Modern Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Arab-Israeli Conflict) - A brief history
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"History is a myth agreed upon." Napoleon Bonaparte.
"The past isn't dead; it isn't even past." William Faulkner.
"No two historians ever agree on what happened, and the damn thing is they both think they're telling the truth." Harry S. Truman.
This is the second page of the MidEastWeb History of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, covering the detailed history since the Oslo Accords. The early history of Palestine and Israel, from ancient times until the the Oslo accord is given here: History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Part I. It is important to read the first part to understand how the conflict evolved and what claims each side has on the land. The Israeli-Arab or Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not begin after the Oslo accords or in 1967 or 1948. The Arab population did not all arrive in Palestine after Zionist settlement, as some right-wing Zionists imagine. The Muslim and Arab habitation of the land goes back over a thousand years and has a long and varied history. The claim of the Jews, on the other hand, is not just based on ancient rights, but on continuous settlement in the land since ancient times as well as on the immense effort and investment of the Zionist movement in developing the land since the late nineteenth century. The problems posed by the Palestinian refugees, the real threat of terror and conflicting and well grounded claims to Jerusalem, and the rights of each side cannot be dismissed as partisans of each side try to do. Demonization of one side or the other will not help you understand the conflict nor will it lead to a solution. Nor can all the claims be ignored. In retrospect, the Oslo agreements (Oslo Declaration of Principles and The Oslo Interim Agreement) were attempts to do just that: to postpone the difficult issues for some later time. We are now living in that later time and paying the price of that postponement..
History, and different perceptions of history, are perhaps the most important factors in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Accounts of history, interpreting history in different ways, are used to justify claims and to negate claims, to vilify the enemy and to glorify "our own" side. Dozens of accounts have been written. Most of the accounts on the Web are intended to convince rather than to inform.
This very brief account is intended as a balanced overview and introduction to Palestinian and Israeli history, and the history of the conflict. It is unlikely that anyone has written or will write an "objective" and definitive summary that would be accepted by everyone, but it is hoped that this document will provide a fair introduction.
It would be wrong to try to use this history to determine "who is right," though many "histories" have certainly been written by partisans of either side, with precisely that purpose in mind. Those who are interested in advocacy, in collecting "points" for their side, cannot find the truth except by accident. If they find it, and it is inconvenient, they will bury it again. This account intends to inform, and nothing more. Two separate documents explain how I think we should gather facts and learn about the conflict, and the importance of words in making Middle East history, as well as in understanding it. A timeline provides details of many events not discussed in this history, and source documents provide additional background. Serious students will also refer to the bibliography for more information and different viewpoints, and will always seek out primary source documents to verify whatever claims are made about those documents or about quotes from those documents.
Earlier History: History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Part I
Following the Gulf war, US pressure, the ongoing break up of the USSR and favorable international opinion made it possible to convene negotiations toward settlement of the Palestinian problem. In 1993 and 1995, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles and The Oslo Interim Agreement. which created the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), a supposedly temporary entity that would have the power to negotiate with Israel and to govern areas of the West Bank and Gaza evacuated by Israel. Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994.
The peace process with the Palestinians led to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and most cities and towns of the West Bank by early 1996. In January 1996, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank elected a legislature controlled by the Fatah faction, with Yasser Arafat as Chairman (titled "Rais" - "President" by the Palestinians) to administer these areas. As the Israelis withdrew, Palestinians took control of these areas. About 97% of the Palestinians in these areas were nominally under Palestinian rule, but the area controlled by the Palestine National Authority amounted to about 8% of the land. Israel embarked on an accelerated settlement program, building thousands of housing units in the West Bank, and doubling the number of settlers there by 2004.
Though the PLO had agreed to forego violence in the Oslo declaration of principles, attacks on settlers continued. Ominously, even before the Oslo declaration of Principles, on April 16, 1993, a Hamas suicide bomber exploded a car bomb at Mehola in the West Bank, killing himself and one Israeli. On February 25, 1994, a disgruntled right-wing settler, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs (Mosque of Abraham) in Hebron, killing 30 people before being killed himself. In retaliation, the Hamas carried out several suicide attacks in Israel beginning in April of 1994. The peace process became increasingly unpopular in Israel. On November 5, 1995, Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a young right-wing fanatic, Yigal Amir, at a peace rally. He was replaced by Shimon Peres, who oversaw the signing of the Oslo Interim agreement. A rash of Hamas suicide bombings in the spring of 1996 and inept campaign strategy caused Peres to lose the election held in May of 1996 to Likud party head Benjamin Netanyahu, who was an opponent of the Oslo process. Netanyahu decided to complete a controversial underground tourist attraction in Jerusalem by opening a gate between two tunnels. Arab sources spread the false rumor that the gate endangered the foundations of the Al-Aqsa mosque. This caused several days of rioting and numerous casualties.
Despite Netanyahu's opposition to the Oslo process, in January of 1997 Israel and the PNA signed an interim agreement on Hebron. The IDF withdrew from most of Hebron, leaving an enclave of about 500 settlers living in the middle of an Arab city, protected by the IDF. Negotiations at the Wye River Plantation in October of 1998 produced agreements on further withdrawal of Israeli troops and renewed Palestinian commitments to prevent terror and incitement. However, most of the provisions of the agreement were not carried out by the Palestinians, and the Israelis did not withdraw as stipulated in the Wye agreements while Netanyahu was in office. In May of 1999 Benjamin Netanyahu was voted out of office, and Labor party head Ehud Barak became Prime Minister. Barak continued settlement expansion programs, but he vowed to pursue peace negotiations actively. Barak first tried to renew negotiations with Syria, but Syrian President Hafez Assad rejected an offer related through US President Clinton, which would have given Syria most of the Golan heights except for access to the sea of Galilee.
Barak turned his attention to the Palestinians. Israel made the troop withdrawals mandated by the Wye agreements, and negotiators began working toward a final settlement. Barak offered to turn over Abu Dis, a suburb of Jerusalem, to be used as the Palestinian capital. However, this offer was withdrawn in the wake of violence that broke out in mid-May of 2000.
The Second Intifada (Al-Aqsa Intifada)
At a memorial dinner held in November 2005 in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, President Clinton said that Chairman Yasser Arafat had made a "colossal historical blunder" in refusing the terms, causing the breakdown of the peace process. (Haaretz, Nov. 14, 2005).
Palestinian negotiators present a different version. On November 13, 2005, the Palestinian Authority International Press Center related these remarks of Palestinian Minister of Information, Nabil Sha'at, on the anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat:
He also set out that Israel has never endeavored to reach a final solution
during the second Camp David negotiations, putting to rest the rumor which tells that Israel proposed for the
Palestinians a state with 97% of the West Bank and 10% of the Jordan Valley.
Minister Sha'at made clear that this point led the negotiations of Camp David II to a gridlock.
What was suggested by Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister, was only to give Arafat a presidential headquarters in the Old City of Jerusalem, but the late president rebuffed this suggestion roundly, he added.
However, Palestinians have never disputed the published version of President Clinton's bridging proposals in which it is quite clear that the Palestinians would have sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem, including the Haram as Sharif (temple mount).
In last minute negotiations at Taba on January 21-27 2001, under European and Egyptian patronage, the sides failed to reach a settlement despite further Israeli concessions. Though both sides agreed to a joint communiqué saying they had never been so close to agreement, substantive disagreements remained about the refugee issues and final settlement maps. Israeli PM Barak broke off negotiations on January 28, 2001, suspending them until after the elections. Barak had hoped to reach a deal he could present to the Israeli public, and was angry and disappointed. Negotiations were terminated because Barak, who had furthered the peace process, was voted out of office at the beginning of February and replaced by a right wing government headed by Ariel Sharon.
No official maps were actually presented by or to the sides during the negotiations. Following the failure of the negotiations, the Palestinians continued to claim that Israel had offered only "Bantustans" in the West Bank. The Israeli government did not publish any maps. Dennis Ross, who headed the US negotiating team, summarized the proposals presented by the USA in the maps presented above. The Gush Shalom group and the Foundation for Middle East Peace also published a map of an offer made by the Barak government at Taba (Click here for details of the different maps). One of the major outstanding questions was the refugee problem. U.S. President Clinton had believed there were only differences of wording between the Israeli and Palestinian approaches. Clinton's Bridging proposals called for allowing refugees to return from abroad to the Palestinian state. They could return to Israel only with the agreement of Israel. However, at Taba, the Palestinian proposal called for eventual return of all the refugees to Israel. This proposal was unacceptable to Israel as it would create an Arab majority in Israel and put an end to Jewish exercise of the right to self-determination.
Violence continued into 2001 and 2002, despite attempts by the Mitchell commission and others to restore calm. The terror attack on the World Trade Center in the US on September 11, 2001, had direct repercussions for the Israel-Palestine conflict. On the one hand, Arab and Islamic countries tried to leverage on the need for their cooperation in the war against terror to win concessions for the Palestinians. On the other, many Americans began to view terrorist actions in a new light, as organizations such as Hamas and Hizbulla came to be linked with the Al-Qaeda group of Osama Bin-Laden. Particularly damaging for the Palestinians were the demonstrations held in favor of Bin Laden, and evidence linking a boatload of illegal arms intercepted by Israel, the Karine A, with Iranian support for the PNA. The boat was intercepted on January 3, 2002, on the day that US envoy Anthony Zinni arrived to attempt to arrive at a settlement. Against this background, the US and EU seemed to give Israel wider latitude for action against the Palestinians. Israel made increasing incursions into Palestinian areas, and confined PNA Chairman Arafat to his compound in Ramalah. but the Palestinians stepped up attacks on soldiers as well as suicide bombings.
The Saudi Peace Proposal and the Palestinian State Resolution - Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah made a dramatic proposal to end the long Arab war against Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories, withdrawal in the Golan and appropriate arrangements regarding Jerusalem and the refugees. This proposal, modified to be more specific about refugee issues, was adopted by a meeting of the Arab League, and eventually became incorporated in the quartet roadmap plan. On March, 12, 2002 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1397, calling on the sides to stop the violence once again, mentioning the peace plan of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, and for the first time since 1947 calling for creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Meanwhile however, terror and suicide attacks and Israeli reprisals continued. Yasser Arafat declared a cessation of violence several times, but this did not seem to affect the frequency or severity of suicide bombings and ambushes. The Israelis, for their part, continued with their policy of assassinating wanted men in the Palestinian areas. During the last week in March, as General Zinni was again coming to the Middle East, the Palestinians launched a successful suicide attack almost every day, in addition to many unsuccessful ones. A blast at the Park Hotel in Nethanya killed 27 people as they were celebrating Passover. Israel launched a massive raid, operation Defensive Shield, intended to root out terror infrastructure, including reoccupation of Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and other towns. Israel claimed that only about 50 were killed in the Jenin refugee camp, mostly members of the Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs suicide brigades. Palestinians charged that the Israelis had committed a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, killing over 500 people. These charges were repeated by most news sources in Europe, though they were later retracted. Human rights groups who entered the Jenin refugee camp after the Israeli invasion reported that there was a great deal of damage and that the IDF had probably committed war crimes by preventing medical aid, but that only about 56 people had been killed, more than half of whom were terrorists, confirming the Israeli version of events.
Suicide attacks abated, but did not stop. During the course of the fighting, Israel captured numerous documents providing evidence that Yasser Arafat had personally approved the organization of terror cells, and that the PNA treasury had approved payments for suicide-bomber explosive belts. The Israelis captured or killed numerous persons suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. The IDF also destroyed records, building, roads and other innocent civilian infrastructure of banks, NGOs and other organizations clearly not involved in terror. Later in the fighting, the IDF managed to locate Marwan Barghouti, head of the Fatah Tanzeem, and to capture him. Israel claimed it has evidence of complicity by Barghouti in numerous terrorist acts, and it eventually put him on trial, condemning him to five life sentences for complicity in murder. Critics argued that it would be impossible to put an end to terror by military activity in the absence of progress toward a peaceful solution. However, following Defensive Wall, the number and frequency of successful terror attacks began to decline, as the Israeli security forces made better and better use of intelligence gathered during the operation to detect and stop attacks. The number of attempted attacks did not decrease noticeably however.
Toward the end of Defensive Shield, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who needed quiet in Israel and Palestine to leave the US a free hand to organize an alliance against Iraq, arrived to try to end the violence. Powell's mission did not accomplish anything. He was unable to get the Israelis to withdraw completely from the areas they had reoccupied, nor could he get the Palestinians to agree to a cease fire. Demonstrations and public outrage in Arab countries, fueled by charges of a massacre, prompted UN action. UN resolution 1402 directed that Israel withdraw from the territories immediately. By the time Powell had left, Israel had withdrawn from some towns, but Yasser Arafat was still imprisoned in Ramallah, and the Israelis were besieging the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where armed Palestinians had sought refuge from the IDF. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1403, expressing dismay that resolution 1402 had not been implemented. On April 19, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1405, calling for an an impartial investigative team to be send to determine the truth of Palestinian allegations. Israel objected to the composition of the team. Israel at first agreed to the investigation, but later backtracked and blocked it, claiming that the composition and procedures of the investigation would be unfair to Israel, and that the UN had reneged on initial agreements about the investigation. Opposition to the investigation was fueled by Israeli memories of the recent Durban conference as well as by the infamous Zionism is Racism resolution of the UN, which was recalled repeatedly in public debate.
Israeli PM Ariel Sharon visited the US in May of 2002, under pressure from the US administration to advance a peace program that could be acceptable to Palestinians and the Arab states. The two discussed plans for a regional summit to be held later in 2002, and the Israelis presented documents that they claim prove the involvement of Yasser Arafat and the PNA in terrorist activities. News of a suicide bombing committed by the Hamas came while Bush and Sharon were meeting, causing the Israeli PM to cut the visit short and return to Israel.
The sieges of Muqata and Church of Nativity were also resolved in May 2002. Militants in the Church of Nativity were exiled to Cyprus and Europe. Some of the wanted men in the Muqata compound in Ramallah were jailed in Jericho, but others apparently remained in the Muqata. The head of the PFLP allegedly coordinated a suicide attack from his cell in Jericho. At the end of May, under pressure for democratic reform, Yasser Arafat signed into law the Basic Law or constitution of the Palestinian transitional state. The law states that Palestinian law will be based on the principles of Islamic law (Sha'ariyeh).
In June, following another wave of Palestinian suicide attacks, Israeli forces essentially reoccupied all of the West Bank. The Israeli government was quick to claim that the re-occupation would not continue indefinitely, but later indicated otherwise. President Bush made a long awaited speech on Middle East policy calling for a Palestinian state, but insisting on democratic reform of the Palestine National Authority.
In August and September 2002, several attempts at Palestinian cease fire initiatives were foiled by refusal of extremist groups to participate and by Israeli acts such as the killing of Salah Shehadeh, head of the military wing of the Hamas in a missile attack on Gaza that cost the lives of 13 civilians. Shehadeh was replaced by Mohamed Deif. August and September witnessed a six week respite from major suicide and terror attacks, facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian plan to return full Palestinian authority in Gaza and Bethlehem first. However, this fizzled after several violent attacks in Gaza. At the beginning of September, Israeli security forces foiled several suicide attack attempts and detected a truck laden with 1300 pounds of explosives and gas tanks, that was to be used by Palestinians in a suicide attack.
The PLC convened in September to approve the new cabinet chosen in line with reform efforts. PLC cabinet members refused to ratify the cabinet until Yasser Arafat would allow a Prime Minister to share power. Instead, Arafat agreed to elections in January, 2003, despite Israeli occupation. Arafat's popularity was at a nadir. The elections never took place.
The period of relative calm came to an end with suicide bombings in Umm El Fahm and in a Tel-Aviv bus. The Israeli government proceeded with an attack on Gaza including entry into Gaza city and besieged Yasser Arafat and an estimated 200 others in the Muqata compound in Ramala. Israel demanded that Palestinians give up wanted persons who had taken refuge in the Muqata including Palestinian preventive security boss Tawfiq Tirawi. Arafat remained defiant. Israel destroyed all buildings in the compound except the main one, promising not to harm Arafat. After a rumor was spread that Israel was about to blow up the Muqata, widespread demonstrations took place in the West Bank and Gaza, resulting in four deaths. The USA exerted pressure on Israel to stop destroying buildings in the Muqata and to withdraw. Despite a UN resolution, Israel continued the siege. Arafat's popularity with Palestinians soared. Eventually, the siege was lifted, but Arafat remained confined to Ramalla and isolated. A second siege was reinstituted in the fall. (Click here for commentary on the Muqata Siege)
In April of 2002, the US government initiated a series of consultations with a group of diplomats that became known as the "Quartet." The quartet evolved a roadmap for a settlement, including Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and establishment of a Palestinian state.
In October of 2002, the Labor party withdrew from the Israel unity government. PM Ariel Sharon initiated immediate elections, to be held January 28. Ariel Sharon's Likud Party won a sweeping mandate to continue hard line policies against the Palestinians. The Israel Labor party refused to form a unity government. Israel continued to occupy most of the West Bank.
During this period, the US continued to mass forces for an invasion of Iraq, and the US and quartet partners continued to advance the quartet road map for middle east peace. The quartet partners and especially the US pressured the Palestinians to commit to a thoroughgoing reform of their government that would eliminate corruption and support for terror. It was proposed that Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would assume the post of Prime Minister, overshadowing and displacing the still-popular Yasser Arafat.
On March 20, 2003, US, British and Australian forces invaded Iraq. The Palestinians had supported Saddam Hussein and his regime had provided payments for families of suicide bombers, as well as sheltering Palestinian militants. US forces entered Baghdad on April 9, and President Bush declared the war over on May 1. The war produced an upheaval in the Middle East and especially affected the Palestinians. Arabs were astounded by the swiftness of Iraq's collapse. Arab governments including the Palestinians hurried to make conciliatory gestures and talk of democracy, at the same time criticizing the US occupation of Iraq, which generated a great deal of resentment. Mahmud Abbas was elected Palestinian PM on April 29, however the violence did not abate. Israelis made bloody raids in Gaza and elsewhere on the day of his election. A few hours later, Fateh and Hamas perpetrated a suicide attack at a Tel Aviv night club, and the next day Israel began extensive raids in the territories. In violation of the roadmap, Yasser Arafat put himself in charge of organizing a new unified security force. As it had promised the Palestinians, the US released an updated road map on April 30 immediately after the election of Abu Mazen. (Click here for commentary on the roadmap).
At a festive summit held on June 4 in Aqaba, Israeli PM Sharon and Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) pledged to fulfill the conditions of the road map and shook hands in the presence of US President George Bush. Abu Mazen called for an end to violence. Click here for more commentary on the roadmap.
Islamist extremist Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders vowed to continue violence. Soon after the summit, four Israeli soldiers in Gaza were killed in a joint operation that included not only the Islamist extremists but also the Fatah movement of Abu Mazen. Israel began dismantling about ten of the 100 illegal outposts, but dismantled only uninhabited ones. On June 10, Israel tried to assassinate Hamas leader Ahmed Rantissi, kindling fury among Palestinians and eliciting criticism from the US. On June 11, a Hamas suicide bombing killed 16 Israelis in a bus on the main street of Jerusalem. On August 20, a suicide bombing killed 21 people on a bus in Jerusalem. The following day, Israel assassinated Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab, possibly in retaliation. Israel also announced that the lives of all Hamas leaders were forfeit, and made several assassination attempts, some unsuccessful against Hamas leaders, including the aged and crippled "spiritual leader" of the Hamas. As the Hudna (truce) unraveled, there were threats and rumors of attempts on the life of PNA PM Mahmud Abbas by Palestinian extremists. In the following days, Israel moved into the West bank for a security clean up intended to last several days. Abbas and his Gaza Security Chief Mohamed Dahlan began to move against Palestinian terrorists as required by the roadmap, whereupon Yasser Arafat moved to replace Dahlan with Gibril Rajoub and to put security and the interior ministry in the hands of his supporters. Abbas announced that he would not act against terrorists on September 4, but this did not save his political career. Abbas resigned on September 6, and Ahmed Qureia ("Abu Ala"), an Arafat supporter, was appointed PM in his stead. Qureia vowed a tough line against Israel. On September 8, EU leaders moved to ban the political wing of the Hamas and prevent monetary contributions to it.
On the evening of September 10, 2003, twin suicide bombings in Jerusalem and outside the Tzrifin Army base near Rishon Le Zion claimed a total of 15 lives. A period of quiet was broken by a suicide bombing in a Haifa restaurant on October 4, attributed to Islamic Jihad. Palestinian PM designate Ahmed Qurei and the PA condemned the bombing, but refused to commit to taking action against terror groups. In retaliation, Israel invaded Gaza as well as Jenin, and on October 5 they struck at a base in Syria that Israel claimed was training Palestinian terror groups. This was the first Israeli attack on Syrian territory since the Yom Kippur (Ramadan) war in 1973. A long period of relative abatement in Palestinian attacks ensued, but Israel continued attacks on Palestinian targets with considerable loss of civilian life. Suicide attacks continued from time to time, done by either the Hamas and Islamic Jihad Islamist factions or by the Fatah Al Aqsa brigades, a faction of Yasser Arafat's Fatah group over which the PNA has apparently lost control. Suicide bombings were carried out December 25 2003, January 14, 2004, January 29, 2004, and February 22, by the "moderate" Fatah Al Aqsa brigades as well as by the Hamas and by the Popular Front for the liberation of Palestine.
Geneva Accord - Israeli opposition political leaders and Palestinian leaders announced an agreement in principle on conditions for a final settlement. The agreement, which has come to be known as the Geneva Accord, proposed historic concessions by both sides. Israel would give up sovereignty in Arab portions of Jerusalem, while the Palestinians would explicitly renounce the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. Though it has no formal standing at present, the agreement has gotten widespread publicity, including support from US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and warm words from PNA Chairman Yasser Arafat. The Israeli government has denounced the agreement and the people involved in it, and tried to block advertisements for the agreement in the public media. Likewise, Palestinian extremists and their allies have denounced the agreement.
The Security Barrier (also called "Security Fence" "Apartheid Wall") - A major issue of the 2003 Israel election campaign had been the erection of a security barrier (fence, wall) advocated by dovish Israel Labor party. The barrier was to be erected along the Green line and would help to prevent suicide attacks in Israel. A similar barrier in Gaza had reduced infiltration to zero. The right, including Ariel Sharon's Likud party, opposed the barrier, because it would create a de-facto border as they thought, dividing Jerusalem, and putting most of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank outside the protection of the security arrangements. Sharon and the Likud won the election by a landslide majority, sending the Labor party and the leftist Meretz party into total disarray.
During 2003, PM Ariel Sharon adopted and adapted the barrier concept, changing the route to include major Israeli settlements and including a projected eastern portion that would envelope the Palestinians in two enclaves. As the barrier went up, it became evident that it would trap many Palestinians who would be cut off from their fields and places of work, some on the Israeli side of the 1948 armistice Green Line, and some on the Palestinian side. In populated areas where it is most visible, the barrier is in fact a forbidding cement wall, though it is a fence over most of its extent. Palestinian groups and Israeli peace groups began an intense protest campaign. On December 8, 2003, the UN General Assembly met in Emergency session and adopted resolution ES-10/14, which asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague for an advisory opinion on the legality of the barrier. The ICJ began its hearings on February 24. Israel boycotted the hearings, but submitted a brief saying that the court should not rule on the matter. About 30 other countries including the United States and several EU countries, submitted briefs saying that the court should not rule on the matter because it was a political question rather than a legal one, and likewise did not attend the hearings. Most of these countries also criticized the barrier as illegal or a hindrance to peace negotiations. Zionist and Israeli groups organized demonstrations at the Hague, and Palestinians organized counter demonstrations. The Israelis brought a bombed out bus and stressed that the wall prevents suicide attacks. The Palestinians used the hearings as a platform for de-legitimizing the occupation. ( Click here for maps and details about the security barrier/fence/wall)
On July 9, the International Court of Justice delivered its advisory opinion on the Israeli security barrier. The court ruled that the barrier violates human rights and that Israel must dismantle it. Israel announced that it would not abide by the court decision, but it did plan changes in the route of the barrier to satisfy requirements of the Israeli High Court.
Israeli Corruption Scandal - Ever since Ariel Sharon's election in 2003, a pall of suspicion had fallen over him and other Likud party members owing to allegations of bribery and underworld influence. In January 2003, David Appel, a close associate of Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, was indicted for bribery charges. The charge sheet alleged that he had bribed Sharon, Sharon's son and Deputy PM Ehud Ohlmert. The obvious question was whether or not Sharon would be indicted (see commentary for details).
Controversial Prisoner Exchange - After many months of negotiations through a German intermediary, Israel and the Lebanese Hizbollah movement agreed to an exchange of prisoners on very one-sided terms on January 29, 2004. Israel freed over four hundred live Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners and returned a large number of bodies in return for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by the Hizbullah and killed, and one civilian, reserve army officer Elhanan Tannenbaum, a shady "businessman" who lied about the way in which he was kidnapped, and gave the Hizbullah a free commercial on El-Manara Television. (see commentary for details).
Assassination of Sheikh Yassin - Israel had been targeting Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin for assassination for many months. Following a suicide attack in the port of Ashdod, the IDF stepped up operations against Islamists in Gaza, and announced again that all Hamas leaders were targets for assassination. On March 22, Israeli intelligence ascertained that Ahmed Yassin, founder and leader of the Hamas Islamist movement, had gone to prayers without his wife and children, and the green light was given to assassinate him. The assassination of the crippled old man, who was nonetheless responsible for instigating the deaths of hundreds of people, and for sabotaging the peace process, drew protests from most of the world, and vows of revenge from Hamas. The assassination probably had little strategic value, and was carried out to bolster the failing popularity of Israeli PM Ariel Sharon. (see commentary and sources for details).
A proposal of the Israel Labor Party, led by Amram Mitzna, during the 2003 election campaign, was that if negotiations with the Palestinians fail, Israel should withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza strip and perhaps from parts of the West Bank, and try to live its life behind the security barrier. Ariel Sharon and the Likud damned this proposal as defeatism, but toward the end of 2003, Sharon himself announced that he was drawing up a unilateral withdrawal plan, to be carried out "in 6 months" (a date later postponed). The plan for withdrawing from all of Gaza met with intense opposition from fellow Likud party members and from settlers. Reports in late February indicated that Israel was still confiscating land to build security barriers for Gaza settlements, even though Sharon had supposedly earmarked the settlements for evacuation. In April, 2004, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon traveled to the US and on April 14 he met with US President George Bush, to get American backing and assurances for Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan. Bush provided a letter stating that the the US accepts the disengagement plan and that the roadmap remains the only peace plan backed by the United States. In addition, to help Sharon gain popularity for the plan in Israel, Bush stated that the US believes Palestinian refugees should be settled in the new Palestinian state, rather than Israel, that in his view, Israel should not have to withdraw to the borders of the 1949 armistice, and that the US acquiesces in the Israeli security fence. Sharon reiterated Israeli commitment to the roadmap and pledged that the security barrier was a temporary expedient and not a final border. Bush's letter carried little weight in future negotiations, and reiterated stands taken by former President Clinton on refugees and borders. Nonetheless, it created an uproar throughout the Muslim world. The disengagement plan was defeated in a Likud party referendum on May 2, 2004, whereupon Sharon proposed a modified version of the plan. Also in May, Israel conducted extensive military operations in Gaza in Operation Rainbow, killing over 40 persons, leaving thousands homeless, and arousing international ire. In late October, the Israeli parliament (Knesset) passed the first reading of the disengagement law, ultimately causing the right-wing National Religious Party to leave the government, and reducing the government to a minority of 55 seats.
Assassination of Abdel Azis Rantisi - On April 17, 2004, the IAF killed newly elected Hamas leader Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantissi. Dr. Mahmoud Zahar was apparently elected in his place, but no official announcement was made for fear of Israeli retaliation. Zahar is reportedly the last of the seven founders of the Hamas still alive. The others were all assassinated by Israel.
Government of Ahmed Qurei - On November 12, 2003, after a long period of negotiations, Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei formed a permanent government and moves began to institute a cease fire and renew negotiations with the Israelis. However, very little came of these moves. On November 19, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1515, endorsing the quartet road map for peace and calling upon the sides to fulfill their obligations to the road map plan. However, the Israeli incursions continued, and for their part, the Palestinians seemed unwilling or unable to control terrorist groups. Prospective meetings between Ahmed Qurei and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon were announced, rumored, vaunted and then evaporated. For a time, Qurei announced that he would not meet with Sharon until Israel stopped building its security barrier (see below). However, when Sharon announced his unilateral disengagement plan and it appeared to be in earnest, Qurei became concerned that the withdrawal without any negotiations would be a victory for the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, political rivals of the PLO who run the PNA, and who are grooming themselves to inherit leadership of the Palestinians. Qurei then announced that he would be ready to meet with Sharon, and that a meeting would definitely take place by the end of February. However, negotiations to set the agenda of this meeting were postponed for various reasons, including suicide bombings and Israeli assassinations.
Chaos in Gaza -Meanwhile, it became evident that Qurei was not really able to govern, despite some successes in improving financial transparency as demanded by the EU and USA. By the beginning of 2004 there were several reports of chaos, disunity and lawlessness in the Palestinian territories. At the end of February, ex-security-chief Mohamed Dahlan indicated that the Palestinian Authority could not rein-in the dissident Fatah Al-Aqsa brigades that had been responsible for several suicide bombings. Attempts to unify the security forces, blocked by Arafat, ended in dissension and bitter recriminations. On February 26, Chairman Arafat promised to hold long-postponed elections, but many Palestinians did not believe he would keep his promise. In Nablus, lawlessness reigned and the Mayor resigned.
On the weekend of July 18, 2004 violence broke out in Gaza between factions of the Fatah. One group kidnapped police chief Ghazzi Jibbali and several French nationals, and later released them, on condition that Jibbali will stand trial. Yasser Arafat reorganized security, appointing his nephew, Musa Arafat, to be in charge of Palestinian security forces. Opposition forces reacted by storming Musa Arafat's headquarters. Subsequently, PM Ahmed Qurei announced his resignation, which was not accepted by Arafat, but Qurei insisted he would resign anyway. Arafat announced that he is withdrawing the appointment of Musa Arafat, but then announced that Musa will remain in charge of security in Gaza. Subsequent agitation for reform elicited more declarations from Arafat, but when these were not implemented, Palestinian legislators announced that they would adjourn in protest.
Security situation in 2004 - During the spring and summer of 2004 there were no successful major terror attacks within Israel, despite numerous attempts. Israelis and Palestinians attributed the relative quiet to the partially constructed separation barrier and better Israeli intelligence. Israel continued to arrest and kill Palestinians belonging to terrorist organizations, and to occupy Palestinian cities in the West Bank. On August 31, 2004, Hamas perpetrated a double suicide attack in Beersheba, in revenge for the killings of their leaders. The attackers came from the area south of Hebron in the West Bank, where no fence had been built. The attack accelerated construction of the barrier, and Israel took bloody revenge by bombing a Hamas training camp in Gaza. In October of 2004 Israel conducted operation Days of Repentance to overcome Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns. The operation killed many civilians and left many others homeless.
Renewed Peace feelers from Syria - Following the passage of the Syria Accountability Act in the United States, Syria announced that it was ready to renew negotiations with Israel over a peace treaty, without preconditions, but stated that the negotiations should continue where they had been interrupted. Syria renewed the call at various times through November of 2004. In some versions, the proposal was for negotiations "without conditions" while in other cases the Syrians called for negotiations "without conditions based on the deposit" (the promise of Yitzhak Rabin to withdraw to the cease fire lines of 1949). Israel's response to these overtures has been cool, since no pressure emanated from the US regarding renewal of negotiations, and President Assad's government continued to shelter the Hizbullah and Palestinian "resistance" groups. (See commentary Here and Here). Though President Katzav called for pursuing the Syrian peace initiative, PM Ariel Sharon and the foreign ministry insisted that before talks begin, Syria must stop support for terrorist organizations. Israel assassinated Hamas leader Izz El-Deen Al-Sheikh Khalil in Syria on September 26, 2004, and apparently attempted to assassinate another Hamas leader in Damascus in December.
Palestinian Authority Chairman and long-time leader Yasser Arafat died November 11, 2004 leaving an uncertain future. Some signs indicated that the death of Arafat had opened up new possibilities for peace, as well as for reform and democracy in the Palestinian authority.
Preparations for Palestinian elections began in an orderly way, with Mahmoud Abbas the leading candidate. Fatah el-Aqsa brigades leader Marwan Barghouthi, jailed by Israel for his involvement in multiple terror attacks, announced his candidacy as an independent, but later withdrew under pressure from the Fatah in mid-December. During his campaign, Abbas promised repeatedly to continue to fight for a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, and for right of return of Palestinian refugees. However, he also told the London newspaper As Sharq al Awsat that the violent Intifada was a mistake, and that Palestinians must pursue their goals by diplomatic means. Incitement against Israel in Palestinian media was toned down on the directive of Abbas. There were no successful violent attacks against civilians within Israel during this period, but mortars were fired on Israeli settlements in Gaza and terrorists blew up an Israeli army border post at the Gaza-Egypt border. Israel continued to arrest and assassinate Palestinian terrorist leaders, to occupy Palestinian West Bank cities, to raid targets in Gaza in reaction to Palestinian actions, to destroy homes and olive groves and to harass Palestinians at checkpoints. Several Palestinian children were killed during these raids. The Israeli army was criticized in Israel and abroad for carelessness with civilian lives and possible war crimes.
Relations with Egypt - Following the death of Arafat, Israeli-Egyptian relations improved, and Egyptian President Mubarak had warm words for Israeli PM Ariel Sharon. In the beginning of December, Egypt released an Israeli, Azzam Azzam, who had been in jail for eight years on espionage charges that he denied. At the same time, Israel released six Egyptian students who were accused of plotting to kill Israeli soldiers, and later Israel freed a number of Palestinian prisoners as a "gesture to Egypt," though Israeli and Egyptian actions were supposedly unrelated. In mid-December, Egypt, Israel and the US signed a Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) treaty that would give Egypt trade advantages in the USA for cooperative ventures with Israeli participation. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman visited Jerusalem. Despite the improved relations, the Egyptians did not return their ambassador, who had been recalled following the outbreak of violence in 2000.
Abbas Succeeds Arafat
On January 9 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestine National Authority, receiving about 61 percent of the vote. Mustafa Barghouthi, his closest rival, received about 20% of the vote. Over 60% of eligible voters participated, despite difficulties owing to the Israeli occupation and a boycott of the elections by the Islamist groups (See commentary here). US President George Bush invited Abbas to Washington, after several years during which Palestinian leaders had not been welcome in the White House, and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon announced that he would call Abbas and plan a meeting.
Unity government in Israel - Owing to disaffection of the Israeli right with the disengagement plan of PM Ariel Sharon, the National Religious Party left the government, and dissenting members of Sharon's Likud party tried to block formation of a unity government with the Labor party. The center Shinui party was forced out of the government, and instead a coalition was formed with the Israel Labor party and the small United Torah Judaism party. This government was approved by a narrow margin (58 to 56) with several Likud members abstaining.
Sharm El Sheikh Conference - Following his election, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Palestinian factions to end the violence and negotiated a truce agreement. Palestinian police were deployed throughout Gaza with explicit orders to prevent terror attacks. The sides agreed to meet at a summit conference hosted by Egypt in Sharm El Sheikh on February 8, 2005. At the conference, attended by Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Mubarak as well as the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, both sides announced an end to the violence. Israel would be releasing over 900 Palestinian prisoners and gradually withdrawing from Palestinian cities according to newspaper reports. Egypt and Jordan announced that they were returning their ambassadors to Israel. The Intifadah was deemed to be officially over. (see commentary.) However, following the pattern of previous conferences of this type, the peace was soon shattered by a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on February 25, apparently perpetrated by an Islamic Jihad group controlled from Damascus. Israel announced it was freezing the planned handover of Palestinian towns to PNA security. Mahmud Abbas condemned the bombing and the PNA made some arrests. (see commentary)
Disengagement Decision - Shortly after the Sharm El Sheikh conference, the Israeli Knesset, followed by the Israeli cabinet on February 20, approved the disengagement plan , which called for unilateral evacuation of 21 settlements in Gaza and 4 in the West Bank by the summer of 2005. The disengagement was to be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister, promised to help ensure quiet during the evacuation. Click for Map
London Conference - on March 1, 2005, a conference hosted by Great Britain was held in London. The purpose of the conference was to organize financial support for the Palestinian government and to assist in organization of Palestinian security. Israel did not attend the conference, and bilateral issues were not touched upon directly. However, Palestinian President Abbas said that ending the occupation and achieving peace was a priority goal for the Palestinians.
Cairo Conference and Tahidiyeh - In mid March, Palestinian militant groups met in Cairo and agreed to a tahidiyeh (lull in the fighting) - less than a full truce or hudna. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups began moving to rejoin the PLO and the Hamas announced its intention to participate in the May elections of the Palestine Legislative Council. Israel withdrew from Jericho, and a week later, from Tulqarm. Israel held up withdrawal from a third Palestinian city later in the month, because it claimed the Palestinian Authority was not disarming terrorists as it should have been under the roadmap. Israel continued to catch militants planning attacks or smuggling arms during this period, but Palestinian Authority forces also spotted and stopped terrorist activities. At the end of March, rebellious militants of the Al-Aqsa brigades, discontent with changes in the Palestinian Authority, fired on Abbas's headquarters in Ramallah. Though at first authorities announced a hard line against the extremists, Abbas later reconsidered and decided to try and smooth over the differences. Tawfik Tirawi, head of Palestinian Intelligence in the West Bank, resigned because, he wrote, little was being done to implement the rule of law.
Arab Summit and Peace Proposal - An Arab summit in Algiers ignored most of the pressing issues in the Arab world, and turned down a fresh peace initiative by King Abdullah of Jordan. Instead, it reiterated its support for the version of the Saudi Peace Plan passed in 2002 in Beirut that had been rejected by Israel. Israel indicated that the proposals are now outdated due to changes in the reality of the Middle East.
Illegal Outposts - In March 2005, the Israeli government accepted a report on Illegal outposts prepared at the request of the government by Talia Sasson. The report investigated the status of a large number of illegal outposts, built without proper permits and government authorization in the West Bank since March of 2001. It described systematic lawlessness and diversion of funds used to finance the outposts. There are about 20 or 30 such outposts that were supposed to have been evacuated under the roadmap peace plan . Repeated government decisions and attempts to evacuate these outposts have not availed. The government appointed a committee to study the report, but no action was taken.
Settlement Controversy - Palestinians were upset by the advancing Israeli security barrier, which isolates Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and by announced Israeli plans to build several thousand new housing units in the E1 area, near the settlement of Ma'aleh Edumim, east of Jerusalem. Under the Geneva Accord, Ma'aleh Edumim would be included in Israel, but the roadmap peace plan forbids construction in settlements. In his letter to Ariel Sharon in reply to Sharon's formal statement of the disengagement plan, President Bush had stated that the borders of the final settlement would take into account changes due to large Israeli population concentration in the occupied territories. The Israeli announcement may have been designed to test this statement, and to bolster Sharon's flagging popularity among right-wing supporters. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador Dan Kurtzer first condemned the Israeli announcement. This reaction elicited a hail of ridicule from right-wing critics of Sharon and from former PM Ehud Barak, who claimed it was proof that the U.S. promise was worthless. Rice and Kurtzer then reversed themselves and denied that there were any differences of opinion with Israel over the settlement plans.
Motion in no direction - During April and May, both Ariel Sharon and Mahmud Abbas visited with the President of the United States. Symbolically, this visit was very important, because it signaled that the US was ending the isolation of the Palestinian Authority that it had begun when Arafat failed to take action against terrorists. President Bush promised the Palestinians $50 million in direct aid in addition to larger sums already allocated for aid through NGOs, and stated that the borders of the 1949 armistice were the basis for any agreement. This last statement caused some controversy in Israel for some reason, but turned out to consistent with the wording of the letter Bush had given Ariel Sharon in April, 2004. Despite the fanfare, neither the meeting with Sharon nor the meeting with Abbas produced any visible change in Israeli unwillingness to make concessions to the Palestinians or in Palestinian unwillingness to take decisive steps to end terror by outlawing terrorist groups, disarming the terrorists, actively combating attacks, arresting wanted men and collecting illegal arms. The Israelis released about 400 prisoners as a good will gesture to Abbas. This number included, for the first time, prisoners "with blood on their hands," who had been involved in attacks that resulted in bloodshed. However, the Palestinians belittled this gesture as meaningless, since most of the prisoners were near the end of their sentence, and a large number of prisoners remain in Israeli jails. The Palestinians pointed out that none of the prisoners held from before 1994 had been released, so the prisoner release did not fulfill the conditions agreed upon in Sharm El Sheikh.
Attempted and successful Palestinian attacks, and particularly mortar and missile attacks on Gaza settlements and Negev towns continued. Palestinian President Abbas traveled to Gaza and secured a half-hearted commitment from extremist factions to honor the "Tahidiyeh" as long as Israel did, but repeated Palestinian attacks and Israeli reprisals and arrests of wanted men continued. Israeli forces caught a 15 year old boy suicide bomber at a checkpoint in the West Bank and later caught a young woman en route to carry out a suicide bombing attack on an Israeli hospital, sent by the Fatah El-Aqsa brigades. According to Palestinian statistics, Israel killed about 40 Palestinians in the period, wounded 411 and arrested nearly a thousand civilians, many for illegally staying in Israel. Most of the dead were wanted men or were in the course of carrying out an attack. In late June, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived, met with the sides and announced that the sides had agreed to destroy the houses of Gaza settlers after Israeli withdrawal.
On June 21, 2005, Sharon and Abbas met in a long-awaited summit, but nothing at all appeared to result from the meeting, other than an announcement by Ariel Sharon that he had attained Palestinian consent to coordination of the Gaza pullout. Israel would make no concessions on security unless the Palestinians acted against terrorists, and the Palestinians would not act decisively against terrorists. No communique was issued and the Palestinian leadership announced its profound disappointment. Palestinians announced that a large number of wanted terrorists had agreed to join the Palestinian police, while the Israelis announced they had convinced US AID to donate $500 million in medical equipment to Palestinian hospitals. For its part, the US ended its ban on diplomatic visits to Gaza that had begun 18 months previously, when AID officials were killed in a terrorist attack, resuming visits of US diplomatic personnel.
As violence flared following the summit, Israel launched air attacks against rocket launchers in Gaza, killed several Islamic Jihad terrorists and also announced it was resuming its policy of targeted killings of Islamic Jihad terrorists.
In Palestine, demonstrations and even armed attacks continued against the leadership. The popularity of the Hamas, now a contender in legislative elections, continued to rise, perhaps abetted by rumored and actual meetings between EU officials and Hamas representatives and repeated calls in the US for recognition of the Hamas. Both the British and PM President Abbas called on Hamas to end violence and join the political process, but Hamas initially refused, while accepting a short term truce. President Abbas announced that legislative elections would be delayed for several months in order to implement changes in the election law. At the beginning of July Abbas invited the Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join a unity government.
The impasse during this period is attributable to several factors. Neither side is politically strong enough to offer concessions on final status. Such negotiations are pointless as long as Ariel Sharon insists that Jerusalem cannot be divided and Abbas insists that Jerusalem must be the Palestinian capital and that there will be no "compromise" on the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Abbas must produce a Fatah win in the legislative elections and cannot do anything that will antagonize extremist sympathizers. On the other hand, Sharon has staked everything on the disengagement process, leaving him with little support for any other concessions. If any concessions are followed by Palestinian violence, that may be used as a reason to stop the disengagement. As Palestinian attacks against Israeli settlements continued, and as right-wing agitation against the disengagement escalated, Israel support for the withdrawal move dwindled from over 65% to about 50%.However, the new IDF chief of staff, Dan Halutz, indicated that no military exigency would stop the disengagement. It could only be stopped by a political decision. Israel also warned that if necessary it would take drastic steps to ensure that settlements and soldiers were not attacked during the evacuation.
Disengagement Protests - Settlers protesting the disengagement carried out increasingly aggressive protests, which including blocking roads in Israel, violence against Palestinians, police and IDF soldiers, and calls for soldiers to refuse to participate in evacuating settlers. At the end of June, settler-supporters who took up residence in Maoz Yam, an abandoned Gaza hotel, attempted to take over Palestinian houses and attacked an 18 year old Palestinian youth. Israeli police raided the hotel and removed the settlers by force. On July 13, the Israeli government closed the Gaza strip to Israeli citizens who were not residents of the settlements, to foil a planned march organized by the Yesha (settlers') council.
The truce is broken - On July 13 a terrorist of the Islamic Jihad originating in Tul Karm carried out a suicide bombing in Netanya, resulting in the deaths of five people. The IDF reoccupied to Tul Karm, arrested several Islamic Jihad members and killed a Palestinian policeman who opened fire on them. The Hamas in Gaza retaliated with a rain of rocket fire on Gaza settlements and Israeli towns, killing one. The IDF in return launched rocket attacks in Gaza and a manhunt for Hamas military leaders in the Hebron area, resulting in the deaths of 8 or more Hamas members, some of them killed while on their way to launch fresh rocket attacks. On July 15, a violent battle broke out between Palestine National Authority forces trying to restore order and Hamas members in Gaza. Two Palestinian civilian bystanders were killed in the attack.
Implementation of Disengagement - Israeli evacuation of Gaza settlements and four West Bank settlements began on August 15 and was completed August 24. Despite threats of civil war and demonstrations by right-wing Zionist groups, the evacuation was completed without major violence. One woman set herself on fire in protest and died of her wounds. Some protestors threw unidentified substances that may have included paint, turpentine and caustic soda at police. After completing the evacuation, IDF killed 5 wanted Islamic Jihad men in Tul Karm. The disengagement was completed ahead of schedule. As Israel withdrew there were increasing omens of impending chaos. Former PNA official Moussa Arafat, a relative of Yasser Arafat, was murdered by Palestinians angry about corruption. On September 11, the last Israeli soldiers left Gaza. On September 12, the settlements were officially handed over to the Palestinians.
Subsequently a passage was opened between Gaza and Rafah in Egypt to ensure that Palestinians are not cut off from the world. Egyptians, Palestinians and EU representatives monitor the passage to prevent smuggling of arms, but Israelis claim that Palestinians are smuggling in substantial qualities of arms. Under pressure from the United States, Israel agreed to implement safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank using busses, but did not implement it. Qassam rockets continued to be fired on Sderot and were now also fired on Ashqelon just north of Gaza. Israel responded with air strikes to create a buffer zone
On January 4, 2006, Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke, leaving the leadership of Israel and the new Kadima party in the hands of Ehud Olmert Olmert appeared to take some vigorous action against settler lawlessness, denouncing the destruction of olive trees, calling for evacuation of illegal outposts, and at the end of January, IDF and police forces staged a confrontation with settlers who had infiltrated part of the Arab Suq in Hebron and destroyed property there. The settlers evicted the Arabs, claiming that the land was owned by a Jewish Yeshiva and that they were the lawful inheritors. However, the IDF had not given them permission to occupy the properties. After a dramatic confrontation however, the government appeared to back down, compromising on peaceable removal of the settlers in return for a promise that they could soon return to the properties "lawfully."
Hamas Victory - In elections held January, 26, 2006, the radical Hamas movement won an upset victory over the Fateh. Hamas won about 74 of the 133 seats in the Palestine Legislative Assembly. The movements that had led the Palestinians for about 40 years, the Fateh and the PLO seemed to be on their way to the opposition. Under the Palestinian constitution, Mahmoud Abbas remains President with broad powers. European and American leaders pledged not to negotiate with Hamas and not to provide aid to the Palestinians until Hamas agreed to disarm and recognize Israel. Hamas spokesmen sent mixed signals, but vowed never to recognize Israel and never to give up their claim to all of Palestine, though a majority of Palestinians apparently want them to follow the path of peace. The Hamas-led government was sworn in on March 29, 2006. The Fatah refused to join the coalition because Hamas would not recognize the PLO as the representatives of the Palestinian people, and would not agree to honor past agreements of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, including the Oslo agreements that recognize the existence of Israel and which form the basis of legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli Elections - In elections held March 28, 2006, the Kadima party led by Ehud Olmert gained 29 seats, more than any other party, while the right-wing Likud, formerly the governing party, got only 12 seats, signaling the end of the domination of Israeli politics by settler ideology
Hamas in power - The international community suspended aid to the Hamas-led PNA government, causing an acute financial crisis. Iran and Russia freed funds for use of the Hamas, and Hamas politicians smuggled cash into Gaza under the eyes of European monitors in Rafah, in order to pay salaries of Palestinian security forces and workers. International donors eventually agreed on a mechanism for disbursing funds through Palestinian NGOs and for paying salaries directly to employees, and on June 24, EU donors announced a 105 million Euro aid package that would be distributed by this method. By the end of June however, Palestinians had apparently received only some partial salary payments from the cash smuggled by the Hamas.
Hamas formed a new security militia headed by Jamil Abu Samhadana, leader of the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees. This security force was declared illegal by President Mahmoud Abbas, who organized yet another Fatah-based militia. Fighting between Hamas and Fatah broke out, including killings and kidnappings of officials on both sides. Life in Gaza became increasingly chaotic, as Palestinian rights organizations documented a steady stream of internecine political violence, criminal violence and random killings. Samhadana was killed in an Israeli air-raid in early June, apparently as he was reviewing a rehearsal for a terrorist attack.
Palestinians continued an almost daily rain of Qassam rockets on Israeli towns within the green line, in particular, the little town of Sderot. At the same time, Israel continued arrests and targeted killings of terrorist leaders whom it claimed were planning attacks, and in return the Islamic Jihad and Hamas vowed revenge.
Capture of Gilad Shalit - About 1000 Qassam rockets fell up to June 2006. The Qassam rockets grew in size and range, and the attacks had killed at least 9 to 11 people in all, including 5 residents of Sderot. Israel responded with artillery fire into empty fields and other psychological warfare, and then took to attacking the launching sites. At approximately the time of one such attack, several members of a Palestinian family were killed on a beach in Gaza, though Israel denied that their attack was responsible. Subsequent Israeli attacks missed their targets and killed civilians. On June 25th, just as PNA announced the conclusion of an agreement on a truce with Israel, Hamas attacked an Israeli army border outpost at Kerem Shalom, killing two soldiers and capturing a third, Gilad Shalit. Hamas offered to trade the soldier for Palestinian prisoners. Israel refused to negotiate and began a siege of Gaza and later invaded in operation "Summer Rains" in an attempt to force Palestinians to return the soldier alive and stop the rain of Qassam rockets.
Palestinian Prisoners' Document- Palestinians of various factions approved a document May 11 calling for national unity. The document called for right of return of the refugees and continued violent resistance against Israel, the latter in violation of provisions of the Roadmap for Middle East Peace. It also called for establishment of a Palestinian state in the boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza Strip prior to the 1967 war, and for negotiations with Israel to be conducted by PNA President and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Many believed that the document implied recognition of Israel. A crisis was precipitated when Abbas demanded that Hamas accede to the document or accede to results of a referendum to approve the document. Hamas and Fatah gunmen carried out various acts of violence. A revised version of the Palestinian Prisoners Document was approved Hamas made it clear that it would not recognize Israel. The revised document also limited the historic PLO acceptance of UN Resolution 242 (guaranteeing the right of all states to exist in peace) by excluding any provisions that might violate Palestinian "rights."
Hezbollah attack and Israeli response - Operation Just Reward (Second Lebanon War)- On the morning of July 12, Hezbollah terrorists crossed the blue line border from Lebanon to Israel and attacked an Israeli army patrol, killing 3 and capturing 2 soldiers. An additional soldier died the following day and several were killed when a tank hit a mine, while pursuing the captors. At the same time, Hezbollah began a series of rocket and mortar attacks on northern Israel. This incident may have been timed to coincide with the meeting of the G-8, which was to examine the issue of the Iranian nuclear development program. It also occurred against the background of the earlier fighting in Gaza.
Subsequently, Israel carried out massive but selective bombing and artillery shelling of Lebanon, hitting rocket stores, Hezbollah headquarters in the Dahya quarter of Beirut (see Beirut Map) and al-Manara television in Beirut, and killing an estimated 900 persons in total, many of them civilians. Hezbollah responded by launching thousands of rockets on Haifa, Tiberias, Safed and other towns deep in northern Israel, killing about 40 civilians (See Map of Hezbollah Rocket Attacks ). About 120 soldiers were killed in the fighting. A Hezbollah Iranian supplied C-802 missile hit an Israeli missile cruiser off the coast of Beirut, killing 4. Hezbollah rockets also sank a Cambodian ship and damaged an Egyptian one. The G-8 democratic industrial powers, meeting in St Petersburg, issued a statement calling for an end to violence, return of the soldiers and compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1559 UN Security Council Resolution 1680, which call for disarming militias. (See statement of the G-8 on the Lebanon-Israel Crisis).
After Israeli air-attacks proved ineffective at stopping Hezbollah rocket attacks or producing a satisfactory cease-fire resolution, Israel launched a limited ground invasion of Lebanon, making halting and indecisive moved coupled with aggressive rhetoric by Israeli public figures. Efforts continued to broker a cease fire that would be satisfactory to both sides. Key Israeli demands were implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and 1680 - that is, disarming the Hezbollah, and moving the Lebanese army up to border, to take control of south Lebanon from the Hezbollah, as well as return of the kidnapped soldiers. Israel and the US also wanted a strong international force that would oversee disarmament of the Hezbollah. Key Lebanese demands were embodied in a seven point plan that included deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon, but did not include disarmament of Hezbollah. Lebanese also insisted on return of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel, and immediate Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory. Lebanon also demanded the Sheba farms territory from Israel. In 2000, the UN had ruled that Sheba farms, in the Golan Heights, is part of Syria. Syria, for its part, had refused to demarcate its border with Lebanon formally but said it supported the Lebanese demand.
The desultory Israeli offensive was stepped up on August 11 when efforts to broker a cease-fire appeared to be at an impasse, and Israeli troops began advancing in force toward the Litani river, 30 KM north of the Israel-Lebanon border. At the same time however, the UN Security Council met and approved Resolution 1701, calling for cessation of hostilities, and deployment of the Lebanese army in Southern Lebanon, but with ambiguous wording about the various issues. Both sides stopped the fighting on August 14, 2006. The poor conduct of the war raised a storm of criticism in Israel, and the Israeli attack roused widespread resentment in the Arab world.
International human rights groups and the UN condemned Israel for the alleged war crime of using cluster bombs in Southern Lebanon. Cluster bombs have not been outlawed by international conventions and have been used in previous conflicts. They also alleged that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians. However, an Israeli NGO report issued in December found that Hezbollah had hidden among civilian population and that nearly 700 of the casualties were Hezbollah fighters. Some human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, also later condemned the Hezbollah for indiscriminate rocket fire. However, the UN Human Rights Council, which issued a total of eight condemnations of Israel in 2006, failed to condemn the Hezbollah or Hamas for egregious violations.
The two Israeli soldiers captured by the Hezbollah. remained in captivity and in December it was revealed that they had been wounded when captured and that their medical condition was uncertain. The border remained quiet, though Hezbollah was being rearmed by Syria at a heavy pace. On November 21, assassins gunned down anti-Syrian politician Pierre Gemayel. On the first of December, after the Seniora government approved a motion calling for an international tribunal to try the murderers of Rafiq Hariri, Hezbollah ministers walked out of the Lebanese government, and large crowds of Hezbollah supporters were organized to besiege the Prime Minister's office and bring down the Lebanese government. The demonstrators were said variously to demand one third representation for pro-Hezbollah ministers, or reform of the constitution in order to provide equitable representation for Shi'ites or a unity government.
Gaza Violence - During and after the Israeli offensive in Lebanon, IDF operations continued unabated in Gaza as Palestinians continued to rain down Qassam rockets on the Western Negev and the Hamas insisted solemnly that it was keeping a truce. The Hamas government continued to be supplied with money from Iran and Arab states, brought into Gaza under the not too watchful eyes of European monitors in Rafah (Rafiah), while some 30 tons of arms were estimated to have been smuggled into Gaza through tunnels built from the Egyptian side of the border. Egypt did little to stop these activities.
During October and November, Palestinians shot a relentless rain of Qassam missiles on the Western Negev and in particular the town of Sderot, killing three Israelis. IDF operations in Rafah uncovered extensive tunnels used for smuggling, but IDF operations in the north of Gaza, intended to stop the firing of Qassam missiles, were terminated under increasing international pressure, as Israelis had killed over 50 Palestinians, including several civilians. The operations in the north were intended to stop the firing of Qassam missiles, but had no effect. During one raid, terrorists had hidden in a mosque, and escaped with the help of women who volunteered to be used as human shields. IDF killed several of these women. On November 8, following the Israeli withdrawal, an especially heavy barrage of Qassam fire prompted an Israeli shelling response. The shells missed their target, hitting a residential neighborhood and killing about 20 Palestinian civilians. Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit remained stalled as Palestinians demanded the release of over a thousand prisoners.
Truce - On November 26, the Palestinians and Israelis announced a surprise truce that was to apply only to the Gaza strip. Despite continuation of Qassam fire by the Palestinians for several days thereafter, Israel held to the truce. On the day following the truce announcement, November 27, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert announced a new Israeli diplomatic initiative offering peace to the Palestinians and other other neighbors along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative. This was the first time that an Israeli leader had referred to the initiative in a positive way. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the speech, while Hamas leaders and Israeli extremists condemned it. From the United States, theIraq Study Group report, which recommended active US involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, also gave rise to talk of peace negotiations.
The truce was violated repeatedly in Gaza by barrages of Qassam rockets fired at Israeli towns. The dissident Islamic Jihad claimed that it would not adhere to the truce unless it was extended to the West Bank. However, it was revealed that the Hezbolla were paying thousands of dollars for each Qassam rocket fired.
The Syrian government, attempting to recover the Golan and to break out of the isolation imposed on it because of its role in violence in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian conflict, offered to negotiate peace with Israel "without conditions." However, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, citing continuing Syrian support for terror groups, rejected the offer.
Abbas - Olmert Summit - On December 23, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and announced some concessions to make life easier for the Palestinians including release of tax funds frozen by Israel and removal of a number of checkpoints. A plan to release prisoners for the Eid al Adha holiday was abandoned however. Following the meeting, Israel agreed to a large transfer of weapons to the Fatah group loyal to President Abbas from Egypt. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni hinted at a new peace initiative in press interviews. These moves were seen as attempts to support President Abbas in his rivalry with the Hamas-led government of Ismail Hanniyeh.
Palestinian Unity Government and Anarchy - Following the release of the Palestinian Prisoners letter, negotiations continued to form a Palestinian unity government that could, it was hoped, recognize the existence of Israel, cease violent activity, get recognition from the West and allow Western governments to resume funding of the Palestinian authority. President Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly set two week "deadlines" that were postponed and forgotten, but the negotiations failed. On December 16, Mahmoud Abbas announced that he was dissolving the government and calling for new elections, unless Hamas agreed to a unity government. but he did not set a date for the elections. This proposal led to renewed violence between Palestinian factions, with Hamas charging that Fatah had tried to assassinate Palestinian PM Hanniyeh. An attempted truce failed, and Gaza schools were closed in the rising anarchy. However, on February 8, 2007, under the aegis of the Saudi monarchy, the sides concluded an agreement to form a unity government. The agreement did not explicitly declare Palestinian recognition of Israel or meet demands of the quartet to disarm militant groups. A trilateral summit between President Mahmud Abbas, Israeli P.M. Ehud Olmert and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on February 19 failed to produce any change in Abbas's stance or any concessions to the Palestinians.
Temple Mount/Al Aqsa Construction sparks riots - Israel began rebuilding a fallen rampway to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem along a new route. The ramp had collapsed in 2004. The new route would run about 80 meters from the mosque. Though the Muslim Waqf agreed to the construction originally, Sheikh Raed Salah of the Israeli Islamist movement claimed that the construction was damaging the mosque and threatened to begin another Intifadah. Israel denied that the construction was harming the mosques. Following protests from the Arab and Muslim world, Israel suspended work on the bridge, but continued archeological salvage operations. It installed Web cams to show the operations and invited the Turkish government to inspect the site. Both the Turks and a UNESCO team declared that the Israeli had done work had done no damage, but the UNESCO team requested that Israel stop the work until it could be under international supervision. In July, the Israeli authorities announced that the project was being abandoned.
Disintegration of the Palestinian authority. Isolated incidents of mayhem against civilians and fights between Hamas and Fatah supporters continued and escalated in Gaza in 2006 and the first part of 2007, accompanied by daily firing of Qassam rockets on Sderot. The anarchy included murder of Palestinians and kidnapping of Palestinians and foreigners. BBC reporter Alan Johnston was kidnapped by a group making various demands, and the Palestinian government claimed it was powerless to free him, but on July 4 Hamas did free him, in an operation that was called "stage-managed" by Fatah spokesman Yasser Abed-Rabo.
In June of 2007, serious fighting erupted after a Fatah activist supposedly launched a rocket-propelled grenade into the house of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Hamas in Gaza. Hamas forces retaliated by attacking the much more numerous Fatah activists and Fatah-affiliated Palestinian police and auxiliary forces in Gaza. Though Hamas forces were estimated at less than 3,000, and the Fatah forces supposedly numbered about 40,000, Hamas systematically pushed Fatah from virtually every one of their strongholds. Hamas fighters were brutal and merciless. People were thrown from the roofs of buildings. Hamas invaded hospitals and murdered patients and doctors. They executed Fatah people in front of their families. In the fighting, Hamas captured large quantities of arms that had been given to the Fatah forces by the Egyptians, on behalf of the Egyptians. Mahmoud Dahlan and other senior Fatah commanders were not in Gaza when the fighting started. Fatah fighters complained that that nobody had given the order to fight back. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, headquartered in the West Bank, hesitated, but faced with a revolt by Fatah personnel in the West Bank, he gave the order to counter attack. Nonetheless the collapse of the Fatah in Gaza continued. On June 14, Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Gaza-based unity government and announced that would be forming a new government of independent technocrats. The Hamas officials in Gaza continued to claim that they are the legitimate government. Fatah fighters fled to Egypt and to Israel by land and by sea. Fatah fighters who are wanted by Israeli authorities surrendered to the Israelis rather than face the Hamas. Israeli newspapers received a flood of faxes from Gaza, begging Israel to re-take the Gaza strip and stop the carnage. In the West Bank, Fatah militants and police began arresting Hamas officials and Hamas militants and terrorists. The United States and the European Union expressed support for Mahmoud Abbas. The foreign ministers of the Arab states expressed support for Abbas, but at the same time called for reconstitution of the unity government. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, headquartered in Damascus, stated that the Hamas had no intention of threatening the Palestinian presidency, but that the actions of the Hamas were necessary to restore order and remove bad elements. Hamas propaganda insisted that the Fatah leaders, especially Mahmoud Dahlan, were traitors in league with the Americans and the Israelis. A Hamas spokesperson cited the violence as imposition of "Islamic justice." It is probable that the violence could not have been initiated without the approval of Khaled Meshal, and is likely that he gave the orders. Meshal in turn is under the control of the Syrians who host him, and of the Iranians, who subsidize the Hamas very heavily and are allies of Syria. (see Gaza Implodes: The anti-Altalena of the Hamas and Gaza: What is happening, why it is important).
Hamas' popularity in Gaza declined sharply as living conditions worsened due to the Israeli and international blockade and extremists began suppressing marks of Western culture. The owner of a Christian bookshop was murdered. In November, a Fatah-organized demonstration on the occasion of the commemoration of the anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death was suppressed violently by Hamas security forces, killing 7 and wounding 55. Hamas blamed the violence on Fatah. Hamas continued importing large quantities of explosives and arms smuggled in from Gaza through tunnels. Egyptian security forces uncovered 60 tunnels in a day after Israel protested at Egyptian laxity in monitoring the border. Hamas and other militants fired an average of one Qassam rocket every three hours on the Western Negev, while Israel conducted small scale retaliatory raids and missile strikes on rocket launching teams in Gaza, as well as night time raids to find wanted terrorists in the West Bank.
Annapolis Conference - Building on the Arab summit renewal of the Arab Peace Initiative and the situation created by the Hamas takeover in Gaza, and motivated by the call of the Iraq Study Group Report for progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the United States organized a peace summit in Annapolis Md. November 26-28, which many forecast would be a failure. Nonetheless, Arab states including Syria attended as well as UN, GCC and EU representatives, Russians, South Africans and others. Israel released over 400 prisoners, and provided the Palestinian authority with half-tracks and rifles. Palestinian Authority police were allowed to deploy in Nablus to halt crime there. Israel PM Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas met several times but could not agree on a joint statement that would be read at the conference. A statement was agreed upon at the last moment, with heavy pressure applied by the Americans.
The conference provided recognition of Mahmoud Abbas as acknowledged leader of the Palestinians. Israel and the Palestinians agreed to renew negotiations for a permanent status agreement, with the hope of completing them before the end of 2008, and both sides vowed to implement the roadmap in parallel, with the US to monitor progress. No mention was made of the problem posed by Hamas control of Gaza. See Annapolis Summit: History or bluff?.
A tour of the Middle East by US President George Bush in January of 2008 apparently failed to achieve support for US Middle East policy goals, which included support for Israeli-Palestinian peace based on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority controlled by the Fatah. Egypt and Saudi Arabia continued to push for Fatah-Hamas reunification, which would effectively end the peace negotiations. However, Israelis and Palestinians pledged to negotiate seriously regarding "core issues" such as Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. The Israeli government issued contradictory declarations regarding status of a building freeze in West Bank settlements and areas of East Jerusalem annexed in the Six Day war.
The most obvious obstacle to peace continued to be the Hamas controlled regime in Gaza. Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committee terrorists continued to launch Qassam rockets and mortar fire at the Israeli town of Sderot and other western Negev targets, and also launched at least one Grad rocket on Ashdod. Israel continued to shoot at rocket launching teams and leaders of the various groups in Gaza responsible for rocket fire, killing some civilians when Israeli missile fire went awry. Hamas eventually joined in the rocket fire as the situation escalated. Palestinian snipers shot and killed an Ecuadorian volunteer, Carlos Chavez, in Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. Israel curtailed travel from Gaza and entry of goods, and decided to cut fuel supplies to Gaza. These steps brought charges that Israel was inflicting collective punishment. On January 20, 2008 following the Israeli fuel cuts, the Gaza power plant, supplying abut 20% of Gaza's electricity, was shut down by Hamas, precipitating condemnation of Israel and and international outcry. It is not clear whether the plant actually ran out of fuel. Three days later, after months of preparation during which the steel reinforcement of the border barrier was destroyed, Hamas blasted holes in the Gaza/Rafah barrier, allowing hundreds of thousands of Gazans to enter Egypt freely. Along with people who came to buy goods, apparently a certain number of armed Hamas operatives managed to infiltrate Sinai. After some hesitation, the Egyptians closed the border breach partially by January 28. In the coming days, it developed that the border was not closed however, and Hamas activists reopened parts of the barrier sealed by the Egyptians. Egyptian security forces arrested over a dozen Palestinians who had infiltrated to Sinai in order to carry out terror attacks against Israeli targets in Sinai.
The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas proposed that it would take over the border crossings, that had been abandoned by the European Union when Hamas came to power. The Hamas insisted on their right to patrol the border crossing, and declared that there would be no return to the former situation, which allowed Europeans and Israelis to control the import of arms, money and militants trained in Iran and elsewhere through the Rafah border. Initially, they opposed a return of the EU monitors, but they softened their stand after several days.
The border was resealed by Egyptians and negotiations continued regarding a solution that would allow passage through Rafah, but no solution was found.
Moughnieh Killing - On February 13, senior Hezbollah terror mastermind Imad Moughnieh was killed by a bomb in his car in Damascus. Israel and other states had long cited Moughnieh as responsible for planning and coordinating Hezbollah terror operations, beginning with attacks on the US marines and US embassy in Beirut in the 80s, and the attack on the Jewish center and Israel embassy in Buenos Aires, and repeated kidnappings of Israeli soldiers, including the operation that triggered the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Syria arrested several Palestinians. The Hezbollah blamed Israel for the attack. Iran, which had long denied any complicity on Moughnieh's terror operations, now mourned him openly and blamed Israel. Israel anticipated reprisal operations.
Israeli Strike in Gaza - On February 27, 2008, an Israeli missile strike killed 5 Hamas terrorists who it later claimed were plotting to carry out a large scale terror attack. On the following day, Hamas responded with a barrage of 30 rockets, some of which landed as far as Ashqelon, and one of which killed a student at Sapir college in the Western Negev. The rockets included Iranian manufactured Grad rockets, which are a version of the Katyusha. A large scale Israeli raid began February 29 and continued for several days, killing over 100 Palestinians. Israel claimed that only ten Gaza civilians were killed, while the Hamas claimed that the raid killed mostly civilians. Ahead of a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the United States called for an end to the violence. The Israeli attack was ended March 3, though the IDF had planned to continue it. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended direct negotiations with Israel, but these were resumed on March 5. The Hamas declared victory. Though rumors of a "truce" and truce negotiations were floated persistently in March, Palestinian rockets continued to fall on the Western Negev, and Israel continued to kill Palestinians. Israeli raids in the West Bank almost stopped, despite a terror attack March 6 on Yeshivat Merkaz Harav in Jerusalem, in which a Palestinian gunman from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber killed eight religious seminary students. Hamas claimed the attack but later denied it was involved.
Following urgings by Secretary of State Rice, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed. According to Abbas, the sides were discussing core issues such as the future of Jerusalem, but no details were made public. Israel announced contracts to build housing for settlers in the Har Choma neighborhood of East Jerusalem and other areas in the West Bank, angering Palestinians. This announcement was followed by several contradictory announcements by Israeli government officials regarding settlement expansion policies. In April, Israel removed a number of checkpoints in the West Bank and allowed Palestinian forces to enter Jenin.
Truce - Extensive indirect negotiations brokered by Egypt led to a a truce ("lull") between Israel and the Hamas went into effect June 19. The lull applies only to Gaza and not to the West Bank. Israel is is forbidden to attack within Gaza, Hamas and others are to refrain from rocket and terror attacks on Israel. Israel claimed the truce covers arms smuggling, but this was denied by the Hamas. Despite several instances of rocket and mortar fire by the Palestinians, the truce appears held at least initially. Hamas arrested an Al Aqsa brigades spokesman after that group claimed "credit" for an attack. Israel discreetly toned down its incursions and arrests in the West Bank after Israeli attacks there provoked retaliation in Gaza. Negotiations for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit continued after the truce went into effect. Despite occasional Qassam rocket fire and mortars, the truce held, but Israeli hopes for release of kidnapped Gilad Shalit did not materialize.
On June 29, the Israel cabinet approved a deal to swap convicted terrorist Samir Kuntar and numerous Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners for what are apparently the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose kidnapping sparked the Second Lebanon War.
In Israel, Israel Labor party chair Ehud Barak announced that his party would leave the Israeli coalition government unless Kadima Party party chairman Ehud Olmert was replaced, following persistent allegations of corruption. On September 17, 2008, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won the Kadima primaries. As she announced on October 26 that she was unable to form a coalition, new elections were set for February 10, 2009.
On the evening of November 4, IDF launched a major incursion into Gaza to destroy a tunnel that it said Palestinians were digging from Gaza into Israel. Six Hamas gunmen were killed. In the following days, the Hamas and others responded by launching about 35 larger (grad) rockets into Sderot and Ashqelon, and IDF responded with an incursion in Khan Yunis.
On November 9, a meeting of the quartet was held in Sharm el Sheikh to reaffirm support for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the framework of the Annapolis process and the roadmap. Both sides expressed support for the process. Hamas cancelled its attendance at a Palestinian reconciliation meeting that was to have been held in Egypt this week.
Operation Cast Lead - Hamas and affiliated organizations continued to launch rockets into Israel and announced that they would not be renewing the "lull" (tahidia) agreement on December 19. The lull had been negotiated June 19, 2008. Hamas unilaterally announced that it would run for six months only. Reports claimed that while Hamas leadership in Gaza wanted to renew the truce, Khaled Mashaal, the exiled Hamas leader controlled by Syria and Iran, refused to assent. Israel appealed to the Egyptians and to the UN asking for an end to the rocket fire. On December 24 Hamas bombarded Israel with some 60 rockets and mortar shells. On December 27, Israel began Operation Oferet Yetzuka. (Operation Cast Lead) (named for the Hanukka driedl [top] of cast lead in a Hebrew children's song by Haim Nachman Bialik). In a single Saturday morning, in the space of a few hours, IAF flew about 100 sorties, destroying arms caches, arms factories, smuggling tunnels, missile launching sites, and Hamas command and control centers in Gaza. About 225 Palestinians were killed. This toll grew to about 300 in a few days. UN estimates claimed that about 51 of the dead were civilians. Hamas sources claimed that 155 of the dead in the original attack were civilians. Many of the casualties were cadets in a graduation ceremony of the Hamas "police." Israel claimed that Hamas deliberately used human shields, and Hamas television programs indicated that they were proud to use civilians as shields. Hamas responded to continuing air attacks with Grad rocket attacks that reached as far as Beersheba and Yavneh - about 45 km. Hamas attacks had killed 3 Israelis by the end of the year, and the Palestinian death toll had risen to about 400. Hamas refused to stop firing the rockets and Israel prepared for a ground operation in Gaza. The UN Security council issued a statement December 28 calling for both sides to stop the violence, but US objections prevented a binding cease fire resolution. The major fighting ended on January 18, when Israel declared a unilateral cease fire. Hamas likewise declared a cease fire. About 1,300 Palestinians were killed and 13 Israeli citizens. Israel claimed most of the Palestinian casualties were combatants, while the Palestinians claimed they were mostly civilians. Human rights groups cited a large number of fatalities among children, but Israel claimed that many of the "children" in these reports were actually adult Hamas fighters. However, Israel did not release any public casualty lists. The results of the operation were not decisive. Israel achieved a military victory at relatively little cost to itself, but the problems of Hamas rule in Gaza, the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and the constant flow of weapons smuggled in via tunnels were not solved, at least initially. Rocket launchings and retaliations continued until after Israeli elections on February 10, 2009.
Israeli voters gave a majority to right wing parties. Benjamin Netanyahu formed a government that included his own Likud party, the Israel Labor party, the right wing Yisrael Beiteynu Party and religious parties. The Kadima Party refused to join, evidently because the Likud would not agree to back a two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In the ensuing months, US pressure on Israel to accept such a solution increased. On June 4, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a historic speech to the Muslim and Arab world, calling on Palestinians to renounce violence, calling on Arabs to recognize Israel's right to exist, reiterating US support for a two state solution and calling for an end to settlement construction (see Address by President Obama in Cairo, June 4, 2009). Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded on June 14, giving Israeli support for a two state solution, and pledging that Israel would not build new settlements or confiscate land for settlements, but would continue to build housing units for what he termed, "natural growth." (see Address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Begin-Sadat Center, June 14, 2009 )
In August of 2009, the Fatah movement held their first congress in twenty years, issuing the Fatah Foreign Policy Program that calls for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but insists on right of return for Palestinian refugees and endorses "resistance," but only "in accordance with the legitimate norms and laws," apparently ruling out violence. This is a departure from previous Fatah positions which called for destruction of Israel. The Palestinian Authority issued a plan for establishing a state unilaterally by 2011, endorsed by the European Union and claiming all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem (see Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State).
The Goldstone Report - Following allegations that Israel had committed war crimes and violated human rights during operation Cast Lead, Judge Richard Goldstone was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to head an investigatory committee. The committee's report stated that both sides may have committed war crimes in the conflict. It recommended that both sides launch independent investigations into the allegations. Though admitted that none of the materials in the report, based primarily on allegations of NGOs, constituted evidence of Israeli war crimes, the report nonetheless made the far-reaching allegation that officials of the Israeli government had intentionally pursued a policy of needless harm to civilians. Despite video evidence that the Hamas had used human shields, the Goldstone report dismissed the possibility that civilian deaths were due to use of human shields. The Hamas conducted no investigation at all. Israel conducted a military investigation rather than the independent investigation called for in the report. The investigation cleared the IDF of most of the charges, but did not provide detailed transcripts or accounts of the proceedings in its reports. A few soldiers are being prosecuted for suspected crimes.
Settlement Freeze and indirect negotiations - As part of the the U.S. Obama administration's peace initiative, U.S. officials attempted to get the promise of modest confidence building measures from Arab countries in return for Israeli concessions. But no Arab country was willing to allow concessions such as overflight rights for Israeli aircraft as long as the occupation continued. The issue of constructing new housing units in settlements remained contentious.
The Palestinian Authority and the Americans rejected the Netanyahu offer to build only for "natural growth." Former U.S. official Elliot Abrams revealed that natural growth had been allowed under an informal verbal agreement, as the Israeli government claimed. However, the United States took up the Palestinian demand, and for the first time in many years, U.S. officials were quoted as saying that settlements are "illegal." This was a departure from the longstanding policy of characterizing the settlements as "obstacles to peace." The Netanyahu government then agreed to a ten month freeze on settlement construction, from November 24, 2009 to end in September of 2010. This freeze tacitly did not include construction in Jerusalem, since Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital. It initially, at least did not include ongoing construction Though the official United States position is that the future of Jerusalem will be decided by negotiations, Israel began implementing the freeze in the rest of the West Bank with some rigor, including http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/news.aspx/138148 destruction of structures constructed after the start of the settlement freeze. U.S. officials now characterized Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, including areas built on no-man's land such as Ramat Eshkol, as "settlements" and "illegal." However, it was evidently agreed to bury the issue if Israel would not announce new construction in Jerusalem. In return, the Palestinian government agreed to indirect talks via shuttle diplomacy.
When Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel early in March 2010 to inaugurate the indirect talks however, Israeli Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai announced plans for construction of 1600 additional units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. Biden and other officials condemned the move vigorously. The diplomatic row that ensued was eventually resolved, evidently by a tacit agreement that Israel would not make any such announcements during the period of the settlement freeze, and would not, in fact, start any new projects. The actual status of the freeze is unclear. Settlers complain that all construction has halted, while Peace Now and others insist that there is still a great deal of construction. Likewise, there is no settled agreement on the future of construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem following the send of the temporary settlement freeze. Settlement advocates are pressing for a renewal of construction, whereas Peace Now has called for an extension of the freeze, and the United States is likely to ask for one as well.
The Gaza Blockade and "Flotillas" - After Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it maintained control of the Erez land crossing, and insisted on closure of the Gaza port to international traffic. At the Egypt-Gaza border, European Union monitors controlled the flow of goods and persons. Initially, the closure was limited to preventing transfer of arms, money and strategic materials. After the capture of Gilad Shalit, Israel intensified the blockade, and the Hamas coup caused the closing of the Rafah border crossing, as the EU monitors manning it fled and refused to return. Egypt now controlled the Rafah crossing and cooperated in the Israeli blockade. In addition to strategic materials, Israel apparently prevented the entry of a great many types of civilian goods such as spices and writing paper. Palestinians and aid groups claimed that there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. However, UN envoy Robert Serry conceded to Israeli President Peres that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Photos show full shops and market stalls. Health and nutritional statistics for Gaza are better than those in many countries in the region. Nonetheless, the blockade has caused 40% unemployment, and many items must be smuggled into Gaza through the network of smuggling tunnels beneath the Rafah crossing.
Humanitarian activists and anti-Israel groups have sent a number of small "flotillas" to break the Israeli blockade and bring aid and medicine to Gaza. In every case but one, the ships were intercepted without incident. Their cargo was offloaded in Ashdod and permitted items were sent overland by truck into Gaza. However, a joint flotilla initiated by "Free Gaza" activists and the Turkish IHH group was the occasion for violence IHH has known connections with Al Qaeda. They chartered a Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, which was the largest vessel in the flotilla. Activists on the ship stated that they wanted to be Shahid martyrs. Al-Jazeera video footage shows activists chanting "Khaybar Khaybar ya Yahud, Jaysh Muhammad sa-ya'ud" (Khaybar Khaybar O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return). Israeli Shayetet 13 commandos landed on the ship from helicopters and were beaten and attacked with pipes, knives and other instruments. The commandos then opened fire with pistols, killing 9 on the ship. After the raid, it was established, according to Israeli sources, that there was no humanitarian aid on the ship. The captain and crew members of the ship stated that the IHH activists had taken control of the ship and kept passengers below deck, preparing weapons with which to confront the Israeli boarding party. The bloody incident triggered a wave of protest against Israel. Israel announced that it was liberalizing the Gaza blockade policy on June 20, so that only military and strategic items would be forbidden.
Proximity talks - Proximity talks began in May of 2010, but there have been no reports concerning progress, if any.
(Updated June 21, 2010)
Earlier History: History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Part I
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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Brief History