The Contemporary History of Israel Part I
Israel was established in 1948 and is therefore a young state. As the only Jewish state in the world, Israel was to be a safe haven for troubled and persecuted Jews worldwide. Facilitating Jewish immigration to the country, as well as receiving and integrating immigrants, were among the state’s most important tasks. Paradoxically, the safe harbor also became a precarious and unstable place to live. For the first five decades, Israel was in several wars with its Arab neighbors. Foreign, security and defense policy has therefore been a dominant theme in Israeli politics and social life.
In the year 2000, the second Palestinian intifada began, with both popular uprising backed by the Palestinian Authority and a host of terrorist acts carried out by militant Palestinian organizations. This marked the tentative end of the 1990s peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. This period also led to increasing political polarization within the country. For decades, the major parties had ruled and dominated politics, but now it was gaining more power for small parties, and especially the religious ones. The country has clearly turned right under the rule of Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s long-standing prime minister. The debate over the role of religion in the Jewish state has characterized Israel since its founding, and in recent years polarized and tense political climates have received increasing attention.
War and conflict after 2000
Israel was involved in various peace and reconciliation initiatives with the Palestinians during the period of the Madrid Conference in 1991. This phase of Israeli history can therefore be referred to as the “peace process period”. But with the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000, this period came to an end.
The second intifada
The second intifada, also known as the al-Aqsa intifada, was to a greater extent than the first ruled by the Palestinian leadership. The revolt developed into a state of war between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The rebellion erupted in protest that Ariel Sharon, at that time Israel’s most prominent opposition politician for the Likud party, was visiting the holy height of Jerusalem’s Old City as part of its election campaign. Sharon’s election campaign stunt followed in the wake of yet another failed round of peace talks. In July 2000, Bill Clinton had a negotiation attempt at Camp David in the United States collapsed. Many saw this as the final confirmation that peace between Israel and the Palestinians was impossible. For many Palestinians, it was also interpreted as the definitive proof that an independent Palestinian state would never arise as a result of diplomatic negotiations.
The Palestinian struggle against Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank had also led to increased support for radical Islamist groups, especially Hamas. This radicalization resulted in increased terrorism against Israel, including in the form of several actions by Palestinian suicide bombers. Suicide bombs had been used as weapons even in the years immediately following the Oslo agreement but during the second intifada they increased dramatically in size. Israel responded with reprisals by shutting off Gaza and recapturing large parts of the West Bank in the fall of 2001. This was internationally condemned, and also strongly criticized by the United States, with the withdrawal of Israeli forces.
The Israeli actions were most often triggered by militant Palestinians’ attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets. Israel’s position was that the Palestinian Authority should be held accountable for the acts of violence, regardless of the Palestinian grouping behind it, and that Palestinian President Yasir Arafat should personally be seen as responsible for maintaining control in the Palestinian territories. Check Shoppingpicks to see more articles about this country and Middle East.
The conflict was significantly escalated in 2002. In the second intifada, it was not only the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that revolted, it was also Arab Israelis, a marginalized minority group in the Jewish-Israeli majority community. Following a series of suicide attacks in Israel, Israel launched its largest military offensive on March 29 since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Israeli forces moved into Gaza and the West Bank, including Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah and the Jenin refugee camp. With the exception of Hebron and Jericho, all major cities in the West Bank were occupied, including the birth church in Bethlehem.was besieged. The purpose of the action was to destroy the infrastructure of the militant Palestinian groups.
The Israeli invasion of the Palestinian territories was internationally condemned. However, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hard line, including the military recapture of the West Bank, had widespread support in the Israeli population. However, the action contributed to increased polarization within the Israeli Labor Party Mapai, creating unusual resistance within the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Several IDF reservists protested against serving in Gaza and the West Bank because, in their opinion, the service had nothing to do with defending Israel’s security, but was about dominating and humiliating the Palestinians.
Over 140 suicide attacks were carried out by various Palestinian groups. In the period from September 2000 to January 2005, hundreds of Israelis and thousands of Palestinians lost their lives, as well as several thousands injured.