Israeli, Palestinian leaders try to leave behind decades of violence
June 5, 2003 Posted: 1:53 AM EDT (0553 GMT)
President Bush, seated at right, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, bottom left, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, top left, discuss the Middle East "road map" during their meeting in Aqaba.
President Bush said on Wednesday that the world stands ready to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace. As Middle Eastern leaders follow the so-called "road map" to peace, they will have to leave behind a decades-old conflict.
In a meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers in Jordan, Bush discussed what the next steps would be in the road map. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that his country would dismantle some illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank, which is a Palestinian-controlled area. And Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said he would bring an end to terrorist attacks on Israelis.
Bush said that the U.S. would help both sides by keeping Israeli security a top priority and by offering political and economic assistance to the Palestinians. The president added that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders should act quickly on their promises.
The conflict has some roots in a movement that took place in the 19th Century. At that time, anti-Semitism (prejudice or violence toward Jews) prompted the beginning of the Zionist movement, which called for Jews to have their own country within the Middle East. Jewish people have a presence in the region dating back to the time of ancient Israel.
During the Zionist movement, hundreds of thousands of Jews immigrated to the Middle East. The population grew more during World War II, when countless Jews fled Nazi persecution throughout much of Western Europe. The immigration disturbed many people within the Palestinian Arab community and quickly led to violence between the Arabs and the Jews.
In 1947, a special committee of the United Nations recommended splitting the region into separate Jewish and Palestinian countries. The plan called for Jerusalem to be an international city, as it contains holy sites for both Jews and Arabs. Jewish people in the region accepted the U.N. proposal, but Arab people did not agree to it.
An armed conflict resulted between the Arabs and the Jews. In 1948, the country of Israel was established; it came as the first Jewish state in about 2,000 years.
Thousands of Palestinians were displaced during the conflict. They responded by creating the Palestinian Liberation Organization with the goal of taking back the land.
In 1967, soaring tensions between Israel and neighboring Arab countries resulted in the Six Day War. During that time, Israel doubled the area of land it controlled.
Six years afterward, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. That conflict became known as the Yom Kippur War. The Israeli army pushed Egyptian forces back and took large sections of Syrian territory before the Arab forces agreed to a cease-fire arranged by the U.N.
Throughout the 1970s, continuing peace efforts led to the Camp David Accords that were signed by Israel and Egypt. The agreement outlined a plan for peace in the Middle East that included limited self-rule for Palestinians.
Within months of the Camp David Accords, however, the Israeli army pushed into Lebanon in an attempt to destroy Palestinian guerrilla bases. A Lebanese militia that was allied with Israel killed hundreds of Palestinian refugees, and Ariel Sharon, who was at that time an Israeli opposition leader, was found to be indirectly responsible for the massacre.
In 1988, the Palestine National Council declared Palestine an independent country from Israel, but the Israelis did not recognize the claim. At that time, Israel continued building settlements in Palestinian territories, and the Intifada - an uprising against Israeli occupation - grew among Palestinian Arabs.
There were several efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians throughout the 1990s. During the Madrid Summit, both sides outlined their positions. At the Oslo Declaration of Principles, Palestinians agreed to recognize the state of Israel if Israelis withdrew their forces from Palestinian areas. The so-called Oslo II agreement gave some control of the West Bank to Palestinians. However, none of the plans seemed to stick.
Sporadic violence since September 2000 has largely hindered progress toward a permanent agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. At that time, Ariel Sharon visited a site called the Temple Mount, which is sacred to both Arab-Muslims and Jews, and declared that the land was Israeli territory.
Sharon's statement infuriated Palestinians. The claim was followed by suicide bomb attacks against Israelis and Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories - violence that Sharon, Abbas, and the international community are trying to end with the road map to peace.