Wedged along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and the northern Sinai, the Gaza Strip is one of the poorest and most densely populated places in the world. More than 850,000 Palestinians are crowded into 135 square miles of territory. Two-thirds of the Palestinians are refugees from wars in 1948 and 1967 along with their children and grandchildren. About 2,500 Jewish settlers live in settlements scattered mostly along the coast.
In the United Nations' 1947 partition plan for Palestine, Gaza was to have been part of an independent Arab state. Instead, Egypt seized the territory in 1948, and it became a staging ground for raids against Israel. It was captured by Israel in 1967. Before 1948, Gaza was home to a Palestinian elite whose wealth came from citrus groves. The local economy now depends on handouts from the United Nations and residents commuting to jobs in Israel.
It is the west bank of the Jordan River and adjoins the eastern border of central Israel. Under the 1947 U.N. plan for the region, the area was to be part of a new, independent Arab state. Instead, King Abdallah of Trans-Jordan (now Jordan) seized it along with East Jerusalem during the war that broke out in 1948 when Israel declared its independence. He later formally annexed the area, a step recognized only by Britain and Pakistan. Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War and continues to govern it.
The area is home to about 850,000 Palestinians, 110,000 of them in refugee camps. There also are about 100,000 Jewish settlers. Since 1967, Israel has authorized the building of more than 100 Jewish settlements or acquiesced when Israelis claimed land for themselves. About two-thirds of the area is now settlements or military zones. Major Palestinian cities include Hebron, Jericho, Nablus and Ramallah.
This is the older half of the Holy City that includes most of the sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The 1947 U.N. blueprint envisaged all Jerusalem as an international city under some sort of international control. Jordan captured the area after a lengthy siege during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and retained it until Israel's victory in the Six-Day War. Within days of gaining control, Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem. In 1980 Israel declared that "united Jerusalem" was the country's capital, although few countries recognize it as such.
The eastern half now is home to 150,000 Arabs and 140,000 Jews. Most of the Jews live in high-rise neighborhoods built since 1967 to ring the older Arab neighborhoods.
The Golan is 500 square miles of steep, rocky hills towering over Israel's Galilee region. Before 1967, Syria used the heights to launch artillery attacks. Israel captured the area in the 1967 war. In 1981, Israel's parliament extended Israeli civilian law to the area, a measure one step short of annexation.
Its population includes 10,000 Jewish settlers and about 15,000 Arabs, most of them Druse Arabs who had been living under Syrian rule. Syria has demanded the return of the area as a first step toward a peace settlement with Israel.
Established unilaterally by Israel in 1985, the security zone covers an area about 10 miles wide inside Lebanon's southern border with Israel. It was set up three years after Israel's full-scale invasion of Lebanon when Israel, while withdrawing the bulk of its forces from Lebanon, found it needed a way to cope with Shiite Muslims in the south, who had become increasingly radicalized against Israel.
Israel patrols the area with its own troops and also relies on a local mercenary force, the Israeli-trained South Lebanon Army. The Lebanese government exercises no authority in the zone, now the site of frequent clashes between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia.
U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION 242
The resolution was passed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council in November 1967 to end the Arab-Israeli war that year. It has been the basis for all subsequent efforts to start Arab-Israeli peace talks, including the Madrid conference.
The resolution declares there is a need for "a just and lasting peace" and outlines the guiding principles: Withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories, an end to the state of war, mutual acknowledgment of each state's sovereignty and independence, and a solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. Its call for an Israeli withdrawal and an end to the state of war has become enshrined as the formula of "land-for-peace."
When officials refer to Camp David, they are using shorthand for the negotiations that began in 1978 between the leaders of Egypt and Israel at the U.S. presidential retreat near Washington. With coaxing from President Jimmy Carter, Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat signed an agreement there that became the basis for a formal peace treaty signed in 1979.
The "Camp David formula" had two parts. One called for Israel to return all the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in exchange for formal recognition and an end to their state of war -- steps that were taken. The other was a plan for talks over the future of the West Bank and Gaza. Jordan and the Palestinians refused to join Egypt in those talks, which then collapsed. Israel still accepts the outline for the several stages of negotiations, and it has become more attractive to Palestinians.
The idea was introduced at Camp David as a first step toward a Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel's treaty with Egypt called for negotiations to grant autonomy to Palestinians for a period of up to five years, as a transition to a more permanent arrangement. By the end of the third year, talks would begin about a permanent settlement and the signing of a formal treaty.
Autonomy was to allow Palestinians to elect their own local authorities and to take over all functions of government other than foreign affairs and external security. Israel committed itself to withdraw its soldiers from many areas. But many subjects -- including the control of land and water resources -- were to be the subject of negotiations before autonomy began.
They constitute one of the oldest issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict and one of the problems most difficult to solve. Large numbers of Arabs left their homes when the new state of Israel declared its independence in 1948, and few have ever been allowed to return. Some refugees were forcibly expelled, but most fled out of fear that they would be attacked. Historians estimate that a total of 600,000 to 760,000 people left their homes.
Many of the refugees and their children and grandchildren have stayed in camps administered by the United Nations. The camps are located in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as the West Bank and Gaza. According to the United Nations, the camps house a total of 841,000 people, while an additional 1.6 million Palestinians with refugee status live elsewhere. Except for Jordan, Arab states generally have refused to offer the refugees citizenship and have demanded that Israel allow them to return and compensate them for their losses.
PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION
It is a participant at the talks but officially an invisible one. Led by Yasser Arafat, the PLO gave its approval for Palestinians to go to Madrid. It is both their behind-the-scenes sponsor and their insurance policy against physical attack from Palestinian dissidents. Israel maintains it will not negotiate with anyone openly linked to the PLO or who declares he is working on its behalf. Israel regards the PLO as a terrorist organization committed to the elimination of the Jewish state.
The PLO is composed of several mutually suspicious factions. Fatah, led by Mr. Arafat, is the most powerful. Other factions are less enthusiastic about the Madrid conference. All of them were weakened by their backing of Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait, which cost them Arab financial support. The PLO has bowed to political reality by allowing Palestinians in the occupied territories to play the central role in preparing for the conference.