockade with the Suez Canal, refusing to allow ships bound to and from Israel to use the canal. Egyptian President Nasser ignored UN resolutions to open the canal to all shipping for several years. He ultimately nationalized the canal in 1956. After Egypt blockaded Eilat, Israel’s port on the Red Sea, and its major trade point with Asia and Iran, the Israelis attacked, with assistance from France and Britain. They captured much of the Sinai, all the way to the canal and to Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of the peninsula. Another cease-fire led to the return of the peninsula to the Egyptians, and the installation of a UN peacekeeping force.
In 1967, Egypt and Syria began a massive buildup on Israel’s borders. Syria stepped up its attacks on Jewish settlements from its fortifications on the Golan Heights, while Egypt ejected the UN peacekeeping force on the Sinai and blockaded Eilat again. Israel mobilized its forces, and notified the Jordanians that they would not be attacked unless they initiated hostilities. Unfortunately, Jordan attacked, and Israel fought back against them as well. Six days later, when a cease-fire was negotiated, Israel controlled the Sinai, the Golan Heights, all of Jerusalem, and the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria, as they are also known).
UN Resolution 242 called for a “return of lands occupied by Israel” during the war. Note that the word “all” is NOT included in the resolution; this was not an oversight, but an intentional omission. The Arab countries lobbied long and hard to include “all” but were not successful. Negotiations dragged on for six years, with no change in the views of the entities involved.
In 1973, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon again attacked Israel, with troops and weapons from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, and Sudan. The attack began on Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews. Israel was on the defensive for the first two days, but recovered quickly and was prepared to destroy the Egyptian Third Army (which was cut off and surrounded) when the UN-brokered cease-fire took effect.
Since that time, Egypt has made peace with the Israelis (which resulted in the return of the Sinai peninsula again) and Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel as well, which resulted in Israel returning a small portion of the West Bank to Jordan. Much of the rest of the West Bank was ceded to the Palestinian Authority during the Oslo peace talks and the Wye River Accords during the late 1990s.
Thus endeth the history lesson; I am sure that there will be replies if anyone is actually reading this…
Edited 6 April 2002 to correct error regarding Jordan's status in the 1973 war. Thanks to Geoff M. for the feedback.
posted on March 31, 2002 12:51 PM