Palestine was one of the names for the territory known as the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael). The name was derived from the Hebrew "Pleshet" - the southern coastal part of the country which, in biblical times, was inhabited by the Philistines, a people of Agean origin. The Romans gradually applied the name Palestine to the entire Land of Israel.

In the second century C.E., the Romans named the southern part of the Roman province of Syria -- which included the Kingdom of Judea "Syria Palestina". From Byzantine times it became the accepted name of Eretz Yisrael in non-Jewish usage.

The name "Palestine" was applied to a clearly defined territory after the British conquered Eretz Yisrael in 1917-1918. The inhabitants of both sides of the Jordan river were referred to as "Palestinians". After the eastern part of "Palestine" became known as Transfordan, the name "Palestine" was applied to the territory west of the Jordan river. The Jews of the Yishuv refused to be called Palestinians. The local Arab population in Eretz Yisrael (Palestine), in the course of time became identified as Palestinians.

Today, there are some 4 million people who define themselves as Palestinians. Their main centers (estimated numbers) are:

  • Jordan (900,000);
  • Judea and Samaria (900,000);
  • The Gaza Strip (700,000);
  • Israel (650;000);
  • Lebanon (150,000);
  • Syria (150,000);
  • The Arab oil producing states - 250,000.
  • More than 600,000 Palestinians still live in refugee camps.

Only in Israel and in Jordan did Palestinians become citizens.


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From British Rule to the War of Independence (1918 - 1948)

The Balfour Declaration and the British conquest of Eretz Yisrael were accompanied by the growth of the Palestinian Arab national movement.

In the beginning, the Palestinian Arabs defined themselves as part of "Southern Syria". In the course of time, the Palestinians demanded the abolition of the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of a local government in Palestine to be elected by the pre-World War I inhabitants of the country. In 1920, an Executive Committee was elected. In 1923, the Palestinians rejected the British proposal to establish a self-governing body. After the clashes in 1929 (see: The 1929 Disturbances), the British rejected the Palestinians' proposal to establish a legislative assembly, where the Arabs would have a majority.

In 1931 a terrorist organization led by Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Quassam was formed. In 1934 the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Amin al-Husseini, rose to leadership with the support of the younger and more radical generation of Muslim activists, who believed that Jewish immigration and settlement had to be prevented by use of force. The failure of the plan for a legislative council, at the beginning of 1936, led to the outbreak of the "Arab Revolt" of 1936 -1939. In July 1937, the Palestinians rejected the Peel Commission proposals. Although the publication of the White Paper of 1939 seemed a significant achievement to the Palestinians, it was rejected by their leadership.

During World War II, many Palestinian Arab leaders supported the Nazis; some of them even spent the war years in Berlin and Rome. In 1945, the Arab League established the Higher Arab Committee as the representative body of Palestinian Arabs. The organization opposed every compromise offered by Britain in 1946 and rejected any solution that did not recognize Palestine as a purely Arab country. The Arab Higher Committee rejected the UN Partition Plan of November 29 1947, and announced its detemination to prevent its implementation by force.

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The Refugee Problem

(see map)

Between April and December 1948, some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs abandoned their homes and fled to nieghboring Arab countries as well as to parts of Palestine later occupied by Jordan (Judea and Samaria, which were annexed by Jordan as the "West Bank"), and Egypt (the "Gaza Strip").

  • Many of them were encouraged to do so by the Arab leadership, who promised them a quick return in the wake of the victorious Arab armies.
  • The flight was accelerated by rumors, spread by the Arabs, of Jewish atrocities.
  • As a result of the invasion by the Arab states' regular armies, on May 15, 1948, many Arab villages were evacuated by their leaders.

During the fighting of subsequent months, their flight continued into the Arab - held areas of Judea and Samaria across the Jordan river into Transjordan, into the Gaza Strip and -- to a lesser extent -- into Syria and Lebanon.

The refugee problem was born out of the Arabs' determination to frustrate the UN Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947 (see map).

The refugees were kept in crowded filthy camps and their plight exploted by the Arab states for political ends. Except for Jordan, where refugees were granted Jordanian nationality, the Arab states did nothing to improve the refugees'distress. In the 1960's, economic development in Jordan had a direct effect on the refugees living in in that country: many left the refugee camps, found employment and integrated into society. The core of the problem remained, however, the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, where hundred of thousands of refugees were crowded into a small area and not permitted to leave.

During and after the Six Day War, there was another large-scale population movement - over 200,000 people from the West Bank into eastern Jordan, and over 100,000 from the Golan Heights into Syria.

The Government of Israel has always maintained that the refugee problem can and should be resolved only in the framework of an overall Israel-Arab peace settlement.

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The Palestinians from 1948 to 1967

As a result of the War of Independence (see also Armistice Agreements), the Palestinian Arabs no longer existed as a political entity. Those who remained in Israel became Israeli citizens; those who were under Jordanian rule were granted Jordanian nationality. In the Gaza Strip, the refugees preserved their Palestinian identity but lacked internalleadership.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the idea of a Palestinian Entity was raised again, with Egypt and Iraq striving for the sponsorship of the plan. The Arab summit conference, held in January 1964, passed a resolution calling for the unification of Arab efforts on behalf of Arab Palestine.

The Palestinian Conference, held in May 1964, established the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), with Ahmed Shkeiry as its head, as coordinating council for all Palestinian refugees. In its early years, the organization's effectiveness was limited: its leaders were appointed by the Arab League and its operation had to be approved by the Jordanian king. In January 1965, the Al Fatah* organization, headed by Yasser Arafat, started operating against Israel.

In June 1964, the Palestinian National Covenant was drafted. The document, which serves as an ideological basis for the Palestinians' struggle against Israel, declared that the Palestinians would struggle for the liberation of all Palestine as the country belonged to the Palestinians alone. According to the Palestinian National Covenant, only those Jews who lived in the country before 1917 (the time of the Balfour Declaration) would be considered Palestinians and be permitted to live in Palestine after its "liberation".

On the eve of the Six Day War, the Palestinian national movement, which had been practically paralyzed since the Arab defeat of 1948, was reappearing on the political scene.

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The Palestinians after the Six Day War

The Six Day War had a far-reaching effect upon the subsequent development of the Palestinian national movement. As a result of the war, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which had been under Arab control (Egypt and Jordan) until June 1967, now came under Israeli rule. Israeli occupation of the whole of Eretz Israel (Palestine) reawakened the question of the political definition of the Palestinian Arabs. For the first time since 1948 it was possible to relate to the Palestinians as one political body. The Palestinian National Covenant, drafted in 1964, was revised, stating clearly and explicitly that the PLO regarded Israel as an illegal country and that the organization committed itself to establishing a Palestinian state once the State of Israel was destroyed.

After the Six Day War the Al Fatah organization [see above], founded January 1965, became the most prominent Palestinian body. In 1969, it gained control over the PLO. At the Palestinian National Conference, in February 1969, Al Fatah and its supporters achieved a majority; Yasser Arafat was elected chairman of the PLO.

In 1974, the PLO was recognized by the Arab states as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. At the same time, the organization also achieved international recognition.

In 1982, the PLO was weakened when -- as a result of the Peace for Galilee War -- PLO members quartered in West Beirut were dispersed to other Arab countries. In December 1987, violent demonstrations of young Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched the Palestinian uprising - the intifada - which spread throughout the occupied territories and aimed to oust the Israeli military forces and to establish a separate Palestinian state. Within a few weeks, the PLO responded to the Palestinian uprising by proclaiming the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

In 1991, with PLO agreement, Palestinian representatives participated in the Madrid Conference. Secret negotiations between the PLO and Israel led to mutual recognition (September 1993) and a series of subsequent agreements aimed at ending the history of conflict between the two peoples.

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Israel-Palestinians Agreements: The "Oslo Accords"

In April 1993, representatives of the Government of Israel began a series of behind-the-scenes talks with PLO members. Most of the meetings, separate from the publicly held peace talks, took place in Oslo, with Johan Joerger Holst, Norway's Freign Minister, acting as mediator.

  • In August 1993, details about the secret negotiations became known. While much of the world rejoiced at the news, hard-liners on both sides were outraged as details of a tentative agreement came out.
  • On August 31, 1993, the Israel government approved in principle the plan for interim Palestinian self-rule.
  • On September 9, 1993, Yasser Arafat sent a letter to Prime Minister Rabin, in which he stated that the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist in peace and security. In his letter, Arafat also renounced terrorism and other acts of violence. In return, the Government of Israel decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.

    Oslo accords: map

  • On September 13 1993, some 3,000 invited guests attended the signing of a joint Israeli Palestinian Declaration of Principles. The ceremony took place on the White House lawn. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signed for Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, a negotiator in the secret talks leading to the agreement, signed for the PLO. The ceremony concluded with the historic handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

The Declaration of Principles outlines the arrangements for the proposed 5 year interim of Palestinian self-rule. According to the Declaration of Principles, negotiations on the permanent status of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would begin no later than the 3rd year of the interim period. The permanent status agreement would take effect after the 5 year interim period.

Since the signature of the Declaration of Principles, Israel and the Palestinians have signed the following agreements:

  • The Gaza Jericho Agreement (May 4, 1994)
  • The Agreement on the Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities (August 29, 1995)
  • The Israel Palestine Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (September 28, 1995)

Negotiations on the permanent status arrangements commenced on May 5, 1996.

Note: The agreements between Israel and the Palestinians are also known as the "Oslo Accords".

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Oslo Accords under the Likud Government (Hebron - Wye) 1996-1999

By Neil Lazarus

1. Protocol Regarding Israeli Redeployment in Hebron
January 17 1997

The Protocol on Israeli redeployment from areas of Hebron is very significant in terms of the city's historical Jewish associations; moreover, the document was the continuation of Oslo commitments, as Israel went from a Labor to a Likud coalition government after the 1996 elections.

The redeployment left a Jewish enclave in the heart of Hebron and established a temporary UN observer force there - the TIPH.

Full text of agreement:

Maps :
Hebron Outline Map:

2. The Wye Agreement - November 1998

The Wye Agreement was the second agreement between Israel and the Palestinians under the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, brokered by the US Clinton administration. It was intended to restart the peace process that had stalled as a result of Palestinian protest over a controversial new Jewish community planned in Har Homa, Jerusalem, and as a result of a growing mistrust between both sides.

Netanyahu's attitude to the peace process differed from that of Rabin, Peres and Barak, in that there was a demand by the government of Israel for reciprocal implementation ("reciprocity") on the part of the Palestinians. Netanyahu refused to offer more concessions until the Israeli needs for security were met, including:

· The amendment of the PLO Covenant;
· Palestinian Authority action against Hamas and its terrorist activities;
· Cessation of the PA's so-called "revolving door policy" of releasing terrorists from prison after a few months.

The Wye agreement was intended to be implemented over twelve weeks.

· The first two weeks were to see the handing over of 2 percent of the West Bank and the annulling of clauses of the PLO charter which referred to the destruction of Israel.
· Week Two would see the confiscation of illegal weapons by the Palestinian Authority and the reduction of the size of the Palestinian Police force (at over 40,000 policeman it was nearly double the size agreed under the original Oslo Accords).
· At the end of week three Israel would relinquish another five percent of the land conditional to a PNC vote canceling all clauses in the PLO charter calling for the destruction of Israel.
· In the last 6-12 weeks, Israel would transfer another 6 per cent of the West Bank, on the condition that all illegal weapons had been collected.

The Wye agreement was never more than partially implemented, as it precipitated the collapse of the Netanyahu government:

- The Right wing voted no confidence in Netanyahu's government because it wanted to concede too much land;
- The Left voted against Netanyahu for conceding too little.

New elections were held in May 1999 and Ehud Barak was voted Prime Minister.

Wye Accords Map


From Oslo to Wye (Current Issue Archive)

Concepts - Struggle & Defense

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The Sharm el Sheikh Memorandum , September 4, 1999

by Neil Lazarus

Following the election of Ehud Barak in May 1999, the Palestinians, who had become frustrated by progress in the Peace process, greeted the change with great expectations. The Sharm el Sheikh agreement was a rapid intervention by the new Prime Minister to put the Peace Process back on track by setting target dates for a staged, but relatively rapid implementation.

The Sharm el Sheikh Memorandum established new and extended old deadlines in a bid to finally resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians by September 13 2000. It aimed to move the sides to finalize bilaterally all major final status talks by this date, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, water and Palestinian statehood.

However, while many subsidiary redeployment, freepassage, airport and other arrangements, did emerge, the major issues were not addressed in the pressured time scale, and a new summit was called by the US in mid-summer 2000, shortly after Israel withdrew the IDF from Lebanon. Redeployment was only very partially implemented and subsequent attempts to proceed with new interim agreements or move to a permanent settlement did not meet with success.


Current Issues Activity - The Sharm Accords -

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From Camp David II to The Disturbances

By the Editor

1. Camp David II - July 2000

During the July negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians at Camp David, many of the issues of conflict were bridged. However, the issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees proved too difficult to resolve. Ehud Barak offered major, controversial concessions on Jerusalem, together with some on the reunification of families, while the Palestinians did not move from their initial negotiating position, namely: that Israel relinquish all of East Jerusalem, as well as allowing all refugees since 1948 the right to return. With the breakdown of talks, Barak withdrew his compromise offer and declared it null and void. Following US pressure, Chairman Arafat agreed not to make unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence at the end of the official Oslo Accords' extension, due on September 13th 2000 - at least, until after the US Presidential elections

Map of Jerusalem

Backgrounds on Jerusalem:


Struggle & Defense - The Peace Process - The Palestinians: This file

2. The Disturbances - Autumn 2000

From July to September, Israel waited anxiously to see whether Peace talks would resume, or whether there would be a deterioration. There were an increasing number of incidents in late September.

On 29th September, the eve of Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year - Israeli Opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, the holiest Jewish site. The Palestinians claimed this was massive provocation and launched violent attacks and riots against Israeli soldiers and civilians in and around Israeli settlements, using children and youth to lead the way, while PA Police participation and armed militia provided fire-power. Israeli reaction was restrained, but the death toll was tragically mounting, especially of the younger and child participants. The world media focused on the armed response by the IDf, rather than the intentions of the violent and armed demonstrators - which was highly damaging to Israel's image, and put her at a disadvantage on the diplomatic scene.

For a while, some aligned Israeli Arab groups in the North and coastal areas joined in a coordinated campaign to attack Jewish Israeli civilians, cut communications and set forest fires across Israel, but this was soon calmed by community leaders. Some Jewish Israeli groups with criminal elements rioted in the North and Galilee, but police reaction was swift to stop this and arrest those responsible; Israeli leaders appealed to the beleaguered public for self-restraint, and a tense calm ensued.

The subsequent kidnapping of 3 Israeli soldiers and a private Israeli citizen by Hizbullah led to international and UN efforts to break the cycle of escalating violence, but endeavors to bring Israel and the Palestinians to talks met with negative response from the PA at a Paris summit and a walk-out by Arafat. The lynch of 2 Israeli soldiers in Ramallah generated a pro-active, but focused, response by the IDF on evacuated PA buildings in Ramallah and Gaza. This led to further international efforts to calm the region, and a multi-party international brokerage of a cease-fire in Sharm followed, but did not produce substantial results.

At the Arab League summit in Cairo, the PA gained substantial support and Arafat declared that the Palestinians were moving towards Jerusalem as capital of their independent state. There was an intensification of Palestinian night-time sharp-shooting into the homes of private citizens in the Gilo suburb of Jerusalem from nearby Beit Jala village, near Bethlehem - and at Psagot, near Ramallah, which prompted directed IDF response. The bombardment of Israeli neighborhoods adjacent to the PA was understood as an attempt to influence the borders, which are to be established in a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. It was also presumed to be a lead-up to a further escalation and unilateral declaration of statehood by the PA.

The Peace Process, and even bilateral or mediated dialogue, had ground to a halt; the fate of the entire framework of the Oslo accords hung in the balance. A last ditch attempt was made by Shimon Peres to negotiate a cease-fire with Yasser Arafat, and this yielded significant success in terms of armed street riots. However, Lebanon-style roadside bomb attacks and sniping increased at several foci: Netzarim, Gush Katif, Karni, Erez; Psagot, the connecting roads; and Gilo continued to come under fire.

P.M. Ehud Barak's lacked a parliamentary majority on its peace policy; as an alternative, it was unable to form an emergency or national unity government to face the crisis; this forced him to declare early elections.

Map of Gilo

See Activities, Resources and Links from:
1. Israel & the Palestinians: The Test of Leadership
2. Israel & the Palestinians: hadracha guidance, questions

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31 May 2005 / 22 Iyar 5765 0