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.
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 Israel 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.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER.ORG: What does IL stand for? In the field of geography, this two letter acronym means Israel. Check this to see its other meanings in English and other 35 languages.
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 stall.
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 rights.
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 the region.
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 long.
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 French millionaire.
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.
According to Countryaah.com, the population of Israel in 1996 was 5,271,256, ranking number 101 in the world. The population growth rate was 3.450% yearly, and the population density was 243.5937 people per km2.