The historic process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, which began with the Madrid Conference in 1991 and continued with the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP) and subsequent agreements, was impeded significantly by the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, known as the "al-Aqsa Intifada," or merely the Intifada. The Intifada started in late September 2000, and ended sometime in 2005 or 2006. Its causes are complex and remain highly controversial between the parties.
The Al-Aqsa Intifada began in September 2000, in response to Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on September 28th. The Temple Mount, known as the Haram as Sharif in Arabic, is also the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, from which the uprising takes its name. This visit was seen by many to be a provocative gesture aimed at inciting the Palestinians because the mosque is considered the third holiest site for Muslims. Many Israelis viewed Sharon's visit as an internal political move against Prime Minister Ehud Barak, his opponent in the upcoming election. Some sources contend that the Intifada was planned by the Palestinian Authority or other Palestinian groups. Additionally, the Israeli government received some assurances from the Palestinian government that Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount would not cause violence. Contrary to some reports, Sharon did not enter the mosque itself. Regardless, violent Palestinian demonstrations occurred on September 29th. Israeli police used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition to disperse the stone-throwing protesters and in the process killed four and wounded about 200 Palestinians. Following these demonstrations, similar protests broke out across Israel.
The violence in September 2000 was preceded by the breakdown in peace talks at Camp David in July 2000. Israelis and American President Bill Clinton blamed PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat for disrupting the negotiations and refusing to allow them to proceed. Arafat claimed that the peace proposal at Camp David would have divided the West Bank into "Bantustans," a claim that Dennis Ross, chief negotiator for the United States, denies. Ross claimed that the Camp David proposal would have given the Palestinians control over 91% of Gaza.
Palestinians claimed that Israeli security forces responded excessively to demonstrations. The killing of a 12-year-old in Gaza on September 30th (repeatedly broadcast on television) incensed the Palestinian demonstrators. The lynching of two Israeli reservists (also repeatedly broadcast) convinced many Israelis that Palestinians harbored a deep hatred for Jews.
During the initial stage of the Intifada, Palestinian demonstrators threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces. The security forces responded using rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators, resulting in injuries and deaths. Demonstrations and clashes continued daily though the end of 2000 and throughout 2001. The nature of the violence changed during 2001, leading to increased armed attacks and terrorism by Palestinians against Israeli targets. In addition to violent demonstrations, Palestinians attacked Israelis, including settlers, other civilians, and soldiers, on a daily basis in the occupied territories and Israel proper, including by suicide bombings, using other types of bombs, shooting at Israeli vehicles and military installations, firing of anti-tank missiles and mortars, and use of hand grenades. IDF retaliation against Palestinians included violence and abuse at checkpoints, incursions into Palestinian-controlled towns and villages, targeted killings, firing toward civilian areas, and intense gun battles with Palestinian shooters.
In October 2000, pursuant to an international conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh, a fact-finding committee headed by former U.S. Senate leader George Mitchell was established to examine the causes of the violent events that began in late September 2000 and to recommend ways to prevent their recurrence. The committee began its work in December 2000. The report of the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee was published on April 30, 2001 and both Israel and the PA agreed in principle to implement its recommendations, along with the Tenet Plan, which outlines specific steps that both the Israeli Government and the PA should take to maintain a cease-fire, restore security, and resume political negotiation. None of the provisions of the Report or the Plan had been implemented by the end of 2001.
The Mitchell Report, considered an authoritative report on Al-Aqsa Intifada, blamed both the Israelis and the Palestinians for the violence. At the negotiations, both sides vowed to put an end to the violence. At an Arab League summit in Cairo, however, Arafat and other Arab leaders praised the Intifada and rejected the Mitchell Report. Soon thereafter, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem increased tensions and diminished hopes of ending the violence.
No agreement was reached during negotiations in Washington in December 2000, either. President Clinton's proposal called for Palestinian control over 97% of the West Bank, complete control over Gaza, control of West Bank airspace, an international force in the Jordan Valley to replace the IDF, and control over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the Haram as Sharif. The Israelis accepted Clinton's proposal with reservations and the Palestinians did not respond before the deadline. Negotiations at Taba in January 2001 failed to produce an agreement either. Violence continued over the course of 2001.
During 2000 and early in 2001, the parties held intensive talks concerning final status issues, including water rights, refugees, settlers, the status of Jerusalem, and border and security issues, most notably in July 2000 and in Taba in January; however, they did not reach an agreement by year's end. Despite meetings between high level Israeli and Palestinian political and security officials, and repeated declarations of cease-fires by both sides, efforts to end the violence yielded few results by year's end.
Israel and the PA had varying degrees of control and jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel continued to control certain civil functions and is responsible for all security in portions of the occupied territories categorized as Area C. In the West Bank, this constituted more than 61 percent of the land, and approximately 4 percent of the total West Bank Palestinian population, including the Israeli settlements. In Gaza more than 12 percent of the land was designated as Area C equivalent, and includes the Israeli settlements. In areas designated as Area B, the PA has jurisdiction over civil affairs and shares security responsibilities with Israel. Approximately 21 percent of West Bank land is Area B, and approximately 41 percent of the West Bank Palestinian population resides there. The Area B equivalent in Gaza constitutes almost 19 percent of the land. The PA has control over civil affairs and security in Area A; however, contrary to the terms of the Interim Agreement, Israeli forces entered cities and villages in Area A for periods of a few hours up to several weeks during the year. The West Bank Area A constitutes nearly 18 percent of the land, and includes roughly 55 percent of the West Bank Palestinian population. The Gaza Area A equivalent constitutes approximately 69 percent of the land. The PA also has jurisdiction over some civil affairs in Area C, as specified in the Interim Agreement.
Israel exercised civil authority in parts of the West Bank and Gaza through the Israeli Ministry of Defense's Office of Coordination and Liaison, known by the Hebrew acronym MATAK. The approximately 175,000 Israeli settlers living in Area C of the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip were subject to Israeli law and, as citizens, receive preferential treatment from Israeli authorities in terms of protection of personal and property rights and of legal redress. The body of law governing Palestinians in the occupied territories derives from Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian, and Egyptian law, and Israeli military orders. Certain laws and regulations promulgated by the PA also are in force. The international community considers Israel's authority in the occupied territories to be subject to the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War. The Israeli Government considers the Hague Regulations applicable and maintains that it largely observes the Geneva Convention's humanitarian provisions.
Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip consisted of the IDF; the Israel Security Agency (the ISA-formerly the General Security Service, or GSS, and also known as Shin Bet, or Shabak); the Israeli National Police (INP); and the paramilitary border police. Israeli military courts try Palestinians accused of committing security crimes in Israeli-controlled areas. Members of the Israeli security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses throughout the year.
Since the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian DOP in 1993, Israel required Palestinians to obtain Israeli permits for themselves and their vehicles to cross from the West Bank or Gaza into Israel and Jerusalem. In times of tension, Israel further restricts the movement of persons and products into Israel and Jerusalem from the West Bank and Gaza. Citing security concerns, Israel has applied partial "external closure," or enhanced restrictions, on the movement of persons and products, often for lengthy periods, since 1993. During periods of violent protest in the West Bank or Gaza, or when it believes that there is an increased likelihood of such unrest or of terrorist attacks in Israel, Israel imposes a tightened, comprehensive version of external closure, generally referred to as total external closure. Total external closures also are instituted regularly during major Israeli holidays. During such closures, Israel cancels all travel permits and prevents Palestinians--even those with valid work permits--from entering Israel or Jerusalem. The Israeli Government also bans travel on the safe passage route between the West Bank and Gaza at such times. Due to the ongoing unrest in the occupied territories, Israel imposed 210 days of total external closure during the year and 155 days of partial external closure, compared with 88 days of closure in 2000 and 15 days in 1999. The safe passage route was not open at all during 2001, despite the fact that its existence is stipulated in the 1995 Interim Agreement, signed by both parties.
In periods of unrest in the West Bank and Gaza or heightened terrorist activity in Israel, the Israeli Government also prohibits most travel between cities, towns, and villages within the West Bank--an "internal closure"--impeding the movement of goods and persons. During the year, Israel expanded its use of internal closure further in response to the sustained violence of the Intifada. The internal closures may be severe--prohibiting Palestinians from using primary roads and closing off many secondary roads with physical barricades--or limited, allowing access to Palestinians on most secondary roads, but only some main roads, with roadblocks and checkpoints dispersed along those roads that are open. The Government of Israel imposed approximately 87 days of limited internal closure and 278 days of severe internal closure in the West Bank during the year, compared with 81 days of internal closure in 2000 and no days in 1999. Prior to the Intifada, the Government of Israel rarely imposed internal closure within Gaza. However, during the year, the Israeli Government imposed roughly 361 days of limited internal closure and 4 days of severe internal closure in Gaza. Israeli forces further restricted freedom of movement of Palestinians by imposing curfews, often for extended periods, on specific Palestinian towns or neighborhoods. These curfews did not apply to Israeli settlers in the same areas.
UN Resolution 1397, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's peace proposal, and American General Anthony Zinni's visit to the region failed to end the violence in March 2002. After a suicide attack killed 27 Israelis during a Passover seder in April 2002, Israel embarked on Operation Defensive Shield and reoccupied Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and other towns in an attempt to destroy terrorist infrastructure, disrupt funding, and prevent attacks. During the operation and the subsequent capture of Marwan Barghouti, head of the Fatah Tanzeem, Israel discovered numerous documents linking Arafat and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to the organization and funding of terrorist activities. Attempts to negotiate cease fires in August 2002 and September 2002 failed, as extremist groups were unwilling to participate and Israeli security forces incited Palestinians by killing Salah Shehadeh, head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (the military wing of Hamas) along with 13 civilians in a targeted assassination.
The civil unrest that began in the fall of 2000 significantly damaged the economic and commercial situation in the West Bank and Gaza. Movement of goods has been heavily restricted and the volume of trade within the areas themselves, and with the outside world, has dropped significantly. These shocks pushed the WB/G into severe economic crisis. According to the International Monetary Fund, real Gross Domestic Product fell by 14.5% in 2002 after falling 15% in 2001 and 5.4% in 2000. From its peak in 1999, real per-capita Gross National Income (Palestinian GNI takes into account the significant share of Palestinians' wages earned in Israel) had contracted by over 40% by the end of 2002.
Throughout 2002 and 2003, Israel used such targeted assassinations to respond to suicide bombings and the violence continued. The Israeli government during 2003 began construction of a security barrier (or fence) to cut off the West Bank from Israel proper. The barrier was originally planned to run along the Green Line (Israel's pre-1967 border) but under Sharon's plan, the barrier would encompass some major Israeli settlements within the West Bank. In addition to the security fence plan, Sharon began to advocate for unilateral Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip settlements and from some settlements in the West Bank. The Israeli parliament initially balked at this proposal but began the approval process in late 2004.
The Israeli operation and initial construction of the security fence resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of suicide attacks carried out by Palestinian terrorist organizations: in 2002 there were 60 suicide attacks, while in 2003 this number decreased by more than 50% to 26 suicide attacks. There was also a considerable decrease in the number of fatalities: from 452 Israelis killed in 2002 to 214 Israelis killed in 2003.
In November 2003, Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei formed a permanent government and began moves to institute a cease-fire. In March 2004, Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the elderly spiritual leader of Hamas, and was criticized by much of the world. In April, the IAF killed Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the new leader of Hamas. No cease-fire was signed and Qurei resigned in July 2004.
In November 2004, Yasir Arafat died and many thought that new opportunities for peace would come from his death. In January 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the PNA and met with Sharon at Sharm-el-Sheikh in February 2005. Both sides announced an end to the violence. The Israeli parliament approved the disengagement plan during the same month. In March 2005, militant groups agreed to a tahideyah (lull in the fighting). While not a full truce, this was considered major progress and some have argued that it marked the end of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.
In July 2005, the truce was broken by a suicide bombing in Netanya, which led to raids by the IDF into the West Bank. Hamas responded with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Israel implemented its disengagement plan in August 2005, evacuating settlers from all of its Gaza settlements and four settlements in the West Bank. Sharon suffered a massive stroke in January 2006 and leadership of the Israeli government fell to Ehud Olmert. Hamas was victorious in Palestinian elections held in January 2006 and Olmert's Kadima Party retained power in Israeli elections in March 2006.
Hamas continued to launch rockets from the Gaza Strip and on June 25th, 2006 captured an Israeli corporal after killing two other Israeli soldiers in a raid attacking an Israeli border post near Gaza. Hamas's incursion into Israel led to Operation Summer Rains, a major thrust into Gaza. On July 12th, Hizbullah militants killed three Israeli soldiers in the north and captured two others. This led Israel to commence Operation Just Reward, a sustained bombing campaign against southern Lebanon.
The Al-Aqsa Intifada never officially ended and it is debatable whether the events after February 2005 should be considered part of the uprising or as independent events. From September 2000 until February 2005, approximately 3,000-3,300 Palestinians were killed and approximately 950-1010 Israelis were killed.
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