The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by more than 50 years of efforts by Zionist leaders to establish a sovereign nation as a homeland for Jews. The desire of Jews to return to what they consider their rightful homeland was first expressed during the Babylonian exile and became a universal Jewish theme after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. and the dispersal that followed.
It was not until the founding of the Zionist movement by Theodore Herzl at the end of the 19th century that practical steps were taken toward securing international sanction for large-scale Jewish settlement in Palestine--then a part of the Ottoman Empire.
The Balfour declaration in 1917 asserted the British Government's support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This declaration was supported by a number of other countries, including the United States, and became more important following World War I, when the United Kingdom was assigned the Palestine mandate by the League of Nations.
Jewish immigration grew slowly in the 1920s; it increased substantially in the 1930s, due to political turmoil in Europe and Nazi persecution, until restrictions were imposed by the United Kingdom in 1939. After the end of World War II, and the near-extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis, international support for Jews seeking to settle in Palestine overcame British efforts to restrict immigration.
International support for establishing a Jewish state led to the adoption in November 1947 of the UN partition plan, which called for dividing the Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state and for establishing Jerusalem separately as an international city under UN administration.
Violence between Arab and Jewish communities erupted almost immediately. Toward the end of the British mandate, the Jews planned to declare a separate state, a development the Arabs were determined to prevent. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. The following day, armies from neighboring Arab nations entered the former Mandate of Palestine to engage Israeli military forces.
In 1949, under UN auspices, four armistice agreements were negotiated and signed at Rhodes, Greece, between Israel and its neighbors Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The 1948-49 war of independence resulted in a 50% increase in Israeli territory, including western Jerusalem. No general peace settlement was achieved at Rhodes, however, and violence along the borders continued for many years.
In October 1956, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula at the same time that operations by French and British forces against Egypt were taking place in the Suez Canal area. Israeli forces withdrew in March 1957, after the United Nations established the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) in the Gaza Strip and Sinai. In 1966-67, terrorist incidents and retaliatory acts across the armistice demarcation lines increased.
In May 1967, after tension had developed between Syria and Israel, Egyptian President Nasser moved armaments and about 80,000 troops into the Sinai and ordered a withdrawal of UNEF troops from the armistice line and Sharm El Sheikh. Nasser then closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli ships, blockading the Israeli port of Eilat at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba. On May 30, Jordan and Egypt signed a mutual defense treaty.
In response to these events, Israeli forces struck targets in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria on June 5. After 6 days of fighting, by the time all parties had accepted the cease-fire called for by UN Security Council Resolutions 235 and 236, Israel controlled the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the formerly Jordanian-controlled West Bank of the Jordan River, including 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.
In the 1969-70 war of attrition, Israeli planes made deep strikes into Egypt in retaliation for repeated Egyptian shelling of Israeli positions along the Suez Canal. In early 1969, fighting broke out between Egypt and Israel along the Suez Canal. The United States helped end these hostilities in August 1970, but subsequent U.S. efforts to negotiate an interim agreement to open the Suez Canal and achieve disengagement of forces were unsuccessful.
On October 6, 1973--Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement)--Syrian and Egyptian forces attacked Israeli positions in Golan and along the Suez Canal. Initially, Syria and Egypt made significant advances against Israeli forces. However, Israel recovered on both fronts, pushed the Syrians back beyond the 1967 cease-fire lines, and recrossed the Suez Canal to take a salient on its west bank, isolating Egyptian troops, who eventually surrendered.
The United States and the Soviet Union helped bring about a cease-fire between the combatants. 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 the parties.
The cease-fire did not end the sporadic clashes along the cease-fire lines nor did it dissipate military tensions. The United States tried to help the parties reach agreement on cease-fire stabilization and military disengagement. On March 5, 1974, Israeli forces withdrew from the canal, and Egypt assumed control. Syria and Israel signed a disengagement agreement on May 31, 1974, and the UN Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF) was established as a peacekeeping force in the Golan.
Further U.S. efforts resulted in an interim agreement between Egypt and Israel in September 1975, which provided for another Israeli withdrawal in the Sinai, a limitation of forces, and three observation stations staffed by U.S. civilians in a UN-maintained buffer zone between Egyptian and Israeli forces.
In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke 30 years of hostility with Israel by visiting Jerusalem at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. During a 2-day visit, which included a speech before the Knesset, the Egyptian leader created a new psychological climate in the Middle East in which peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors seemed a realistic possibility. Sadat recognized Israel's right to exist and established the basis for direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel.
In September 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter invited President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to meet with him at Camp David, where they agreed on a framework for peace between Israel and Egypt and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. It set out broad principles to guide negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. It also established guidelines for a West Bank-Gaza transitional regime of full autonomy for the Palestinians residing in the occupied territories and for a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
The treaty was signed on March 26, 1979, by Begin and Sadat, with President Carter signing as witness. Under the treaty, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in April 1982. In 1989, the Governments of Israel and Egypt concluded an agreement that resolved the status of Taba, a resort area on the Gulf of Aqaba.
In the years following the 1948 war, Israel's border with Lebanon was quiet, compared to its borders with other neighbors. After the expulsion of the Palestinian fedayeen (fighters) from Jordan in 1970--and their influx into southern Lebanon, however, hostilities on Israel's northern border increased. In March 1978, after a series of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon, 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 peace-keeping force (UNIFIL), Israel withdrew its troops.
In July 1981, after additional fighting between Israel and the Palestinians in Lebanon, President Reagan's special envoy, Philip C. Habib, helped secure a cease-fire between the parties. However, in June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to fight the forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
In August 1982, the PLO withdrew its forces from Lebanon. With U.S. assistance, Israel and Lebanon reached an accord in May 1983 that set the stage to withdraw Israeli forces from Lebanon. The instruments of ratification were never exchanged, however, and in March 1984, under pressure from Syria, Lebanon canceled the agreement. In June 1985, Israel withdrew most of its troops from Lebanon, leaving a small residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported militia in southern Lebanon in a "security zone," which Israel considers a necessary buffer against attacks on its northern territory.
By the late 1980s, the spread of non-conventional weaponry--including missile technology--in the Middle East began to pose security problems for Israel from further afield. This was evident during the Gulf crisis that began with Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
When allied coalition forces moved to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in January 1991, Iraq launched a series of missile attacks against Israel. Despite the provocation, Israel refrained from entering the Gulf war directly, accepting U.S. assistance to deflect continued Iraqi missile attacks.
The coalition's victory in the Gulf war opened new possibilities for regional peace, and in October 1991, the Presidents of the United States and the Soviet Union jointly convened an historic meeting in Madrid of Israeli, Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, and Palestinian leaders which became the foundation for ongoing bilateral and multilateral negotiations designed to bring lasting peace and economic development to the region.
On September 13, 1993, Israel and the PLO signed a Declaration of Principles (DOP) on the South Lawn of the White House. The declaration was a major conceptual breakthrough achieved under the Madrid framework. It established an ambitious set of objectives relating to a transfer of authority from Israel to an interim Palestinian authority. The DOP established May 1999 as the date by which a permanent status agreement for the West Bank and Gaza Strip would take effect. 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.
Prime Minister Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat signed the historic Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on September 28, 1995, in Washington. The agreement, witnessed by the President on behalf of the United States and by Russia, Egypt, Norway, and the European Union, incorporates and supersedes the previous agreements and marked the conclusion of the first stage of negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
The accord broadens Palestinian self-government by means of a popularly elected legislative council. It provides for election and establishment of that body, transfer of civil authority, Israeli redeployment from major population centers in the West Bank, security arrangements, and cooperation in a variety of areas. Negotiations on permanent status began on May 5, 1996 in Taba, Egypt. As agreed in the 1993 DOP, those talks will address the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, final security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with neighboring states, and other issues of common interest.
Israel signed a non-belligerency agreement with Jordan (the Washington Declaration) in Washington, DC, on July 25, 1994. Jordan and Israel signed a historic peace treaty at a border post between the two countries on October 26, 1994, witnessed by President Clinton, accompanied by Secretary Christopher.
The assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a right-wing Jewish radical on November 4, 1995 climaxed an increasingly bitter national debate over where the peace process was leading. Rabin's death left Israel profoundly shaken, ushered in a period of national self-examination, and produced a new level of national consensus favoring the peace process. In February 1996 Rabin's successor, Shimon Peres, called early elections. Those elections, held in May 1996 and the first featuring direct election of the prime minister, resulted in a narrow election victory for Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu and his center-right National Coalition and the defeat of Peres and his left-of-center Labor/Meretz government. Despite his stated differences with the Oslo Accords, Prime Minister Netanyahu continued its implementation, signing the Hebron Protocol with the Palestinians on January 15, 1997. The Protocol resulted in the redeployment of Israeli forces in Hebron and the turnover of civilian authority in much of the area to the Palestinian Authority. Since that agreement, there has been little progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. A crisis of confidence developed between the parties as the parties had difficulty responding to each other and addressing each other's concerns. Israel and the Palestinians did agree, however, in September 1997, to a four-part agenda to guide further negotiations: security cooperation in the fight against terror; further redeployments of Israeli forces; a "time-out" on unilateral actions that may prejudge the outcome of the permanent status talks; and acceleration of these talks. The U.S. sought to marry continued implementation of the 1995 Interim Agreement with the start of the accelerated permanent status talks. In order to overcome the crisis of confidence and break the negotiating impasse, President Clinton presented U.S. ideas for getting the peace process back on track to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat in Washington in January 1998. Those ideas included all aspects of the September 1997 four-part agenda and would allow for the start of accelerated permanent status negotiations. The Palestinians agreed in principle to the U.S. ideas.
The U.S. continued working intensively with the parties to reach agreement on the basis of U.S. ideas. After a 9-day session at the Wye River Conference Center in Maryland, agreement was reached on October 23, 1998. The Wye agreement is based on the principle of reciprocity and meets the essential requirements of both the parties, including unprecedented security measures on the part of the Palestinians and the further redeployment of Israeli troops in the West Bank. The agreement also permits the launching of the permanent status negotiations as the May 4, 1999 expiration of the period of the Interim Agreement.