The new state of Israel came into being on 14 May 1948 with the termination of the British mandate, but its creation was preceded by more than 50 years of efforts by Zionist leaders to establish an independent Jewish state in Palestine. The modern history of Israel may be dated from the Jewish immigration to Palestine in the second-half of the 19th century from Europe, especially Russia and Poland.
   The practical and modern effort to establish a state began with the founding of the Zionist movement and the creation of the World Zionist Organization by Theodor Herzl at the end of the 19th century. Waves of state-sponsored anti-Semitism ("pogroms") in eastern Europe and incidents such as the "Dreyfus Affair" in western Europe were important contributing factors in the development of modern political Zionism. Zionist aspirations were given impetus with the issuance of the Balfour Declaration (1917) in which the British Government expressed support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Jewish immigration to Palestine grew throughout this period, but with the advent of the Nazi regime in Germany and the Holocaust, the numbers escalated rapidly in the 1930s. With the end of World War II, there was pressure for the remnants of European Jewry to be permitted to immigrate to Palestine despite British restrictions. The Arab reaction to the effort to create a Jewish state was negative and frequently violent.
   On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the partition plan (Resolution 181-II), which called for the division of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state (linked by an economic union) and for an international administration for Jerusalem. The plan was accepted with reluctance by the Zionists but denounced by the Arab world, which prepared for war to ensure that all of Palestine would be an Arab state. Between November 1947 and May 1948, the Arab community in Palestine, with the active encouragement of the neighboring Arab countries, waged a campaign of terror against the Jewish settlement ("yishuv") in an effort to prevent implementation of the partition plan. This Arab terror provoked small militant elements of the Zionist community to launch violent reprisals against the Arabs as well as against symbols of a British Mandatory Authority that was accused of siding with the Arabs.
   With the British withdrawal from Palestine in May 1948, the new Jewish state proclaimed its independence. David Ben-Gurion became the prime minister of the State of Israel, and Chaim Weizmann was elected president. The new government was soon recognized by the United States and the USSR, as well as by many other states. The Arab League declared war on Israel, and the neighboring Arab states announced that their armies would enter the former Palestine mandate, ostensibly to "restore order." A long and bitter war ensued between Israel and armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, with assistance from other Arab League members.
   In the spring of 1949, armistice agreements were signed between Israel and each of the bordering states (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon), which established a frontier (armistice line) between Israel and each of the neighboring states, and portions of these areas were demilitarized. Peace negotiations to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict were to follow but did not. As a consequence of the war, Israel encompassed more territory than had been allocated to it by the partition plan. At the same time, portions of the territory allocated to the Palestinian Arab state came under Egyptian (the Gaza Strip) and Jordanian (the West Bank) control. Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan. Under the terms of the armistice with Jordan, Israelis and other Jews were to be accorded access to Jewish holy places in Jerusalem's Old City and in the West Bank. However, this did not occur; rather, the Jordanians permitted Jewish holy places to be desecrated and destroyed.
   Israel has fought seven major wars (in 1948—49, 1956-57, 1967, 1969-70, 1973, 1982, and 2006) with the Arab states to secure its position, but formal peace has eluded Israel with all but Egypt and Jordan. In addition, Israel has signed a series of interim agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and has held sporadic substantive talks with Syria under U.S. sponsorship. But a comprehensive peace agreement with all of its neighbors appears still far away.
   Soon after its independence, Israel moved to function as a regular state. Elections for a parliament (Knesset) were held on 25 January 1949, and regular parliamentary and presidential elections have been held, as required by law, since then, but Israel's progress in its domestic life was not matched by comparable developments with the Arab states; frequent border incidents and clashes characterized the early 1950s.
   Tensions continued to increase, and the situation was exacerbated by external (primarily Soviet) arms supplies and Palestinian terrorist incursions into Israel and Israeli retaliatory raids on fedayeen bases in Egyptian-controlled Gaza. In the summer of 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, and tensions grew. In late October, Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula to destroy hostile Egyptian military positions and to reopen the blockaded Strait of Tiran. In a brief war, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Following a British and French ultimatum (coordinated in advance in top-level secret tripartite — British, French, and Israeli—meetings), their forces were interposed between Israel and Egypt along the Suez Canal. Eventually, Israel was forced by U.S. pressure to withdraw from Egyptian territory and from the Gaza Strip. The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was stationed on the frontier between the two states and helped ensure quiet along the border for the next decade. The sea lanes through the Strait of Tiran to Israel's port of Eilat were opened to Israeli shipping, but the hope that peace talks might follow was not realized. Although the other Arab states did not join in the 1956-57 hostilities, they made no effort to reach a peace agreement with Israel, and their territories often became bases for attacks across the border into Israel. Israel maintained its military posture and capability to deal with the Arab threat.
   In 1966 and 1967, Israel again focused on the problems associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Border incidents became more serious, and escalation toward conflict began in late 1966 and early 1967 as clashes between Israel and Syria contributed to regional tensions. In May 1967, President Nasser of Egypt demanded the partial removal of United Nations (UN) forces from Sinai and Gaza, mobilized the Egyptian military, and moved troops and equipment into demilitarized areas. Nasser also announced the closing of the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Other factors also contributed to the growing tensions. Finally, on 5 June 1967, Israel launched a preemptive military strike against Egypt. Other Arab states joined in the hostilities, which spread to include Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, among other Arab participants.
   The Six-Day War of June 1967 substantially altered the nature and parameters of the Arab-Israeli dispute. The realities of Arab hostility, the nature of the Arab threat, and the difficulties of achieving a settlement became more obvious. The issues of the conflict changed with the extent of the Israeli victory: Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Israel adopted the position that it would not withdraw from those territories until there were negotiations with the Arab states leading to peace agreements that recognized Israel's right to exist and accepted Israel's permanent position and borders. The Arab response to these terms of reference was the "three nos" adopted at the Khartoum, Sudan, meeting of the Arab League in September 1967: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel. Throughout the period between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War (1973), the focal point was the effort to achieve a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to secure a just and lasting peace based on UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967, which recommended an exchange of land for peace between Israel and the Arab states. Although some of the efforts were promising, peace was not achieved, and there was little movement in that direction. The 1969-70 War of Attrition (launched by Egypt against Israel along the Suez Canal in April 1969) marked the fourth round of hostilities between Israel and Arabs; it was also unique in the sense of involving direct military engagements between Israelis and Soviet pilots flying Egyptian aircraft. It was also in this period that a restructured PLO emerged under the leadership of Yasser Arafat and posed new challenges to Israel's security in the form of terrorist attacks inside Israel and on Israeli and Jewish targets internationally.
   On 3 October 1973, Egyptian and Syrian military forces launched surprise attacks on Israeli positions along the Suez Canal and in the Golan Heights. Despite initial Arab advances on both fronts, Israel pushed Syria back beyond the 1967 cease-fire line and crossed the Suez Canal to take a portion of its west bank. The war increased Israel's dependence on the United States, as no other country would provide Israel with the vast quantities of modern and sophisticated arms required for war or for the political and moral support necessary to negotiate peace.
   The 1973 war was followed by renewed and intensified efforts to achieve Arab-Israeli peace. An extended process of "shuttle diplomacy" launched by U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger resulted in two disengagement of forces agreements in the Sinai (January 1974 and September 1975) and one disengagement agreement involving Israeli and Syrian forces on the Golan Heights (May 1974). However, efforts at building comprehensive peace out of these partial agreements did not succeed. A major step in this regard occurred in 1977 with the announcement by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat that he was prepared to negotiate peace directly with the Israelis. His November 1977 visit to Israel ultimately led to the Camp David Accords in September 1978 and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty signed on 26 March 1979 (both witnessed by U.S. president Jimmy Carter). "Normal relations" between Egypt and Israel began officially on 26 January 1980, when Israel completed its withdrawal from two thirds of the Sinai Peninsula, as called for in the peace treaty, and land, air, and sea borders between the two states were opened. In late February, embassies were opened in Cairo and Tel Aviv, and on 26 February, Ambassadors Eliahu Ben-Elisar of Israel and Saad Mortada of Egypt presented their credentials.
   Despite the peace treaty with Egypt and its implementation, Israel's other borders remained tense, and problems often emerged. The frontier with Lebanon had been relatively quiet between the 1948—49 war and the early 1970s, when the PLO was forced out of Jordan and ultimately took up positions in Lebanon. Cross-border PLO terrorist raids into northern Israel and Israeli retaliations (such as 1978's "Operation Litani" to push PLO forces out of firing range of northern Israel) escalated tensions. The PLO's presence in Lebanon exacerbated an already complicated balance among that country's indigenous political and military forces, an arrangement that broke down completely in 1975 with the start of civil war in Lebanon. In order to protect its interests, Syria became increasingly involved militarily in Lebanon. The continued presence in eastern Lebanon of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) that had been moved there by Syria in the spring of 1981 remained an Israeli concern, as were PLO attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide despite a U.S.-arranged cease-fire in the summer of 1981.
   On 6 June 1982, Israel launched a major military action against the PLO in Lebanon ("Operation Peace for Galilee"). The military objective was to ensure security for northern Israel, to destroy the PLO infrastructure that had established a state within a state ("Fatahland") in Lebanon, to eliminate a center of international terrorism, and to destroy a base of operations from which Israel could be threatened; the success of the military operation also involved the early neutralization of the Syrian SAM emplacements in eastern Lebanon. But the political objectives of the operation were not so precise. In many respects, the results were ambiguous. Under U.S. and international protection, the PLO was permitted to withdraw most of its forces from Lebanon in August 1982. Israel's northern border was temporarily more secure, but the Israeli troops that remained in Lebanon became targets of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists and others, and numerous casualties resulted. A May 1983 agreement between Israel and Lebanon that would have facilitated a withdrawal of Israeli forces was abrogated a year later by Lebanon under pressure from Syria. In 1985, the bulk of Israeli forces were withdrawn unilaterally from Lebanon, but a narrow "security zone" north of the border was manned by Israeli soldiers and members of the Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army (SLA). The costs of the war in Lebanon were high, as have been the costs of Hezbollah's continuing war of attrition against Israeli and Israeli-backed targets in the security zone.
   On 24 May 2000, the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak unilaterally evacuated the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) completely from the security zone in south Lebanon in full accordance with Israel's obligations under UNSC Resolution 425 (1978). The withdrawal was unambiguously accepted by the UN as meeting the obligations, and the line was marked and noted as the Blue Line. The Lebanon withdrawal was received with great relief by an Israeli public that had suffered the military as well as moral costs of Israel's lengthy occupation of southern Lebanon. In addition, Barak hoped the evacuation would alter the dynamic of the Middle East peace process. Unfortunately, Israel's Arab interlocutors adopted another perception of the Lebanon evacuation. Whereas Barak insisted that Israel was acting magnanimously and from a position of relative strength, the Arabs almost universally interrupted the unilateral evacuation from Lebanon as a sign of Israeli weakness and public war weariness to be exploited politically and militarily. Certainly, this was the lesson taken from the Lebanon evacuation by various Palestinian factions operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
   With the departure of the PLO forces from Lebanon, attention focused on divisions among Israelis over the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Although the internal debate over these territories had been a core issue since they were occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, their status took on new immediacy in the wake of the Palestinian rioting in the West Bank and Gaza that began in early December 1987. However, while it prompted extensive public debate, the intifada did not facilitate agreement among Israelis about a clear policy option for addressing the complex set of disputes with the Palestinians, a problem exacerbated by the continuation of a widespread Arab consensus on avoiding relations with Israel.
   The August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the participation of Arab confrontation states in the multilateral coalition that fought the Persian Gulf War (January-February 1991) caused the first discernible crack (since the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty) in the Arab consensus concerning Israel. This helped create the atmosphere for the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference (October 1991) that set in motion bilateral and multilateral processes of negotiations cosponsored first by the United States and the USSR (later Russia). These negotiations, while unprecedented in their scope, did not generate any immediate substantive progress. Such progress was produced through secret backchannel communications — and then formal negotiations — involving Israelis and
   PLO representatives in the spring and summer of 1993 that were held under the good offices of the foreign minister of Norway.
   The exchange of letters of recognition between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat (9 September 1993) and the signing of the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles (DOP; 13 September 1993) set in motion a series of interim agreements affecting parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, these interim agreements — first with the PLO and then with the Palestinian Authority (PA; elected in January 1997) — did not ameliorate the protracted debate among Israelis over the final political status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip or the Arab and Jewish populations there. To the contrary, the internal debate was exacerbated by widespread terrorism against Israelis in the spring of 1996 by Muslim extremist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and by secular Palestinian groups opposed to the Oslo Accords — terrorism that the PA under the leadership of Yasser Arafat seemingly was unable or unwilling to combat.
   Despite their inherent instability and uncertainty, the Israel-PLO interim agreements established an atmosphere in which substantive progress involving Israel and other Arab parties could be achieved. Principal among these was the Common Agenda for future negotiations signed with Jordan on 14 September 1993, which laid the groundwork for the Washington Declaration (25 July 25 1994) and the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty (26 October 1994). There were also diplomatic and/or commercial openings with a number of Arab countries, including Morocco, Tunisia, Oman, and Qatar; the secondary and tertiary aspects of the Arab economic boycott of Israel were officially suspended by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC); and periodic high-level talks, under U.S. sponsorship, were held with Syria about security arrangements on the Golan Heights and related issues.
   While some of these developments were important in and of themselves, the Israeli hope for permanent peace and normalized relations with all of its neighbors continued to prove illusory. Militating against this goal were a number of factors, including:
   • The continued threat of Palestinian terrorism emanating from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (which took on renewed intensity with the al-Aksa Intifada that began in October 2000, and that persisted even after Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank in the summer of 2005);
   The increased radicalization of the Palestinian community (reflected in the January 2006 election of the Islamist Hamas) and the bloody struggle for power being waged on the streets of Gaza between Hamas loyalists and supporters of Fatah;
   A protracted war of attrition waged by Iranian- and Syrian-supported Hezbollah extremists against Israeli civilian population centers and military installations on Israel's side of the UN-endorsed international border (to which the IDF had unilaterally withdrawn on May 2000), which climaxed in a major war involving Israel and Hezbollah in July-August 2006;
   Syria's continued efforts to dominate affairs in Lebanon even after it was forced by the UN to formally end its two-decade-long occupation of the country;
   Syria's alliance with Iran in supporting Palestinian and other groups opposed to the Arab-Israeli peace process;
   Threats by a number of Arab countries to link normalizing of relations with Israel to the depth of Israeli political and territorial concessions in agreements with the PA; and
   The long-term strategic threat to Israel posed by active efforts by Iran and Syria (and possibly other Middle Eastern actors) to acquire and deploy weapons of mass destruction and the long-range ballistic missile capability to deliver those weapons on targets throughout Israel.
   Many of these factors came together in Israel's war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in July-August 2006. As Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert noted, the war was the direct result of the failure of the Lebanese government to fulfill its core UNSC obligation after Israel's May 2000 unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, namely to apply the sovereign authority of Lebanon's government and central army over the entire country. To the contrary, the Lebanese government permitted Hezbollah—a militant Shia Islamist organization backed by Iran and Syria and dedicated to Israel's destruction—to maintain absolute control over the region of southern Lebanon abutting Israel's northern border. In the two or three years preceding the Second Lebanon War (2006), Hezbollah built elaborate networks of underground bunkers throughout southern Lebanon for secreting thousands of sophisticated medium- and long-range missiles that had been smuggled in from Iran through Syria. Close to 4,000 of those missiles were fired at Israel during the Second Lebanon War, causing significant damage, especially to civilian population centers.
   The IDF's inability to find an immediate "solution" for the Hezbollah missiles made the Second Lebanon War (2006) one of Israel's most controversial military experiences, as did the reported ill-preparedness of some reserve forces for battle as well as the apparent confusion between and among military and civilian decision makers. Public criticism about such issues led to the establishment of an official governmental investigative committee (Winograd Committee) and ultimately forced the resignation of the IDF chief of staff and other senior officers of the IDF. A point of some international controversy related to accusations of Israel's use of "disproportionate force" in its military response to Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers from Israel's side of the UN-sanctioned international border and Hezbollah's unrelenting missile fire on the city of Haifa and other civilian population centers in northern Israel. The Second Lebanon War (2006) ended with the adoption of a tenuous cease-fire by the UNSC on 11 August 2006, which came into effect on 14 August 2006. While hopeful that UNSC Resolution 1701 could help bring greater stability to Lebanon, Israelis generally acknowledged that it alone was unlikely to deliver the greater peace and normalcy they continued to seek. The Winograd Committee issued its lengthy and detailed final report in late January 2008.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .


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