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Israel and Palestinian Authority, History

Although the modern state of Israel came into being in 1948, its history is based on an ancient Jewish connection to the region, a recurrent theme in Jewish tradition and writing since the 2nd millennium bc. King Saul established the first Hebrew state, the Kingdom of Israel, in the region of Palestine in the 11th century bc. Saulís successors, David and Solomon, further consolidated the kingdom. The southern part soon became the independent kingdom of Judah. When both kingdoms were defeated by the 6th century bc, most Jews were exiled from Palestine. The desire of the exiled Jews, known collectively as the Diaspora, to return to their historical homeland is recorded in the Bible and became a universal Jewish theme after Roman rulers destroyed the ancient city of Jerusalem in ad 70.

The modern concept of a Jewish homeland in Palestine began in the late 19th century, when the region was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1880 Palestine had a Jewish population of about 25,000, composing about 5 percent of the total population in the predominantly Arab region. Jews resided primarily in Jerusalem and in other holy cities such as ?efat, Tiberias, and Hebron. In the early 1880s Eastern European Jews, primarily from Russia and Poland, began to immigrate to the region to escape persecution. Beginning in the mid-1890s Zionism, the movement to unite Jews of the Diaspora and settle them in Palestine, further bolstered immigration. In his book The Jewish State (1896), Hungarian-born Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl analyzed the causes of anti-Semitism and proposed as a solution the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. In 1897 Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress, representing Jewish communities and organizations throughout the world, in Basel, Switzerland. The congress formulated the Basel Program, which defined Zionismís goal: ďto create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law.Ē The congress also established the movementís administrative body, the World Zionist Organization (WZO).

By 1914 the Jewish population of Palestine had grown to about 85,000, or about 12 percent of the total population. In 1917, during World War I, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, which expressed Britainís support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. By issuing the declaration Britain apparently hoped to generate support from both American and Russian Jews for the Allied war effort and to preempt efforts by its rival, Germany, to win Jewish support by issuing a similar declaration. Britainís main long-term goal was to retain Palestine as a strategic territory after the war. Despite these underlying motives, the Zionist movement saw the declaration as an important achievement promoting Jewish settlement and development in Palestine. However, the British had already made two previous agreements to others in the region. In the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 Britain had agreed to split the Ottoman lands into British, French, and Russian areas of control upon defeating the Ottomans. The British had also made vague promises in 1915 and 1916 to support Arab independence in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire in return for Arab support of British forces against the Ottomans. Aided by the Arabs, the British captured Palestine from the Ottomans in 1917 and 1918.

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