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These documents offer insight and background on the establishment of the state of Israel and the century-long quest for peace between Jews and Arabs.

Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, 1896

Explore the Yale Law School Avalon Project's full range of documents on the Middle East conflict:

» The Middle East, 1916-2001: A Documentary Record

» U.N. Security Council resolutions relating to the Middle East

Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian-born Jew, is considered the father of political Zionism. His 1896 pamphlet, "The Jewish State," set forth the framework for establishing a Jewish nation. "No one can deny the gravity of the situation of the Jews," wrote Herzl. "Wherever they live in perceptible numbers, they are more or less persecuted." In this essay, Herzl indicated that there were two territories being considered for the location of the Jewish state -- Palestine and Argentina. "Shall we choose Palestine or Argentine?" asked Herzl. "We shall take what is given us." (Jewish Virtual Library)

The Balfour Declaration, 1917

A major triumph for the Zionist movement, this note from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild relayed the British government's "declaration of sympathy" for Jewish Zionist aspirations. "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people," wrote Balfour. The declaration made clear, however, that those who endeavored to establish a Jewish state should do nothing to compromise the civil and religious rights of non-Jews in Palestine. Some in the Arab world considered this public declaration at odds with Great Britain's previous war-time alliances with Arab states, a matter which preoccupied diplomatic circles for years afterward. (Yale Law School Avalon Project)

Churchill White Paper, 1922

After significant conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill set forth his government's revised positions in his white paper of June 1922. While Churchill did not explicitly oppose the goal of a Jewish state, his statement was interpreted as a setback to the Zionist movement. "Unauthorized statements have been made to the effect that the purpose in view is to create a wholly Jewish Palestine," wrote Churchill. "Phrases have been used such as that Palestine is to become 'as Jewish as England is English.' His Majesty's Government regard any such expectation as impracticable and have no such aim in view." (Yale Law School Avalon Project)

League of Nations: Mandate for Palestine, 1922

Following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the territories formerly under the Turkish empire's control were divided between France and Britain. At the San Remo Conference in April 1920, the principal allied powers awarded Britain the mandate for Palestine. (Britain also was awarded the mandates for Transjordan and Iraq; France gained control of Syria and Lebanon.) In 1922, the League of Nations confirmed the mandate, which specifically recognized the historical connection between the Jewish people and Palestine. According to the mandate, Britain "shall be responsible for placing the country [Palestine] under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home ... and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race or religion." Britain was also charged with facilitating the immigration of Jews to Palestine. (Yale Law School Avalon Project)

Palestine Royal Commission (Peel Commission): Report, 1937

Lord Peel headed this British royal commission that was appointed in 1936 and issued its report in 1937. The report's authors said that the underlying causes of the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs were intractable and that the only viable solution was to partition the territory. "An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country," the authors wrote. "The Arabs desire to revive the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews desire to show what they can achieve when restored to the land in which the Jewish nation was born. Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State." The suggested plan would give 20 percent of Palestine to the Jews, leaving the remainder for the Palestinians. Both sides rejected the report's recommendations, as did the British government the following year. (Jewish Virtual Library)

British White Paper, 1939

After failed efforts to resolve the conflicts between the Arabs and Jews, Britain issued another white paper in May 1939, finally clarifying its position on the establishment of a Jewish state. The British government, the paper read, "declare[s] unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish state." The British government maintained its objective of establishing an independent Palestine within 10 years. Meanwhile, there were to be new limits on Jewish immigration and land purchases, which the Jews strongly rejected. Although many of the Arab leaders' demands were met in this white paper, they, too, rejected the plan on the grounds that they wanted Palestine to become an Arab state immediately and Jewish immigration to stop altogether. (Yale Law School Avalon Project)

 />U.N. General Assembly: Resolution on the Future Government of Palestine (Resolution 181), 1947

Britain, unable to resolve the differences between the Arabs and Jews and with its mandate in tatters, referred the Palestinian problem to the United Nations in February 1947. The U.N. Special Committee on Palestine issued its report and recommendations in August 1947, and the General Assembly endorsed the plan in November 1947 by a vote of 33 to 13. (The U.S. and Soviet Union, in rare agreement, voted for the resolution; Britain did not.) The resolution called for the partition of Palestine and the establishment of separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under international control. (See the map of the proposed partition.) The Jewish leadership ultimately accepted Resolution 181; Arabs rejected it. It was never implemented. (Yale Law School Avalon Project)

State of Israel: Proclamation of Independence, 1948

Amid unremitting conflict between Arabs and Jews following the announcement of the U.N. partition plan, the State of Israel declared its independence. "The Nazi holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe," the proclamation read, "proved anew the urgency of the re-establishment of the Jewish state. ... It is, moreover, the self-evident right of the Jewish people to be a nation, as all other nations, in its own sovereign State." (Yale Law School Avalon Project)

U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, 1967

Nearly six months after the Six-Day War in 1967 -- a spectacular military victory for Israel in which it doubled the size of the territory under its control, occupying the Sinai peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Golan Heights -- the U.N. Security Council issued Resolution 242. The resolution stated that in order for peace to be achieved in the region, Israel would have to withdraw "from territories occupied in the recent conflict." Over the next 35 years, peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians would focus on achieving a return to the pre-1967 borders. (Yale Law School Avalon Project)

Ed. Note: See journalist Eric Black's examination of the competing interpretations of Resolution 242 by Palestinians and Israelis.

Palestinian National Charter, 1968

Adopted by the Palestine National Council in July 1968, the charter dictated that "[a]rmed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine." Palestine, it read, was an "indivisible territorial unit." Further, it established that "Zionism is a political movement organically associated with international imperialism. ... It is racist and fanatic in its nature, aggressive, expansionist, and colonial in its aims, and fascist in its methods." (Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the U.N.)

Camp David accords, 1978

Signed by Egypt, Israel, and the United States at the White House in September 1978, the Camp David accords guaranteed the return of Sinai to Egypt and set the framework for Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza. All subsequent negotiations, the accords said, should "recognize the legitimate right of the Palestinian peoples and their just requirements." Formally titled "A Framework for Peace in the Middle East" and "A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty Between Egypt and Israel," the accords were condemned two months later at a summit of the Arab League. In 1981, Anwar el-Sadat, the Egyptian leader who signed the accords along with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was assassinated by Islamic extremists opposed to peace with Israel. (Yale Law School Avalon Project)

Oslo Accord, 1993

Signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the White House, the historic Oslo accord signaled a new era in peace negotiations. In the accord -- formally titled "The Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements" -- the Palestinians and Israelis formally agreed that "it is time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict" and "strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace." The accord was not a peace agreement, per se; rather it was an agenda for negotiations. The core issues -- Palestinian refugees, permanent borders, settlements, and Jerusalem -- were left for later resolution following interim, "confidence building" agreements between Israelis and Palestinians. Two years after the agreement was signed, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist opposed to peace with the Arabs. (Yale Law School Avalon Project)

Ed. Note: See FRONTLINE's background and analysis on the Oslo accord and subsequent peace negotiations that Oslo mapped out.

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