History of Palestine Part VIII
When Saddam Hussein was finally beaten in March 91, the excitement in the occupied territories was at a boiling point. Throughout the war, the Palestinians had been hit by the Israeli curfew. At the diplomatic level, however, a joint statement was issued by the US and the Soviet Union on the hope of achieving a peace agreement between Arabs and Israelis. The statement revealed a US-Israel relationship that was against peace talks.
At the end of the Palestinian National Council meeting in September 91, Arafat was again elected President of the PLO and President of Palestine. The council also accepted the resignation of Al Fatah leader Abu Abbas. He had been sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court for the hijacking of the ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean in 1985.
1991 First peace talks
Under the chairmanship of the United States and the Soviet Union, the First Middle East Peace Conference was initiated in Madrid from 30 October to 4 November 91. The conference was a form of payment from the United States to the Arab countries for their support behind the anti-Iraqi front during the Gulf War. The Arab delegations unanimously demanded that negotiations be conducted on the basis of UN resolutions 242 and 338, which reject the military occupation of land and recommend the evacuation of occupied territories against a peace agreement.
According to GLOBALSCIENCELLC, the Middle East Conference continued in Washington in December, but no progress was made on the issue of Palestine. Israel held on to its own interpretation of the UN resolutions. At the same time, the Israeli delegation was pleased to withdraw from the conference after it succeeded in removing Resolution 337, which defined Zionism as a form of racism.
In the June 92 elections in Israel, the Labor Party won and Yitzhak Rabin was inaugurated as new prime minister. He postponed the establishment of new settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, but allowed the expansion of existing settlements. Nevertheless, peace talks that had been interrupted when Israel had expelled 415 members of Hamas to Lebanon were difficult to recover.
1993 Oslo Agreement
Meanwhile, with Norwegian participation, secret negotiations were held between the PLO and the Israeli government. They resulted in the historic mutual recognition in Washington on September 13, 93, in which the two states’ heads of state – Arafat and Rabin – also signed a declaration of principle on autonomy in the occupied territories. The first peace document signed between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Movement. The declaration envisaged the establishment of limited Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and in the city of Jericho for a 5-year period. This period was to be used to negotiate a definitive peace agreement for the occupied territories – including Jerusalem – in place.
A few days later, the Israeli Parliament and the PLO ratified the principle declaration. The PLO Central Council also approved the agreement on autonomy. But the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas and the proiran group in Lebanon, Hezbollah rejected the peace agreement and continued their attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. At the same time, Israeli settlers in the occupied territories of the extreme Zionist right wing turned against the agreements. The tense situation meant that the planned withdrawal of Israeli military from Gaza and Jericho on December 13 had to be postponed.
In May 94, Arafat and Rabin signed an autonomy agreement for Gaza and Jericho, at the same time as Israeli forces withdrew. This paved the way for PLO forces who had been in exile in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Jordan and Algeria to return home.
In July, Arafat arrived in Gaza to take up the post of head of the Palestinian Authority – the Palestinian National Authority. But at the same time, the battle between the PLO and the opponents of the Hamas peace agreement became increasingly violent. Following the assassination of the leader of Islamic Jihad, Hani Abed – apparently committed by the Israeli intelligence agency – in November, three Israeli soldiers were killed. A week later, Palestinian police shot at a group of people on their way out of a mosque where Islamic fundamentalists came. The shooting killed 13 people.
Gaza came on the brink of civil war in April 95 when a building was destroyed by an explosion that killed 7, including Kamal Kaheil – one of the leaders of the Ezzedín-El-Kassam Brigades (Hamas’ military arm). Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s contradictions subsequently cost 7 Israeli soldiers and a North American tourist life and 40 wounded. Jihad’s military branch subsequently characterized the assault as a “heroic suicide operation” and citing the explosion in the building: “a gift to the spirit of the martyrs of the criminal massacre.”