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November 21, 2012

9 questions about Israel-Gaza you were too embarrassed to ask

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

6. Wow, that's depressing. Why don't Israel and Palestine just become independent countries?

Because they can't agree where to draw the borders. Let's go back to that 1967 war. Before it started, Israel controlled everything except Gaza and the West Bank, which today are the two Palestinian territories. At the end of it, Israel occupied both Palestinian territories, plus a small piece of Syrian land, the Golan Heights. Long-standing U.S. policy is for Israel and Palestine to return to the 1967 borders from before that year's war. Palestinian groups also accept this. A big hurdle comes from Israeli settlers: Almost half a million Israelis have gradually moved into parts of the West Bank. That U.S. peace plan also calls for "land swaps" between Israel and Palestine to keep a number of those Israeli settler communities within Israel's borders. Palestinians in Gaza don't have a state, Hamas is committed to firing rockets at Israeli civilians, and Israel is committed to keeping Hamas weak and deterred, in part through periodic military campaigns.

7. This is getting complicated. I hear a lot about Iran. What's their role?

Though Iran does not border Israel or Gaza, and though its population is majority ethnic Persian rather than Arab (most Iranians also follow a different sect of Islam than do Palestinians), Iran helps to fund and arm Hamas, as well as other anti-Israeli groups. Depending on whom you ask, Iran either helps Hamas because it is committed to Israel's destruction, because it sees this as a way to project its influence in the region, or because it fears an Israeli or American attack and uses Hamas as a deterrent. One of the things that Iran gives Hamas is special, longer-range rockets called Fajr-5. The Iranian rockets can feasibly reach major Israeli cities, although because they are unguided, and because Israel has advanced missile defense technology funded by the Obama administration, that threat is reduced.

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