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Early U.S.-Palestinian Relations

Palestinian U.N. Strategy Highlights Diplomatic History

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Early U.S.-Palestinian Relations

A map of Israel showing the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights.

Courtesy U.S. State Department

Even though Palestine is not an official state, the U.S. and Palestine have a long history of rocky diplomatic relations. With Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas set to appeal for the creation of a Palestinian state at the United Nations on September 19, 2011 -- and the U.S. set to veto the measure -- that foreign policy history is again in the spotlight.

The story of U.S.-Palestinian relations is lengthy, and it obviously includes much of the history of Israel. This is the first of several articles on the U.S.-Palestinian-Israeli relationship.

History

Palestine is an Islamic region, or perhaps several regions, in and around the Jewish-state of Israel in the Middle East. Its four million people live largely in the West Bank along the Jordan River, and in the Gaza Strip near Israel's border with Egypt.

Israel occupies both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It created Jewish settlements in each place, and has waged several small wars for control of those areas.

The United States has traditionally backed Israel and its right to exist as a recognized state. At the same time, the U.S. has sought cooperation from Arab nations in the Middle East, both to achieve its energy needs and to secure a safe environment for Israel. Those dual American goals have put Palestinians in the midst of a diplomatic tug-of-war for nearly 65 years.

Zionism

Jewish and Palestinian conflict began at the turn of the 20th Century as many Jews worldwide began the "Zionist" movement. Because of discrimination in the Ukraine and other parts of Europe, they sought territory of their own around the Biblical holy lands of the Levant between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. They also wanted that territory to include Jerusalem. Palestinians also consider Jerusalem a holy center.

Great Britain, with a significant Jewish population of its own, backed Zionism. During World War I, it took control of much of Palestine and maintained post-war control through a League of Nations mandate finalized in 1922. Arab Palestinians revolted against British rule on several occasions in the 1920s and 1930s.

Only after Nazis staged mass executions of Jews during the Holocaust of World War II did the international community begin backing the Jewish quest for a recognized state in the Middle East.

Partitioning and Diaspora

The United Nations authored a plan to partition the region into Jewish and Palestinian areas, with the intention that each become states. In 1947 Palestinians and Arabs from Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria began hostilities against Jews.

That same year saw the beginning of a Palestinian diaspora. Some 700,000 Palestinians were displaced as Israeli boundaries became clear.

On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence. The United States and most members of the United Nations recognized the new Jewish state. Palestinians call the date "al-Naqba," or the catastrophe.

Full-blown war erupted. Israel beat the coalition of Palestinians and Arabs, taking territory that the United Nations had designated for Palestine.

Israel, however, was always felt insecure as it did not occupy a the West Bank, the Golan Heights, or the Gaza Strip. Those territories would serve as buffers against Jordan, Syria, and Egypt respectively. It fought -- and won -- wars in 1967 and 1973 to occupy those territories. In 1967 it also occupied the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Many Palestinians who had fled in the diaspora, or their descendants, found themselves again living under Israeli control. Although considered illegal under international law, Israel has also built Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank.

U.S. Backing

The United States backed Israel throughout those wars. The U.S. has also continuously sent military equipment and foreign aid to Israel.

American support of Israel, however, has made its relations with neighboring Arab countries and Palestinians problematic. Palestinian displacement and the lack of an official Palestinian state became a central tenet of much anti-American Islamic and Arabic sentiment.

The United States has had to craft foreign policy that both helps keep Israel secure and allows American access to Arab oil and shipping ports.

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