Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
(Updated - October 2001)
The violent events recently witnessed in our region are the result of a clear Palestinian decision to pursue violence as a political tool. Israel seeks to resolve its differences with the Palestinians at the negotiating table, while Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have chosen the path of ongoing confrontation. This deliberate choice by the Palestinian leadership to pursue violence rather than negotiation was clearly explained in the Palestinian media. On December 6, 2000, the semi-official Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported as follows:
"Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr. Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this intifada as a culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharonís visit to the Temple Mount."Similar statements have been made by other Palestinian officials, in the Palestinian and Arab press and media. The current confrontation was deliberately initiated, and continues to be nurtured by the Palestinian leadership as a strategic choice on their part. This was true from the earliest days of the crisis, and it remains true today. To that end, Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have:
The true roots of the current violence stem back to the Camp David Summit less than three months earlier, when Arafat clearly demonstrated his rejection of balanced compromise by dismissing all the proposals advanced by the U.S. government. Israel, for its part, declared its willing to consider these proposals as a basis for the negotiations. Consequently, then-President Clinton placed the blame for failure of the talks squarely at Arafat's feet.
It is no coincidence that the violence began at
a time when Israel was expressing its willingness to make unprecedented,
far-reaching compromises in order to reach a workable, enduring agreement.
Arafat was given a real opportunity to achieve a resolution through negotiations
and compromise, and to bring tangible, considerable benefits to the Palestinian
people. However, Israel's olive branch was met with a hail of gunfire,
rocks and firebombs. Rather than risk being labelled as weak by Palestinian
extremists opposed to any form of compromise or conciliation with Israel,
Arafat preferred to cast himself as a relentless revolutionary. Consequently,
he opted to use violence rather than accept compromise.
But Israel did not stop there. The Israeli government made known to the Palestinians, at the Camp David Summit and now publicly, its willingness to move forward in the peace negotiations, and to make far-reaching political, historic and strategic compromises in order to achieve peace. However, despite these compromises, when it became clear to the Palestinian leadership that Israel could not fulfil every Palestinian demand, and that Israel also has aspirations and interests which need to be addressed through reciprocal compromise, the PA chose to break off the negotiations and to re-embark upon the path of violence, which they had pledged to abandon.
From Israel's perspective, ending what the Palestinians view as 'occupation' or a 'denial of rights' is not the issue of contention. That issue could have been equitably addressed through the talks already in progress. For Israel, the core issue now is the Palestinian violation of the bedrock principle of the peace process - that the solution must be predicated upon compromise rather than intractability, and upon negotiation rather than violence.
It is self-evident that the conduct of peace negotiations
calls for tranquility. For this reason, the Israeli government has decided
that the first order of business in any contacts with the Palestinians
will be to end the violence. Only after the violence and terrorism ceases
will it be possible to return to the negotiating table and move forward
on the achievement of a permanent peace settlement.
Israel has no interest in escalating the violence. On the contrary, Israel believes it is imperative that the violence end so that both parties can return to constructive negotiations. Israel maintains that a just and sustainable solution can be found only through dialogue, not armed conflict. However, as long as the violence exists, Israel has an indisputable responsibility to protect its citizens. The Israeli government regrets the loss of any life, whether Jewish or Arab, in the present wave of violence. In the final analysis, however, responsibility for these casualties lies with the Palestinian Authority, which has initiated the violence and stubbornly refuses to bring it to an end.
Currently, Israel in engaged in a situation best defined as an armed conflict. International law in general and the law of armed conflict in particular recognize that individuals who directly take part in hostilities cannot then claim immunity from attack or protection as innocent civilians. By taking part in armed attacks against Israeli civilians or security personnel, such individuals have designated themselves as combatants in the conflict, and have forfeited such legal protection. An individual who becomes a combatant is considered to remain a combatant until such time as the hostilities come to an end and not merely during that exact instant when the individual is carrying out or organizing an attack. They are therefore to be considered legitimate military targets both when planning future attacks, and after their attacks have been committed.
The inaction of the Palestinian Authority in the face of wide spread terrorism in its areas, coupled with the PA's public support for this violence, have left Israel no alternative but to take the necessary action itself to prevent continued terrorism. Therefore, Israel must undertake preventive, precisely-targeted operations which are designed to bring about a cessation of these clear lethal threats. Whenever possible, Israeli operations are directed toward arresting terrorists and their accomplices. In recent months, over 1000 terrorists have been arrested by the IDF and brought to justice. In a small minority of cases, when arrests are impossible (mostly due to the lack of Israeli jurisdiction in PA areas), and when a clear, specific and imminent terrorist threat must be countered, Israel is forced to carry out other types of preventative operations. All civilized nations would act in a similar fashion.
Israel does not condone or take part in 'assassinations' or 'extra-judicial
killings'. These terms are derived from spheres unrelated to armed conflict
and are blatantly misleading descriptions of Israel's justified counter-terrorist
operations in a clear situation of armed confrontation. The widespread
use of these terms by Palestinian spokespersons is intended to portray
Israel and its actions in a pejorative light, while disregarding the legal
reality. Israel only acts in a manner which is in compliance with the principles
and practice of armed conflict, and makes every effort to avoid involvement
of innocent civilians, taking action only in conditions where inaction
by Israel would result in additional loss of innocent lives in imminent
Israel rejects the notion that justice can be
determined by the relative number of casualties on either side. The main
reason there are fewer Israeli casualties is that fewer Israelis involve
themselves in the violence. By way of comparison, casualty totals among
the allied forces in the Desert Storm campaign in Iraq, and of the NATO
forces in Yugoslavia, were much lower than the Iraqi and Serbian casualty
totals, which also included innocent civilians tragically caught in the
cross-fire of the conflicts. Yet, unlike the civilian casualties in Iraq
and Yugoslavia, Palestinian civilians hurt in the violence have deliberately
chosen to involve themselves in initiated confrontations with Israeli armed
The cynical use of children as pawns in the conflict begins in the Palestinian education system. Palestinian textbooks (many of which have been recently published by the Palestinian Authority itself) openly teach hatred against Israel and Israelis. Palestinian education television programming glorifies martyrdom in the struggle against Israel. Palestinian children are trained in the use of firearms in summer camps and in youth groups. This manipulation of the child, which has been extensively documented by the media, constitutes a reprehensible violation of all existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as all international treaties meant to protect children in situations of armed conflict. The PA's heinous exploitation of children is both immoral and illegal, even under Islamic law.
It should be remembered, however, that Israeli children have also been victims of the violence. They have been deliberately targeted and killed by Palestinian sniper fire, or in machine-gun ambushes while riding in their parents' car. Palestinian road-side bombs have maimed children in school busses and mortar shells have injured them in youth clubs. Israeli boys have been bludgeoned and stoned to death by terrorists while hiking near their homes. Suicide bombers have murdered dozens of Israel youths at shopping malls, bus stops and discos.
Although the suffering of every child is tragic
and regretful, a basic difference exists between the two sides. Most Palestinian
children have been hurt due to their direct participation in violent confrontations,
and a minority of the casualties were the unfortunate result of cross-fire
or return fire directed towards terrorist targets. By contrast, Israeli
child victims were the deliberate choice of their terrorist attackers --
the intended and preferred target of the Palestinian bombers, snipers and
Recent history has shown that freedom of worship and the sanctity of Islamic, Christian and Jewish sites in the Holy Land has been guaranteed only when these sites have been under Israeli control. Even during the present wave of violence, the Temple Mount has remained open for Muslim worship, despite the fact that prayers there have become a forum for incitement and rioting. Muslims have even used the Temple Mount courtyard as a location from which to hurl rocks down on Jewish worshippers gathered beneath at Judaism's most revered place of prayer - the Western Wall plaza.
The forced closure of the Western Wall plaza due to the Palestinian stoning of Jewish worshippers on the eve of the Rosh Hashanah High Holiday and again on the solemn fast day of Tisha B'Av is tantamount to the evacuation of St. Peter's Square on Christmas, or the shutdown of Mecca's Qabaa during the height of the Muslim Haj. And yet, various Arab spokesmen continue to maintain that the grossest violation of a sacred site, and the most unforgivable provocation, was that brief visit by an Israeli leader to Judaism's most holy site.
Part and parcel of the Terror Intifada, a campaign
of destruction and desecration has been carried out by Palestinians against
Jewish holy sites. The most blatant example occurred when a Palestinian
mob sacked, demolished and then torched Joseph's Tomb in Shechem (Nablus).
This was perpetrated just after the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the
shrine as part of an agreement under which the Palestinian Authority undertook
to protect the Jewish holy site from harm. Following the attack, Palestinians
seized the site, destroyed the Jewish artifacts, burned the interior and
rededicated the structure as a mosque. Subsequently, there have been further
Palestinian attacks on Jewish synagogues, including the ancient synagogue
of Jericho, which was severely damaged by arson, Rachel's Tomb, which has
been subjected to repeated Palestinian machine-gun fire, and a synagogue
in the town of Efrat which was almost destroyed.
Christian sites have also been dragged into the fray by the Palestinian militants. The frequent gunfire attacks against the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo have been launched from the adjacent Christian Arab village of Beit Jala, by Palestinian terrorists have deliberately chosen to open fire from positions close to churchs or schools. These attacks are a wanton attempt to draw the Christian world into the conflict by provoking Israeli return fire which would damage the village's many Christian shrines. For its part, Israel has done its utmost to respond to these unprovoked attacks with the greatest possible restraint, pinpointing only those terrorist positions from which the attacks have been launched.
"The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use".Some Jewish settlements, such as in Hebron, existed throughout the centuries of Ottoman rule, while settlements such as Neve Ya'acov, north of Jerusalem, the Gush Etzion bloc in Judea, the communities north of the Dead Sea and Kfar Darom in the Gaza region, were established under British Mandatory administration prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. To be sure, many Israeli settlements have been established on sites which were home to Jewish communities in previous generations, in an expression of the Jewish people's deep historic and religious connection with the land.
For more than a thousand years, the only administration which has prohibited Jewish settlement was that of the Jordanian occupation, which during the nineteen years of its rule (1948-1967) declared the sale of land to Jews a capital offense. The right of Jews to establish homes in these areas, and the legal titles to the land which had been acquired, could not be legally invalidated by the Jordanian or Egyptian occupation which resulted from their armed invasion of Israel in 1948, and such rights and titles remain valid to this day.
The principle of international humanitarian law which prohibits the forcible transfer of segments of the population of a state to the territory of another state which it has occupied as a result of the resort to armed force is not relevant to the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. This principle, which is reflected in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, was drafted immediately following the Second World War. As International Red Cross' authoritative commentary to the Convention confirms, the principle was intended to protect the local population from displacement, including endangering its separate existence as a race, as occurred with respect to the forced population transfers in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary before and during the war. This is clearly not the case with regard to the West Bank and Gaza. The attempt to present Israeli settlements as a violation of this principle is clearly untenable. As Professor Eugene Rostow, former US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs has written: "the Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the local population to live there" (AJIL, 1990, vol. 84,p.72)
The provisions of the Geneva Convention regarding forced population transfer to occupied sovereign territory cannot be viewed as prohibiting the voluntary return of individuals to the towns and villages from which they, or their ancestors, had been ousted. Nor does it prohibit the movement of individuals to land which was neither under the legitimate sovereignty of any other state nor owned by other individual. In this regard, Israeli settlements have been established only after an exhaustive investigation process, under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Israel, designed to ensure that no communities are established on private Arab land.
It should be emphasised that the movement of individual Israelis to the territories is entirely voluntary, while the settlements themselves are not intended to displace Arab inhabitants, nor do they do so in practice. Repeated charges regarding the illegality of Israeli settlements must therefore be regarded as politically motivated, without foundation in international law. Similarly, as Israeli settlements cannot be considered illegal, they cannot constitute a "grave violation" of the Geneva Convention, and hence any claim that they constitute a "war crime" is also without any legal basis. Such political charges cannot justify in any way Palestinian acts of terrorism and violence against innocent Israelis - especially in light of the fact that Israel and the Palestinians agreed to negotiate the settlement issue only following Arafat's declaration renouncing terrorism and violence.
Politically, the West Bank and Gaza Strip is best regarded as territory over which there are competing claims which should be resolved in peace process negotiations. Israel has valid claims to title in this territory based not only on its historic and religious connection to the land, and its recognized security needs, but also on the fact that the territory was not under the sovereignty of any state and came under Israeli control in a war of self-defense, imposed upon Israel. At the same time, Israel recognizes that the Palestinians also entertain legitimate claims to the area. Indeed, the very fact that the parties have agreed to conduct negotiations on settlements indicated that they envisage a compromise on this issue.
The agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians contain no prohibition whatsoever on the building or expansion of settlements. On the contrary, it is specifically provided that the issue of settlements is reserved for permanent status negotiations, which are to take place in the concluding stage of the peace talks. Indeed, the parties expressly agreed that the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction or control over settlements or Israelis, pending the conclusion of a permanent status agreement. It has been charged that the prohibition on unilateral steps which alter the "status" of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which is contained in the Interim Agreement and in subsequent agreements between the parties, implies a ban on settlement activity. This position is disingenuous. The building of homes has no effect on the status of the area. The prohibition on unilateral measures was agreed upon in order to ensure that neither side take steps to change the legal status of this territory (such as by annexation or unilateral declaration of statehood), pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations. Were this prohibition to be applied to building, it would lead to the unreasonable interpretation that neither side is permitted to build homes to accommodate for the needs of their respective communities.
It is important to note that, in the spirit of
compromise and in an attempt to take constructive confidence building measures
in the peace process, successive Israeli governments have expressly recognized
the need for territorial compromise in West Bank and Gaza Strip territory
and have voluntary adopted a freeze on the building of new settlements.
In this regard, the present National Unity Government, under Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon, has officially declared that it will not build any new settlements,
while remaining committed to the basic needs of the existing settlement
communities (Government of Israel, Policy Guidelines, March 2001).
The Arab states (with the exception of Jordan) were determined to perpetuate the refugee problem and to exploit it in their struggle to destroy Israel. From 1948 to the present day, the refugees have been confined to crowded camps, where they live in poverty and despair, and as a deliberate policy, no attempt has been made to absorb them into society or to provide for their welfare. This policy was pursued in order to engender international sympathy for the Palestinian cause, at the expense of the Palestinians themselves.
As a first step to the realization of the Palestinian claim to a so-called 'Right of Return' for all descendants of the Arab refugees, it has been demanded that Israel admit its responsibility for the refugee problem. Since Israel is neither responsible for the creation of the refugee problem nor for its perpetuation, it cannot take upon itself, even as a gesture, responsibility for this problem. Such a declaration of reponsiblity would have far-reaching implications. Primarily, it would lend an air of false legitimacy to the historically unprecedented Palestinian demand for an unconditional "right" to "return" to areas that are part of the State of Israel. The arrival of millions of Palestinians in Israel (whose present Jewish and Arab population is just over 6 million) would in effect end Israel's existence as the modern political embodiment of the ancient Jewish nation.
It should be noted that hundreds of thousands
of Jews were forced out of Arab countries, leaving behind vast property
and wealth for which they were never compensated. The number of Jews displaced
as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict is roughly equal to the number
of Arabs, and in effect, this parallel displacement constitutes an exchange
of population similar to those which have taken place in many other instances
of regional conflict in the 20th century (India-Pakistan, Greece-Turkey,
etc.). Israel took these Jews in and integrated them into Israeli society,
despite the burden on its developing economy. Israel has never renounced
its right to submit claims regarding these Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
With this goal in mind, Israel pressed last October at the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit for the formation of a Fact-Finding Committee to investigate the causes of the violence and to recommend ways to prevent their recurrence. The Committee, headed by Former US Senator George Mitchell, presented its findings on April 30, 2001, emphasizing that the crucial factor in any progress is an unconditional cessation of violence and a condemnation of terrorism.
Israel considers the Fact-Finding Committee's report to be a constructive and positive document, and accepted the four-stage outline recommended in the report - a) the cessation of violence; b) a period of calm c) confidence building measures by both sides and d) the renewal of negotiations. Israel feels that the report's approach can serve as an important mechanism to bring about the cessation of violence and thereby create the necessary conditions for the renewal of the peace process on the basis of reciprocity. Immediately following the publication of the report, and as a means of promoting its implementation, Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire - even in the face of a renewed wave of outrageous terrorist atrocities which included the massacre of 21 Israeli teenagers at a Tel Aviv sea-side disco. Israel called upon the Palestinian Authority to join the cease-fire, to put an immediate end to the violence and to return to the negotiations in order to resolve the dispute by peaceful means, as both sides had committed themselves to do in the Oslo Accords. This call remained unheeded.
In the midst of the particularly savage wave of Palestinian suicide terrorism following publication of the Fact-Finding Committee's report, US Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet was dispatched to the region in order to work with the parties on a specific workplan to implement the report's recommended outline. Israel accepted this workplan and began to carry out is provisions. Regretably, beyond lip-service, the Palestinian leadership did nothing to implement the workplan, cease the violence, arrest the terrorists or end their institutionalized incitement to hatred. Today, Israel continues to concentrate its efforts on finding ways to stop the violence in order to return to the negotiating table. Israel calls upon the Palestinians to carry out their obligations under the Oslo agreements and the Sharm el-Sheikh report, to renounce terrorism and rededicate themselves to the pursuit of a negotiated resolution of the conflict.
Israel is also working with the international community to bring pressure to bear on the Palestinian leadership to end the violence. The world community has a very important stake in the outcome of these efforts - primarily because terrorism is a global scourge, and should not be rewarded with political gains. It must be clear to all players in the regional and international arena that violence and terrorism don't pay. If this fundamental principle is disregarded, the stability of region and the globe will be threatened. Furthermore, Yasser Arafat has obligated himself, in signed agreements, to renounce terrorism, cooperate with Israel on security matters and peacefully negotiate a solution to outstanding issues between the parties. The underpinning of international law rests upon the principle that signed agreements must be respected. The international community must therefore hold the Palestinian leadership to account for their wholesale violation of their obligations. To sanction such disregard for signed agreements would undermine a fundamental principle of international legitimacy.
Peace can only be built through mutual dialogue,
not unilateral violence. When the violence is halted, the talking can resume.
It is clear that building peace requires historic compromises on the part
of all sides. Israel has already demonstrated its willingness to make far-reaching
compromises in the service of peace, and expects the Palestinian leadership
can do the same. It is the hope of the Government of Israel that the violence
will soon end, and the efforts to build peace will soon begin again.