Experts say Israel deliberately keeps its borders unclear to expand its territory by annexing Palestininan lands. Here's how Israel has expanded its reach over the decades.
Israel's ambiguous borders in the Middle East refuse to stop and the country's predatory policies continue to be a major obstacle in resolving the protracted Palestinian conflict, premised on the forcible Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, experts say.
“Israel was established as settler-colonial state at the very top when colonialism in the world context was collapsing and losing war after war,” said Richard Falk, a well-known international relations expert and a law professor at Princeton University.
Other experts find Israel’s presence in the Middle East on occupied Paletinian lands as a political anomaly, which has just gotten worse over time as the country kept occupying more and more Palestinian and Arab lands since its establishment in 1948.
“This anomaly is due to the inability and refusal of Zionism to define its territorial limits,” wrote P.R. Kumaraswamy, who believes:“Israel is the only modern state that has avoided defining its territorial limits.”
Established as a Zionist state under a radical leadership, Israel's appetite as a modern occupying force has shown no sign of ebbing.
Zionists and pro-Israeli analysts have long argued that the ambiguous stance of Israel regarding its borders is rooted in the country’s fears of being wiped out by the predominantly Muslim Arab-populated Middle East.
But after seven decades, the continuing vagueness of Israeli borders has caused despondency across much of the Middle East, as many leaders have expressed their concerns with Tel Aviv's expansionist tendencies in the region.
“Having survived seven decades and emerged as a major military power in the Middle East, a technological hub and economic power, the continuing vagueness about the state’s borders is more than a relic of the past. Instead, it appears to be a strategic choice to maximise territorial gains,” Kumaraswamy said.
That strategic choice makes many Arab capitals nervous about the possible escalation morphing into a full-blown war in the region, a scenario that is a cause of discomfort for many Western powers since any large-scale conflict in oil-producing countries of the Middle East will throw the global oil industry into jeopardy.
During the latest UN General Assembly meeting in New York, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also questioned the vague and ever expanding borders of Israel into Palestinian territories.
“What are the borders of the State of Israel?” Erdogan asked during his speech at the UNGA.
Here's a graphic representation of how Israel has usurped Palestinian land since 1947, altering the borders of the region by exerting brute force.
UN division plan of 1947
In 1947, Palestine was under British mandate, which allowed more Jewish settlements there after the country’s infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917, promising a Jewish homeland.
During World War One, Britain sought Arab support against the Ottoman Empire in exchange for allowing them to have their own respective independent states as well as a Jewish homeland.
“The origin of Israel is in that [British] pledge at a time when the Jewish population in Palestine was under five percent. So the Jews were a very small minority at that point,” Falk explained.
In November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly accepted a division plan, which split Palestinian lands into two states — one Jewish and one Arab —, internationalising Jerusalem administered by the UN itself under the "Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem".
At the time, nearly half of Palestine was owned by Palestinians and Jews owned only eight percent of the land. As a result, while the Zionist Jews accepted the plan, Palestinians and Arabs refused it.
The 1948 War
The unfair division plan and Zionist provocations led to Palestinian protests and skirmishes between Jews and Arabs, triggering the 1948 war, which ended disastrously for Arabs and Palestinians.
At the end of the war, Israel gained 78 percent of historic Palestine as Jordan took over the West Bank and Egypt invaded the Gaza Strip. More than 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes, fleeing to other parts of the Middle East.
They called their forceful displacement, which corresponds to half of the pre-war Palestinian population, as Nakba, meaning ‘the catastrophe’.
The 1967 War
Nearly 20 years after the 1948 catastrophe, in 1967, Israel fought another war, which is called the Six-Day War, with three Arab states, Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
Defeating the Arab states, Israel occupied the rest of the Palestinian territories, including the West Bank along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Israel also invaded Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, leaving the Middle East in limbo.
At the end of the war, 300,000 more Palestinians left their homes in West Bank as 100,000 Syrians fled the Golan Heights.
The PLO’s armed struggle and Oslo Accords
The disastrous defeats of Arab armies by Israelis convinced many Palestinians to join the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which became particularly popular after the 1967 war across Palestine and the larger Middle East.
The PLO, which had been led by Yaser Arafat, the Fatah co-founder and leader, launched a powerful armed struggle against Israel, making the Jewish state suffer enormous casualties across Palestine.
After two decades of fighting, in the early 1990s, mediated by Washington, Israel and the PLO leaders came together to negotiate a peace settlement between the two sides. They signed the Oslo Accords I in 1993 and the Oslo Accords II in 1995.
The accords restored some territories to the PLO in the West Bank, but it meant too little for Palestinians after suffering much and losing almost all of their country. The PLO presence in West Bank was also tightly controlled by Israeli forces, leaving the group literally surrounded on all sides.
Despite the accords, Israel continued to occupy the Gaza Strip.
Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip
In 2005, Israel decided to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, dismantling all Israeli settlements and relocating 8,000 Jewish settlers.
Since the withdrawal, Hamas, a Palestinian faction, has controlled Gaza most of the time.
But Israel still continues to control Gaza’s air and maritime space, making Gaza’s residents dependent on Israel for crucial needs ranging from water sources to electricity and other essential utilities.
Continuing Israeli aggression
In March 2019, Washington recognised Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights.
In September, Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting various corruption charges, as well as falling short of enough votes to form a working government, also indicated that Tel Aviv will annex West Bank.