Previous page Page 4 of 5 Next page
Index |  History |  Highlights |  WhatWhenWhere
Ottoman empire
Brfitish mandate
Since the 1980s
     Peace process
     Suicides and settlements
     Second Intifada

Recent politics in Palestine

Bookmark and Share
Successes and setbacks in the peace process: to 2000

The 1980s see one isolated development that is helpful to the peace process, when in 1988 Yasser Arafat declares that the PLO renounces 'terrorism in all its forms'. However in 1987 Hamas (acronym in Arabic for 'Movement for Islamic Resistance') has been founded in the occupied territories to lead armed resistance against Israel. And in the same year an Intifada begins against Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

This First Intifada lasts for several years and brings a high number of casualties, with the Israeli army killing more than 1000 Palestinians. The aggression against the soldiers is most often by boys throwing stones, sometimes by Molotov cocktails, and occasionally towards the end by the use of firearms. The heavy-handed nature of the Israeli response serves to escalate the anger and the level of resistance.

From 1992 the Israeli prime minister is Yitzhak Rabin, the leader of the Labour party. His period in power includes a hopeful movement towards peace. Secret discussions with the PLO about ways forward are held during 1992 and 1993 with Shimon Peres, by now foreign minister, representing Israel. By the autumn of 1993 these meetings yield promising results. On September 9 Rabin sends a letter to Yasser Arafat recognising the PLO and Arafat sends a letter to Rabin renouncing violence and officially recognizing the state of Israel.

The majority of the meetings have been in Oslo and the agreement becomes known as the Oslo Accords. Its main provision is the establishment of an interim Palestinian National Authority that will have a measure of control over the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. The intention is for this to lead to Israel gradually yielding more autonomy to the Palestinians. When Rabin announces the agreement, he declares "We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice, enough of blood and tears ... enough!"

The formal signing is in the USA, presided over by President Clinton. It ends with a historic handshake between Rabin and Arafat. The two of them, together with Shimon Peres, are awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. But the Israelis are passionately divided on the wisdom of this step. Like Sadat earlier on the Muslim side, Rabin pays with his life for offering a gesture of friendship. At the end of a rally in Tel Aviv in 1995, in support of the Accords, he is shot by a radical Orthodox Jew.

The Palestinian National Authority is duly formed, in 1994, with Arafat as its president and prime minister. For the first time the Palestinians are represented by an institution soon accepted round the world as their legitimate voice.

The following years, up to the millennium, see continuing efforts to further the peace process. In 1996 Likud returns to power in Israel, with Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. He is temperamentally inclined to the right-wing Likud stance of minimum negotiation with the Palestinians, but in 1998 Netanyahu and Arafat under the guidance and coaxing of President Clinton sign the Wye River Memorandum (named from the conference centre in the USA where the negotiations have taken place). In it Netanyahu commits Israel to transferring more territories to the control of the Palestinian National Authority, which is duly done.

In 2000 a new prime minister in Israel, Ehud Barak, continues the process. He responds to another peace effort by President Clinton. Negotiations are to take place with Yasser Arafat, this time at the presidential country retreat, Camp David. The aim is to find a lasting plan to end the Palestinian-Israeli problem, by now deeply rooted. Barak offers Arafat a proposal for a new Palestinian state, in a dramatic break from Israeli opposition to a two-nation solution. Arafat rejects the proposed borders as unacceptable.

From this point on, for various reasons, things get steadily worse.


Suicides, settlements and the barrier: from 1993

From 1993 a terrifying feature of life within Israel has been suicide attacks by Palestinians, with responsibility claimed mainly by Hamas, but also by two other groups, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Fatah. A peak is reached in 2002, with 47 bombings during the year. The death toll up to 2008 is more than 800. This is a tragic waste of life, both of young Palestinians and of their much more numerous and randomly selected victims. It is a certain way of increasing the hostility of most Israelis to the Palestinian cause.

An equally certain way of hardening attitudes within the Palestinian population is the continuing Israeli policy of building Jewish settlements on their land. Starting soon after 1967, when the entire Palestinian region fell into Israeli hands, the establishment of permanent settlements in the occupied territories has been strongly condemned, by the United Nations and by most of the major countries in the world, as being illegal under international law. Yet the number and size of new settlements has increased dramatically from 20,000 settlers in 1983 to 300,000 in 2013, in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan heights.

The suicide bombers have presented Israel with a major security problem.. The danger of suicides is eventually solved by far more stringent checks at the borders and a closer watch on the streets. Meanwhile the defence of settlements in and near Jerusalem prompts a much more controversial solution. It is the creation of the West Bank barrier. With construction starting in 2000, this 430-mile-long obstacle is intended to keep out intruders. But it is also calculated to enclose nearly 10% of the Palestinian West Bank.

Most of the barrier is a fence with trenches impassable by vehicles, but approximately 40 miles skirting Jerusalem consist of an 8-metre high concrete wall. In 2004 the International Court of Justice decides that "the construction of the wall, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law". Nevertheless in one respect it has served its purpose. Since 2008 there have been virtually no successful suicide attacks within Jerusalem.


The Second Intifada: 2000-05

The years following the millennium bring a new crisis the beginning of a second intifada. There are several reasons for the new outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza, where frustration has been steadily building. Some maintain that an uprising has been planned for some months by Yasser Arafat. But one very provocative gesture in 2000 by a new leader of Likud, Ariel Sharon, is often quoted as the trigger that ignites a very tense situation.

Sharon plans a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, treated by custom as being under Muslim control since the enclosure contains two of their most holy buildings, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. Sharon arrives in the area with several hundred Israeli police officers, aiming to make the point that there is no region in the country that is not under Israeli control. The affront leads to Palestinian riots the next day. Demonstrators provoke the police with a barrage of stones. The police respond with rubber-coated metal bullets, killing 4 people and injuring about 200.

The uprising continues for five years, in a series of incidents reaching levels of violence far exceeding that of the first intifada thirteen years previously. It is calculated that the number of dead, military and civilian, is about 3000 Palestinian and 1000 Israelis. There is no precise reason for the gradual easing of the intifada in late 2004 and early 2005, though the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 lessens the intensity of the conflict. He is succeeded by Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the PLO, and in January 2005 Abbas becomes president of the Palestinian National Authority.

Abbas immediately takes serious steps to prevent Hamas continuing the violence and in particular to stop them attacking Israeli settlements with rockets and mortar fire (usually ineffectual apart from psychologically). Sharon, impressed by this, agrees to meet Abbas at a summit in Sharm-al-Sheikh in February 2005, sitting round a table with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

A deal is done. Both leaders agree to bring violence by their side to an end and Sharon promises the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners. Over the following months Sharon is as good as his word. He has already, in 2004, persuaded the Knesset to back his bold plan to withdraw Israeli troops from Gaza and resettle the settlers living there. In August 2005 this is put into effect. The settlers leave, many of them having to be forcibly evicted, after which the troops depart from Gaza.


Previous page Page 4 of 5 Next page
Up to top of page PALESTINE