The central issue in the Middle East conflict has never been Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – rather, it’s the very fact of Israel’s existence.
All major Palestinian organizations are centered around the goal of destroying Israel. The Palestinian National Charter (adopted in 1964 - three years before the Six Day War and the resulting occupation) declares its aim to be “the elimination of Zionism in Palestine”. The PLO's 10 Point Program of 1974 reaffirmed this as the organization's goal. The charters of Hamas and Hezbollah both explicitly state that their goal is to “obliterate” Israel. Even while supposedly negotiating for peace, Palestinian leaders have repeatedly stated that any peace agreement would only be a tactic towards the ultimate goal of eliminating Israel entirely. To this day, Palestinian media routinely broadcast the real Arab wish: to claim all of Israel, not just the West Bank and Gaza.
Arab resistance to the Jewish presence before the occupation, and indeed before the creation of Israel itself, affected not only those Jews who were already living in the region but also European Jews who tried to flee the Nazis (most of whom had nowhere to go but Palestine) and who were prevented from entering due to Arab pressure on the British. These refusals resulted in large-scale tragedies such as the Struma affair.
Jews living elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa also suffered greatly from Arab opposition to the creation of Israel. In the 1940’s, Arab mobs attacked Jewish communities (some of which had existed for thousands of years, and had been older than Islam itself) in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Morocco and Egypt. In Yemen, the nearly 2000-year old Jewish community of Aden was completely destroyed. These persecutions culminated in the expulsion and/or flight of nearly one million Jews from Arab lands.
When Israel was created in 1948, the armies of five Arab nations invaded with the explicit intention of annihilating it. In the 1967 Six Day War, Arab leaders were again open about their goal of completely eradicating Israel. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat consistently stated over the decades that his goal was the outright elimination of Israel. In recent years, the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah, along with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have continued in this vein by repeatedly declaring that their aim is not merely to end the occupation, but to destroy Israel entirely.
“The truth is that if Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war.”
- Benjamin Netanyahu, 2006