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Collapse of the Oslo Accords
As in the case of Resolutions 242 and 338, ‘Oslo’ was not based on international law. The negotiating track was vague, as was the ultimate goal (although not for the Palestinians who wanted to establish an independent, viable state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – the remaining 22 percent of historical Palestine – with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution for the Palestinian refugees). Under these circumstances, the strongest party was in the position to impose its interpretation of the basic accords. In order to fill the gaps, a detailed proposal was formulated in informal negotiations between Mahmoud Abbas and Yosef (Yossi) Beilin (Beilin-Abu Mazen Document of 31 October 1995).
Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty
For Jordan, the Oslo Process had removed the last obstacle to striking a peace deal with Israel. In the 1980s, both countries had already reached agreement about the procedures (London Agreement of 11 April 1987). On 14 September 1993 – one day after the signing of the Declaration of Principles – the Israel-Jordan Common Agenda was announced.
Finally, and in the presence of President Clinton, the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty was signed in the Arava Valley/Wadi Araba (Israel) on 26 October 1994, close to the border with Jordan (see also The Washington Declaration of 25 July 1994).
With Syria, all negotiations since ‘Madrid’ have foundered, American mediation attempts notwithstanding (the meeting between President Clinton and Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad on 16 January 1994 in Geneva; Clinton’s visit to Damascus on 27 October 1994; three rounds of Israeli-Syrian talks in Wye River (Maryland) between 27 December 1995 and 3 March 1996; talks in Washington on 15-16 December 2000; talks in Shepherdstown (West Virginia) from 3-17 January 2000; and finally the Clinton-al-Assad meeting in Geneva on 26 March 2001).
In these talks Syria demanded, in return for a peace agreement, total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights (including the dismantling of the 35 Jewish settlements there). Israel, for its part, proposed a phased retreat that would be dependent on the steps taken by Syria with respect to normalization of the relations between the two countries. Israel insisted on keeping complete control over the Syrian part of the shore of the Lake Tiberias (Lake Kinneret), thereby obtaining de jure control over the lake, and posed conditions with regard to the future status of the Golan Heights (demilitarized area, nature reserve). To Syria these conditions were – and still are – unacceptable. In 2008, Turkey facilitated indirect Israeli-Syrian talks, which were suspended after Israel’s large-scale attack on the Gaza Strip in December of that year. Given Syria’s strong influence in Lebanon, no peace agreement between Israel and Lebanon has been reached since ‘Madrid’ either.
On 24 May 2000, under the pressure of armed resistance by Hezbollah and other organizations, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Lebanese territory which it had occupied since its first invasion in March 1978 (UNSC-Resolution 425 of 19 March 1978).
Little progress was made on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Construction in the Jewish settlements continued at an accelerated pace, resulting in a strong growth of settlements in terms of size and number of settlers during the five-year Interim Phase. The army of Israel in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip regrouped but did not withdrew. The economic situation deteriorated, and political tensions began to run high again. This resulted in an escalation of violence (shootings, suicide attacks, extrajudicial killings). Soon, intervention by the United States became necessary to prevent a collapse of the Oslo process (the Hebron Protocol of 15 January 1997, and the Wye River Memorandum of 23 October 1998).
The Palestinian National Council had by that time already removed the last formal obstacles to an agreement, such as a revision of its Charter, revoking all its anti-Israel articles (Palestine National Charter, revised, of 26 April 1996, and the Arafat-Clinton Letter of 13 January 1998). After the Interim Phase had formally expired on 4 May 1999, the demand by Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak (Labour) to start final status negotiations (Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum of 4 September 1999) did not break through the stalemate.
From 11-25 July 2000, in a last effort to reach a comprehensive deal before leaving office, President Clinton organized a summit meeting in Camp David between Barak and Arafat. The negotiations – ill-prepared and under pressure – again failed to produce results, because the maximum Israel had to offer (again) did not meet the minimum the Palestinians demanded (Joint Statement Clinton-Barak of 19 July 1999, and Trilateral Statement Camp David Summit of July 25, 2000). In retrospect, experts and persons involved in the negotiations agree that Arafat undeservedly received all the blame for the failure of the talks.
Informal talks in Taba (Egypt) from 18-28 January 2001, on the basis of the Clinton Parameters the results of which were documented by EU Special Representative Miguel Moratinos, came too late to have an effect, especially since from 28 September 2000 another Intifada had been raging through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, leading to an escalation of violence. By that time, an increasing number of Palestinians had already raised big question marks with respect to the political strategy of the PLO/PNA in the Oslo-process. As a result, Hamas – a strong opponent of ‘Oslo’ from the start – gained political support.
The Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006
Mid-2000, Israeli forces were forced to withdraw from most of southern Lebanon as a result of mounting losses inflicted mostly by Hezbollah. In 2000 the last Israeli soldier left Lebanese soil – though Hezbollah claims the Shebaa Farms that remained under control of the Israeli military, are Lebanese territory.
The situation in the border area remained tense afterwards. While Hezbollah operated in the hills and villages south of the border, Israel thought it was safe behind a high-tech border defence, equipped with the latest intelligent sensors, automatic weapon stations and frequent patrols. However, as so often proven in warfare, one should not solely rely on sophisticated systems – the creativity of the human brain to outfox machinery should not be underestimated. In 2006 Israel underestimated Hezbollah.
The highest Israeli military authority, General Dan Halutz, divulged in 2005 the doctrine of his armed forces in 2005: ‘We want to be the first to know, the first to understand, the first to decide and the first to act.’ The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) could, according to this ‘concept of operations’, choose the time and place to act decisively, against all opponents, including Hezbollah. ‘Training and technology give us the opportunity to attack terrorists pre-emptively whenever they approach the Lebanese border,’ Halutz’s statements displayed great confidence.
This confidence was shattered however, when, on 12 July 2006, Hezbollah commandos penetrated the high-tech barrier on the Lebanese border and sabotaged a camera. When a called-in Israeli patrol approached the defunct sensor the trap was sprung. Eight Israeli soldiers were killed in the ambush and two were taken prisoner.
Immediately after the ambush Israeli military commentators stated that the high-tech border had proven to be a ‘Maginot-line’ and that the Israeli Armed Forces had trusted it too much. This ‘techno-optimism’ was not limited to the border defences, but also the Tzayad-program, the total digitization of the army. Israeli generals complained that the budget for these types of fancy programs always came at the expense of the funds for simple training.
From a tactical point of view the Hezbollah ambush was a success. More would follow. For example, when the elite Israeli Egoz reconnaissance unit crossed the border, under the cover of darkness, to occupy the village of Bint Jbeil, they encountered heavy resistance. Apparently, the Hezbollah fighters were also equipped with night vision goggles and had followed the approaching columns of Israeli soldiers. It took three days to take the village, despite the fact that it was only a few kilometres from the border. Hezbollah made extensive use of anti-tank missiles, which inflicted damage on the Israeli Merkava tanks, considered by some analysts to be the best in the world.
A heavy-handed Israeli response did not take long to materialize. The Israeli Air Force started to pound the area in Beirut where Hezbollah had its powerbase. Neighbourhoods were turned into rubble. The Israeli intelligence services had been able to locate the larger rocket launchers in Hezbollah’s inventory. F-16s and F-15s were able to destroy these in an early stage. No rockets landed in the Israeli heartland.
In another example of Israeli unpreparedness, the fighter-bombers, counter battery radar, artillery and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were unable to stop, or even stem the salvos of smaller rockets that reached Israeli soil, more than two hundred a day – until the very last stage of the war. Most of them exploded without causing damage. However, many thousands of Israeli citizens fled to the southern parts of the country, due to the rocket attacks.
Whether the Hezbollah boldness was a strategic success remains a topic of discussion. After the guns fell silent (August 14), it turned out that around 250 Hezbollah fighters had been killed, and no less than 1,200 Lebanese civilians. The infrastructure was badly damaged. In addition, 121 Israelis had lost their lives.
The Road Map
After ‘Oslo‘ collapsed and the Second Intifada erupted, the focus of American political initiatives towards Israel and the Palestinians shifted to conflict management. The Mitchell Report of 30 April 2001 advocated an end to the violence, a freeze on all settlement activity, confidence-building measures and resumption of the negotiations. The Tenet Plan of 13 June 2001 stressed security cooperation between Israel and the PNA security forces. To a large extent, the same applied to the Road Map to Peace in the Middle East, a three-phase plan, which was launched on 30 April 2003 by the Quartet (the United States, European Union, Russian Federation, and the United Nations). The plan was endorsed by the UNSC in UNSC Resolution 1515 of 19 November 2003.
In Phase I of the Road Map, the Palestinians would end all acts of violence and disarm groups involved in it. Israel would act with military restraint against the intifada and would freeze the construction in the Jewish settlements. During Phase II an international conference would be organized as well as the creation of a Palestinian state ‘with provisional borders’. In Phase III, the negotiations over final status issues (borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees) would start. These negotiations were to be concluded before the end of 2005.
The Palestinians accepted the Road Map, albeit reluctantly. So did Israel. However, the Israeli government formulated no less than 14 reservations (Israel’s Road Map Reservations of 25 May 2003. The plan came before the UNSC. With the support of the United States, a resolution was passed in which the Council spoke about ‘a vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders’ (UNSC Resolution 1397 of 12 March 2002. This was the first time that the United States had formally committed itself to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Although soon overtaken by developments on the ground – the Intifada, continued settlement building, construction of the so-called Wall – and although the 2005 deadline was not met, the Quartet has nevertheless repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to the Road Map.
Given the support of several powerful players, the Road Map, after its launch, overshadowed several other initiatives – all on the basis of a two-state-approach. An example is the initiative of the then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which was endorsed by the League of Arab States during a summit in Beirut (League of Arab States Peace Initiative of 28 March 2002). Like the 1981 Fahd Plan, it demanded ‘full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967’ (West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights), the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and a ‘just solution’ for the refugees. Unlike the Fahd Plan, the Arab States in exchange explicitly offered ‘normal relations with Israel‘ in the context of a comprehensive peace. The initiative would again be endorsed by a League summit in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) on 29 March 2007.
Another example is the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement of 27 July 2002, named after a Palestinian academic, Sari Nusseibeh (left), and a former Israeli secret service chief, Ami Ayalon. Its main elements were: ‘Two states for two peoples’, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the basis of the 1967 border lines (with ‘border modifications’, i.e. the annexation of the big settlement blocks), ‘Jerusalem as the capital of two states’, and the return of refugees ‘only to the State of Palestine’.
More attention was paid to the Geneva Accord of 12 October 2003, drawn up by a former Israeli minister (Yossi Beilin, left) and a leading figure in the PLO/PNA (Yasser Abed Rabbo). The main elements of the agreement were: the Palestinians would give up the Right of return, but would be free to settle in the newly formed Palestinian state; a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the basis of the 1967 border lines, with border modifications as a result of the annexation of the big settlement blocks (compensated by land that since 1948-1949 had been part of Israel); Jerusalem as the undivided capital of two states, but administratively divided into Jewish and Palestinian parts; and international protection for the Holy Places.
Withdrawal from Gaza
To free itself from the direct control of a large number of Palestinians and to strengthen its grip on the West Bank, the Likud Government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to disengage unilaterally from the Gaza Strip (Sharon’s Unilateral Disengagement Plan of January 2005).
On August 15, Sharon said that although he had hoped Israel could keep the Gaza settlements, reality demanded otherwise: ‘It is out of strength and not weakness that we are taking this step’ he was quoted as saying. Israel’s motives to retreat unilaterally from the Gaza Strip were announced in a communication by the Prime Minister’s office. According to the communication Israel had no reliable Palestinian partner to negotiate with and it believed that a retreat from Gaza would lead to a better security situation. On the other hand the retreat also meant that the towns and villages in the West Bank would remain part of Israel.
The Israeli withdrawal that followed took place in August 2005. Despite the withdrawal, Israel continued to exercise direct control over the Gaza Strip. Under international law, Israel therefore remained the occupying power.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague in its advisory opinion (ICJ Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004) qualified the construction in the West Bank of Israel’s separation barrier (Wall) outside the so-called Green Line as a violation of international law. That part of the Wall should be dismantled and compensation should be paid to Palestinians for any damage inflicted. Moreover, the ICJ declared Israel’s settlements illegal.
The next month, with an overwhelming majority (150 to 6, with 10 abstentions), the UNGA passed a resolution in which Israel, ‘the occupying power’, was called upon to ‘comply with its legal obligations as mentioned in the advisory opinion’ (UNGA Resolution ICJ-Wall of 2 August 2004). To the present day, Israel has not complied. The construction of the Wall has continued at an accelerated pace.
A few months before the ICJ ruling on the Wall, President George W. Bush had written to Prime Minister Sharon and suggested that the United States would accept Israel keeping some of the settlements: ‘In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres [Jewish settlements], it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949’ (Bush-Sharon Letters of 14 April 2004). In November 2007, with the end of his presidency in sight, Bush organized a summit in Annapolis (Maryland) to breathe new life into the Road Map. Besides Israel and the PLO/PNA, the main Arab states attended the meeting. The result was a pledge to reach agreement over major issues before the end of 2008 (Annapolis Conference of 27 November 2007). A series of secret negotiations followed, however without achieving any tangible results. In January 2011, the contents of the negotiations were leaked and made public as the ‘Palestine Papers’.
Internal Palestinian Split
In the second elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), in January 2006, Hamas, won with 44.5 percent of the vote, giving them a total of 74 seats in the 132-seat Council, of which 29 seats were won according to the system of proportional representation and no less than 45 were in constituencies. Fatah, until then the most important political force among Palestinians, reaped with 41.4 percent of the vote and 45 seats: 25 under the proportional system and 17 in the constituencies. In the elections, Ismail Haniyeh had led the campaign of Hamas under the slogan ‘Change and Reform’. He was appointed Prime Minister by President Mahmoud Abbas and sworn in on 29 March 2006. On 14 June 2007, Abbas dismissed Haniyeh at the height of internal clashes in Gaza between armed forces of Hamas and Fatah, which lead to the complete takeover of power in the Gaza Strip by Hamas. This sharp conflict brought about paralysis of the functioning of the Palestine institutions. Abbas appointed Salam Fayyad Prime Minister, previously the Minister of Finance. However, the PLC, with its Hamas majority, did not approve this appointment and still recognized Haniyeh as Prime Minister.
Due to the conflict the sessions of the PLC and new elections for the Presidency (due in 2009) and the PLC (in 2010) seemed to be on a hold indefinitely and the internal Palestinian split complicated further the negotiations with Israel which by that time had already come to an almost complete standstill.