The Heart of the Matter

The Crux of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

A country's right to exist is axiomatic and does not await acknowledgement. Like any other state in the world community - young or old, large or small - Israel does not consider mere recognition of its "right to exist" as a favour, let alone a negotiable issue. In fact, Israel has a millennial and continuous history more ancient than that of most other nations. Israel's birth and the history of its first two millennia in its Land are recorded in the Bible, and Jewish habitation there continues to this day. International recognition of this connection of the Jewish people with the Land of Israel found expression in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which was in turn incorporated in the League of Nations Mandate in 1922, and in the United Nations partition resolution of 1947, which paved the way for the re-establishment of the Jewish state.

Historical Continuity

The Land of Israel is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa on the Mediterranean coast and, historically, includes the area east and west of the Jordan River. It was here, almost 4,000 years ago, that the Jewish people came into being and developed a national language and a distinctive culture. Although conquered and reconquered down through the centuries by many foreign powers- and renamed Palestine by the Romans in an attempt to obliterate the Jewish link to the Land - Israel was never claimed, either as a state or as a homeland, by any other ethnic or national community.

Despite successive invasions, and during centuries of anarchy and neglect, war and persecution, there were always Jews living in the Land of Israel, fortified by the faith that one day Jewish sovereignty would be restored and the Jewish homeland rebuilt. Those Jews who lived in exile, dispersed throughout the world, never forgot their connection to the Land nor gave up their dream of return. And there was never a period over the last 19 centuries without Jewish immigration to the Land.

Since the Arab conquest in 636 CE, the Land of Israel/Palestine has also been an area of Arab immigration - and emigration - with movement fluctuating in accordance with economic growth and decline. When increased Jewish development towards the end of the 19th century began to stimulate an economic and social revival in the country, many from the surrounding Arab countries were attracted to the area by more work, higher wages and better living conditions, resulting in rapid growth of the Arab population.

Then Palestine: Now Jordan and Israel

In 1922, acting on a mandate from the League of Nations to administer the territory on both banks of the Jordan River (what is today Jordan and Israel, and charged with facilitating the re-establishment of the Jewish national home in the area, Great Britain divided the territory in two: the greater part, some 35,000 square miles east of the Jordan River, became the Arab entity of Transjordan, later the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; the remaining 23 percent, on the western side of the Jordan River, was left for the Jewish homeland. Thus, Palestinians - Jews and Arabs alike - have already achieved self-determination and national sovereignty in Palestine: Arab Palestinians in 1946, when Transjordan became independent; Jewish Palestinians in 1948, with the establishment of the State of Israel.

Crux of the Conflict

While both Israel and the Arab world lay claim to the area, Israel has consistently shown a readiness to resolve the conflict on the basis of the recognition of the rights of nationhood for both of the nations living in the area. Most of the Arab states, on the other hand, have made it clear that they will settle for nothing less than the liquidation of the State of Israel: The crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict is Arab refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state in any part of what they regard as the Islamic-Arab world.

The refusal of Arab governments to accept Israel's national rights has resulted in the determination of territorial boundaries through war. The cease-fire or armistice lines which emerged after the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 have become, in effect, "borders," creating new bases for dispute and leading, in turn, to reprisal and more war.

Seeds of Hope: Agreements and Coexistence

The words, "no more war, no more bloodshed " delivered by the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in Jerusalem in 1977, signalled a change of approach on the part of the strongest and most populous Arab country. From this, direct negotiations were initiated, resulting in a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel which included a framework for facilitating future negotiation. In another step towards ending the conflict, the agreement signed in May 1983 between Israel and Lebanon, though less than a peace treaty, recognizes an international boundary line between the two countries and includes a formula for normalization of relations.

Arabs and Jews have lived together in the Land of Israel/Palestine for centuries, and shall continue to do so. Since the 1967 Six-Day War, after a hiatus of 19 years, the Open Bridges policy practised by Israel and Jordan has made it possible for people from all over the Arab world to visit Israel, as well as facilitating personal and commercial links between the Palestinian Arab populations on both sides of the Jordan River. The opening of the Good Fence in 1979 along the Israel-Lebanon border was the beginning of cooperation between the peoples of both countries, a relationship which still endures today.

Interim Solution: Autonomy

Israel's determination to achieve peace is unswerving. e the viability and maintenance of peace. Together, these two objectives provided the conceptual framework that produced the Camp David accords. These accords outlined a programme for continued action to secure regional stability, and recognized that peace must originate from the countries and governments that will have to implement the peace and live by it.

The Camp David accords include an autonomy plan for the inhabitants of Judea-Samaria and the Gaza district, to be implemented on a five-year interim basis. The plan is not intended as the ultimate solution of the problem, but as a transitional arrangement designed to achieve two objectives: to allow the Arab inhabitants of these areas the fullest possible freedom in running their own lives - and to create a climate of peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jew. Autonomy, in other words, is intended to serve as an interim arrangement, pending the ultimate solution that is to be addressed at a later stage. The tragedy all along has been that any attempt at a solution to the conflict has been thwarted by extremist Arab positions. When there has been willingness to enter into negotiations - as in the case of Egypt and of Lebanon - compromise has been possible, trust established, agreements reached and peace brought closer.

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