By: Jonathan Kaplan

AFTERMATH of the war in lebanon, 1982 to 1987 The war itself has been seen by some observers as a way for Israel to weaken the PLO and pave the way for the rise of an alternative Palestinian leadership with which to negotiate over the issue of autonomy.

One result of the autonomy concept was the reorganization of the Military Government in the West Bank/Judea-Samaria and the Gaza Strip. In late 1981 and early 1982, a new Civilian Administration was created to look after the government of the territories. Authority devolved from the Minister of Defense to the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories and through him to the Head of the Civilian Administration, all of whom were now civilians. The Coordinator was to advise, coordinate and supervise the activities of all government ministries, the Civilian Administration, state institutions, public authorities and private bodies in the West Bank/Judea-Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

Essentially, the Civilian Administration represented Israeli government offices to the Arab population of the territories. Alongside the Civil Administration, military forces under regional commanders continued to operate in the territories in order to ensure security.

The Likud advocated extensive Jewish settlement in the territories throughout its years of power, often in areas heavily populated by Arabs. In addition to the Gush Emunim settlements which were supported by the Likud government, subsidized suburban neighborhoods were created in the territories within commuting distance of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A new kind of settler began to move to these areas: in the place of the ideologically committed pioneer came the young family in search of an affordable house and a suburban life style.

The numbers of Jews in the West Bank/Judea-Samaria began to rise considerably: 1977 - 5,000, 1983 - 23,000, 1987 - 57,900, 1993 - 110,900. By the end of 1993 the Jews had reached just over 10% of the total population of the West Bank/Judea-Samaria (not including Jerusalem). In the same year the 4,800 Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip constituted 0.64% of the total population there.

Likud policy was opposed by a number of groups. We have already noted the Tehiya and Gush Emunim which called for the open annexation of all of the territories. This position was later shared by groups such as Gen. Rafael Eitan's Tzomet (Junction) movement and Moledet (Fatherland) under Gen. Rehavam Zevi. The Labor Party (which was part of a national unity government with the Likud from 1984-1990) argued that annexation of the territories would put Israel in the position of having to choose between a democratic state and a Jewish state. The extension of equal rights to the residents of the territories would give the Arabs tremendous power, and in the not so distant future, a majority in the Knesset. Refusal to give them equal rights would undermine the democratic nature of the state. Therefore, some form of territorial compromise was required. On the other hand, Labor agreed with the Likud that turning over the West Bank/Judea-Samaria and the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians and the formation of a Palestinian state would constitute a grave threat to Israel's security, and that negotiations with the PLO, a terrorist organization that called for the destruction of Israel, were out of the question.

Labor favored a solution that would give the Palestinians some form of self-government in most (not all) of the areas in question, within a Jordanian-Palestinian entity. It was felt that Jordan, which maintained close though secret ties with Israel, would have a stabilizing influence on the Palestinian leadership. During the years in which Labor leader Shimon Peres served as Prime Minister (1984-86) and Foreign Minister (1986-88), these ideas were explored with King Hussain of Jordan. Zionist parties and extra-parliamentary groups to the left of Labor (Mapam, Citizens Rights Party, Peace Now) tended to be more accommodating on the issues of a complete Israeli withdrawal, negotiations with the PLO and the creation of a Palestinian state. The Arab parties in Knesset (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, Progressive List for Peace) generally advocated a total withdrawal from all of the territories, including East Jerusalem, negotiations with the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

The Intifada (literally "shaking off") or Palestinian uprising in the territories which began at the end of 1987 brought the issue of the territories to a head. The riots that spread from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank/Judea-Samaria and the Israeli use of force to combat them led to considerable controversy within Israeli society. Pressure on the government to find a solution to the problem of the territories mounted both from within the country and from without. As seen in the Knesset elections of 1988 which led to a national unity government dominated by the Likud, Israeli society was essentially split down the middle over the preferred policy in the territories. The Likud Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, proposed an autonomy scheme in May 1989 that focused on elections in the territories as a first stage in autonomy negotiations although this did not gain the support of some of his more hard-line colleagues.

The plan was picked up by the United States and became the basis of the negotiations carried out by Secretary of State James Baker during 1989. Disagreement between Labor and Likud led to the fall of the national unity government in early 1990.

After the Gulf War in early 1991, American efforts at initiating Arab-Israeli negotiations were resumed, culminating in the Madrid Conference (October-November, 1991) which set in motion a process of bilateral negotiations between Israel and Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian-Palestinian delegations respectively. In practice, the delegation split into separate Jordanian and Palestinian teams, and though Israel was formally negotiating with an independent Palestinian delegation, it was in fact dealing indirectly with the PLO. When, after the Labor party (under Yitzhak Rabin) came to power in June 1992, it became apparent that the Palestinian delegation had no real power of its own, Israeli officials began to negotiate in secret with the PLO directly. These negotiations led to an agreement in September 1993 which have gave the Palestinians self-government under a Palestinian Authority (led by Yassar Arafat, then head of the Fatah and Chairman of the PLO Executive) in almost all of the Gaza Strip and the area of Jericho. This was later extended to most of the Arab cities in the West Bank/Judea-Samaria, with discussion on permanent status of the territories to be continued at a later date.

Israeli control has been maintained in areas of Jewish settlement.

At present, most of the West Bank/Judea-Samaria is still in Israeli hands. The residents of these territories elected their own Legislative Assembly.

The RABIN Assassination 1995: 
While Israeli policy in the early 90's had been generally satisfactory to most parties to the left of Labor, there had been harsh criticism from the Likud and the more hard-line parties which claimed that the government has put Israel's future in the hands of terrorists who have not abandoned their desire to destroy the state. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist attacks originating from the territories (especially the Gaza Strip) were raised as proof of Palestinian intentions and the failure of the Palestinian Authority to act decisively against anti-Israel terrorism. Extremist groups even raised the specter of violent "resistance" to any attempt to turn additional territory over to the Palestinians. Some groups went so far as to label Prime Minister Rabin a traitor, delivering up Israel to its enemies.

Then, on November 4, 1995, an individual from one such group assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Shimon Peres, who took over for Yitzhak Rabin, presided over a country torn. It was during his interregnum that the level of terrorist attacks increased, with a total of 60 Israeli killed in separate incidents in Jerusalem, Ashkelon and Tel Aviv. These attacks were further proof of the Labor government's inability to insure Israel's security and Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud was elected Prime Minister in Israel's first direct prime ministerial elections. Netanyahu initially followed a hard line in dealing with Yaaser Arafat and the Palestinian talks, holding on to his beliefs that Israel needed to show its strength by being non- conciliatory. The enthusiasm of the hard-liners which followed his election was short lived, however, as 1997 witnessed more attacks, including the murder of seven schoolgirls by a Jordanian soldier in Naharayim on the Israeli-Jordanian border and two separate suicide bomb attacks in Jerusalem which killed 21. His subsequent dealings with Arafat, subject to fits and starts over the next 2 years, ultimately led to intervention by the United States and the signing of the Wye Memorandum in October, 1998, which was designed to facilitate implementation of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip of September 28, 1995. The memorandum dealt with issues of redeployment and security in the West Bank, anti-Israel clauses the Palestinian charter which still had not been amended and economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Wye Memorandum, however, was the start of a process which Netanyahu was loathe to finish.

One year and one Prime Minister later, (Ehud Barak who defeated Binyamin Netanyahu), Israeli and Palestinian representatives signed the Sharm El-Sheikh Agreement, restating the commitment of the two sides to full implementation of all agreements reached since September 1993. The Memorandum set out to resolve the outstanding issues of the interim status, in particular those set out in the Wye Memorandum of October 23, 1998. This document formed a kind of bridge between the completion of the interim period and the initiation of the permanent status.

Discussions between Israelis and Palestinians still manage to take unforeseen turns in the road to a negotiated peace. Accusations on both sides persist, and questions about specific territorial areas and their control still continue. Pope John Paul II's recent visited was exploited by parties on both sides who tried to attribute his visit to tacit recognition of Jerusalem as "the undivided capital" of both Israel and Palestine respectively. We also sawa new facet of the territorial issue as talks began with Syria over the Golan Heights. And even though those talks now seem to have reached a dead end, only time will tell what the future will bring.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What should be Israeli policy in the territories?
  • What could be the effects of an Israeli annexation of the territories?
  • What could be the effects of extensive Palestinian autonomy?


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27 Apr 2015 / 8 Iyar 5775 0