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Experts Assess Mideast Progress Four Decades After Six-Day War

Forty years ago, Israel entered the Six-Day War, the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Two regional experts give their perspectives on the Middle East then and now.

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    June 5th marked the 40th anniversary — a milestone Palestinians observed noisily, and Israelis quietly — of the Six-Day War, an event that has defined the Palestinian-Israeli relationship ever since.

    The 1967 war began when Israel, fearing an Arab invasion, launched a preemptive attack on Egypt. In quick succession, the Israelis seized Gaza and the Sinai from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem from Jordan, a monumental victory for Israel and a catastrophe to Arabs.

    Since 1967, the plight of the Palestinians has become a flashpoint for the whole Middle East. Over time, Israel gave back some of what it captured in the war. The Sinai Peninsula returned to Egypt after the Camp David accords. In 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and the Palestinian Liberation Organization's Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn; that led to the formation of the Palestinian Authority. And in 1994, Israel made peace with Jordan, which had earlier relinquished its claim to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

    In 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, forcibly removing Israeli settlers from their homes. But Israel still controls predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem, the home of religious sites of critical importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians. More than 400,000 Israelis also continue to live in settlements in the occupied West Bank, and Israel has now built a separation barrier hundreds of miles long, dividing Israel from the West Bank.

    In 2000, Arab-Israeli conflict resumed following a decade of negotiation and relative calm. This period was known as the Second Intifada, or "uprising," and has left more than 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis dead.

    Today, both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, are significantly weakened among their home constituencies. Olmert's popularity, severely damaged by last year's Lebanon war, is now in single digits.

    The Palestinians are currently without any effective government, as Abbas' Fatah political faction is locked in a roiling conflict with its main rival, the Hamas Party, which controls the legislature. For months, a cycle of intra-Palestinian fighting has brought them to the brink of civil war. Olmert and Abbas were supposed to meet today in the West Bank at the prodding of the Bush administration, but the meeting was cancelled earlier this week.

    Security forces loyal to President Abbas today asked the Israelis, who control all imports and exports to Gaza and the West Bank, to allow the importation of anti-tank missiles, grenades and millions of rounds of ammunition, as a tenuous truce between Fatah and Hamas appears to be collapsing.