The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by more than
50 years of efforts to establish a sovereign nation as a homeland for Jews.
These efforts were initiated by Theodore Herzl, founder of the Zionist
movement, and were given added impetus by the Balfour Declaration of 1917,
which asserted the British Government's support for the creation of a Jewish
homeland in Palestine.
In the years following World War I, Palestine became a British Mandate
and Jewish immigration steadily increased, as did violence between Palestine's
Jewish and Arab communities. Mounting British efforts to restrict this
immigration were countered by international support for Jewish national
aspirations following the near-extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis
during World War II. This support led to the 1947 UN partition plan, which
would have divided Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with
Jerusalem under UN administration.
On May 14, 1948, soon after the British quit Palestine, the State of
Israel was proclaimed and was immediately invaded by armies from neighboring
Arab states, which rejected the UN partition plan. This conflict, Israel's
War of Independence, was concluded by armistice agreements between Israel,
Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria in 1949 and resulted in a 50% increase
in Israeli territory.
In 1956, French, British, and Israeli forces engaged Egypt in response
to its nationalization of the Suez Canal and blockade of the Straits of
Tiran. Israeli forces withdrew in March 1957, after the United Nations
established the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) in the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
This war resulted in no territorial shifts and was followed by several
years of terrorist incidents and retaliatory acts across Israel's borders.
In June 1967, Israeli forces struck targets in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria
in response to Egyptian President Nasser's ordered withdrawal of UN peacekeepers
from the Sinai Peninsula and the buildup of Arab armies along Israel's
borders. After 6 days, all parties agreed to a cease-fire, under which
Israel retained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the
Gaza Strip, the formerly Jordanian-controlled West Bank of the Jordan River,
and East Jerusalem. On November 22, 1967, the Security Council adopted
Resolution 242, the "land for peace" formula, which called for the establishment
of a just and lasting peace based on Israeli withdrawal from territories
occupied in 1967 in return for the end of all states of belligerency, respect
for the sovereignty of all states in the area, and the right to live in
peace within secure, recognized boundaries.
The following years were marked by continuing violence across the Suez
Canal, punctuated by the 1969-70 war of attrition. On October 6, 1973--Yom
Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement), the armies of Syria and Egypt launched
an attack against Israel. Although the Egyptians and Syrians initially
made significant advances, Israel was able to push the invading armies
back beyond the 1967 cease-fire lines by the time the United States and
the Soviet Union helped bring an end to the fighting. In the UN Security
Council, the United States supported Resolution 338, which reaffirmed Resolution
242 as the framework for peace and called for peace negotiations between
In the years that followed, sporadic clashes continued along the cease-fire
lines but guided by the U.S., Egypt, and Israel continued negotiations.
In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made a historic visit
to Jerusalem, which opened the door for the 1978 Israeli-Egyptian peace
summit convened at Camp David by President Carter. These negotiations led
to a 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, pursuant to which Israel
withdrew from the Sinai in 1982, signed by President Sadat of Egypt and
Prime Minister Menahem Begin of Israel.
In the years following the 1948 war, Israel's border with Lebanon was
quiet relative to its borders with other neighbors. After the expulsion
of Palestinian fighters from Jordan in 1970 and their influx into southern
Lebanon, however, hostilities along Israel's northern border increased
and Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon. After passage of Security Council
Resolution 425, calling for Israeli withdrawal and the creation of the
UN Interim Force in Lebanon peacekeeping force (UNIFIL), Israel withdrew
In June 1982, following a series of cross-border terrorist attacks and
the attempted assassination of the Israeli Ambassador to the U.K., Israel
invaded Lebanon to fight the forces of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO). The PLO withdrew its forces from Lebanon in August
1982. Israel, having failed to finalize an agreement with Lebanon, withdrew
most of its troops in June 1985 save for a residual force which remained
in southern Lebanon to act as a buffer against attacks on northern Israel.
These remaining forces were completely withdrawn in May 2000 behind a UN-brokered
delineation of the Israel-Lebanon border (the Blue Line). Hizballah forces
in Southern Lebanon continued to attack Israeli positions south of the
Blue Line in the Sheba Farms/Har Dov area of the Golan Heights.
The victory of the U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf War of 1991
opened new possibilities for regional peace. In October 1991, the United
States and the Soviet Union convened the Madrid Conference, in which Israeli,
Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, and Palestinian leaders laid the foundations
for ongoing negotiations designed to bring peace and economic development
to the region. Within this framework, Israel and the PLO signed a Declaration
of Principles on September 13, 1993, which established an ambitious set
of objectives relating to a transfer of authority from Israel to an interim
Palestinian authority. Israel and the PLO subsequently signed the Gaza-Jericho
Agreement on May 4, 1994, and the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of
Powers and Responsibilities on August 29, 1994, which began the process
of transferring authority from Israel to the Palestinians.
On October 26, 1994, Israel and Jordan signed a historic peace treaty,
witnessed by President Clinton. This was followed by Israeli Prime Minister
Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat's signing of the historic Israeli-Palestinian
Interim Agreement on September 28, 1995. This accord, which incorporated
and superseded previous agreements, broadened Palestinian self-government
and provided for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in several
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4,
1995, by a right-wing Jewish radical, bringing the increasingly bitter
national debate over the peace process to a climax. Subsequent Israeli
governments continued to negotiate with the PLO resulting in additional
agreements, including the Wye River and the Sharm el-Sheikh memoranda.
A summit hosted by President Clinton at Camp David in July 2000 to address
permanent status issues--including the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian
refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, final security
arrangements, borders, and relations and cooperation with neighboring states--failed
to produce an agreement.
Following the failed talks, widespread violence broke out in Israel,
the West Bank, and Gaza in September 2000. In April 2001 the Sharm el-Sheikh
Fact Finding Committee, commissioned by the October 2000 Middle East Peace
Summit and chaired by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, submitted its
report, which recommended an immediate end to the violence followed by
confidence-building measures and a resumption of security cooperation and
peace negotiations. The United States has worked intensively to help bring
an end to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians and bring about
the implementation of the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee as
a bridge back to political negotiations. In April 2003, the Quartet (the
U.S., U.N., E.U., and the Russian Federation) announced the roadmap,
a performance-based plan to bring about two states, Israel and a democratic,
viable Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Both the Israelis
and Palestinians have affirmed their commitment to the roadmap, but continuing
Israeli-Palestinian violence has led to a continuing crisis of confidence
between the two sides.
Israel has endured constant hostility from Arab neighbors who hate Jews.
It is probable that peace will not come to the Middle East until Arab states
cease their anti-Semitism, demand Palestinian's to end their terrorist
acts, and accept Israel as a sovereign nation with the right to exist peacefully.