The State of Israel is Created

The end of World War II led to the rapid disappearance of French and British influence throughout the Arab world, as the rapid eclipse of the old imperial powers transformed the politics not only of Asia but of the Middle East and Africa as well. The mandated territories granted by the League of Nations after World War I were granted independence. These included Syria and Jordan in 1946 and Lebanon in 1943. The mandate in Palestine was liquidated, and a Jewish homeland -- promised after World War I but never granted -- was created in 1948: the State of Israel.

The realization of the full horrors of the genocide of the European Jews had led to growing demands for a Jewish state. British forces stood in the middle between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish settlers and immigrants, but a prolonged guerrilla conflict and growing American pressure forced the British to abandon the area. Israel was established by compelling Arab acquiescence, but the consequence has been six decades of violence. The surrounding Arab states fought Israel unsuccessfully in 1948 and again in 1967 and 1973.

In 1956 Israel found unlikely allies in Britain and France in the attempt to forcibly prevent the new nationalist regime of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser from taking over the Suez Canal. The Suez crisis was the last flourish of old imperial Europe. American and Soviet Union pressure ended this European operation, making it finally evident that the long period of European hegemony that had dominated the wider world for two centuries was gone for good.

The unraveling of empire became complete with the independence of colonial Africa. The Allies had used African forces and resources extensively during the war. But Africa's nationalist and anticolonial forces -- small before the war -- increased during the years of fighting. In North Africa, the defeat of France in 1940 and the expulsion of Italy in 1942 undermined the credibility of Western imperialism and paved the way for independence.

Libya became independent in 1951; Egypt followed in 1954 and Tunisia and Morocco in 1956. In Algeria, where an entrenched French settler community existed, there was strong resistance to withdrawal. A savage civil war broke out between French colonists, Islamic revolutionaries, and native nationalists. The French army fought the insurgency with considerable brutality, but after eight years of conflict, the new French president, Charles de Gaulle, accepted defeat. In 1962 the French army and French colonists abandoned Algeria for good.

In the rest of colonial Africa, independence was granted state by state in the 1950s and 1960s. Only in southern Africa did the colonial system persist. In southern Rhodesia, white settlers declared independence on their own behalf in 1965 and tried to suppress black demands for a democratic state and more equal distribution of land. Only in 1980, after another violent civil war, did the white settlers abandon the struggle and accept the new state of Zimbabwe. In the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, an anticolonial war backed by Communist forces ended with Portuguese withdrawal and independence in 1975.

The last bastion of the old order was South Africa. Dominated by a powerful nationalist movement led by its predominantly Dutch settlers, South Africa was expelled from the British Commonwealth for embarking on a quasi-Fascist policy of race discrimination known as apartheid (separateness). The white minority kept a harsh grip on the rest of the population, including a fraction of white dissenters who opposed the regime. Cut off from the rest of the world by sanctions and moral pressure, the white regime finally conceded defeat in 1990 and proceeded to dismantle apartheid. In 1994 free elections brought victory for the African National Congress under its leader, Nelson Mandela, who recently had been released from a government prison. He became democratic South Africa's first president.

In the next section, read about the spread of communism in the post-World War II world.

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