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Middle East, Israel and Palestinian Authority

city Israel, Gulf of Aqaba, Golan Heights, Transjordan, century Palestine

Israel (country), country in southwestern Asia, formed in 1948 as a Jewish state in the historic region of Palestine, and located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel is bounded on the north by Lebanon, on the northeast by Syria, on the east by Jordan, and on the southwest by Egypt. Its southernmost tip extends to the Gulf of Aqaba, an arm of the Red Sea. Israel’s isolated position as a Jewish state surrounded by Arab and predominantly Islamic countries has influenced nearly every aspect of its foreign relations, demography, and economic policy throughout its history.

The origins of the present-day struggle between Israel and Arab nations predate the creation of Israel. Throughout the early 20th century Palestine, as the birthplace of Judaism and site of the ancient Hebrew Kingdom of Israel, became a center of Jewish immigration, encouraged and organized by a movement known as Zionism. Jews clashed with the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of the region throughout the British administration of Palestine from 1918 to 1948. In the years after World War II (1939-1945) the United Nations (UN) developed a plan to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. The Arabs rejected the plan, but the Jews accepted it, and the independent nation of Israel was created in 1948. Five Arab nations—Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq—immediately attacked Israel. In the Arab-Israeli War of 1948-1949 and subsequent wars with its Arab neighbors Israel acquired territory beyond its 1948 boundaries. As a result of the Six-Day War of 1967 Israel took and later annexed the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights, a claim not recognized by most nations. Israel also occupied the West Bank (formerly of Jordan) and the Gaza Strip (formerly of Egypt), areas now partially under Palestinian Arab administration. Even Jerusalem, the city Israel claims as its capital, remains an area of dispute. Predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem has been part of Israel since independence in 1948; Israel captured mostly Arab East Jerusalem in 1967. Israel has since claimed the entire city as its capital. However, the United Nations does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

These territorial conflicts, combined with continued Jewish immigration, have caused major changes in population structure since Israel’s independence. Much of the Palestinian Arab population in the territory that became Israel fled during the 1948-1949 war and became refugees in surrounding Arab countries. Still more Palestinians fled from the areas captured by Israel in 1967 (known collectively as the Occupied Territories; often referred to in Israel as “administered territories”), and thousands of Jews have settled in these areas. Meanwhile, Jewish immigration continued. By the late 1990s Israel had absorbed 2.1 million immigrants since 1948, four times the Jewish population before independence.

Economically, the twin challenges of national security and immigration have been very costly. The economic burden of the military fosters dependence on foreign economic aid, particularly from the United States. Further, political conflict has severely isolated Israel economically from much of the region. Meanwhile, although the absorption and integration of so many immigrants from all over the world is an immense financial undertaking, the constant influx of people with many different skills and backgrounds also contributes to Israel’s economic well-being. Both factors have stimulated the drive to create a successful industrial economy to help pay for necessary infrastructure and services.

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