The Palestine Peace Process in the 1990s

Before the 1990s peace process between Israel and the Palestinians had begun, the political conditions in the West Bank were controlled by internal groups of Palestinians, often cooperating with the Israeli security forces. The status quo had its proponents. They feared being supplanted by Arafat and the PLO, but the situation in the occupied territories was growing increasingly dire and authoritative. Waves of Israelis began residing in government supported settlements, provoking tension with the Arab inhabitants. For the Palestinian people living in the territories, an eruption was certain if the status quo was not shook. Indeed, an intifada broke out, and young boys picked up rocks in self defense against Israeli tanks occupying their homeland. The images swept the media, and Israel’s international standing sunk as a result. There was an incentive for the Israeli’s to show a more amendable, softer side, but not necessarily make peace. The election of a Labor government helped initiate the needed political capital in Israel to begin a peace maneuver.

The peace process had languished in the years after Camp David. Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel. For the Egyptians and Jordanians, the peace included increased economic and military assistance and a stronger alliance with the United States. For Israel, the specter of Arab unity, in opposition to the Israeli state, was no longer an imminent threat. Moreover, an attack from the western border by Egypt became a nonfactor. The pressure had been relieved, but only momentarily. The events of 1990 shook the region and reawakened the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait played a decisive role in reengaging America, the Arab states, and the Palestinians in the peace process. The Arabs were quick to reproach America’s double standard where its military force was at use. “Arabs noted that though Washington was quick to enforce UN resolutions against Iraq, it had not tried to compel Israel to obey UN resolutions pertaining to the West Bank and Gaza Strip” (p 448). As an incentive for joining in America’s “coalition of the willing”, a new forum for peace was proposed by the H.W. Bush administration.

The Palestinians were not to be triumphant in the peace process so urged by the Arabs. Arafat and the PLO’s stance on the Gulf war was in support of Hussein and thus against Kuwait (and indirectly Saudi Arabia). The PLO, and Palestinians more broadly were punished. Expatriates earning a living were expelled, remittances to the PLO dried up, and Arafat’s political capital in the Arab world had sunk. He hoped a diplomatic maneuver would aid him in reacquiring legitimacy on the world stage. Being on the outs with America due to the Gulf War, Arafat was withheld this achievement when it became possible, at the Madrid Conference. U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and President George H.W. Bush convened the Madrid Conference of 1991 jointly with the Soviet Union in late October and it ran through the first of November. The Palestinian delegation was lead by educated and pragmatic individuals who studied abroad or had an intimate relationship with the occupied territories. The Israeli’s did not receive Palestinian firebrands, but intellectual and diplomatic characters capable of making lasting peace. The Israeli’s did not take advantage of the opportunity, its head delegate being Prime Minister (PM) Yitzhak Shamir. The PM did all he could do to prevent peace, and would say later its prevention was the greatest thing he did while in office. Additionally, a delegation from the Arab states was at the conference because there was a hope that a multilateral agreement could be drafted including an Israeli peace with its remaining Arab foe, Syria.

The international pressure on Israel to seriously engage in a peace process was not present, particularly after the U.S. gave up its financial leverage, agreeing to guarantee ten billion dollars in loans to Israel for new immigration. There were however speeches, and it “was a significant step in bringing Israelis and Palestinians to a new level of contact” (Cleveland, p. 464). This proved true when, secretly, Oslo I was agreed to between the PLO and Israeli government in 1993. An imposing pressure on Arafat was relieved with these accords. The PLO was recognized as the exclusive negotiating partner of Israel, and the legitimate government of Palestine. Rising internal rivals, especially Hamas, had been sidelined and Arafat was able to fly from PLO headquarters in Tunis, and reside in Gaza city. For the exclusive right to speak on behalf of Palestine, Arafat recognized Israel’s right to exist. The details of Oslo II show a great victory for Israel, who “would retain control of…74 percent of the West Bank and included all 145 settlements in the territory” (Cleveland, p. 469). The pressure on Israel in the aftermath of the intifada could not be managed. Internal Palestinian forces, the Palestinian Authority (not even a state), would control the population. A success was achieved, but only for Israel. Palestine had not gained it sovereignty. By shaking hands at Camp David, Arafat betrayed the Palestinian cause, and Israel was able to, with less pressure, go on development Jewish settlements in occupied territories.

It was only the events of the second intifada that showed the world all was not well in Israel and Palestine. In quite a contrast from the first, the second uprising was far more militarized. Even the Palestinians now had guns, and Hamas was playing a larger political role. The failure of the peace process to affirm the Palestinians right to live with dignity and sovereignty in their homeland lead to these upheavals. They attempted to shake the world and their own leadership from the slumber of occupation, and were met with brutal force, and later, public gestures with little substance. Neither Shamir or Barak ever planned to seriously give up the territories. To stall the international community, manage the Palestinians, and develop settlements so that a two-state solution could never prove feasible, was the game plan for the Likud.

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  1. Pingback: UN Security Council Condemns Israeli Settlement Building | The International Scope

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