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Arab-Israeli Conflict

How Zionism helped create the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
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Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud with Sir Percy Cox
The covert alliance between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Zionist entity of Israel should be no surprise to any student of British imperialism. The problem is the study of British imperialism has very few students. Indeed, one can peruse any undergraduate or post-graduate British university prospectus and rarely find a module in a Politics degree on the British Empire let alone a dedicated degree or Masters degree. Of course if the European led imperialist carnage in the four years between 1914 – 1918 tickles your cerebral cells then it’s not too difficult to find an appropriate institution to teach this subject, but if you would like to delve into how and why the British Empire waged war on mankind for almost four hundred years you’re practically on your own in this endeavour. One must admit, that from the British establishment’s perspective, this is a formidable and remarkable achievement.

In late 2014, according to the American journal, Foreign Affairs, the Saudi petroleum Minister, Ali al-Naimi is reported to have said “His Majesty King Abdullah has always been a model for good relations between Saudi Arabia and other states and the Jewish state is no exception.” Recently, Abdullah’s successor, King Salman expressed similar concerns to those of Israel’s to the growing agreement between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear programme. This led some to report that Israel and KSA presented a “united front” in their opposition to the nuclear deal. This was not the first time the Zionists and Saudis have found themselves in the same corner in dealing with a perceived common foe. In North Yemen in the 1960’s, the Saudis were financing a British imperialist led mercenary army campaign against revolutionary republicans who had assumed authority after overthrowing the authoritarian, Imam. Gamal Abdul-Nasser’s Egypt militarily backed the republicans, while the British induced the Saudis to finance and arm the remaining remnants of the Imam’s supporters. Furthermore, the British organised the Israelis to drop arms for the British proxies in North Yemen, 14 times. The British, in effect, militarily but covertly, brought the Zionists and Saudis together in 1960’s North Yemen against their common foe.

However, as this author has previously written, one must return to the 1920’s to fully appreciate the origins of this informal and indirect alliance between Saudi Arabia and the Zionist entity. An illuminating study by Dr. Askar H. al-Enazy, titled, The Creation of Saudi Arabia: Ibn Saud and British Imperial Policy, 1914-1927, has further and uniquely provided any student of British Imperialism primary sourced evidence on the origins of this alliance. This study by Dr. Enazy influences the following piece.  The defeat of the Ottoman Empire by British imperialism in World War One, left three distinct authorities in the Arabian peninsula: Sharif of Hijaz: Hussain bin Ali of Hijaz (in the west), Ibn Rashid of Ha’il (in the north) and Emir Ibn Saud of Najd (in the east) and his religiously fanatical followers, the Wahhabis.

Ibn Saud had entered the war early in January 1915 on the side of the British, but was quickly defeated and his British handler, William Shakespear was killed by the Ottoman Empire’s ally Ibn Rashid. This defeat greatly hampered Ibn Saud’s utility to the Empire and left him militarily hamstrung for a year.[1] The Sharif contributed the most to the Ottoman Empire’s defeat by switching allegiances and leading the so-called ‘Arab Revolt’ in June 1916 which removed the Turkish presence from Arabia. He was convinced to totally alter his position because the British had strongly led him to believe, via correspondence with Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, that a unified Arab country from Gaza to the Persian Gulf will be established with the defeat of the Turks. The letters exchanged between Sharif Hussain and Henry McMahon are known as the McMahon-Hussain Correspondence.

Understandably, the Sharif as soon as the war ended wanted to hold the British to their war time promises, or what he perceived to be their war time promises, as expressed in the aforementioned correspondence. The British, on the other hand, wanted the Sharif to accept the Empire’s new reality which was a division of the Arab world between them and the French (Sykes-Picot agreement) and the implementation of the Balfour Declaration, which guaranteed ‘a national for the Jewish people’ in Palestine by colonisation with European Jews. This new reality was contained in the British written, Anglo-Hijaz Treaty, which the Sharif was profoundly averse to signing.[2] After all, the revolt of 1916 against the Turks was dubbed the ‘Arab Revolt’ not the ‘Hijazi Revolt’.

Actually, the Sharif let it be known that he will never sell out Palestine to the Empire’s Balfour Declaration; he will never acquiescence to the establishment of Zionism in Palestine or accept the new random borders drawn across Arabia by British and French imperialists. For their part the British began referring to him as an ‘obstructionist’, a ‘nuisance’ and of having a ‘recalcitrant’ attitude.

The British let it be known to the Sharif that they were prepared to take drastic measures to bring about his approval of the new reality regardless of the service that he had rendered them during the War. After the Cairo Conference in March 1921, where the new Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill met with all the British operatives in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence (i.e. of Arabia) was dispatched to meet the Sharif to bribe and bully him to accept Britain’s Zionist colonial project in Palestine. Initially, Lawrence and the Empire offered 80,000 rupees.[3] The Sharif rejected it outright. Lawrence then offered him an annual payment of £100,000.[4] The Sharif refused to compromise and sell Palestine to British Zionism.

When financial bribery failed to persuade the Sharif, Lawrence threatened him with an Ibn Saud takeover. Lawrence claimed that “politically and militarily, the survival of Hijaz as a viable independent Hashemite kingdom was wholly dependent on the political will of Britain, who had the means to protect and maintain his rule in the region.” [5] In between negotiating with the Sharif, Lawrence made the time to visit other leaders in the Arabian peninsula and informed them that they if they don’t tow the British line and avoid entering into an alliance with the Sharif, the Empire will unleash Ibn Saud and his Wahhabis who after all is at Britain’s ‘beck and call’.[6]

Simultaneously, after the Conference, Churchill travelled to Jerusalem and met with the Sharif’s son, Abdullah, who had been made the ruler, “Emir”, of a new territory called “Transjordan.” Churchill informed Abdullah that he should persuade “his father to accept the Palestine mandate and sign a treaty to such effect,” if not “the British would unleash Ibn Saud against Hijaz.”[7] In the meantime the British were planning to unleash Ibn Saud on the ruler of Ha’il, Ibn Rashid.

Ibn Rashid had rejected all overtures from the British Empire made to him via Ibn Saud, to be another of its puppets.[8] More so, Ibn Rashid expanded his territory north to the new mandated Palestinian border as well as to the borders of Iraq in the summer of 1920. The British became concerned that an alliance maybe brewing between Ibn Rashid who controlled the northern part of the peninsula and the Sharif who controlled the western part. More so, the Empire wanted the land routes between the Palestinian ports on the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf under the rule of a friendly party. At the Cairo Conference, Churchill agreed with an imperial officer, Sir Percy Cox that “Ibn Saud should be ‘given the opportunity to occupy Hail.’”[9] By the end of 1920, the British were showering Ibn Saud with “a monthly ‘grant’ of £10,000 in gold, on top of his monthly subsidy. He also received abundant arms supplies, totalling more than 10,000 rifles, in addition to the critical siege and four field guns” with British-Indian instructors.[10] Finally, in September 1921, the British unleashed Ibn Saud on Ha’il which officially surrendered in November 1921. It was after this victory the British bestowed a new title on Ibn Saud. He was no longer to be “Emir of Najd and Chief of its Tribes” but “Sultan of Najd and its Dependencies”. Ha’il had dissolved into a dependency of the Empire’s Sultan of Najd.

If the Empire thought that the Sharif, with Ibn Saud now on his border and armed to the teeth by the British, would finally become more amenable to the division of Arabia and the British Zionist colonial project in Palestine they were short lived. A new round of talks between Abdulla’s son, acting on behalf of his father in Transjordan and the Empire resulted in a draft treaty accepting Zionism. When it was delivered to the Sharif with an accompanying letter from his son requesting that he “accept reality”, he didn’t even bother to read the treaty and instead composed a draft treaty himself rejecting the new divisions of Arabia as well as the Balfour Declaration and sent it to London to be ratified![11]

Ever since 1919 the British had gradually decreased Hussain’s subsidy to the extent that by the early 1920’s they had suspended it, while at the same time continued subsidising Ibn Saud right through the early 1920’s.[12] After a further three rounds of negotiations in Amman and London, it dawned on the Empire that Hussain will never relinquish Palestine to Great Britain’s Zionist project or accept the new divisions in Arab lands.[13]In March 1923, the British informed Ibn Saud that it will cease his subsidy but not without awarding him an advance ‘grant’ of £50,000 upfront, which amounted to a year’s subsidy.[14]

In March 1924, a year after the British awarded the ‘grant’ to Ibn Saud, the Empire announced that it had terminated all discussions with Sharif Hussain to reach an agreement.[15] Within weeks the forces of Ibn Saud and his Wahhabi followers began to administer what the British foreign secretary, Lord Curzon called the “final kick” to Sharif Hussain and attacked Hijazi territory.[16] By September 1924, Ibn Saud had overrun the summer capital of Sharif Hussain, Ta’if. The Empire then wrote to Sharif’s sons, who had been awarded kingdoms in Iraq and Transjordan not to provide any assistance to their besieged father or in diplomatic terms they were informed “to give no countenance to interference in the Hedjaz”.[17] In Ta’if, Ibn Saud’s Wahhabis committed their customary massacres, slaughtering women and children as well as going into mosques and killing traditional Islamic scholars.[18] They captured the holiest place in Islam, Mecca, in mid-October 1924. Sharif Hussain was forced to abdicate and went to exile to the Hijazi port of Akaba. He was replaced as monarch by his son Ali who made Jeddah his governmental base. As Ibn Saud moved to lay siege to the rest of Hijaz, the British found the time to begin incorporating the northern Hijazi port of Akaba into Transjordan. Fearing that Sharif Hussain may use Akaba as a base to rally Arabs against the Empire’s Ibn Saud, the Empire let it be known that in no uncertain terms that he must leave Akaba or Ibn Saud will attack the port. For his part, Sharif Hussain responded that he had,

“never acknowledged the mandates on Arab countries and still protest against the British Government which has made Palestine a national home for the Jews.”[19]

Sharif Hussain was forced out of Akaba, a port he had liberated from the Ottoman Empire during the ‘Arab Revolt’, on the 18th June 1925 on HMS Cornflower.

Ibn Saud had begun his siege of Jeddah in January 1925 and the city finally surrendered in December 1925 bringing to an end over 1000 years of rule by the Prophet Muhammad’s descendants. The British officially recognised Ibn Saud as the new King of Hijaz in February 1926 with other European powers following suit within weeks. The new unified Wahhabi state was rebranded by the Empire in 1932 as the “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” (KSA). A certain George Rendel, an officer working at the Middle East desk at the Foreign Office in London, claimed credit for the new name.

On the propaganda level, the British served the Wahhabi takeover of Hijaz on three fronts. Firstly, they portrayed and argued that Ibn Saud’s invasion of Hijaz was motivated by religious fanaticism rather than by British imperialism’s geo-political considerations.[20] This deception is propounded to this day, most recently in Adam Curtis’s acclaimed BBC “Bitter Lake” documentary, whereby he states that the “fierce intolerant vision of wahhabism” drove the “beduins” to create Saudi Arabia.[21] Secondly, the British portrayed Ibn Saud’s Wahhabi fanatics as a benign and misunderstood force who only wanted to bring Islam back to its purest form.[22] To this day, these Islamist jihadis are portrayed in the most benign manner when their armed insurrections is supported by Britain and the West such as 1980’s Afghanistan or in today’s Syria, where they are referred to in the western media as “moderate rebels.” Thirdly, British historians portray Ibn Saud as an independent force and not as a British instrument used to horn away anyone perceived to be surplus to imperial requirements. For example, Professor Eugene Rogan’s recent study on the history on Arabs claims that “Ibn Saud had no interest in fighting” the Ottoman Empire. This is far from accurate as Ibn Saud joined the war in 1915. He further disingenuously claims that Ibn Saud was only interested in advancing “his own objectives” which fortuitously always dovetailed with those of the British Empire.[23]

In conclusion, one of the most overlooked aspects of the Balfour Declaration is the British Empire’s commitment to “use their best endeavours to facilitate” the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people”. Obviously, many nations in the world today were created by the Empire but what makes Saudi Arabia’s borders distinctive is that its northern and north-eastern borders are the product of the Empire facilitating the creation of Israel. At the very least the dissolution of the two Arab sheikhdoms of Ha’il and Hijaz by Ibn Saud’s Wahhabis is based in their leaders’ rejection to facilitate the British Empire’s Zionist project in Palestine.

Therefore, it is very clear that the British Empire’s drive to impose Zionism in Palestine is embedded in the geographical DNA of contemporary Saudi Arabia. There is further irony in the fact that the two holiest sites in Islam are today governed by the Saudi clan and Wahhabi teachings because the Empire was laying the foundations for Zionism in Palestine in the 1920s. Contemporaneously, it is no surprise that both Israel and Saudi Arabia are keen in militarily intervening on the side of “moderate rebels” i.e. jihadis, in the current war on Syria, a country which covertly and overtly rejects the Zionist colonisation of Palestine.

As the United States, the ‘successor’ to the British Empire in defending western interests in the Middle East, is perceived to be growing more hesitant in engaging militarily in the Middle East, there is an inevitability that the two nations rooted in the Empire’s Balfour Declaration, Israel and Saudi Arabia, would develop a more overt alliance to defend their common interests.


[1] Gary Troeller, “The Birth of Saudi Arabia” (London: Frank Cass, 1976) pg.91.

[2] Askar H. al-Enazy, “ The Creation of Saudi Arabia: Ibn Saud and British Imperial Policy, 1914-1927” (London: Routledge, 2010), pg. 105-106.

[3] ibid., pg. 109.

[4] ibid., pg.111.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid., pg 107.

[8] ibid., pg. 45-46 and pg.101-102.

[9] ibid., pg.104.

[10] ibid.

[11] ibid., pg. 113.

[12] ibid., pg.110 and Troeller, op. cit., pg.166.

[13] al-Enazy op cit., pg.112-125.

[14] al-Enazy, op. cit., pg.120.

[15] ibid., pg.129.

[16] ibid., pg. 106 and Troeller op. cit., 152.

[17] al-Enazy, op. cit., pg. 136 and Troeller op. cit., pg.219.

[18] David Howarth, “The Desert King: The Life of Ibn Saud” (London: Quartet Books, 1980), pg. 133 and Randall Baker, “King Husain and the Kingdom of Hejaz” (Cambridge: The Oleander Press, 1979), pg.201-202.

[19] Quoted in al-Enazy op. cit., pg. 144.

[20] ibid., pg. 138 and Troeller op. cit., pg. 216.

[21]In the original full length BBC iPlayer version this segment begins towards the end at 2 hrs 12 minutes 24 seconds.

[22] al-Enazy op. cit., pg. 153.

[23] Eugene Rogan, “The Arabs: A History”, (London: Penguin Books, 2009), pg.220.

© T. G. Fraser 1995, 2004
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Series Editors’ Preface x
Acknowledgements xii
Glossary xiii
Map: Israel and its Arab Neighbours xiv
Introduction 1
The Origins of the Arab–Israeli Conflict 2
The Impact of the First World War 6
The British Mandate over Palestine 8
The Holocaust 13
American Jewish Support for Zionism 17
1 The Partition of Palestine and
the Creation of Israel 22
British and American Policies towards Palestine 22
The Jewish Revolt 27
The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry 28
The King David Hotel Attack and its Consequences 31
The UNSCOP Report 33
The UNSCOP Report in the General Assembly 36
The End of the British Mandate 39
The Proclamation of the State of Israel 42
The First Arab–Israeli War 43
2 The Problem Consolidated 49
Israel after the 1948–49 War 49
The Palestinians after the 1948–49 War 53
The Egyptian Revolution 56
Deteriorating Arab–Israeli Relations 58
The Gaza Raid and its Consequences 61
Origins of the Suez Crisis 63
Nasser’s Nationalisation of the Suez Canal 65
‘Collusion’ and War 66
Consequences of the Suez Crisis 69
Fatah and the Palestinian Revival 71
3 From War to War 76
Origins of the June War 76
The June War: Israel’s Six Day Victory 80
The Aftermath of War 82
The Palestinian Revival 85
The Israeli–American Link 87
‘Black September’ in Jordan 90
Sadat’s Foreign Policy 91
The Yom Kippur War 95
Kissinger and the Cease-fire 97
Results of the War 99
Kissinger’s ‘Step-by-Step’ Diplomacy 101
‘Reassessment’ and the Return to Diplomacy 103
4 The Search for a Settlement 107
The PLO after the 1973 War 107
The PLO and the Lebanese Civil War 110
Carter and the Return to Diplomacy 112
Menahem Begin’s Electoral Triumph 113
Sadat’s Visit to Jerusalem 116
The Camp David Summit 119
Reagan’s Middle East Policy 122
Israel’s Lebanon War 124
America Intervenes: The Multinational Force 126
The Reagan Peace Plan 128
The Sabra and Shatila Massacres 128
America’s Lebanese Débâcle 130
The Intifada 131
Moves towards a Settlement 134
The Gulf War 135
The Bush–Baker Initiative 136
The Breakthrough 137
5 An Uncertain Path 145
The Peace Process under Arafat, Rabin and Peres 145
The Peace Process in Crisis 148
New Agendas 151
Attempts to Restore the Peace Process 152
The Al Aqsa Intifada 155
The Mitchell and Tenet Plans 157
11 September 159
Violence and Peace Moves 160
‘Operation Defensive Shield’ 162
The Iraq Crisis and the ‘Roadmap for Peace’ 166
Conclusion 175
Bibliography 181
Index 185
There are those, politicians among them, who feel that historians should not teach or write about contemporary events
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has shaped all our lives, whether we were born in the 1940s
or the 1970s.
Many countries – Britain, the United States and Germany
among them – allow access to their public records under a
thirty-year rule, opening up much of the postwar period to
archival research. For more recent events, diaries, memoirs,
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University of Ulster T. G. FRASER
Series Editors’ Preface
I acknowledge the permission of the Controller of Her
Majesty’s Stationery Office for permission to quote Crown
Copyright material.
My thanks are due to Keith Kyle, Paul Lalor and Donette
Murray for their incisive and stimulating comments on parts
of my manuscript. I cannot thank them enough for sharing
their expertise and insights into Middle-Eastern politics and
contemporary American foreign policy. Responsibility for
the interpretation of events is my own. I must also thank
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typescript. My colleague Alan Sharp, Head of the School of
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was an unfailing source of support at a time when it was most
needed, as were Keith Jeffery and Sally Visick.
T. G. F.
Magee campus, University of Ulster
Aliyah term for immigration (technically ‘ascent’) of Jews
into the Land of Israel
A’yan Arab ‘notables’ of Palestine, e.g. the Husseinis
Diaspora term for the ‘Dispersion’ of the Jews
Fatah ‘Movement for the Liberation of Palestine’, principal
Palestinian group, founded by Yasser Arafat
Gush Emunim ‘Block of the Faithful’, a movement in the
1970s and 1980s to settle Jews in the Occupied Territories
Haganah ‘Defence’, the official defence force of the Jewish
Agency, which formed the basis of the Israeli army
Hamas ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’, founded in 1987
Hibbat Zion ‘The Love of Zion’, movement to settle Russian
Jews in Palestine in the 1880s
Intifada ‘Uprising’, used for the revolt in the Occupied
Territories which began in 1987, and again in 2000
Irgun Zvai Leumi ‘National Military Organisation’, rightwing underground army led by Menahem Begin
Knesset name for the Israeli parliament or assembly
Leh’i ‘Fighters for the Freedom of Israel’, right-wing underground group sometimes known as the Stern Gang after
its founder Avraham Stern
Likud ‘Union’, right-wing political coalition led by
Menahem Begin, and subsequently by Yitzhak Shamir,
Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon
Mapai ‘The Workers’ United Party’
Mesha’a system of landholding in Palestine
Al-Nakba ‘the catastrophe or disaster’, term used from 1948
for the fate of the Palestinians
Yishuv term for the Jewish community in Palestine before 1948
Tel Aviv
Ashdod Jerusalem
Dead Sea
Mediterranean Sea
0 50 Miles
Sea of Galilee
Israel and its Arab Neighbours
To say, as the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber did in
June 1947, that the Arab–Israeli conflict is over a land of two
peoples is to grasp the essence of a problem that has been one
of the most intractable, and tragic, in contemporary history
(Mendes-Flohr, 1983). When Buber spoke, the State of Israel
did not yet exist, though its coming was not to be long
delayed. The land was then Filastin to its Arab inhabitants,
Palestine to its British rulers. The fact that Arabs and Jews had
different names for the land they shared reflected their totally
different views of its past, present and future. To the Arabs,
Palestine was an Arab land whose soil they had cultivated for
generations; as such, it was as entitled to independence as any
other Arab country. To the Jews, Israel was a Jewish land that
had been their inspiration throughout 18 centuries of dispersion, dispossession and persecution; as such, its destiny was to
be the fulfillment of their dreams of statehood. With the successful proclamation of the State of Israel in May 1948,
Palestine seemed to have disappeared from the map of the
Middle East, but the Palestinians did not disappear and the
quarrel remained. Five subsequent wars merely confirmed
that the intensity of the Arab–Israeli conflict was undiminished until peace moves between Israel and the Palestinians in
1993 seemed to point to the possibility of an accommodation
between them. Ten years of complex negotiation, false starts,
diplomatic stalemates, violence and reprisal reinforced the
view that the Arab–Israeli conflict held no easy solutions.
The Origins of the Arab–Israeli Conflict
In the 1880s neither Palestine nor Israel existed. The area
that came to embrace the Arab–Israeli conflict had not yet
emerged as a political entity; instead, it consisted of parts of
two administrative districts of the Ottoman (Turkish)
Empire, the Sanjak of Jerusalem and the Vilayet of Beirut.
Since the Turks did not conduct a census, the exact population may only be guessed at, but it is assumed to be just over
600,000, the vast majority of them Arabs, mostly of the Sunni
Muslim religion but with a significant minority of Christians.
Certain towns and cities had well-established economic functions, Jerusalem and Nablus in the interior, and Acre, Jaffa
and Gaza on the coast, but the predominant way of life was
agricultural, some 64 per cent of the population being
dependent on farming according to the 1931 (British)
census. Broadly speaking, Arab cultivators were divided into
the semi-nomadic bedouin of the Negev Desert and parts of
Galilee and the much more numerous fellahin, who farmed
set areas of land. Passionately attached to the land though
the latter were, their actual titles were often less than secure.
Much of the land was held by landlords and in half the villages land was held in common through the mesha’a system,
which parcelled out portions to individuals for two- or threeyear periods. These practices were to leave the fellahin
terribly vulnerable. Leadership lay with the a’yan or ‘notables’, an urban élite often with extensive landholdings.
Prominent among them were the Husseinis, Nashashibis,
Khalidis and Nusseibehs who were to provide the political
élite for much of the period. These Arab families exerted
influence through a kind of mutual interdependence with
the Turks. Few, it seems, were attracted by the idea of full
Arab independence, but many would have preferred some
kind of increased autonomy within the empire. In that sense
the Arabs were little different to the various nationalities
within the Habsburg Empire in Europe. European comparisons mislead, however, for this was a deeply-rooted Arab
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
society comfortable in the culture and way of life of the
Middle East.
From 1517 the Arab lands of the eastern Mediterranean
and Egypt were part of the Ottoman Empire ruled from
Constantinople. As an empire which at its height took in
almost all of the Arab Middle East, North Africa and much
of the Balkans, it had to accommodate diverse communities
and religious minorities, such as the Jews and various forms
of Christianity. For the most part it did so with subtlety and
sophistication, the empire providing the region with stability
and cohesion. But after the siege of Vienna in 1683 it was an
empire in retreat, first by the resurgent Habsburgs, then by
the stirring nationalities of the Balkans, and finally by the
expansionism of Britain and France. For much of the nineteenth century the fate of the empire, the so-called ‘Eastern
Question’, seemed to dominate the chancellories of Europe.
That Arab intellectuals would catch something of the spirit
of nationalism affecting so much of Europe at that time was
almost certain, though before the twentieth century nothing
much seems to have stirred beyond small groups of interested, educated Arabs in Beirut and Damascus. By general
consent, the starting-point for Arab nationalism was the
Turkish revolution of 1908, which resulted in the coming to
power of the ‘Young Turks’ whose policy was to assert the
Turkish character of the empire, pulling it away from what
had become a partnership with Arab élites. From that point
certain Arabs began looking for more autonomy for their
parts of the empire. It was this sentiment that the British
were able to tap once war broke out in 1914, though it must
be borne in mind that Arab nationalism was still a very
tender growth in the early part of the century.
What could ultimately fuel Arab nationalism was a sense of
the glory of their past before the Turkish conquest. For most
Arabs that past was associated above all with the life and
teachings of Muhammad and the power of his message,
embodied in the Qur’an and expressed through the Arabic
language. The Muslim faith gave the Arab Middle East,
North Africa and Iberia a civilisation of depth and sophistication. Eleventh-century Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba far
surpassed their counterparts in Christian Europe in the size
of their populations and the range of their civic amenities.
It was the Arabs who preserved much of the teachings and
philosophy of classical Greece. Arab scholars developed
mathematics, medicine and science, passing ‘algebra’
and ‘alchemy’ into European languages. Compared with the
largely manufactured cultures of many nineteenth- and
twentieth-century European nationalisms, Arab nationalism
could draw strength and inspiration from centuries when
the Middle East was at the centre of world civilisation.
In the 1880s, Arab society was forced to confront the
unanticipated challenge of Jews anxious to re-create their
own way of life in their ancestral homeland. From the time
of the Jewish Diaspora (‘Dispersion’) at the hands of the
Romans, Jews – whether in Europe or the Middle East – had
never forgotten the source of their faith. Their religious
longing had been symbolised by the Western Wall, the one
fragment of their Temple that the Romans had allowed to
stand as a reminder of what had been lost. Some struggled
to sustain a Jewish presence, pious Jews who prayed and studied over the centuries in the holy cities of Jerusalem, Safed,
Tiberias and Hebron. Overwhelmingly, however, the focus of
Jewish life moved to Europe where, like Christianity, it developed with, and out of the ruins of, the Roman Empire.
A minority in medieval Europe, Jews often led an unenviable
existence, shunted into unpopular occupations, restricted
to certain areas and castigated as the killers of Christ.
Throughout the centuries, when they were pushed to the
margins of European life, they found strength and solace in
their religious faith, central to which was a longing for Zion
or Jerusalem. It was not until the French Revolution spread
new ideas of tolerance across Europe that their position
seemed set to improve. As new opportunities beckoned,
men such as Benjamin Disraeli in Britain, Jacques
Offenbach in France, and Felix Mendelssohn and Heinrich
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Heine in Germany contributed their talents to the general
advance of European civilisation. In western and central
Europe the signs seemed hopeful. Jewish banks and department stores helped generate economic progress and raise
the standard of life. Jewish doctors and scientists fought disease. In towns and cities across Europe Jewish artisans
sought a modest living. In return, Jews hoped that their services would be valued by their fellow-citizens, that they would
be liked and respected. But new doctrines of nationalism
and racialism were arising in late nineteenth-century Europe
which were to confound these hopes, and lead to the greatest tragedy in Jewish history.
The largest numbers of Jews did not by then live in western
and central Europe but in the Russian Empire, where they
were confined to the Pale of Settlement, restricted in their
access to education and entry into the professions. After the
murder of Tsar Alexander II by Russian revolutionaries in
1881 popular sentiment was whipped up against the Jews; the
‘pogroms’ which followed introduced a new word into
English. Moreover, the ‘May Laws’ of 1882 subjected the Jews
to a more official form of discrimination, expelling them
from towns and villages where they had been allowed to
settle. Out of these persecutions, which continued down to
1914, came the great mass Jewish migration to the United
States which, within two generations, saw them transformed
from the ‘huddled masses’ immortalised on the Statue of
Liberty into one of the most vigorous groups in the country.
For others the source of inspiration lay elsewhere, in the land
of their ancestors. Out of this came the movement known as
Hibbat Zion (‘The Love of Zion’), which in the 1880s began
to channel small groups of idealists to settle in Palestine.
Among these early Jewish settlements were Rishon l’Zion,
Petah Tikvah and Rehovoth near Jaffa and Rosh Pinna in
Galilee, their survival owing much to the generosity of Baron
Edmond de Rothschild (Laqueur, 1989).
These settlements of the First Aliyah marked the beginning of the modern Jewish return to Palestine, but the
origins of political Zionism are to be found in events in Paris
and, more especially, Vienna. No city in Europe was more
intellectually alive at the end of the nineteenth century and
beginning of the twentieth than Vienna, with Jews like
Gustav Mahler in music, Arthur Schnitzler in literature
and Siegmund Freud in psychoanalysis well to the fore.
Prominent in its journalistic life was Theodor Herzl who
seemed to have erased his Jewish origins to identify with the
city’s German–Austrian culture. But the city had its troubles
and these surfaced in 1895 when the Christian Socialist
Dr Karl Lueger was elected mayor on an openly anti-Semitic
platform. The winter of 1894–95 also saw Herzl in Paris for
the trial and degradation of the Jewish army officer, Alfred
Dreyfus, convicted, falsely as it turned out, of betraying
military secrets to Germany. Appalled by the degree of antiSemitism thus exposed in these two cities, Herzl’s thoughts
turned to the Jewish future, the results being published in
1896 in his little book, Der Judenstaat (‘The Jewish State’ or,
more correctly, ‘The Jew State’). The book’s thesis was held
in its title; namely, that as the Jews were a people who had
not been allowed to assimilate into European life, they
would have to unite in a state of their own. The following
year, the first Zionist Congress was held under Herzl’s leadership at Basle in Switzerland, proclaiming as its goal the
creation of a ‘home’ for the Jews in Palestine (Bein, 1941;
Herzl, 1972). Although Herzl died in 1904, the Zionist movement spent the next decade expanding its base amongst
the Jews of the Diaspora and building new settlements in
Palestine, even though it remained a minority movement in
world Jewry, not least amongst the highly-assimilated Jews of
Germany and Austria–Hungary.
The Impact of the First World War
Turkey’s entry into the First World War in November 1914
brought into focus the fate of the Ottoman Empire. In order
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
to embarrass the Turks, Britain was prepared to court the
Arabs through the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein head of the
Hashemite family. In the course of 1915 Hussein negotiated
with the British High Commissioner in Cairo, Sir Henry
McMahon, who gave what the Arabs believed to be important pledges on their future independence in return for
their help against the Turks. These pledges contained a
specific exclusion:
The two districts of Mersina and Alexandretta and
portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of
Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo cannot be said to
be purely Arab, and should be excluded from the limits
While the Arabs assumed that this referred to portions of
what became Syria and Lebanon, the British later claimed
that the excluded area was Palestine, despite the fact that
neither ‘Palestine’ nor ‘Jerusalem’ appeared in any of the
documents (Cmd., 5957; Fraser, 1980; Fromkin, 1989). It was
to become a bitter source of controversy between them.
By the summer of 1917 the British Government had begun
to look to the Zionist movement as another possible ally in a
war which seemed to be going badly for the Allies on all
fronts. The British Zionists were supremely fortunate in having a diplomat of genius who was positioned to influence the
views of key politicians. This was Dr Chaim Weizmann, a
Russian-born chemist teaching at Manchester University.
In pre-war Manchester he had come into contact with a
number of leading Liberal and Conservative politicians,
including former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. During the
war his work on the production of acetone, needed for
the making of cordite, brought him into close contact with
the Minister of Munitions, David Lloyd George. By 1917,
Lloyd George and Balfour, now Prime Minister and Foreign
Secretary, were searching for anything that might help lift
the war effort. The Zionists, it was felt, might be useful in two
respects: in helping to sustain the Russian front, which
was in danger of collapsing altogether after the February
Revolution, and in trying to galvanise the American war
effort. Both were illusions, for Russian and most American
Jews were too poor to have any influence, but the British
Government was desperate enough to grasp at anything.
Weizmann proved the ideal conduit. The result, on
2 November 1917, was the Balfour Declaration which
assured the British Zionist Federation that:
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish
people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate
the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice
the civil and religious rights of existing non Jewish
communities in Palestine, or the rights and political
status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
(Cmd., 5479; Stein, 1961)
Just over a month later the British army entered Jerusalem.
The British Mandate over Palestine
Victory over Turkey left Britain in control of Palestine for
the next 30 years, not as a colony but as a Mandate from the
newly-established League of Nations. From the start British
rule was handicapped by the incompatibility of the promises
made during the war. These were apparent in the terms of
the Mandate, which were approved by the League in July
1922: Britain was to be:
responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative, and economic conditions as will
secure the establishment of the Jewish national home,
as laid down in the preamble, and the development of
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding
the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of
Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.
The problems associated with such a policy had already surfaced in the form of serious Arab disturbances in 1920 and
1921, directed both at British rule and Jewish settlement.
Faced with the extent of discontent, the British sought to
reassure the Arabs in a memorandum issued in 1922 by the
Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill, in which significant
qualifications were put on the term ‘national home’, which
now became ‘a centre in which the Jewish people as a whole
may take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest and a
pride’ (Cmd., 1700; Fraser, 1980; Fromkin, 1989). This fell
far short of how the Zionists hoped the national home would
develop, particularly since Churchill also confined Palestine
to west of the River Jordan. To the east was created
Transjordan, to be ruled by the Hashemite Abdullah.
During the 1920s the national home did expand, though
not dramatically: in 1922 Jews accounted for 83,790 of a total
population of 752,048; by 1929 they were 156,481 in a population of 992,559 (Anon., 1939). More significant than their
numbers were the institutions that the terms of the Mandate
allowed them to build up. Jewish sympathy in the Diaspora
was mustered through the World Zionist Organization in
which Dr Weizmann commanded immense prestige. This
was in close contact with the Jewish Agency for Palestine set
up under the Mandate, which rapidly established itself as a
government for the Jews of Palestine, buying land, and
building schools and hospitals. Of immense symbolism for
the revival of Jewish life in Palestine was the foundation in
1925 of the Hebrew University on Jerusalem’s Mount
Scopus. The Agency’s dominant figure by the mid-1930s,
David Ben-Gurion, stood in stark contrast to the intellectual
and cosmopolitan Weizmann. Born David Gryn in Plonsk
near Warsaw in 1886, at the age of 19 Ben-Gurion came to
Palestine to work on the land, almost dying of malaria.
A strong socialist, he was instrumental in founding and
directing the Histradut, which sought to organise Jewish
workers on social democratic lines, and the Mapai (‘The
Workers’ United Party’), which became the dominant political voice in Jewish Palestine. A hard-driving man of robust
intelligence, Ben-Gurion was to give matchless service to
Zionism, even though he was less decisive in practice than
the image he liked to portray. The philosophy of Ben-Gurion
and his colleagues was that they were ‘building Zion’, forging a Jewish nation through manual work, something which
had been denied the Jews of the Diaspora. It was a vision that
took little account of the Arab majority (Sachar, 1976).
Arab institutions could not match those being developed
by the Jews. The Arab Executive proved a feeble vehicle for
their aspirations, beset by feuds between followers of the
Husseinis and Nashashibis. In 1921 the principal office of
Arab Palestine, Mufti of Jerusalem, was given to Haj Amin alHusseini, who had declared himself willing to work with
the British. A strong nationalist, Haj Amin began to worry the
British authorities by the late 1920s, and by the mid-1930s he
rapidly assumed the role of arch-villain. In practice, though
his dedication to the Palestinian cause was absolute, he was to
prove unequal to the task of leadership, in some respects
disastrously so (Mattar, 1988; Rogan and Shlaim, 2001).
Palestine was largely quiet between 1922 and 1928, when
violence returned in the form of disturbances between Arabs
and Jews at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. More serious confrontations at the Western Wall in August 1929 resulted in a
wave of violence in which 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were
killed. Particularly worrying for the Jews were attacks on the
long-established Orthodox communities of Hebron, where
60 were killed, and Safed, where 45 were killed and
wounded. The events of 1929 cruelly exposed the fault line
in mandatory Palestine. Two British Commissions, under Sir
Walter Shaw and Sir John Hope-Simpson, then attempted to
redefine Britain’s policy in Palestine, identifying Arab fear of
Jewish immigration and land purchase at the root of the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
difficulties. Hope-Simpson’s recommendation that the
nature of the land would only allow for a further 20,000
Jewish immigrants provoked inevitable Zionist fury. When
Weizmann was joined by leading Conservatives in denouncing the proposals, the government found it necessary to
retreat. In February 1931, the British Prime Minister Ramsay
MacDonald, wrote telling Weizmann that the government
had no intention of prohibiting Jewish immigration. For the
time being, it seemed, the Palestine situation had stabilised.
It was not to remain so for very long, for forces were at
work in Europe that were permanently to change the nature
of the Arab–Jewish conflict. On 30 January 1933, Adolf
Hitler became German Chancellor, and by March had
secured his dictatorship. The systematic exclusion of Jews
from German national life soon followed. As a young man in
Vienna before the First World War, Hitler had absorbed the
anti-Semitism which had brought Karl Lueger to power. As a
front-line German soldier in the war, he had only been able
to come to terms with defeat by blaming Jews and revolutionaries for undermining the country’s war effort. The reasons for Hitler’s obsessive anti-Semitism may never be known
for certain, but it was deadly enough. Faced with Hitler’s
regime, and anti-Semitism in Poland and Romania, Jews
began to leave Europe in large numbers. Restrictions on
immigration into the United States left Palestine as the only
option. By 1936, the Jewish population had grown to 370,483
in a total Palestinian population of 1,336,518 (Anon., 1939).
This new Jewish population differed from previous migrations both in extent and character, for the new immigrants
were overwhelmingly attracted by the urban lifestyles of Tel
Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem.
An Arab reaction against what they saw as the unwelcome
transformation of their country was unavoidable, particularly as the events of 1931 had apparently confirmed the
Zionists’ ability to intervene in London. The ‘Arab Revolt’
began on 15 April 1936 with the murder of a Jew near
Nablus. It was followed by the formation of the Arab Higher
Committee with Haj Amin as its leading figure. The scale of
the uprising led to a large-scale deployment of British forces,
but also official goodwill towards the Haganah, the underground defence force of the Jewish Agency. The Revolt ate
into British military resources at a time of increasing international tension in Europe and the Mediterranean, making
it necessary to attempt once again a political solution. The
Palestine Royal Commission under Lord Peel was charged
with investigating the underlying causes of the disturbances
and recommending how to deal with the ‘legitimate grievances’ of Arabs and Jews. Its most articulate member,
Professor Reginald Coupland of Oxford University, soon
came to the conclusion that there were two civilisations in
Palestine, an Arab one which was Asian and a Jewish one
which was European. As two such contrasting peoples could
never develop a sense of service to a single state, Coupland’s
proposed solution was partition. Not only did he succeed in
converting his fellow-members to this novel idea, but he convinced Weizmann who became a consistent supporter of partition. Not all Zionists were convinced and the Arabs were
implacably opposed; nevertheless, the British Government
did flirt with the idea in the summer of 1937 once
the Commission had published its recommendation.
Coupland’s work was important, for it provided the intellectual basis for the partition of Palestine which came 10 years
later (Fraser, 1984).
By the end of 1937, the British had come to regret their
brief support for partition, for the force of Arab opposition
had to be taken into account at a time when the international situation was growing so dangerous. A second
Commission, under Sir John Woodhead, was sent to
Palestine, ostensibly to draw up the details of partition, but
with confidential instructions to kill it off. By the time it
reported in September 1938, the Munich Crisis was signalling the likelihood of war. It was now more than ever necessary to secure Arab goodwill, not just because Palestine was
tying down troops but because Britain needed to secure the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
oil of the Middle East as well as communications to India,
Australia and the East. A new statement of policy was prepared by the Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, which
clearly signalled the end of Britain’s commitment to the
Jews. Published weeks before the outbreak of war, it conceded that Palestine would become independent in 10 years’
time as a united country. Jewish migration would be limited
to 75,000, thus confirming their minority status, at which
point Britain would consider its obligation to foster the
national home to be at an end (Bethell, 1979). Haj Amin, by
this time in exile, was not attracted by MacDonald’s offer,
despite the fact that other Palestinian leaders realised how
far it went in their direction. Making his way to Germany, his
well-publicised meeting with Hitler, and efforts to recruit
Bosnian Muslims into the SS, were to do the Palestinian
cause incalculable harm, associating it with a genocidal
regime (Rogan and Shlaim, 2001). Britain’s principal
Arab allies, however, Abdullah of Transjordan and Ibn
Saud of Saudi Arabia, were able to use the new policy to
great effect in keeping the Middle East quiet in the Allied
interest. Generals Wavell, Auchinleck and Montgomery were
able to fight their battles, in time the region became the
launching pad for the invasion of southern Europe, through
it supplies could reach the Soviet Union, and, above all, the
oil reserves of the Middle East were an essential element in
Allied victory.
The Holocaust
For the Jews, MacDonald’s policy was an act of the deepest
betrayal at the time of their greatest peril. In November
1938, the Reichskristallnacht, when the Nazis unleashed the
full terror of the state against the Jews, had revealed the true
nature of the German Reich. As Jews began to leave
Germany in increasing numbers, Hitler made a speech on
30 January 1939, the sixth anniversary of his coming to
power, in which he predicted the destruction of the Jews of
Europe should war be ‘forced’ upon him. It was part of his
preparation for the war he had decided to launch, and his
chilling reference to the Jews was no accident.
This speech of Hitler’s is one to which he often returned,
both publicly and in private conversation, and there is little
reason to doubt that it represented his true purpose. While
the end result of Hitler’s policies is not in question, Nazi
policy towards the Jews went through various phases. Before
the war their tactic was to encourage Jewish emigration.
At the time of the fall of France in July 1940 the SS toyed with
the idea of transporting Europe’s Jews to Madagascar in the
Indian Ocean, though this would have been nothing more
than a large concentration camp. Britain’s refusal to come to
terms with Nazi Germany put an end to this scheme, if it ever
had any substance. In the meantime, the SS were reorganising eastern Europe according to the racial policies of Hitler
and the Nazi leadership. An extensive area of western
Poland, renamed the Reichsgau Wartheland, was annexed to
the Reich with a view to its ruthless ‘Germanisation’ at the
expense of its Polish and Jewish inhabitants. The rump of
Poland was designated the General Government. In both
these areas the SS had control of some two million Jews who
were systematically herded into sealed ghettos, notably
Warsaw, Lodz and Crakow, over the first two years of the war.
Although many acts of brutality were carried out against Jews
in this period, the Nazis’ ultimate purpose was as yet unclear.
On 22 June 1941 the defining moment of Hitler’s Third
Reich arrived with the invasion of the Soviet Union. This was
a war unlike those waged in western Europe in 1940, for its
purpose was both to create Lebensraum for Germany in the
east and to destroy Bolshevism, long conflated in Hitler’s
mind as ‘Judaeo-Marxism’. It was to be a pitiless struggle in
which the terms of the Geneva Convention did not apply.
The Wehrmacht’s early victories left some four million Jews
under German control. Mass killings occurred from the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
start, culminating in the massacre of some 34,000 Jews in
Kiev at the end of September 1941 in retaliation for sabotage
in the city. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of
Soviet prisoners of war were being murdered or dying as the
result of starvation and ill-treatment. The twentieth century
had entered a new phase in which genocide was no longer a
moral impossibility, certainly not by the SS leadership, which
saw as its mission the ‘racial purity’ of the eastern lands and
which had long since placed itself outside any legal, ethical
or religious constraints. Moreover, a new sense of radicalism,
even nihilism, had entered Nazi politics, marked by Hitler’s
reckless declaration of war on the United States, the world’s
most powerful economy, and by the reality of defeat outside
Moscow. As Hitler’s ill-prepared soldiers faced their first
Russian winter, moves were under way to ensure that whatever the war might hold, the Jews would not survive it.
While no one knows for certain when the precise orders
for the extermination of Europe’s Jews were given, the key
document appears to have been the directive issued on
31 July 1941 by Hermann Goering to Reinhard Heydrich,
deputy head of the SS, charging him with a ‘total solution of
the Jewish question’. That the order was made with Hitler’s
knowledge and approval cannot be doubted, and it was put
into effect over the winter of 1941–42. In the autumn of
1941 the remaining Jews of Germany were transported for
‘resettlement’ in the east. The first mass gassing of Jews took
place in December with the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto in
the Wartheland, where many of the Reich Jews were being
transported. It was probably to introduce some system into
what was taking place piecemeal in the Wartheland and
General Government that on 20 January 1942 Heydrich convened a conference of representatives of various government
agencies at Wannsee outside Berlin. What Heydrich wanted
to get across was that the ‘final solution’ for the Jews would
be carried out across occupied Europe and that the principle was to be that Jews were to be divided into those fit for
work and those judged unfit. The former would be worked
to death in forced labour camps, the latter selected for extermination. Although this was framed in suitably euphemistic
terms, it is, in fact, what happened on a systematic basis from
then until the early months of 1945 (Roseman, 2002).
It is hard to convey in clinical prose the true horror of
what happened in the camps of eastern Europe during this
period. Four camps, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor and
Treblinka, existed for the sole purpose of extermination.
But it is the vast Auschwitz–Birkenau complex, capable of
holding over 100,000 prisoners, that has come to symbolise
what came to be known as the Holocaust, for on arrival Jews
were selected by SS doctors either for a quick, if terrifying,
death in the gas chambers or a more prolonged one in the
camp’s chemical factories in appalling living conditions,
subject to the whims of their SS guards. In what has been
described as the industrialisation of mass murder, between
5,600,000 and 6,900,000 Jews were killed, a record etched for
ever on the record of European civilisation (Reitlinger, 1953;
Bullock, 1991). These events are fundamental to any understanding of the Arab–Israeli conflict. They led to what the
American Department of State described as a ‘cosmic’ urge
on the part of survivors to secure a Jewish state. They also
meant that in the future Jewish leaders would think long and
hard before embarking on any policy that might lead their
people to another such tragedy. For Jews the Holocaust,
coming as it did after centuries of European anti-Semitism,
confirmed the need to secure their future in their own
What compounded this tragedy for the Jews was the seeming indifference of the Allies to what was happening, not
least Britain’s continuing determination to bar Palestine to
Jewish refugees. In December 1941, the SS Struma arrived at
Istanbul with 769 Jewish refugees. Denied entry by the Turks
and forbidden by the British to proceed to Palestine, the
unseaworthy vessel was forced to leave harbour and sank
with all its passengers. While Jews had no alternative but to
fight or escape Nazism, such incidents confirmed the belief
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
that ultimate protection could only come in a state where
Jews controlled their own destiny. With this aim in mind,
the Haganah began to collect arms. More ominous for the
British were the activities of two other underground groups,
the Irgun Zvai Leumi (‘National Military Organisation’) and
Leh’i (‘Fighters for the Freedom of Israel’), which represented a right-wing tradition within Zionism at odds with the
Jewish Agency and the official movement. The Irgun was
drawn from supporters of Vladimir Jabotinsky, whose
Revisionists had seceded from the World Zionist
Organization in 1935 to become the New Zionists. Central to
Jabotinsky’s vision was that the Jews had the right to their
homeland on both banks of the Jordan, contrary to
Churchill’s 1922 decision (Fromkin, 1989; Shlaim, 2000).
Detested by Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky thus began the basic
split which was to characterise both Zionism and the politics
of the future State of Israel. In February 1944, the Irgun, led
by a young Polish Jew, Menahem Begin, proclaimed that the
British had betrayed the Jewish people, and declared war on
the Mandate (Silver, 1984). The Leh’i was the creation of
another Polish Jew, Avraham Stern, whose bitterness against
the British had led him to make overtures to the Germans.
Although Stern was killed by the police in 1942, the organisation survived under the leadership of Nathan Yellin-Mor.
On 6 November 1944, its members assassinated Lord Moyne,
the British minister in the Middle East. Although Leh’i was
known to represent no more than the extremist tip of
Zionism, the action symbolised the gulf between Britain and
the Jews. It alienated Prime Minister Churchill, a close friend
of Moyne, who had been planning to move quickly towards
Jewish statehood after the war.
American Jewish Support for Zionism
Although it was not immediately apparent, British intentions
towards Palestine no longer mattered quite so much, for the
decisive voice in world affairs was rapidly becoming that of
the United States. Moreover, the unfolding tragedy in
Europe was increasingly engaging the emotions of the
American Jewish community. Since the American Jews were
to become such an influential factor in the Arab–Israeli
conflict after 1945, it is essential to sketch something of their
origins and concerns. Jews had lived in North America since
early colonial times, the first Dutch Jews arriving in New
Amsterdam in 1654. It was only in the mid-nineteenth century with the arrival of German Jews in the aftermath of the
failed revolutions of 1848 that Jews started to become a significant element in the American population. But it really
took the mass arrival from the 1880s of Jews fleeing poverty,
persecution and general lack of opportunity in the Russian
Empire to transform the community. Between 1881 and
1914, some 2,019,000 came to the United States. Overwhelmingly, they settled in New York, at first in the slums of
Manhattan’s Lower East Side, then, as prosperity grew, moving in large numbers to Brooklyn and the Bronx. In the free
atmosphere of the United States they flourished in ways that
would have been inconceivable in eastern Europe, though
prejudice against them was certainly present. The ‘German’
Jews of the mid-nineteenth century had already made a
name for themselves in publishing, journalism and retailing.
The great department stores of New York – Macy’s,
Bloomingdale’s and Gimbel’s – were the products of such
German Jewish enterprise, as was Chicago’s mail-order
empire, Sears Roebuck, whose catalogues brought nothing
less than a social revolution to the lives of ordinary
Americans. The achievements of the later immigrants from
eastern Europe were no less remarkable. Perhaps their
unique contribution to their new country was in popular
culture and in music. Building on the vigorous musical tradition of east European Jewry, they established themselves in
the world of the theatre and the rapidly evolving motionpicture industry. Seeing the potential of the cinema, and
barred from following a variety of other professions, men
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
such as the Warner Brothers, Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B.
Mayer defined what was to become the mass art form of the
twentieth century. Twentieth-century American musical
life is studded with names like Aaron Copeland, Leonard
Bernstein, George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Jascha
Heifetz and Isaac Stern. One son of a Jewish immigrant
contributed more to American popular music than any
other single individual: Irving Berlin, whose songs helped
carry Americans through two world wars and lift them
through the gloom of the Great Depression.
It would be naïve to imagine that American Jews did not
have to confront anti-Semitism. Although it was not part of
state policy as it was in parts of Europe, groups and individuals like the Ku Klux Klan, the car manufacturer Henry Ford
and the ‘Radio Priest’ Father Coughlin maintained a stream
of crude, anti-Jewish propaganda between the two world
wars, while in a more discreet manner universities maintained quotas on Jewish students, and golf clubs excluded
Jews from membership. The new immigration laws of the
early 1920s, which discriminated against eastern and southern Europeans, were a severe blow to Jews, with fatal results
once Hitler’s persecutions began. Zionism was present
amongst American Jews almost from the start. Flags had
flown at half mast in the Lower East Side in 1904 when news
came of Theodor Herzl’s death and a number of American
Jews, for example, the eminent jurists Felix Frankfurter and
Louis D. Brandeis, became keen Zionists. Even so, only a
minority of American Jews gave Zionism their active support
before the late 1930s when Hitler’s actions gave them cause
to reconsider.
By then, Jews seemed well on their way to becoming firmly
established in American life. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election
as President in 1932 opened up new opportunities, for he
had a number of prominent Jews as his advisers. But ultimately Roosevelt became a disappointment, for he did little
to help Europe’s Jews by easing immigration quotas. This
was graphically illustrated in May 1939 when the St Louis was
forced to return from Havana to Hamburg with almost 900
Jewish passengers who had believed they were about to
become eligible for entry into the United States. Nor, once
news of the Holocaust began to reach the United States in
1942, did American Jews feel that Roosevelt had done
enough to stop the tragedy, though, in truth, he had no
influence whatsoever over the Nazi leadership.
What they did hope to do was enlist Roosevelt’s support
over Palestine. At a conference in May 1942, convened at
New York’s Biltmore Hotel, the old Basle Programme of
1897 was significantly altered; Palestine was to become a
Jewish Commonwealth, in short a state. Although Zionists
had always assumed they would have a state in Palestine, this
now came officially into the public domain, with American
Jews well to the fore in pushing its claims. Their feelings
were channelled through the American Zionist Emergency
Council, headed by Rabbi Stephen Wise, a strong Democrat
and Roosevelt supporter, and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, an
equally committed Republican.
Although the Zionists had high hopes of Roosevelt, not
least because he had brought a number of Jews into important posts in his administration, his sympathies remained
elusive. Only too aware of the importance of the Middle
East, notably its oil, to the Allied war effort, he was anxious
that this should not be endangered by overt support for
Jewish claims in Palestine. Hence, in May 1943 he assured
Ibn Saud of Saudia Arabia that nothing would be done to
alter the status of Palestine ‘without full consultation with
both Arabs and Jews’. In 1944, he moved to ward off
pro-Zionist resolutions in Congress. This was presidential
election year, with Roosevelt set on securing an unprecedented fourth term which would allow him to carry out his
pledge of winning the war and winning the peace that followed. His vice-presidential nominee was Senator Harry S.
Truman, untried in foreign affairs but well-placed to ensure
that Roosevelt’s post-war plans would secure the necessary
backing in Congress. Both the Democratic and Republican
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
election platforms endorsed the Biltmore Programme,
though there was nothing surprising in political parties making the correct noises towards ethnic groups at election
time. Even so, in October 1944 Roosevelt felt it necessary to
assure a pro-Zionist senator that, if re-elected, he would help
to bring about the ‘establishment of Palestine as a free and
independent Jewish commonwealth’.
Roosevelt was well aware that as both Arabs and Jews were
laying claim to Palestine it was going to become a burning
issue for the post-war world. Hence, in February 1945 he
broke his return journey from the Yalta Conference to meet
Ibn Saud in Egypt. The Saudi ruler seemingly convinced him
that if restitution were to be made to the Jews for what they
had suffered, then that should fall to the Axis countries and
not the Arabs. Conscious of the strength of Arab opposition
to Zionism, Roosevelt assured Ibn Saud that ‘he would do
nothing to assist the Jews against the Arabs and would make
no move hostile to the Arab people’ (Fraser, 1989). When
Roosevelt died on 12 April, he had put the United States in
the same position as Britain at the end of the previous war
by leading both sides to believe that they had his support.
Hitler’s defeat and suicide shortly afterwards meant that the
Arab–Jewish conflict over Palestine was going to be resolved
in a world totally removed from that of 1939. If nothing else,
Hitler had seen to that.
British and American Policies towards Palestine
With the end of the war came the ‘Jewish Revolt’, which
drove the British out of Palestine and prepared the way for
Jewish statehood. Despite the intense feeling of betrayal over
the 1939 White Paper and continuing tensions between the
Yishuv and the mandatory authorities during the war,
the leaders of the Jewish Agency did not initially have the
sense that conflict was inevitable, for in July 1945 Britain
elected a new Labour government which was believed to be
sympathetic to their aims. The British Labour Party had long
professed a fellow-feeling with Zionism, which shared its
social democratic ethos, and at its Blackpool conference in
1944 overwhelmingly endorsed the principle of a Jewish
Palestine. But the initial enthusiasm with which Ben-Gurion
and his colleagues greeted the election of their fellowsocialists soon turned to incredulity and disillusion when it
became clear that the 1939 White Paper policy still stood.
Behind the Labour government’s apparent volte-face was
the formidable figure of Ernest Bevin, a former trade-union
leader now Foreign Secretary. A hard, unsentimental man,
Bevin was not likely to be moved by his party’s traditional
sympathy with Zionism as much as by his view of Britain’s
needs in the immediate post-war world. It was an analysis created and sustained by permanent Foreign Office officials
who had long since concluded that Britain’s interests could
only be served by a pro-Arab policy. Principal spokesman for
that view was Bevin’s chief adviser on Palestine, Harold
Beeley, who had been regarded with great suspicion by
Zionists even before the war and who was to become their
bête noire as he increasingly seemed to be influencing his
chief against them. But Bevin was not likely to be easily
swayed against his better judgement and he was not long in
office before he came to share the Foreign Office’s pro-Arab
sympathies. At the heart of his concerns was Britain’s need
to retain access to the oilfields of the Middle East and the
pipelines which crossed Arab territory to the terminal at
Haifa. This was believed to be essential to the economic
reconstruction of a Britain which had been crippled by the
financial costs of six years of war. In short, the Labour Party’s
emotional and ideological sympathy with Zionism was
shunted aside by the Labour government’s hard-headed
view of where Britain’s interests lay in the Middle East.
Under Bevin, Britain stood by the provisions of the 1939
White Paper (Louis, 1984).
Much of the Arab Middle East still lay under British influence or control, but its politics were febrile and its structures
brittle and undeveloped. In addition to the Aden colony,
Britain had extensive interests in the Gulf, and retained two
air bases in Iraq. Of the states bordering Palestine, Lebanon
and Syria had been freed from the French Mandate, but only
just, in 1943 and 1946. Egypt was uneasily linked to Britain
by the 1936 treaty, the powerful symbol of which was the
Suez Canal Zone, its future already challenged by the
Egyptians in June 1945. Transjordan became independent in
1946, but was still tightly bound to Britain. If Arab opinion
smarted under these conditions, Palestine provided a particular focus for their frustrations. But at what was to prove the
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
decisive moment in their history, the Palestinians lacked the
political structures and leadership they needed. Haj Amin,
an exile since 1937, made his way at the end of the war to
Egypt and Lebanon, but his knowledge of conditions in
Palestine was inevitably second-hand, and not everyone
trusted his judgement. An alternative leadership failed to
emerge, however. The Palestinians faced the further problems that they had always lacked political structures to mirror those built up so carefully by the Jewish Agency, and that
they had never really recovered from the British repression
of their revolt in the years 1936–39. In short, the Arab world
in general, and Arab Palestine in particular, was in poor
condition to resist the determined challenge soon to be
mounted by the Zionists (Kirk, 1954; Mattar, 1988; Rogan
and Shlaim, 2001).
Bevin’s view that the West’s interests lay with the Arabs
found a strong echo in Washington where the officials of the
Department of State broadly shared the perceptions of their
counterparts in the Foreign Office. The Department’s leading Arabist was the experienced diplomat, now head of the
Division of Near Eastern and African Affairs, Loy W.
Henderson. A former specialist on the Soviet Union whose
jaundiced views of Stalin became inconvenient during the
war, in 1942 Henderson was posted off as ambassador to
Baghdad. His travels in the Middle East taught him the
degree of Arab opposition to Jewish claims in Palestine, from
which he drew two lessons. The first was that Jewish statehood could only come about through violence. Secondly,
even if statehood could be attained, the unremitting nature
of Arab hostility would leave the Jews in the unenviable position of replacing the ghettos of Europe for a larger one in
the Middle East. A surer future, he felt, would be found by
settling in the United States, Latin America and the British
Commonwealth. Such arguments did not endear him to
American Zionists and others in Washington who were advising the President that a Jewish state could be accomplished
without war, but Henderson was never afraid to repeat them.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
His views became those of the Department, establishing a
tradition of pro-Arab attitudes amongst foreign policy
professionals that proved extremely persistent.
But responsibility for the making of American foreign policy rests ultimately with the President. Harry S. Truman, who
had succeeded on Roosevelt’s death, was acutely conscious
of that prerogative. His entire background had, in a sense,
immunised him against the kind of advice coming from
Henderson and his colleagues. Unlike his immediate predecessors as President, Truman had no college education, and
his feisty sense of self-reliance made him suspect the professionals, the ‘striped pants boys’ as he liked to call them, with
their apparent Ivy League condescension. Thus the tone of
the Department’s first approach to him on Palestine, only six
days after taking up office, with the patronising advice that
the matter was ‘highly complex’ and that he should only take
action after seeking ‘full and detailed advice’, proved to be
uniquely ill-chosen. Far from following the Department’s
position on Palestine, Truman’s earlier career meant that he
was likely to respond positively to the Jews. During his service in the First World War he had made friends with a Jewish
sergeant called Eddie Jacobson. After the war the two men set
up a haberdashery business in Kansas City, only to see their
hopes ruined in the Depression. For years they battled their
way back to solvency. When Truman went to Washington in
the 1930s as Senator for Missouri, he was befriended by the
great Jewish lawyer Louis Brandeis, who widened enormously
Truman’s cultural and social perspectives.
Truman’s pivotal position made it certain that he would
be lobbied by American Zionist groups, and pressure from
them steadily built up between 1945 and 1948. While he
accepted that such lobbying would go on, he disliked it, preferring instead to listen to the advice of trusted colleagues.
Two in particular, Clark Clifford and David Niles, came to
have a decisive influence on his actions over Palestine.
Clifford’s view that the Jews were entitled to their own country was reinforced by his key role in helping ensure
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
Truman’s re-election in 1948. Why should the President forfeit any political advantage to the Republicans? In the context of American politics it was a logical question with an
inevitable answer and it has led to a lively controversy about
the motives behind Truman’s support for Jewish statehood.
It is pointless to deny that political considerations were part
of Truman’s motivation, but they were not the whole story.
Like any decent person, he was moved by what he learned of
the fate of European Jews, and that sympathy was reinforced
by David Niles. Ostensibly Truman’s adviser on minority
affairs, Niles was really his link with the Jewish community.
Niles was born into a poor Jewish family in Boston, and had
become a trusted official of the New Deal. There is little evidence of any involvement with Zionism in the 1930s but by
1945 it is clear that Niles felt keenly the distress experienced
by the Jewish survivors in Europe. Niles’s advice that something had to be done for them proved very important, for
Truman trusted his judgement and his moderation, which
contrasted favourably with the stridency of much of the
lobbying campaign which was directed at him. Little in
Truman’s background made him sensitive to the Arab case
over Palestine or responsive to the State Department’s
advocacy of it; but his friendships and emotions, combined
with the political needs of his party, made him likely to
respond positively to the Jews (Snetsinger, 1974; Ganin,
1979; Cohen, 1982; Louis, 1984; Fraser, 1989).
While Truman’s later interventions were to prove critical
for the establishment of Israel, his initial moves were of a
different order, designed to offer some relief to the Jewish
survivors in Europe. Indeed, he only turned to Palestine
after the failure of attempts to persuade congressional leaders to permit large numbers to settle in the United States.
This was followed by the dispatch to Europe of Earl G.
Harrison, Dean of Law at the University of Pennsylvania,
who was to report back on the conditions and desires of
the Jewish ‘Displaced Persons’. The policy of General
Eisenhower’s military administration was to persuade the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Jews to return to their countries of origin; Harrison’s report
pointed firmly to Palestine. Shaken by what he saw of the
condition of the ‘Displaced Persons’, Harrison readily
adopted the suggestion of the Jewish Agency that 100,000
should be admitted into Palestine. It was exactly what
Truman wanted. On 31 August, he formally requested that
the British Government issue 100,000 immigration certificates, pointing out that ‘no other single matter is so important for those who have known the horrors of concentration
camps’. The British response was both negative and, in
the circumstances, callously insensitive, pointing out that the
European camps held many victims of Hitler and that
the Jews should not be put ‘at the head of the queue’.
The nature and tone of the British rejection showed just how
far the Government had travelled from the pro-Zionist sentiments of its 1944 party conference, and the way was now clear
for open resistance from the Jews of Palestine (Louis, 1984).
The Jewish Revolt
Although the Irgun and Leh’i had not been afraid to strike
at the British before the end of the war, the leaders of the
Jewish Agency had too many long-standing connections to
the British for open warfare to be undertaken lightly.
Moreover, the Jewish Agency was a legal body whose position
would be imperilled once the Haganah started operations.
However reluctantly, Ben-Gurion and his colleagues knew it
was a decision that had to be taken and on 1 October the
Haganah was ordered to begin the armed revolt. First, however, it was necessary to reach a working arrangement with
the other two armed groups. At a meeting convened by the
Haganah leader Moshe Sneh, Menahem Begin of the Irgun
and Leh’i’s Nathan Yellin-Mor agreed to co-operate in a
united Hebrew Resistance Movement. Although it flourished through the winter of 1945–46, it was always an uneasy
alliance of unequal groups under Haganah primacy. But
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
there could no denying its effectiveness, backed as it was by
the united resolve of the Yishuv and haunted by the fate of
the Jews of Europe.
The striking power of the new alliance was demonstrated
in a co-ordinated operation on the night of 31 October/
1 November 1945 when the Haganah struck at the hated
instruments of the British exclusion policy, police patrol
boats, sinking two at Haifa and one at Jaffa. Simultaneously,
Haganah forces disrupted the railway network with some five
hundred explosions, while the Irgun destroyed a locomotive
and damaged six others at Lydda goods yard. The operation
also claimed its first victim when Leh’i member Moishele Bar
Giora was killed in a premature explosion during an abortive
attack on the Haifa oil storage tanks. Faced with this challenge, the British built up their troops and police to a total
of 100,000, a burden their straitened economy could not
long sustain. The virtually unanimous support of the Yishuv
rendered the Hebrew Resistance impervious to penetration
and memories of the German occupation in Europe were
too close for the British security forces to resort to tough
measures. Thus the winter of 1945–46 saw them consistently
outwitted. On 25 February 1946, 3 airfields were attacked
with the loss of 20 planes at an estimated cost of £2,000,000.
Strikes against the communications system and installations
continued, as did attacks on British personnel. On 25 April, 7
paratroopers died in a Leh’i attack in Tel Aviv. The final symbol of British impotence came on the night of 16/17 June
when a joint operation succeeded in destroying 10 of the 11
road and rail bridges into Palestine, temporarily isolating it
from the rest of the Middle East (Bell, 1979).
The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry
While the British forces were being baffled by the Jewish
underground groups, the winter of 1945–46 also saw a major
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
attempt at a political settlement, the Anglo–American
Committee of Inquiry, whose origins lay in a British attempt
to involve their American critics directly in the affairs of
Palestine. Irritated by what he saw as the gratuitous nature of
Truman’s intervention over Palestine, Bevin invited the
Americans to take part in a joint inquiry into the linked
issues of Palestine and the Displaced Persons. As announced
on 13 November 1945, the committee, six Americans and six
British, was to examine the ‘political, economic and social
conditions in Palestine as they bear upon the problem of
Jewish immigration and settlement therein and the wellbeing of the people now living therein’. Although the two
governments were agreed that no one of Arab or Jewish
origin would serve, Truman and Niles went to some length
to ensure that three of the Americans, Frank W. Buxton,
James G. McDonald and Bartley C. Crum, sympathised with
the Zionist position. Crum, in particular, maintained direct
links with Niles during the committee’s work. The 12 men
approached their task with great seriousness, hearing
evidence in Washington and London before visiting camps
in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. After
visiting various parts of the Middle East, they had extensive
hearings in Palestine with the Mandatory government, the
Arab Higher Committee and the Jewish Agency.
When the committee reported in May 1946, it was clear
that the Jewish Agency had secured one major concession:
100,000 Jews from the European camps were to be allowed
into Palestine. But the Jews could take much less comfort
from the recommendations on the country’s political future,
for only two members, McDonald and Crum, were prepared
to see Jewish statehood come about through the mechanism
of partition. Their colleagues believed that partition would
only make the situation worse. Instead, they were prepared
to identify Palestine as the Holy Land, setting it ‘completely
apart from other lands’ and dedicating it ‘to the precepts
and practices of the brotherhood of man, not of narrow
nationalism’. Hence, Palestine was to be ‘neither a Jewish
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
state nor an Arab state’, and was to be governed under a continuing system of trusteeship. Before these conclusions are
too hastily dismissed, two things ought to be clearly noted:
the rejection of partition as an unworkable device, and the
unwillingness to concede either Arab or Jewish statehood.
The responses of the Arab Higher Committee and the Jewish
Agency were equally bitter (Nachmani, 1987).
In the summer of 1946 two events conspired to throw the
British Mandate into its final crisis. On the diplomatic front
the conclusions of the Anglo–American Committee failed to
attract the support of either government in Washington or
London, let alone the Arabs and Jews. This was despite an
initial welcome from Truman who seems to have been ready
to grasp at any viable proposal, especially one that gave him
the 100,000 immigration certificates to which he had publicly committed himself. Bevin was not prepared to let him
off so lightly. The British Government’s response to the
report was to ask the Americans to provide two divisions of
troops which they believed would be necessary to cope with
the Arab disturbances that the extra 100,000 Jews would
provoke. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington
told Truman that there were no troops available for such a
mission, the committee’s conclusions were clearly in serious
trouble. The President was, in any case, coming under very
severe pressure from the American Zionists who were
incensed at the committee’s failure to endorse Jewish
statehood. A further attempt at progress in July met with no
greater success. Truman sent Henry F. Grady to London in
an attempt to secure some movement on the 100,000 certificates. The plan that Grady agreed with the British minister
Herbert Morrison, the so-called ‘Morrison–Grady Plan’,
would have created autonomous Arab and Jewish provinces
under a continued form of trusteeship. But this still fell far
short of Jewish hopes and, after a stormy series of meetings
with pro-Zionist congressional leaders, Truman telegraphed
his rejection of the proposals to London on 7 August.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
The King David Hotel Attack and its Consequences
During this period of ill-fated attempts at Anglo-American
co-operation in the summer of 1946, the situation in
Palestine worsened alarmingly from the British point of view.
After the dramatically successful attack on the bridges into
the country on the night of 16–17 June, the British decided
on tough measures to try to regain the security initiative by
striking at the heart of the Jewish Agency. ‘Operation Agatha’
sealed off Tel Aviv and the main Jewish areas of Jerusalem
and Haifa in pre-dawn raids, which concentration camp survivors found all too reminiscent of recent events in Europe.
Jewish Agency leaders were seized and detained, though not
key figures like Ben-Gurion who was in Paris or Sneh who
went underground, and the elder statesman Weizmann was
not disturbed. Few arms were found. The response planned
by Sneh and his colleagues in the Hebrew Resistance was to
be threefold. The Haganah was to attack the arsenal at Bat
Galim, and Leh’i the Palestine Information Office in
Jerusalem. Begin and the Irgun were set as their target the
government headquarters in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel,
an operation the organisation had been contemplating for
some time. Then the remaining Jewish Agency leaders drew
back, not least at the urging of Weizmann with his stubborn
faith in British intentions. Although the decision was taken to
call off the joint operation, Sneh, anxious to keep the Irgun
a full part of the resistance, merely asked Begin to postpone
his part of the plan. Begin went ahead. On 22 July, bombs
exploded in the King David Hotel: an entire wing of
the building collapsed and 91 people were killed. It was by far
the most dramatic blow delivered at the British and it had
far-reaching consequences. Sneh resigned as head of the
Haganah and the organisation suspended its operations
against the British, leaving the Irgun and Leh’i alone in their
campaign (Clarke, 1981). The Jewish Agency’s denunciations
of the attack stung Begin and his organisation, contributing
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
to a legacy of bitterness that was to continue decades after
statehood had been achieved. More immediately, the attack
convinced the British that they needed to resume the search
for a political settlement.
The Palestine Conference that convened in London in
September proved to be yet another exercise in futility, but
at least it brought into sharp focus the strong possibility
that the country’s future would be decided on the basis of
partition. The Arabs, led by Jamal Husseini, continued to
reject the idea, as they had done consistently from the time
of its first appearance in 1937, and they were strongly supported by Bevin. Since 1937, Zionist policy towards the
prospect of partition had not been consistent, some seeing it
as the only realistic way forward, others dismissing it as a
betrayal of the Zionist dream. These hesitations could still be
seen at a meeting of the executive of the Jewish Agency in
Paris in August when, by divided vote, it was decided to break
with the Biltmore Program and work instead for partition on
the basis of ‘the establishment of a viable Jewish State in an
adequate area of Palestine’. This significant shift in policy
was soon matched in Washington. Throughout the summer
of 1946, Truman had been subjected to intensive lobbying
by the American Zionists who had become increasingly
alarmed at the nature of the proposals coming forward.
With senatorial and gubernatorial elections due to be held
in November, it was inevitable that there would be no
lessening of their campaign, especially as Truman was
vulnerable over his apparent inability to deliver the 100,000
immigration certificates. The result, on 4 October, was his
‘Yom Kippur Statement’, announcing America’s support for
partition as the best way forward. The United States had now
committed itself to Jewish statehood, and to partition as the
means of achieving it (Fraser, 1989).
Despite Arab opposition, the British were now under pressure to bring partition to the top of the agenda and there
were those, notably in the Colonial Office, who believed that
it was the only way of reconciling the various pledges Britain
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
had made over the years. But Ben-Gurion, perhaps too conscious of the divided views of his supporters, would not be
drawn into detailed discussions, with the result that the
common ground was not seized. It was clear enough, however, that Ben-Gurion and the British were far apart in their
thinking as to what might constitute an ‘adequate’ area for
the Jewish state. Palestine was now only one of a number of
problems pressing on a country enduring a miserable and
impoverished winter. On 7 February 1947, the cabinet
decided to present final proposals to the two sides which
would involve a transition to independence over five years
with considerable autonomy for Arab and Jewish areas. When
these were rejected a week later, the problem was referred to
the United Nations, without, it would appear, much thought
being given as to the possible outcome.
The UNSCOP Report
If the British imagined that in doing this they were allowing
themselves something of a respite and that the organisation
would prove too inchoate for anything of substance to
emerge, then they were soon to be confounded, for there
were strong feelings elsewhere that this new international
body must be seen to work effectively. A special session of the
General Assembly was convened in May. It was notable for an
early declaration by the Soviet Union in favour of Jewish
statehood. Its main result was the establishment of the
United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP),
charged with reporting back to the General Assembly by
1 September with its conclusions on the country’s future. Its
membership was to avoid the major powers and the Arab
countries, whose sympathies were felt to be too engaged,
and, with these exceptions, to reflect the nature of the membership: thus, Peru, Uruguay, Guatemala, Sweden, the
Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Canada, Australia,
India and Iran were selected.
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
In retrospect, it is clear that UNSCOP’s conclusions were
always likely to have a decisive effect upon Palestine’s future,
but at the time this was something the Palestinian Arabs
failed to grasp, with disastrous results. Believing that the
committee was unfairly weighted against them, the Arab
Higher Committee decided to boycott it. It was possibly the
single most disastrous decision made by the Arab leadership.
The Jews made no such mistake, offering full co-operation
both in the public sessions and by attaching to the committee two able liaison officers, David Horowitz and Abba Eban,
whose brief was to remind its members of the Zionist case.
The Jewish purpose was twofold: they had to convince the
committee of the futility of pursuing any kind of continuing
British trusteeship, and then persuade it to recommend partition. The first was brought about by the ruthlessness of the
Irgun and an act of considerable daring and sophistication
by the Haganah. In July, the Irgun hanged two British
sergeants in retaliation for the execution of three of its members. It was an action that attracted widespread publicity, not
least because the bodies were left boobytrapped. AntiSemitic incidents in a number of British cities, with the
prospect of a revival of the pre-war Fascist movement, helped
convince leading opinion in Britain that the Palestine
Mandate was not really worth the struggle. Much more significant was the brilliant propaganda exercise conducted by
the Haganah in mounting a spectacular challenge to the
British during UNSCOP’s time in Palestine. Chartering an
elderly American ferry, the President Warfield, which they
renamed Exodus 1947, the organisation sailed 4500 Jewish
Displaced Persons from Sète in southern France towards the
coast of Palestine where ships of the Royal Navy were waiting.
After a violent confrontation, filmed for use by the American
newsreels, the ship was brought into Haifa where its passengers were disembarked under the eyes of three UNSCOP
members. The episode confirmed, as it was intended to, the
longing of the Jews for Palestine and the bankruptcy of the
British regime. As if to drive home that lesson, Bevin insisted
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
that the passengers be returned to refugee camps in
Germany. It was hardly surprising that UNSCOP was unanimous in recommending the end of the Mandate.
Partition was less obvious, not least because the Jews themselves were still not united behind it. In presenting the
Jewish Agency’s case before UNSCOP in Jerusalem,
Ben-Gurion still had to press for acceptance of the Biltmore
Programme, but this was a formality. Weizmann then put forward, ostensibly unofficially, the case for partition, which
Ben-Gurion confirmed he would consider. In reality, from
the start Horowitz and Eban had been instructed to work for
this outcome and Ben-Gurion privately assured UNSCOP’s
members that it was partition he wanted. Belatedly, the
Arabs realised that the ground was threatening to slip from
under them. A hastily arranged visit to Beirut allowed Arab
foreign ministers to argue against partition, but it was all too
little and far too late. By the time the committee retired to
Geneva to consider its findings, a majority had been convinced that partition offered the only way forward.
The basic principle underlying the UNSCOP plan was
‘that the claims to Palestine of the Arabs and Jews, both possessing validity, are irreconcilable, and that among the solutions advanced, partition will provide the most realistic and
practicable settlement’. As set out, the proposed Arab state
was to consist of three geographically separate areas: a southern coastal strip from Rafah through Gaza; Galilee in the
north; and the country’s interior, including the important
towns of Nablus, Hebron and Beersheba. In contrast, the
Jewish state was to be contiguous, if in places only just: much
of the coastal plain, including Tel Aviv and Haifa, the Negev
Desert in the south, and the Jezreel and Hule valleys in the
north. There were two important refinements to the plan.
While conceding that political partition was necessary,
UNSCOP believed that the country’s economic unity
should be retained. Hence, there was to be an economic
union of Palestine, responsible for distributing revenue
and maintaining a common currency, customs system and
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
communications network. Secondly, as the result of Vatican
lobbying, Jerusalem was to become a corpus separatum, an
international city under the United Nations (Eban, 1977;
Fraser, 1984).
The UNSCOP Report in the General Assembly
The plan was open to many objections, which its Arab and
British opponents were quick to point out. If the political
claims of Arabs and Jews were held to be irreconcilable, how
could they be expected to co-operate in an economic union?
How could two states so sinuously intertwined ever be defensible? More seriously, there was the problem of the large
Arab population in the proposed Jewish state. UNSCOP
admitted that it would have 498,000 Jews and 407,000 Arabs,
but an ill-disposed British Foreign Office soon provided figures showing that the true Arab total would be 512,000.
Critics also pointed to the fact that in none of Palestine’s
subdistricts did Jews own a majority of the land, and that in
only one of them, the heavily Jewish areas around Tel Aviv
and Petah Tikva, were they a majority of the population.
Had the Arabs developed these arguments with force and
skill they might have won important points in the discussions
that followed, but once again their leadership failed them.
Instead, Palestinian leaders attacked the principle of partition, creating an impression of mean-spiritedness against a
people that had recently suffered so much. Their confidence
was reinforced by the knowledge that the British shared
their hostility to the proposal. Concluding that it was ‘so
manifestly unjust to the Arabs’, the British Government not
only rejected the idea of partition but made it plain, publicly
and in private, that they would oppose its implementation.
Not so public was the policy they adopted of leaving the two
sides to fight it out.
The partition plan inevitably fell somewhat short of Jewish
hopes, especially the provisions relating to Jerusalem, for
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
not only had the city been the focus of Jewish yearning over
the centuries, but its western suburbs were one of their main
centres of population. Whatever reservations were held, and
whatever hopes there might have been that one day the
Jewish state might be expanded, the leadership had worked
hard to lead UNSCOP to this conclusion and they were now
determined that partition be secured. The plan offered
them statehood guaranteed in the highest international
forum, the General Assembly of the United Nations. In early
October, the General Assembly changed itself into the Ad
Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question to give full consideration to the UNSCOP proposals. Here would be the
critical test. Interesting support quickly came from the
Soviet Union, no small matter given its three General
Assembly votes and influence over the eastern European
countries. Western diplomats interpreted this as nothing
more than cynical support for the one plan that promised to
get the British out of Palestine, but it should also be remembered that it had been the Red Army which had exposed the
full extent of Jewish suffering in eastern Europe, an observation that Soviet spokesmen often made.
Significant though the Soviet response was, everyone
understood that the key reaction would be that of the
Americans, not least because of Washington’s supposed
influence over the voting intentions of other countries.
Hence the consternation in Jewish circles when Secretary of
State George C. Marshall announced that his government
gave ‘great weight’ to the UNSCOP proposals, an endorsement of partition, if only just. What Marshall’s guarded statement concealed was continuing bitter infighting in
Washington over the prospect of Jewish statehood. At one
level, there had been continuous Jewish lobbying of
Truman over the summer as the President had held to a policy of non-interference with UNSCOP’s work. The intensity
of the campaign was not well advised, as Truman’s testy
response to one Zionist leader showed: ‘there seems to be
two sides to this question. I am finding it rather difficult to
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
decide which one is right and a great many people in the
country are beginning to feel just as I do.’ As expected, the
Arab ‘side’ was being strongly urged by Henderson who
found a powerful new ally in Secretary of Defense James
Forrestal, who was conscious of the need to keep the Arab
oil-producing states on America’s side. Once again, it fell to
Niles to remind Truman of the political dangers of alienating Jewish voters. Any doubt about this was removed by the
avalanche of lobbying which now fell on the White House.
From all over the country, leading Democrats and labour
leaders wrote and telegraphed Truman urging support for
partition. Power brokers like Democratic National
Chairman Robert Hannegan and Paul Fitzpatrick, Chairman
of the Democratic State Committee of New York, could not
be ignored. On 7 October, Niles’s chief contact with the
Jewish Agency, Robert Nathan, sent a letter emphasising the
urgency of open support for the UNSCOP proposals; failure
to do this, he argued, would have an atomic impact on
American Jewish voters with the Republicans the obvious
winners. Three days later, on Truman’s direct instructions,
Herschel Johnson announced to the United Nations that the
United States would support the partition plan.
Even so, there were two important reservations. The first
was to ensure proper implementation for the plan. Despite
clear assurances to the contrary, the Americans continued to
believe in British goodwill. The other was to reduce the Arab
population in the Jewish state. A partial solution was to transfer Jaffa to the Arab state, but an attempt to do the same with
the Negev was thwarted when Weizmann persuaded Truman
that the desert was essential to the Jewish state’s future development. On that basis, when the UNSCOP majority plan was
put to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question
on 25 November 1947, it passed, by 25 votes to 13 but with
17 abstentions and 2 absentees. Had this been the vote
of the General Assembly, the proposal would have failed, for
the figures were short of the two-thirds majority needed in
the Assembly. With the future of statehood clearly turning
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
on the voting intentions of a few countries, the Jewish
Agency mounted a desperate campaign. By themselves, they
had little influence; Weizmann succeeded in changing the
French vote by appealing to his old friend Léon Blum, but
that seems to have been their one notable success.
Once again, the American connection was decisive. The
initial instructions to the delegation in New York were to
work ‘independently and without restraint’ to help secure
the vote, but by 27 November it seems that their tactics were
failing, for Jewish leaders telegraphed Truman demanding
that he secure the votes of Greece, Haiti, China, Ecuador,
Liberia, Honduras, Paraguay and the Philippines. Despite
Truman’s later denials, it is certain that clear instructions
were sent out for this to be done. The crucial interventions
were made in foreign capitals. The President of Haiti was
told that ‘for his own good’ the country should vote for partition. The President of the Philippines was warned by a
group of American senators of the ‘adverse effect’ on relations between the two countries, should the vote be cast
against partition. Truman’s campaign had the desired effect,
for when the General Assembly vote was taken on
29 November, the partition plan was endorsed by the necessary two-thirds majority: 33 votes to 13 with 10 abstentions
(Louis, 1984; Fraser, 1989).
The End of the British Mandate
This endorsement of their right to statehood was understandably greeted with great emotion by the Jews, but their
exuberant celebrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv grated
harshly on the Arabs. Their spokesman, Jamal Husseini, had
already warned the United Nations that the partition line
‘would be nothing but a line of fire and blood’, and so it
proved. The passing of the partition resolution was greeted
with disturbances throughout the Arab world; more seriously, in Palestine the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
a general strike for 2–4 December 1947 which proved to be
the start of an undeclared, but increasingly bitter, civil war.
Arab leaders had assured the British that their protests
would be peaceful but tension was too high for this to be a
realistic hope and on the first day of the strike a Jewish shopping area in Jerusalem was burned. As violence grew, the
real consequences of Britain’s decision to do nothing to
implement partition before the surrender of the Mandate
on 14 May 1948 became clear. British military commanders
in Palestine had no desire to see more of their men killed
and injured in a quarrel that was ceasing to be a national
interest. The result was a minimalist policy which allowed
both Arab and Jewish irregular forces to become ever bolder
and more ruthless. They were also encouraged by the total
collapse of the mechanism designed to set up the two states
and the economic union, the United Nations Palestine
Commission. Set up on 9 January 1948 under the chairmanship of Czechoslovakia’s Karl Lisicky, the Commission was
intended to be the executive arm of the partition resolution,
but the British made it clear that its members would not
be allowed to land in the country. Frustrated by this challenge to United Nations’ authority, on 16 February the
Commission approached the Security Council for armed
assistance, but with the collapse of relations with the Soviet
Union there was no chance that the Americans would sanction such a policy against their British allies. The partition
plan was dead.
The British had now cleared the way for the two sides to
fight for control of Palestine and too much was at stake for
either to have a monopoly on virtue, though in some parts
of the country Arab and Jewish communities tried for a time
to work local peace arrangements. The overall reality was
civil war. From the start the Arabs were less well coordinated. In the north of the country Fauzi al-Kaukji, a
Syrian officer who had taken a prominent part in the Arab
uprising of 1936–39, led the Arab Liberation Army, a mixed
force of some 5000 Palestinians and Syrians. In the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Jerusalem area the Husseinis had more direct control with
the Mufti’s cousin, Abd al-Qadr al-Husseini, commanding
there and Hassan Salameh around Lydda, each with around
1000 men. They could count on sympathy, and some support, from neighbouring Arab countries and the departing
British, but few Arabs had experience of recent fighting. Nor
did they have any clear political strategy, beyond the desire
to thwart Jewish statehood, and even that was tempered by
the ambition of Transjordan’s Abdullah to secure part of
Palestine for himself.
In contrast, thousands of Jews had fought in the British
army or the Jewish Brigade, bringing with them a clear
knowledge of what it took to fight a modern war. Over the
winter of 1947–48, the Jewish Agency transformed the
Haganah from an underground force into the nucleus of
a field army, creating six brigades to cover key areas: the
‘Golani’ in eastern Galilee; the ‘Carmeli’ in western Galilee;
the ‘Givati’ and ‘Alexandroni’ on the coastal plain; the
‘Etzioni’ around Jerusalem; and the ‘Kiryati’ around Tel
Aviv. These came to number some 15,000, well organised
but, because of continuing British hostility, not particularly
well armed. Independent of them were several thousand
members of the Irgun and Leh’i who had their own agendas.
Guiding the actions of the Jewish Agency’s forces was ‘Plan
Dallet’ or ‘Plan D’, the successful implementation of which
was to make an immeasurable contribution to the Jews’ ultimate success. Briefly, ‘Plan D’ consisted of a series of operational orders to the six brigades to enable them to secure the
area of the Jewish state and protect Jewish settlements in the
Arab state. In military terms the plan was much superior to
those of the Arabs. More controversially, the perceived need
to protect outlying Jewish settlements had led Arabs to see in
‘Plan D’ a plan to occupy the whole country. While this was
not its purpose, its practical results were to be disastrous for
the Arabs.
In the critical months before the end of the Mandate, the
balance of advantage fell on the Jewish side. Particularly
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
bitter fighting took place around the western approaches to
Jerusalem, with the Jews striving to break a siege of the city
and secure lines of communication to Tel Aviv. In the course
of this there took place the massacre at the Arab village of
Deir Yassin, one of the communities that had reached a
working arrangement with its Jewish neighbours. On 9 April
a mixed Irgun and Leh’i force attacked the village and, in
what well may have been a premeditated act, killed 250 of its
inhabitants. Despite condemnation from the Jewish Agency,
a new benchmark for atrocity had been cut; retaliation soon
came with an attack on a Jewish medical convoy in Jerusalem
which left 77 doctors and nurses dead. Horrific though these
incidents were, they tended to mask the steady advances that
the Haganah forces were making on a number of fronts. In
mid-April, the ‘Golani’ brigade took Tiberias, and then
Safed and Rosh Pinna in Galilee. On 22 April, the ‘Carmeli’
brigade secured the key port of Haifa with its mixed
Arab–Jewish population. Then, in the final days of the
Mandate, the ‘Kiryati’, ‘Givati’ and ‘Alexandroni’ brigades
took Jaffa with its 70,000 Arab inhabitants, removing the
threat it posed to Tel Aviv. All these operations resulted in
the flight, or removal, of tens of thousands of Arabs. The success of ‘Plan D’ was preparing the way for a successful declaration of Jewish statehood the moment the British left
(Morris, 1987).
The Proclamation of the State of Israel
With British authority fast disappearing and the Haganah
holding the initiative in many key areas, Ben-Gurion and his
colleagues prepared to proclaim statehood on the day the
Mandate ended. While neither Ben-Gurion nor Weizmann,
who was in the United States, had doubts about this decision,
the risks were clear. The Arab states would attack, with the
continuing support of the British. Much, then, would turn
on the attitudes of the other major powers. Enough was
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
known about Soviet intentions to reassure the Jewish leadership but even more critical was the likely position of the
Americans. Once again, Washington was a key battlefield,
with the State Department set against recognition of the
new state and Truman increasingly inclined to do so. The
President’s aide, Clark Clifford, prepared a powerful memorandum which argued that as the Jewish state was already an
‘accomplished fact’, Truman should issue immediate recognition; otherwise, the Soviets and his Republican enemies at
home would reap any benefit. On 12 May, Clifford presented
these arguments at a meeting involving Truman, David Niles
and leading State Department officials, including Secretary
of State Marshall. Marshall irascibly responded that the proposal was a ‘transparent dodge to win a few votes’ and would
have nothing to do with the idea. Truman had hoped to
announce his intention to recognise the Jewish state at a
press conference on the 13th but Marshall’s hostile response
thwarted the idea. The following day, Britain’s High
Commissioner, Sir Alan Cunningham, left Jerusalem and
sailed from Haifa. Ben-Gurion and his colleagues assembled
in the museum in Tel Aviv and announced the Declaration
of Independence of the State of Israel, which was to be open
to all Jews and which promised to ensure the rights of all its
citizens regardless of race or religion. The honour of being
first President went to Weizmann, while Ben-Gurion
assumed the task of Prime Minister. The same day, the power
struggle in Washington had been resolved in Truman’s
favour. The new state was proclaimed at 6 p.m. Washington
time; Truman’s de facto recognition followed 11 minutes
later (Ganin, 1979).
The First Arab–Israeli War
As American recognition was quickly followed by that of the
Soviet Union, the new state could approach the dangers
ahead with some confidence, for there seemed no prospect
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
of Arab acceptance of Israel; rather their spokesman had
promised ‘a line of blood and fire’. The coalition of Arab
League states which ‘intervened’ in Palestine on 15 May was
neither united in its purpose nor adequately prepared for
war. Four of the six Arab forces ranged against Israel –
Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi and Saudi Arabian – undertook little
by way of offensive operations, though, of course, their presence tied down Israeli troops. The really hard fighting for
the Israelis was against the Egyptians, who had two brigades
threatening Tel Aviv, and Abdullah’s British-officered Arab
Legion in the Jerusalem sector. Egyptian participation in the
war was problematic, despite considerable popular sympathy
for the Palestinians. Indeed, it has been argued that it was
the strength of public feeling that largely influenced King
Faruq to intervene against the advice of his military advisers
and much of the political establishment. The Egyptian army
was primarily a police force, with neither the training nor
logistics to conduct a sustained offensive operation (Rogan
and Shlaim, 2001). Transjordan’s King Abdullah was the designated commander of the Arab League forces, but his
resources were limited, and his role largely meaningless.
Abdullah, who had long since come to terms with the reality
of the Jewish presence in Palestine, had his eye firmly fixed
on securing the Arab areas of the country for his dynasty
(Shlaim, 2000).
Even so, in the initial phases, the Arabs had clear advantages in terms of heavy weapons and air-power, and the
Israelis had a major problem with the narrowness of the
coastal plain which made in-depth strategic defence impossible. By the time the United Nations succeeded in arranging a truce on 11 June, severe fighting had taken place,
especially around Jerusalem where the Jewish New City had
struggled to survive Jordanian and Egyptian assaults and
siege. The battles against the Arab Legion in and around
Jerusalem entered Israeli military legend. The truce was to
be supervised by Sweden’s Count Folke Bernadotte, who
had already been appointed as United Nations mediator in
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
the conflict. It was welcomed by both sides after weeks of
intense fighting which had left the balance of advantage
unclear. The Arab war effort had suffered seriously from lack
of a unified command, but they still held a powerful grip
around Jerusalem where they had taken the ancient Jewish
Quarter of the Old City, had inflicted heavy casualties in the
Negev, and in the central sector were within ten miles of
the Mediterranean coast. The Israelis had held their ground
but desperately needed tanks, artillery and, above all, aircraft. The terms of the cease-fire did not allow them to remedy this, for neither side was to bring in men or supplies.
Ben-Gurion’s government honoured this in the breach.
Links had already been forged with Czechoslovakia, which
had access to the enormous amounts of war material left
over from the war in Europe. From air-bases in
Czechoslovakia, vitally needed supplies, including crated
Messerschmitt fighters, arrived in Israel. Aircraft, including
three American Flying Fortress bombers and several British
Spitfire fighters, arrived by other routes later in the summer.
During this period an episode occurred which finally
brought to the surface the long-simmering tension between
the Haganah and the Irgun. The latter had organised its own
arms shipments in France which arrived off Tel Aviv on 20
June aboard the Altalena. Choosing to see this as a violation
of the cease-fire and a challenge to the authority of the new
government, Ben-Gurion ordered his forces to attack the
vessel which was destroyed with heavy loss of life. By his
action Ben-Gurion confirmed that there was now an Israeli
Government rather than a collection of factions, but in
doing so he cut a deep wound in Israeli political life which
festered for the next thirty years (Sachar, 1976).
When the war resumed on 8 July, it quickly became clear
that the Israelis now held the advantage, with rapid advances
being made in several key areas, notably in Galilee and the
towns of Lydda and Ramle. Both these operations were
accompanied by large-scale expulsions of Palestinians. In
Galilee there was some distinction between Muslim villages
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
and those with a largely Christian and Druse population;
Nazareth, with its obvious significance for Christian opinion
worldwide, was left untouched. Overall, some 30,000
Palestinian refugees left, many for Lebanon. Lydda and
Ramle were attacked with particular ruthlessness. Under the
partition plan the towns had been allotted to the Arab state.
Strategically, they were important because of the airport at
Lydda and their proximity to Tel Aviv. An operation which
began on the night of 9 July left the towns in Israeli hands
and at a meeting with army commanders on the 12th BenGurion seems to have given the order for the expulsion of
their inhabitants, who possibly numbered as many as 70,000.
Controversy surrounds Ben-Gurion’s action: there is little
doubt that he wanted the Arabs expelled but that he was
reluctant to be publicly identified with the action. Next to
Deir Yassin, the ‘Lydda Death March’ which followed etched
its way into the Palestinian consciousness as a symbol of their
tragedy. Driven towards Ramallah in the summer heat,
hundreds, especially children and the elderly, died from
exhaustion and dehydration (Palumbo, 1987).
After 10 days of hostilities, which left the Israelis much
better positioned than before, a second truce came into
operation on 18 July, giving Bernadotte the opportunity to
work for a diplomatic solution. By early August, he believed
he had the germ of a settlement. Talks with the Lebanese
and Jordanian leaders indicated a willingness to acquiesce in
Israel’s existence. Discussions with Israeli leaders on the
return of Palestinian refugees, whom he estimated at
between 300,000 and 400,000, had been less satisfactory, but
he was working towards a consolidation of Israeli territory
that would reflect the way the military situation had developed. This formed the basis of the proposals he submitted
on 16 September: Israel was to retain Galilee but surrender
much of the Negev and return Lydda and Ramle to the
Arabs; Jerusalem was to be an international city and
Palestinian refugees were to have the right to return home.
For some time Bernadotte had been regarded with suspicion
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
by the Israelis. Working from an earlier draft of his plan,
which had been less favourable to Israel, Leh’i members in
Jerusalem decided on his death. The day after submitting his
plan to the United Nations he was murdered in the city
(Bernadotte, 1951).
Bernadotte’s death was condemned by the Israeli
Government, but his proposals still threatened their plans
with regard to Jerusalem, with its large Jewish population,
and over the future development of the Negev. They were
not reassured by General Marshall’s announcement on
21 September that the United States accepted the Bernadotte
plan ‘in its entirety’. A determined effort had to be made to
attack the plan. On 27 September, an emergency meeting
was held in Oklahoma City, where Truman was campaigning,
at which Clifford and others impressed upon him the disastrous consequences Marshall’s statement was having on
Jewish voters in the key electoral states of New York and
Pennsylvania. As a result, Stephen Wise was assured that
de jure recognition would be given to Israel once elections
had been held there and Marshall was instructed to make no
further statement without presidential clearance. Lack of
American support proved fatal to the plan, even though
once Truman had been re-elected on 3 November he did toy
with the idea of making the Negev part of an Arab state.
Ben-Gurion’s government was resolved to settle the issue
of the Negev on the ground. On 15 October, having manufactured an attack on a supply convoy, Israeli forces resumed
fighting in the Negev around the Faluja crossroads, the key
to the road network. Although their Egyptian antagonists
fought well, they had no answer to Israeli superiority in the
air and it was soon clear which side had the initiative. The
Egyptians were now fighting the war on their own and, by
the end of the year, the Israelis were positioned to destroy
the Egyptian forces and take the final stretch of territory
along the coast from Rafah to Gaza, but the war was brought
to an end before they could do so. In January 1949, Israeli
fighters shot down five British Spitfires flying in support of
The Partition of Palestine and the Creation of Israel
the Egyptians in the Sinai Desert across the international
frontier. The prospect of war between Britain and Israel
provoked the Americans into ending the conflict by warning
the Israelis of British treaty obligations towards Arab
countries. As a result, Ben-Gurion ordered a halt to military
operations. The Negev had been secured, if not the area
which soon came to be called the Gaza Strip (Fraser, 1989).
By this stage, negotiations for an Israeli–Egyptian armistice
agreement were under way at Rhodes under the able direction of Ralph Bunche, Bernadotte’s former deputy and
successor at the United Nations. The agreement concluded
on 24 February 1949 set the pattern for others with Lebanon,
Syria and Jordan which defined the nature of Israel’s boundaries, at least down to 1967. As these armistice agreements
were seen as the forerunner of a full peace settlement, it was
laid down that the ‘Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be
construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary,
and is delineated without prejudice to rights, claims and positions of either Party to the Armistice as regards ultimate
settlement of the Palestine problem’. While this seemed to
give a sense of impermanence to Israel’s borders with her
Arab neighbours, these came to be generally accepted as the
boundaries of the state. The ending of the war and the holding of Israel’s first general election were quickly followed by
the coveted confirmations of statehood. In January 1949,
Truman extended de jure recognition and the American
Export–Import Bank provided urgently-needed loans; in
May, Israel took her seat at the United Nations. The contrast
with the situation of the Jews a mere four years before could
not have been more stark. This was equally true of the
Palestinians for whom the events of 1948–49 were al-Nakba,
‘the catastrophe’, the full extent of which they were only just
beginning to understand. The pattern of the Arab–Israeli
conflict had been set.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Israel after the 1948–49 War
Israel came out of the 1948–49 war, if not yet self-confident,
then at least assuming that her worst trials were over. The
armistice agreements expanded her boundaries considerably beyond those set out in the 1947 partition resolution,
reflecting the successes of the armed forces. The most substantial gains were Galilee and the western parts of
Jerusalem with a land corridor to the coast. The Israel of
1949 was a more coherent state than could ever have come
out of the partition plan. Even so, there were problems
which cut into the Israelis’ sense of security. Perhaps the
most obvious was that these borders were still only provisional; indeed, the armistice agreements had gone out of
their way to emphasise this. This reinforced the sense that
Israel was still technically at war with most of her neighbours,
for no peace agreement was in sight. Israel had to exist in an
uneasy state of continual tension, her major settlements on
the coastal plain perilously close to Jordanian territory, nine
miles at the narrowest point; indeed, the main route from
Tel Aviv to Jerusalem passed within yards of the border. It
was a situation no general would have wanted and one that
demanded a permanent state of military preparedness
which was to prove no small burden for the young country.
The other financial and human burden the state had to
bear arose directly out of the reason for its creation, the
desire to have an assured homeland for any Jew who wished
to live there. In 1950 the Knesset passed the Law of Return
which confirmed the right of every Jew to permanent settlement in the country; this was followed two years later by the
Citizenship Law which gave immigrants the immediate right
of citizenship. The results could not have been more dramatic, transforming both the number and the nature of the
population. The new Israeli government had a problem, for
the Zionist dream of providing a home for the millions of
Jews of eastern Europe could not be realised: Hitler had
seen to that. Although some 304,044 did arrive between
1948 and 1951, there was little further potential, not least
because Stalin had become hostile to the new state, and only
4698 came from the Soviet Union. It was not until the age of
Gorbachev and perestroika in the late 1980s that the
prospect of mass Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union
opened up. Nor did the other great diaspora, the Jews of the
United States, seem much interested, for, despite vigorous
support given to the Zionist cause, only 1909 American Jews
came to settle in Israel over the period 1948–51. If the population were to be built up, there was only one possible
source of mass immigration: the Jewish communities of the
Middle East and North Africa, which had barely featured in
earlier Zionist plans. These ancient communities had long
co-existed with their Muslim and Christian Arab neighbours
who had generally behaved towards them with greater
generosity than Europeans. This situation began to deteriorate after 1945. The creation of Israel was not the sole reason
for this. The Ottoman, British and French Empires in the
Middle East had ensured for the Jews a measure of protection, whereas the newly independent states were more
concerned to assert the rights of Arabs. Even so, it is clear
that the outbreak of war in May 1948 hastened the end for
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
these communities. Between 1948 and 1951, 232,583 immigrants came from the Middle East and a further 92,510 from
North Africa, the latter continuing throughout the 1950s as
France’s grip on Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria began to
falter. The result was a permanent change in the composition of the Israeli population which was to have the most
profound political and social consequences. Oriental Jews
had long been a small percentage of the world’s Jewish
population – only some 8 per cent before Hitler’s massacres –
but they came to form a bare majority of Israel’s Jewish
population (Sachar, 1976).
Despite the enthusiasm with which the state approached
the task, the costs of forging a nation were inevitably high.
Middle-Eastern Jews had very different expectations from
those of European origin, while many of the latter, who had
survived Hitler’s death camps, came physically weakened
and emotionally scarred. Not all of them were capable of
contributing to Israel’s productive capacity. Moreover, they
had to be integrated into a state which, the Dead Sea mineral deposits excepted, enjoyed none of the basic raw materials that might have generated economic development.
Israel’s economic priority in the early 1950s had to be the
construction of housing for its new immigrant population,
and while this generated good wages and stimulated
demand, it did little towards building up an export sector.
On the contrary, the country faced the basic need to import
nearly all its essential raw materials, not least oil, with the
inevitable problem of the balance of payments. While there
was a conscious strategy of building up light industries which
would ease transport costs and reduce the need for
imported raw materials, agriculture remained the basis of
the economy. Israel had inherited well-developed citrus and
cotton industries, giving it primary products that could be
marketed in northern Europe but even here it had obvious
rivals in southern Europe who had the competitive edge
after the formation of the Common Market in 1957 and
its subsequent expansion. But, above all, the growth in
The Problem Consolidated
population and in agriculture put enormous strain on that
most basic of primary resources, water. Israel’s need to
expand its water supplies was to become a major source of
tension with its Arab neighbours.
Israel could only hope to tackle these financial and economic problems with outside help. One of the earliest acts of
the new state, on 25 May 1948, was to request a loan from
the American Export–Import Bank. On 19 January 1949,
with the ending of hostilities, the Americans granted loans of
$35 million to assist agricultural development and $55 million
for communications, transport, manufacturing, housing and
public works. Essential though these were, they were not a
solution for the country’s financial situation and were to
become an uncomfortable reminder of how vulnerable
Israel might become to American pressure. The government
looked to the continuing financial generosity of American
Jews to help sustain development, but even here the omens
were discouraging. Contributions through the United Jewish
Appeal peaked at $148 million in 1948 but, as the danger to
Israel receded, the annual totals fell away dramatically. By
1951 they were $85 million and in the first five months of
1952 only $39 million came. By this stage Israel was in such
deep financial trouble that in June the government had to
appeal to Washington for a refunding of its debts and allow
the Americans to appoint a financial expert to sort out the
confusion. This humiliation proved to be the low point, for
financial relief was coming from an unexpected, and for
many Israelis highly unwelcome, source. In the course of
1951 secret contacts developed between the Israelis and the
new Federal Republic of Germany of Konrad Adenauer.
Conscious of Germany’s need for rehabilitation, on 21
September Adenauer announced acceptance of the principle of restitution to the Jews for their suffering during the
war. Most Israelis were scandalised at the thought of assistance coming from the country they had come to detest, and
negotiators had to be given protection from death threats.
But in June 1952, the same month that the Israelis had to
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
confess their financial collapse to Washington, the German
cabinet agreed on the nature of the reparations to be paid.
On 10 September representatives of the two governments
met in Luxemburg to sign the Reparations Treaty. Between
then and 1966, the Federal Republic supplied over 3000
million Deutschmarks to Israel, mostly in the form of goods
and equipment, as well as restitution paid to individuals. It
was the financial and economic breakthrough the country
needed (Gillessen, n.d.).
The Palestinians after the 1948–49 War
If Israel faced serious problems in the aftermath of war, the
position of the Palestinians seemed hopeless – their society
ravaged, their political hopes in ruins. Some 150,000
remained in Israel, largely in the north where towns like
Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm and surrounding villages
remained centres of Arab life and culture. They had no
choice but to reconcile themselves to life in the new state
which offered toleration but could not trust them. The
armistice agreements left Gaza under Egyptian control, its
pre-1948 population of 70,000 increased to 270,000 through
the influx of refugees. The Gaza Strip soon became a byword
for deprivation as even the indigenous population had
become separated from its farmlands by the armistice lines
and the area was now cut off from its economic hinterland.
Egypt had no resources to offer. Despite the influx of
refugees and the disruption of its economic links, the West
Bank seemed to offer a better prospect. In April 1950, elections were held in Transjordan and the West Bank for a new
parliament in Amman. Its first act was to unite the territories
as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with Abdullah as its
monarch. But it was at best a marriage of convenience. If
most West Bank Palestinians were prepared to acquiesce in
it, some were not. On 20 July 1951, Abdullah was assassinated as he came to pray at the Al-Aksa mosque in
The Problem Consolidated
Jerusalem. Few doubted that the Husseini interest was
behind the murder.
Out of the failed political aspirations of the Palestinians
came their need to accommodate themselves as Jordanians,
Gazans or Israeli Arabs. How a sense of Palestinian identity
would survive this tripartite division was serious enough, but
in the immediate aftermath of the war the most pressing
problem for the refugees was staying alive. Having left their
farms, shops and workshops, they had no means of survival.
For shelter, some found mosques, churches, schools or
hospitable Arab families, but most were in temporary camps
that offered the most rudimentary protection, and some
were in caves. In October 1948, James McDonald, the US
Ambassador to Israel, reported that the refugee situation
had reached ‘catastrophic proportions’ and that the
‘approaching winter with heavy cold will, it is estimated kill
more than 100,000 old men, women and children who are
shelterless and have no food’. Out of this concern came the
establishment on 19 November 1948 of the United Nations
Relief for Palestine Refugees, with the United States bearing
half the cost. Appeals went out for countries to provide food,
clothing and shelter (Palumbo, 1987).
Initially, there was little hard information about the nature
and extent of the refugee problem. As early as August 1948
Bernadotte thought that some 300,000–400,000 Palestinians
had become refugees, but this was clearly impressionistic
and expulsions continued long after that date. Although historians continue to debate the figures, the UN estimate of
over 750,000 seems the most secure. They were to be found
in all the countries and territories surrounding Israel. The
largest number, 350,000, was in Jordan and the West Bank,
soon to be politically united; of these, 280,000 were located
west of the River Jordan and 70,000 to the east. Gaza held
some 200,000, most of them from Jaffa and the southern
part of Palestine. Palestinians from Haifa and Galilee had
fled in large numbers across the border into southern
Lebanon, 97,000 of them, and around 75,000 had gone to
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Syria. A small group of 4000 was in Iraq. In addition, 25,000
Palestinians still in their homes were classed as refugees
because separation from their lands had made them destitute,
and there were 31,000 Arab refugees in Israel (Fraser, 1980).
The Western world was slow to realise the full extent of what
had happened. In part this was because of the growing preoccupation with the Cold War, the Berlin airlift of 1948–49, the
‘fall’ of China to Communism in 1949 and the outbreak of the
Korean War in 1950. Partly, too, it was because refugees were
a sadly conspicuous feature of the immediate post-SecondWorld-War world: 9,000,000 Germans had been expelled from
their homes east of the Oder–Neisse Line as a result of the
redrawing of the map of Poland and 3,000,000 Sudeten
Germans were put out of Czechoslovakia. But whereas
Germany could absorb its Prussian, Silesian and Sudeten
refugees and put them to work, Palestinian national life was
seemingly shattered beyond recall. The Arab economies were
too poor to offer much beyond the barest assistance.
Absorption, or ‘resettlement’ as it was known, in the surrounding Arab countries was not an option, for the refugees
themselves saw this as a device to prevent them ever returning
home. Their view was respected by Arab governments.
Accordingly, all that remained was the hope that Israel would
be prevailed upon to allow the repatriation of at least some of
them, and the prospect that the international community
would be sufficiently moved to provide some form of relief.
Along with the bid for immediate relief went a General
Assembly resolution on 11 December 1948 stating:
that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and
live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted
to do so at the earliest possible date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing
not to return.
The same resolution established the Palestine Conciliation
Commission which was charged with reaching agreement on
The Problem Consolidated
the refugees, as well as borders and the status of Jerusalem.
The American Government hoped that their representative
on the Commission, the Louisville newspaperman Mark
Ethridge, would secure concessions for the refugees, including a measure of repatriation to their homes. It was a policy
that Ben-Gurion’s government was determined to prevent;
by the spring of 1949 it was apparent to the Americans that
Arab refugee property was being cleared to make way for
Jewish immigrants and that the Israeli Government had no
intention of increasing its Arab minority through repatriation. When an attempt to put pressure on Israel through
delaying part of the Export–Import Bank loan was thwarted
by a political campaign in the White House, Ethridge
resigned from the Conciliation Commission. This really
marked the end of the attempt to secure a measure of repatriation. Instead, the Commission set up the Economic
Survey Mission which recommended that the United Nations
establish an agency to provide relief and works for the
refugees. Accordingly, in December 1949 the United Nations
Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA)
came into being. Although intended to be a temporary measure, the establishment of UNWRA was an admission that the
refugees would not be returning home. The bleak realisation
that their exile was not going to be temporary was reinforced
by the knowledge that the Cold War and events in Korea
meant that they were no longer at the forefront of anyone’s
attention. Hence the perplexed response of an American
Congressman at finding refugee camps in Beirut in 1953;
within the area intended for Israel, he wrote, ‘there must
have been some Muslims’ (Fraser, 1989).
The Egyptian Revolution
Out of the Arabs’ sense of failure and humiliation came one
of the Middle East’s most challenging and important figures,
Gamal Abdul Nasser. Born in 1918 into a lower middle-class
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Egyptian family, Nasser was to become the leading Arab figure of the modern era, his portrait still proudly displayed in
homes a generation after his death in 1970. It is easy to see
why he rose to such a position, for he was instrumental in
restoring Egyptian pride, which had long suffered humiliation for reasons unconnected with the Arab–Israeli conflict.
The completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought with it
the unwelcome attention of the British, for whom protection
of the routes to India was paramount. In 1882, the Royal
Navy bombarded Alexandria, the Egyptian army was
defeated, and the country passed under British control, even
though still acknowledging the theoretical suzerainty of the
Ottoman Empire and retaining as its Khedive the descendants of the Albanian adventurer Muhammad Ali. Under
the imperious rule of such men as Lord Cromer
(1882–1907) and Lord Kitchener (1911–14) Egyptians experienced the material benefits of peace and order but hated
the ways in which they were made to feel inferior in their
own country. In the Second World War, Egypt was the principal battleground for control of the Middle East, and
Egyptians bitterly resented the events of May 1942 when
British tanks forced the young King Farouk to appoint a government of their choice. Even after the war, 80,000 British
troops remained in their bases in the Suez Canal Zone, a
seemingly permanent reminder of Egyptian weakness. In
these circumstances the collapse of Farouk’s hopes of restoring his dynasty’s fortunes through a successful campaign
against Israel proved to be fatal.
The army was always likely to be the revolutionary force. It
had the organisational skills, the sense of grievance against a
government which it felt had let it down in the recent war,
and, perhaps above all, its officers included young men of
comparatively humble origin, like Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat
and Abdul Hakim Amer, who had come to despise Farouk’s
incompetence and corruption. These men formed the kernel of the Free Officers movement, which by the summer of
1949 was plotting the regime’s overthrow. Their moment
The Problem Consolidated
came on 22 July 1952. Cairo and Alexandria were quickly
seized, Farouk abdicated in favour of his son and sailed into
exile. Egypt’s future now lay with the young officers, led for
the time being by General Muhammad Naguib, a senior general who was never intended to be more than a figurehead.
Egypt’s new rulers knew that their hopes for the country’s
future would enjoy the goodwill of the United States. The
character of the regime was welcome to the Americans who
had been looking for leaders in the Middle East with popular support who would back the western side in the Cold
War. With that in view the Central Intelligence Agency had
forged links with the Free Officers well in advance of the
coup. Washington and Cairo could, it seemed, form a new
alliance against possible Soviet moves in the Middle East,
free from the taint of imperialism that had poisoned relations with the British (Copeland, 1969; Stephens, 1971).
Naguib steadily lost ground before Nasser’s superior
political skills. By the spring of 1954 Egypt was a republic
with Nasser its dominant figure; by the end of the year he
was president and Naguib was under house arrest. For the
next 16 years he was to be the key Arab player in the confrontation with Israel. It was not always obvious that this
would be the case, nor perhaps was it inevitable. Nasser was
an Egyptian with ambitions for his country but with little
experience of the wider Arab world (Stephens, 1971). The
Americans, the CIA in particular, saw Nasser as a popular
leader who would not go out of his way to look for conflict
with Israel and might just reach an accommodation with it.
Events were to prove otherwise.
Deteriorating Arab–Israeli Relations
In fact, the years 1952–55 were to see steadily mounting tension between Israel and her Arab neighbours, complicated
by a period of frosty relations with the United States. One of
the earliest sources of tension was the steady move of
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ministries and then the Knesset from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
To the Israelis this was simply confirming Jerusalem’s status
as their eternal capital, whereas to the Americans it was a
breach of the city’s intended status as an international entity.
Refusal to remove the American Embassy from Tel Aviv was
keenly resented. This issue, and that of the Palestinian
refugees, festered in the latter period of the Truman administration, but when the Republican administration of Dwight
Eisenhower took office in January 1953 a noticeable chill set
in. Eisenhower’s election owed little to Jewish voters and his
influential Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, believed
that Israel had no special call on America’s affections.
In May 1953 the new Secretary of State undertook a
Middle-East tour, visiting all the major countries and hearing
spokesmen for the refugees. A clear sign of the new direction in Washington’s thinking was his indication, in both
Egypt and Israel, that be believed the policy of the Truman
administration had been too much influenced by Jewish
groups. The new administration, he was at pains to point
out, did not believe ‘in building power by cultivating particular sections of populations’. This came, as was intended, as
a clear signal to Ben-Gurion that he could no longer count
on the kind of political leverage that had been so influential
in the Truman White House. When the crisis between the
two governments came, it arose over the Middle East’s most
precious resource, water. On 2 September 1953, the Israelis
began work to divert the waters of the River Jordan at Banat
Yacoub in the Syrian demilitarised zone. The United
Nations’ representative ordered the work stopped. When
Israel refused to comply with this order, Dulles ordered the
suspension of $26 million in aid. It was the first clear breach
between the two countries since the creation of the Israeli
state and, as intended, it was an uncomfortable signal that
the Eisenhower administration considered itself immune to
Jewish lobbying (Fraser, 1989).
This deterioration in relations between Israel and her
most powerful patron came at a time of increasing tension
The Problem Consolidated
along her borders. The 1949 armistice agreements had
reflected the positions reached by the opposing armies, not
the traditional landholding rights of Arab farmers. It was not
surprising that the latter disregarded lines, which held little
meaning for them, and crossed into Israel to inspect their
old lands. To the Israelis this was unwelcome ‘infiltration’,
especially as recent Jewish immigrants had been encouraged
to settle in these border areas. It was a recipe for tragedy.
Israeli border patrols regularly killed Arabs who crossed the
border, with the inevitable result that the Arabs themselves
began to arm. As violence on the border increased, the
Israelis created a new counter-terrorist force, Unit 101, commanded by the youthful Ariel Sharon. The crisis began on 13
October 1953 when an attack on the village of Tirat Yehuda
killed an Israeli mother and her two children. Fearing the
consequences, the Jordanians offered to help catch the
killers, but instead a retaliatory raid was mounted by Unit
101 on the nearby Jordanian village of Qibya. Sixty-nine people, half of them women and children, were killed. A deeply
embarrassed Ben-Gurion only added to Israel’s problems
with an unconvincing claim that the massacre had been the
work of incensed settlers. The Americans denounced the
events at Qibya, and it was only when the Israelis suspended
work on the Banat Yacoub canal that Dulles released the $26
million, an uncomfortable confirmation that the benign
days of the Truman administration had passed (Fraser, 1989;
Sachar, 1976).
It is fair to say that the Israelis entered 1954 in a distinctly
uneasy mood, made no more comfortable by the knowledge
of Nasser’s increasing self-assurance. In October 1954,
Nasser scored his first major triumph in foreign policy by
securing British withdrawal from their bases in the Suez
Canal Zone, thus ending this conspicuous sign of Egypt’s
subordination to the old imperialism. At the same time, his
relations with the Americans remained good. Fears over this
situation were to lead the Israeli intelligence services into a
major blunder which echoed in the country’s politics for
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years. In an attempt to expose the instability of Nasser’s
regime to the British and Americans, an Israeli intelligence
group began setting off bombs at American government
offices in Cairo and Alexandria. Once the agents were
arrested, the Egyptian police informed the Americans of
their real identity. Two were executed and the rest given
long prison sentences. The ‘Affair’, as it came to be known,
badly rattled the Israeli Government and dismayed the public. Once again, Israel had been shown to the Americans in
a bad light: Washington refused to respond to Israeli appeals
to help reduce the sentences on the agents (Black and
Morris, 1991).
The Gaza Raid and its Consequences
It was inevitable that the Israeli Government would look for
a way out of its domestic and international embarrassment
and that it would do so by turning to the country’s ablest
leader, David Ben-Gurion, who had earlier surrendered the
premiership to live in the Negev. Returning as Defence
Minister in February 1955, Ben-Gurion quickly recharged
the government’s energy. His chosen target was Gaza which
had been the source of growing Israeli irritation over the
number of guerrilla raids. The ‘raid’ on Gaza, which took
place on 28 February 1955, was really a major military operation with the Palestinian guerrillas providing the pretext
for an operation designed to show Israel’s military power
both to the West and to a nervous public opinion. In one
sense it marked a low point in Israel’s relations with
the United States, for the Americans joined in condemning
the operation, which had left 38 Egyptian soldiers dead. But
in other respects the Gaza raid was the beginning of a chain
of events which was to push the Arab–Israeli conflict in dramatic new directions.
The operation had, as intended, delivered a severe rebuff
to an Egyptian army which was only beginning to recover
The Problem Consolidated
from the defeats of 1948–49. Moreover, Nasser’s was a military regime which could not sustain such humiliations. It is
arguable whether the events of 28 February convinced
Nasser of the need to move in new directions or simply accelerated the process. The result was the same. It had never
been his purpose to act as any kind of puppet of the West.
While some Americans appreciated his need to strike an
independent line, others did not. Conscious of the need to
build up his armed forces, and frustrated that the British
and Americans were proving slow to respond, he began to
look elsewhere. His alienation from the Americans began in
March 1955 when he ignored their advice and took part in
the Bandung conference of non-aligned states. As Bandung
was attended by the Communist Chinese with whom Dulles
was at bitter odds, his attendance had predictable results.
Nasser was prepared to take his neutralism a stage further by
using China’s Zhou Enlai to test the possibility of securing
arms supplies from the Soviet Union. The response proved
positive. Despite last-minute American attempts to persuade
him otherwise, on 30 September 1955 Nasser announced
that he had made an arms agreement with ‘Czechoslovakia’,
a thin cover for the Soviet Union. Although Nasser was still
trying to maintain a balance between East and West that was
not how his action was seen in Washington, London and
Paris, and certainly not in Jerusalem. Even at this stage the
American reaction was the least strident of the four
(Copeland, 1969).
Clearly, the Israelis had most to fear from Egypt’s acquisition of a substantial armoury. The Americans had not given
up on the idea that Nasser and Ben-Gurion were strong
enough leaders to strike a deal. Their efforts culminated in
the early months of 1956 with the secret mission of Robert
Anderson, which only really exposed the extent of the continuing gulf between the two countries. Instead of moving
towards a settlement, relations between them were steadily
worsening. On one level there was the continuing irritation
over incursions from the Gaza Strip with the inevitable
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Israeli retaliation, while on another there was Egypt’s refusal
to allow cargoes bound for Israel through the Suez Canal or
the Straits of Tiran to the port of Eilat at the southern tip of
the Negev. In response Israeli defence chiefs had started
planning for a possible breach of the blockade by sending a
secret reconnaissance mission down the Sinai Desert to mark
out a route for a possible attack towards Sharm al-Shaikh,
the fort dominating the Straits. But the supply of Soviet
weaponry threatened to turn the military balance decisively
against the Israelis. The shipments, which began in
November 1955, were to include automatic light weapons,
100 self-propelled guns, 200 armoured personnel carriers
and 300 tanks. Compared with these, the Israeli army had
weapons which were obsolescent, but what really worried its
chiefs was the supply of 200 Mig-15 jet fighters and 50
Ilyushin-28 jet bombers which put their cities in potentially
mortal danger from Egyptian airbases in the Sinai. In any
case, what was the purpose of this formidable arsenal? The
search for a western arms partner, particularly for the supply
of modern aircraft, became imperative. Fortunately – and in
a sense fortuitously – for the Israelis, such a partner existed.
Origins of the Suez Crisis
The French view of Nasser was entirely coloured by his
enthusiastic support for the nationalist rebellion that had
broken out in Algeria in 1954. It was a war they were determined to win, especially as Algeria was regarded as a full part
of the French Republic with over a million French men and
women living there. Still smarting from their defeats in 1940
and, more recently, in Indo-China, the French were increasingly open to suggestions from any quarter which would
allow them to act against the Egyptian leader. Moreover, as
veterans of the wartime resistance the French leadership was
receptive to Jewish appeals for defence requirements. In
April 1956, 12 Mystère IV fighters, one of the best fighter
The Problem Consolidated
planes in the world, were flown to Israel; the following
month contracts were signed for a further 72 Mystères, 120
AMX light tanks and 40 Super Sherman tanks. The Israelis
could now look forward to countering the potential
Egyptian threat with the active support of a major western
power. It was also a clear confirmation that the Arab–Israeli
conflict had entered a more dangerous phase.
The French view of Nasser was increasingly shared by the
British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden. The British had their
own security network in the Middle East, the Baghdad Pact,
of which Iraq was the only Arab member. The other obvious
candidate was Jordan, now ruled by Abdullah’s young grandson, King Hussein. Jordan was heavily subsidised by Britain,
and its army, the Arab Legion, was commanded by General Sir
John Glubb and other British officers. A clumsy visit by
General Sir Gerald Templer to recruit Jordan into the Pact
failed when Hussein’s government realised that public
opinion would not stand for it. Templer’s humiliating rebuff
was not well received in London but worse was to come. At the
end of February 1956, Glubb and the other British officers
were dismissed from the Jordanian service. This further blow
to British prestige went hard with Eden who was already being
compared unfavourably with his illustrious predecessor,
Winston Churchill, and was being criticised in Britain for his
weakness in the face of Arab nationalism. Eden was proving to
be a poor choice as Prime Minister. This was not entirely his
fault, for a botched operation on his bile duct had seriously
weakened his health. But he increasingly saw Nasser through
the lens of the 1930s when he had been Foreign Secretary. For
him the Egyptian leader had become the new Mussolini or
Hitler whose ambitions needed to be curbed, just as Hitler’s
should have been at the time of the Rhineland crisis in 1936.
However inappropriate the comparison, it came increasingly
to dominate his mind and actions, with fateful consequences
for Britain and the Middle East (Rhodes James, 1986).
Despite these various pressures, the Middle-East crisis was
not triggered by the Israelis, French or British but by the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Americans who had now come round to the view that Nasser
was incorrigibly anti-Western, not least because of his recent
recognition of their particular bête noire, the People’s
Republic of China. The Egyptian leader’s major project for
improving the condition of his people was the proposed construction at Aswan on the Nile of a dam which would regulate the river’s flow, providing at the same time cheap
hydroelectric power and irrigation. As Egypt could only
afford to bear part of the cost, the deficit was to be made up
by loans from the World Bank and grants from the British
and American governments. By July 1956, with Congressional
opinion hardening against Nasser and claiming doubts
about Egypt’s ability to pay for her share of the project,
Dulles had decided against financing the project. This was
conveyed to an incredulous Egyptian ambassador in
Washington on 19 July, the British immediately following
suit. With its emphasis on Egypt’s financial capacity, this was
a humiliating blow for Egypt and for Nasser personally.
Nasser’s Nationalisation of the Suez Canal
The Egyptian leader responded skilfully to restore his country’s pride and offer the means through which the dam
might be financed. In a speech at Alexandria on 26 July, he
announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company.
The Canal was Egypt’s one major asset, but it was run by the
Paris-based company on a lease due to expire in 1968.
Nasser’s move was finely calculated, for shareholders were to
receive compensation, care being taken to ensure that shipping in the Canal was not interrupted. Responses in London
and Paris were less measured: the French now had the pretext to destroy the man believed to be behind their Algerian
troubles, and Eden could indulge his 1930s analogy by pointing to the threat to Britain’s imperial lifeline. The two countries began assembling a military expedition under British
command. It was ill-conceived both in organisation and
The Problem Consolidated
purpose. The latter seemed obvious enough, namely to
remove Nasser from power and restore the Canal to international control. But little thought was given to who or what
would replace Nasser and how any new leader would be sustained in power in the teeth of popular resentment. This
confused military planning, for there was a considerable difference between an operation designed to secure the Canal
and a major offensive aimed at Cairo. Nor were the British
and French forces positioned for the rapid response which
alone might have given the operation credibility. As the
expedition slowly assembled in its bases in Cyprus and Malta,
the Canal continued to work normally and the most fatal
British and French miscalculation of all began to emerge:
the increasingly critical attitude of Eisenhower and Dulles.
As early as 31 July, the latter had flown to London with a letter from the President counselling the ‘unwisdom even of
contemplating the use of military force at this moment’.
Despite such advice, Eden persisted in the illusion that his
war-time comrade, Eisenhower, could be relied upon (Eden,
1960; Eisenhower, 1965).
‘Collusion’ and War
By late September, hectic international diplomacy seemed to
be heading nowhere, the Canal was working smoothly and
the excuse for launching the military forces building up in
Cyprus and Malta was draining away. Faced with this situation, the French sent out feelers to the Israelis for possible
collaboration. Ben-Gurion knew that this was an irresistible chance to work closely with a major Western power,
and he was ably supported by the young Shimon Peres,
Director-General of the Ministry of Defence. Peres, a man of
wide-ranging imagination, was at the start of an extraordinary career which saw him at the heart of Israeli politics for
decades. An exploratory meeting in Paris on 30 September–
1 October 1956 was followed by a French military mission to
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Israel; the chemistry was right and the basis for military cooperation against Egypt was laid. Even so, little could be
done without the British, for the French could not act without the bases in Cyprus and Malta. Such co-operation could
not be assumed. Although the worst of the bitterness left by
the final phase of the Mandate had passed, Britain had widespread networks in the Arab world, not least a defence agreement with Jordan, which would be harmed by an Israeli
connection. But Eden’s consuming desire to destroy Nasser
overrode other considerations. At a critical meeting on
14 October, the French General Maurice Challe proposed a
plan which seemed to offer Eden the pretext he needed for
a military operation: the Israelis would attack Egyptian positions in the Sinai Desert, allowing the British and French to
seize the Canal in order to save it from damage and separate
the two sides. This is what was agreed at an ultra-secret conference held at Sèvres on 22–24 October, attended by BenGurion and representatives of the French and British
Governments. The ‘Sèvres Protocol’ committed Israel to an
offensive on 29 October, to be followed by British and
French appeals for a cease-fire and for the Israelis and
Egyptians to withdraw their forces ten miles on either side of
the Canal. If this were not done, Anglo–French hostilities
against Egypt would begin on the 31st. The ‘Collusion’ with
Israel was a highly secret affair, the true nature of which was
not even confided to the British Cabinet, and soon became a
matter of acute controversy in Britain for the plot had
too many transparent inconsistencies to be convincing. The
Anglo-French campaign was to be launched against the
victim of an attack and against a country which could hardly
be expected to comply with an ultimatum that allowed the
Israelis to occupy virtually the entire Sinai. The fatal omission
was consideration of the American response, the Israelis seemingly assuming that as London and Washington were close,
the Americans would not adopt an anti-British position.
In the early morning of 29 October, the first part of
the plan unfolded with an Israeli paratroop drop on the
The Problem Consolidated
strategic Mitla Pass in the Sinai. Although Egyptian units
fought stubbornly, the Israeli operation, imaginatively
conceived by Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, soon dominated
the Sinai. This was the signal for the Anglo–French ultimatums which were issued the following day, their rejection in
turn permitting the start of air hostilities against Egypt in
preparation for landings on the Canal scheduled for 5
November. The timing was to prove disastrous for the British
and French. President Eisenhower had consistently argued
against the use of force, had been kept in the dark over the
Anglo-French–Israeli ‘Collusion’ and, facing re-election on
the 6th, was now acutely embarrassed by his principal allies
and furious over what they were doing. Even worse was the
tragedy being played out in the streets and squares of
Budapest. On 4 November, the Red Army began its occupation of the city and brutal suppression of its Freedom
Fighters after Hungary’s Premier, Imre Nagy, had
announced the country’s neutrality. While events in the
Middle East probably did not influence Soviet decisions to
any great extent, British and French actions were diverting
attention from what was happening. The Soviets could condemn Anglo-French aggression while cynically pursuing
their own. Eisenhower’s inability to respond to the
Hungarians’ pathetic appeals stood in stark contrast to his
1952 election pledges to ‘roll back’ the Iron Curtain. If he
could not do that, at least he could bring his allies into line.
In this unpromising climate, British and French
paratroops at last dropped at Port Said on 5 November, followed the next day by the seaborne forces. Once again, delay
was fatal to their hopes, for in the previous days domestic
and world opinion had mounted against them, most dangerously in the White House. Even the Israelis had little real
need of them any more. Aided by the Anglo-French air
bombardment of Egypt, their forces controlled most of the
Sinai including the cherished prize of Sharm al-Shaikh. With
the fighting stopped, and Egypt and Israel accepting a ceasefire, the pretext for the Anglo-French landing had gone.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Financial pressure from the Americans quickly brought the illstarred adventure to an end. For some days Britain’s sterling
currency reserves had been steadily eroding, to the dismay of
the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harold Macmillan. When
Macmillan learned that his American counterpart, George
Humphrey, was obstructing his only hope of sustaining
sterling – raising funds through the International Monetary
Fund – he advised an end to hostilities. Faced with the possibility of financial collapse, Eden advised his dismayed French
allies that Britain could not carry on. Thus it was, as Eden ruefully conceded in his memoirs, that the ‘course of the Suez
Canal crisis was decided by the American attitude to it’
(Bromberger and Merry, 1957; Dayan, 1966; Kyle, 1991;
Lloyd, 1978; Louis and Owen, 1989; Nutting, 1967).
Consequences of the Suez Crisis
It is difficult to overstate the consequences of these events.
Britain and France, which had acted throughout the crisis
with a rare mixture of incompetence and dishonesty, rapidly
ceased to be major players in the Middle East. Revolution in
Iraq in 1958 removed Britain’s main ally. The same year, tensions in Algeria triggered a military revolt which brought to
power Charles de Gaulle in the name of ‘French Algeria’;
four years later he gave the country its independence. Both
Britain and France now sought their futures in Europe, even
though French resentment over Eden’s betrayal of their
joint cause was a factor in their opposition to British membership of the Common Market in the 1960s.
Their power passed to the United States and the newly reelected Eisenhower was determined to use it. In January
1957, he announced what came to be known as the
‘Eisenhower Doctrine’ – a policy which decreed that the
United States would use armed force to help any country in
the Middle East that requested assistance against Communism.
Alongside this went steady pressure to ensure that Israel did
The Problem Consolidated
not retain its recent conquests. Ben-Gurion hoped to use his
positions in Sinai to bargain for Israeli administration of the
Gaza Strip and retention of Sharm al-Shaikh, which he had
long seen as vital for the future development of the southern
port of Eilat and of his beloved Negev. Eisenhower and
Dulles stuck to the principle of a total Israeli withdrawal,
offering instead a United Nations Emergency Force
(UNEF). Israel’s refusal to accept this led Eisenhower in a
television address on 20 February 1957 to make it clear that
Israel could not ‘exact conditions for withdrawal’. Privately,
he threatened sanctions which included not just official aid
but difficulties in the way of private Israeli fund-raising in the
United States. He succeeded. After intensive negotiations,
on 1 March 1957 Israel’s Foreign Minister, Golda Meir,
announced her country’s withdrawal; any interference with
Israeli shipping in the Straits of Tiran would, she made clear,
be regarded as a casus belli. The ostensible guarantee Israel
received was the stationing of UNEF in the Sinai, including
Gaza and Sharm al-Shaikh. The secret price the Americans
obtained in return for Israeli withdrawal was an assurance
from Nasser that he would respect the Straits of Tiran as an
international waterway (Fraser, 1989; Kyle, 1991).
Despite being prised out of her conquests by the
Americans, Israel could still be pleased with the overall
results of her military gamble. For the next 10 years her borders were relatively stable and, despite the continuing high
cost of defence, the country’s economy moved steadily
ahead. The military lessons of 1956, especially the importance of modern airpower, were keenly studied and were to
form the basis of victory in the next war. The diplomatic lessons, if painful, were also instructive. The link with France
and Britain, so eagerly grasped by Ben-Gurion, had proved
to be a poisoned chalice. Such a connection was not
repeated. The United States had demonstrated the extent of
its leverage. The answer was to turn to Israel’s lobbying
machinery in Washington so that in future such pressure
could be countered at source.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Nasser emerged from the crisis the hero of the Arab
world, a status that he never entirely lost despite later setbacks and defeats. For a time everything he touched seemed
to turn to gold. The Iraqi revolution in 1958 destroyed the
pro-British monarchy there. This might have been quickly
followed by revolutionary regimes in Lebanon and Jordan
but for the prompt arrival of American and British troops.
The same year saw the formation of the United Arab
Republic when Egypt and Syria merged under Nasser’s leadership. Although Nasser never believed in a politically
united Arab world, he did see himself as the acknowledged
voice of Arab aspirations, striking a distinctive position in
world events. It was not to be. The new Iraqi regime turned
out to be bitterly hostile to Nasser’s ambitions. A much more
bitter blow came in September 1961 when the Syrians
rebelled against the union. From then on, Nasser was on the
decline, a hard fate for a proud man. An example of this
pride came in his reaction to the American food-aid programme started by President Kennedy. Although this was
feeding some 40 per cent of the Egyptian population, Nasser
violently denounced this aid in a speech in December 1964,
and the Americans discontinued it. Perhaps Nasser’s most
serious failing came in the military sphere, for the Egyptian
armed forces never really learned the lessons of the Sinai
campaign. Their soldiers had fought bravely and, it could be
argued, had been distracted by the British bombing campaign and impending landings on the Canal. But Nasser
delegated military affairs to his old colleague Abdul Hakim
Amer, who failed to take the necessary action, while nurturing political ambitions of his own. Nasser was ultimately to
pay a bitter price for Amer’s shortcomings.
Fatah and the Palestinian Revival
In the immediate aftermath of the Suez Crisis these problems lay in the future; the people who felt most cheated by
The Problem Consolidated
what had happened were the Palestinians whose name had
hardly been lifted by any of the parties. This seemed to confirm two growing fears. Since 1949 there had been a gnawing suspicion that the Arab Governments were not really
much exercised by the fate of the Palestinians, but would
manipulate them if it suited them to do so. Even worse was
the fear that the world was steadily forgetting about the
Palestinians or, at best, vaguely including them as one of a
number of ‘refugee problems’. It was in response to these
depressing conclusions that a number of young Palestinians
began conversations in 1957 and 1958 which were to lead to
a political revival. The man who emerged as their leader was
Yasser Arafat. Arafat, who came to symbolise the Palestinian
cause, was born in 1929 into a Gaza family which was part of
the Husseini clan. After fighting in the 1948–49 war, which
left him with a poor view of his Arab allies, he trained as an
engineer at university in Egypt, becoming President of the
Union of Palestinian Students. Among his associates were
two younger men, Khalil Wazir, whose family had been
expelled from Ramle, and Salah Khalaf, who had been part
of the flight from Jaffa. The future of the Palestinian leadership was to fall very much on these three men, broken only
with the death of Khalil Wazir at the hands of Israeli commandos in Tunis in April 1988. In January 1991, Salah
Khalaf, too, was murdered, in his case by Palestinians hostile
to Arafat’s leadership. Out of their discussion came the formation in 1959 of Fatah, its name derived from reversing the
initials of ‘The Movement for the Liberation of Palestine’; its
journal Filastinuna (‘Our Palestine’) proclaimed the revival
of Palestinian political awareness (Cobban, 1984; Hart, 1984;
Gowers and Walker, 1991).
It had taken ten years after the disasters of 1948–49 for the
political fortunes of the Palestinians to begin to revive, and
even then progress was to be painfully slow, not least because
of the hostility of the various Arab intelligence services.
Developments in Israel were to stimulate the next move in
Palestinian politics. By 1963, the Israelis had reached the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
critical stage in their plans for a National Carrier which
would channel the waters of the River Jordan down to the
Negev. This produced a furious Arab reaction: the scheme
would transform Israel’s ability to absorb immigrants and
was also, it was argued, the theft of Arab water as the sources
of the Jordan lay outside Israel. Nasser knew that the Arabs
were in no military state to respond to the clamour for war.
Instead, he convened an Arab summit in Cairo in January
1964 which took the decision to create a political organisation for the Palestinians. This was less dramatic than it
seemed, for it was clear that the proposed organisation
would be kept firmly under control, not least because its
chairman, Ahmad Shuqairy, was close to Nasser. In May 1964
it came into existence as the Palestine Liberation
Organisation (PLO), its activities governed by the Palestine
National Charter. The basic premise of the Charter was the
familiar one that the ‘partition of Palestine in 1947 and
the establishment of Israel are entirely illegal’. As a voice for
the Palestinians, the PLO was to prove ineffective. It was never
intended to have an independent life, and the haplessness of
Shuqairy’s leadership left Palestinians incredulous and bitter.
His only obvious talent was for an extreme rhetoric that
proved a gift for Israeli propagandists (Cobban, 1984).
Arafat and his associates regarded Shuqairy and the PLO
with undisguised contempt, but the new organisation had
one asset which caused them considerable alarm. This was
the formation of the Palestine Liberation Army which
started to attract recruits from the ranks of Fatah. Faced with
this depressing situation, Arafat concluded that military
action was needed. He believed that the only hope the
Palestinians had was to escalate tension, leading to a war in
which Israel would be defeated by the regular Arab armies –
precisely what Nasser was trying to avoid through his control
of the PLO. What saved Arafat’s strategy was the continuing
rivalry between Nasser and the Syrians in the aftermath of
the collapse of their union. In October 1964 a military coup
in Damascus brought to power the Ba’ath party which was
The Problem Consolidated
bitterly opposed to Nasser’s pretensions to Arab leadership.
Leading Ba’athists, including the Air Force Commander
Hafez Assad, were prepared to take up the Fatah cause. It
proved to be the critical breakthrough that Fatah needed,
and was to help set the Middle East on the path towards the
1967 war.
Even within Fatah there was no unanimity on the wisdom
of challenging Israel. Hence, when operations began in
January 1965, they were done under the nom de guerre of
Assifa (‘The Storm’). Symbolically, the first raid was against
the Israeli water network and the organisation acquired its
first martyr when a member of the raiding party was killed by
a Jordanian patrol. These raids, which increased in frequency in the course of 1965, were never a threat to Israel’s
security, but nevertheless served as a source of instability and
irritation. It is important to remember that by the mid-1960s
most Israelis believed that their state had passed beyond the
early pioneering stage. By 1965 Israel had achieved a
standard of living equivalent to the countries of southern
Europe, was pursuing a policy of active aid to the newly
emergent states of Africa, and saw no reason why it should
not be as accepted a part of the international community as,
say, Belgium or the Netherlands. The state was presided over
from June 1963 by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and his
Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, whose policies seemed far
removed from the activism of Ben-Gurion. A former ambassador to Washington and representative at the United
Nations, Eban was a sophisticated diplomat, but never
seemed to carry the same weight at home as he did abroad.
Their ‘normalisation’ of Israeli society and foreign policy
was by no means to the taste of their predecessor, who,
lamenting the seeming loss of pioneering urge, in
November 1964 set up a new political group, Rafi, together
with Shimon Peres and former Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan.
Although Rafi did not attract mass support, winning only 10
seats out of 120 in the Knesset elections of November 1965,
its leaders had sufficient prestige to serve as a focus for those
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
who felt uneasy at the supposed weakness of Eshkol and
Eban in the face of the Fatah raids. The presence of BenGurion growling off-stage served as a significant check on
the government’s freedom to manoeuvre (Rodinson, 1968).
By 1966, the Arab–Israeli conflict seemed set to enter
upon a more dangerous phase. Israel was now a wellestablished state and Arab leaders, notably Nasser, privately
acknowledged its strength and ability to defend itself, but
this in turn contributed to the growing activism of the
Palestinians. Terrified of being forgotten, Palestinian groups
were turning to a new militancy which, if it could not
threaten Israel’s existence, could at least remind Israelis of
the uncomfortable fact that major issues had been left unresolved. The way was clear for the third Arab–Israeli war, a
volatile situation made no more stable by the Americans’
almost total preoccupation with Vietnam. The one country
able to influence the Arab–Israeli conflict was fixated on
south-east Asia.
Origins of the June War
The war of 1967 was to prove as decisive in its consequences
as that of 1948–49. It left Israel firmly in control of all the
land of mandatory Palestine, as well as extensive Egyptian
and Syrian territory, and tilted the balance of Middle East
power firmly in an Israeli direction. As tensions between
Israel and the Syrian–Fatah alliance grew in the winter of
1966–67, the Middle East edged towards war. Two events in
November 1966 stand out as marking the new levels of tension. The first was the signing of a defensive pact between
Nasser and the Syrians. While this gave Syria the confidence
of powerful support, it was bound to involve Nasser more
closely in the increasingly tense confrontation between
Damascus and Israel, even though he was careful to give private assurances to the Americans that he would not allow the
agreement to drag him into war. Confirmation of the deterrent effect of the new pact seemed to come quickly when
Israel mounted a large-scale raid on the Jordanian village of
Samu in retaliation for Fatah raids. In attacking Jordan
rather than Syria, it seemed to the Arabs, and to his domestic critics, that Prime Minister Eshkol had taken the easy way.
By April 1967, with a major air battle over Syria and an
increasing war of words between Jerusalem and Damascus,
an all-out military confrontation between the two countries
seemed likely; as always something was needed to provide
the spark. Even so, no one was planning war. The Eshkol
government had no such intention. Much of Nasser’s army
was fighting a sterile war in Yemen. King Hussein was not
about to gamble with his kingdom, and without Egypt and
Jordan, the Syrian–Fatah alliance lacked the strength to go
to war. On 4 May, Israeli intelligence reported that war was
not imminent.
What actually sparked the crisis has never been in doubt.
On 13 May 1967, the Soviet Union informed Nasser that the
Israelis were deploying 10 to 12 brigades on their northern
border with a view to attacking Syria. This seemed to confirm
reports that had reached Cairo from Damascus of an Israeli
concentration. What is mysterious, however, is that the
report was false. Ten to twelve brigades would have
accounted for half the army on full mobilisation and no such
force was massing on the Syrian border. Why, then, would
the Soviets send Nasser such misleading, and ultimately disastrous, information? Explanations have been offered that
Moscow was trying to take some of the pressure off its
increasingly embattled Syrian ally or that it was an attempt to
draw the Americans into a Middle-East trouble spot. The
likelihood is that it was simply an inaccurate report, poorly
evaluated in Moscow. Such things happen. Nasser understandably felt that he had to act swiftly to divert the Israelis
from their presumed attack on Syria. When two Egyptian
armoured divisions moved into the Sinai Desert on 14 May,
and were immediately matched by an Israeli tank brigade, it
was clear that a new crisis in the Arab–Israeli conflict might
be approaching.
Dangerous though it seemed, this troop deployment did
not signal that a war was imminent, only that Nasser wanted
to show that he was properly positioned to discourage any
possible Israeli move against Syria. Nevertheless, on 16 May
Eshkol authorised the mobilisation of reserves. The same
From War to War
evening, Nasser prepared his position by ordering the UNEF
forces in Sinai to concentrate in the Gaza Strip. Any such
move by UNEF inevitably placed at risk the settlement negotiated in 1957 and raised the spectre of a renewed blockade
of the Straits of Tiran, which Israel had made clear would be
regarded as a casus belli. Nasser’s initial demand for a UNEF
withdrawal did not, however, include Sharm al-Sheikh or,
indeed, Gaza. UNEF’s presence, by this stage some 1400
men, had never been other than symbolic. The presumption
had been that in the event of a crisis its position would be
referred to the General Assembly of the United Nations
which had authorised its presence in the first place, thus
allowing diplomacy time to work. The Secretary-General of
the United Nations, U Thant, decided that the organisation
could not keep troops in Egypt without the government’s
consent and that if part of UNEF were to go, then the entire
force should be removed. This decision was taken without
reference to the Security Council or the General Assembly.
If U Thant’s purpose was to put pressure on Nasser it failed,
for on 17 May Egypt demanded the total withdrawal of
UNEF. Although it has been strongly argued that the
Secretary-General had been left no alternative, U Thant’s
failure to use the mechanisms of the Security Council and
General Assembly has been seen as opening the way to war.
Nasser later claimed that he had been left no choice but to
close the Straits of Tiran. While this may be so, it seems that
he was also taking decisions based upon assurances from
Field-Marshal Amer that the Egyptian armed forces were
ready for any confrontation with Israel. That prospect was
now measurably closer.
Knowing this, the Israeli Government ordered full mobilisation on 20 May. The following day, Nasser announced a
blockade of the Straits of Tiran, in breach of the secret
undertaking he had given in 1957 that it would remain an
international waterway – and in the knowledge of the promised Israeli response. He had now moved several decisive
steps beyond mere deterrence of an Israeli move against
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Syria and no longer seemed in control of events. While
Nasser’s public speeches breathed defiance of Israel, heightening an increasing clamour for war in the Arab world, he
sent private assurances to the Americans, through the
Soviets, that there would be no attack. This was a message
the Soviets were keen to reinforce for they had concluded, as
had the Americans but not the Egyptian commanders, that
if war came it would quickly end with an Israeli victory.
Diplomacy seemed to be leading nowhere. A mission by
Israeli Foreign Minister Eban to Paris, London and
Washington brought expressions of sympathy but little else.
The British and French would do nothing without the
Americans, who were themselves far too deeply enmeshed in
Vietnam to welcome any kind of military involvement in the
Middle East. While the Americans had concluded that Israel
was the victim of aggression and that U Thant had seriously
miscalculated, they did not believe that Egypt was about to
attack. President Lyndon Johnson’s advice to the Israelis was
to hold back and allow time for diplomacy to work: ‘You will
not be alone unless you go alone’, he advised them. But
events in the region were developing increasing momentum.
On 29 May, Nasser proclaimed to his National Assembly that
what was at issue was no longer the Straits of Tiran or UNEF,
but ‘the rights of the Palestinian people’. The following day,
King Hussein concluded a military treaty with Egypt. As
Egyptian troops arrived in Jordan, Ahmad Shuqairy pledged
Israel’s destruction.
Believing that they still had time to negotiate an opening
of the Straits, on 3 June the Americans succeeded in arranging for Egyptian Vice-President Zakariya Muhieddin to come
to Washington on the 7th, but it proved to be an illusory
breakthrough. Eshkol’s government was faced with an
increasingly fretful public opinion which did not see him as
the man for the hour and had scant faith in the power of
international diplomacy. On 1 June, Moshe Dayan, the hero
of the 1956 Sinai campaign, became Defence Minister in a
government of national unity, a clear concession to those
From War to War
who were demanding a decisive resolution of the crisis. The
Israeli decision for war was taken on 4 June, by a divided vote
in the cabinet and without informing the Americans
(Laqueur, 1968; Fraser, 1989; Parker, 1992).
The June War: Israel’s Six Day Victory
Although Dayan became the public’s hero during and after
the war, the true architect of the victory that followed was Chief
of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, under whose direction the armed
forces had prepared in minute detail for the campaign that
unfolded so brilliantly in the early hours of 5 June. Air-power
was the decisive element, and Air Force Commander General
Mordechai Hod the key planner and executor. Nasser’s air
strength lay in modern Mig-21 fighters, and a bomber force of
30 Tupolev-16 strategic bombers and 27 Ilyushin-28 medium
bombers, a force well able to devastate Israel’s cities. Against
them, Hod had some 250 aircraft, French-built Mirages, Super
Mystères, Mystère Mark IVs and Ouragans. They could be
rearmed and refuelled in eight minutes, enabling them to be
back over their targets an hour after the first strike. Flying out
over the Mediterranean at low level, the Israeli Air Force took
its Egyptian rivals totally by surprise, striking their airfields at
07.45, just as their fighters had returned from dawn patrol. In
less than three hours the Egyptian Air Force had been
removed from the military equation, losing their entire
bomber force, and 135 fighters. Later that day, 22 Jordanian
and 55 Syrian planes were also destroyed. It was probably the
most decisive air strike of the post-war era, possibly of all time.
Israeli planes were now free to give full support to the army
as it prepared to advance in Sinai. The Egyptian force under
General Abd el Mohsen Mortagui remained formidable, with
four infantry, one mechanised and two armoured divisions.
Israel’s Southern Command under General Yeshayahu Gavish
deployed three divisions. Key to their success was to isolate the
Gaza Strip by seizing Rafah and Khan Yunis. The country’s
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
leading armoured specialist, General Israel Tal, attacked with
a mixed force of tanks and paratroopers. By the evening of
5 June they had taken their objectives and advanced to El Arish
in Sinai. To the south, General Ariel Sharon was charged with
securing the supply route across the central Sinai at Abu
Agheila, which he did by the early hours of 6 June. The third
division, reservists under General Avraham Joffe, then
advanced between Tal and Sharon to take another main
Egyptian communications centre. The Egyptian army in Sinai
was ripe for the taking. By 8 June Israeli troops were on the
Suez Canal, the entire peninsula was in their hands, and seven
Egyptian divisions had been defeated. The Egyptian losses
were between 10,000 and 15,000 men, 800 tanks, and
thousands of vehicles and artillery pieces.
On 5 June King Hussein of Jordan decided that he had to
honour his commitments to the Arab cause and began to
shell the Israeli enclave on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus. The
Jordanians had a well-trained army of eight infantry brigades,
seven of them deployed in the West Bank, and two armoured
brigades held back in the Jordan valley, ready for offensive
operations north and south of Jerusalem. Israeli cities were
within range of Jordanian 155 mm artillery. But if the dangers
were obvious, so, too, was the potential opportunity of gaining Judaism’s most sacred site, the Western Wall. Defence of
the area fell to Central Command under General Uzi Narkiss,
with a mechanised brigade and the reservists of the 16th
Jerusalem Brigade. But the pace of events permitted the
release from Sinai of the 55th Parachute Brigade. Hostilities
began just before midnight on 5/6 June. On the morning of
7 June, the paratroopers seized the Old City, which had been
left largely undefended. Their encounter with the Western
Wall was an emotional high point for Israelis. They were soon
followed by Rabin, Dayan, Eshkol and the chief Ashkenazi
rabbi, who declared they would never leave again. By the end
of the day, all of the West Bank was in Israeli hands and a
cease-fire with Jordan was in place. The short-lived
Hashemite kingdom was in ruins.
From War to War
So far, nothing much had stirred on the Syrian front. On
8 June, Dayan was able to order air attacks on positions on
the Golan Heights. The following day, Northern Command,
under General David Elazar, began their ground assault on
strong Syrian positions. After hard fighting, by 10 June,
when a United Nations cease-fire came into effect, Israeli
forces had gained the Golan, including the provincial capital of Quneitra. All that marred the Israeli victory was a sustained air and naval attack on 8 June on the American
surveillance vessel Liberty with the loss of 34 sailors. Israel’s
explanation that this had been the result of mistaken identity, though possibly correct, was sceptically received in
Washington and marred relations for the rest of the Johnson
presidency (Kimche and Bawly, 1968; Dayan, 1976; Rabin,
1976; Ennes, 1979; Oren, 2002).
The Aftermath of War
By any calculation Israel had gained one of the most spectacular victories of recent history. Not only had the armed
forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria been decimated, but Israel
now controlled the future of east Jerusalem, the West Bank,
the Sinai Desert and the Golan Heights, and enjoyed the
overwhelming support of Western public opinion. A country
that had felt embattled and threatened only days before was
now the decisive military power in the Middle East, its
people self-confident and proud of their achievements.
Equally, Israel had changed in the process, for she was now
an occupying power responsible for the lives and destinies of
over one million Palestinians and the Arabs of the Sinai and
the Golan. How Israel would resolve this was to become the
central issue in the Arab–Israeli conflict over the next
35 years. Initial opinions in Israel were divided about the
future of the territories. While those on the right, notably
the followers of Menahem Begin, held that the West Bank
was an inalienable part of the Jewish inheritance, the initial
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
view of Eshkol and Eban was that most of the conquered
land was negotiable in return for peace settlements. There
was a widespread sense of relief that Israeli towns and cities
were for the time being far removed from any attack, but few
believed that these new positions would become the
country’s long-term frontier.
From the start it was clear that there were certain positions
which would not be surrendered. Some were strategic. Most
Israelis were agreed that Jordanian artillery should not
return to the hills overlooking the coastal plain, and even
before the war was over some 10,000 Arabs had been
expelled from villages in the Latrun salient, which had been
a constant danger to communications between Tel Aviv and
Jerusalem. The future of Jerusalem transcended any strategic
consideration and all political differences. Israelis felt that
they had reunified their eternal capital from which they were
not to be parted; hence, on 27 June the Knesset rushed
through laws extending Israeli jurisdiction and administration to east Jerusalem. Two days later the partition lines that
had divided the city for 19 years were removed and the integration of the two parts of the city began under its
redoubtable mayor, Teddy Kollek, who was to remain in
office until 1993. Evidence of Israeli intentions to stay was the
immediate demolition of the medieval Mughrabi quarter in
the Old City to prepare an open space in front of the Western
Wall, an action condemned by UNESCO. The annexation of
the Old City was regarded with dismay throughout the
Muslim world because of its perceived threat to the Haram
al-Sharif and did nothing to encourage Arabs to compromise. Nor was it recognised by the international community.
On 4 July the United Nations General Assembly adopted, by
99 votes to nil with 20 abstentions, a resolution declaring
Israel’s actions to be invalid. Although this was followed by
subsequent similar resolutions in the General Assembly and
Security Council, Israeli settlements were systematically
extended around east Jerusalem until 35 years later Arabs
had become a minority in the eastern part of the city.
From War to War
Although the physical barriers had been removed, the city’s
Arab and Jewish citizens led separate lives (Benvenisti, 1976).
These events of May–June 1967 had been a severe jolt to
the international system. To an American administration
hitherto transfixed by the Vietnam War they had suddenly
opened up the prospect of conflict with the Soviet Union.
During the diplomatic crisis and the war the two superpowers had gone to considerable trouble to reassure each other.
This reflected how seriously they regarded the possibility of
escalation should events get seriously out of control. Such
considerations lay behind President Johnson’s broadcast on
19 June in which he set out his ‘five principles’ for an
Arab–Israeli settlement: the removal of threats against any
nation in the region; justice for the ‘refugees’; freedom of
navigation; an end to the arms race; and ‘respect for political independence and territorial integrity of all the states in
the area’. If Johnson hoped for speedy progress, he was to be
disappointed. An Arab summit held in Khartoum in
September seemed to underline the intractability of the
problem with its resolutions on no peace, recognition or
negotiation with Israel. This apparently intransigent formula
concealed a willingness on the part of Egypt and Jordan to
acquiesce in Israel’s existence within her pre-war borders.
The Arabs’ problem was a hopelessly weak negotiating position. The Israelis, on the other hand, saw no reason to make
easy concessions to those who had so recently threatened
them. It did not make for diplomatic progress.
The way forward appeared to be the British-sponsored
Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967, which
embodied key aspects of President Johnson’s speech, and represented a carefully negotiated compromise. The resolution
recognised ‘the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political
independence of every State in the area and their right to live
in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from
threats or acts of force’: when Egypt and Jordan accepted it
they acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. It also affirmed that
there should be ‘a just settlement of the refugee problem’,
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
a concession by Israel, though Palestinians bitterly objected to
being described in these terms. At the heart of Resolution 242
were the sections relating to the future shape of a peace settlement. This was to include ‘Withdrawal of Israel armed
forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’, a delphic clause which deliberately excluded the word ‘the’ from
before ‘territories’. Hence, while Arabs argued that it meant
‘all’ the territories, Israelis responded that it merely implied
‘some’ of the territories. The British, who had sponsored the
resolution, maintained that this part of it was governed by
the statement that it also emphasised ‘the inadmissibility of the
acquisition of territory by war’, an interpretation that would
have allowed Israel to retain little beyond improvements to her
security in such areas as the Latrun Salient. Resolution 242 was
intended to provide the basis for peace negotiations to be conducted by the Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring but his mission, which lasted until 1971, proved barren. The parties were
still too far apart and the United Nations, its authority
impaired by U Thant’s actions over UNEF, could not bring
them together. Even so, Resolution 242 has been the basis of
all subsequent peace moves (Caradon et al., 1981).
The Palestinian Revival
Where did the Palestinians stand in regard to all of this? If
some of their leaders had hoped that Israel would be broken
by the armies of the Arab states, then the war had left them
confounded; the conventional wisdom was that no credible
Arab force would be ready to take the field again for many
years. The war had also resulted in a new wave of refugees.
Although UN officials found it hard to give a precise figure,
they estimated that between 350,000 and 400,000 Palestinians
had fled in the course of the war, most of them from the West
Bank. By the end of 1967, only some 14,000 had returned
home, and although many more did in subsequent years, the
overall result was another disaster for the Palestinians. Nor
From War to War
were they reassured by events on the ground, for the annexation of east Jerusalem seemed an ominous prelude to what
might happen on the rest of the West Bank. That those on
the Israeli right regarded it as an integral part of the Jewish
inheritance was well known, as was the tradition, inherited
from an earlier generation of Zionists, of ‘building realities’.
It was not long before these ‘realities’ began to appear with
the construction of a belt of Israeli settlements along the
Jordan valley and the establishment of the religious settlement of Kiryat Arba outside Hebron. Given the religious significance of Hebron for Jews and Muslims, the latter
settlement proved a particular source of tension.
It was in these disheartening circumstances that the
Palestinian revival began. There is little doubt that Arafat’s
was the decisive voice. Convinced that the spirit of resistance
had to be kept alive, he personally directed a Fatah underground campaign in the West Bank in the winter of 1967–68,
only just evading capture on a number of occasions. In a
military sense the campaign was premature: the population
was unprepared and the networks were fragile. Some 200
guerrillas were killed and 1000 arrested, but the campaign
demonstrated that sections of the Palestinians had not been
cowed by defeat and Arafat’s own role ensured his credibility
as a leader. Stung by Fatah’s revival, on 21 March 1968 some
15,000 Israeli troops mounted a major raid on the Jordanian
village of Karameh just east of the River Jordan. Forewarned
by the Jordanians, some 300 Fatah guerrillas put up a spirited
defence that did much to restore Arab morale and increase
the organisation’s prestige. Fatah’s new primacy was soon
reflected in a major reorganisation of the PLO in the summer of 1968. The 1964 National Charter was revised to reflect
Fatah’s leadership and the strategy of guerrilla action which
the PLO was now to follow. At the heart of the Charter
was the assertion that Palestine as it had been constituted
under the British Mandate was ‘an indivisible territorial unit’.
This reflected the Palestinians’ rejection of partition, which
they had held to consistently since 1937, and which held out no
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
prospect of compromise with Israel. On the contrary, articles
9 and 10 committed the organisation to ‘armed struggle’ and
‘commando action’. The way was now clear for Arafat to
become chairman of the PLO, and for the various armed
groups to be brought into its structure. Under Arafat’s leadership the PLO was transformed into an increasingly effective
voice for the Palestinians, not least because he ensured that
its activities were adequately financed through a tax on
Palestinian incomes and support from sympathetic states like
Saudi Arabia and Libya (Cobban, 1984).
Under the general umbrella of the PLO, the ‘armed struggle’ against Israel took several forms. Although Fatah’s networks in the West Bank did not survive far into 1968, it was not
until 1971 that the Israelis were able to break the organisation
in Gaza, where it could operate more effectively out of the
crowded refugee camps. The main guerrilla base of operations, however, was Jordan, and as their power and selfconfidence grew, so did the challenge they posed to the
stability of what remained of Hussein’s kingdom. While Fatah
pursued its policy of conventional raids, the Popular Front for
the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) led by Dr George Habash
pioneered the technique of striking at the more vulnerable,
but headline-catching, target of airliners. From the summer of
1968 there was a series of attacks on El Al and on other airlines
flying to Israel. In one of the worst incidents, a Swissair flight
to Tel Aviv was blown up in the air in February 1970. Israel
inevitably retaliated, most spectacularly in December 1968
with a raid on Beirut International Airport which destroyed 13
Arab aircraft, but there seemed no obvious counter to a technique which, despite its brutality, was succeeding in bringing
Palestinian grievances to the world’s consciousness.
The Israeli–American Link
If this Palestinian revival was one theme in the late 1960s, a
return to active diplomacy by the Americans was the other.
From War to War
In the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war the Israelis had
feared that Johnson might repeat Eisenhower’s pressure to
force a withdrawal. Despite the administration’s displeasure
over the Liberty affair, this did not happen. Instead, the two
countries grew closer together. The war had proved beyond
any measure of doubt that air-power was the key to military
success and, as the Soviets began the urgent task of rebuilding the Egyptian and Syrian Air Forces, the Israelis looked to
the Americans to replace their ageing French aircraft with
the Phantom fighter. In 1968 Congress sanctioned the sale
of 50 Phantoms to Israel, the first step in a relationship that
was to bring a new dimension to the Arab–Israeli conflict. It
was cemented by the lobbying power of the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which used to powerful
effect the voting potential, political commitment and readiness to donate to campaigns of the Jewish community. Local
Political Action Committees ensured that such resources
were deployed on behalf of politicians who were judged to
have a sound record of support for Israel or against those
who did not (Kenen, 1981; Findley, 1985; Tivnan, 1987).
In early 1969, the thrust of American policy changed
under the direction of the new Republican President,
Richard Nixon, who was set on moving away from the sterile
obsession with Vietnam. As most American Jews had voted
for his Democratic rival, Nixon felt that he could move forward in the Middle East with some flexibility. Even if not his
immediate priority, the Arab–Israeli conflict could no longer
be ignored. The Jarring Mission was clearly going nowhere,
and Israel’s new leader, Golda Meir, saw no reason to make
compromises in face of the steady build-up of the Egyptian
and Syrian armed forces. The Russian-born and Americaneducated Meir personified that generation of pioneering
Zionists which was beginning to pass from the political
scene. Assuming the premiership in March 1969 after
Eshkol’s sudden death, she was not a politician inclined by
temperament or experience to take chances in negotiations
with the Arabs (Meir, 1975; Shlaim, 2000). Such was Nasser’s
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
renewed confidence that serious fighting resumed along
the Suez Canal. Despite such unpromising prospects, there
were signs that a diplomatic move might be possible. Private
assurances came from King Hussein that he and Nasser
were willing to seek an accommodation with Israel, and the
Soviets, too, were anxious to reduce tension. On that basis,
Secretary of State William Rogers and his officials in
the State Department began work on a framework for a
peace settlement. By the end of October 1969 they were able
to confirm to the Soviets that they wanted a return to the
pre-1967 borders together with security guarantees.
This framework formed the basis of the peace plan which
Rogers announced on 9 December 1969. It proved to be a
major interpretation of how the new administration viewed a
settlement based upon Resolution 242. Peace, Rogers
believed, would have to be reinforced by demilitarised zones
and would have to ensure freedom of navigation. Israel’s
frontiers ‘should not reflect the weight of conquest’, and any
adjustments ought to be confined to ‘insubstantial alterations
required for mutual security’. Officials made clear that this
meant an almost total withdrawal, except for some obvious
security problems like the Latrun Salient. Equally worrying to
Israelis were his views on Jerusalem and the Palestinians, the
‘bitterness and frustration’ of whom had to be addressed. It
was his use of the term ‘Palestinians’ that marked a considerable change from Resolution 242, which had simply referred
to them as ‘refugees’. Jerusalem should remain a united city
but with roles for both Israel and Jordan. The plan was deeply
resented by the Israelis who reacted against it on a number of
fronts. Moves were accelerated to consolidate control of east
Jerusalem by starting the construction of 25,000 apartments
for Jews on 4000 acres of expropriated land. In Washington,
AIPAC organised a lobby of 14 000 prominent Jews and
pro-Israeli resolutions in Congress attracted 70 Senators and
280 Representatives (Fraser, 1989).
Even though the Rogers Plan failed to develop any
momentum, it is important for two reasons. As it was never
From War to War
repudiated, it stood as a major interpretation of how the
State Department saw Resolution 242. Secondly, its failure
confirmed the pessimistic analysis of the National Security
Adviser, Dr Henry Kissinger, who had discounted its chances
from the start. A Bavarian Jewish refugee from Hitler’s
Germany, Kissinger had made a substantial reputation as an
analyst of international affairs at Harvard before joining the
Nixon administration. His view was that such a plan would
only drive the Israelis and Arabs further apart by identifying
entrenched positions. This perception was to be at the heart
of his subsequent approach to the Arab–Israeli problem,
though as yet that was some way off.
‘Black September’ in Jordan
With both the Jarring Mission and the Rogers Plan effectively
stalled, the focus seemed to move from diplomacy to the
actions of the Palestinian guerrillas who were becoming so
well armed and self-confident that they seemed increasingly
to dominate the affairs of Jordan. King Hussein could not
indefinitely ignore their threat to his authority and, although
the large Palestinian population made him move cautiously,
his temper was not improved by two attempts on his life. The
second of these, on 1 September 1970, was followed days later
by the hijacking by the PFLP of three airliners – Swiss,
American and British – to Dawson’s Field near Amman. With
the flaunting of his authority now dramatically exposed on the
world’s television screens, Hussein decided to act. On 17
September, his army began a sustained assault on the
Palestinian positions. As the fighting intensified, the Syrian
army, though not the Air Force, crossed Jordan’s northern
border to aid the guerrillas, once again threatening the region
with war. Prompt counteraction by the Americans and Israelis
forced a Syrian withdrawal but it had been a dangerous
moment. The savage fighting was brought to an end by Nasser
who brought Hussein and Arafat to a peace conference in Cairo
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
on 27 September which succeeded in reaching a face-saving
formula of sorts. But the fighting in Jordan – ‘Black
September’ as it came to be known – had been far too bitter
for the meeting to be other than stormy; the following day
Nasser died of a heart attack (Cobban, 1984).
The outpouring of grief that followed Nasser’s death
reflected his unique position in modern Arab history, a mystique which survived even the disaster of 1967. His final years
were clouded by that defeat. Field-Marshal Amer died in
mysterious circumstances, but not everything could be
attributed to his mismanagement. As Nasser tried to rebuild
his armed forces, he signalled his willingness to work for an
accommodation with Israel without ever really making it
clear what he meant. Nasser’s successor was Anwar al-Sadat,
who did not share his ambitions in the wider Arab world but
concentrated instead on the needs of Egypt, particularly on
how best to secure the return of the Sinai and hence the
Suez Canal. In fact, Sadat’s first two years in office saw yet
another interlude in the diplomatic process, partly because
of the need to consolidate his internal position against powerful rivals, and partly because Nixon and Kissinger were still
absorbed with finding a way out of the Vietnam War. Nor did
the actions of Palestinian guerrillas encourage Golda Meir’s
government towards compromise. Their activities reached a
peak in 1972 when Japanese sympathisers killed 26 people in
the terminal at Lod airport, and members of ‘Black
September’, assumed to be a cover name for Fatah, shot
11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. That this happened in Germany seemed especially poignant.
Sadat’s Foreign Policy
From an early stage, Sadat’s hopes for a recovery of the Sinai
were focused on the United States. The Soviet Union might
be rebuilding the Egyptian armed forces but had no means
of exerting pressure on Israel; the Americans, by contrast,
From War to War
had formidable military and financial inducements should
they choose to use them. The move from the Soviets, with
whom he had a treaty of friendship, to the Americans, with
whom he did not even have diplomatic relations, was not
likely to be an easy one, and it is not surprising that his first
major initiative failed. In July 1972, Sadat demanded the withdrawal of all Soviet military advisers, some 15,000. Hopes that
this would lead to a substantial American response were confounded by the fact that 1972 was a presidential election year
in which Nixon was trying hard to win a measure of support
from Jewish voters. Although unofficial channels of communication between Cairo and Washington were opened up,
Sadat really needed something more substantive.
As the United States continued to supply Israel, and the
Soviet leadership made plain its desire to seek détente with
Washington, Sadat decided that it would take another war to
force Israel to make concessions. Lack of political and
diplomatic progress forced him to the realisation that Egypt
would either have to accept Israel’s presence on the Canal or
go to war. Given the strength of the Israeli armed forces, military co-operation with Syria was of the essence. Sadat and
Hafiz al-Assad, who came to power in Damascus in 1970,
worked at this for two years. Once Assad and his colleagues
were persuaded that this was the only way to get Israel to
cede the conquered territories, serious planning could
begin. On 24 October 1972, Sadat met his leading officers at
his home at Giza on the outskirts of Cairo. Emphasising that
he would not negotiate with the Israelis from a position of
humiliation, he told them that they would have to fight and
sacrifice (Arab Republic of Egypt, Ministry of Defence,
1999). The Egyptian and Syrian military had taken to heart
the lessons of 1967 and the easy-going incompetence of
Amer became a thing of the past. Despite their previous
defeats at the hands of the Israelis, the Egyptian and Syrian
soldiers had never lacked courage. What was now set in hand
was the provision of efficient leadership and the means of
handling the sophisticated weaponry at Arab disposal.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
The strategy worked out by the Egyptian and Syrian generals
was simple: namely, to achieve the element of surprise and
then deny the Israelis the kind of mobile warfare at which
they had proved so skilled. By waging the kind of battle of
attrition their Soviet patrons had used so effectively against
the Germans 30 years before, Sadat and Assad hoped that an
exhausted Israel would give them the concessions they
wanted. Everything depended on their ability to break
through on the Golan front, which was overlooked by Israeli
positions on the slopes of Mount Hermon, and to cross the
major obstacle of the Suez Canal. In April 1973, Assad paid
a secret visit to Israel to review Egyptian plans for an attack.
He and Sadat agreed that the final plan would be drawn up
by a joint supreme command. This was completed at a meeting in Alexandria on 22–23 August, with a decision for war
in October. A week later, Sadat flew to Damascus where the
two leaders decided on 6 October as the date. (Arab Republic
of Egypt, Ministry of Defence, 1999).
It was the apparent advantage of holding their positions
on the Golan and the Suez Canal, combined with the sweeping nature of their victory in 1967, that gave the Israelis such
confidence. Since June 1967, the fighting fronts were far
away from their main centres of population. The Canal, in
particular, seemed a formidable defence; it had, after all,
taken the Allies weeks of preparation in 1945 to force the
similar barrier of the Rhine. In fact, its advantages were
somewhat illusory. Dayan had glimpsed this in 1967 when he
had wanted to stop the offensive well short of the Canal, but
it had proved too attractive a prize. It was stretching lines of
communication across the Sinai Desert and nailing Israeli
troops to static positions when their skills lay in a different
form of warfare. Defying the advice of a number of experienced commanders, the Israeli Chief of Staff General Chaim
Bar-Lev began the construction of defensive works along the
Canal. Even then, the Israeli commanders never seemed to
focus on whether the ‘Bar-Lev Line’ was simply a ‘trip-wire’,
as they later claimed, or a full defensive barrier. On the
From War to War
Golan Heights there was no defensive line of any substance.
What this situation reflected was a deterioration in the Israeli
military under Dayan’s stewardship, which stood in marked
contrast both to the period before 1967 and to the new professionalism of the Egyptian and Syrian officer corps.
That professionalism was seen in the skill with which the
Egyptian and Syrian commanders deployed their forces in
preparation for the attack. It was no small achievement, given
the sophisticated Israeli intelligence-gathering installations
in Sinai and on Mount Hermon, and the assistance given by
the Americans. Once again the Israelis’ disregard for Arab
fighting capacity played them false. Over the previous few
years intelligence facilities had been transferred from analysis of the military and political intentions of the Arab states to
countering the Palestinian guerrillas. The resulting failure to
assess what the two Arab armies were preparing was to cost
Israel dear. Given the overall level of tension, it was difficult
to know how to separate real preparations for war from
deception plans. In May the Israeli forces had been put on
alert at enormous cost; it could not be repeated too often.
With these advantages the Egyptians and Syrians moved their
troops into position for an attack on 6 October, when conditions on the Canal would be most favourable for a crossing
but also when Israelis would be observing Yom Kippur, the
most sacred date in the Jewish year.
The governments in Jerusalem and Washington were also
somewhat off balance. Golda Meir was on a visit to France
and was then distracted when Palestinian gunmen attacked
a train carrying Russian Jewish migrants to a transit camp at
Schonau in Austria. If this was part of the deception plan,
then it succeeded in drawing Meir to Vienna and Israeli eyes
away from the Canal and the Golan. In addition, Foreign
Minister Eban was in New York for a meeting of the United
Nations. Washington was distracted for different reasons.
Nixon’s re-election in 1972 had been accompanied by the
Watergate affair, which was reaching a crisis in early October
with resolutions in Congress demanding his impeachment.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
As a further complication, pressure was building on VicePresident Spiro Agnew to answer tax charges which culminated in his resignation on 10 October. In short, it was a
badly rattled administration which had to face the developing crisis in the Middle East. Although Nixon’s role cannot
be discounted, it put a particular responsibility on Henry
Kissinger, only just confirmed as Secretary of State (Meir,
1975; Heikal, 1976; Sadat, 1978; Kissinger, 1982).
The Yom Kippur War
On 5 October, news reached the Israeli Government that the
families of Soviet personnel in Syria were being evacuated.
Meir was later to concede that she should then have ordered
mobilisation, but on professional advice that the Egyptian
and Syrian forces were in a defensive posture she did not do
so. An attempt was made to use the Americans to send warnings to Sadat and Assad but even this was mishandled. As the
Israeli message was accompanied by an intelligence report
saying that war was not imminent, neither the embassy in
Washington nor Kissinger felt the matter was urgent. No
American message was sent. On the morning of the 6th, the
Israeli cabinet met to consider the news that an Egyptian and
Syrian attack would come later in the day. Despite the obvious temptation, the decision was taken that there should not
be a pre-emptive strike by the Air Force and that there
should only be partial mobilisation. American support
would be vital in the days ahead and to that end Israel had
to be clearly seen as the victim of aggression.
The Egyptian and Syrian offensives began at 1400 hours
on 6 October 1973, with 700 tanks attacking the understrength Israeli armoured units on the Golan, and a massive
artillery barrage on the Bar-Lev Line. By nightfall the Bar-Lev
Line had fallen, engineers had put 10 bridges and 50 ferries
across the Canal, and the Egyptian Second and Third
Armies were deploying in force on the east bank. For some
From War to War
time, the Egyptians had been rehearsing on mock-ups of the
Bar-Lev Line on waterways in the Nile delta. (Arab Republic
of Egypt, Ministry of Defence, 1999). Defending the Canal
were 600 reservists of the 16th Jerusalem Brigade, a measure
of Israel’s tragic over-confidence. Dramatic as this was, the
more immediate threat to Israel was the situation on the
Golan where the Syrians took the key positions on Mount
Hermon and looked set to overwhelm the Israeli defences.
It took the sacrifice of some 40 aircraft to hold the situation,
a rate of attrition that could not be long sustained. Because
of the closeness of the fighting to Israel’s centres of population, the Golan front had to be Israel’s main preoccupation
in the initial stages. By 9 October, after ferocious combat, the
front had been stabilised but the Syrians were still fighting
hard and the cost had been high. By that date, the Egyptians
had consolidated their positions along the Canal and were
able to destroy the first Israeli counter-attack by the 190th
Armoured Brigade, the worst disaster in the country’s military history. The 9th was to see the limit of Arab successes,
but already the Israelis were acutely aware that this war was
unlike any of its predecessors (Insight, 1975; Sachar, 1976).
This was also true on the diplomatic front. From the start
of hostilities Sadat sent ‘back-channel’ messages to the
Americans that the war had been launched for limited political purposes; namely, to force an Israeli withdrawal from her
1967 conquests and then take part in a peace conference.
For Kissinger this was crucial information that was to help
shape his diplomacy during the crisis. On 9 October, faced
with the loss of 500 tanks and 49 aircraft, the Israelis urgently
requested American assistance. Nixon and Kissinger could
not refuse, possibly because of the fear that Israel might in
extremis resort to the use of nuclear weapons. (Insight, 1975;
Hersh, 1991). The assurances that the Americans would
make good their losses gave the Israelis the necessary
confidence to commit their vital reserves, but the delays over
the delivery of supplies gave great concern and was to lead
to later accusations of bad faith. Initially, the Americans
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
would only agree to fly material to the Azores, leaving El Al’s
seven jets to complete the operation, and supplies of
Phantoms were limited to one and a half a day. While some
Israelis have argued that this was Washington’s way of ensuring that they did not win a decisive victory, Kissinger’s
defence was that the strategy was designed to avert the
danger of an Arab oil embargo. The result was that the first
American Galaxy transport aircraft did not land until the
On the same day, the decisive tank battle in Sinai took
place. The Egyptian armour moved out in force from their
protective screen of anti-aircraft missile batteries. It was the
type of action at which the Israelis were highly skilled and in
the course of one of the largest tank battles ever fought they
inflicted severe losses on the Egyptians. This success allowed
the Israeli commanders to exploit what they had earlier
identified as the two major weaknesses in the Egyptian
deployment: namely, that too many tanks had been brought
across the Canal, leaving the forces on the west bank perilously under strength; and that the most vulnerable part of
the line was at the junction of the Second and Third Armies
just north of the Great Bitter Lake. In the early morning of
the 16th, Israeli forces under the command of General Ariel
Sharon began to cross the Canal at this point, threatening to
turn the entire Egyptian position. Turning south, they
advanced towards the city of Suez and across the Third
Army’s lines of communication. With the Golan fighting
now going their way, the Israelis seemed poised to inflict
another dramatic defeat on Egypt and Syria.
Kissinger and the Cease-fire
Although hard fighting continued, attention now turned
increasingly to diplomacy. From the American perspective,
this was now urgent. Not only did they wish to avoid an Arab
humiliation, but they were determined to maintain good
From War to War
relations with the Soviet Union, which was threatening to
intervene massively on behalf of its Arab friends. Even more
serious was the use of the Arab oil weapon. On 17 October,
faced with America’s massive airlift to Israel, the
Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OAPEC) announced a reduction in oil production until
Israel withdrew from her 1967 conquests. This was quickly
followed by a total oil embargo on the United States and on
the Netherlands, which supplied a large part of western
Europe through the port of Rotterdam. As the United States
had become a net importer of oil with no capacity to ease the
problems of her allies, the problems likely to face the
Western economies were known to be severe (Fraser, 1980).
The Soviet leaders were making their own moves. It took
a visit to Cairo from Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin, armed
with satellite intelligence photographs, to convince Sadat of
the potentially deadly Israeli breakthrough across the Canal.
Kosygin was assured that Egypt would accept a cease-fire provided it allowed for a peace conference that included the
Palestinian issue, and on his return to Moscow he asked for
urgent talks with the Americans. Kissinger’s visit to Moscow
inaugurated a distinctive period in the diplomacy of the
Arab–Israeli conflict. With Nixon beset by Watergate,
Kissinger went with an authority enjoyed by few Secretaries
of State. His agreement with the Soviet leadership, embodied in Security Council Resolution 338, was that the two sides
would observe a cease-fire in the positions that they then
occupied, a formula which allowed the Egyptians and
Israelis to remain for the time being in their respective
bridgeheads. The aim of the resolution was to prepare for
negotiations leading to a ‘just and durable’ peace. While this
accorded with Israeli wishes for a settlement, the nation had
been badly rattled by the early defeats and the government
saw the proposed resolution as designed to prevent them
fully exploiting their recent gains. Knowing this, Kissinger
felt it necessary to fly direct to Israel to convince Golda Meir
and her ministers of the proposal’s merits.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
It was a cold meeting, for the Israeli commanders were
aching to avenge their initial defeats, but Kissinger seemed to
convince them that, as the West Bank of the Canal would
return to Egypt in any settlement, it was pointless to continue
fighting there. His one concession was an indication that they
might consolidate their positions by allowing the time of
the cease-fire to overrun. The result was a major Israeli offensive from their positions on the Great Bitter Lake which succeeded in trapping Suez and the Third Army. It was a fraught
situation. Capitulation of the Third Army would mean the
end of Sadat and any real hopes of a diplomatic outcome, but
if the Egyptians fought, then the war would be resumed with
the prospect of a confrontation between the two superpowers. To emphasise the point, the Soviet leadership started to
deploy 85 ships of their Mediterranean fleet and 7 airborne
divisions. As a warning to the Soviets not to attempt a rescue
airlift to the Third Army, Nixon ordered the state of readiness – DefCon – of all American armed forces to be
increased. Although both sides acted prudently, it was a
measure of how dangerous the situation on the Canal had
become. Kissinger made it plain to the Israelis, threatening
the supply of military aid, that there was to be no humiliation
of the Third Army. On 27 October 1973, fighting finally
ceased (Golan, 1976; Sheehan, 1976; Kissinger, 1982).
Results of the War
The two sides emerged with mixed fortunes. The Israelis
ended the war with some spectacular military gains, their
troops powerfully positioned on the west bank of the Canal
and in a salient threatening Damascus. After experiencing
serious initial setbacks, their troops had proved as brave and
resourceful as ever. Hence, they were able to claim overall
military victory. Yet their aura of invincibility had gone. The
Egyptian and Syrian armies had conducted impressive
offensives and had not cracked under pressure; even when
From War to War
the Syrians had been pushed back on the Golan front they
had conducted an efficient retreat to positions protecting
Damascus. In addition, the Arabs now had the ‘oil weapon’
with which they could pressurise the West for Israeli concessions. Above all, Sadat and Assad had achieved their war aim
of forcing Israel to negotiate the return of Arab territory. In
doing so, they had restored Arab dignity, in itself a precondition for future diplomatic success.
Although the cease-fire had been a joint Soviet–American
enterprise, from the start Kissinger was determined that the
forthcoming negotiations should be under his direction. He
was distrustful of any grand, overall plan, believing the two
sides to be too far apart for such a thing to work, especially
in the wake of such a ferociously fought war. The fate of the
Rogers Plan simply confirmed his pessimistic analysis.
Instead, his approach was that of ‘step by step’, of identifying
a clearly attainable goal, the achieving of which would succeed in building up confidence between the parties. Once
that degree of trust had been achieved, he could then move
on to negotiate the next step. Before examining Kissinger’s
diplomacy at work, three things need to be kept in mind. He
was working from a dispiriting domestic political base. Nixon
was still fighting against Watergate until events finally overtook him in August 1974 when he resigned; his unelected
successor, Gerald Ford, enjoyed goodwill but lacked authority. Secondly, between 1973 and 1975 South Vietnam collapsed, leaving people on all sides in the Middle East
wondering about America’s steadfastness towards her
friends and allies. Finally, the Yom Kippur War left Israel
politically bruised. In April 1974, the report of the Israeli
inquiry into the war led to Golda Meir’s resignation. Even
though the experienced and capable Yitzhak Rabin replaced
her, the confidence and authority of the ruling Labour
Alignment never really recovered. Set against these difficulties were the encouraging indications that Sadat wanted to
work for a settlement under American auspices.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Kissinger’s ‘Step-by-Step’ Diplomacy
The beleaguered situation of the Egyptian Third Army meant
that Kissinger could not afford to delay. His first diplomatic
mission to the Middle East in early November 1973 seemed to
show the merits of his ‘step-by-step’ approach. An agreement
between Egypt and Israel, signed on 11 November at
Kilometre 101 on the Cairo–Suez road, provided for the
movement of supplies to Suez and the Third Army, replacement of Israeli by UN checkpoints, the exchange of prisoners,
and discussions for the separation of forces. In the course of
these discussions Sadat confirmed to Kissinger that the fate of
the Third Army was incidental to his main aims of peace with
Israel and a return to the 1967 border. A visit to the main Arab
oil-producing state, Saudi Arabia, confirmed that these efforts
would soon bring an end to the oil embargo. Reassured that
progress seemed attainable, Kissinger’s next move was to convene, jointly with the Soviet Union, the peace conference at
Geneva that Resolution 338 had promised. It really only provided a formal preparation for his subsequent negotiations, for
it lasted a day before adjourning. Geneva’s significance lay in
the fact that Egypt and Jordan sat down at a conference table
with Israel, and that Syria, while standing aside, had not tried
to work against it. Israel’s price for attending a conference
whose obvious purpose was to secure its withdrawal from territory was a secret American assurance that there would be no
PLO participation without Israeli consent (Kissinger, 1982).
The obvious first step was to secure the situation along the
Suez Canal where the two armies remained dangerously
intertwined. The glimpse of a move forward came with a visit
to Washington from Moshe Dayan. Whatever his shortcomings as Minister of Defence had been, Dayan had a flexible,
diplomatic mind and had never been convinced that the
Canal added to Israel’s security. His proposal was that Israel
should withdraw its forces from the west bank, allowing
Egypt to occupy the entire east bank up to a depth of 10 km
From War to War
with a maximum of three battalions. Israel would occupy a
line to the west of the Mitla and Gidi passes, the real key to
control of the Sinai. The area between the two would
become a ‘buffer zone’ under the United Nations. In return
for this withdrawal, Dayan wanted an end to Egyptian
belligerency, the right of Israel to send shipping through the
Canal and substantial arms supplies from the Americans.
These formed the basis of the proposals Kissinger brought to
Egypt in January 1974. Sadat indicated his willingness to
allow Israeli cargoes through the Canal, but insisted that
Israel would have to withdraw east of the two passes and that
he would have to station one and a half divisions east of the
Canal. In what soon came to be known as ‘shuttle diplomacy’, Kissinger now flew to Jerusalem. The Israelis would
not contemplate a withdrawal east of the passes or Egyptian
‘divisions’ on the east bank, for these implied the infrastructure for a military build-up. Their proposal was for Egyptian
‘battalions’. A subsequent ‘shuttle’ between Cairo and
Jerusalem produced a resolution. Sadat agreed to an Israeli
line west of the passes. Israel agreed that Egypt could station
8 battalions and 30 tanks east of the Canal, while Sadat made
it clear that he would not exercise his right to deploy these
tanks. This formed the basis of the agreement the Egyptian
and Israeli Chiefs of Staff signed on 18 January 1974. Not
only did this involve the withdrawal of Israeli forces from
their salient on the west bank of the Canal, it marked the
first step in Israel’s withdrawal from her 1967 conquests. In
return, Sadat gave secret assurances that once the Canal was
cleared of obstacles, Israeli cargoes would be allowed
through (Kissinger, 1982).
Although the plan had started with Dayan, and Sadat had
proved a willing negotiator, the agreement still bore testimony to Kissinger’s skill and persistence. An agreement
between Israel and Syria was likely to prove a tougher proposition. While the Suez front was remote, that on the Golan
had posed a close threat to northern Israel and the new
Israeli salient came to within 20 miles of Damascus. Neither
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
side had much territory to spare. President Assad was
demanding a return to the 1967 border. Knowing this to be
unrealistic, his real demand was for the removal of the Israeli
salient and partial evacuation of the Golan, to include the
old provincial capital of Quneitra and parts of Mount
Hermon. To Israelis, any concession on the Golan was problematic. Their mood was not improved by the actions of radical Palestinians hostile to the negotiations. On 11 April
1974, 18 people were killed in an attack on Kiryat Shmonah
in the north of Israel, while on 15 May 16 schoolchildren
died in an attack at Maalot. Such was the context of
Kissinger’s attempt to reach a settlement on the Golan.
In the circumstances, Kissinger had to resort to a combination of threats and reminders that the United States was
Israel’s only friend. Early negotiations revealed that the issue
for Israel was not Quneitra but the strategic positions in the
hills around the town. Kissinger’s plan then hinged around a
line to the west of Quneitra with a demilitarised zone
between the two sides. The actual negotiations proved less
straightforward than this apparently simple formula might
suggest, for the Syrians still felt the Israeli threat to Damascus
while the Israelis demanded a mechanism to prevent future
Palestinian raids. These matters were resolved by an agreement that the Syrians could position nine brigades in front of
Damascus and an assurance by Assad that the frontier would
not be violated, something that he scrupulously upheld.
When the final agreement was signed on 31 May 1974, Israeli
forces withdrew from their salient and the ghostly ruins of
Quneitra were returned to Syria (Kissinger, 1982).
‘Reassessment’ and the Return to Diplomacy
Despite his enviable prestige as an international superstar,
Kissinger’s position began to deteriorate after the summer of
1974. Nixon’s resignation followed by the death agonies of
South Vietnam seemed to signal the retreat, if not quite
From War to War
collapse, of American power and authority. It was not until
March 1975 that Kissinger felt able to return to the Middle
East, this time with a view to securing further advances in
Sinai. Inevitably, the Israeli Government saw his mission as
an attempt by a feeble administration to secure a foreign
policy success at their expense and, once again, their attitudes were hardened by a Fatah raid on a hotel on the Tel
Aviv waterfront on 5 March which killed 18 people. What was
at stake was the extent of a further Israeli withdrawal. Israel
wanted to keep its forces west of the Mitla and Gidi passes,
with their electronic early warning systems, and wanted
Sadat to make a public statement ending belligerency. Egypt
demanded the return of the passes and the Abu Rudeis oilfield in return for private assurances; Sadat would not make
public declarations of goodwill while Israel occupied any
Egyptian territory. Agreement proved elusive. On 22 March,
Kissinger declared his mission at an end, blaming Israel and
threatening a ‘reassessment’ of American Middle-East policy
on his return to Washington.
As the Israeli government well knew, such a ‘reassessment’
could only work to their disadvantage. Signals of the new
climate in Washington were not long in coming: Jordan was
allowed to buy a Hawk missile system, while an Israeli
attempt to buy F-16 jets was held at arm’s length. The real
pressure that Ford and Kissinger sought to exert, however,
was the $2.5-billion aid package to Israel about to be put
before Congress. Such a threat could only be challenged at
source. The result was an impressive display of political muscle by AIPAC. The Israeli lobby’s tactic was to pull the teeth
from any possible threat to the aid package. This was done
in the form of a letter to President Ford which emphasised
Israel’s value as an ally and urged that any aid package be
‘responsive’ to her needs. This was signed by 76 senators – 51
Democrats and 25 Republicans – including such eminent
figures as Walter Mondale, Edward Kennedy, John Glenn,
George McGovern, John Tower, Barry Goldwater and Robert
Dole. The letter is generally regarded as a triumph for the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
power of the lobbyists, for it seemed to end any prospect of
a ‘reassessment’ hostile to Israeli interests (Fraser, 1989).
Yet this is to misunderstand the realities of the relationship between the two countries, not to mention the dynamics of American decision-making, Ford’s response was that
while such tactics might scare someone else they did not
work for him. When Ford met Sadat near Salzburg on
1 June, he assured the Egyptian leader that the letter’s
impact was negligible (Kissinger, 1999). Ford and Kissinger
kept up the pressure, only less publicly, until the Israeli
Treasury began to buckle. Kissinger later recorded that no
president since Eisenhower had talked to the Israelis so
abruptly (Kissinger, 1999). When Kissinger returned to the
Middle East on 21 August 1975, on what proved to be his
final mission, Israeli concessions were forthcoming, however
hard the issue of where the line east of the passes might be.
Israel agreed to withdraw her forces east of the passes and
to return Abu Rudeis; in return, Sadat only conceded a public declaration that Israeli cargoes would be allowed through
the Canal. What really persuaded the Israelis was Kissinger’s
clever mixture of threats and secret assurances which, he
believed, would secure their position against possible future
dangers. The loss of Abu Rudeis, which had been supplying
over half of Israel’s oil requirements, was made good by a
guarantee to secure their position for five years and funds to
build greater oil-storage facilities. Kissinger also promised
that the United States would be ‘fully responsive’ to Israel’s
defence and economic needs. Finally, he agreed that the
next step would be negotiations for a peace settlement and
assured the Israelis that the Americans would not ‘recognize
or negotiate’ with the PLO as long as the organisation did
not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These
were far-reaching guarantees which secured the Israeli–
American relationship, perhaps too securely for many
Israelis who still felt potentially vulnerable to their powerful
patron. At all events, the second Sinai agreement, initialled
on 1 September 1975, brought to an end one of the most
From War to War
distinctive phases of the Arab–Israeli conflict. Kissinger had
brought a degree of stability out of the 1973 war. The agreements he had brokered meant that the United States was
henceforward linked with Egypt in the search for a peace
agreement. But the Syrians and Jordanians were unconvinced (Kissinger, 1999). While the worst danger between
Israel and her two main Arab antagonists appeared to have
passed, the Palestinians were once again the missing element.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
The PLO after the 1973 War
While Kissinger’s diplomacy had been vigorous and imaginative, critics complained that he had neglected or ignored
the central issue of the Arab–Israeli conflict: the future of the
Palestinians – in short, that he had succeeded in stabilising
Israel’s fronts with Egypt and Syria without addressing the
future of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Curiously, the
period when Kissinger was at his most active coincided with
a rise and fall in the PLO’s fortunes. The end of the 1973 war
produced a general expectation that there would be some
progress for the Palestinians. The war had succeeded in
restoring Arab pride and the oil weapon, which seemingly
gave the Gulf States such leverage over Western economies,
had ostensibly been mounted on the Palestinians’ behalf.
The reality was rather different, for the PLO leadership
knew the uncomfortable truth that Sadat had fought the war
for limited diplomatic aims, that he was engaged in a diplomatic process aimed at producing a settlement with Israel,
and that such an agreement would leave the Israelis invulnerable to military attack. Moreover, it was clear in the
summer of 1974 that Kissinger saw a settlement with Jordan
as the logical next step after his agreements involving Egypt
and Syria. His view was that the barrier of distrust between
Israel and the PLO was so wide that negotiations were impossible and that progress could only be made with King
Hussein. In the circumstances it was vital for Arafat and his
colleagues to define their diplomatic position. Not to do so
risked being left aside if an overall settlement involving
Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan were to emerge. To do so
risked exposing the fundamental dilemmas in the PLO’s
position, with incalculable consequences.
Most Palestinians could unite behind the rhetoric of
the National Charter which had talked of the indivisible
nature of Palestine, but there had been a growing realisation
in the Arab world, seen as early as the autumn of 1967 by the
signals coming from Cairo and Amman, that Israel’s presence in the Middle East could not simply be wished away.
The 1973 war and the subsequent diplomacy had simply confirmed this. If the reality of Israel were accepted, then the
best the Palestinians could hope for was a ‘mini state’ on
the West Bank and Gaza, in effect a belated acceptance of
partition. But such an outcome could do little or nothing for
the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Jordan or the
refugee camps in Lebanon from whom Fatah had drawn its
most ardent volunteers. People who looked back to their
homes in Acre, Haifa, Jaffa or villages long since destroyed
could only look with despair on a possible solution which
condemned them to permanent exile. Such was the harsh
dilemma facing the PLO leadership and it is not surprising
that they were reluctant to confront it.
After much heart-searching and internal debate, the
Twelfth Palestine National Council in July 1974 adopted a
formula allowing it to establish sovereignty ‘on every part of
Palestinian land to be liberated’, should circumstances so
permit. This was an acknowledged code for a ‘mini-state’
solution, and it could be represented to Palestinians outside
the West Bank and Gaza as the creation of a base from which
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
the future liberation of the entire country could be organised. Even so, the inhabitants of the refugee camps in
Lebanon were not convinced and many found a spokesman
for their rejection of the formula in George Habash and his
PFLP. Clearly, it was a very fine line for Arafat and his
colleagues to tread (Cobban, 1984). But they had to do so,
for Kissinger appeared to be pressing ahead with his ideas
for introducing some form of Hashemite rule on the West
Bank. He conceived the idea of restoring Jordanian administration to the city of Jericho, thus reintroducing at least
some Arab rule in part of the West Bank. His plan foundered
on the reluctance of the Israeli government to contemplate
the idea, but it pointed to the need for the PLO to counter
the Hashemites. As a result, on 28 October 1974 the Arab
summit at Rabat in Morocco affirmed:
the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent national authority, under the leadership of the
PLO in its capacity as the sole legitimate representative
of the Palestine people, over all liberated territory.
The Arab states had now acknowledged the PLO as, in
effect, a government in exile (Cobban, 1984).
Arafat’s opportunity to underline that fact came just two
weeks later before the General Assembly of the United
Nations in New York. In September, a number of states had
proposed that ‘The Question of Palestine’ be debated by the
Assembly and a subsequent vote invited the PLO to take
part. The extent of that vote, 82 in favour, 4 against and 20
abstentions, showed how far the organisation had come in
terms of international acceptance. The idea that Arafat
should come to New York aroused furious opposition in the
city’s Jewish community for whom he represented nothing
more than terrorism, but the American government, aware
of its obligations to the United Nations, allowed him to
come. Those who hoped that he would use the occasion to
signal the PLO’s acquiescence in a ‘mini-state’ solution were
disappointed, but the reality of Arafat’s position as head of
The Search for a Settlement
a broad coalition made that impossible. Instead, he chose to
set before the world body a full statement of the Palestinians’
grievances and his dream of a future state in which
Palestinians and Jews would live together. Dramatic as his
appearance was, its impact was somewhat diminished by
media speculation as to whether he had carried his gun to the
rostrum (he had not) and the lack of any clear proposals for
a way forward. Even so, advances were made (Hart, 1984).
The PLO was accorded observer status in the United Nations,
thus allowing its representatives an opportunity to take part
in the secret discussions that go on in the corridors of the
world body, and the Committee on the Exercise of the
Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was set up.
Support for the Palestinians amongst the countries of Africa
and Asia was high. In the summer of 1975 a concerted campaign to deprive Israel of her UN membership only just failed,
but in November a resolution was passed in the General
Assembly in which Zionism was identified as ‘a form of racialism’. As the United Nations had ceased to be an actor of any
consequence in the Arab–Israeli conflict, such things had little practical result, but they helped bring to the surface Israeli
fears that the world’s hand would always turn against the Jews
and hence did nothing to encourage a spirit of compromise.
The PLO and the Lebanese Civil War
The years 1974–75, then, saw a considerable transformation
in the PLO’s fortunes but this was soon to be confounded by
events in Lebanon. In the 1950s and into the 1960s Lebanon
had created the image of itself as the ‘Switzerland of the
Middle East’, Beirut being the Zurich of the region, with
its Christians, Muslims and Druses sharing power and cooperating in the manner of German-, French- and Italianspeaking Swiss. It was, in fact, a cruel illusion. There was,
indeed, a power-sharing arrangement based upon the
unwritten National Pact of 1943, itself based upon a census
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
of 1932 through which the French mandatory authorities
had contrived to show that the Christians were a slight majority in the country. The Pact really reflected the hegemony of
the most powerful groups within each community, the
Maronites on the Christian side and the Sunni Muslims.
By the 1970s this arrangement had become dangerously
unrealistic. Not only were the Muslims generally acknowledged to be a majority but within the Muslim community
there was a growing assertiveness amongst the Shi’as. As elsewhere in the Middle East, the Shi’as were the ‘have nots’ of
the Muslim community, cultivating the poor hill land of
southern Lebanon. By the 1960s, their high birth-rate was
causing them to migrate in large numbers to Beirut where
they concentrated in large numbers in the south-western
quarters, forming an alliance of deprivation with the
Palestinians of the refugee camps. This population shift coincided with an increase in assertiveness by the Palestinians.
After ‘Black September’ in Jordan, the Palestinian guerrillas
made Lebanon the main focus of their activities, not least
because they had a steady stream of recruits from amongst
the 400,000 inhabitants of the refugee camps.
The growing strength of the Shi’as and Palestinians
brought to the surface the gnawing fear amongst the
Maronites that their privileged position in the country’s
political and economic life was fated to disappear. The cutting edge of the Maronites was the right-wing Phalangist
party and its armed militia, led by the powerful Gemayel
family. On 13 April 1975, an attack on Pierre Gemayel, the
veteran founder of the Phalange, led to a massacre of
Palestinian passengers travelling by bus through a Christian
part of Beirut. The Lebanese civil war, which was to involve
all religious groups and devastate the country in the years
ahead, had begun. The Palestinians were amongst its principal victims, most dramatically in the siege of their Tel
al-Zaatar refugee camp in Christian east Beirut in the summer of 1976. The slaughter which accompanied the fall of
Tel al-Zaatar seemed to symbolise once again the Palestinian
The Search for a Settlement
tragedy. On the international front, the inevitable preoccupation of the PLO with the Lebanese civil war meant that it
was unable to build upon the diplomatic advances made in
1974–75. It meant that the organisation could be pushed
aside in the dramatic new phase of diplomatic activity which
was about to begin, and which was to result in a realignment
of forces in the Middle East (Cobban, 1984). Civil war
continued to plague Lebanon until the Taif Accord of
November 1989 set new terms for the constitution. By then
the once-elegant streets of Beirut had been reduced to ruins.
There were, inevitably, wider ramifications. In 1976, Syria
intervened in massive strength under the banner of the Arab
League, while contacts were opened up between the Israelis
and the Maronite leaders, united in their hatred of the PLO.
The significance of these developments would become
apparent in 1982 (Shlaim, 2000).
Carter and the Return to Diplomacy
This diplomatic revolution had several sources. It had been
apparent for some time that the only logical outcome of
Sadat’s policy would be some kind of accommodation with
Israel which would see the Sinai returned to Egypt, even if
the means by which this would be brought about were much
less clear. There were still many doubters in the Egyptian
military and diplomatic establishment whom Sadat would
have to confront. There were also problems and divisions on
the Israeli side. Israel’s Prime Minister was the distinguished
former general and ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak
Rabin. Although he could appear stiff in public and in negotiations, this concealed a flexibility of mind linked to a cool
grasp of reality which might have enabled him to make imaginative moves but for a series of problems afflicting his
government. The Labour Party, which had never quite recovered public confidence after the disasters at the start of the
1973 war, was riven by bitter feuding between Rabin and its
other leading figure, Shimon Peres, and then in the spring
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
of 1977 Rabin’s wife was fined for having a bank account in
the United States in breach of Treasury regulations.
Despite these obstacles, there was a new spirit in US government circles that an attempt should be made to address
the central issues of the Arab–Israeli problem. The presidential election of 1976 was won by the Democratic candidate
Jimmy Carter who was determined to pull America out of the
depressing legacy of the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam
War. Central to his view of foreign affairs was a determination that the United States had to stand for human rights. A
man of deep Christian faith, he also had an instinctive interest in the Holy Land and was likely to respond to an appeal
to help address its problems. The Democratic Party, too, had
been rethinking its positions, some of its foreign policy
experts believing that Kissinger had failed to address the
core issues. The key to Democrat strategy towards a settlement came from a report of the Brookings Institution, an
influential Washington ‘think tank’, in 1975. Its findings represented several radical new dimensions in American thinking and among its authors were two men likely to exert
considerable influence on the administration’s policy,
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became Carter’s National Security
Adviser, and William B. Quandt, who assumed particular
responsibility for Arab–Israeli affairs. Their report advocated an Israeli return to the 1967 borders, with demilitarised zones under UN supervision to guarantee security.
More far-reaching was the recognition of the need for some
kind of Palestinian state, possibly in federation with Jordan.
In the course of the election campaign Carter privately
accepted the findings of the Brookings report, the tone of
which seemed to sit well with his avowed concern for human
rights (Carter, 1982, 1985; Brzezinski, 1983; Quandt, 1986).
Menahem Begin’s Electoral Triumph
It was in this spirit that early in his presidency Carter began
to make significant moves. At meetings with Rabin in early
The Search for a Settlement
March 1977, he informed a dismayed Israeli leader that he
believed the PLO should be involved in negotiations and
then kept up this pressure by publicly referring to the need
for a Palestinian homeland and shaking the hand of the
PLO representative at a UN reception. A meeting with Sadat
in early April began a warm relationship which lasted
throughout the Carter presidency. What the Americans were
not prepared for was the change of government brought
about in Israel as the result of the general election in May
which altered the whole ideological thrust of the country’s
foreign policy. For three decades the world had been accustomed to Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics but in 1977,
beset by internal rivalry and financial scandal, the party had
lost its sureness of touch. In contrast, the right-wing Likud,
led by Menahem Begin, fought an intelligent campaign. Its
principal appeal was to the oriental Jews who now formed
half the population and felt undervalued by the predominantly European Labour party. Support from the oriental
Jews throughout Israel proved enough to bring Begin the
premiership, though it pointed to an uneasy split in the
country’s Jewish population.
Under Begin, Likud was the heir to the traditions and ideology of the Irgun and beyond that to Jabotinsky and the
pre-war Revisionists for whom the territorial integrity of
Israel was beyond question. While the Labour Party had
taken a pragmatic approach to the Occupied Territories, for
Begin the West Bank constituted the ‘Liberated Territories’
of Judea and Samaria which had never ceased to be part of
the Jewish inheritance; in contrast, he had little interest in
Gaza. The stated policy of Likud was that Israeli sovereignty
should extend from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan.
Begin’s profound emotional commitment to ‘Judea and
Samaria’ was a new factor in the Arab–Israeli problem and
one that the Carter administration took some time to understand. Nor was Begin an easy man to deal with on the personal level. Haunted by the Holocaust, which had claimed
the lives of almost all his family, he was determined to make
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
no mistake, or make any concession, that might once again
place the Jews at risk. As a result, his negotiating style was
formal and legalistic. Once he had made an agreement,
however, he stuck to it, or at least to his interpretation. There
had been those in the Labour Party, Ben-Gurion and Dayan
for example, who had taken an active interest in the Arab
world and its civilisation. Begin had no such curiosity, the
Arabs, and the Palestinians in particular, being closed to
him. In the circumstances his choice as Foreign Minister,
Moshe Dayan, was bold and unexpected, for not only had
Dayan fought the election on the Labour ticket but he was
known to favour peace moves with the Arabs. Dayan
accepted the offer on condition that it was not government
policy to extend sovereignty to the Occupied Territories,
at least while peace talks were in progress. Assailed by his
former Labour colleagues as a turncoat, his appointment
proved to be a conspicuous success, for in negotiation he
had the imagination to range beyond the confines of Begin’s
seemingly invincible stubbornness (Silver, 1984).
The Americans were slow to discover the depth of Begin’s
commitment to the West Bank, but the Israeli leader was
open enough in signalling his intentions. In July 1977 he
flew to Washington to consult Carter. While there was agreement on the need for a peace settlement based upon
Resolution 242, Begin got Carter to agree to stop using the
term ‘Palestinian homeland’, something to which he was
totally opposed. Hopes in Washington that a positive relationship had begun were quickly dispelled when Begin
legalised three Jewish settlements on the West Bank on his
return home. These settlements were seen by Likud as the
keystone of their policy. Labour had proceeded cautiously
with regard to settlements, largely confining them to the
eastern suburbs of Jerusalem and the Jordan valley, the total
number of settlers amounting to no more than a few
thousand. This had not satisfied those on the religious right
for whom Judea and Samaria were inalienably Jewish, and
even less those for whom this land was bound up with the
The Search for a Settlement
redemption of the Jewish people by the Messiah. In 1974,
supporters of this view formed Gush Emunim (‘The Block of
the Faithful’), dedicated to extending and defending the
Jewish presence in the territories. Their settlements, highly
provocative to the Arabs, were half-empty, even at times
hastily put together for the benefit of visiting journalists.
Few Israelis felt the urge to live in such obviously hostile
surroundings, but the activities of Gush Emunim were the
spearhead of Likud policies. ‘Building realities’ was a
tradition which reached back to the early history of Zionist
settlement and Likud was happy to annex the idea and to
cast a benign eye over Gush Emunim activities. It soon
became clear that the government had plans of a more farreaching nature than Gush Emunim’s haphazard enterprises
could ever have achieved (Palumbo, 1990).
Sadat’s Visit to Jerusalem
The issue of the settlements clouded relations between
Jerusalem and Washington over the summer of 1977, with
American initiatives achieving nothing. The real contacts
were taking place elsewhere in conditions of the utmost
secrecy. In late August, Dayan met King Hussein in London
where the two men explored the possibilities of settlement
between the two countries. The following month even more
significant meetings were arranged in Morocco by King
Hassan who brought together Dayan and the Egyptian
Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Hassan Tuhami. Sadat had long
been frustrated at the seemingly interminable pace of
Middle East negotiations and was convinced that at its heart
lay the ‘psychological barrier’ of distrust which had built up
between Arabs and Israelis. The secret meetings in Morocco
convinced Dayan that Sadat genuinely wanted peace, while
Tuhami took back the message that the Begin government
was strong enough to reach an agreement. Sadat remained
wary of Begin’s reputation for extremism, but his growing
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
belief that a bold move should be made was reinforced by
a letter from Carter and discussions with the Romanian
leader, Nicolae Ceaus¸escu, who reinforced his growing feeling
that Begin was a leader capable of reaching an agreement.
In a speech to his People’s Assembly on 9 November 1977,
Sadat astonished the world, including many of his closest
advisers and the American Government, by his announcement that he was ‘ready to go to the ends of the earth. Israel
will be astonished when it hears me saying now that I am
ready to go to their house, to the Knesset itself, and to talk
to them.’ It was the move that he believed would break down
the psychological barriers and enable both sides to make the
concessions necessary to achieve peace. While many
applauded his boldness, others feared that his move had
been insufficiently thought through and failed to take
account of the depth of Israeli suspicion. The doubters were
reinforced by the resignation of his Foreign Minister, Ismail
Fahmy. The American Government was highly dubious that
Sadat and Begin could reach agreement without outside
mediation. But the move had been made and between 19
and 21 November the world was treated to the sight of the
Egyptian leader in Israel. The climax of his historic visit was
his speech to the Knesset on the 20th. Central to his message
was the need to break down the ‘psychological barrier’
between Arabs and Israelis. For his part, he was ready to
assure the Israelis: ‘we welcome you to live amongst us in
security and peace.’ Peace, he was careful to assure his audience, could not be based upon a bilateral agreement
between the two countries but had to incorporate a solution
for the Palestinians, ‘including their right to set up their own
state’. Begin was determined that he should not be swayed
by the emotion of the moment into making concessions he
would later regret. Conceding only that everything would be
open to negotiation, his speech was seen outside Israel as
failing to match the undoubted drama of the occasion.
Whatever the outcome, however, the presence in Israel of
the leader of the most powerful Arab country ensured that
The Search for a Settlement
the pattern of Arab–Israeli relations would never be the
same (Fraser, 1980; Dayan, 1981).
Subsequent negotiations between the two parties
confirmed the Americans’ worst fears, for they generated
neither progress nor personal warmth. The chief reason for
lack of progress was that the two sides wanted very different
things. Sadat’s purpose was to work towards an overall peace
settlement which would see Israel return to her 1967 border
and include provision for the Palestinians; not to achieve
this would leave him dangerously isolated at home and
abroad. This aim was broadly supported by the Americans,
so much so that Carter paid a brief visit to Egypt in January
1978 in which he pointedly referred to the need to take into
account ‘the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people’.
Such an outcome, with its obvious consequences for the
West Bank, was what the Begin government wished to avoid.
Begin’s strategy was to negotiate for a bilateral peace treaty
with Egypt which would ensure Israel’s security by removing
her most powerful enemy. To that end he was prepared to
negotiate a full withdrawal from the Sinai, for many Israelis
the surrender of a major asset in return for a signature on a
piece of paper. The most he would concede on the West
Bank and Gaza was a proposal for the personal ‘autonomy’
of the inhabitants under which Israeli military rule would
continue while the Palestinians ran their everyday lives. The
problem for Sadat and Carter was whether this represented
a genuine concession or was simply a device to perpetuate
Israeli control of the territories. Their situation was not
eased by the accelerated expansion of a cluster of Israeli
settlements in the Sinai on territory undeniably Egyptian.
By the end of January 1978, not only had the ‘psychological
barrier’ between the two sides not been removed, but
the goodwill seemingly generated by Sadat’s journey to
Jerusalem was threatening to turn to mutual antipathy.
Despite the fact that the Americans had feared this from
the start, they had no option but to follow the path Sadat
had set. Before this could be done, however, the murderous
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
nature of the Arab–Israeli conflict once again erupted. On
11 March 1978, a group of Palestinians landed on the Israeli
coast and killed 35 people in two buses. Three days later, the
Israeli army began a major offensive into southern Lebanon
inflicting a death toll of hundreds and occupying the country south of the Litani River. Fearing an Israeli plan to annex
the area, Carter denounced their invasion as an overreaction
and threatened to cut off military aid. Whether Congress
would have sanctioned such a move may be doubted but
Carter’s obvious displeasure was enough to ensure a withdrawal. The Americans knew that anything less would kill off
the floundering Egyptian–Israeli peace process. The invasion was followed by a bitter three days in Washington when
Carter charged Begin with his obstinacy over the West Bank
and the future of the Palestinians, something the Israeli
leader did not trouble to deny (Quandt, 1986).
The Camp David Summit
Despairing of progress, Carter decided in July that the only
possible way forward was to bring Sadat, Begin and their
advisers to Camp David, the presidential retreat in
Maryland. The Camp David Summit, which took place from
5 to 17 September 1978, was a concentrated attempt by the
Americans to salvage something from the ‘peace process’
which Sadat had started the previous November. Of the
three leaders, Begin came with certain clear advantages. His
purpose was to secure a bilateral peace treaty with Egypt
while giving away nothing of substance on the West Bank
and Gaza. Stirrings amongst Jewish supporters of the
Democratic Party earlier in the year signalled certain limits
to Carter’s ability to put pressure on the Israelis. Failure to
reach an acceptable agreement would have minimal
consequences for Israel. In contrast, Sadat desperately
needed to come away from Camp David with something that
would justify his efforts. While still determined to achieve
The Search for a Settlement
progress for the Palestinians, he was ultimately ready to
concede a bilateral peace treaty at the price of a total Israeli
evacuation of the Sinai. Carter, too, needed a diplomatic
success to justify the full exercise of his prestige behind the
Camp David Summit.
For 10 days the negotiations merely seemed to confirm
the extent of the gulf between Begin and Sadat. It was only
when the Americans learned on 15 September that the
latter had ordered a helicopter to start his journey that
the summit was jolted into life. Over the next three days
two ‘frameworks’ were agreed, each seeming to give the
Egyptians and Israelis the essence of what they needed to
claim success. The ‘Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace
between Egypt and Israel’ set out the terms for ‘normal relations’ between the two countries, in return for which Israel
conceded full evacuation of the Sinai. A peace treaty was to
be signed within three months. Potentially more ambitious,
but inevitably more problematic, was the ‘Framework for
Peace in the Middle East’, which sought to accommodate
Sadat’s desire to come away with something positive for the
Palestinians. This laid down that:
there should be transitional arrangements for the West
Bank and Gaza for a period not exceeding five years. In
order to provide full autonomy to the inhabitants,
under these arrangements the Israeli military government and its administration will be withdrawn as soon
as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by
the inhabitants of these areas to replace the existing
military government.
Carter and his team genuinely believed they had gained a
major concession on the West Bank and Gaza but events
were to confound their hopes. On his return to Israel, Begin
insisted that all he had agreed to was the kind of ‘personal
autonomy’ he had alluded to earlier in the year. Moreover,
the Americans and Israelis had very different interpretations
of an agreement for a moratorium on further settlements in
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
the territories. Begin and Dayan claimed this was only
for three months, while Carter had come away with the
belief that it was to be for the five years of the transitional
arrangements. Thus the ‘Spirit of Camp David’, applauded
as a breakthrough for peace in the region, was soured almost
from the start (Carter, 1982; Kamel, 1986; Quandt, 1986).
The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza saw Camp
David as the ultimate betrayal by their most powerful ally,
condemning them to permanent Israeli military occupation.
Their view was widely shared in the Middle East. Even Jordan
and Saudi Arabia joined the Syrians in condemning the
agreements. Nor was the atmosphere helped by Begin’s clear
intention to press ahead with more settlements. As the weeks
turned to months with little progress on the signing of the
peace treaty, it became vital for Carter to salvage something
from what had seemed to be the major foreign-policy triumph of his presidency. This became even more urgent after
January 1979 when the Shah of Iran, America’s principal ally
in the Middle East, was forced into exile. The Islamic government inspired by Ayatollah Khomenei was to prove
deeply hostile to American interests. In these depressing
circumstances Carter flew to the Middle East in March 1979,
only to find Begin as immovable as ever. Carter was now
forced to the conclusion that the Israeli leader was so
opposed to progress over the West Bank that he was prepared to sacrifice the treaty with Egypt. It took vigorous and
flexible diplomacy by Dayan to save Carter’s mission and
with it the peace treaty.
On 26 March 1979, Begin and Sadat signed the ‘Treaty of
Peace between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the State of
Israel’ in Washington. On one level it was a major development. Israel was now at peace with her strongest potential
enemy. Israelis felt that they were no longer an island in the
Middle East. Posters in Tel Aviv travel agencies could now
proclaim the attractions of visiting the pyramids. The reality
was that the goodwill generated by Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem
had long since been dissipated. What had been achieved was
The Search for a Settlement
a ‘Cold Peace’ which survived the trials of the next two
decades, even the death of its author. On 6 October 1981,
as he reviewed a parade to commemorate the crossing of the
Suez Canal, Sadat was assassinated by disaffected soldiers.
He was succeeded by Husni Mubarak, an air-force officer,
who, if he exhibited little of the fire of Nasser or Sadat, had
a marked feel for Egypt’s internal and external needs. Nor
was progress made on the promised autonomy for the West
Bank and Gaza, for the Carter administration had other
problems which took priority. On 4 November 1979, the
American embassy in Tehran was seized and 69 Americans
held hostage. It was a disaster for Carter, compounded by
the ignominious failure of a rescue mission, which dominated the final year of his presidency and contributed to his
defeat by Ronald Reagan. If Carter had ultimately failed to
find an overall settlement of the Arab–Israeli conflict, it had
not been for want of effort, and the Egyptian–Israeli peace
treaty stood as his principal foreign policy achievement
(Carter, 1982).
Reagan’s Middle East Policy
Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy agenda was to have profound consequences for the Arab–Israeli conflict. He later
recorded that one of his strongest convictions was his belief
that America had to ensure Israel’s survival (Reagan, 1990).
The recent events in Tehran reinforced what was already an
intense dislike of ‘terrorism’ in American government and
society and this was not to the Palestinians’ advantage, however much the PLO leadership might argue that violence
belonged to an earlier phase of its development. The Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 appeared to usher in a new
phase of East–West confrontation and revived the old
Cold-War strategy of ‘containment’ of Moscow’s ambitions,
not least because airbases in western Afghanistan could
potentially threaten Western oil supplies in the Gulf.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
An early priority for the new American administration was
the building of a ‘strategic consensus’ around Israel, Egypt,
Saudi Arabia, Oman, Somalia and Kenya – a fanciful idea at
best but again one in which the Palestinians were likely to be
ignored. A visit to the region in April 1981 by Reagan’s
Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, revealed that only the
Israelis were attracted by the idea. The Israelis were quick to
grasp that Washington’s new priorities offered the possibility
of a much more positive relationship than they had enjoyed
with Carter, with his tiresome concern over the West Bank
and Gaza. Their bargaining cards were the stability of their
democratic regime and the proven effectiveness of
their armed forces, the latter particularly attractive to the
Americans because of the mutual dislike of their other two
allies in the eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey. In
November 1981, an agreement for strategic co-operation was
signed in Washington by Israel’s Defence Minister, Ariel
Sharon, and a rather hesitant American Defense Secretary,
Casper Weinberger, who was unhappy about the effect this
might have elsewhere in the Middle East (Fraser, 1989).
In other respects, 1981 seemed to show Israel becoming
increasingly assertive. On 7 June, Israeli jets destroyed the
nuclear reactor that Iraq had been building with Soviet and
French help at Osirak. This attack was a breach of the
agreement under which the United States had supplied
the aircraft and the Americans were forced publicly to
rebuke the Israelis; privately, they were quite pleased.
A more serious issue between Jerusalem and Washington was
the Pentagon’s desire to supply five Airborne Warning and
Control System (AWACS) aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Seen in
Washington as a necessary reinforcement for Western security in the Gulf, it was viewed in Israel as a potential threat to
her vital air superiority. The result was a bruising eightmonth battle in Congress with Reagan’s authority pitted
against the lobbying strength of AIPAC. Reagan’s eventual
Senate majority of 52 votes to 48 seemed to emphasise
Israel’s power in Washington. The Israeli Government’s
The Search for a Settlement
response was to claim that the administration was anti-Semitic
(Tivnan, 1987; Reagan, 1990). Finally, on 14 December 1981
the Knesset voted for the de facto annexation of the Golan
Heights, in defiance both of the views of its remaining inhabitants and the known American position that it should be
returned to Syria in an eventual peace settlement. Fearing that
this was the prelude to a similar move over the West Bank,
the Americans suspended the agreement for strategic cooperation. By the end of 1981, it was hard to escape the view
that Begin’s government was holding the initiative, with the
Reagan administration being forced to react.
Israel’s Lebanon War
These events in 1981 proved to be the prelude to the tragedy
that unfolded the following year: Israel’s invasion of
Lebanon. The immediate background was instability on
Israel’s border with Lebanon from which Palestinians had
been launching rockets against Israeli towns, especially
Kiryat Shmonah. In July 1981, the Americans arranged a
cease-fire and, although this had been observed, many
Israelis felt nervous about the PLO’s accumulation of
weapons in southern Lebanon. While no one pretended
they were a threat to the state, they were enough to build up
pressure for action. There were other anxieties. On 25 April
1982, a major phase of the Camp-David agreements was completed with Israel’s final withdrawal from the Sinai; promptings from the Americans for progress on autonomy for the
West Bank and Gaza were bound to follow. In these circumstances, pressure began to grow in the Begin government for
a major move in Lebanon which would have as its immediate
aim the removal of the PLO threat to the northern border
and the expulsion of the organisation from Lebanon. But
even more ambitious prospects were in mind. Breaking the
PLO in Lebanon would, it was felt, make the Palestinians
of the West Bank more pliable, thus making some form of
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
de facto annexation easier. A successful campaign might also
bring about another dream: the establishment of a regime in
Beirut which would sign a peace treaty. While Lebanon was
never a military threat, such a treaty would stabilise the border with a second Arab state. This took surprisingly little
account of the country’s instability, or of Syria’s special relationship with it. The chosen instrument was the Phalangist
leader Bashir Gemayal, who had long been in contact with
key Israeli figures. Not every member of the Begin cabinet
thought the same way, or was even aware of such plans, but
these were all considerations influencing key figures in the
government and army. Reagan’s view was that Israeli Defence
Minister Ariel Sharon, the veteran of the 1967 and 1973 wars
who had been appointed in August 1981, was ‘chomping at
the bit to start a war’ (Feldman and Rechnitz-Kijner, 1984;
Reagan, 1990; Shlaim, 2000). Chief of Staff Raful Eitan later
recorded his view that war in Lebanon was inevitable, needed
to curb the growing strength of the PLO (Eitan, 1992).
By May 1982, there was an expectation in informed circles
that an Israeli move into Lebanon was imminent. Faced with
this, the Reagan administration gave out signals that the
Israeli Government allowed itself to misinterpret. Warnings
against action in Lebanon were so diplomatically couched as
to encourage Begin and his key advisers in the belief that
they were being given a ‘green light’ by Washington. A
speech by Haig on 26 May failed to hit its mark, though it is
fair to say that he could not have anticipated the event which
within days was to trigger the invasion. On 3 June, Israel’s
ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov, was shot and seriously wounded by Palestinians. One of his country’s most
promising diplomats, Argov spent the next two decades on a
life-support machine, dying in February 2003. Despite intelligence from London that the attempted assassination was
the work of men hostile to Arafat and the PLO, on 6 June
Israel began a full-scale invasion of Lebanon. Entitled
‘Operation Peace for Galilee’, its declared purpose was the
creation of a 40-km security zone in southern Lebanon, but
The Search for a Settlement
it soon became clear that the terms of the operation
extended far beyond 40 km. Although outnumbered by the
well-equipped Israeli forces, the PLO men fought back hard.
Tyre, Sidon and Nabatiyeh were badly damaged and villages
and refugee camps were abandoned, with thousands of dead
and wounded. By 9 June, Israeli and Syrian ground forces
were also engaged, and this escalated into a major air battle
(Shlaim, 2000). The following day the Israelis were
approaching Beirut, and three days later they were in control of its western and southern approaches. The prospect
now opened up of an assault on west Beirut with its largely
Muslim population of 500,000 amongst whom were some
6000 embattled PLO defenders. Such a development was
unwelcome in Washington, where Haig resigned as
Secretary of State, and was to be regarded with increasing
unease by sections of the Israeli public. Whereas every other
war in Israel’s history had enjoyed total public support, from
July public confidence began perceptibly to erode. Even in
the army, which had taken substantial casualties, questions
were beginning to be asked, especially amongst reservists
(Schiff and Ya’ari, 1985).
America Intervenes: The Multinational Force
By early July, with Israeli artillery bombarding west Beirut,
the Americans were trying to negotiate a disengagement
agreement. Both Begin and the PLO were talking in terms
of a multinational force to supervise such an agreement and
the delicate question of the inclusion of American troops
was beginning to arise. Arafat in particular saw American
soldiers as the guarantee for the security of the Palestinian
refugee camps in Beirut, should he agree to his fighters evacuating the city. While thoughts increasingly turned to the
concept of a PLO evacuation under cover of a multinational
force, the new American Secretary of State, George Shultz,
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
began to prepare plans for a more wide-ranging peace initiative. On 1 August, however, Israel began a major assault on
west Beirut, flying 127 sorties over the city on that day alone.
Two weeks of intensive bombardment followed, devastating
whole areas of the city, which were believed to be the prelude
to a full-scale assault. Repeated attempts by the Americans to
bring about a cease-fire were ignored until, on 12 August,
Reagan’s patience finally snapped. Believing that Israeli
actions were designed to thwart a peaceful outcome, he telephoned Begin demanding an end to the ‘needless destruction and bloodshed’, deliberately using the word ‘Holocaust’
because of its resonance with the Israeli Premier; a cease-fire
came into operation that day (Jansen, 1982; Reagan, 1990).
The way was now open for an evacuation of PLO guerrillas, supervised by a Multinational Force in which France
and Italy had confirmed they would join the Americans. On
13 August, the PLO submitted a list of 7100 guerrillas with a
timetable for their evacuation by sea and land to various sympathetic Arab countries. On the 21st, paratroopers of the
French Foreign Legion were to arrive in Beirut to supervise
a seaborne evacuation to Tunisia and Yemen. Five days later
they were to be joined by Americans and Italians who would
help ensure the departure of PLO fighters to Syria. At the
time it was seen as a triumph of crisis management. An
Israeli attack on west Beirut, with incalculable civilian casualties, had been avoided; instead, by 9 September 8144 PLO
fighters had left Beirut by sea and 6254 had gone overland
to Damascus. Although Israeli spokesmen tried to claim the
demise of the PLO, they failed to convince, for the nature
of the stand the outnumbered Palestinians had put up and
the jubilant nature of their departure ensured that the
organisation’s standing remained intact. If Begin and his
colleagues had believed that the expulsion of the PLO from
Lebanon would destroy its credibility, at the very least events
had conspired to confound them. Believing they had averted
a slaughter, on 9 September the troops of the Multinational
Force left Beirut.
The Search for a Settlement
The Reagan Peace Plan
A successful evacuation of the PLO had been one prong of
American policy; the other was the peace plan which
President Reagan announced on 1 September. Its essence
was ‘that only self-government by the Palestinians of the
West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan offers the
best chance for a durable, just and lasting peace’. While
stressing his personal commitment to Israel, Reagan warned
that the United States opposed any further settlements in
the territories. It was a strategy close to the heart of the
Labour leader, Shimon Peres, but in clear contrast to Likud
hopes over the West Bank, and Begin’s rejection of the plan
was both immediate and sulphurous. In rejecting the plan,
Begin emphasised that what for some was the West Bank was
for him Judea and Samaria (Fraser, 1989; Reagan, 1990).
The Americans had been well aware that the plan would
need time to mature but could not have been prepared for
the bloody events in Beirut which stifled it. On 14
September, Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, destroying yet
another element in Israel’s Lebanese strategy. The following
morning the Israeli army began to occupy west Beirut, in violation of assurances given to the Americans. With the Israeli
army now in unfettered control of west Beirut, Arafat’s
nightmare of the defenceless nature of the refugee camps
had come true.
The Sabra and Shatila Massacres
Even so, the signs did not necessarily point to tragedy, for the
Israeli army was assumed to be a disciplined force. The critical decision was taken not only to allow Phalangist forces
into west Beirut alongside the Israelis but to assign them the
task of seeking out ‘terrorists’ in the Sabra and Shatila
refugee camps. The likely consequences should have been
predictable by anyone aware of the murderous passions that
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
had been stoked up in the course of the Lebanese civil war,
now at a new intensity as a result of Gemayel’s death. On the
evening of 16 September, Phalangists entered Sabra and
Shatila, which were illuminated by flares fired by the Israeli
army. For two days the Phalangists killed defenceless men,
women and children in the camps. Despite the graphic
accounts of newspaper and television reporters, no one yet
knows how many were killed. Palestinian sources put the figure at 2000; Israeli intelligence conceded 800 (Fisk, 1990).
Israel could not escape the blame for introducing the
Phalangists into the camps nor for seeming to be indifferent
to massacres being carried on over so long a period in an
area under their control. Pictures of the slaughter shocked
opinion throughout the world, but Begin seemed immune
to the enormity of what had happened until a demonstration of 400,000 people in Tel Aviv forced him to concede an
independent inquiry. In fact, Sabra and Shatila marked the
beginning of the end of Israel’s Lebanese adventure. Within
days Israeli troops had left west Beirut and from then on
Israel was on the political and military defensive.
The Israeli army was replaced in west Beirut by a hastily
contrived revival of the Multinational Force. American,
French and Italian troops, later joined by a small British contingent, deployed to protect the refugee camps, separate the
combatants and attempt to fulfill a hopelessly optimistic
brief that they assist with the reconstruction of the Lebanese
state. In the meantime, American diplomats tried to press
ahead with the Reagan Plan. But the whole Lebanese affair,
culminating in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, had shattered what little stability the region possessed. The Israeli
committee of inquiry chaired by Chief Justice Yitzhak Kahan
reported in February 1983 and shook the country’s political
establishment. While Begin was criticised for his ‘lack of
involvement’ and a number of officers were censured,
including the Chief of Staff, it was Defence Minister Ariel
Sharon who drew the principal condemnation for allowing
the Phalangists into the camps. As Sharon declined to
The Search for a Settlement
resign, Begin was forced to dismiss him. From then on,
Begin went into visible decline. Long prone to depression,
he was devastated by the death of his wife. In September
1983, he resigned and became a recluse, dying in March
1992. His successor, Yitzhak Shamir, a former leader of
Leh’i, was to prove no less inflexible in his interpretation
and defence of Israel’s interests.
America’s Lebanese Débâcle
Events on the Arab side were just as discouraging. American
officials had looked to King Hussein to open the way forward
but on 10 April 1983 the Jordanians announced that agreement on the future of the Palestinians would have to be made
by the PLO. Ten days later, key American intelligence
personnel – including the CIA station chief in Lebanon and
Robert C. Ames, its leading Middle-East analyst – were killed
in a massive car bomb at the embassy in Beirut. As a result of
this double blow, George Shultz flew to the Middle East. On
17 May, he concluded an agreement for an Israeli withdrawal
from Lebanon in return for a security zone in the south of
the country, but as he could not get Syrian agreement, this,
too, failed. Just as Shultz was becoming discouraged by these
setbacks, the Multinational Force in Beirut fell victim to
the lethal passions of Middle-East politics. The American
marine contingent around Beirut International Airport
was threatened by two powerful groups which saw the Multinational Force as favouring the Christian side, the Druse
militia in the Chouf mountains and the Shi’ites of south
Beirut. On 23 October 1983, Shi’ite suicide car bombers hit
the French and American bases: 78 French troops and 241
American marines were killed. Their action had the desired
effect; on 8 February 1984, President Reagan, faced with the
prospect of re-election, announced the ‘redeployment’ of the
marines to ships offshore. The French, Italians and British had
no choice but to follow (Fraser, 1989).
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
With the ending of the Multinational Force, and the
effective demise of the Reagan Plan, yet another phase of
Middle-East diplomacy had ended in frustration. But not
quite, for the Israeli armed forces were still in Lebanon in
positions that were under pressure from two directions. The
Israeli public, which had initially supported the invasion in
1982, now largely saw the affair as pointless. More seriously,
the Shi’ite population of southern Lebanon, and their Amal
and Hezbollah militias, were fiercely anti-Israeli. Israel’s
policy of the ‘iron fist’ against them seemed only to inspire
more resistance, including suicide car bombs against which
conventional resistance was hopeless. In 1985, the Israeli
army withdrew from most of the country, maintaining a presence only in the ‘security zone’ along the southern border.
Thus ended a war that had cost thousands of Arab, Israeli,
American and French lives, completed the devastation of
Lebanon, divided Israeli society as never before, and
achieved nothing, beyond the security zone, which lasted
until 2000.
The Intifada
Diplomacy never entirely died out between 1984 and 1987,
but it is fair to say that it languished. State Department officials tried to ensure that Israelis and Palestinians had opportunities for exploring each other’s positions against the day
when the conflict would return to the top of the agenda, as
they knew it must before too long. This feeling of neglect in
the era when Reagan and Gorbachev were presiding over the
end of the Cold War contributed in no small measure to the
growing sense of frustration amongst the Palestinians.
This was particularly felt in the occupied territories which
were about to enter their third decade under Israeli rule.
The twentieth anniversary of the Six Day War seemed to
emphasise both the permanent nature of the occupation
and the failure of international diplomacy to bring about
The Search for a Settlement
change. Behind this façade, however, profound forces were
at work which were to change the nature of the Arab–Israeli
conflict. A new generation had grown up in the West Bank
and Gaza that had known nothing but occupation with its
daily frustrations and humiliations; some 50 per cent of the
population had been born under Israeli rule. It was a generation which had a new potential leadership fostered in the
schools and universities of the West Bank and Gaza. These
young men and women no longer looked to Jordan, and if
they overwhelmingly gave their allegiance to the PLO, it was
in the knowledge that its leadership was of an older generation remote from the everyday realities of life in the territories. Significant pointers to the new political spirit were the
numbers of community groups, cultural associations,
women’s organisations and other grass-roots activities which
sought to build the Palestinian community from the bottom
up; there was, of course, a political subtext to much of what
they did. Above all, by the late 1980s this generation had
ceased to fear the Israelis – a telling factor behind any uprising.
What they did fear was Israel’s intention with regard to the
West Bank and Gaza. For much of the 1980s the pace of settlement policy seemed unrelenting. The ideological thrust
behind government policy in the West Bank, and to a much
lesser degree Gaza, was to build up the Jewish presence to
such an extent that it would be indissolubly bound to the rest
of the country. The key to this was land, access to which was
largely secured through the old Ottoman concept of ‘state
land’, continued during the British and Jordanian periods.
By designating certain areas as ‘state land’, it is estimated
that by 1987 Israel had secured just over 50 per cent of the
West Bank and 30 per cent of the Gaza Strip, though only
part of this was settled. To the Palestinians who had farmed
these lands for generations this amounted to expropriation
under thin legal cover. By the same date, some 70,000
Israelis had settled on the West Bank and 2000 in the Gaza
Strip. Their motivation varied. Some were undoubtedly
attracted by keen religious and political fervour, seeing their
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
presence as a fulfillment of Jewish destiny. Others were more
prosaic. Many of the settlements were within easy commuting distance of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and their inhabitants
could travel to the cities along a road network designed to
bypass Arab towns and villages. Whether there by conviction
or convenience, the Palestinians saw them as the most obvious obstacle to their own political hopes. Above all, they saw
them as a threat to the land.
The Intifada which broke out on 8 December 1987 was not
planned but it was the culmination of all these factors. It was
sparked by an Israeli army vehicle in the Gaza Strip crashing
into a truck with Palestinian workers, causing four deaths.
Rumours spread that this was deliberate retaliation for the
fatal stabbing of an Israeli in Gaza two days before. The funerals became large-scale demonstrations, Israeli soldiers
opened fire in the Jabalya refugee camp and a youth was
killed. Over the following days, unrest spread across the Gaza
Strip and then into the West Bank. It soon became clear that
the scale of what was happening far surpassed any previous
form of protest in the Occupied Territories and that the
Israeli authorities were not well prepared to deal with it. The
sight of security forces using live ammunition against demonstrators armed with stones was damaging to the country’s reputation, which was only just beginning to recover from Sabra
and Shatila. In January 1988, Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin
announced a policy of ‘might, power and beatings’ as an
alternative to the use of live ammunition but this gave rise
to serious allegations of brutality, backed up by television
images (Siniora, 1988; Schiff and Ya’ari, 1989; Parker, 1992).
The Israelis were not alone in being surprised by the
nature and extent of the Intifada. The PLO, too, had to
define its political response, not least because of the growth
of a potential rival, the Islamic Resistance Movement, or
Hamas. If the organisation were to retain its position, then
contact had to made with those who were emerging as the
leaders of the uprising. This led the Israelis in April 1988 to
organise the assassination in Tunis of the PLO leader
The Search for a Settlement
believed to be co-ordinating what was happening in the
occupied territories, Arafat’s long-time confidant, Khalil
Wazir. His death did not serve its intended purpose, not least
because the underground leadership of the Intifada, the
Unified National Leadership of the Uprising, was firmly
rooted inside the territories. In fact, the death of such a popular figure acted as an incentive to greater acts of defiance.
As the number of deaths mounted, so did the pressure on
the various parties to work towards a resolution of the conflict. In July, King Hussein gave a clear impetus to this by severing his links with the West Bank, thus leaving it clear that
the PLO was central to any negotiation. The PLO leadership
was aware that it would have to make political gains from the
Intifada. Equally, the Americans were coming under pressure from friends in Europe and the Middle East to make
some moves towards easing the situation.
Moves towards a Settlement
Delicate contacts between the PLO leadership and the
Americans led to the declaration by the PLO national council on 15 February of an independent Palestine on the West
Bank and Gaza. While this implied recognition of Israel, it
did not go as far as Shultz wanted – namely acceptance of
Resolution 242 and a renunciation of terrorism. Weeks of
hectic negotiation followed, including Swedes and a group
of American Jews, before Arafat seemed ready to make a
major pronouncement along these lines to the United
Nations in Geneva. In fact, his speech on 15 December 1988
fell short of what the Americans felt he had agreed and it
took further mediation to bring him to a press conference
the next day to announce his rejection of terrorism and
acknowledgement of the right of all parties in the Middle
East to live in peace and security. The obstacle to negotiations with the United States had been removed.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
The Gulf War
The ‘substantive dialogue’ that Shultz had promised the
PLO did not go well. From the start the two sides were far
apart on the issue of what was ‘terrorism’ and what were
attacks on ‘legitimate targets’ in Israel. On 20 June 1990,
President Bush suspended the dialogue in the wake of a
Palestinian raid on Tel Aviv, itself almost certainly designed
to put an end to the talks. Then, on 2 August, came Iraq’s
invasion of Kuwait, beginning months of tension as the
United States painstakingly assembled a coalition to expel
Saddam Hussein’s forces from the country. America’s allies
did not just include her traditional friends in Europe –
Britain, France and Italy – but also Egypt, Syria and, of
course, Saudi Arabia on whose territory the forces for
‘Operation Desert Storm’ assembled. When their offensive
ended, on 28 February 1991, Iraq’s armed forces had been
expelled from Kuwait, even though, contrary to American
hopes, Saddam’s regime survived. Prospects for the PLO
seemed dim. In the course of the war, Iraq had fired missiles
at Israel in the hope that by retaliating she would shatter the
unity of the allied coalition. That Israel did not do so gave it
a claim on American goodwill in the post-war period. Even
more serious was Arafat’s clear endorsement of Saddam
Hussein’s actions. In many respects it was not surprising, for
sentiment in the West Bank and Gaza was strongly behind
the Iraqi President as the one Arab leader clearly standing
up to Israel and the Americans; moreover, Palestinians contrasted the West’s prompt action over Kuwait, where economic interests were strongly engaged, with 25 years’
inaction over the Occupied Territories. But the war left
Arafat on the losing side, his judgement in question, his
hard-won links with the United States in tatters, and estranged
from his former patrons in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf who
had provided the financial backing for his movement for
quarter of a century.
The Search for a Settlement
The Bush–Baker Initiative
President Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker
sought to build quickly on their success in the Gulf War by
working for a Middle-East peace conference. It was none too
soon, for the Intifada had claimed over 1000 lives and neither side looked likely to compromise. The easing of restrictions in the Soviet Union after 1989 had led to a sudden
surge of some 370,000 immigrants and the Shamir government responded with an expanded building and settlement
programme in the West Bank, which the Americans saw as a
further obstacle to prospects for peace. By 1992 it was estimated that the Jewish population in the West Bank had
grown to 97,000 and in Gaza to 3600, in addition to 14,000
on the Golan Heights and 129,000 Jews in and around east
Jerusalem. So alarmed was Bush by the pace of events that in
September 1991 he publicly threatened to veto $10 billion in
loan guarantees requested by Israel to help settle the new
Soviet Jewish immigrants, initiating a new confrontation with
the government in Jerusalem and AIPAC in Washington.
Relentless diplomacy by Baker was pushing and cajoling the
parties towards a peace conference, which convened at
Madrid on 30 October 1991 under the joint presidency of
Bush and Gorbachev. It was a remarkable occasion for Israel
was now sitting down in face-to-face negotiations with Syria
and Lebanon, as well as the Egyptians. Important as this was,
everyone knew that the key issue was the role of the
Palestinians. Delicate negotiation had produced a formula
by which Israel accepted a joint Palestinian–Jordanian delegation with certain conditions attached, namely that the
Palestinian members must come from the West Bank and
Gaza and that they should have no links with the PLO. The
14 members of the delegation, led by the veteran Dr Haydar
abd al-Shafi, did reflect this territorial provision, but the
Americans also permitted a steering committee representing
Palestinians from east Jerusalem and outside the occupied
territories. Two members of that committee, Faisal Husseini
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
and Dr Hannan Ashrawi, were to emerge as the key figures
on the Palestinian side.
But even when the talks moved to Washington, progress
proved virtually impossible. The temper of the Shamir government was not improved by the unrelenting pressure from
Bush over the loan guarantees; when Congress passed its
foreign-aid bill on 1 April 1992 the $10 billion in guarantees
requested by Israel was not included. A breakthrough
seemed to beckon when on 23 June Labour, once again
under Yitzhak Rabin, won the Israeli general election and
proceeded to form a coalition government. Israeli voters
were alarmed at Shamir’s breach with Washington and disappointed by Likud’s economic performance, but were also
attracted by Rabin’s pledge to work for a peace settlement
that would include Palestinian autonomy. Rabin was soon
rewarded by the warmer attitude coming from Washington.
On 11 August, Bush announced that he would place a
revised Israeli loan-guarantee proposal before Congress; surplus American military equipment was to be transferred to
Israel. On 5 October, Congress approved the loan guarantees, just in time to see power pass to Bill Clinton who had
claimed in the course of the presidential election campaign
that the Bush administration had ‘gravely harmed’ the
Israeli–American relationship.
The Breakthrough
For much of 1993 the diplomatic process appeared to be
stagnant. Palestinian negotiators seemed to lack the authority to make significant moves and a frustrated Rabin’s
attempt to expel 400 Hamas activists led him nowhere.
Despite Clinton’s success, the Israeli Government knew that
the collapse of Communism meant that they could not call
for much longer on the strategic relationship with the
United States. Fresh thinking was called for. The PLO
leadership also realised this. The Arabs, too, had been
The Search for a Settlement
profoundly affected by the disappearance of the Soviet
Union. At a stroke Syria, the main military power confronting Israel, had lost its patron and arms supplier. Iraq,
the only other significant Arab power likely to confront the
Israelis, had been ravaged by the Gulf War. The Gulf War
had also deprived the PLO of its vital sources of Saudi
finance. Both Rabin and Arafat had strong reasons for looking favourably on highly secret moves which had been
maturing for months in Norway, initially sponsored by individuals and then taken up by the Norwegian government.
These talks between PLO and Israeli officials had become so
promising that they had been enthusiastically adopted by the
Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres.
The secrecy of Norway allowed for the exploration of
highly sensitive issues in a manner that would have been
difficult, if not impossible, in the full glare of Washington
publicity. It enabled the Israelis to explore the vexed, but
central, issue of the PLO, which successive governments had
condemned as a ‘terrorist’ organisation but which the
Washington talks were confirming as essential to any settlement. The realisation was there that without Arafat’s active
co-operation no settlement could have a realistic hope of
success, but this was something for which Israeli public opinion would have to be prepared with some finesse. The key to
Arafat’s participation in any proposed settlement would be
land; the PLO would have to be given territory on which it
could begin to exert its authority and from which it could
hope to build. In short, Israel would have to contemplate
some form of withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, and
the PLO would have to acknowledge that this could only
come about through stages.
At first sight Gaza seemed the likely option. With the
exception of the few thousand settlers, Israelis held no affection for Gaza. It was a dangerous and unpopular military
posting with soldiers in a state of constant alert and regular
confrontation with its 800,000 inhabitants. With its miserable refugee camps and constant tension, it continually
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
reproached Israel’s international position. To turn Gaza
over to the PLO was an obvious step, but not one that Arafat
would respond to without some concession on the West
Bank. The PLO leadership was understandably wary of any
suggestion which would allow Israel to divest itself of Gaza
while allowing unfettered control of the West Bank. The
solution was to include Jericho on the West Bank in the proposed agreement. This would allow the PLO to establish its
presence on an historic West-Bank city close to Jordan; it was
a return to an idea floated by Kissinger nearly twenty years
before. Withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho was intended to
be the first stage in a wider transfer of authority to the
Palestinians of the West Bank. While Israeli negotiators
made it clear that Israel would maintain responsibility for
security of the settlements on the West Bank and their inhabitants, it was also apparent that the settlers, many of whom
saw themselves as the advance guard of Zionism, would have
to come to terms with life in an Arab entity. After years of
sterile and bloody confrontation, the Israeli government
and the PLO were charting a path that offered the possibility of a way forward.
Under the auspices of the Norwegian Foreign Minister,
Johann Jorgen Holst, on 9 September 1993 Arafat and Rabin
exchanged letters which marked the historic beginning of
an attempt to arrive at a settlement. Arafat’s letter assured
Rabin that the PLO recognised ‘the right of the State of
Israel to exist in peace and security’, renounced terrorism,
and pledged to remove the sections of the National Charter
which denied Israel’s rights to exist; in a separate letter to
Holst he called on the inhabitants of the West Bank and
Gaza to reject violence – in effect to call off the Intifada.
Rabin’s reply recognised ‘the PLO as the representative of
the Palestinian people’. The essence of the agreement to
which the two men committed themselves looked forward to
the imminent withdrawal of Israeli troops and administration from Jericho on the West Bank and from Gaza, followed
by elections for a Palestinian Council to run the West Bank
and Gaza for a five-year period, during which the two sides
would negotiate a final settlement. When the two leaders
signed their agreement at the White House on 13 September
and then, with Clinton’s encouragement, shook hands it was
clear that the Arab–Israeli conflict had taken a new turn. No
one, not least Arafat and Rabin, was prepared to underestimate the difficulties that might lie ahead.
It was soon apparent that, despite the goodwill generated
in Norway and the international acclaim that had greeted
the signing ceremony in Washington, serious problems
remained. Neither side found it easy to agree to the precise
dimensions of the Jericho enclave which was to pass under
PLO control, the Israelis arguing that it should be confined
to the city, while the Palestinians argued for a larger administrative district. The nature of border controls meant hard
bargaining for both sides. The PLO saw control of the
border crossings into Gaza and Jericho as a test of its sovereignty; the Israelis, concerned for security, insisted upon
some kind of monitoring of their own. Ultimately, these
issues were resolvable. The real tests for the agreement were
the future of the Israeli settlements and the extent to which
Rabin and Arafat could hold their positions internally in the
face of the challenges which would arise. It was inevitable
that Arafat’s concessions would be challenged by those who
wanted no compromise with Israel. Chief among them were
the supporters of Hamas, Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamia
or the ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’, which had emerged
in December 1987 to give a specifically Islamic dimension to
the Intifada. Together with Islamic Jihad, Hamas was to
provide the spearhead of Palestinian opposition to the
Oslo process. Its tactics were to resort to violence in order to
provoke an Israeli response, and hence discredit the PLO’s
concessions. Attacks on Israelis increased as a result, putting the agreement under strain. In order to combat
Hamas’s challenge, Arafat had to secure the loyalty of his
own Fatah members, not all of whom agreed with what he
had done. In the end it would be the PLO’s own policemen
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
who would have to confront Palestinian dissidents of whatever persuasion.
On the Israeli side, Rabin’s government, with its small
Knesset majority, had to face the opposition of Likud, which
had done so much to build up the Jewish presence on the
West Bank. Right-wing leaders pointed to the attacks on Jews
as proof that no concessions should be made to the Arabs.
But it was amongst the settlers on the West Bank that emotions ran highest. While a majority of the settlers had come
to the West Bank as the result of economic inducements and
could probably be persuaded to resettle elsewhere, this was
not true of a determined group for whom the territory held
a very different significance. For these settlers the area was
an inalienable part of the Jewish inheritance which they
were determined to retain.
At the heart of this sentiment were the settlers of Kiryat
Arba on the outskirts of Hebron. Kiryat Arba, the first settlement allowed for non-security reasons after the 1967 war,
set out to re-create the Jewish presence in Hebron, one of
the four Holy Cities of Judaism, whose Jewish community
had been wiped out by the Arabs in the 1929 disturbances
with the loss of 60 lives. The city itself was deeply holy both
to Jews and Muslims, because of the Tombs of the Patriarchs,
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with their wives Sarah, Rebecca
and Leah. By Jewish tradition, too, Adam and Eve rested
there: hence the ancient name Kiryat Arba (‘The Town-of
the Four’, in honour of the four couples), which the modern
settlement’s name revived. The atmosphere in the city was
invariably uneasy, the prime focus of tension being that what
to Jews was the Tomb of the Patriarchs was to Muslims the
Mosque of Ibrahim. Undeterred by the hostile population
around them, the Jewish settlers were heavily armed for their
own protection. Hence, the attack on the Hebron mosque
on 25 February 1994 by a Jewish doctor in which 29
Palestinian worshippers were killed before the gunman was
himself beaten to death was a tragedy waiting to happen.
The scale of the killing seemed only to spur the Israeli
The Search for a Settlement
government and the PLO towards a more urgent conclusion
of the deadlines set in the 13 September agreement. But
even as the Israeli army and administration began its evacuation of Gaza, on 6 April 1994 the expected retaliation for
the Hebron massacre took place when a suicide car bomber
drove into a school bus line in Afula, killing 7 and injuring
over fifty people.
The Israeli Government and the PLO leadership had
invested too much of their credibility to allow themselves to
be deflected by such acts, however appalling. In May 1994,
Rabin, Peres and Arafat came to Cairo to resolve the simmering dispute over what had actually been agreed the previous September. Despite a final public wrangle over the
dimensions of the Jericho enclave, the two sides reached
agreement over the nature of the Israeli withdrawal and the
powers of the Palestinian Authority. In the case of Gaza there
was to be a military redeployment to guard the remaining
Jewish settlers; otherwise, the new Authority was to acquire
the symbols, and some of the reality, of Palestinian sovereignty. The way was now clear for Arafat’s emotional return
to Gaza and Jericho in July, an event that observers of the
Arab–Israeli conflict had in the not-too-distant past believed
Behind that emotion lay stern realities. While the PLO
had a wealth of educated and dedicated talent at its command, Arafat’s background had been that of a revolutionary
leader rather than an administrator. His penchant for keeping the threads of administration in his own hands, and
heeding his own counsel, led a number of respected figures,
like Haydar abd al-Shafi and Hannan Ashrawi, to keep their
distance. The inevitable compromises with Israel, the more
powerful partner in the relationship, steadily increased the
appeal Hamas and other Islamic groups held for young
Palestinians. Continuing attacks inside Israel, most spectacularly a suicide car bomb aboard a Tel Aviv bus which killed
22 people, were designed both to embarrass Arafat and
harden Israeli opposition to the agreement. Although the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
PLO and Hamas were anxious to avoid a civil war, no one
seemed to know how to attract the Islamic groups into a
Palestinian political consensus, short of concessions beyond
Arafat’s, and Rabin’s, reach. With Israeli public opinion hovering around 50 per cent for their peace strategy, and
dependent on Arab and Communist votes for their Knesset
majority, the Rabin–Peres combination had precariously
little room for manoeuvre in the face of a sustained Likud
opposition, which also drew strength from public unease
over the government’s domestic policies. It was hardly surprising that Rabin would not be drawn on such critical issues
as the future of the settlements and their inhabitants. The
continuing settlements in Gaza were especially galling to the
But the Israeli leaders were sophisticated political veterans
who were working on another diplomatic track to which
their right-wing critics would find it hard to object. The
Labour leadership, Peres in particular, had for some time
held views close to those of King Hussein of Jordan and his
brother Crown Prince Hassan, and there had long been contacts between them. The King could not afford to be left
behind by Arafat and the PLO. Intricate negotiations led to
the signing of a peace treaty between the two countries on
26 October 1994. From this, Israel gained security on its eastern flank, for not only did Jordan renounce force but it was
committed to ensuring that acts of violence would ‘not originate from’ its territory, though this simply confirmed what
had been the case for years. Only Israel’s northern border
with Syria and Lebanon remained to be secured. Jordan
could show some tangible benefits in return, not least
$980 million of American debts written off by President
Clinton as an inducement to sign. Boundary disputes were
apparently resolved in Jordan’s favour; 135 square miles
were returned to Jordanian sovereignty with certain areas
leased back to Israel, a precedent viewed somewhat uneasily
in other Arab countries. Jordan was accorded a special position with regard to the holy sites of Jerusalem, to the fury of
The Search for a Settlement
the PLO leadership. The ultimate benefit to both parties was
thought to be economic, for all discriminatory trade barriers
were to be removed and that most precious of resources,
water, was to be carefully regulated between them. While this
agreement had its bitter opponents, not least inside Jordan,
it seemed to mark yet another key stage in the Arab–Israeli
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
The Peace Process under Arafat, Rabin and Peres
It was clear that the fate of the peace process would be
determined by the ability of Arafat and Rabin to convince a
majority of Palestinians and Israelis that it held out the
prospect of substantial progress on the political, security and
economic fronts. Security continued to present the most
acute and immediate danger. 1995 had barely begun when
suicide bombers detonated two car bombs at Nardiya, killing
20 people, mostly young soldiers. Realising the effect of this
on a grieving Israeli public, Rabin went on television to vow
that such attacks would not deflect him from his negotiations with the Palestinians, but it was an open question how
long his credibility could be sustained in the face of such
tragedies. In April, a further suicide attack in the Gaza Strip
killed seven Israeli soldiers and an American girl student.
This, in turn, increased the difficulties faced by the
Palestinian Authority, as it carried out arrests of members of
Islamic groups at the same time as Israeli security measures
prevented workers from Gaza crossing to jobs in Israel, and
Gazan farmers were unable to market their crops.
Palestinians inevitably questioned what tangible benefits the
new arrangements were bringing them, despite the efforts of
the Authority to create an administration where none had
existed before. The sense of disappointment was compounded when the date of 1 July 1995 set for expanding
self-government in the West Bank came and went.
These unpromising events set the context for fresh
American and Egyptian attempts to nudge the two sides forward on the issue of the West Bank. Their efforts bore fruit
on 28 September 1995 with the signing in Washington, in
the presence of Presidents Clinton and Mubarak and King
Hussein, of a new agreement which was at least as significant
as the one confirmed at a similar ceremony almost exactly
two years before. Its purpose was to give substance to much
of what had been implicit in the earlier document. Under its
terms the Israelis agreed to withdraw their troops from most
towns and villages in the West Bank by 30 March 1996, civil
control passing to an elected Palestinian council. Balancing
this were the continuation of an Israeli security role and a
Palestinian agreement to amend their National Charter by
removing the sections which called for Israel’s destruction.
While most Israelis seemed content with what had been
agreed, angry demonstrations by settlers in Hebron against
the concessions over the West Bank were a portent of opposition to come. Such was the strength of feeling generated by
the settlers and their supporters that Rabin and Peres
decided to address a peace rally in Tel Aviv on 4 November
1995. Attended by an estimated 100,000 people, it probably
amply met their expectations, but as he left the rally Rabin
was shot dead by a student opposed to his concessions on the
West Bank. Possibly the ablest soldier in the country’s history, Rabin’s death was seen as a political tragedy of major
dimensions, confirmed by the world leaders, including
Clinton, Mubarak and King Hussein, who assembled in
Jerusalem for his funeral. Arafat’s presence at the funeral
was regarded as too much of a security risk but he later paid
his respects to Rabin’s widow. The Israeli leader’s death
invited unavoidable comparisons with that of President
Sadat 14 years before.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Rabin was immediately succeeded by his long-standing colleague and former rival, Shimon Peres. Perhaps if Peres had
gone to the electorate immediately after the assassination he
might have gained a mandate for the course he and Rabin
had charted, but he chose not to do that. Instead, Peres
pressed ahead with implementing the agreements he had
done so much to bring into being. By the end of the year
such key West-Bank cities as Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqilya,
Bethelehem, Ramallah, and perhaps above all, Nablus, had
returned to Palestinian authority after almost three decades
of Israeli occupation. Peres was also signalling his desire to
include Syria in an overall peace settlement, a sentiment
which Clinton shared. This, of course, called into question
the future of the Golan, which many Israelis felt to be an
essential element in their security and which, like the West
Bank and Gaza, was home to settlers.
On one level, the expectations of progress appeared to be
reinforced by the elections for the Palestinian Council held
in the West Bank and Gaza on 20 January 1996. With a broad
endorsement from the electorate, Arafat’s position as the
acknowledged leader of Palestine was confirmed. But
another agenda was at work. On 5 January, the man alleged
by Israel to have directed the bombing campaign against it
was killed in the Gaza Strip; on 25 February, bombs in buses
in Ashkelon and Jerusalem killed 25 people. Messages to the
press claimed the attacks were in retaliation. The following
week, a further suicide bomb in Jerusalem resulted in 19
deaths. Then, on 4 March, a fourth suicide bomb at a shopping centre in Tel Aviv killed 14 people and injured over
100. Over the same period there were a number of fatal
attacks on Israeli patrols in southern Lebanon. The cumulative effect was to undermine public confidence in Peres’s
government and its peace strategy. In the circumstances, it
was inevitable that Likud, under Binyamin Netanyahu,
would press home security concerns.
In an attempt to show solidarity with Israel and its government, President Clinton paid a flying visit to the country on his
An Uncertain Path
return from a Middle-East peace summit in Egypt at which the
recent suicide bombings were condemned. As Israel prepared
to go to the polls in May, the Palestine Liberation Organisation
fulfilled its obligations by revoking the clauses in the National
Charter which referred to Israel’s destruction and there were
sustained Israeli air and artillery attacks on guerrilla positions
in southern Lebanon. The election followed the now familar
pattern of a close result made more complex by the strength
of support for minority parties, but the veteran Peres was
defeated by the youthful Netanyahu. A native-born Israeli,
Netanyahu was familiar with the United States, where he
attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard,
and later served in the Washington embassy. As a professional
soldier from 1967 to 1972, he specialised in counter-terrorism.
The Peace Process in Crisis
Netanyahu assumed office as Prime Minister of a Likud-led
coalition, pledged to continue the peace process and defend
Israel’s battered security. He inherited a peace process which
was already in crisis. Palestinian alarm and dismay at the
defeat of Peres, who had done so much to bring the agreements into being, was only to be expected. In August 1996,
Arafat and Netanyahu met for the first time, shook hands
and pledged to continue to work for the peace process, but
the following month saw Israeli–Palestinian relations come
close to collapse. The occasion was the opening of an
entrance to an ancient tunnel running under part of the
Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the site sacred both to Jews and
Muslims. There were serious disturbances on the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, which took on a new and more dangerous
dimension as the Israeli army and Palestinian police
exchanged fire. With 39 Palestinians and 11 Israelis killed,
Clinton brought the two leaders to Washington for a crisis
meeting in an attempt to defuse the situation, but he had to
admit that little progress had been made.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Relations did not subsequently improve, with tension coming to focus on the timing and extent of an Israeli withdrawal
from Hebron, where the situation had become even more
volatile since the February 1994 massacre. It was not until
14 January 1997 that American mediation produced an
agreement by which Israel agreed to evacuate 80 per cent of
the city. With Labour support, Netanyahu had no difficulty
in securing endorsement in the Knesset, but at the cost of a
high-profile resignation from his cabinet. Arafat’s tumultuous welcome to the city four days later marked the establishment of Palestinian authority in the last major
population centre in the West Bank, even if the areas they
controlled still resembled something of a patchwork, and
deep-seated economic problems, especially those of Gaza,
showed no signs of easing. In fact, 1997 saw no improvement
in Israeli–Palestinian relations, while tragedies continued to
mount. In one of the most traumatic of these, 73 Israeli soldiers were killed in a helicopter collision in February, a disaster without equal in the country’s history. What exercised
the Palestinians most was the announcement that the Israeli
Government planned a new housing development of 6500
apartments in east Jerusalem. Not only did this threaten the
Arab village of Umm Tuba, but it was seen as cementing
Israeli control of the city. Both President Clinton and King
Hussein opposed the move. In these unpromising circumstances a further tragedy occurred when a Jordanian soldier
killed seven Israeli schoolgirls, an act which impelled King
Hussein to visit the grieving families.
These events set the tone for the rest of the year. Suicide
bombs continued, including one in Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda
Street, the centre of the city’s social and commercial life,
while in September an Israeli attempt to assassinate an
Islamic leader in Jordan plunged relations between the two
countries into crisis. A meeting between Clinton and
Netanyahu in April failed to produce any progress, and in a
subsequent visit to the United States by the Israeli leader in
November the two men did not meet. The White House
An Uncertain Path
claimed this was the result of scheduling problems, but it was
widely perceived as a snub to the Israeli Premier. Clinton’s
Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, saw the need for
direct involvement in view of the increasingly unsatisfactory
nature of Israeli–Palestinian relations. In a major speech in
August 1997, she spelled out the need for increased American
involvement, and for accelerating the dialogue between the
two sides, but a visit to the region the following month, in
which she stressed the need for Israeli–Palestinian security
co-operation and counselled the Israelis against unilateral
actions, seemed to generate little momentum.
In fact, it was not to be until October 1998 that the next
substantial advance could be made when Arafat and
Netanyahu came together at the Wye Conference Center in
Maryland. It took nine days of intensive effort personally
brokered by Clinton and a terminally ill King Hussein to
produce an agreement. It set out the stages for a further
Israeli evacuation from the West Bank, which would put
some 40 per cent of the territory under Palestinian control,
and pledged Arafat to a programme of measures to combat attacks on Israel, including a role for the Central
Intelligence Agency. The Wye Agreement was rightly seen as
a significant advance after a long period of stagnation,
though essentially it was only giving precision to what had
been agreed in 1993 and 1995. This time, however, it was
Likud which was cementing an agreement with the
Palestinians. Arafat’s role in agreeing to the new security
programme was assailed by Hamas, but it was Netanyahu
who had the greater domestic crisis, since the agreement
struck at the heart of Likud’s long-standing hopes for the
West Bank. Once again, he won a substantial Knesset majority with the help of Labour, but at the price of serious dissent
in his own ranks. Two of his ministers voted against the
agreement, while five others left the Knesset rather than
vote. On 13 December, Clinton arrived on a three-day visit to
set his seal on the agreement. The climax was a visit to Gaza,
where he addressed the Palestinian National Council,
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
watched the Council confirm the elimination from the
National Charter of the sections calling for Israel’s destruction, and with Arafat opened a new terminal at Gaza Airport.
His visit seemed to signal that full Palestinian statehood could
not be far off. The Israeli leader’s political troubles increased
with the resignation of his Finance Minister. Faced with the
erosion of his political base and the possibility of losing a vote
of confidence in the Knesset, Netanyahu was left with no
alternative but to agree to hold elections on 17 May 1999.
New Agendas
With Israeli politics in disarray, further moves were not to be
expected before the May elections, but as the parties
manoeuvred for position it became increasingly clear that
King Hussein of Jordan was losing his battle with cancer. In
a surprise move, the King returned home from his treatment
in the United States to replace his brother Prince Hassan as
Crown Prince with his son Prince Abdullah. The King, for so
long a key intermediary in the Arab–Israeli conflict, died in
February 1999. His funeral, attended by world leaders,
including Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin, Assad and Mubarak as
well as Yasser Arafat and Israel’s President Weizman, was a
unique event, which indicated how pivotal the Jordanian
ruler had been. There was a sense that an era in Middle-East
politics had ended. This was compounded in July with the
death of another veteran of Arab–Israeli diplomacy, King
Hassan of Morocco.
Netanyahu’s challenger in the May elections was Ehud
Barak, who had replaced Peres as Labour leader in June
1997. Born in a kibbutz, a highly decorated soldier and a former Chief of Staff, Barak was cast in the Rabin mould, both
likely to appeal to the traditional Labour constituency,
and unlikely to compromise the basic integrity of the Israeli
state. As such, he was well placed to mount a powerful challenge to the embattled Likud, even though observers were
An Uncertain Path
aware that the voting intentions of the newly-arrived Russian
Jewish immigrants, now numbering some 800,000, had introduced a powerful new variable in electoral calculations. In
the event, the Israeli electorate endorsed Barak by a decisive
margin of 56 per cent, giving him a more secure mandate
than any recent Israeli leader had been able to enjoy. His
first task was to build a broad-based coalition, which would
secure a Knesset majority for any new peace initiative. On
7 July Barak was sworn in as leader of an administration
which brought together Labour with six other political parties intended to emphasise national unity. Within days he
had met with Arafat in Gaza, pledging to work for the
removal of obstacles to a peace settlement. Central to
Labour’s analysis was the desire to separate, partition in
effect, Israelis and Palestinians in a manner which would
allow Israel to develop its potential as a Jewish state in the
new century. In September, renewed negotiations, presided
over by Secretary of State Albright, resulted in an agreement
to reach final borders and a settlement for Jerusalem within
a year. The following month the opening of a 40-km land
route connecting the West Bank with the Gaza Strip was a
further gesture which allowed safe passage between the two
parts of the Palestinian Authority, reuniting Palestinians
after years of separation. It was another indicator of the
shape a future settlement would take, suggesting that a new
agenda might be taking hold.
Attempts to Restore the Peace Process
At first, progress seemed possible. On 5 January 2000, peace
talks between Israel and Syria began in the United States, but
they soon stalled, frustrating Barak’s hopes for an overall
settlement. At the same time, Israel was coming under
increasing pressure in southern Lebanon as Hezbollah militiamen mounted attacks on its soldiers. Barak’s government
seemed to be vulnerable on a variety of fronts, of which the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
vulnerability of Israeli troops in southern Lebanon was only
the most acute. In March, his cabinet voted for a withdrawal
from the southern Lebanon security zone. This actually took
place on 22 May, ending the last legacy of Begin’s bloody and
ill-fated invasion of the country 18 years before. For many
Israelis this was not a reassuring move, since Hezbollah forces
could now deploy along Israel’s northern border. For
Palestinians, it seemed to confirm that Israel was vulnerable
to sustained attacks, even to the extent of abandoning her
long-standing Lebanese allies.
The decision to evacuate southern Lebanon was quickly
followed by one to hand a further 6.1 per cent of the West
Bank to the Palestinian Authority, clearly seen by the Israeli
Government as an intent of goodwill. Then, on 22 March, a
powerful voice in favour of a Palestinian homeland was
raised by Pope John Paul II, who was making his first
pilgrimage to the scenes of the Bible. Despite Jewish resentments over Pope Pius XII’s attitude to the Holocaust, John
Paul II was widely respected for his acknowledgement of
the need for Christian–Jewish reconciliation. His support
was important to the predominantly Muslim Palestinians,
not least because their case for statehood was being acknowledged by the head of the world’s largest, and most influential, Christian denomination. But tension was never far away.
On 15 May, the anniversary of Israel’s anniversary was
marked by widespread violence, which included shooting
between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, a clear sign of
the continuing intensity of feeling on the ground. In the circumstances, cracks in Barak’s coalition government were
perhaps inevitable. Faced with these pressures, Barak
requested a high-level meeting of the key parties. Clinton’s
response was an invitation to a summit at Camp David
(Blumenthal, 2003).
Clinton and his advisers had worked patiently and constructively to ensure the success of the peace negotiations
concluded in Northern Ireland in 1998. It is reasonable to
assume that when he announced on 5 July 2000 that Arafat
An Uncertain Path
and Barak had accepted his invitation to come to Camp
David, Clinton hoped to cap his reputation as a peacemaker.
But the Northern Ireland agreement, while it showed the
possibilities of accommodation after decades of strife, was a
cruel mirage, since the issues dividing Israeli from
Palestinian were of a different order (Fraser and Murray,
2002). The Camp David summit, held from 11 to 25 July 2000,
illustrated just how tantalisingly close the Israelis and
Americans believed they were to an agreement, and the vast
gulf of incomprehension which actually divided the two
opposing sides. From the Israeli perspective, Barak’s proposals were bold and far-reaching; arguably no Israeli leader
had ever gone further. In effect, he offered the Palestinians
a contiguous area comprising over 90 per cent of the West
Bank, a Palestinian capital in part of Jerusalem, some kind of
shared sovereignty on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,
and the return of refugees to a Palestinian state, but not to
Israel. Barak’s offer over Jerusalem marked a major shift for
the Israelis. Realising how far Barak had come, Clinton
offered to campaign on his behalf, and tried to entice Arafat
by pledging to raise tens of billions of dollars for Palestine
(Blumenthal, 2003). But Arafat had argued from the start
that the summit was premature. He was being pressured into
accepting what for the Palestinian leader were fundamental
issues. The Israeli offer held out no hope for the refugees
who saw their homes as lying within Israel’s pre-1967 border.
It was also asking him to settle for less than the 22 per cent
rump of Palestine which had been left after the war of
1948–49, something he argued that his acceptance of
Security Council Resolution 242 in 1988 precluded. Finally,
compromise formulas over Jerusalem proved elusive. As a
result, the Palestinian leader proved immune to the argument that this was the best offer he was likely to get. Since
tragedy was soon to follow, the Camp David summit came to
be seen as one of the great missed opportunities of the
Arab–Israeli conflict. Whether its failure lay with Arafat, or
with Barak and Clinton, became a matter of acrid debate.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
The Al Aqsa Intifada
This was more than reflected on the ground, where the summit’s failure led to an appreciable rise in tension. The Israeli
Government later claimed that the Palestinian Authority
planned an uprising with the aim of regaining the initiative,
a view dismissed by the committee led by former American
Senator George Mitchell. The catalyst for what happened
was provided by the Likud leader Ariel Sharon, who made
known his intention of visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple
Mount. Knowing the unique sensitivities of a site sacred to
Jew and Muslim, and how bitterly Sharon was perceived by
the Palestinians as a result of his association with what had
happened in Lebanon in 1982, American officials pleaded
with Barak to ban the visit. Clinton’s highly experienced
envoy Dennis Ross reportedly commented that he could
think of a lot of bad ideas, but that he could not think of a
worse one (Mitchell, 2001) An embattled Barak took the
view that Sharon’s move was a domestic political matter
directed against him, and would not intervene. On
28 September 2000, Sharon entered the site, accompanied by
1000 police. Sharon’s visit did not cause the outburst which
followed, but it did bring to the surface the tensions within
the Palestinian community. The following day, unarmed
Palestinians held a massive demonstration in protest; the
Israeli police killed 4 and injured 200. Thus began what for
Palestinians was the ‘Al Aqsa Intifada’. Unlike the Intifada of
the late 1980s, the Palestinian security forces now had arms.
More critically, the suicide bomb was to become the weapon
of resistance for those who felt they had no other option.
The suicide bomber, who had no need to prepare a line of
escape after an attack, proved to be a deadly foe. The only
obvious method of defence was pre-emption, to kill people
believed by the Israeli security forces to be a ‘ticking bomb’.
Even so, the preponderance of power still lay with the
Israelis, who responded in time with tanks and helicopter
gunships (Mitchell, 2001). Within days, over fifty people had
An Uncertain Path
been killed in a climate of violence which seemed to mock
any notion of a peace process. World opinion was shocked by
the sight of a Palestinian boy dying in his father’s arms in
Gaza, and of the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah.
Faced with this descent into violence, Clinton tried desperately to retrieve the situation. On 17 October 2000, a
summit at Sharm al-Sheikh involving the Israeli and
Palestinian Authority Governments, as well as the
Americans, Egyptians and Jordanians, and the United
Nations and the European Union, tried to chart a way forward. Instead, Clinton announced that there would be an
international fact-finding committee, which would report on
‘the events of the past weeks and how to prevent their recurrence’. Senator George Mitchell, who had worked tirelessly
for a peace settlement in Northern Ireland, chaired a highlevel committee which comprised the European Union’s
Javier Solana, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel,
Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Thorbjoern Jagland,
and former Senator Warren B. Rudman. When it reported
on 30 April 2001, the political landscapes of Israel and the
United States looked totally different. In December, faced
with the prospect of a no-confidence vote in the Knesset,
Barak announced elections for 6 February 2001. Meanwhile,
the American presidential elections of November 2000
resulted in the narrowest of victories for the Republican
George W. Bush, who had failed to command the popular
vote. As Governor of Texas, Bush had paid a visit to Israel
where he had been impressed by the narrowness of the
country’s border, less than Dallas–Fort Worth Airport was
how he later described it. All the instincts of the new administration were to back away from the kind of intense involvement Clinton’s team had devoted to the Northern Ireland
and Arab–Israeli peace processes into a new unilateralism.
(Frum, 2003). How Palestinian concerns and perspectives
would be heard in the new administration was unclear.
In his final days in office, Clinton made a final brave, but
fruitless, attempt to bring the two sides together. From
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
leaked documents it would appear that the essence of the
plan was that Israel would withdraw from some 95 per cent
of the West Bank, but would annex the remainder, accounting for around 80 per cent of the settlers. The Palestinian
state would then be compensated by a transfer of 1–3 per cent
of Israeli territory. The West Bank and Gaza would have a
guaranteed land link. The Palestinians would have a capital
in east Jerusalem, and authority over the Muslim holy places
in the city. Once again, Arafat could not agree. Clinton
would have been less than human had he not felt frustration
at the way his hopes for a final agreement had been confounded (Wasserstein, 2001; Fraser and Murray, 2002;
Blumenthal, 2003). Representatives of Israel and the
Palestinian Authority met to explore these ideas at Taba in
Egypt in January 2001. But the talks broke up on 27 January
without agreement, days before the Israeli election. The
overwhelming victor was Ariel Sharon, bête noire of the
Palestinians, but hero of the settlers and the Israeli right, a
man who, they felt, would ensure the country’s security.
Sharon was, however, aware of the need to sustain a national
consensus, and included Shimon Peres, architect of the Oslo
agreements, as his Foreign Minister.
The Mitchell and Tenet Plans
Central to Mitchell’s analysis was the ‘profound disillusionment’ of each side with the Oslo peace process. At the heart
of Palestinian alienation was the continuing growth in Israeli
settlements, the Palestinian Authority claiming that since the
signing of the Oslo accords 30 new settlements had been
constructed, and existing settlements had been expanded,
doubling the settler population to 200,000. The Palestinians
also complained of their deteriorating economic circumstances, and the fact that nothing was being done for the
refugees. For its part, the Israeli Government focused on the
issue of security, something which was not negotiable,
An Uncertain Path
accusing the Palestinian Authority of failing to control illegal
weapons and of actually conducting violent operations.
Trust was felt to be central to progress. In order to achieve
this, Mitchell believed that the Palestinian Authority had to
make it clear ‘that terrorism is reprehensible and unacceptable, and … prevent terrorist operations and to punish perpetrators’. On the Israeli side, Mitchell called for a
settlement freeze, emphasising that ‘settlement activities
must not be allowed to undermine the restoration of calm
and the resumption of negotiations’. Mitchell ended with a
dire, and prophetic, warning: ‘The parties are at a crossroads. If they do not return to the negotiating table, they
face the prospect of fighting it out for years on end, with
many of their citizens leaving for distant shores to live their
lives and raise their children. We pray they make the right
choice. That means stopping the violence now’ (Mitchell,
2001). Mitchell’s report was a finely crafted attempt to
defuse the issues of most burning concern to the two sides,
while skirting around some highly sensitive issues.
Since nothing could be done without an end to violence,
the Central Intelligence Agency’s chief George Tenet was
sent to broker a cease-fire. Tenet drafted a plan for the
Israelis and Palestinians to institute ‘specific, concrete, and
realistic security steps immediately to reestablish security
cooperation’, but, despite a tentative agreement in June, violence soon spiralled to new levels. Palestinian hopes for an
international monitoring force to oversee a cease-fire were
accepted by the Americans, and by the G8 summit in Genoa
on 19 July, but firmly rejected by the Israelis. By July, the
Israeli strategy had become one of targeting prominent
Palestinians they believed were instrumental in orchestrating the violence. On 31 July, a helicopter gunship attacked
Hamas offices in Nablus, killing 8 people, including 2 children and a leading member of the movement. Hamas promised revenge. On 9 August, a suicide bomber attacked a
restaurant in Jerusalem, killing 15 people, including 6 children. Five days later, Israeli forces entered Jenin, followed by
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
Nablus on 22 August, and Beit Jallah on 28 August, actions
condemned by the Bush administration.
11 September
On 11 September 2001, Israeli operations in the West Bank
seemed to move into a dramatic new phase when a major
armoured force deployed around the city of Jenin and its
adjoining refugee camp. Seven Palestinians were killed in
serious fighting, but these events were completely overshadowed by barely imaginable events elsewhere. On the same
day, America and the world were rocked when suicide attacks
damaged the Pentagon in Washington and demolished the
twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, with horrific loss of life. Bush and his advisers identified the perpetrators as an Islamic terrorist group, Al-Quaeda, largely Arab
in composition but based in Afghanistan. Declaring a ‘war on
terror’, the United States prepared for an assault on
Al-Quaeda’s Afghan bases. It was a war with which Israelis
instinctively identified, but as America and her allies engaged
in Afghanistan, Al-Quaeda’s roots in the tensions and frustrations of the Middle East, of which the Palestinian issue was
only one, at first seemed pushed to one side. The following
day, Israeli tanks entered Jericho, followed by Ramallah, and
then launched missile attacks on Gaza and Rafah. For Bush,
anxious to engage Middle Eastern and Islamic countries
behind his Afghan campaign, an end to the seemingly
unending cycle of violence was imperative.
Knowing the significance of the Arab–Israeli conflict for
their Afghan expedition, Bush and his principal ally, British
Prime Minister Tony Blair, both affirmed their support for
Palestinian statehood, but events were running strongly
against them. The Israeli government seemed instinctively to
grasp the language of anti-terrorism, and violence never
lurked far away. On 17 October, Israel’s right-wing Minister
for Tourism, Rehavam Zeevi, was shot dead in Jerusalem,
An Uncertain Path
apparently by the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine. Once again, the Israeli army moved in force into
cities in the West Bank, provoking a major crisis with
Washington. A visit to the region by Blair proved fruitless, as
did an American attempt to secure a cease-fire brokered by
General Anthony Zinni. Zinni’s mission seemed fated from
the start. On 23 November, a senior Hamas official was killed
in an Israeli attack. This was followed, on 1 and 2 December,
by suicide bomb attacks, claimed by Hamas, which killed 11
people in Jerusalem city centre and 15 in Haifa. Israel
responded with air strikes against Palestinian Authority
buildings in the West Bank and Gaza, and severed its remaining links with Arafat. Faced with American pressure to act,
Arafat ordered the arrest of Hamas and other Islamic
militants, to the fury of their supporters. Israelis were unconvinced. As violence reached a new peak, Zinni returned to
Washington. The failure of his mission seemed to highlight
the limits to the Bush administration’s influence.
Violence and Peace Moves
The early weeks of 2002 saw no improvement in a seemingly
intractable conflict. In fact, it was taking on new dimensions
with the interception of a ship, the Karine A, which the Israelis
claimed was carrying a major consignment of arms, including
rockets, from Iran, and, on 27 January, the first attack by a
female suicide bomber. While Arafat denied to Bush that he
was involved with the arms shipment, the affair affected
American attitudes towards him (Frum, 2003). On 1 February,
Sharon revealed his feelings for his adversary when he confessed his regret at not having eliminated Arafat 20 years
before. At the end of February, a new peace plan began to surface, inspired by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah. It was
basically the ‘land for peace’ formula which had been around
since 1967, but it held out the prospect of Arab recognition of
Israel beyond Egypt and Jordan, and at least it seemed to inject
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
some hope into what was a fast-deteriorating situation, in
which there seemed no end to the cycle of violence.
On 28 February, the Israeli army began a major operation
against the Jenin and Balata refugee camps on the West
Bank. On 2 March, a suicide bomber attacked an orthodox
Jewish district of Jerusalem, killing 9 people, including
6 children, while the following day 10 Israelis, including
7 soldiers, were killed by a Palestinian gunman. Israel’s
response was swift. On 4 March, 11 people were killed in the
Jenin and Ramallah camps, 17, including 5 children, in
Ramallah, and a further 6, including 2 children, in an attack
on a Hamas leader. The following day, a Palestinian gunman
opened fire in a Tel Aviv nightclub, and there were further
attacks on Israelis in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Then, in
a series of incidents beginning on 8 March, when 5 Israeli
officer cadets were killed in the Gaza Strip and an estimated
40 Palestinians in Israeli attacks, the situation seemed to
touch rock bottom. Two days later, another suicide bomber
killed 11 people in a Jerusalem café, followed by a large-scale
Israeli operation against Gaza and Ramallah in which over
30 Palestinians were reported killed. By then, Arafat was
effectively confined to his Ramallah headquarters, and passions on both sides were seriously aroused.
In an attempt to retrieve what was clearly a fast-deteriorating
situation, on 12 March the Security Council of the United
Nations adopted Resolution 1397, which demanded ‘immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror,
provocation, incitement, and destruction’, and called upon
the two sides to implement the Mitchell and Tenet plans. More
importantly, for the first time it affirmed ‘a vision of a region
where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within
secure and recognized borders’. Hopes for progress rested on
the United States, where Zinni renewed his mission, and on
the Arab summit due to convene in Beirut on 27 March, but the
omens could not have been worse. When Sharon made it his
condition that Arafat could only attend on condition he could
not return if there were terrorist attacks while he was in Beirut,
An Uncertain Path
the Palestinian leader refused. President Mubarak of Egypt
and Jordan’s King Abdullah also stayed away. The summit
broadly endorsed the Saudi peace initiative, but by the time
it did so this had become largely irrelevant. As the conference
was convening, a suicide bomber struck at a Passover gathering
at the coastal city of Netanya, killing 28 and injuring
140, enraging an Israeli public opinion already stretched to its
‘Operation Defensive Shield’
Two days later, castigating Arafat as an enemy who was part
of a coalition of terror against his country, Sharon
announced that the Israel Defence Forces would conduct an
extensive campaign against the centres of terrorism. Termed
‘Operation Defensive Shield’, the operation’s initial target
was Ramallah, where Arafat’s headquarters were surrounded, effectively confining the President to a room.
Prompt action by the international community seemed to be
of the essence. On 30 March, the Security Council adopted
Resolution 1402, which, while recognizing its grave concern
over the suicide attacks and the attack on Arafat’s headquarters, called ‘upon both parties to move immediately to a
meaningful ceasefire’ and ‘for the withdrawal of Israeli
troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah’. This was
a message reinforced by Bush in a statement on 4 April,
announcing that Secretary of State Colin Powell would go to
the Middle East the following week. Bush attempted to balance the issues, castigating Arafat as having not ‘consistently
opposed or confronted terrorists’, as well as having ‘missed
his opportunities’. Suicide bombers were, he emphasised,
not martyrs but murderers. But, for its part, Israel had to
stop its settlement activity, and acknowledge the need for an
economically and politically viable Palestinian state. While
acknowledging Israel’s right to defend herself against terrorist attacks, he nevertheless emphasised that ‘to lay the
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
foundations of future peace, I ask Israel to halt incursions
into Palestinian-controlled areas and begin the withdrawal
from those cities it has recently occupied’. While Bush’s
comments seemed pointed enough, many congressmen
were expressing their sympathy for Sharon’s action, and
Jewish organisations were busy rallying support for Israel.
On 15 April, a mass rally was held in Washington addressed
by prominent Democrat and Republican politicians, as well
as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Israeli
Premier Netanyahu. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul
Wolfowitz represented President Bush. The presence of such
a senior member of the administration seemed a curious
counterpoint to Powell’s mission. The dominant theme of
the speeches was the common purpose of the United States
and Israel in defeating terrorism in the aftermath of the
11 September and Palestinian suicide attacks.
Impervious to the demands of Bush and the United
Nations, the Israeli Government pressed ahead with sustained military operations, largely out of sight of the world’s
press and international observers. Major attacks were
mounted on Ramallah and Bethlehem, where some 200
Palestinian gunmen and Christian clergy and nuns came
under siege in the Church of the Nativity, the reputed birthplace of Christ. But the most intense fighting took place in
Nablus and in the Jenin refugee camp, believed by the
Israelis to be at the heart of the suicide-bombing campaign.
To the consternation of an Arab world increasingly incensed
by reports coming out of the West Bank, Powell did not
reach Israel until 11 April. His progress through Morocco
and Spain did not convince Arabs that the administration
saw the situation as urgent. Powell’s arrival in Jerusalem was
marked by a female suicide bomber from Jenin who killed
6 people in the city. Immediate talks with Sharon failed to
secure any cessation of the Israeli military campaign. In the
light of the Jerusalem bomb, Powell refused to talk to Arafat
until the Palestinian President denounced terrorism.
Arafat’s statement condemning attacks targeting civilians,
An Uncertain Path
and specifically the Jerusalem bomb, did enough to allow
Powell to travel to Ramallah on the 13th. But the negotiations
in Arafat’s shattered headquarters were no more productive
than those with the Israeli leader, who had said that the
meeting would be a tragic mistake.
As Powell pursued his quest for a diplomatic breakthrough
in Damascus and Beirut, the course of events on the ground
was starting to become clearer. Israeli special forces in
Ramallah arrested one of Arafat’s most senior aides, whom
Israeli Government sources claimed had been behind many of
the suicide attacks. On 13 April, the International Committee
of the Red Cross, which had been attempting to gain access to
the Jenin refugee camp for almost a week, appealed to the
United States for assistance with humanitarian aid. The Israeli
Defence Forces admitted that the fighting in the camp had
claimed 23 of their men, including 13 in a single ambush, and
estimated the Palestinian dead at about 70, a number later
revised to 52 (UN, 2002). The Palestinians accused Israel of
committing a massacre in the camp. In the atmosphere of
claim and counter-claim, Powell’s mission was visibly crumbling. No one disputed the ferocity of what had occurred.
Further meetings with Shimon Peres and Arafat produced no
movement, the latter protesting against his confinement in
Ramallah. Egyptian President Mubarak apparently snubbed
the Secretary of State by claiming he was unable to meet him.
The best Powell could secure as he returned home on 18 April
was an assurance from Sharon that Israel was preparing to
withdraw. The Secretary of State conceded that the withdrawal
was not going ‘as quickly as we would have liked’, though
Sharon had apparently given him a timetable. Powell appealed
to Arafat to instruct his security forces to ‘arrest and prosecute
terrorists, disrupt terrorist financing, dismantle terrorist infrastructure and stop incitement’. His message to Israel was ‘to
look beyond the destructive impact of settlements and occupation, both of which must end’.
But the immediate focus of international attention was on
what had happened in Jenin. Visiting the devastated camp on
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
18 April, the senior United Nations official in the West Bank,
Terje Roed Larsen, said that he was horrified by what he had
seen. The following day, the Security Council adopted
Resolution 1405, noting its concern at ‘the dire humanitarian situation of the Palestinian civilian population, in particular reports from the Jenin refugee camp of an unknown
number of deaths and destruction’, calling for an end to
Israeli restrictions on the operations of humanitarian organizations, and accepting a recommendation from SecretaryGeneral Kofi Annan that a fact-finding mission be sent to the
Jenin camp. As Israeli politicians attacked Larsen for his
comments, American Assistant Secretary of State for the Near
East, William Burns, visited the camp, as did Russian diplomat Andrei Vdovin. Echoing Larsen, Burns said that what
had happened was a tragedy. The nature and scale of what
had happened remained in dispute. Israeli objections to the
membership of the United Nations fact-finding mission led
to its collapse. Later United Nations reports suggested that
497 Palestinians had been killed in the course of the Israeli
operation, and that 17,000 people were left homeless (UN,
2002). What was clear was that the political structures and economic life of the Palestinian Authority had been shattered by
the Israeli offensive. While their security officials listed
key Palestinian activists killed or captured in the course of
‘Operation Defensive Shield’, the Israeli press conceded that
what had happened would only fuel the desire for revenge.
As complex negotiations took place to resolve the immediate crises in Ramallah and Bethlehem, that response took the
form of a suicide bomb near Tel Aviv which claimed 15. In a
complex choreography, the siege of Arafat’s headquarters was
ended when 6 Palestinians wanted by Israel were put under
Anglo–American guard, while on 10 May, 13 Palestinians from
the Church of the Nativity were flown to Cyprus for exile in
the European Union. But the cycle of terror and reaction
seemed unrelenting. On 5 June, a suicide attack at Megiddo
in northern Israel killed 17 people. Once again Jenin
and Ramallah bore the brunt of Israeli anger, Arafat’s
An Uncertain Path
headquarters being wrecked in a sustained attack by Israeli
tanks. As the American administration signalled that a fresh
initiative was being prepared, Israel was dealt a further blow
when a suicide bomber killed 20 people on a Jerusalem bus.
The Iraq Crisis and the ‘Roadmap for Peace’
On 24 June, Bush made his much-awaited statement on how
his administration saw the way ahead. It embodied ideas that
he had been formulating for some time, and has to be seen
in the context of his ‘war against terror’. Emphasizing the
need to secure a settlement based upon Resolutions 242 and
338, the President outlined his vision of ‘two states, living
side by side in peace and security’. In order to bring this
about, he demanded that Israel withdraw to the positions
held before 28 September 2000, bring an end to settlement
policy in the occupied territories, and ‘take concrete steps to
support the emergence of a viable, credible Palestinian
state’. The Palestinians were challenged more directly. ‘I’ve
said in the past that nations are either with us or against us
in the war on terror’, he said, claiming that ‘Today,
Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing terrorism. This is unacceptable.’ ‘Peace’, he believed, ‘requires
a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a
Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.’
Notably absent from his speech was any mention of international monitors, which some had been hoping for, or, more
importantly, any timetable for the creation of a Palestinian
state, although 2005 emerged as a likely date. Inevitably,
each side picked on what it liked. The Israeli Government
signalled its willingness to negotiate with a new Palestinian
leadership, while Arabs angrily rejected the notion that
Washington could dictate whom they should elect.
Despite expectations, Bush’s speech did not yet signal a
major American attempt to resolve the crisis. Washington’s
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
eyes were now firmly fixed on a different part of the Middle
East. In his State of the Union message of 29 January 2002,
Bush had made it clear that his attention would be focused
on an ‘axis of evil’, including Iran and North Korea, but featuring particularly Iraq, which, he claimed, ‘has something
to hide from the civilized world’ (Fraser and Murray, 2002).
As Bush’s military chiefs mustered their forces in the Gulf,
and his diplomats tried to rally support in the United
Nations, any hope that his speech would be the prelude to
rapid progress on the Israeli–Palestinian front was confounded. Over the following months, Iraq would dominate
the American agenda. Even so, work went ahead with Russia,
the European Union and the United Nations, the ‘quartet’,
to produce a ‘roadmap’ for a peace settlement.
Realising that any Western action over Iraq would be compared with lack of progress over the future of the Palestinians,
European leaders, notably Britain’s Tony Blair, pressed for
action. As the crisis in the Gulf developed, it was clear that the
Arab–Israeli issue still held centre stage. The dreary litany of
killings in Israel and the Palestinian Authority continued
unabated. Then, on 28 November, the conflict assumed a new
dimension when three Israelis and 10 Kenyans were killed in
a suicide bombing on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya, and an
attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner narrowly failed. The
same day, six Israelis were killed in an attack on Likud party
offices in Beit Shean. Nowhere, it seemed, was safe.
All of this coincided with new moves in Israeli politics. On
30 October 2002, the Labour party resigned from Sharon’s
governing coalition, forcing him to call an election. The
probable outcome of the collapse of the coalition was a more
hardline government, Facing Sharon was a new Labour
leader, Amram Mitzna, another former general and Mayor
of Haifa. Veteran of the 1967 and 1973 wars, Mitzna had
protested over the Sabra and Shatila massacres before going
on to confront the Intifada of the late 1980s. His policy was
to set a deadline for agreement with the Palestinians, failing
which Israel would retire behind a security fence, evacuating
An Uncertain Path
many of the settlements. His strongest card was Israel’s serious
economic and financial situation in the wake of the renewed
Intifada. In response, Sharon set out his vision of a demilitarised Palestinian state which would take in 42 per cent of the
West Bank and 70 per cent of the Gaza strip, and which would
have no place for Yasser Arafat. This could not have been further removed from the Palestinian position. Arafat’s New Year
speech called for an independent state with Jerusalem as its
capital, the deployment of international observers, and an
end to attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
At the beginning of 2003, as the unfolding crisis over Iraq
dominated the international agenda, Israel went to the polls
on 28 January. Mitzna’s message failed to strike home with
an Israeli public fearful of its security, and unwilling to take
risks. Reduced to 18 seats in the Knesset, its worst-ever result,
Labour could only lick its wounds. With 40 seats, Sharon
could, given the complex nature of the voting system, legitimately claim a landslide. After four weeks of negotiations, on
27 February he was able to announce his new government,
which was an intriguing combination. His coalition partners
included the National Religious Party with 6 seats, and the
strongly nationalist National Union Party with 7 seats, each
opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. But the key
partner was Shinui, with 15 seats. Shinui described itself as a
middle-class secular party. It supported the peace process,
though not with Arafat as a partner, called for settlement
blocks to be integrated inside Israel, but conceded that isolated settlements would have to be abandoned. In a dramatic
development, Sharon dropped his party rival, Netanyahu, as
Foreign Minister, giving him responsibility for finance. The
new Government’s guidelines included working for peace on
the basis of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, promised that there would be no new settlements, and conceded
that any negotiations likely to include a Palestinian state
would first be discussed by the government. This meant that
his colleagues in the National Religious Party and National
Union Party would have to be satisfied with any proposal.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
As Sharon was concluding his negotiations for his governing coalition, Bush made a speech on 26 February, linking
his policies on Iraq to the prospects for progress on the
Israeli–Palestinian issue. ‘Success in Iraq’, he declared,
‘could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace,
and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic
Palestinian state.’ The scenario he presented was that the
removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime would deprive terrorist
networks of a patron, and hence encourage Palestinians to
choose new leaders, ‘leaders who strive for peace’. As the
threat of terror was removed, Israel would ‘be expected to
support the creation of a viable Palestinian state’, and to
bring an end to settlement activity. Although his speech was
seen as code for the emergence of a contiguous Palestinian
state on the West Bank, the overall thrust of what he said
confirmed that the future of Iraq remained his overriding
concern. Nor was it clear what influence would be brought
to bear on Israel to accept Palestinian statehood. Progress
would have to await the outcome of events in the Gulf.
However dramatic the military and diplomatic events connected with the unfolding crisis over Iraq, the Arab–Israeli
conflict retained its own grim integrity. A suicide bomb on a
Haifa bus on 5 March killed 15 and injured another 40 people, many of them university students. While Hamas did not
claim the attack, in an apparent retaliation Israeli helicopters struck hard at the organisation on 8 March, killing one
of its founders, Ibrahim al-Makadme, in Gaza. In response, the
organisation pledged to target Israeli leaders. As it did so, the
Central Council of the PLO confirmed the appointment
of Mahmoud Abbas as Prime Minister. A veteran both of
Fatah and of diplomacy associated with the peace process, his
appointment was seen as marking a fresh start on the part of
the Palestinian Authority, not least since it implied that Arafat
would no longer be its sole voice.
On 14 March 2003, with the last attempts at a diplomatic
solution to the Iraq crisis being played out in the United
Nations, Bush made his much-awaited statement on his
An Uncertain Path
‘roadmap’ to resolve the Arab–Israeli conflict. Confirming
his support for a Palestinian state ‘that abandons forever the
use of terror’, he called upon the Israelis to end settlement
activities and ‘take concrete steps to support the emergence
of a viable and credible Palestinian state’. Once the
Palestinian Prime Minister had been confirmed in office, the
roadmap would be presented to the two governments.
‘America’, he emphasised, ‘will be the active partner of every
party that seeks true peace.’ What role the other members of
the ‘quartet’ might assume was less clear, but the part of first
violin was in no doubt. The following week, on 19 March,
American forces, with British support, began their offensive
against Saddam Hussein’s Government in Iraq, ushering in a
dramatic new phase in Middle Eastern affairs. On 9 April,
Baghdad was judged to have fallen to the American forces,
and although the reconstruction of Iraq promised to be a
long and costly affair, the toppling of Saddam’s regime meant
that the unveiling of the roadmap could not be long delayed.
The final element fell into place on 29 April when the
Palestinian Parliament voted to confirm Mahmoud Abbas as
Prime Minister. The following day the Americans released
the text of the ‘Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent
Two-State Solution to the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict’, which
had as its aim ‘a final and comprehensive settlement of the
Israel–Palestinian conflict by 2005’. Under Phase I of the
plan, the two sides were to issue immediate commitments,
the Palestinians were to issue an ‘unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling
for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire to end armed
activity and all acts of violence against Israelis everywhere’,
and Israel was to issue ‘an unequivocal statement affirming its
commitment to the two-state vision of an independent,
viable, sovereign Palestinian state living in peace and security
alongside Israel, as expressed by President Bush, and calling
for an immediate end to violence against Palestinians everywhere’. On the security front, the Palestinian security forces
were to begin ‘sustained, targeted, and effective operations
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure’. The
Israeli Government was to take no action which would undermine trust, ‘including deportations, attacks on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and
property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction’. Palestinian institution-building was to be facilitated by
the production of a draft constitution, the appointment of an
interim Prime Minister or cabinet with executive authority,
and an early move to hold ‘free, open and fair elections’. For
its part, the Israeli Government was to dismantle settlement
outposts erected since March 2001, and freeze ‘all settlement
activity (including natural growth of settlements)’. This initial
phase, to be in place by June 2003, was intended to address the
fundamental fears of the Israelis over security and the
Palestinians over settlement expansion.
Phase II of the roadmap, to be completed by December
2003, was to be triggered by Palestinian elections. These were
to be followed by an international conference, brokered by
the quartet, the aim of which would be to aid Palestinian economic recovery and ‘launch a process, leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional
borders’. More ambitiously, it was also to have as its goal a
‘comprehensive Middle East peace (including between Israel
and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon)’. A key element of this
phase was to enhance territorial contiguity, ‘including further
action on settlements in conjunction with establishment of a
Palestinian state with provisional borders’. Phase III was to
open with a second international conference, early in 2004,
intended to lead ‘to a final, permanent status resolution in
2005, including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements;
and, to support progress toward a comprehensive Middle East
settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria,
to be achieved as soon as possible’. The overall aim was to end
the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in 2005 (Department of State,
30 April 2003). It was a highly-optimistic timetable. The lack
of detail over key issues such as borders, refugees and
An Uncertain Path
Jerusalem, or whether a state meant an independent country,
gave endless possibilities for prolonged negotiation, but there
were more immediate threats to the roadmap’s prospects,
especially since these were so dependent upon security and a
mutual confidence which was almost wholly lacking. Hamas
and Islamic Jihad rejected the plan. The following day, a suicide bomb killed 3 people in Tel Aviv, and 12 Palestinians were
killed in Gaza. There were also rumblings on the Israeli right,
unhappy at the implications for settlement activity.
Any hope that Phase I might be in place by the end of May
was devastated when a suicide attack in Jerusalem led Sharon
to call off a planned visit to Washington. Despite the deep
unhappiness felt by many in his coalition, Sharon persuaded
his cabinet to endorse the roadmap, albeit on a divided vote
and with a number of qualifications. With victory over
Saddam Hussein behind him, Bush put his personal authority behind the plan at a summit in Aqaba with Abbas and
Sharon on 4 June. While the Palestinian Premier confirmed
his commitment to end the armed Intifada, Sharon conceded the importance of territorial contiguity for the
Palestinian state and pledged to dismantle what he termed
unauthorised outposts. Significantly, too, he acknowledged
that it was not in Israel’s interests to govern the Palestinians.
But any optimism which might have surrounded the summit
was once again dashed on 11 June when a suicide bombing
caused carnage in central Jerusalem. Israelis responded with
a rocket attack on Gaza, killing a Hamas leader.
Although the June deadline for Phase I of the roadmap,
like most other deadlines set over the years, came and went,
the summer of 2003 seemed to throw out some prospect that
movement might be possible. On 1 May, President Bush proclaimed victory in the Iraq war, holding out the hope that
the weight of his administration would now be thrown
behind the peace plan. But the situation in Iraq remained
unsettled, with recurring attacks inflicting significant casualties on American and British troops, as well as amongst the
population. Just how unstable the situation remained was
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
tragically confirmed on 19 August when a car bomb killed
United Nations Special Representative Sergio Viera de
Mello together with many of his staff, and again 10 days
later when another bomb killed Ayatollah Mohammed
Baqir al-Hakim and scores of others at the Imam Ali Mosque
in the Shi’a holy city of Najaf. Iraq would continue to be the
Americans’ clear priority. Certainly, separate meetings in
July between Bush and the two Prime Ministers yielded little
of substance.
On 29 June, the main Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas, agreed to a three-month cease-fire, but this was
linked to an Israeli concession on the release of Palestinian
prisoners. Experience elsewhere, notably in Northern
Ireland, had taught that prisoner releases, however upsetting to victims and their families, were an essential element
in a peace settlement, but hard to bring about in practice.
Israeli and Palestinian expectations of the numbers to be
released were, predictably, far apart, with the former talking
of hundreds and the latter thousands. Although there was
some progress on the issue, with Israel beginning prisoner
releases in early August, it was already being overshadowed
by another matter which was casting a lengthening shadow
across a future Palestinian state. This was the construction by
the Israeli Government of a security fence, in Palestinian
eyes a wall, along the border with the West Bank. While its
construction undoubtedly reflected public concern over the
wave of suicide bombings which had hit them, it extended in
parts beyond the 1967 line, threatening to pre-empt where a
future border between the two states might ultimately lie.
As these issues were festering, a renewed spiral of violence
threatened to stifle the roadmap altogether. What appears to
have sparked this was the death of two Hamas members at the
hands of the Israeli army in Nablus, as a result of which the
organisation threatened revenge. On 12 August, two Israelis
were killed in two suicide bombings, one inside the country,
the other in the West Bank. Two days later, a leading figure in
Islamic Jihad was shot dead by the Israeli army in Hebron;
An Uncertain Path
here, too, revenge was the watchword. On 19 August, a bus
carrying religious Jews was blown up in Jerusalem by a suicide
bomber from Hebron, killing 22 people. Israel responded
with a series of strikes, in the course of which a leading
Hamas figure in Gaza, Ismail Abu Shanab, was killed in a missile attack. The cease-fire was effectively at an end.
In the face of these pressures, the political situation also
threatened to disintegrate. On 6 September, Mahmoud
Abbas, on whom the American administration had pinned
such hopes but who had lacked any independent power base,
resigned the Palestinian premiership, accusing the Americans
of lack of support. Once again the spotlight fell on Arafat, still
confined to his Ramallah headquarters, and blamed by the
Americans for undercutting Abbas (Department of State, 7
September 2003). Abbas’s successor was Ahmed Qureia, a
veteran supporter of Arafat who had helped start the Oslo
peace process. The change in leadership demonstrated once
again Arafat’s hold over Palestinian politics. Equally, no one
could ignore what was happening on the ground. A failed
Israeli attack on Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s spiritual
leader, was answered with suicide bombings near Tel Aviv and
in Jerusalem which killed 15 people. For its part, Israel’s security cabinet voted in principle for Arafat’s expulsion from the
Palestinian Authority. As the Americans warned against any
such action, and thousands of Palestinians rallied to his support in Ramallah and elsewhere, Arafat replied that he would
rather die than be expelled. A new and potentially volatile situation had been created in which a power vacuum would
open up if the Palestinian President were removed, but the
Israeli Government would lose credibility if it did not do so in
the event of further attacks. The latter was not long in coming. On 4 October, a young woman lawyer exploded a suicide
bomb in Haifa, killing 20 people. The next day, the Israeli Air
Force struck at what their government claimed was a training
camp near Damascus. The attack on Syria was both a stark
warning, and carried the threat that the conflict could once
again assume wider dimensions.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
While no one doubted the historic nature of the handshake
between Arafat and Rabin in Washington on 13 September
1993, it was only the tentative first phase of a period of reappraisal for both Israelis and Arabs. Each would have to examine not just the positions of their former enemies but also
their own fundamental assumptions. Goodwill was of the
essence but proved to be in short supply. Even so, it was the
first sign of a possible accommodation between Arabs and
Jews since the 1920 riots had revealed the strength of
Palestinian opposition to Zionist aspirations. Neither side
had a monopoly of virtue. The Arabs had always been an
unwelcome presence for the Zionists, standing in the way of
the ultimate redemption of the land. There was no master
plan to expel the Arabs en masse, but if circumstances arose,
as in 1948 and 1967, when their departure could be encouraged, then it was. Decades of homelessness for hundreds of
thousands, later millions, of Palestinians followed, their
refugee camps a symbol of the disaster that had befallen
them. From the 1980s, Arab lands were regularly expropriated in the Occupied Territories to serve as the basis for
future Jewish settlements. The feeling that this could not be
allowed to proceed unchecked was a major reason for the
outbreak of the 1987 Intifada. The seemingly relentless
expansion of settlements in the 1990s undermined for
Palestinians their faith in the peace process, especially as
they threatened to thwart any prospect of a contiguous
Palestinian state.
Nor had the Palestinians been able to adapt to the Jewish
presence and creation of a state; from 1937 to 1988 they had
publicly rejected the concept of the partition of Palestine.
While their leaders tirelessly argued that they could not
accept what they saw as an unjust division of their country,
they consistently failed, or refused, to come to terms with the
reality of the Jewish presence. Relying on their numbers, the
support of the Arab world and the sympathy of the British,
after 1945 they failed to grasp the strength of purpose that
the Holocaust had given to the Jews, and the sympathy this
had attracted, not least in the United States. Crushed by
the events of 1948–49, by the time Palestinian political
activism began to revive in the late 1950s and early 1960s
Israel was an established member of the international community. Frustrated that the world seemed to have forgotten
them, the Palestinians’ resort to violence succeeded in putting them back at the centre of the political agenda, but in a
manner that enabled the Israelis to castigate them as terrorists and Western governments to keep them at arm’s length.
Their activities in the Middle East provoked the wrath of
Jordan, and helped start the civil war in Lebanon. By the
mid-1980s, the exiled PLO leadership seemed far removed
from the daily concerns of the Palestinians of the West Bank
and Gaza. The events of 11 September 2001, and the subsequent American ‘War on Terror’, threatened the Palestinian
position even further, not least because the Israeli
Government was quick to grasp the rhetoric coming from
Washington. The ‘War on Terror’, and its subsequent extension to the American campaign against Saddam Hussein, was
a distraction from the core issues, but its significance was
The political developments of 1993 had, for a time,
seemed to show a way forward from this sterile impasse.
Quite apart from the dangers that everyone knew would
accompany the way ahead, there were deep-seated social,
economic and political problems in both Israeli and
Palestinian societies which needed to be addressed. Zionism
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
had aimed at the creation of a Jewish state, ideally a state to
which all Jews would be attracted, but two-thirds of world
Jewry still lived in the Diaspora. Uneasy fears over the country’s demographic future, given a low Jewish birth-rate and
the attraction for many Israelis of life in New York and Paris,
were certainly eased by the sudden arrival of some 800,000
Jews from the former Soviet Union (Bregman, 2003). How
many of them would have preferred to have gone to the
United States or Canada was a question no one wanted to
probe too deeply. One important consequence of the
‘Russian’ immigration was to tip the balance back in favour
of European as against oriental Jews. This carried the obvious danger that oriental Jews would see the gains of the previous 15 years receding from them as well-educated Russian
Jews established themselves in society and the economy.
Problems of the nature of the Jewish state remained.
Zionism always had a complex relationship with religion,
since its early pioneers, while recognising the central place
of Judaism in Jewish life and tradition, were overwhelmingly
secular. The state they established in 1948 was in no sense a
theocratic one, but it always contained a dedicated minority
who believed that Israel should embody specifically Jewish
values. The 1980s saw the growth of ultra-orthodox political
parties prepared to articulate this belief. Their electoral support was enough to give them considerable influence when
political leaders were building their coalition governments.
The result was a noticeable tension between secular and religious Jewish traditions. Perhaps too much can be made of
the various splits within Israeli society, for there remained an
ultimate consensus around the nature of the state and its
Jewish identity. This left an inevitable question mark against
the Israeli Arabs, who formed some 19.9 per cent of the
country’s 6,116,533 inhabitants, and were a local majority in
parts of the north of the country (CIA World Factbook,
2003). Israel was not unique in having to accommodate a
sizeable minority population – witness, for example, Slovakia
with its 600,000 Hungarians – but there is no doubt that the
Arabs had been left behind in the process of building the
Jewish state. They were determined to demand their rights
as full citizens (Kyle and Peters, 1993). Israel had to confront
the hard reality that while it aspired to be a Jewish state, it
was by any definition binational. As such, it had to afford
recognition and respect to its Arab citizens.
Israel’s ambivalent relationship with its Arab minority ought
to have brought into sharper focus the position of the Arabs
of the West Bank and Gaza. From the start of the occupation
in 1967, wise voices had advised that any long-term occupation would result in the de facto emergence of a binational
state, and questioned whether this was what Zionism had
hoped to achieve. Put more simply, annexation of the West
Bank and Gaza would have produced a state in which Arabs
numbered some 40 per cent, raising for some Israelis uncomfortable comparisons with Lebanon, or with Northern
Ireland, which had proved unable to accommodate its 42 per
cent Roman Catholic minority, at least until the 1998 Good
Friday Agreement offered Catholics the prospect of full equality and respect for their Irish sense of identity. These were not
arguments that seemed to concern right-wing ideologues
until the nature and extent of the Intifada in 1987, and then
again in 2000, forced them to confront the hard political and
financial realities of holding on to the Occupied Territories.
Simultaneously the PLO leadership was also having to
reassess long-cherished positions. Acquiescence in a twostate solution meant abandoning the hopes of refugees to
return to Haifa, Jaffa and other towns and villages inside the
1967 border, except in the event of Israel allowing a ‘right of
return’, something Israeli opinion was unwilling to contemplate. The best that could be hoped for was that a Palestinian
state on the West Bank and Gaza would act as a focus for
pride and loyalty in the same way that Israel did for the Jews
of the Diaspora. Such a state would depend on Israeli goodwill for contact between its two parts, and would have a much
wider dependence on the much stronger Israeli economy.
The West Bank and Gaza had essentially a service economy,
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
not in itself a disaster, but certainly in chronic need of diversification. American thinking had for some time looked to
an economic confederation, linking Israel, Jordan and a
Palestinian state, which would make best use of markets,
communications and the scarce water resources of the
region. All of this required a constructive attitude from both
the parties to the Arab–Israeli conflict, which seemed a distant prospect.
The accumulated legacy of almost half a century of conflict
was there for all to see. The world had become used to dismissing the Arab–Israeli problem as a source of permanent
hostility always likely to erupt into open warfare. The wars
which broke out in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982 were all
bloody and dramatic. They were triggered by different things.
The Arab League invasion of 1948 arose out of Arab rejection
of the new Israeli state. In 1956 both Israel and Egypt became
caught in a wider game, which involved both Britain and
France in the dying kicks of empire. The 1967 war was a classic example of miscalculation on the part of almost everyone
involved, but which had far-reaching consequences. The
Egyptian and Syrian attack of 1973 was essentially the result of
frustrated diplomacy, a particularly bitter struggle fought for
limited aims. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was
launched by an ideologically motivated government, which
hoped to resolve a number of issues, not least the future of the
PLO. If the circumstances were very different, the underlying
cause of conflict remained the same: the apparent incompatibility of Arab and Jewish claims to the one land.
For most Israelis the key issue was that of security. On the
ground, there seemed no defence against the suicide bomber
beyond eternal vigilance, the construction of security fences,
and pre-emptive and retaliatory strikes against those identified as organisers of the campaign. For over thirty years most
Israelis had feared that the only logic of diplomatic negotiation was to push them into concession after concession until
the very integrity of their state was in doubt. (Kissinger, 1999)
In that respect, they may be compared to those Northern Irish
Protestants who held a similarly dismal view of their future,
equally unrealistically it may be held. Israeli security was, after
all, underpinned by the world’s only superpower, the United
States of America. American aid and loan guarantees were an
important dimension to Israel’s economic and financial stability. In July 2003, the House of Representatives voted by an
overwhelming majority for an aid package to Israel totalling
an overall $2.60 billion. The extent to which the United States
might be prepared to push for the achievement of a
Palestinian state remained to be resolved, but American support for Israel seemed set to remain one of the fixed points of
the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only did Israel command the
loyalty of the American Jewish community, politically
deployed in Washington through AIPAC, but it had an important constituency on the Christian right, an influential group
within the Republican party.
For their part, Palestinians pointed to the reality of continuing occupation, the consolidation of Israeli settlements,
frustrated hopes for statehood, and a bleak and uncertain
future for the refugees. By June 2003, according to UNWRA
figures, there were 4,082,330 refugees; 1,718,767 in Jordan,
409,662 in Syria, 391,679 in Lebanon, 907,221 in Gaza, and
654,971 in the West Bank (UNRWA, 2003). The violent
events of 2002 left the political and economic infrastructure
of the Palestinian Authority, fragile at the best of times, in
ruins. Surrounding Arab states, while sympathetic, seemed
to offer little by way of tangible support. While the elements
of a settlement had been established in the closing weeks of
the Clinton administration, peace remained elusive. By the
summer of 2003, the hopes generated by the Oslo accords
ten years before were a distant memory for Israelis and
Palestinians. President Bush’s ‘Roadmap for Peace’ promised a way forward, with two states coexisting side by side, but
in the context of a Middle East unsettled by the war in Iraq.
The figures – some 2,000 Palestinians and 700 Israelis killed
since the collapse of the Camp David summit and the start of
the new Intifada – spoke for themselves.
The Arab–Israeli Conflict
The Bibliography lists works which have been particularly useful in
preparing this study. It does not claim to be exhaustive. The
Arab–Israeli conflict has generated a vast literature, much of it
highly partisan. Many of the protagonists maintain highly informative web sites, where key documents can be studied. These include
the governments of Israel and the Palestinian Authority; the various branches of the American government, notably The White
House, the Department of State, the Department of Defense and
the Central Intelligence Agency; and the United Nations.
Newspaper coverage of the conflict is extensive, with The New York
Times and the Guardian particularly useful.
Anon. (Chatham House Research Staff), Great Britain and Palestine
1915–1939 (London, 1939).
Arab Republic of Egypt, Ministry of Defence, Strategic Symposium.
The October War. 25 Years On, 2 vols (Cairo, 1999).
Begin, Menahem, The Revolt (London, 1979 edn).
Bein, Alex, Theodore Herzl (Philadelphia, PA, 1941).
Bell, J. Bowyer, Terror out of Zion (Dublin, 1979).
Benvenisti, Meron, Jerusalem ( Jerusalem, 1976).
Bernadotte, Count Folke, To Jerusalem (London, 1951).
Bethell, Nicholas, The Palestine Triangle (London, 1979).
Black, Ian and Morris, Benny, Israel’s Secret Wars (London, 1991).
Blumenthal, Sidney, The Clinton Wars. An Insider’s Account of the
White House Years (London, 2003).
Bregman, Ahron, A History of Israel (Basingstoke, 2003).
Brzezinski, Zbigniew, Power and Principle (New York, 1983).
Bromberger, Serge and Merry, S., Secrets of Suez (London, 1957).
Bullock, Alan, Hitler and Stalin (London, 1991).
Caradon, Lord, Goldberg, Arthur J., EI-Zayyat, Mohammed H. and
Eban, Abba, UN Security Council Resolution 242: A Case Study in
Diplomatic Ambiguity (Washington, DC, 1981).
Carter, Jimmy, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (New York, 1982).
Carter, Jimmy, The Blood of Abraham (Boston, MA, 1985).
Clarke, Thurston, By Blood and Fire: The Attack on the King David
Hotel (New York, 1981).
Cobban, Helena, The Palestinian Liberation Organisation
(Cambridge, 1984).
Cohen, Michael J., Palestine and the Great Powers, 1945–1948
(Princeton, NJ, 1982).
Copeland, Miles, The Game of Nations (London, 1969).
Dayan, Moshe, Diary of the Sinai Campaign 1956 (London, 1966).
Dayan, Moshe, Story of my Life (London, 1976).
Dayan, Moshe, Breakthrough (London, 1981).
Eban, Abba, An Autobiography (London, 1977).
Eden, Anthony, Full Circle (London, 1960).
Eisenhower, Dwight D., Waging Peace (New York, 1965).
Eitan, Raful, A Soldier’s Story (New York, 1992).
Ennes, James M., Assault on the Liberty (New York, 1979).
Feldman, Shai and Rechnitz-Kijner, Heda, Deception, Consensus and
War: Israel in Lebanon (Tel Aviv, 1984).
Findley, Paul, They Dare to Speak Out (Westport, CT, 1985).
Fisk, Robert, Pity the Nation (London, 1990).
Fraser, T. G., The Middle East, 1914–1979 (London, 1980).
Fraser, T. G., Partition in Ireland, India and Palestine: Theory and
Practice (London, 1984).
Fraser, T. G., The USA and the Middle East since World War 2 (London,
Fraser, T. G. and Murray, Donette, America and the World since 1945
(Basingstoke, 2002).
Friedman, Thomas L., From Beirut to Jerusalem (New York, 1989).
Fromkin, David, A Peace to End all Peace: Creating the Modern Middle
East 1914–1922 (London, 1989).
Frum, David, The Right Man. The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush
(New York, 2003).
Ganin, Zvi, Truman, American Jewry, and Israel, 1945–1948
(New York, 1979).
Gillessen, Guenther, ‘Konrad Adenauer and Israel’, The Konrad
Adenauer Memorial Lecture (St Antony’s College Oxford, n.d.).
Golan, Matti, The Secret Conversations of Henry Kissinger (New York,
Gowers, Andrew and Walker, Tony, Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian
Revolution (London, rev. edn 1991).
Harkabi, Yeshoshafat, Israel’s Fateful Decisions (London, 1988).
Hart, Alan, Arafat (London, 1984).
Heikal, Mohamed, The Road to Ramadan (Glasgow, 1976).
Hersh, Seymour M., The Samson Option. Israel, America and the Bomb
(New York, 1991).
Herzl, Theodor, The Jewish State (London, 1972 edn).
Insight Team, The Yom Kippur War (London, 1975).
Jansen, Michael, The Battle of Beirut (London, 1982).
Kamel, Mohamed Ibrahim, The Camp David Accords (London, 1986).
Kenen, I. L., Israel’s Defense Line (Buffalo, NY, 1981).
Kimche, David and Bawly, Dan, The Sandstorm (London, 1968).
Kirk, George, The Middle East 1945–1950 (Oxford, 1954).
Kissinger, Henry, Years of Upheaval (London, 1982).
Kissinger, Henry, Years of Renewal (London, 1999).
Kyle, Keith, Suez (London, 1991).
Kyle, Keith and Peters, Joel (eds), Whither Israel? (London, 1993).
Laqueur, Walter, The Road to War (London, 1968).
Laqueur, Walter, A History of Zionism (London, 1989 edn).
Lloyd, Selwyn, Suez 1956 (London, 1978).
Louis, W. Roger, The British Empire in the Middle East 1945–1951
(Oxford, 1984).
Louis, W. Roger and Owen, Roger (eds), Suez 1956: The Crisis and
its Consequences (Oxford, 1989).
Mattar, Philip, The Mufti of Jerusalem (New York, 1988).
Meir, Golda, My Life (London, 1975).
Mendes-Flohr R. Paul (ed.), A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on
Jews and Arabs (Oxford, 1983).
Mitchell Plan, Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee (Washington,
30 April 2001).
Morris, Benny, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem
(Cambridge, 1987).
Nachmani, A., Great Power Discord in Palestine (London, 1987).
Nutting, Anthony, No End of a Lesson: The Story of Suez (London,
Oren, Michael B., Six Days of War. June 1967 and the Making of the
Modern Middle East (Oxford, 2002).
Palumbo, Michael, The Palestinian Catastrophe (London, 1987).
Palumbo, Michael, Imperial Israel (London, 1990).
Parker, Richard B., ‘The June War: Whose Conspiracy?’, Journal of
Palestine Studies, vol. XXI, no. 4 (1992).
Peretz, Don, Intifada (Boulder, CO, 1990).
Quandt, William B., Camp David (Washington, DC, 1986).
Rabin, Yitzhak, The Rabin Memoirs (Boston, MA, 1976).
Reagan, Ronald, An American Life (New York, 1990).
Reitlinger, Gerald, The Final Solution (London, 1953).
Rhodes James, Robert, Anthony Eden (London, 1986).
Rodinson, Maxime, Israel and the Arabs (London, 1968).
Rogan, Eugene L. and Shlaim, Avi (eds), The War for Palestine.
Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge, 2001).
Roseman, Mark, The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting. Wannsee and the
Final Solution (London, 2002).
Sachar, Howard M., A History of Israel (Oxford, 1976).
Sadat, Anwar el-, In Search of Identity (London, 1978).
Schiff, Ze’ev and Ya’ari, Ehud, Israel’s Lebanon War (London, 1985).
Schiff, Ze’ev and Ya’ari, Ehud, Intifada (New York, 1989).
Sheehan, Edward R. E., The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger (New York,
Shlaim, Avi, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World (London, 2000).
Silver, Eric, Begin (London, 1984).
Siniora, Hanna, ‘An Analysis of the Current Revolt’, Journal of
Palestine Studies, vol. XVII, no. 3 (1988).
Snetsinger, John, Truman, the Jewish Vote and the Creation of Israel
(Stanford, CA, 1974).
Spiegel, Steven L., The Other Arab–Israeli Conflict (Chicago, 1985).
Stein, Leonard, The Balfour Declaration (London, 1961).
Stephens, Robert, Nasser (London, 1971).
Tivnan, Edward, The Lobby: Jewish Political Power and American
Foreign Policy (New York, 1987).
United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to
General Assembly Resolution ES-10/10 ( Jenin Report), 2002).
Wasserstein, Bernard, Divided Jerusalem. The Struggle for the Holy City
(London, 2001). (2003).
Abbas, Mahmoud, 169, 174
Abdullah, Crown Prince (Saudi
Arabia), 160–1
Abdullah, King ( Jordan), 9, 13,
41, 44, 53–4, 64
Abdullah II, King ( Jordan), 151,
Adenauer, Konrad, 52–3
Albright, Madeleine, 150, 152
Aliyah, First, 5
Altalena, 45
Amal, 131
Amer, Abdul Hakim, 57, 71, 78,
American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC), 88–9,
104–5, 123, 136, 180
American Zionist Emergency
Council, 20
Anglo-American Committee of
Inquiry, 28–30
Annan, Kofi, 165
Arab Executive, 10
Arab Higher Committee, 11–12,
29–30, 39
Arab League, 44, 179
Arab Liberation Army, 40
Arab Revolt (1936), 11–12
Arafat, Yasser, 90, 109–10, 126,
134, 142–3, 145–6, 152–4,
160–6, 174
early career, 72–3
negotiates with Israel, 138–40
PLO Chairman, 86–7
Argov, Shlomo, 125
Armistice agreements (1949),
48–9, 60
Ashrawi, Dr Hannan, 136, 142
Assad, Hafez, 92–3, 103, 151
Assifa, 74
Aswan Dam, 65
Auschwitz–Birkenau, 16
Baker, James, 136
Balfour Declaration, 7–8
Banat Yacoub, 59–60
Bar-Lev Line, 93, 95–6
Barak, Ehud, 151–5
Beeley, Harold, 23
Begin, Menahem, 27, 31, 82,
117–19, 129–30
becomes Prime Minister, 113–16
Lebanese war, 125–7
negotiates at Camp David,
Beirut, 2–3, 87, 110–12, 126–30
Belzec, 16
Ben-Gurion, David, 9–10, 17, 22,
27, 31, 33, 35, 45–8, 56,
59–62, 66, 70, 74–5, 115
at Sèvres, 67
proclaims State of Israel, 42–3
Bernadotte, Count Folke, 44, 46–8
Bevin, Ernest, 22–3, 29, 34–5
Biltmore Program, 20
Black September, 90–1
Brookings Report, 113
Brzezinski, Zbigniew, 113
Buber, Martin, 1
Bunche, Ralph, 48
Bush, George, H. W., 136–7
Bush, George W., 156, 159, 166–7,
169–70, 180
Camp David Accords (1978),
Camp David summit (2000),
153–4, 180
Carter, Jimmy, 113–15, 122
negotiates at Camp David,
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
58, 130
Chelmno, 16
Churchill, Winston S., 9, 17, 64
Clifford, Clark, 25, 43
Clinton, Bill, 137, 140, 143,
146–51, 153–7, 180
Coupland, Reginald, 12
Dallet, Plan, 41–2
Dayan, Moshe, 68, 74, 79–82, 93,
101–2, 115–16
Deir Yassin, 42
Dreyfus, Alfred, 6
Dulles, John Foster, 59–60, 62,
65–6, 70
Eban Abba, 34–5, 74–5, 79, 83, 94
Eden, Anthony, 64–9
Egypt, 23–4, 44, 47–8, 56–8, 60–5,
84, 107–8, 112, 121–2, 135,
involvement in Suez crisis,
1967 war, 76–82
1973 war, 95–7
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 59, 66–70
Eitan, Raful, 125
Elazar, David, 82
Eshkol, Levi, 74–7, 83, 88
Exodus 1947, 34–5
Farouk, King, 57–8
Fatah, 72, 74–7, 79, 86, 104,
140, 169
Filastinuna, 72
Ford, Gerald, 100, 105
Frameworks, Camp David, 120–1
Galilee, 41–2, 45–6, 49, 54
Gavish, Yeshayahu, 80
Gaza, 2, 47–8, 53–4, 61–2, 70, 78,
87, 107–8, 114, 118, 120–2,
124, 128, 132–4, 138–40, 145,
148–51, 157, 159–61, 168–9,
172, 174, 176, 178, 180
Gemayel, Bashir, 125, 128
Gemayel, Pierre, 111
Geneva Conference (1973), 101
Germany, Federal Republic, 52–3
Gidi Pass, 102, 104
Golan Heights, 82, 93–7, 100,
102–3, 124
Gush Emunim, 116
Habash, George, 87, 108
Haganah, 12, 17, 27–8, 31, 34,
41–2, 45
Haifa, 35, 42, 108, 160, 167, 169
Haig, Alexander, 122–3
Hamas, 133, 137, 140, 142, 150,
158, 160, 173
Haram al-Sharif, 154–5
Harrison, Earl G., 26–7
Hassan, Crown Prince, 143, 151
Hassan, King, 116, 151
Hebrew Resistance Movement,
Hebron, 4, 10, 86, 141, 149,
Henderson, Loy W., 24–5, 38
Herzl, Theodor, 6, 19
Heydrich, Reinhard, 15
Hezbollah, 131, 152–3
Hibbat Zion, 4
Histadrut, 10
Hitler, Adolf, 11, 51, 64
directs the Holocaust, 13–17
Hod, Mordechai, 80
Holocaust, 13–17, 114, 176
Holst, Johann Jorgen, 139
Horowitz, David, 34–5
Hungarian Uprising (1956), 68
Hussein, King, 64, 77, 81, 89, 90,
143, 146, 149–51
Hussein, Saddam, 135, 169–70,
Hussein, Sharif, 7
Husseini, Abd al-Qadr al-, 41
Husseini clan, 2, 72
Husseini, Faisal, 136
Husseini, Haj Amin al-, 10,
12–13, 24
Husseini, Jamal, 32, 39
Intifada, 131–4, 140, 167
Intifada, Al Aqsa, 155–7, 180
Iraq, 44, 71, 123, 135, 166–70,
Irgun Zvai Leumi, 17, 27–8, 31, 34,
41–2, 45
Islamic Jihad, 140, 173
Israel, 1
at war, 43–8
early history, 49–53
proclaimed, 43
Jabotinsky, Vladimir, 17, 114
Jacobson, Eddie, 25
Jaffa, 38, 42
Jarring Mission, 85, 88, 90
Jenin, 158–9, 161, 163–5
Jericho, 109, 139–40, 142, 159
Jerusalem, 2, 4, 7, 10–11, 31, 36,
39, 41–2, 44–7, 49, 81–3, 89,
133, 143, 147–9, 154, 157–8,
161, 163–4, 174
Jewish Agency for Palestine, 9, 22,
27, 29–32, 35, 42
Jewish Revolt (1945), 22, 27–8
Hitler’s persecution of, 11,
in European Diaspora, 4–5
in the United States, 17–21
return to Palestine, 5
Joffe, Avraham, 81
Johnson, Lyndon B., 79, 84
Jordan, 9, 13, 23, 41, 44, 46, 53–4,
64, 76–7, 81, 84, 90–1, 104,
108, 143–4, 176, 179–80
Kahan Commission, 129–30
Karameh, 86
Kennedy, John F., 71
Khalaf, Salah, 72
Khalidis, 2
Khomeini, Ayatollah, 121
Kilometre 101, 101
King David Hotel, 31–2
Kiryat Arba, 86, 141
Kissinger, Henry, 90, 107
negotiates ceasefire, 97–100
policy in 1973 war, 96–7
‘reassessment’, 103–6
step-by-step diplomacy, 101–6
Kollek, Teddy, 83
Kuwait, 135
Labour, 149, 151–2
Larsen, Terje Roed, 165
Latrun Salient, 83, 85, 89
Law of Return, 50
Lebanon, 23–4, 44, 46, 48, 54, 71,
108, 119, 127–31, 143, 147,
152–3, 171, 176, 179–80
civil war, 110–12
invaded (1982), 125–6
Leh’i, 17, 27–8, 31, 41–2, 47
Liberty, USS, 82, 88
Likud, 114–16, 141, 151, 155, 167
Lydda, 41, 45–6
Maalot, 103
MacDonald, Malcolm, 13
McDonald, James G., 29, 54
correspondence, 7
Makadme, Ibrahim al-, 169
Mandate, British, 8–13
Mapai, 10
Marshall, George C., 37, 43, 47
Meir, Golda, 70, 88, 91, 94–5, 98,
Mitchell, George, 156–8, 161
Mitla Pass, 68, 102, 104
Mitzna, Amram, 167–8
Morrison–Grady Plan, 30
Mortagui, Abd el Mohsen, 80
Moyne, Lord, 17
Mubarak, Husni, 122, 151,
162, 164
Muhieddin, Zakariya, 79
Multinational Force I, 12
Multinational Force II, 129–30
Nablus, 158–9, 173
Naguib, Muhammad, 58
Nakba, al-, 48
Narkiss, Uzi, 81
Nashashibis, 2, 10
Nasser, Gamal al-, 56–8, 62–5, 73,
88–9, 90–1
1967 war, 76–9
secures arms, 62–3
Suez Crisis, 65–71
Nationalism, Arab, 3–4
Negev, 35, 45–8, 73
Netanya, 162
Netanyahu, Binyamin, 147–51, 163
Niles, David, 25–6, 29, 38, 43
Nixon, Richard, 88, 94–6,
98–100, 103
Norway, 138–40
Nusseibehs, 2
Operation Defensive Shield,
Organization of Arab Petroleum
Exporting Countries
(OAPEC), 98
Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, 2–3,
6, 50, 57
Palestine, 1
British Mandate in, 8–13
traditional structure of, 2–8
Palestine Conciliation
Commission, 55–6
Palestine Conference
(1946–47), 32
Palestine Liberation Organisation
(PLO), 73, 86–7, 107–10,
124–7, 133–40, 142–4,
148, 176
involvement in Lebanon,
negotiates, 137–41
response to Intifada, 133–4
Palestine Royal Commission
(1936–37), 12
Palestinian Authority, 142, 152–3,
157–8, 160, 167
Palestinian Council, 139, 147
Peres, Shimon, 66, 112, 128, 138,
146–8, 151, 157, 164
Petah Tikvah, 5, 36
Phalange, 111, 125, 128–9
Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine (PFLP), 87,
109, 160
Powell, Colin, 162–4
President Warfield, 34
Qibya, 60
Quaeda, Al-, 159
Quandt, William B., 113
Quneitra, 82, 103
Qureia, Ahmed, 174
Rabat Summit, 109
Rabin, Yitzhak, 80–1, 100, 112–14,
133, 137, 142, 147, 175
assassination, 145–6
negotiations with Palestinians,
Rafi, 74
Ramallah, 161–5, 174
Ramle, 45–6
Reagan, Ronald, 122–3, 127, 131
peace plan and Beirut
bombing, 128
Refugees, Palestinian, 171, 180
expulsions in 1948, 45–6
in 1967 war, 85–6
situation after 1949, 54–6
Rehovoth, 5
Rishon l’Zion, 5
Roadmap (2003), 167,
169–72, 180
Rogers Plan (1969), 89–90, 100
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 19–21
Rosh Pinna, 5, 42
Ross, Dennis, 155
Sabra, 128–9, 133, 167
Sadat, Anwar al-, 57, 102, 112, 114
assassination, 122
negotiates at Camp David,
policies as President, 91–5
visit to Israel, 116–19
wages 1973 war, 96–100
Safed, 4, 42
St Louis, 19–20
Samu raid, 76
Saud, King Ibn, 13, 20–1
Settlements (Israeli), 86, 132–3,
141, 157, 169–71, 175
Sèvres Conference, 67
Shafi, Haydar abd al-, 136, 142
Shamir, Yitzhak, 130, 136–7
Shanab, Ismail Abu, 174
Sharm al-Shaikh, 63, 68, 70,
78, 156
Sharon, Ariel, 60, 81, 97, 123, 125,
129–30, 155, 157, 160–4, 167–9
Shatila, 128–9, 133, 167
Shultz, George, 126, 130
Shuqairy, Ahmad, 73, 79
Sneh, Moshe, 27, 31
Sobibor, 16
Soviet Union (USSR), 62–3, 91,
98–9, 101, 122, 138
Stern, Avraham, 17
Struma, 16
Suez Canal, 57, 60, 63, 81, 89,
91–3, 95–7, 101–2
Suez Crisis (1956), 65–71
Syria, 23, 44, 48, 54–5, 59, 71,
73–4, 76–7, 90, 102–3, 107–8,
125–7, 135, 138, 143, 152,
171, 174, 180
in 1967 war, 76–82
in 1973 war, 92–9
Taif Accord (1989), 112
Tal, Israel, 81
Tel al-Zaatar, 111
Tel Aviv, 28, 31, 35–6, 39, 43–6, 49,
59, 83, 104, 133, 135, 142,
147, 161, 165, 172, 174
Tenet Report, 158, 161
Tiberias, 4, 42
Tiran, Straits of, 63, 70, 78–9
Treblinka, 16
Truman, Harry S.
elected Vice-President, 20
makes Yom Kippur
statement, 32
policy on Palestine, 25–7
reaction to Bernadotte plan, 47
recognizes Israel, 43, 48
supports Anglo-American
Committee, 29–30
supports UNSCOP report, 37–9
Tuhami, Hassan, 116
U Thant, 78, 85
United Arab Republic, 71
United Nations Emergency Force,
70, 78–9, 85
United Nations Organization, 33,
40, 44, 48, 59, 83, 109–10,
161–2, 165, 173
United Nations Relief and Works
Agency, 56, 180
United Nations Security
Council Resolution 242, 84–5,
89–90, 105, 134, 154, 166, 168
United Nations Special Committee
on Palestine, 33–9
United States of America, 17–21,
40, 43, 52, 68–70, 75, 84,
88–92, 109, 118–19, 134–7,
152, 164, 176
Jewish migration to, 18–19
Jewish support for Israel, 17–21,
30, 32, 37–9, 50, 88–9, 104–5
Vienna, 3, 6
Wannsee Conference (1942),
Wazir, Khalil, 72, 134
Weizmann, Chaim, 7, 9, 11, 31, 35,
first President of Israel,
West Bank, 53–4, 81–2, 87, 107–9,
114–15, 118, 120–2, 124, 128,
132–4, 138–9, 141, 146,
148–50, 154, 157, 160, 168,
173, 176, 178
Western Wall, 4, 10, 81
Wolfowitz, Paul, 163
World Trade Center, 159
Wye Agreement (1998), 150
Yassin, Sheikh Ahmed, 174
Yellin-Mor, Nathan, 17, 27
Zeevi, Rehavam, 159
Zinni, Anthony, 160–1
Zionism, 6–8, 20–1, 23, 110, 175–7

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