A Glossary of Mideast Terms Read a glossary of terms common to the complex political language of the Middle East.
NPR logo A Glossary of Mideast Terms

A Glossary of Mideast Terms

Below is a glossary of terms common to the complex political language of the Middle East.

1967 Borders - The borders between Israel and its Arab neighbors which existed until the June 1967 war and which largely conform with the 1949 Armistice Line drawn up at the end of the first Arab-Israeli war. These boundaries were changed in the 1967 war in which Israel seized all of Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. Palestinians often talk about a final settlement returning to the 1967 borders, but Israel says that is no longer possible, given the large number of Israeli settlements now in the West Bank. See also Green Line.

Al Aqsa Brigade - Also known as the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, it is a secret armed group which sprang from within Fatah, the leading Palestinian political movement. Formed after the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000 and named for the famed mosque in the center of old Jerusalem where the intifada began, it has claimed responsibility for many bombings and armed attacks on Israeli settlers and soldiers. Its exact leadership and relation to Fatah remains unclear.

Fatah - An organization founded by Yasser Arafat and others in 1959. The name stands for Palestine National Liberation Movement. Arafat joined Fatah with other Palestinian resistance groups to form the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964. Fatah mounted the first Palestinian armed attacks on Israel in 1965. Fatah remained a distinct grouping under Arafat's leadership until his death in November 2004.

Gaza Strip - A small strip of land along the Mediterranean coast just north of Egypt's Sinai Desert, densely populated by more than 1 million Palestinian Arabs. After the Ottoman Empire dissolved at the end of World War I, Gaza became part of British Mandate Palestine. After 1948, when war broke out in Palestine and Israel established its independence, Egypt occupied Gaza, until the 1967 war, when it was seized by Israel. Israel began a phased withdrawal from Gaza after the Oslo peace agreement in 1994. It became the center of the Palestinian Authority when Yasser Arafat returned from exile in the 1990s. There are some 8,000 Israeli settlers in Gaza. The Israeli army re-entered Gaza after the second intifada erupted in 2000.

Green Line - The line within the city of Jerusalem that conforms to its 1967 borders. This is the line that is generally viewed as separating Arab East Jerusalem from the Jewish areas of Jerusalem, but the line is no longer a precise division of those communities. It does not have any formal marking today in Jerusalem, but it remains a division within the minds and memories of most of the city's residents. Sometimes used synonymously with the 1967 borders.

Hamas - Literally, "zeal" or "courage" in Arabic. It is also an acronym that stands for Islamic Resistance Movement, a militant Islamist Palestinian organization that opposes the existence of the state of Israel and favors the creation of an Islamic state in Palestine. Founded in 1987 in Gaza -- and briefly encouraged by Israel as a counter to the PLO -- it participated actively in the first intifada against Israel's occupation. It began terrorist attacks on Israel in the late 1980s. Initially it opposed the 1993 Oslo peace agreement between the PLO and Israel, but it cooperated intermittently with the agreement during the 1990s. Since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, it has been one of the primary military organizations carrying out attacks on Israeli settlers, soldiers and civilians

Intifada - Literally, "shaking off" in Arabic, the word intifada has come to denote Palestinian uprisings against Israel. The first intifada began in 1987 and developed into a massive campaign of civil resistance by all sectors of Palestinian society in the West Bank and Gaza. It was not initially led by the PLO, but erupted spontaneously. It did not for the most part employ the use of guns or bombs, but it was violent, often involving clashes between stone-throwing youths and the Israeli army. It persisted intermittently for several years and ended when the Oslo peace agreement was signed in 1993. The second intifada began in late September 2000, after comprehensive peace talks at Camp David failed the previous summer. The second intifada has grown into Israel's longest war. It has involved widespread and intensive military activities on both sides, and led to thousands of Palestinian and Israeli deaths.

Islamic Jihad - A secret Palestinian resistance organization founded in Gaza in the mid-1980s. It favors an Islamic state in all of Palestine. It also has carried out attacks on Israeli settlers, soldiers and civilians since the second intifada started in 2000. Smaller than Hamas, it has specialized in suicide bombings. U.S. officials allege it is funded and supported by Iran.

Labor Party - Israel's oldest political party, it has its roots among Israel's socialist Zionist founders. Its first leader, and Israel's first prime minister, was David Ben-Gurion. The secular party dominated Israeli politics until 1977, when Menachem Begin was elected prime minister under the banner of the conservative Likud. The Labor Party is now much weakened. Currently it is led by Shimon Peres, who is serving as Israel's deputy prime minister in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's just expanded coalition cabinet.

Likud - A coalition of small right-wing Israeli political parties founded in 1973 that is now Israel's largest political group. Although it originally attracted more religious political elements, many Likud members now, including current leader Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, do not identify with the religious right though they still seek its political support. The Likud experienced its first political success in 1977 with the election of Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In the 1990s, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, it worked to slow implementation of the Oslo peace agreement.

Madrid Peace Conference - A conference in Madrid, on Oct. 30, 1991, that initiated a phase of the Middle East peace process. Organized by the United States in the aftermath of its victory in the Persian Gulf War, it was hosted jointly by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It brought together Israel and Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The Palestinians were included formally for the first time in the history of Middle East peace efforts, but they participated as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. No formal peace agreement emerged from the conference, but it began a peace process that culminated two years later in the Oslo agreement.

Oslo Agreement - An agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to create provisional self-government arrangements for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Negotiated secretly in 1993 in Oslo, Norway, and signed formally by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993. Created the Palestinian Authority, the fledgling Palestinian government, of which Arafat became the first president. Set forth arrangements for the Palestinians to eventually take control in stages of most of the West Bank and Gaza. The final status of the peace agreement was negotiated at Camp David, presided over by President Bill Clinton in the summer of 2000, but those negotiations failed. The outbreak of the second intifada ended the Oslo peace process.

Palestinian Authority - The fledgling Palestinian government created by the Oslo agreement. Its first president was Yasser Arafat. It is now led by Mahmoud Abbas.

PLO - The Palestine Liberation Organization. A coalition of various Palestinian resistance organizations of differing ideologies forged in 1964 and led by Yasser Arafat until his death in November 2004. The PLO provided most of the personnel for the current Palestinian Authority.

Right of Return - A right claimed by Palestinian refugees and their descendants, now numbering in the millions, who were forced to leave their homes during the 1948 war. Israel rejects this claim, but has in the past indicated that it may be willing to permit a token number of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel and may compensate the rest for their lost homes if they inhabit a future Palestinian state.

Road Map - A three-stage plan to resume the Middle East peace process, backed by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia. Its goal was the creation of a democratic Palestinian state by this year. But since its creation in 2003, it has not been implemented.

Separation Barrier - A barrier of 25-foot-high concrete walls, security fences and trenches that Israel has been constructing since the summer of 2002 that is meant to separate the main Palestinian parts of the West Bank from Israel and its largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israel says the barrier's sole purpose is to prevent terrorist attacks on Israel. The Palestinians say the barrier's route has resulted in Israel’s redrawing of the 1967 boundaries and the separation of many Palestinians from their lands. When it is completed it is expected to extend for 230 miles.

Settlements - New towns for Israeli settlers built in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza after they were seized by Israel in the wake of the 1967 war. The Israeli government has been building these settlements since the 1970s. Palestinians say these settlements represent a colonization of Palestinian lands; but the Israeli settler movement and its political supporters say these lands are part of the ancient biblical state of Israel. The construction of new settlements accelerated in the 1990s. Today, an estimated 210,500 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, some 8,000 in Gaza and another 180,000 have settled in what was Arab East Jerusalem before 1967.

U.N. Resolution 242 - Adopted by the U.N. Security Council on Nov. 22, 1967, in the aftermath of the June 1967 war. It calls for "a just and lasting peace" based on an exchange of land for peace. Israel must withdraw "from territories occupied" in the war; the Arabs are required to end the state of belligerency with Israel and acknowledge "the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized borders." It has been a basis for all peace efforts since 1967 but has so far not been implemented.

West Bank - An area of the former British-mandated Palestine, west of the Jordan River, which was unilaterally annexed by Jordan after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Occupied by Israel after the 1967 war. In 1988, at a historic Arab summit meeting in Algiers, Algeria, Jordan gave up all claims to the territory and agreed that the PLO would henceforth be recognized as the "sole legitimate representative" of the territory's 2.3 million Palestinian residents. Later in 1974 at an Arab summit in Rabat, Morocco, the PLO was recognized as the leadership for any part of Palestine that would revert to Arab control.