PALESTINE-ISRAEL TIMELINE: 1990 – 1996
Early 1990s: Hamas emerges as a viable political alternative to the local Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
1990: When a splinter group within the PLO tries to mount a raid into Israel in summer 1990, the US breaks off negotiations with the PLO.
Having recognized Israel’s right to exist without receiving any concessions in return, Yasir Arafat decides to associate the PLO with the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein soon states that Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories is a necessary precondition for Iraq’s evacuation of Kuwait.
October 8, 1990: In the bloodiest day of the intifada, Israeli police respond to a Palestinian demonstration by killing 20 people and wounding many others. Called the incident of the Temple Mount, the Palestinians were protesting plans by an Israeli fringe group to construct a Jewish temple on the site of Jerusalem’s holiest Islamic shrines.
April 6, 1991: Iraq officially accepts Desert Shield cease-fire terms. The invasion of Kuwait and the war that follows create a refugee problem of tragic proportions. Prior to the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait is home to a relatively prosperous Palestinian community numbering around 400,000. By war’s end, 350,000 Palestinians have fled Kuwait. Some refugees return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but the majority remain in Jordan. Several thousand are once again forced into UN-sponsored refugee camps. Jordanians fear that their country is becoming a surrogate Palestinian homeland.
1991: Following the Gulf War, the PLO enters a period of political and economic disarray. In the Gaza Strip, the PLO claim to political primacy comes under renewed challenge from Hamas. PLO leaders look to negotiations with Israel as a way of retaining their dominance.
October 30, 1991: An international peace conference jointly sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union opens in Madrid bringing Israelis and Palestinians to a new level of contact. Neighboring Arab states that have not yet recognized Israel’s right to exist – Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – are also included. The Madrid Conference focuses attention on Palestinians who live and work in the occupied territories. The aging PLO leadership appears politically stale and out of touch with the realities of life in the territories.
December 1991-Spring 1993: Arab and Israeli delegations meet several times in Moscow and Washington. The sticking point concerns Israeli settlement policy in the occupied territories. Now the US administration adopts a firm stance against continued settlement activity. President Bush links US financial aid to Israel to Israel’s willingness to curb settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
February 1992: The US announces that it won’t approve a $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel unless Israel agrees to a freeze on the construction of all settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Shamir is defiant, but Israel badly needs the US loan guarantee.
June 1992: In elections, the Israeli public rejects Shamir’s ideological hard line and gives Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party an overwhelming victory. Rabin is willing to support measures designed to restore good relations with the US. He announces a partial freeze on settlement construction.
1992: Rabin makes his first state visit to the US and President Bush announces the authorization of a $10 billion loan guarantee without Israel supporting a complete freeze on settlements.
1993-1995: Rabin ends the freeze on settlement construction and Israel confiscates 20,000 acres of Palestinian owned land on the West Bank.
1993: Concern for Hamas’ militancy prompts Rabin to consider negotiations with Yasir Arafat (and vice versa).
Winter and Spring 1993: Israeli and PLO officials meet in a series of clandestine meetings near Oslo, Norway. The meetings are outside of normal diplomatic channels.
Late summer 1993: Arab and Israeli delegates meet in Washington for the eleventh round of the peace talks begun in Madrid two years earlier. Disclosure of a secret agreement between representatives of the Israeli government and the PLO takes the world by surprise.
The two part agreement (Oslo I) provides for mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO and lays the foundation for Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Neither of the two 1993 documents makes explicit mention of a Palestinian state — Israel simply agrees to negotiate.
According to a schedule set forth at the time, the interim negotiations will conclude in 1998 with a permanent agreement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. (The schedule will not be met. Discussion on a number of crucial issues will also be postponed.)
Arab leaders cautiously endorse the proposal. The US President Clinton agrees to reestablish formal contacts with the PLO.
September 13, 1993: Israeli and PLO leaders assemble at the White House for the signing of the autonomy agreement. Overall momentum toward a negotiated settlement is maintained for two years following the signing ceremony.
After 1993: The economic situation in the occupied territories deteriorates, further alienating the Palestinian community from the peace accords.
1994: Israel and the PLO sign two agreements dealing with economic relations and the transfer of administrative authority from Israel to the Palestinians in Gaza and Jericho. The establishment of a self-governing Palestinian authority is crucial. Both sides understand that Arafat and the PLO will constitute the leadership. This means allowing the PLO and Arafat to return to Palestine.
July 1994: Yasir Arafat establishes residence in Gaza and begins to put in place the rudiments of an administrative and security structure.
1994-1995: A series of Hamas supported suicide bombings are directed at Israeli civilians in the larger cities. Dozens of Israelis are killed. The objective of the bombings is to sabotage the peace negotiations by turning the Israeli public against Rabin and the Labor government. The Israeli response to the bombings is to pressure Arafat to undertake more rigorous security measures in the areas under Palestinian Authority (PA) control. In complying with Israeli demands and conducting raids against Hamas organizations, Arafat undermines his credibility and turns Palestinians against his administration.
February 1994: Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler activist, turns an automatic weapon on a large gathering of Palestinians praying in the Mosque of Abraham near the West Bank city of Hebron, killing 29 before he himself is killed.
July 1994: Yasir Arafat establishes residence in Gaza and begins to put in place the rudiments of an administrative and security structure. He endeavors to monopolize the decision-making process in the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Fall 1994: Israel and Jordan sign a treaty of peace and mutual recognition.
1995: Israeli opposition to the Oslo process is increasingly framed in religious terms. A group of rabbis issues a decree instructing soldiers to resist orders to evacuate army bases in the West Bank. Orthodox and nationalist organizations vilify Prime Minister Rabin.
September 1995: The Interim Agreement (Oslo II) is signed. It spells out in detail the stages of Israeli military redeployment in the West Bank, the process by which power will be transferred to the Palestinian civil authority and several other matters. Clauses on redeployments and the limitations imposed on Palestinian authority draw substantial criticism. The West Bank is divided into three zones and it is clear that the Palestinian Authority will have very limited power.
November 4, 1995: Prime Minister Rabin is assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli student, as he leaves a large peace rally in Tel Aviv. The assassination of Rabin leads to the suspension of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
November 1995-May 1996: Hamas carries out another round of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israeli public opinion shifts away from support for the peace process. The Israeli government seals off the occupied territories, placing many West Bank towns under curfew and causing increased economic distress within the Palestinian community. More and more Palestinians turn away from Arafat.
1996: A Palestinian Council, comprised of 88 representatives, is elected. Arafat’s supporters win a comfortable majority. Arafat is elected head of the PA and proceeds to ignore the new council and set up an authoritarian regime with an elaborate hierarchy of security forces. As many as 7 different security services, numbering upwards of 40,000 men, are deployed on behalf of the regime.
May 1996: Israelis go to the polls and choose Benjamin Netanyahu as their new prime minister. Netanyahu has campaigned on a pledge to “slow down” the peace process. What he wants to do is end the process as it defined by the Oslo Accords. He adopts hardline policies toward the occupied territories, refuses to acknowledge any connection between land and peace, assures Israelis that they can have security and settlements at the same time that they have peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians. He inaugurates a new round of provocative settlement activities that seem to invite Palestinian retaliation.
Late 1990s: Israeli Arabs number nearly 1 million, roughly 20% of Israel’s population.
Look for part 9 of the Palestine-Israel Timeline coming soon.