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Israel, Intifada and the Peace Process to 2000

In December, 1987, an Israeli truck struck and injured some Palestinian laborers, and rather than treating it as a traffic accident, the Palestinians reacted with great emotion, and youths took to throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. The Palestinians were fed-up with Israeli occupation, and a campaign of children throwing stones at occupying soldiers continued for months and advertised Palestinian grievances. The PLO was stunned by the greater success of kids arousing support for the Palestinians. Arab states were concerned about the popularization and spread of rebellion and in January, 1988, an Arab summit meeting took place in Tunisia. Hoping to apply control on the rising they recognized Arafat as the leader of the Intifada, despite Arafat not having organized it, and they provided him with money required to assert his leadership.

Within Israel itself a move for peace and giving the Palestinians some justice grew, especially among Israel's Labor Party and those who were not religious. Shimon Peres and Abba Eban, of Israel's Labor Party, were among those seeking a settlement with the Palestinians. But the violence continued.

On April 16, 1988, Israeli agents killed Abu Jihad (Khalil all-Wazir), a close aid of Arafat and second in command of the PLO's militant Fatah faction. The Israelis had held Abu Jihad responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis, but, like other retaliations, the assassination did nothing to advance disincentive against continuing Palestinian assaults. On July 11, three gunmen, reported to be Palestinian terrorists, attacked and killed nine tourists and injured 100 on a Greek ship, the City of Poros, as it was sailing toward a marina in suburban Athens.

In July, 1988, King Hussein of Jordan announced that he no longer considered the West Bank a part of his kingdom.

On December 21, 1988, a U.S. Pan American airliner, Flight 103, from London to New York, exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Evidence was to point to an explosion in the baggage department. It was not a matter that involved Israel, but people did believe it was about terrorism in the Middle East. The bomb is believed to be revenge for the accidental shooting down of the Iranian airliner by the U.S. Navy in July.

Arafat, Israelis and the Peace Process Palestinians, 1991 to 2000

Yasser Arafat, of the Palestine Liberation Organization, aligned himself with Saddam Hussein before and during the Gulf War. After that war, he improved his ties with Iran, and Iran strengthened its ties with Hamas, an Islamist militant organization operating among the Palestinians. A delegation of senior Hamas leaders visited Teheran in October 1992 and they were promised $30 million annually. In June 1992, Yitzhk Rabin moved from Defense Minister to his second term as prime minister of Israel. Rabin was interested in peace with the Palestinians, but on December 16, 1992, following the murder of a borderguard by an Hamas agent, Rabin deported to South Lebanon 415 suspected Islamist extremists. The United Nations condemned Rabin's move, and peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians

Secret negotiations had been taking place between representatives of the Israelis and Palestinians, and in 1993, after 45 years of conflict, Israel, represented by the Rabin government, and the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized each other. That year, in September, at the White House in Washington, Yasser Arafat and Rabin signed what was called the "Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government," also known as the Oslo Accords. Hopes for peace were at a new high – a peace that would suit the economies of the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Accords called for the creation of a Palestinian National Authority that would allow democratic elections; recognition of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Palestinian entities; a gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from "the Occupied Territories" and, over a five-year period, its transfer to the authority of the Palestinian Authority; and final agreements based on United Nations Resolutions 242 (created in 1967) and 338 (created in 1973).

The Palestinians needed to bargain with the Israelis concerning water. Israeli use of water had cut Palestinian use and had led to a decline in the Palestinian agriculture. In 1965, before the Israeli occupation, the Palestinians were farming on 2,435 square kilometers of land. After 1980 that had been reduced to 1,707 square kilometers – a reduction of 30 percent.

With Israelis overwhelmingly dominant in military power over the Palestinians, violence was a less promising option than bargaining, appealing to world sympathy, and perhaps international courts. But some among the Palestinians opposed any compromises with Israel, and attacks on Israelis continued. Palestinians targeted Jewish settlements on their territory – which Jewish fundamentalists considered Jewish territory. On February 25, 1994, in response to attacks, an enraged Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, shot to death 29 Palestinians at prayer in a Hebron mosque. Later that year, a Palestinian traffic policeman, Ayman Radi, wrote a note to his family saying,

Holy war is our path. My death will be martyrdom. I will knock on the gates of Paradise with the skulls of the sons of Zion.

Radi carried out a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that wounded 13 Israelis. In January, 1995, another suicide bombing, associated with an organization called Islamic Jihad, killed 19 Israelis at the Jewish settlement of Beit Lid. Another attack on the Israelis, by Hamas, occurred in Jerusalem on August 21.

Chairman Yasser Arafat, of the PLO, was appealing to international opinion and associating himself with the "peace process," and he arrested some Hamas members, said to be 170 in number. Then, on September 28, Rabin and Arafat, in the presence of President Clinton, President Mubarak and King Hussein, signed another agreement, which provided an extension of autonomy to the West Bank. This was followed on November 4, by a religiously conservative Israeli student, Yigal Amir, assassinating Rabin. Amir believed that Rabin had been selling out to the Palestinians.

Islamist militants kept up their attacks. On February 25, 1966, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a bus in Jerusalem, killing twenty-six, including three U.S. citizens, and injuring at least 80 others. On March 3, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device on a bus in Jerusalem, killing 19 persons, including six Romanians, and injuring six others. On March 4, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device at a shopping mall in Tel Aviv, killing 20 persons and injuring 75, including two U.S. citizens. In Israel's election campaign the conservative Likud Party's Benjamin Netanyahu was running for prime minister against Rabin's successor, the dovish Labor Party candidate, Shimon Peres – in Israel's first direct elections for a prime minister. Netanyahu was opposed to the Rabin-Peres peace program. His campaign slogan was "peace with security," and the security issue loomed over the election, which Netanyahu won. The Islamist militants had contributed to the coming to power of a more hardline Israeli administration, giving them more to complain about.

After Netanyahu took office, the freeze that had been put on the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was lifted. Then, in September, violence erupted over Israel's opening of an archaeological tunnel site close to Muslim shrines in Jerusalem. Sixty-one Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers died. In March 1997, Israel defied world opinion and began constructing a settlement, Hard Homa, that would complete a circle of Jewish settlements around occupied East Jerusalem.

On March 21, a Palestinian blew himself up in a Tel Aviv cafe, killing three Israelis and wounding forty-two. On September 4, three Palestinians killed themselves at a popular shopping promenade in Jerusalem, killing four passers-by. Israel tried to strike back at the agency behind the suicide bombing: Hamas. On September 25, Israeli agents posing as Canadian tourists bungled an attempt to assassinate a military leader of Hamas in Jordan, leading to a crisis in relations between Israel and both Jordan and Canada. Israel agreed to Jordan's request and released the Hamas spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Amnesty International meanwhile had counted more than 100 civilians as having been killed over the past four years in attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. With the U.S. having 46 times the population of Israel, that was equivalent to 4600 American civilians having been murdered.

The Netanyahu government was under pressure from the United States to pursue the peace process with the Palestinians, and on October 8, 1998, the long-frozen peace process thawed enough that Netanyahu and Arafat met – despite Netanyahu's distrust of Arafat. The result was an agreement, signed on October 23, called the Wye River Memorandum, which outlined an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

The peace process then seemed to stall. New elections for prime minister in Israel were due on May 19, 1999. Running for prime minister for Israel's Labor Party was a war hero, Ehud Barak. The Israelis responded favorably to Barak's promises to try to end Israel's conflicts with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Barak won and formed a new government.

On September 5, 1999, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed a revised agreement based on the stalled Wye River Accord. On November 8, 1999, Arafat and Barak met at Sharm el-Sheikh, where they redefined the timeline for application of the Wye River Memorandum. They agreed on the opening of two routes for the Palestinians between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, on the release of prisoners, and a decision to conclude a comprehensive agreement on all permanent status issues by 13 September 2000 at the latest. On October 13, Barak and Jewish settler organizations agreed on the dismantling of 10 settlements out of the 42 established under the Netanyahu government.

Barak was eager for a settlement with the Palestinians, and Arafat was threatening to declare an independent Palestinian state. In July, 2000, with the deadline of September 2000 approaching, Arafat and Barak met at Camp David as guests of President Clinton. For two weeks they talked. Barak offered more than had previously been offered to the Palestinians: control of 95 percent of the West Bank, the removal of 40,000 Jewish settlers and a redrawn division of Jerusalem. The Israelis were adamant about Jerusalem remaining their capital and about holding on to at least 20 percent of East Jerusalem. Arafat wanted all of the West Bank and all of East Jerusalem. Many Palestinians did not accept Israel's hold on Jerusalem. Some wanted Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and others still did not accept the existence of Israel on what they considered Islamic territory. Arafat wanted those who had been made refugees at the founding of the state of Israel to be able to return to their homes within what was now Israel. Arafat walked away from the talks. He spoke of being killed by his constituents if he agreed to Barak's offer. But he agreed with Barak to continue working toward a permanent peace.

On September 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon, a member of  Israel's conservative Likud Party, and a figure hated by many Palestinians for what was perceived to be his role in the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon, visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – which was also an Islamic holy place, al-Haram as-Sharif. As Sharon and his party were leaving, Palestinians threw stones at them. Israeli soldiers went to the defense of those being stoned. More than thirty people were injured, mostly Israeli soldiers. Excited Palestinians escalated their protests, including an unprovoked shooting and killing of an Israeli border guard. Palestinian youths hurled stones down upon Jews praying at the old Western Wall in Jerusalem, and at least four of the Palestinians were killed when Israeli police intervened using rubber-coated bullets. This inspired more confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, with Palestinians firing rifles at Israeli soldiers and Israeli soldiers shooting back. A father and his 12 year-old son were trapped in the crossfire and were televised crouching behind a rock. Israeli soldiers, excited and focused as young soldiers are in a shootout, ignored the father and his son. The two Palestinians were hit by bullets and the boy died. The proper response as seen among many Palestinians was more attacks upon Israeli soldiers, and the Israelis put down the additional violence with helicopter gunships and anti-tank missiles. Palestinians saw no fault with their side, and their rage continued. A counter-rage arose among Israelis and a decline of hope in the peace process. A belief in winning through violence increased, the Israelis using their military superiority and the Palestinians using their suicide bombings.

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Copyright © 2000-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.