A Middle East Primer–Do You Know the Basics?

Excerpted from the Israel Highway (March 8, 2007)
A Middle East Primer –
What Are the Issues? Do You Know the Basics?

by Israel HighWay Staff

Missiles, terrorists, tanks and bullets are not the only weapons of the Middle East conflict. So are words, concepts and diplomatic formulas. In fact, they can be more important than the weapons of war because they can be the tools for ending the conflict or for creating the conditions for the next round of fighting.

June 4, 1967 borders; UN Resolutions 242; UNIFIL ; Armistice lines; UNRWA; the list is long and complicated, but these are the phrases, abbreviations and words that play key roles in almost any discussion of the Israel-Arab conflict.

Most young American Jews will attend universities in North America. Parents, teachers, and teens go to great lengths to ensure that you will be well prepared for the SAT, but will you be ready for the tests you are likely to face at university when challenged about Israel or your Zionist affiliations? Just last month, on campuses across the world, Israel’s detractors staged “Israel Apartheid Week.” Pro-Israel students were confronted with “in your face” challenges calling for boycotts, sanctions and divestment from Israel.

The following is a brief introduction to some of the major terms and issues related to Israel’s history and current events to serve as a starting point to further your education and increase your knowledge level:

Balfour Declaration – the declaration of 1917 by British Foreign Minister Balfour supporting the establishment of a “Jewish national home in Palestine.” This was the first international recognition of Zionist aspirations for a modern Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael.

Blue Line – the internationally recognized border between Lebanon and Israel. After Israel’s withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, the UN certified that Israel had fully withdrawn from all of Lebanon.

British Mandate – the period from July 24, 1922 to May 15, 1948 when the British ruled “Palestine” – on both sides of the Jordan River – under a mandate from the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations).

Green Line – is the demarcation between the 1967 borders of Israel and the West Bank territories captured in the Six Day War. The color green has no particular significance, but refers to the color of the crayon used on the 1949 map of the armistice agreement with Jordan.

Oslo Accords – refers generally to the multi-stage agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The accords led to the mutual recognition and the signing of the Declaration of Principles which served as the basis for all negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians from their signing in September 1993 and the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000.

Partition Plan(s) – refers to the various international proposals and plans to divide Palestine (pre-1948 Israel) into autonomous areas controlled by Jews and Arabs. The British Peel Commission recommended a partition plan in 1937 and the UN’s 1947 resolution that ended the British mandate also intended for the land to be partitioned to create two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Arabs rejected both of these proposals outright. Listen to the UN vote here.

Right of Return – refers to the Palestinian demand that refugees have the “right” to return to their homes and towns within Israel. Israel has consistently rejected this “right”; if the country acceded to these demands, Israel would cease to be a Jewish state. Under international law, the Palestinian refugees have no “right” of return to Israel.

UNIFIL – the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was first created by the UN Security Council in 1978 to “confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security and assist the Lebanese Government in restoring its effective authority in the area.” In the aftermath of last summer’s war in Lebanon, UNIFIL increased its forces and mandate to ensure the terms of the cease fire were met. Unfortunately, it appears that the force has not fulfilled its mandate and has allowed Hizbullah to fully re-arm to pre-war levels.

UN Resolution 242 – on November 22, 1967, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242 calling for a “just and lasting peace in which every country in the area can live in security” and established the concept of “land for peace” as the basis for all negotiations since its inception. The resolution calls on Israel to withdraw from “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” but specifically does not call on Israel to withdraw from all of the territories captured in the Six Day War. “Palestinians” and Jerusalem were not mentioned in 242.

UNRWA – the United Nations Relief & Works Agency for Palestine was created in December 1949 in the wake of Israel’s War of Independence. UNRWA, largely financed by U.S. government donations, oversees over 600 schools and numerous health and social services agencies throughout the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. UNRWA has come under criticism by Israel and pro-Israel advocates for anti-Israel curricula in its schools and has faced occasional accusations that its facilities and staff give cover to terrorists.

Obviously, there are many more topics to address and myriads of arguments to make in order to defend Israel effectively. These topics are an important starting point which will allow you to talk with more familiarity and knowledge. Now, it’s your job to become even more educated and aware. You are Israel’s best defense and best source of education. Take your job seriously; many misconceptions and erroneous assumptions can be dispelled with a little knowledge.

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