1999 The Barak Proposals

In 1999 Ehud Barak of the Labour Party defeated Netanyahu in the election for Prime Minister, on a radical peace platform. He announced the following program:

  • negotiations with Syria for return of the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace treaty;
  • unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon;
  • negotiation of a “final status” agreement with the Palestinian authority.

The Syrian Negotiation
In December 1999 Barak, US President Clinton and Syrian Foreign Minister al-Shara met for a ceremony on the White House lawn, and in January they engaged in intensive talks in Shepherdstown. The talks failed when Syria sought to return to the 1949 border on the shore of the Sea of Galilee while Israel agreed only to the 1948 border of the Mandate, some distance back. Also Syria was not prepared to discuss the extent of the peace until the border was agreed.

Withdrawal from Lebanon
In May 2000 Israel unilaterally withdrew from the whole of Lebanon. The withdrawal was at first denounced by Syria as an aggressive act. As foreseen it was hailed by many Palestinians as a victory for the Hezbollah.

Final Status Negotiations with the Palestinians
In July 2000 Barak and Arafat and their aides met at the US Presidential retreat at Camp David in a meeting known as “Camp David II” in the hope of reaching a “final status agreement”. The offers made at the meeting were intentionally not minuted. However it is generally agreed that President Clinton made a proposal which included the transfer to a Palestinian state of more than 90% of the area of the Territories plus additional land from within Israel, as well as the Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. An arrangement was also proposed for shared jurisdiction over the Muslim holy places on the natural platform in the Old City of Jerusalem, known to Muslims as the “Noble Sanctuary” and to Jews as the “Temple Mount”.

The proposals at Camp David II were accepted in principle by Israel, but rejected by the Palestinians. The Palestinian negotiators sought full Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and also Israeli recognition of a right for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants, numbering some four million, to “return” to Israel itself, rather than to the proposed state of Palestine.

After the failure of Camp David II Arafat returned to cheering crowds, and praise for standing up to Barak and Clinton. Barak faced opposition in the Knesset for offering to trade an equivalent of 100% of the Territories without Cabinet authorisation.

In September 2000 Ariel Sharon, as leader of the Likud opposition, asserted the Jewish right of access to the Temple Mount (never actually denied) by making a public visit. The response was an outbreak of violent rioting, which came to be known as the El Aqsa Intifada, named after the El Aqsa mosque which stands on the Temple Mount.

One result of the initiatives at Camp David II was a political crisis leading to the break-up of the governing coalition and Barak’s resignation as Prime Minister. However during Barak’s term as caretaker Prime Minister pending elections, he and Arafat continued unsuccessful negotiations at Taba (in a hotel on the Egyptian side of the border) as the violence continued.

2001-2005 Sharon’s new approach

As the ensuing elections approached the El Aqsa Intifada increased in intensity, with almost daily suicide bombings and mortar and shooting attacks on residential areas in Jerusalem. American diplomatic missions failed in attempts to mediate and bring about a lasting ceasefire.It was in this context that Ariel Sharon overwhelmingly defeated Barak in February 2001.

In 2002
Israeli forces attacked Hamas and Al Aqsa Brigade centres in Ramallah, Jenin and Bethlehem on West Bank, and Arafat was confined to the PA compound in Ramallah.

2003 The “Roadmap”.

In 2003 the “Quartet”, comprising the US, the UN, the EU and Russia, sponsored a proposal described as “A Performance-based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution the Israeli Palestinian Conflict”. Essentially the Roadmap required that the PA would proceed to “dismantle” the terrorist organisations, and that this would be followed by an Israeli settlement freeze and by negotiations for the creation of a Palestinian state.

2004 The Security Barrier

As the situation deteriorated and daily bombings resumed, the Sharon government adopted a plan for construction of a Security Barrier. The barrier consisted mainly of fences, with sections of high wall in urban areas and next to major roads. It was mainly constructed near to the 1949 armistice lines, with extensions to protect Israeli towns in the West Bank.

The construction of the fence caused hardship to many Palestinians living in its vicinity. Some brought action in the Israeli Supreme Court, which confirmed that the barrier was a temporary structure which did not define borders, and ordered changes in the route to relieve disproportionate hardship. The fence was condemned by the UN and in the International Court on the ground that it had the effect of a unilateral acquisition of territory. However it achieved its objective of greatly reducing violent attacks within Israel.

On 11 November 2004 Yasser Arafat died, and Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority. (See Yasser Arafat for more detail.)

2005 Unilateral withdrawal by Israel from Gaza

The government of Ariel Sharon decided that in the absence any prospect of a negotiated settlement, Israel would unilaterally withdraw all Israelis from Gaza. Some 60,000 settlers were removed from their homes by Israeli police.

After the withdrawal from Gaza the firing of rockets into Israel continued, as did the smuggling of armaments.

Kadimah formed – Sharon incapacitated

After the withdrawal from Gaza had been completed in 2005, Ariel Sharon left the Likud Party and created a new party known as Kadimah (“Forward “) with a central policy of continuing a process of unilateral withdrawal from the Territories. The new party attracted parliamentarians from both the Likud and Labour, and under Sharon’s leadership it performed strongly in opinion polls. However before elections were held, Sharon suffered a stroke which left him in a coma, and was succeeded as leader of Kadimah by Ehud Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem.

2006 Hamas wins Palestinian election

In the PA Parliamentary elections in February Hamas gained a clear majority.
At the elections in February 2006 Hamas won a clear majority of seats in the PA legislature, and its representatives declared that it would refuse to recognise Israel or negotiate with it and that armed resistance would continue. Theoretically the “Peace Process” had come to an end, since the new government specifically repudiated the existing agreements.

The US, EU and Israel discontinued funding for the PA unless it would agree to honour existing agreements, recognise Israel and renounce violence.

The Kadimah led government
In May 2006 Ehud Olmert was elected in his own right to form a Kadimah-Labour-Shas coalition government, with a declared policy of further unilateral withdrawal from areas in the West Bank.

However in July 2006 after the kidnap of an Israeli soldier, Israeli troops invaded Gaza in force. By December 2006 Gaza had become the centre of a de facto civil war between forces supporting the Hamas government and the forces of the Fatah, supporting President Mahmoud Abbas.

The war in Lebanon 2006

In July 2006 the Hezbollah crossed the border into Israel and killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Israel responded with aerial bombardment of Hezbollah bases and Lebanese communications facilities, including Beirut airport.

The Hezbollah fired rockets at Israeli population centres, reaching the city of Haifa. Israeli troops entered south Lebanon, after warning the civilian population to evacuate, but still causing extensive casualties and damage in attempting to prevent Hezbollah rocket fire.

Hostilities ended with a UN Security Council resolution requiring the disarming of the Hezbollah, the creation of an expanded United Nations force and the presence of the Lebanese army in the border area.

The Saudi Initiative 2007

In 2007, as a result of discussion mediated by the Saudis, Hamas and Fatah were in the course of assembling a unified government, with a policy of “acknowledging” existing agreements, but not of recognising Israel or renouncing violence. At an Arab League Conference the Saudi government reaffirmed its existing “peace plan” calling for a right of return for refugees and return to the 1949 borders, but stated that its terms were non-negotiable.

Hamas gains victory in Gaza

In June 2007 Hamas decisively defeated the Fatah militias in Gaza. President Abbas declared a state of emergency, dismissed the PA Parliament and Peime Minister, and appointed a new non-party Prime Minister.

In effect Gaza and the West Bank were now separately governed.