Study 1

The Middle East Today

Focus – discussion of events of the 20th Century leading to the current situation

In this first study we will look at:

·         the current status of the conflict;

·         some terms currently used in the reporting of Middle East events;

·         geography of the Middle East; and,

·         20th Century History of the Middle East focussing on Israel.

Current status

It is very hard to be precise about the current status of events in the Middle East because the situation is so volatile. However, there is almost constant conflict. The violence that commenced in September 2000 still continues. Israelis and Palestinians blame each other. There has been little progress in peace negotiations, despite the efforts of former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and subsequently, Defence Secretary Colin Powell. The current US President  spends little time on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

There is constant violence between Israeli troops and Palestinians, with both sides accusing each other of starting each incident.

Problems with the peace negotiations led to the resignation of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and for him to instigate elections. This was been seen by many to be a political ploy to stop former Prime Minister Edward Netanyahu from being able to contest the election to become Prime Minister at that time. At the same time, Mr Barak wished to gain a mandate for his position in the peace negotiations. The subsequent election of Ariel Sharon led to an escalation of violence that still continues.

In effect, negotiations have reached a stalemate. Palestinians are renewing their sniping and continue to carry out various forms of terrorist activity against Israelis.  Israelis respond with more sophisticated weapons. An undercurrent to all of this is the delayed unilateral declaration of the state of Palestine, despite Gaza now being in the hands of Palestinians.

What have been the events that have led to this current situation? Why is there such contention over various parcels of land, specifically, the West Bank, Gaza strip and Jerusalem? Why is there absolute hatred between Palestinians and Israelis, and between Israelis and many Arabs?

We will now look at the geographical, historical and cultural issues, mostly in the 20th century, that have led to the current situation.

Some terms
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – This was formed in 1964 to bring together a variety of Palestinian resistance groups that had existed previously and which had conducted guerrilla style activities against the State of Israel. Two of these groups are Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Fatah – This is the dominant terrorist group within the PLO. It has members on the PLO executive and generally controls the PLO’s finances. It was formally established in 1965 with its leader Yasser Arafat. It joined the PLO in 1968 and became the dominant group in 1969 with Arafat being elected as the Chairman until he died in 2004. Fatah was replaced by Hamas in the January 2006 Palestinian elections.

Hamas - A resistance movement created by Palestinians in 1987. The group is listed as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, the European Union, Israel, and the United States, and is banned in Jordan.

Intifada – This is an Arabic word meaning "uprising" and refers to the strikes, riots, demonstrations and violence carried out against Israel in the Gaza strip and the West Bank of Jordan. It is an activity embraced by a number of organisations including the PLO and the Hamas or Islamic Resistance Movement. The uprising was instrumental in pressuring Israel to grant self-rule to the Gaza strip and to the West Bank town of Jericho in 1993 and later extended to other towns and refugee camps in the West Bank in 1995.

Jihad – This is a religious war waged by Muslims against unbelievers.

Mossad – This is one of five Israeli intelligence organisations whose activities include intelligence gathering, espionage and covert political operations in foreign countries. It has been involved in such activities as the rescue of hostages in the highjacked airliner in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976, and the bringing to trial of various war criminals.

Hezbollah - This is an Arabic meaning "Party of God". Initially, it was a guerrilla group modelled on the Muslim fundamentalism of Iran and committed to promoting Islamic activism in Lebanon and thwarting Western influences. While it still maintains some guerilla activities against Israel, it is now a political party striving to achieve its aims in Lebanon through political means.

Geography of the Middle East
What can be readily noticed when looking at a Map of the Middle East (see
Map 3 below) is the nearness of Israel’s neighbours/potential enemies to its sovereign land. Frequent artillery assaults on villages in the north of Israel was the reason that Israel took the Golan Heights some years ago. Its belief in an improvement of relations with Syria, and an attempt to be conciliatory led to the partial withdrawal from that region during 2000.

What kind of relationship does Israel have with its neighbouring countries?

Jordan has become increasingly more closely involved with America, particularly with respect to trade and military exercises. King Hussein facilitated Israel’s withdrawal from Hebron in 1997. Relations deteriorated when Mossad agents were captured when they tried to assassinate a Hamas leader in Jordan. Jordan, however, recognises the existence of Israel in that it accepted the credentials of a new Israeli ambassador in October, 1997.

Syria, once a hard-line Arab country, has changed its stance towards the West since the Gulf War. Mr Barak probably reflects at least in a superficial way, current thinking of some Israelis towards Syria when he stated that President Assad was "a great leader, a man of his word and the shaper of modern Syria". Some current international thinking is that President Assad is not the great leader for which he was earlier recognised.

Egypt has supported the Middle East peace process through President Mubarak. Specifically, in 1998, the President met with the then Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss ways in which peace may be further pursued and President Mubarak also tried to revitalise peace discussions between Israel and Syria. There is currently significant trade between Egypt and Israel.

Lebanon has continued its conflict with Israel, largely due to the influence of the Hezbollah and the antagonism of Islamic fundamentalism to Christianity. Part of the problem has been the 1989 accord that Lebanon has a Maronite (an Eastern-rite community of the Roman Catholic Church) Christian president, a Sunni Muslim Prime Minister and a Shi’ite Muslim speaker of the National Assembly.

Saudi Arabia has often been criticised by other Arab countries for its support of the United States. As an American ally, it has little relationship with Israel and seems to avoid an overt position in relation to the Middle East peace process.

Iraq has relaxed a previous antipathy towards Israel since the Gulf War and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Iran remains the most contentious of Middle Eastern countries in its relationship to Western and Arab worlds. Iran is committed to the total destruction of Israel and, in terms of potential military involvement, Israel is very concerned about the threat Iran poses.  Israel has voiced fears that Iran has the missile and nuclear technology (purchased from Russia) to wage attacks against Israel.

20th Century History of Middle East events focussing on Israel

Theodore Herzl founded the Zionist movement in Basle, Switzerland. In a pamphlet published in 1896, The Jewish State, he argued that the displaced Jews throughout the world should be able to form a Jewish State in Palestine and that this was best accomplished by a council consisting of many of the world’s nations.

Lord Balfour, the then British Foreign Secretary, proposed that the British Government should establish in Palestine "a national home for the Jewish people". At the same time, the Declaration made the point that nothing should be done to prejudice the rights of non-Jewish communities.

Map 1: British Division 1922 - 1946

The council of the League of Nations, approved a British mandate over Palestine that assisted in facilitating immigration for Jews wanting to take part in the development of this state. The provisions of the Balfour Declaration specifically excluded immigration to the east of the Jordan River.

Large numbers of European Jews began to immigrate to Palestine legally and illegally, many to flee Nazi persecution. In 1936, Palestinian Arabs opposed to the Jews formed an Arab High Committee. Many discussions between Britain, Jews and Arabs followed with no satisfactory outcome. The outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 caused a lull in further discussions.

1946 and 1947
In 1946, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry recommended that 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe be admitted to Palestine. Britain did not accept this recommendation and requested that the United Nations decide on the issue. The UN adopted a plan dividing Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. Fighting broke out between Jewish groups favoring the plan and Arab groups opposed to it.

Map 2: British Mandate, 1946

On 14 May, Israel officially became an independent state. Armies from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Transjordan (now Jordan) immediately invaded in an attempt to destroy the Jewish state. Jordan annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Israel defeated the Arab invaders and acquired much of Arab Palestine, including West Jerusalem.

Map 3: Israel Before and After the 1948-1949 War

Israel invaded Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula along with French and British forces in retaliation for Egypt’s blocking of the Strait of Tiran. The troops were forced to withdraw by the United Nations.

In many ways, the six-day war that erupted in June was a repeat of the war of 1948 and 1949. Syria claimed that Israel was massing troops on its border. This provided Egypt and Jordan with the excuse needed to sign a mutual defence pact
. Fearing an Arab invasion, Israel attacked and defeated the forces of its Arab neighbors. Israel gained complete control of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and the West Bank.

Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. After initial setbacks, Israeli forces repulsed the invasion and captured additional Syrian territory.

President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, and Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin with the arbitration of US President Jimmy Carter signed a peace treaty known as the Camp David Accords. Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula.

Israeli forces mounted a large invasion of Lebanon in retaliation for attacks on northern Israel by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon. The PLO had to withdraw from Lebanon.

Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began a series of uprisings known as the intifada against Israeli rule.

Israel and the PLO signed a historic peace agreement paving the way for limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under a new ruling body, the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho came under the administration of the PA. The leaders of Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty.

Israel and the PLO signed a second peace agreement extending limited Palestinian self-rule to many Palestinian areas of the West Bank. An Israeli opposed to the peace agreements assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The election of a conservative government and continued Palestinian terrorist activity stalled further peace agreements.

2000 - 2002
Leader of Right Wing Likud Party visited Temple Mount, Jerusalem on 28th Sept. 2000. He said, "Jerusalem is a symbol that kept the Jews together for thousands of years Jerusalem is a symbol. You don’t touch it." This sparked another intifada by the Palestinians that has continued ever since. Considerable, and generally unproductive discussions have been held over two years between President Clinton, President Bush, Prime Minister Barak, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat. Key issues, still unresolved, are:

  • the existence of the State of Israel;

  • the borders of the Palestinian State;

  • Jewish settlements;

  • Palestinian refugees;

  • armed forces;

  • status of Jerusalem; and,

  • water.

Of these the most important was the future of Jerusalem. Some points to consider in relation to Muslim claims over Jerusalem are:

  • it has never been an imperial or provincial Capital under the Muslims;

  • no Islamic school of note has ever been established there, although it is the site of Moslem   holy places;

  • it is insignificant next to Mecca and Medina, the twin cities where Muhammad lived;

  • it is not the place to which Muslims pray, and it is not once mentioned in the Qur’an or in prayers.

In relation to Israel’s claim, Yitzak Rabin said:

"We remember - and we know that Jerusalem is the very heart of the Jewish people, and the one and only united capital of the State of Israel. … And we know that this is the place to which every Jew turns in his prayers, and of which generations dreamt and poets wrote. Thus, from our perspective, Jerusalem is ours - it was and will be ours."

In summary
In terms of modern history, it can be seen that there has been continual conflict between Jews and Arabs. Arabs have generally resisted the establishment of a separate Jewish State and have actively, but unsuccessfully, tried to obliterate Jewish people. Britain initially supported the concept of a separate State but reduced this support in the time leading to its establishment. The United States has consistently supported Israel politically and militarily although it is now expressing some concerns about its current policies.

In Study 2 we will show that the basis of this conflict extends back some 4,000 years and is carefully chronicled in the Bible’s Old Testament. In Study 3 we will draw to your attention a number of prophecies that show that God is in control of Israel’s destiny – that, broadly speaking, many of the events that have already taken place were prophesied many years ago. In Study 4 we will analyse some prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled and that we believe will be in the not too distant future.

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