Successes and failures from Camp David to Oslo
In 1977 Menachem Begin became Prime Minister of Israel. One of Begin’s first steps was to authorise the first settlements in the West Bank, the territory seized from Jordan in 1967. Begin did not annex the West Bank, but by allowing Israeli settlers to build homes there, he was effectively stating that he regarded the West Bank as Israeli territory. Despite these moves, Begin showed that he was prepared to make agreements with the Arab states and this led to the Camp David Talks with Egypt in 1978.
Begin was a realist. He saw no point in provoking hostility when it
could do him little or no good. Since 1967 Israel had occupied Sinai,
which was almost entirely desert and of no real value. He could see
no point in holding on to it and so continuing to anger the Egyptians.
The Camp David Agreement was signed by President Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin the Israeli Prime Minister on 15 September 1978 and a full treaty was concluded on 26 March 1979. The Agreement was signed at Camp David, one of the official residences of the president of the USA. Israel promised to evacuate all land taken from Egypt, except the Gaza Strip, within three years. This was completed on time in 1982. In return Israel would have free use of the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aqaba.
This was the first agreement between Israel and any of her Arab neighbours. There had been no end of hostilities between the Arab states and Israel since the end of the 1948-9 war. This was the first indication that the Arab states were prepared to limit their hostility to Israel's existence.
The main weakness in the Agreement was that it did nothing for the Palestinians. This meant that Sadat was seen as having betrayed the Palestinian cause for his own ends. In 1981 he was assassinated by Muslim extremists in his own guards. Israel also continued to build settlements on the West Bank despite the promise to stop them. By the late 1970s, there was also serious conflict in Lebanon, to where the PLO had moved after being forced out of Jordan. This attracted attention away from the successes of the Agreement and no further progress was made until the late 1980s.
In 1988 Yasser Arafat renounced the use of violence. The USA accepted Arafat’s statements and made its first official contacts with the PLO. However, these were broken off when Arafat did not condemn a raid by the Palestine Liberation Front (part of the PLO) on an Israeli military base in May 1990.
In 1991 the USA sponsored a peace conference in Madrid. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians were present, but the PLO was not invited. However, many of the Palestinian delegates were members of the PLO and their attitude impressed the Americans. Talks continued at Washington, but appeared to be getting nowhere.
In June 1992 the Labour Party was elected to power in Israel. Yitzhak Rabin, the new Prime Minister, lifted the official ban on contact with the PLO in January 1993. Rabin announced that he wanted the Palestininans to be partners, not enemies. In future, he said, Palestinian rights would be restored in every respect. Rabin was convinced that the only way to end the violence of the Intifada was by negotiation and that would mean compromise with the PLO and concessions from Israel.
Rabin acted swiftly to show that he meant business and to win the confidence of the Palestinians. All building on the West Bank was stopped and the Israeli army was refused permission to search the Palestinian University campus. 800 of the 7,429 Palestinians being held by the Israelis were released. Secret talks took place in Oslo between the Israeli government and the PLO in January 1993. In the meantime the violence of Intifada increased. But in August 1993 agreement was reached between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
The PLO agreed to recognise Israel, renounce terrorism and accept responsibility for all groups within the PLO. Israel agreed to recognise the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. The two sides then agreed upon plans for Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho. Israeli troops would be withdrawn from these areas. The Palestinians would govern these areas and take over responsibility for law and order.
The first stages of the Oslo Accords went into effect in May 1994, when a Palestinian police force took over the Gaza Strip and Jericho and Israeli troops withdrew from most of the Gaza Strip. On 1 July Yasser Arafat returned to head the new Palestinian Authority. A second agreement was signed in 1995, which led to more Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank. The return of Yasser Arafat to the Gaza Strip led to scenes of great rejoicing. Palestinians anticipated that this would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state and membership of the United Nations. Arafat even spoke of possible application for membership of the British Commonwealth.
Palestinian self rule proved much more difficult however. Arafat found that controlling the more violent groups in Gaza was very difficult, as was wringing more concessions out of the Israelis. Palestinian attacks on Israelis continued and fighting broke out between extremist groups and Arafat’s Palestinian police force. But the most serious blow to the peace movement was the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. He was shot while attending a peace rally by an Israeli extremist, who believed that Rabin had given away too much in his agreements with the Palestinians.
End of unit.
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