Author Archives: Jonathan Kaplan

About Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan is administrative director at the Rothberg International School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The Territories, 1982-1987

At the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a land dispute. In order to understand this dispute it is necessary to know the history of the territory in question. The following article, part three of a four part series on the topic, discusses the situation surrounding the disputed territories as it evolved between 1982 and 1987, starting with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.  It was published in 1998 and is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Agency.

Aftermath of the Lebanon War

The war itself has been seen by some observers as a way for Israel to weaken the PLO [the Palestine Liberation Organization] and pave the way for the rise of an alternative Palestinian leadership with which to negotiate over the issue of autonomy.

One result of the autonomy concept was the reorganization of the military government in the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria and the Gaza Strip. In late 1981 and early 1982, a new civilian administration was created to look after the government of the territories. Authority devolved from the minister of defense to the coordinator of activities in the territories and through him to the head of the civilian administration, all of who were now civilians. The coordinator was to advise, coordinate, and supervise the activities of all government ministries, the civilian administration, state institutions, public authorities, and private bodies in the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

Essentially, the civilian administration represented Israeli government offices to the Arab population of the territories. Alongside the civil administration, military forces under regional commanders continued to operate in the territories in order to ensure security.

Continued Settlement Building  

The Likud advocated extensive Jewish settlement in the territories throughout its years of power, often in areas heavily populated by Arabs. In addition to the Gush Emunim settlements, which were supported by the Likud government, subsidized suburban neighborhoods were created in the territories within commuting distance of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The Beginnings of the Territorial Conflict

This article is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Agency. 

During the Six Day War of June 1967, Israeli forces took the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, the West Bank (often referred to as Judea and Samaria), and the Golan Heights. Although these “territories,” with the exception of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, were never incorporated into the state of Israel, [and Israel eventually withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005] the question of their future has been a central topic in Israeli politics and is at present perhaps the most important issue dividing the major political parties.

Israeli policy regarding the territories has been influenced by diplomatic, security, economic, religious, and moral considerations, and interpreted and prioritized differently by different political leaders and parties. Many observers see the issue of the territories as the key to a resolution of the Arab‑Israeli conflict, and the peace process [when it has been active] indeed has focused on the transfer of power over increasing areas of the territories to a Palestinian Administration. It is therefore important to note at the outset that the Israeli occupation of the territories was a result, and not the cause, of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.the territories


Before 1967, the territories were administered by Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. The Golan Heights were an internationally recognized part of Syria even before the latter’s independence after the Second World War. The Sinai came under British‑Egyptian rule back in 1906. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria were part of the territory defined by the United Nations in 1947 as a Palestinian Arab State.

After the Arab defeat in 1948, Egypt put the Gaza Strip under a military government, and Trans‑Jordan in 1950 annexed the area it held west of the Jordan River, which became known as the West Bank. This annexation was recognized neither in the Arab world nor in the international community. Trans‑Jordan then changed its name to Jordan.

Absorbing the Exiles

Israel’s Law of Return, passed in 1950, allowed for massive Jewish immigration to Israel. Over the next decade, more than 800,000 Jews immigrated to the fledgling Jewish state. The Jewish population at the time of the establishment of the state was approximately 650,000. Thus the new immigrants outnumbered the established residents. Absorption of the new arrivals caused growing pains for Israel, a nation that was simultaneously trying to accommodate new arrivals and build a viable political, economic, and social infrastructure. The following article describes Israel’s absorption policies and their consequences in the 1950s. It is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Agency

Israel’s Absorption Policy

The Israeli authorities dealing with immigration gave first priority to the Holocaust survivors and to those Jewish communities in Moslem countries that required immediate evacuation, namely Yemen and Iraq. With regard to other large Jewish centers such as Morocco, the conditions of which did not seem to warrant such a policy, selective criteria were applied to determine who would be sent to Israel. In November 1951, the Jewish Agency, the body that carried the major responsibility for immigration and absorption, set down guidelines for the selection of immigrants. These criteria continued the pre‑state principles of “pioneering” immigration and favored young, healthy people who would settle and work the land. In the reality of the 1950s, this meant that while the young and strong would be brought to Israel, the older and weaker elements would be left in Morocco.

jewish immigrantsAlthough the policy of selection became the subject of intense public debate in Israel and the regulations were soon revised, the principle of selection was maintained at least until 1956. 

After arriving in Israel, the first objective for new immigrants was to find a place to live. When the state was established, the Jewish Agency had at its disposal only a small number of hostels that together could offer overnight lodging to several dozen people. This was of course completely inadequate under the new reality. New immigrants quickly settled in areas that had been vacated by Arabs during the hostilities of 1948, for example Jaffa, Ramle, Lod, and certain neighborhoods in the major cities. When these areas were full, tent camps were established in which basic needs such as food and education, were provided. Thus, the date of arrival in Israel became a crucial issue. The earliest immigrants received the more desirable homes, closer to the centers of employment, while the later arrivals could find only dwellings on the urban peripheries or in the even more marginal tent camps. A difference of four or five months during 1948‑1949 could make a critical difference in the point at which immigrants began their new life in Israel.

The Mass Migration of the 1950s

The following article is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Agency

The years between 1948 and 1951 witnessed the largest migration ever to reach the shores of modern Israel. This influx began at a time when the state was in the throes of its greatest struggle for survival, the War of Independence, and continued throughout a period troubled by both security concerns and economic hardship. In the mid‑1950s, a second wave arrived in Israel. The immigrants of the country’s first decade radically altered the demographic landscape of Israeli society as well as the balance between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. Many of today’s social issues are rooted in this mass migration: Israel’s rapid economic growth, social stratification, and the formation of new political frameworks and elites. 


Some 688,000 immigrants came to Israel during the country’s first three and a half years at an average of close to 200,000 a year. As approximately 650,000 Jews lived in Israel at the time of the establishment of the state, this meant in effect a doubling of the Jewish population, even in light of the fact that some 10 percent of the new immigrants left the country during the next few years. Although immigration declined rapidly during the early 1950s, another 166,000 arrived in the middle of the decade.


The first immigrants to reach the new state were survivors of the Holocaust, some from displaced persons camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy, and others from British detention camps in Cyprus. The remnants of certain communities were transferred virtually in their entirety, for example Bulgarian and Yugoslavian Jewry. Large sections of other communities, such as those from Poland and Rumania, came to Israel during the first years. After the initial influx of European Jews, the percentage of Jews from Moslem countries in Asia and Africa increased considerably (1948 ‑ 14.4%, 1949 ‑ 47.3%, 1950 ‑ 49.6%, 1951 ‑ 71.0%). During 1950 and 1951, special operations were undertaken to bring over Jewish communities perceived to be in serious danger, for example, the Jews of Yemen and Aden (Operation Magic Carpet) and the Jewish community in Iraq (Operation Ezra and Nehemia). During the same period, the vast majority of Libyan Jewry came to the country. Considerable numbers of Jews immigrated from Turkey and Iran as well as from other North African countries (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria).

The Territories, 1987- 1998

At the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a land dispute. In order to understand this dispute, it is necessary to know the history of the territory in question. The following article discusses the history of the disputed territories between 1987 and 1999. Since then, the Second Intifada broke out, leading to the breakdown of the Oslo Agreements. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Today, Israeli society is still deeply divided regarding the fate of the territories, as attempts to negotiate a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians continue. This article is excerpted with permission from The Jewish Agency.

After the Intifada

The Intifada (literally “shaking off’) or Palestinian uprising in the territories which began at the end of 1987 brought the issue of the territories to a head. The riots that spread from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank/Judea‑ Samaria and the Israeli use of force to combat them led to considerable controversy within Israeli society. Pressure on the government to find a solution to the problem of the territories mounted both from within the country and from without. As seen in the Knesset elections of 1988 which led to a national unity government dominated by the Likud, Israeli society was essentially split down the middle over the preferred policy in the territories. The Likud Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, proposed an autonomy scheme in May 1989 that focused on elections inthe territories as a first stage in autonomy negotiations although this did not gain the support of some of his more hard‑line colleagues.

west bank and gazaThe plan was picked up by the United States and became the basis of the negotiations carried out by Secretary of State James Baker during 1989. Disagreement between Labor and Likud led to the fall of the national unity government in early 1990.

After the Gulf War in early 1991, American efforts at initiating Arab‑Israeli negotiations were resumed, culminating in the Madrid Conference (October‑November, 1991) which set in motion a process of bilateral negotiations between Israel and Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian‑Palestinian delegations respectively. In practice, the delegation split into separate Jordanian and Palestinian teams, and though Israel was formally negotiating with an independent Palestinian delegation, it was in fact dealing indirectly with the PLO. When, after the Labor party (under Yitzhak Rabin) came to power in June 1992, it became apparent that the Palestinian delegation had no real power of its own, Israeli officials began to negotiate in secret with the PLO directly. These negotiations led to an agreement in September 1993 which gave the Palestinians self‑government under a Palestinian Authority (led by Yassar Arafat, then head of the Fatah and Chairman of the PLO Executive) in almost all of the Gaza Strip and the area of Jericho. This was laterextended to most of the Arab cities in the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria, with discussion on permanent status of the territories to be continued at a later date.

The Territories After the Six-Day War

At the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a land dispute–and in order to understand that dispute, it is necessary to know the history of the territory in question. The following article, part two of a four-part series on the topic, discusses the dispute over the territories as it evolved between the years 1967 and 1981. It was published in 1998, and is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Agency.


There were different and even conflicting views within the government on the issue of the territories. 

There were those such as the finance minister, Pinhas Sapir, or the foreign minister, Abba Eban, who argued that incorporation of the territories would lead to economic dependence on cheap Arab labor or isolate Israel diplomatically. Members of some of the more hawkish parties, accompanied by certain voices within the Labor party, emphasized the historical and strategic significance of the territories. For the first time in 19 years, Israel’s economic and demographic center would be out of the range of Arab artillery. Any attempt at invasion or air attack could be stopped before damage was caused to Israeli cities. Control of the Golan Heights released the Israeli settlements below from the constant Syrian shelling and sniping.

gazaProbably the most influential member of cabinet was the defense minister, Moshe Dayan, who emphasized three points:

1. maintenance of security within the territories through the creation of a military government and a network of army bases;

2. normalization of Arab life by allowing Arab residents to maintain their Jordanian, Egyptian, or Syrian citizenship and through the inauguration of an “open bridges” policy that would allow visitors and goods to cross the border between Israel and Jordan;

3. the right of Jews to settle in the territories, which necessitated Israeli investment in infrastructure and encouragement of business and industry in the territories.

A plan was drawn up along these lines by Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon. In the West Bank/Judea-Samaria, a belt of Israeli settlements was to be established along the mostly uninhabited Jordan Valley in order to prevent any attempt at invasion from the East. A corridor at Jericho would allow movement between Jordan and the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria.