War and Conflict

The Middle East

What is the basis of the conflict over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank?

The conflict is rooted in Jewish and Arab claims to the same lands in the Palestine region, which was under British control between 1917 and 1947. The Gaza Strip is a tiny piece of territory along the eastern Mediterranean Sea and adjacent to Egypt. After the nation of Israel was established and boundaries were determined by the United Nations (UN) in 1947, the Gaza Strip—bounded on two sides by the new Israel—came under Egyptian control. The Arab-Israeli war of 1967 resulted in Israeli takeover and occupation of Gaza. But unrest continued, and in 1987 and 1988 the region was the site of Arab uprisings known as the Intifada. A historic accord between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, signed in May 1994, provided for Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip. This has been in effect since—though peace in the region remains elusive, as extremists on both sides of the conflict stage sporadic acts of violence.

The West Bank, which does not neighbor the Gaza Strip, is an area on the east of Israel, along the Jordan River and Dead Sea. The West Bank includes the towns of Jericho, Bethlehem, and Hebron. The holy city of Jerusalem is situated on the shared border between Israel and the West Bank. By the UN mandate that established the independent Jewish state of Israel in 1948, the West Bank area was supposed to become Palestinian. But Arabs who were unhappy with the UN agreement in the first place attacked Israel, and Israel responded by occupying the West Bank. A 1950 truce brought the West Bank under the control of neighboring Jordan; this situation lasted until 1967, when Israeli forces again occupied the region. Israelis soon began establishing settlements there, which provoked the resentment of Arabs. The Intifada uprisings that began in the Gaza Strip in 1987 soon spread to the West Bank. In 1988 Jordan relinquished its claim to the area, but fighting between the PLO and Israeli troops continued. Peace talks began in 1991, and the agreements that provided for Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip also provided for the gradual return of West Bank lands to Palestinians. The city of Jericho was the first of these lands.

In August 2005 Israel began pulling out of the Gaza Strip after 38 years of occupation. Some Israeli settlers resisted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s call for withdrawal; but Sharon insisted the move was a critical step toward peace and securing Israel’s future.


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