Glossary of the Mideast conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been burning at different intensities for more than half a century, threatening peace far beyond the region. Below is a list of terms at the heart of the conflict, essential to continuing reconciliation efforts.


1949 border
1967 border
Areas A, B and C
Camp David Accords
East Jerusalem

Gaza Strip

Golan Heights

Temple Mount

Intifada, first
Intifada, second

Israeli Arabs
Oslo Accords
Palestine National Authority
Resolution 242
Right of return

Six Day War
West Bank
West Bank Wall
Yom Kippur War

1949 border: Recognised officially by the United Nations as the borders of Israel after the 1948 war, this demarcation line was the result of the armistice between Israel and the defeated Arab nations, and excluded the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The 1949 armistice lines are also known as the “green line”.

1967 border: A result of the 1967 Six Day War, this new de facto border comprised the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (Syria), Gaza, the Sinai (Egypt) and the West Bank, including Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from the Sinai after the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.

Al-Nakba: The word meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic is used to evoke the 1948 war preceding the creation of the state of Israel, during which an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes. The issue of whether or not displaced Palestinians should be able to return to their former land remains a sticking point in Mideast negotiations (see "right of return").

Areas A, B and C: Terms used to indicate administrative and security control of geographic zones in the occupied West Bank. Area A consists of Palestinian towns controlled by the Palestinian leadership. Area B is controlled by Israel, with some administrative power given to Palestinians. Area C, fully controlled by Israel, includes all the Israeli settlements, plus zones deemed sensitive, and covers 60 percent of the West Bank.

Camp David Accords: A 1978 US-brokered agreement signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, at the Camp David presidential retreat compound in Maryland. The accords normalised diplomatic relations between the two neighbouring countries, and set a framework for negotiations to establish autonomous Palestinian authority in the West Bank and Gaza. The fate of Jerusalem was excluded from the accord.

East Jerusalem: The areas of Jerusalem Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war. While Israel maintains that Jerusalem in its entirety is its “eternal, indivisible” capital, the Israeli annexation has never been recognised by the UN. Palestinians have vowed to make East Jerusalem the capital of their promised state. Israelis continue moving into this part of the city – an estimated 200,000 Israelis live in Jewish developments knows as “neighbourhoods” by Israelis and “settlements” by the UN and the international community. They live alongside about 250,000 Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem.

Fatah: The largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Fatah, which means “opening” in Arabic, is the reverse acronym for “Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini” or Palestine National Liberation Movement. Founded in 1954 by Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders in exile, Fatah waged an armed struggle against Israel and joined the PLO in 1967.

Gaza Strip: Located on the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt, this territory is home to an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians. Following a unilateral Israeli withdrawal in 2005, Gaza is technically considered part of the Palestinian territories, but Israel and Egypt continue to control its borders and airspace. On the ground, the area is ruled by Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006.

Golan Heights: A mountainous region wedged between Israel, Syria and Lebanon, this former Syrian territory was occupied by Israel in the June 1967 war and annexed in 1981. The United Nations, the European Union and the United States consider the Golan Heights Syrian territory occupied by Israel.

Hamas: From the Arabic acronym for "Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya," or Islamic Resistance Movement, this organisation is the largest Palestinian militant movement. It has often offered Israel long term ceasefires, but has consistently refused to recognise the state of Israel or reject violence in its aim of establishing an autonomous Islamic state in the Palestinian territories. Hamas’s victory in January 2006 general legislative elections led to a power struggle with rival Palestinian party Fatah, and to a de facto geographic division of Palestinian-held territory, with Hamas controlling Gaza.

Temple Mount: Known as “Har habayit” in Hebrew and “Haram al-Sharif” in Arabic, this religious site in Jerusalem is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. It houses the al Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam. In 2000, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon controversially toured the Temple Mount. It sparked riots, which were lethally put down by the Israeli police, which in turn triggered the second intifada, or uprising.

Intifada, first: The word used in Arabic to describe a massive uprising, this term is used to describe the first sustained, popular, organised outbreak of violence by Palestinians against Israeli rule from 1987 to 1993.

Intifada, second: Also known as the al Aqsa intifada, is the second, popular uprising by Palestinians against Israel that started from 2000, after former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon toured the religious site. The ending date of the Second Intifada is disputed.

Israeli Arabs: Term used by Israel to describe people of Arab descent who stayed in Israel after its creation in 1948. Israeli Arabs make up more than 20 percent of Israel’s population. Only a minority of these citizens describe themselves first as Israelis, preferring to describe themselves as Arabs or Palestinians.

Oslo Accords: Concluded in 1993, following secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway, and signed at a public ceremony in Washington DC on Sept. 13, 1993, which was attended by then US President Bill Clinton, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The first face-to-face agreement between the Israeli government and the PLO, it marked the PLO’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist. The accords however did not settle the three most contentious issues of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, namely the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and the Palestinian right of return, which were deliberately left to be decided at a later stage.

Palestine National Authority: Also known as the Palestinian Authority, it was born of the Oslo agreement and was created to administer territory transferred from the Israeli Civil Administration to Palestinian control.

PLO: Established in 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is committed to liberating Palestinians from Israeli rule. The PLO was later accepted by the international community as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and continues to represent them at the United Nations.

Resolution 242: Adopted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council in 1967, this resolution has been the basis for most Mideast peace proposals and initiatives since. It calls for Israel’s withdrawal from territories occupied during the Six Day War, recognition of Israel’s sovereignty and a just solution to the refugee problem.

Right of return: The notion that Palestinians who left or were forced to leave their homes during the 1948 war that led to the creation of the state of Israel should be able to return to their former land. The Israeli government has opposed the idea of a Palestinian right of return, since it would eliminate the Jewish majority.

Settlements: General term used for communities established by Israelis in the occupied territories. Settlements are considered a violation of international law, as well as an obstacle to the advancement of peace talks, by Palestinians and much of the international community. The removal of settlers from Gaza in 2005 met fierce protests from some Jews, with Israeli security forces forcibly removing some protesters.

Six Day War: A 1967 war between Israel and neighbouring Arab countries Egypt, Syria and Jordan, which resulted in Israel taking control of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The war began when Egypt ordered the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping troops from the Sinai Peninsula, prompting Israel to launch what it said was a pre-emptive strike against Arab nations it deemed were preparing an attack.

West Bank: Located on the Jordan River, this Palestinian territory has been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Six Day War. According to the 1993 Oslo accords, some parts of the West Bank are controlled by Israel and some by the Palestinian Authority. However, Israel maintains full control of the West Bank's borders and airspace.

West Bank Wall: Erected from 1994 by Israel, the formidable barrier’s stated purpose is to protect West Bank settlements from attacks. It is being built mainly in the West Bank and partly along the “green line”. In July 2004 the UN’s International Court of Justice determined that the construction of the wall was illegal.

Yom Kippur War: This three-week war in 1973 started when Syria and Egypt launched a surprise attack against Israel on its yearly “day of atonement”. If the Six Day War was considered a disaster for the Arab side, the Yom Kippur War, which saw early gains by Syria and Egypt mostly reversed by the time a UN-brokered ceasefire was implemented, nevertheless shook Israel’s image of military invincibility.

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