The West Bank and the Gaza Strip became distinct geographical units as a result of the 1949 armistice that divided the new Jewish state of Israel from other parts of the British Mandate. The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was ruled by Jordan. while the Gaza Strip was placed under Egyptian military administration. While the shooting stopped, tensions remained high. Following an Egyptian blockade of Israel's port on the Gulf of Aqaba, and shelling of Israel from Syria's Golan Heights, Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in June 1967. As a result of this "Six-Day War," Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Arab sector of Jerusalem. Since that time Judea and Samaria (the term favored by Israeli settlers), aka "Occupied Palestine" (the term favored by the Palestinians) have been a continuing problem. Some scholars have said that Israel won the war in six days… then wound up fighting it for thirty-five years and counting.
Israel has pursued a policy of building settlements on the West Bank for security and religious reasons. Settlements and their adjoining territory cover large parts of the West Bank. Since the 1967 occupation, Israel has either confiscated or declared as closed areas over 55% of the West Bank and 25% of the Gaza Strip, thereby placing those areas out of Palestinian reach. Palestinians are allowed to use less than 15% of their water resources (Israel is a semi-arid country). Presently, there are 18 Israeli colonies in the Gaza Strip housing an estimated 6,000 Israeli colonists, and over 200 in the West Bank with a population of more than 400,000 colonists; half of whom reside in East Jerusalem. Colonies are distributed all over the West Bank. Some of these settlers are militant right-wingers who have engaged in acts of harassment and terrorism against the neighboring Palestinians. most often the Israeli authorities have turned a blind eye to these acts. Israeli citizens have been less tolerant; there is considerable division in Israel about the settlements, and some current polls have shown a majority of Israelis outside the Occupied Territories favor a complete withdrawal.
Others favor the annexation of the West Bank, since some of Judaism's holiest sites are located there. Even those who favor a withdrawal from the "Occupied Territories" are inclined to favor continued Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. Since its capture of the whole of Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has put both East and West Jerusalem under its exclusive control and sovereignty. Israel has put Arab East Jerusalem under Israeli civil law - as distinct from the military administration which for many years governed the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli authorities redrew Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, extending them northwards and southwards. In 1980 Israel passed a law making its annexation of East Jerusalem explicit. Major Israeli settlements now encircle the northern, eastern and southern perimeters of the city.
Many foreign observers believe that Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank will result in a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict. The evidence suggests otherwise: since granting limited Palestinian sovereignty in 1994 with the Oslo Accords, Israel has seen a rash of suicide bombings and other attacks. The Palestinian Authority has shown little desire to reign in its problem children; in many cases, PA officials have been directly linked to terrorist attacks. Many Palestinians see the West Bank as the first step toward "Palestine from the river to the sea" and remain committed to the destruction of the "Zionist Entity." Much as American troops were forced to maintain order with too few soldiers, the Israeli military has been restricted to limited operations. While these have served to capture a few militants, for the most part they have only served to further rile the Palestinian population, and feed into the ongoing cycle of attack and reprisal. To date the Palestinian Authority's human rights record in the Territories has been even less impressive than Israel's. "Collaborators" and "traitors" are regularly subjected to extrajudicial executions, as are critics of the Arafat regime or Palestinian civilians who run afoul of one or another of the various groups vying for power in Palestine.
While it is clear that the present state of affairs cannot continue, there are few superior alternatives. Israeli annexation of the territories and recognition of the 2.5 million Palestinians living there would mean the end of Israel as a "Jewish state;" Palestinians would outnumber Jews, particularly when demographic trends are considered. The creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza will leave over 200,000 Israelis homeless, in a country with a long housing crunch… while the transfer of the Palestinians to Syria, Jordan and Egypt will result in a widespread international outcry and, most likely, yet another war with the neighboring countries. There are no easy solutions to the Israeli occupation… indeed, there may be no good answers at all.