Wednesday, July 30, 2014 • 11:52 AM Comments (2)

Key Documents for Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict

posted by David Tebaldi

Editor's Note: This collection of annotated primary sources prepared by David Tebaldi was originally posted here on The Public Humanist on August 3, 2009. He also prepared this annotated list of novels and memoirs selected to further illuminate the conflict.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement concluded in 1916, was a secret agreement between the governments of the Great Britain and France, with the assent of Imperial Russia, defining their respective spheres of influence and control in the Middle East after the expected downfall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. It was largely a trade agreement with a large area set aside for indirect control through an Arab state or a confederation of Arab states. Britain was allocated control of areas roughly comprising today’s Jordan, southern Iraq, and a small area around Haifa. France was allocated control of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The controlling powers were left free to decide on state boundaries within these areas. The region of Palestine was slated for international administration pending consultations with Russia and other powers, including the Sharif of Mecca. Sykes-Picot Map.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was a classified formal statement of policy by the British government stating that the British government “views with favor” the establishment in Palestine of “a national home for the Jewish people” on the conditions 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.”

Palestine Mandate of 1922 was a League of Nations Mandate that had been created by the Principal Allied and Associated Powers after the First World War. The purported objective of the Mandate system was to administer parts of the recently defunct Ottoman Empire, which had been in control of the Middle East since the 16th century, “until such time as they are able to stand alone.” The Palestine Mandate superceded the Sykes-Picot Agreement and gave Great Britain administrative and military control of Palestine.

The Peel Commission Report and Partition Plans (1937). In response to an increase in Jewish immigration to Palestine in the 1930s, Palestinian nationalist groups demonstrated against the Mandate and, in 1936, widespread rioting broke out. The British responded with emergency measures and repression and sought a solution. The Peel Commission of 1937, sent to investigate the causes of the unrest, resulted in a report and White Paper. Their major recommendations were partition of the land into two unequal states, and population transfer to separate the aggrieved parties.

The British White Paper (1939) was a policy paper issued by the British government in response to continuing Arab resistance to Jewish immigration. The idea of partitioning the Mandate for Palestine was abandoned in favor of creating an independent Palestine governed by Palestinian Arabs and Jews in proportion to their numbers in the population by 1949. A limit of 75,000 Jewish immigrants was set for the five-year period 1940-1944, consisting of a regular yearly quota of 10,000, and a supplementary quota of 25,000, spread out over the same period, to cover refugee emergencies. After this cut-off date, further immigration would depend on the permission of the Arab majority. Restrictions were also placed on the rights of Jews to buy land from Arabs.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 was a plan approved by the United Nations in November 1947 to terminate the British Mandate of Palestine by August 1, 1948 and recommend the creation of two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The plan was approved by the General Assembly by 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions. In March 1948, the Security Council refused to pass an American resolution that would have accepted the General Assembly recommendations as a basis for Security Council action. The Security Council subsequently recommended a different political solution of its own “without prejudice to the character of the eventual political settlement” and sent the matter back to the General Assembly for further deliberation.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 was passed in December 1948, near the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The resolution expresses appreciation for the efforts of UN Envoy Folke Bernadotte after his assassination by members of the Stern Gang. It deals with the situation in the region of Palestine at the time, establishing and defining the role of the United Nations Conciliation Commission as an organization to facilitate peace in the region. Acceptance of the Resolution by Israel was proposed as a precondition of Israel’s admission as a member of the United Nations.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council in November 1967 in the aftermath of the Six Day War. It calls for “the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East” to be achieved by “the application of the following principles”: “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” “termination of all claims or states of belligerency,” and respect for the right of every state in the area to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries. Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon entered into consultations with the UN Special representative over the implementation of 242. After denouncing it in 1967, Syria “conditionally” accepted the resolution in March 1972.

Letter of Invitation to Madrid Peace Conference (1991). The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the Gulf War in 1991 reshaped the basic political order of the Middle East. In an attempt to take advantage of this change, US Secretary of State James Baker made eight trips to the region in the eight months following the Gulf War. The Madrid Invitation, inviting Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians to an opening conference represents the result of this shuttle diplomacy. The invitation, an outcome of compromises by all sides, details the structure of the Madrid process: (1) an opening conference having no power to impose solutions; (2) bilateral talks with the Arab states bordering Israel; (3) talks with the Palestinians on 5-year interim self-rule, to be followed by talks on the permanent status; and (4) multilateral talks on key regional issues, such as refugees.

The Oslo Accords (1993), officially called the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements or Declaration of Principles (DOP) was the first direct, face-to-face agreement between Israel and political representatives of Palestinians. It was the first time that some Palestinian factions publicly acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. It was intended to be a framework for the future relations between Israel and the anticipated State of Palestine, when all outstanding final status issues between the two states would be addressed and resolved in one Package Agreement. The Accords were finalized in Oslo, Norway in August 1993, and subsequently officially signed at a public ceremony in Washington D.C. on September 13, 1993, with Yasser Arafat signing for the Palestine Liberation Organization and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signing for the State of Israel. The Oslo Accords were a framework for the future relations between the two parties and provided for the creation of a Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority would have responsibility for the administration of the territory under its control. It also called for the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The Israeli Camp David II Proposals for Final Settlement. In July 2000, President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PNA Chairman Yasser Arafat, along with other officials and technical advisers met at Camp David in order to negotiate a final settlement of the Palestine-Israel conflict based on the Oslo Accords. The negotiations ended in failure with a bland communiqué, since the sides could not agree about the issue of Jerusalem or the right of return.

The Taba Proposals and the Refugee Problem. Following the breakdown of the Camp David talks, and the subsequent outbreak of violence on September 28, the sides nevertheless agreed to continue talks during December 2000 and January 2001. Late in January, they met in Taba, on the Israeli Egyptian border. The government of Israeli PM Barak had but a few days of life left before the election that brought Ariel Sharon to power. US President Clinton was no longer in office at the end of January. The outbreak of the violence had made it unlikely that Israelis would approve any proposal of concessions to the Palestinians in a referendum. Nonetheless, both sides hammered out proposals that came much closer to each other’s positions than ever before.

The Roadmap for Peace (2003) is a plan proposed by a “quartet” of international entities: the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations. The principles of the plan were first outlined by U.S. President George W. Bush in a speech on June 24, 2002, in which he called for an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace. In exchange for statehood, the road map requires the Palestinian Authority to make democratic reforms and abandon the use of terrorism. Israel, for its part, must support and accept the emergence of a reformed Palestinian government and end settlement activity of the Gaza Strip and West Bank as the Palestinian terrorist threat is removed.

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