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Home   »  Resources  »  Miscellaneous Resources  »  Understanding the Conflict: A ...  »  PART TWO: The Other Players

Why is Israel isolated from Arab countries in the region and in the UN and other international forums?


Some of Israel's isolation reflects antagonism from neighboring countries, and some of it stems from Israel's own orientation and self-definition in the world. At the time the State of Israel was created, there was already wide-spread antagonism among Palestinians and in surrounding Arab countries towards the large and rapid influx of European Jews. While European Jewish settlement had gone on since the 1880s, the numbers vastly increased in the 1930s and '40s, as Jews escaping the Holocaust, and those who survived it, were rejected by their first-choice countries of refuge, the U.S. and Britain, and instead turned to British-ruled Palestine. Significant loss of land and political power for the indigenous Arab population was the result. Arabs, both Palestinians and others, resented being forced to pay the price for European anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in which they had played no role.

At the same time, the pre-state Zionist organizations and later Israeli government leaders viewed themselves as squarely part of the western, Euro-American part of the world. Despite being located in the heart of the Arab Middle East, Israel positioned itself as a civilized, western outpost_explicitly so in early pleas of support directed at British colonial leaders such as Cecil Rhodes_in a foreign, uncivilized part of the world. From the beginning Israeli officials oriented their economic, political and cultural policies towards Europe and the U.S., rather than making efforts to cultivate ties with their neighbors.

Later, when Israel occupied the last 22 percent of historic Palestine after the 1967 war, as well as occupying Syria's Golan Heights, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, and still later a wide swathe of south Lebanon, Arab anger increased still further. The view of Israel for an entire new Arab generation_Palestinians growing up under occupation, Syrians dismayed at their government's inability to reclaim its lost territory, and more_was shaped by the harsh reality of occupation. And Arab anger towards, and rejection of, Israel increased. In 1968, following the 1967 War, the Arab League voted to reject diplomatic or economic ties with Israel. Even earlier Arab countries had put in place an economic boycott that prohibited trade with Israel. Egypt broke ranks with the rest of the Arab world in normalizing relations with Israel after the Camp David Accords of 1979, and faced years of ostracism within the Arab League. The Arab boycott faded with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and Jordan and Israel agreed to full diplomatic and economic relations in 1994. Other countries, including Oman and Morocco, established various levels of trade and economic ties with Israel.

In the United Nations, certain privileges and positions, including rotating membership in the Security Council, are determined within the regional groups of the General Assembly. Composition of the groups, determined at the height of the Cold War, are partly geographic and partly political (i.e., Eastern Europe and Western Europe are in different regional groups). In a move to protest its occupation and policies towards Palestinians, Israel was excluded from participation in the Asian Group that includes the surrounding Arab countries. In 2000, Secretary-General Kofi Annan orchestrated a campaign within the UN to have Israel accepted by WEOG, the Western European and Others Group, which includes the United States, Canada and others.


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