"The future of the Middle East depends
on the Palestinians. They have advanced to the centre of the world stage
the future and the fate of ..Palestinians increasingly dominate the search for
- Lord Caradon
Palestine is located in South-West Asia and is in the heart of the Middle East. To its north is Syria and Lebanon, to its south the Gulf of Aqaba and the Sinai Peninsula, and on its east is Jordan. Historic Palestine was once a land stretching from the Mediterranean coast east across the Jordan River, and from the Gulf of Aqaba north beyond the Sea of Galilee. Today this geographical area is divided into the state of Israel (established in May 1948), and the West Bank (including eastern Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip which Israel occupied in 1967. The struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is one of the most enduring and explosive of all the world's conflicts with it roots in historic claim to the land. For the Palestinians the last 100 years have brought colonisation, expulsion and military occupation, followed by a long and difficult search for self-determination and for coexistence with the nation they hold responsible for their suffering and loss. For the Jewish people of Israel, the return to the land, they believe to be the land of their forefathers, after centuries of persecution around the world, has not brought peace or security. Palestinian cities, villages, and most of the 19 official refugee camps were transferred to a self-governing Palestinian Authority in the 1990s under the Madrid/Oslo 'peace process.' The area, however, remains under Israeli occupation with the bulk of the land area under full Israeli military control.
The Palestinian conflict is the single issue that has generated the largest number of resolutions in the United Nations. Although Palestine can be described as a small territory, and the Palestiniansthe indigenous Arab people of Palestine a relatively small population, numbering 6.8 million in 1996, the Palestinian problem has loomed large on the international scene. Nearly all Third World states in Africa and Asia and some in Latin America severed diplomatic relations with Israel after the Israeli-Arab war of 1973. Earlier, in 1967, the former Soviet bloc countries cut diplomatic ties with Israel as a consequence of the June War of that year. Indeed, many Third World governments expelled the Israeli diplomatic missions from their capitals and offered their premises to the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO], internationally recognized in 1974 as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Since the end of the cold war, most countries have restored diplomatic relations with Israel. New nations born out of the collapse of the Soviet Union fostered relations with Israel and the PLO alike.
Only Israel, the United States, and a few U.S. allies, clients, and dependencies continued to deny recognition of the Palestinians as a people and the PLO as a their legitimate representative. The long-held minority position of the United States and Israel, combined with the rise in international influence of the Palestinians since 1967, often placed the U.S. government in an untenable position. That was before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Palestinian intifada against Israeli occupation that exploded in December 1987, and the Gulf War of 1991.
After these dramatic changes, the United States, as the remaining superpower, launched a more sustained peace process in 1991, after the Gulf War. This effort, spearheaded by then Secretary of State James Baker, culminated in the 1991 Madrid peace conference, which brought to the negotiating table Israel, the surrounding Arab states, and representatives of the Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (but not the PLO, because of both Israeli and U.S. objections). The Madrid peace conference, followed by eleven rounds of bilateral and multilateral negotiations in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, reached an impasse that lasted until September 13, 1993, when the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles (the Oslo Accords) were signed. The handshake between Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO, and Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of Israel, following the signing initiated a new reality that would change the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the future of the Palestinians and the Middle East for generations to come.
(Sources: http://www.palestinecenter.org;The Lonely Planet;