Israel. After rolling according to plan for several
years, the peace process between Israel and Palestine seemed to
stop in 1996. Militant Islamists carried out terrorist
attacks in Israel, which helped Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of
the conservative Likud and opponents of the peace process,
take over government power at the May elections.
Countryaah.com, nearly 60 people were killed in four blasts in
February-March in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and outside Ashqelon.
Militant Islamists from Hamas (the Islamic Resistance
Movement), who believe that the peace process involves
excessive concessions to Israel, blasted themselves into the air
in order to deter Israelis from further closer ties with the
Palestinians. However, Prime Minister Shimon Peres responded
only with conventional means: mass arrests and barring the
autonomous Palestinian territories.
In April, when only six weeks remained for the
parliamentary elections, it was called again, this time at
the border with Lebanon. The Iran-backed guerrilla Hizbullah
(God Party) fired small towns in northern Israel, and now
responded with grenades and missiles in an operation called
the Grapes of Wrath. On April 18, 13 Israeli grenades fired
at one of the UN refugee camps in the Lebanese city of Qana.
At least 100 people were killed. "A very serious mistake"
was Israel's explanation, but according to a UN report, Israel
probably knew that it was a refugee camp that was the
target. A few days later, the fighting for American
mediation was interrupted.
The shooting of Lebanon was not enough to profile Peres
and the Labor Party as a guarantor of Israeli security ahead
of the May 29 parliamentary elections. Netanyahu won, albeit
by less than one percentage point, after an election
campaign in which he played on the Israelis' fears by
swearing never to return the occupied Golan Heights to
Syria, never giving the Palestinians their own state and
never even discussing Jerusalem's future status.
With the change of government, the peace process was
stalled. Netanyahu announced that settlements on the West
Bank would continue to expand, and Palestinians became
increasingly frustrated. The drop came when Israel in September
opened a new exit from an archaeological tunnel under part
of central Jerusalem, near the Klipp Mosque and al-Aqsa
Mosque. The protests began with stones and bottles met by
tear gas and rubber bullets, but soon escalated into regular
war between the Israeli army and the Palestinian troops in
the autonomous territories. To stop the fighting, US
President Bill Clinton called Netanyahu and Palestinian
leader Yasir Arafat to a summit in Washington.
At the end of the year, both sides had contacts that
touched on the city of Hebron on the West Bank. According to
the peace agreement, Israel would have handed Hebron into
Palestinian hands even before the election, but the issue of
450 Jewish settlers in the city has caused the surrender to
be postponed. If Netanyahu hands over the city, it means
that all agreements already entered into have been
fulfilled; If the peace process is to continue, new
negotiations must begin.
1995 Rising divide in Israel. Rabin was murdered
1995 was marked by an increasingly sharp divide of Israeli society on the
issue of the peace process with the Palestinians. One demonstration after
another was carried out against Prime Minister Rabin and culminated when a young
Israeli from the extreme settler-right wing in November assassinated him. Rabin
was followed by the Prime Minister's post by Shimon Peres, but he was defeated
by right-wing politician Benjamin Netanyahu in the May 96 election.
The Conservatives' return to power slowed negotiations with Palestine and
intensified tensions so sharply that the country in September brought itself to
the brink of war. In the middle of the month, the government approved the
construction of a tunnel under the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem - Islam's third
most important shrine. The approval was a breach of the principle agreement and
triggered a strong Palestinian backlash. Several Israeli soldiers and dozens of
Palestinians died during the riots.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had sharply criticized the late Prime Minister Rabin
for his negotiations with Arafat and the PLO, but was repeatedly forced to meet
with the Palestinian leader to negotiate the final withdrawal of Israeli troops
from Hebron in the West Bank on repeated occasions in late 96 and early 97. The
government declared in March that it would approve the building of a new Israeli
settlement on Har Homa hill on the outskirts of the Palestinian part
of Jerusalem. Both the Palestinian Authority and the United States condemned
the decision, which was contrary to the spirit and writing of the Oslo
Accords. Netanyahu's decision to continue construction caused the dialogue to
Retired General Ehud Barak replaced Peres as leader of the Labor Party and
thus became leader of the opposition. Peres had been in favor of entering into
an agreement with Likud mhp. the formation of a unifying government that would
again push the peace process, which has been completely stalled since the
beginning of 97.
In November 97, the Israeli Supreme Court approved the continued detention of
21 Lebanese - most Hezbollah members - who had served their sentence. The
intention was to exchange them with Israelis abducted in Lebanon. The
authorities had previously approved the use of "moderate physical pressure" (=
torture) against those detained during the interrogations. Judge Aaron Barak
went so far as to declare that it is "compulsory" in such cases to violate human
Also in November, a huge demonstration was held in Tel Aviv to mark the
two-year anniversary of the assassination of Rabin and demanding a final peace
agreement with Palestine. It was the largest demonstration since 1982. In
December, both Arafat and Netanyahu warned of possible unilateral steps if
negotiations on the West Bank failed to make progress. At the end of 97, a
three-day strike paralyzed the public sector, transport and the financial sector
in protest of the government's privatization plans. Meanwhile, Foreign
Minister David Levy's resignation weakened Netanyahu. An Israeli proposal to
maintain control over parts of the West Bank, the Jerusalem area, Jewish
settlements, military bases, roads, major water sources, and historical
monuments were characterized by the United States as "imprecise."
In February 98, Israel entered into an alliance with Turkey targeting Syria
and Iraq. That same month, Lebanon rejected an offer by Netanyahu to negotiate
the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanese territory. Lebanon's position was
that the withdrawal should be unconditional.
After 12 years in prison, Israeli technician Mordechai Vanunu was allowed to
leave his cell and make contact with other prisoners. Vanunu had been abducted
by Israeli agents in London in 1986 and sentenced to 18 years in prison for the
publication of his country's nuclear bomb plans.
The peace process reached a tentative new low in June when the Israeli
authorities decided to increase "home security" in areas occupied by Jewish
settlers. They were now allowed to arm themselves indefinitely. Labor leader
Barak stated that there was a serious risk of a carnage in the region due to
Netanyahu's unwillingness to negotiate and delay the second round of withdrawal
from the occupied territories. President Ezer Weizman called for an acceleration
of the elections as Netanyahu had rejected conducting a referendum on withdrawal
of troops from the occupied territories, but this proposal was also rejected by
the prime minister.
After strong international pressure, Netanyahu nevertheless accepted the US
proposal. The Prime Minister met with Clinton and Arafat in Wye in the US and
the result of the negotiations was that Israel committed to return Palestinian
territories to the Arafat government in return allowing the US intelligence to
monitor the Palestinians' fight against Islamic terrorism. The deal weakened
Arafat against his inner enemies and at the same time brought the Likud
government to a fall. The Labor Party had probably supported the agreement, but
several Likud members left the coalition and dropped it. New elections were held
until May 17, 1999.
The election revealed the deep political polarization in Israel that would
hamper the work of the new Labor government under the leadership of new Prime
Minister Ehud Barak. In July, Barak succeeded in forming government with the
support of the ultra-religious Shas party. The party did not agree until it
succeeded in securing control over the economically powerful Ministry of
Religion. It succeeded only after hard negotiations with the right-wing National
Religious Party, which had previously had this control. Shas' other ministries
were the Ministry of Labor, Health and the Ministry of Public Works. The 17
seats of the religious party gave Barak control of 75 seats out of Knesset's
120. One of the strongest majority governments in several years.
Nevertheless, Shas made the Labor Party's alliance with the left wing
difficult - especially with Meretz having 10 seats, but also with the Center
Party - a scaling from Likud - by 6 seats. Both parties demanded that Shas'
former chairman, Aryeh Deri, be definitively removed from the political
scene. He was charged with fraud and receiving bribes. Ifht. the peace process
was the attitude of Shas acting chairman, Ovadia Yosef, that the renunciation of
territories against guarantees of peace was the only way out of the violence in
In November, Israel raised the state of emergency, which had been in effect
for more than half a century - since 1948. The country held a world record in
this area, with no other country ever maintaining the state of emergency for so
In March 2000, Pope visited Jordan and Israel. He was the first pope ever to
recognize the "national rights" of the Palestinians and to recognize and
establish diplomatic relations with Israel. One month before the Pope's visit,
the Vatican had signed an agreement with the PLO on the Christian shrines
in Jerusalem. This provoked Israel, since Arafat had plans to proclaim
Jerusalem's Old City as the capital of Palestine.
That same month, former Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife were charged
with corruption. At the same time, police initiated investigations into what had
happened to large sums of money that President Ezer Weizman had received from a
In late May, Barak ordered the Israeli forces in southern Lebanon withdrawn
from the country. That week, President of the Knesset, Abraham Burg, declared
Israel willing to recognize the existence of an independent Palestinian state.