I am consciously shortchanging the issue of Israel's creation in 1948 EV, because it (a) raises wildly controversial issues, which nevertheless (b) have little continuing relevance today for anyone not actually trying to write a final peace agreement. Short version:
Over many decades, large numbers* of people -- "Zionists" -- worked by various means, some fair and some foul**, to establish a recognized Jewish homeland in the middle east. These efforts were given fresh impetus at the end of World War II, in large measure thanks both to the revelation of Hitler's Holocaust, and the defeat of Arab states which had politically sided with him: three years after the war's end, the nascent "international community" granted recognition to the nation of Israel.
As one might imagine, this did not sit well with the new nation's neighbors***...and their never-quiescent resistance flared up, bigtime, nearly twenty years later, in 1967. While many radical middle easterners still consider the nation of Israel illegitimate in itself, the majority of today's controversy stems from 1967, because that was when Israel, facing attack from its Arab neighbors, not only defeated said neighbors militarily -- in a mere six days -- but, crucially, took and claimed lands it had not been granted in the original 1948 recognition. These are the famous "occupied territories": i.e., lands held by Israel, obtained by use of arms, and in international dispute ever since.
The basic arguments about these lands:
"You were preparing to attack us. We defeated you. To the victor goes the spoils."
"Not so fast. The international community disputes your holding of those lands."
"Well, maybe we'll trade some back for peace. Let us think about it."
"The hell you say! This means war!"
"Fine. Throw your little bombs, stage your terror attacks. We'll put 'settlers' all over 'your' lands, then whose lands do you think they'll be?"
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
As most everyone (who's paying attention) knows, after decades of sporadic attempts to find some acceptable resolution of this conflict -- with occasional melodramatic success, as when (1970s) President Sadat of Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel (for which he was assassinated by some among his own people whose opinion on the subject differed :P ), and (1990s) President Rabin of Israel tried to sweeten the deal enough to reach agreement (for which he was assassinated by some among his own people whose opinion on the subject differed :P ) -- departing U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat what they insisted was the best deal he was ever going to get...and he insisted his people would never accept it, so he'd have to turn it down.
Enter the current period of no more carrot and all stick, to which we shall return in Part IV.
In the meantime, some interesting things most people do NOT know:
(1) Big postwar (WWII) supporters of a "Jewish State": leftover Nazis, who hoped to get all Jews in one place, surrounded by enemies, and thereby destroy them. These days, makes ya think.
(2) Hamas -- fanatical Palestinian group, recently elected to run the "Palestinian Authority" -- was originally funded by Israel, in hopes of destroying (Arafat's) Fatah. Rabin called this Israel's gravest error. These days, this too makes ya think.
(3) The most intractable issue preventing a "land for peace" settlement acceptable to all sides: water. Israel simply cannot afford to part with water-rich "Palestinian" lands.
(4) For this and other reasons, the "U.S. brokered peace process" has largely been a decades-long holding action: to postpone a solution until a "Palestinian right-of-return" (to captured lands), and expectations of a particularly favorable outcome for the Palestinians, finally died down. Despite the persistent hatred, terrorism, and so forth, this has -- until the current U.S. administration -- been one of the most stellar successes of U.S. diplomacy in this nation's history.
Oh, and finally,
(5) Israel was so staggeringly successful in the 1967 ("Six-Day") War thanks not only to her own military prowess, but in large measure to a brave man named Elie Cohen****, an Egyptian-born Jew whose years-long infiltration into Syrian power circles, by way of Argentina, allowed Israel to know the disposition of forces against her in the Golan before the war began. Things proved more difficult in the next major crisis, the "Yom Kippur War" in 1973...which escalated dangerously close to a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Soviet Union.
Okay, enough for now. Tomorrow, Part III: The Middle East and the West.
93 93/93 -- AJ
* And competing groups, btw. For example, a large contingent of socialist Zionists -- all but forgotten now -- wanted to create a secular, multicultural Zion, rather than a "Jewish state." Didn't happen.
** The truth falls somewhere between "by moving into underused lands and making the desert bloom" and "by a systematic campaign of terrorist attacks and ethnic cleansing."
*** The truth falls somewhere between "because they were Nazis who hated Jews" and "because they considered it an unwarranted imposition on the region, particularly those displaced from what had been Palestine."
**** This story is told by various intelligence types, but not widely known, nor posted widely online. The Syrians apparently believed it, though; shortly after the Six Day War, and despite international appeals, they arrested and hanged him.