Monday, April 20, 2009

Arabs and Israelis V: The Intifadas

In 1987, twenty years after the Israeli conquests of the Six-Day War, violence again broke out in Gaza and the West Bank. After violence increased slowly in previous months, on December 7, 1987, an Israeli truck crashed into a station wagon in Gaza, killing four Arabs and injuring several others. The Arabs believed the accident was in retaliation for the murder of a Jew in Gaza several days before. On December 9, mass protests began, signaling the beginning the first Intifada. The Intifada, which means, "shaking off," began with a Molotov cocktail attack on an Israeli patrol. Israeli troops fired back, killing a seventeen-year-old Arab boy.

The violence soon spread to the West Bank and Jerusalem. The PLO soon took control of what had originally been a grass roots uprising. In refugee camps, Arab youths threw rocks at Israeli soldiers and affluent Arabs joined in strikes and boycotts with the goal of winning self-rule.

In 1988, Jordan, which had ruled the West Bank prior to 1967, renounced its claim to the occupied territory. The PLO seized the opportunity to step in and claim the creation of a Palestinian state.

In the first year of the Intifada, approximately 300 Arabs were killed, 11,000 injured, and countless thousands arrested. Not all of the casualties were at the hands of the Israelis. The PLO also killed numerous Arabs who were thought to be collaborating with Israel as well as women who were accused of acting immorally.

In November 1988, Yasir Arafat, head of the PLO, accepted Israel's right to exist and UN resolution 242. He also championed the idea of a land-for-peace deal with Israel. With the Intifada raging, it was several years before Arafat's proposals would be explored.

The First Intifada continued until 1992 when the election of Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister led Israel to freeze new Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. As the peace process began, the PLO called off the Intifada.

Peace talks began in Oslo following the first Persian Gulf War and the breakup of the Soviet Union. In order to participate in the talks, Arafat and the PLO renounced terrorism, although attacks never completely stopped.

The Oslo Declaration of Principles and the Oslo Interim Agreement (called the Oslo Accords) were signed on September 13, 1993. The agreements provided for limited Arab self-rule in Gaza and Jericho under the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) with Israeli forces providing security for an interim period. Arafat, Rabin, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the agreement. In 1994, Israel also signed a peace treaty with Jordan.

Extremists on both sides opposed the plan. On February 25, 1994, an Israeli settler killed 30 Arabs in a mosque in Hebron before being killed himself. In retaliation, Hamas launched several suicide attacks. On November 5, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by another Israeli extremist at a peace rally. Shimon Peres succeeded him as prime minister, but lost the next election to Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, in part due to another string of Hamas attacks.

The peace process continued for the next few years with sporadic terror attacks and riots, such as those in 1996 prompted by rumors that Israeli tunnels threatened the foundation of the al-Aqsa mosque. Israeli troops were withdrawn from much of the occupied territories. Negotiations continued at Camp David and the Israelis offered approximately 97% of the West Bank to the PNA, as well as withdrawal from Gaza.

On September 28, 2000, violence erupted again, however. The visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem spurred rumors that Sharon had entered the al-Aqsa mosque, which is located on the same site. The ensuing violence became known as the Second Intifada.

Arafat and the PLO ultimately rejected the peace agreement. In spite of attempts by President Bill Clinton and Saudi Arabia to bring the two sides together, the peace process was permanently derailed.

Terror attacks increased in frequency in spite of calls by both Arafat and the UN for an end to the violence. In March 2002, 27 Israelis were killed as the celebrated Passover at a hotel in Nethanya. This attack led to Operation Defensive Shield, an incursion into the West Bank to root out terrorist infrastructure in the refugee camps there.

Israeli forces reported killing about 50 people in the camp at Jenin, but the Arabs claimed the massacre of 500 people by Israeli troops. The charge was repeated by the media around the world. Human rights groups later confirmed that the death toll was near to the Israeli claims. The Israelis also staged assassinations and arrests of Arab terror leaders.

By 2003, the situation had deteriorated to the point where Israel began construction of a security fence along its borders with the occupied territories to staunch the flow of terrorists and weapons.

By the end of 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a unilateral plan for an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Meanwhile, Arafat's Fatah-PLO was fighting among itself, as well as struggling for power with Hamas. On November 11, 2004, Yasir Arafat died and was succeeded a few months later by Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian National Authority. Abbas took steps to attempt to reduce violence in the territories.

Ariel Sharon and Abbas met at Sharm el Sheikh in a series of meetings with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan in February 2005. The meetings led both leaders to announce and end to the violence and the Second Intifada.

Meanwhile, Sharon's unilateral disengagement continued. Throughout 2005, the Israelis forcibly removed Jewish settlers from Gaza and four West Bank settlements. On September 11, 2005, the last Israeli soldier left Gaza.


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