History of Palestine Part IX
1995-96 The peace process runs off the trail
Tensions continued despite negotiations between Islamists and PLO leaders. Arafat wanted, among other things, that Hamas took part in the planned Palestinian elections in January 96, which would give his leadership greater legitimacy. However, the fundamentalists ultimately decided to boycott the election. Arafat was elected president with 87% of the votes cast and the PLO got 66 out of the 88 seats.
In May 96, Benyamin Netanyahu was elected new Israeli Prime Minister, which drastically intensified the tension between the two countries. It came to new clashes when the Israeli authorities ordered a disputed tunnel under the El-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in September. During the riots, dozens of Palestinians and Israelis were killed and the explosive situation came under control only when a special summit was held between Arafat, Netanyahu and US President Clinton – just to discuss the tunnel.
After difficult negotiations, an agreement was withdrawn for the Israeli troops from Hebron. This gave new backing to the self-government led by Yasser Arafat. In January 97, the Palestinian President had to remind again that the future status of Jerusalem still had to be defined and that this point, together with the construction of the Palestinian state, the distribution of water and land, the release of political prisoners and the specter of settlements were the next items on the agenda.
According to HOLIDAYSORT, Israeli decision to build a new settlement on Mount Homa in the Palestinian sector of Jerusalem was strongly condemned by Palestinian autonomy and by Western diplomats. When construction began in March 97, the powerful clash between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers triggered and eventually brought the peace process to a halt. At the same time, the Israeli government declared that it was only willing to return 2% of occupied West Bank areas to the Palestinians. In protest against his own prime minister, Israeli President Ezer Weizman met with Arafat, but neither Netanyahu’s steep stance nor the violent reaction of the Palestinians succeeded. Shortly thereafter, the Autonomous Authority decided to impose the death penalty on the inhabitants who sold land or houses to the Israelis.
On the anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 97, the largest demonstration in support of peace in Palestine was conducted for many years. In February 98, about 50 activists from the Israeli left-wing peace group “Peace Now” attended a demonstration outside the Kyriat Arba settlement on the outskirts of Hebron. The occasion was that Israeli settlers would erect a memorial on Baruch Goldstein’s grave. Four years earlier, he had murdered 29 Palestinians in the same city.
In a new attempt to get the peace process under way, Arafat and Netanyahu met in London in May 98 at the invitation of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and with the participation of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Still, the negotiation stranded on the issue of the Occupied West Bank. Acc. previously concluded agreements, the West Bank was to be divided into 3 zones: Zone A should consist of 3% of the area and predominantly managed by the Palestinians. Zone B should consist of 24% and be administered jointly. This zone also houses important Israeli settlements. Finally, zone C (73%) should remain Israeli occupied. Last week, with the support of Arafat, the United States had suggested that Israel return 13% of Zone C and 14% of B, but Netanyahu declined to accept more than 9%.
Israel’s consensual negotiating position led Arafat to propose greater US involvement in the negotiation process. In April 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to this, and this in turn forced Arafat to postpone the proclamation of an actual Palestinian state. Jerusalem is a holy city for both Muslims, Jews and Christians, and it had become the main problem in the negotiation process because both parties wanted to make it their capital.
In September 2000, rabid Israeli right-wing politician Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, considered sacred by both Jews and Muslims. The visit was a huge provocation against the Palestinians and immediately triggered the so-called Al Aqsa Intifada. In the following months, 3-400 people died – almost all Palestinians. Israel deployed rocket-propelled helicopters in the fight against Palestinian cities and refugee camps, targeted targeted liquidations of Palestinians designated in February 2001 by Amnesty International as state terrorism, and cut off Palestinian territories from the outside world, bringing the economy to its knees. (See also: Liquidations of Palestinians.)