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9-08-2015, 23:55

CONTINUING TURMOIL AND WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST

In the West, the 1980s was a decade of economic problems apparently overcome and one of rising prosperity during the good years. Tensions lessened between the East and West; the Cold War came to an end. In the unstable Middle East the 1980s began a new decade of wars, with huge casualties in the Gulf. The wider world wants peace in the region. The West cannot accept that any one nation, rabidly hostile to the West, should be able to dominate the whole of the Middle East by force of arms. From the Western economic point of view the region means oil, and oil is the lifeblood of contemporary economic life. Yet this oil lies in less developed countries, ruled feudally, as in Saudi Arabia and the various sheikhdoms of the Gulf, or dictatorially, as formerly in Iraq and Iran. The masses can be aroused by nationalism in inter-Arab conflicts, by hatred for the ‘imperialist’ West, which in the recent past had practically colonised the region, by the arousal of anti- Western Islamic fundamentalism, and by what is regarded as the Western imperialist Zionist outpost, Israel. Yet the bloodiest war of the century in the Middle East was fought for eight years by two Muslim Middle Eastern oil nations, Iran and Iraq, one of them Persian, the other Arab. When the decade came to its end, the Arab nations were still pitted against each other: Baathist socialist Iraq, violently nationalist and ruled by Saddam Hussein, was confronted by Baathist socialist Syria, dominated by Hafez Assad and the military; secular Egypt’s relations with the feudal and rich Saudi Arabia and the sheikhdoms of the Gulf were hostile. Yet in different degrees the Arab nations together faced Israel in enmity. The factions of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian rising on the occupied West Bank and Gaza added further destabilising elements. In addition, for the greater part of the 1980s West and East still sought to establish regions of influence, a Cold War policy calculation that did not make for peace. Into this cauldron of instability the West and the Soviet Union poured in the latest weapons of war. The West supplied these nations with arms to secure some leverage over the policies of Middle Eastern nations and to protect Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikhdoms from their more powerful neighbours, Iran and Iraq. The Soviet Union also massively armed Iraq and Syria. To deny arms, the West concluded, would only leave the way open to Soviet supply and influence. Thus the Cold War was partly responsible for the fuelling of deadly conflicts. Not only ‘legitimate’ weapons were sent; ‘merchants of death’ in West Germany and other countries have secretly helped to set up poison-gas factories and the technology for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Weapons came from as far away as Brazil, and were used in Middle Eastern wars to terrible effect. For the majority of abject poor living and struggling in this part of the world the wars further set back any hopes of improvement. Terrorism is also closely linked to the conflicts of the Middle East. It is a phenomenon that is not amenable to diplomacy and reason; it is difficult to control; a few ruthless men and women can commit spectacular acts of carnage and so capture the world headlines. In this way, the numerically weak draw attention to their causes in the expectation of exercising influence out of proportion to the support they enjoy. Television carries these crimes graphically into millions of homes the world over. Terrorism is not confined to the Middle East and loose connections were forged between various terrorist groups – German, Japanese, Irish and Arab. A Czech factory supplied the most widely used plastic explosive, Semtex. Colonel Gaddafi of Libya and President Assad of Syria, among others, provided funds and armaments to a number of terrorist organisations fighting for what they regarded as just causes. As a result, terrorism greatly increased from the end of the 1960s. Among the most continuous perpetrators were various Arab groups hostile to Israel and the US, but also to each other. Car bombs in the Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, caused indiscriminate slaughter, planes were hijacked, martyrs blew themselves up to kill their enemies. The list of terrorist acts is too long to be detailed here. Among the most horrifying was the murder of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in September 1972. But sometimes the intended victims could be rescued. In June 1976 the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked an Air France plane with eighty-three Israelis on board; its final landing place was Entebbe in Uganda, where the Israelis were held as hostages. This set the scene for one of the most dramatic and daring rescue operations. Idi Amin, the crazed dictator of Uganda, appointed himself a mediator – the release of terrorists in the prisons of Israel and other countries was demanded by the hijackers. Instead, Israeli paratroopers landed and, camouflaging their arrival at the airport in a fleet of cars as might be used by Amin and his entourage, broke undetected into the airport building, killed the captors and rescued all but three of the hostages, with the loss of one Israeli officer and an elderly Israeli woman (formerly a hostage) murdered in a Ugandan hospital. Against suicide attacks defence is difficult. In the Lebanon, sixty-three Americans were killed in April 1983 by a fanatical Shia Muslim driving a car full of explosives into the American Embassy in Beirut; a few months later, in October, another suicide bomber killed 241 US marines at their base close to Beirut airport. An especial horror in December 1988 was the explosion over Scotland of a Pan American jumbo en route from London to New York, causing the deaths of all its crew and passengers. But Western lives lost were but a tiny fraction of the number of people killed almost daily in the Middle East. The Lebanon was in virtual anarchy, from the mid-1970s to 1991, with civilians caught up in the infighting of murderous factions, though in 1992 the kidnapping of foreign hostages ended. Western responses were limited and largely ineffective. The organisers of terror, the men behind the scenes, established their shifting headquarters in Baghdad, Teheran, Damascus and Tripoli, their various factions no more than pawns in Arab struggles for predominance. Only the Arab leaders themselves could control them, and their hold was not absolute. No country in the Middle East has suffered more from brutal civil conflicts than the Lebanon. The Christian Lebanese merchants and bankers did not long enjoy the prosperity the oil-rich Middle East brought them in the 1960s and 1970s. A power-sharing agreement, known as the National Pact and in operation since the Second World War, guaranteed the presidency to a Maronite Christian, but it fell apart under the pressure of Muslim–Christian and left–right rivalries, resulting in civil war in 1958. Though fighting ceased for a time, the central Lebanese government was unable to overcome the problems presented by the class conflicts, the family loyalties and the various militias of Muslim and Christian groups. In 1967, the Lebanon’s predicament was further aggravated by the arrival of uninvited Palestinian refugees following the Arab–Israeli War. Arab enmity towards Israel deepened the gulf between what had become a Muslim majority, which included the poorer part of the Lebanese population, and the wealthier Maronite Christians. ‘National’ for the Muslims now meant pro-Arab; for the Christians (except the Greek Orthodox), ‘national’ meant perpetuation of Christian and right-wing predominance in an independent pro-Western Lebanon. In 1970 the Palestinian militants failed in their attempt to achieve domination over Jordan. Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were forced out and with their militant followers moved into the hapless Lebanon, where they proceeded to build up their last territorial stronghold in the areas controlled by the refugees. The term ‘refugee camps’ applied to these strongholds, is really a misnomer, for the Palestinians created a state within a state. From the Lebanon Palestinian commandos raided Israel, attacking settlements and provoking Israeli counter-strikes against Palestinian targets in the Lebanon. In 1975 civil war was renewed. The Muslim groups forged an alliance with the Palestinians, the army split and the central government lost control over the country. It could regain it only with outside help. The Lebanon was now divided into warring factions; Christian family clans fought each other for supreme power even as they battled with the Muslim–Palestinian–left alliance. The Israelis sent arms to the Maronite Christians, and the Syrians, responding to pleas for help from the Christian-dominated central Lebanese government, intervened militarily in 1976, driving the Muslim–Palestinian forces back. Yasser Arafat’s independent PLO was as little loved in Syria as it was in Jordan. In 1978, to stamp out Palestinian commando raids, the Israelis occupied the southern Lebanon, and before withdrawing installed a ‘friendly’ Maronite Christian militia under Major Saad Haddad to keep order and prevent further PLO attacks. The Lebanon had long since ceased to be a unitary state and was becoming a quagmire of internecine factions, none of which was sufficiently powerful to control more than a particular area, each with its own stronghold. As if these internal rivalries were not enough, Syrian–Israeli hostility, the Palestinian–Maronite Christian conflict and, after the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1980, pro-Iraqi and pro-Iranian Muslim rivalry accelerated the disintegration and destruction of the Lebanon. For the Israelis, the continued presence of the PLO in the Lebanon, not to mention the Syrians, represented a serious threat. So the civil strife offered opportunities, but it led them into the illfated invasion of the Lebanon in 1982, which was intended to settle once and for all the Palestinian question and to prove that continued Arab enmity towards Israel was unrealistic in view of its military superiority. The militant PLO would be driven from their last land base in a neighbouring country. Israeli prospects seemed favourable, because Syria and the Palestinians were practically isolated and their forces much inferior. Israel had already, by concluding peace with Egypt, secured its southern border against the only strong army that might have threatened it. Its first war of aggression was the consequence of a fundamental change in internal politics during the previous five years. In Israeli politics a major turning point occurred in 1977 with the victory of the right-wing Likud Party over the broad labour grouping led by the Labour Party (Mapai). Labour’s support had suffered after the heavy casualties of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, which had found Israel inadequately prepared and had placed the country for a time in real danger. Golda Meir fell from office and was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin, who had been chief of staff in the Six-Day War of 1967. During Rabin’s premiership, the US made great efforts to mediate a peace between Israel and its neighbours. This introduced the diplomatic world to the new concept of ‘shuttle diplomacy’, as the American secretary of state Henry Kissinger carried out negotiations, tirelessly flying between Damascus, Cairo and Jerusalem. Kissinger succeeded at least partially – disengagement agreements were concluded between Israel, Syria and Egypt. What blocked a more comprehensive settlement was the requirement of the Arab states that Israel should withdraw from the territories it had conquered in 1967 – the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. This raised the possibility of a hostile Palestinian presence or even state as Israel’s new neighbour. Israeli militants were already creating their own settlements, and there was broad support from large sections of the electorate that the West Bank, biblical Judaea and Samaria, must remain a part of an enlarged Israel. With Arab–Israeli talks deadlocked, only Nasser’s suc- cessor, President Anwar Sadat, was ready to move further, in order to regain the Sinai, lost in 1967. During 1977, an election year, Labour’s chances were harmed by government scandals and by the damage inflicted on the economy by the high cost of war and armaments. The oriental Jews in particular regarded the Labour ministers as too ready to compromise with Israel’s Arab neighbours. All this contributed to the sea change in Israeli politics. The May 1977 elections brought Menachem Begin and Likud to power at the head of a coalition, breaking three decades of uninterrupted Labour predominance. Begin, at sixty-four years of age, was no longer the terrorist he had been during Israel’s struggle for independence, but he was convinced that only armed strength, selfreliance and rock-like firmness of purpose would secure Israel’s future. On the question of the West Bank and some possible accommodation with the PLO, he was unyielding: for him the right of the Jewish people to ‘Judaea and Samaria’ was not negotiable; for him this was not ‘occupied’ but ‘liberated’ territory, and so was East Jerusalem, which had been captured from Jordan in 1967. Nor did Begin in 1977 give any indication that he contemplated handing back occupied Sinai in return for peace with Egypt. Yet that was to become the crowning achievement of his first administration. Perhaps only an Israeli prime minister with Begin’s uncompromising reputation could have won virtually wholehearted Israeli support for relinquishing the Sinai. At home, free-enterprise policies soon led the country into economic crisis. Given the realities of Israeli expenditure and the huge foreign indebtedness, Likud eventually had to return to the mixed economic policies of previous governments. Even so, for his supporters – the poor oriental Jews – Begin provided help in housing, and assisted the renewal of poor neighbourhoods by twinning them with Jewish communities abroad; extending free education was a further important social reform. Abroad the Begin government responded to Sadat’s search for peace, with US mediation playing a crucial role. Sadat wanted to modernise Egypt, raise the standard of living of its rapidly expanding population. He turned to Western investment and away from a state-directed economy. Success depended above all on securing a lasting peace with Israel. The crossing by the Egyptian army of the Suez Canal in the 1973 war had removed one major obstacle to peace – Egypt’s self-image, pride and self-confidence had been restored; Israel had not won all the battles. The illusion of military prowess in war was enough to turn Sadat into a hero in Egyptian eyes, as Nasser had become a hero after Suez. Sadat cut all links with the Soviet Union and took to relying on US support and US influence in Israel. In 1975 he opened the Suez Canal to shipping again, and allowed cargoes to Israel, though not Israeli ships, to pass through. In 1977 it was because four men occupied crucial positions in their countries that a peace settlement was possible. In Washington Jimmy Carter entered the White House, like his predecessors, anxious to facilitate a settlement in the Middle East. Begin’s priorities were to secure ‘Judaea and Samaria’, and to defeat the PLO. Peace with Egypt, even at the price of returning most of the occupied Sinai, would isolate Israel’s enemies and make its position militarily unchallengeable. It was thus a price worth paying, provided the existing Israeli settlements and airbases were retained. General Moshe Dayan, Begin’s new foreign minister, entirely shared this view. Security for the West Bank was worth the loss of most of the Sinai. Sadat was also eager for peace: the cost of continued hostility was simply too high for the sake of Arab solidarity or the Palestinian cause. In 1977 he expelled the PLO from Cairo. Nicolae Ceaus¸escu, president of Romania, later to be discredited for his brutal suppressions at home, was an unlikely mediator, having preserved good relations with Israel. Another channel of communication between Egypt and Israel was opened through the good offices of the king of Morocco. Begin also demonstrated goodwill by warning Sadat of a Palestinian assassination plot. That a new era in Israeli–Egyptian relations had begun became publicly known in a dramatic way. Sadat liked springing surprises. On 9 November 1977 he announced in Cairo’s parliament that he was ready in person to go to the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, the Knesset, to discuss the issues that divided Israel from its Arab neighbours. Begin was amazed, but he recovered quickly and the next day invited Sadat to Jerusalem. The Arab world condemned the visit. It was unprecedented and many in Israel responded warmly and emotionally. A score of the Egyptian national anthem had to be rushed to the Israeli army band drawn up at Ben Gurion airport to receive the Egyptian president and his entourage. As he landed, on 19 November 1977, to a twenty-one gun salute, with Israeli and Egyptian flags fluttering side by side, it was a moving spectacle. Sadat had certainly seized the initiative, catching the world’s imagination as peacemaker, and millions of people watched his arrival on television. Sadat spoke to the Knesset on 20 November. Many hard negotiating sessions would be necessary, for Sadat spoke of peace with all the Arabs, including the Palestinians, and of a total Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands. But he also spoke of accepting Israel in friendship and peace, words no other Arab leader had uttered, at least not publicly, since 1947. Begin’s response was conciliatory in form but uncompromising in reality on the issues of the Palestinians and the continued Israeli possession of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yet direct personal contact had been made, the long road to Camp David and peace was at least now open. Begin offered to return the Sinai apart from existing Israeli settlements. Although there and then there could be no talk of formal peace, Sadat and Begin agreed that only by negotiation and not by war could divisive issues be resolved. Yet negotiations between Cairo and Jerusalem dragged on fruitlessly for almost a year, with Washington trying in vain to find a way of resolving their differences. The Palestinian issue, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Israeli settlements were blocking progress. Carter tried again. Finally, Sadat and Begin accepted an invitation to his presidential retreat at Camp David to attempt to break the deadlock. Sadat had been the more accommodating so far; would Begin also compromise? Sadat, Begin, Carter and their advisers laboured for thirteen days at Camp David until the agreement was signed on 17 September 1978. Carter’s role was crucial, as he cajoled and pressurised Sadat and (especially) Begin in turn. To have reached agreement at all in the face of the Israeli leader’s obduracy was a personal triumph for the president. The two major issues were the Sinai, and the West Bank and Gaza. Could Begin be made to give up the whole of the Sinai, including the oil wells the Israelis had developed at great cost, and to pull back strategic settlements which he had repeatedly pledged he would never abandon? Second, would the Palestinians be allowed to develop in the occupied territories some form of self-government short of statehood, with the bulk of Israelis withdrawing? And would the two issues be linked, as Sadat was insisting: no peace with Egypt without concrete steps towards a solution of the Palestinian problem? Begin at first refused to budge, and Sadat threatened to leave. Carter promised to place the blame for a breakdown on Begin when he came to report to Congress. Reluctantly, Begin gave way – the whole of the Sinai would be handed back in stages. But the procedures leading to Palestinian autonomy, and what that really meant, left practically everything to Israel’s readiness and judgement; in practice, there was no linkage. The various compromises were wrapped up in two main agreements and a number of agreed additional letters and documents. At a subsequent news conference, which was televised, Sadat and Begin embraced as a beaming Carter looked on. Even then the road to the definitive peace treaty signed in the White House on 26 March 1979 was strewn with obstacles, overcome only by determined American mediation and financial help. In Israel most people approved of the peace – the hawks because it strengthened Israel against the other Arab states by leaving it in firm occupation of the West Bank, and the doves because it showed that peace could be concluded with an Arab state, formerly an implacable enemy. But the Palestinian issue festered. The chance to make genuine progress was lost. If Israel had acted speedily to fulfil the spirit of the Camp David Accords, ‘autonomy’ – a genuine degree of selfdetermination – might have had a chance. The Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza were benefiting from a rapid rise in their standard of living as a result of their close association with the Israeli economy – but the military occupation acted as a constant reminder that their status was not that of a self-respecting free people. Inevitably a younger, better-educated generation of Palestinians was radicalised. The prospect of a Palestinian–Israeli reconciliation was thrown away, and the Israelis and Palestinians have been paying the bitter price ever since. How much better it would have been to have followed Sadat’s advice. He secured the return of the Sinai but was ostracised and condemned by the rest of the Arab world. US financial help and the resources of the Sinai did not fully compensate Egypt for the loss of aid from the oil-rich Arab states. Its economic problems, with a rapidly increasing population, prevented a quick improvement in living standards for the mass of the poor. But no more young Egyptian lives would be lost in war. Instead, the courageous and far-seeing president paid for peace with his own life. At a military parade on 6 October 1981 a small group of Egyptians recruited by Muslim fundamentalists assassinated Sadat as he took the salute. The vicepresident, Hosni Mubarak, miraculously survived the hail of bullets to become Egypt’s new head of state. The peace prevailed, but the sincerity and warmth of feeling, the desire for genuine reconciliation between Egyptian and Israeli, were interred with Sadat’s remains. Begin’s first government from 1977 to 1981 had seemed to promise a new peaceful beginning with the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian peace treaty. The soldiers in his Cabinet were cautious men unwilling to be drawn into new confrontations. Yasser Arafat’s PLO and Assad’s Syrian regime, too, were aware of their own vulnerability and were observing truce agreements. But inside the Lebanon the factional struggles sucked in the Syrians in support of the Christian Maronites, who then also made constant appeals to the Israelis. Meanwhile the PLO was strong enough to dominate the southern Lebanon with increasing effectiveness. Begin’s ministers continued to urge caution in dealing with the mess in the Lebanon; but they were split on whether a preventive air strike against Iraq was advisable, some arguing that there could be no justification in international law for such an attack at a time of peace. But Begin won out. On 7 June 1981 eight Israeli F-16 jet fighters took off and, together with an escort of six F-15s, with surgical precision destroyed the Iraqi Osiraq nuclear reactor. All the Israeli planes returned to the bases safely. The reactor, built with French help, was not yet capable of producing atomic bombs, but given time the Iraqis would undoubtedly have succeeded in acquiring all that was necessary to make the weapons. There was international condemnation of Israel, but at home the Israelis rallied to Begin, which did his coalition no harm in the general election that June. Despite the economic setbacks, Likud strengthened its position, but the new coalition Begin led depended for its tiny majority on the religious parties. His views had always been hard line on the Palestinian and West Bank issues. Now instead of being moderated by the exigencies of coalition government, they were reinforced by the extremist religious groups. The most aggressive of the hawks, Ariel Sharon, the daring military commander who had turned the tide for Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, became minister of defence. The new government’s external policies came to be overshadowed by Sharon’s ‘grand design’, which turned out disastrously for Begin personally and for Israel. On the occupied West Bank new Israeli settlements had sprung up, and more were planned. They clearly indicated Israel’s intention of staying. Sharon wanted to go further – a knock-out blow against the Palestinians and Syrians that would once and for all settle the issue of what should constitute the secure land of Israel. Begin’s Cabinet was persuaded to back what was innocuously called Operation Peace for the Galilee. In alliance with the Christian Maronite leader Bashir Gemayel, Sharon planned an invasion of the Lebanon as far as Beirut to clear out the Syrians, the PLO and their allies. A Maronite-led Lebanon would then become a friendly non-Arab neighbour. Israel’s hold over the West Bank and its denial of Palestinian rights would then be unchallengeable. The decision to launch the attack came as a consequence of a murderous attack on an Israeli diplomat far away from the Middle East. As Ambassador Shlomo Argov was leaving the Dorchester Hotel in London on the evening of 3 June 1982, a renegade Palestinian group bitterly hostile to Arafat and acting on Iraqi instructions fired a bullet into Argov’s head, inflicting critical wounds that left him paralysed. On 4 June, Israeli planes struck at PLO targets in the Lebanon. The PLO responded by shelling Israeli kibbutzim in Galilee. The truce was broken. On the 6th, the Israeli Defence Force began its operation in Lebanon. But instead of confining themselves to the southern Lebanon, as the watching world expected, they knocked out the Syrian Soviet missiles in the Bekaa Valley on 9 June and advanced four days later all the way to the outskirts of West Beirut, where the PLO had established their strongholds. In the eyes of the world – and in the face of growing opposition at home, as the Labour Party strongly condemned the extension of the war to Beirut – the Israelis were now playing an entirely new role. No longer heroically defending their homeland, the Israeli army and air force seemed to be indiscriminately (though this was actually not so) shelling the districts of West Beirut; half of the city remained under siege for more than a month. This was Sharon’s war, the culmination of his grand design, though neither Begin nor the Israeli Cabinet were fully aware of his plans. On 21 August the PLO’s fighting force, loyal to Yasser Arafat, began leaving Beirut by sea under the protection of a multinational force, having accepted Israel’s terms of surrender. Nearly 15,000 Palestinians and Syrians were evacuated during the next few days by sea and land. But neither the Syrians nor the PLO were crushed or even cowed; they would fight back another day. Sharon’s grand design had not succeeded; rather, it had severely damaged Israel’s international reputation and its people’s confidence in democratic government. Nor could a stable Christian Maronite Lebanon be reconstructed as a friendly neighbour. In mid- September the Lebanon’s president-elect, the Christian Maronite Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated on the orders of Syrian intelligence. The Lebanon was lapsing into chaos as warring factions fought each other once again. The evacuation agreement reached with the PLO contained an important clause stipulating that law-abiding, non-combatant Palestinians who had remained in West Beirut and the southern Lebanon would be guaranteed protection. In the massacre that ensued in two Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila, Israel’s reputation suffered the most ignominious blow. The sadistic killings were a savage revenge for Bashir’s assassination, but the Phalangist Christians who committed the atrocity and who hated the Palestinians, had determined on a massacre long before. The Israeli commanders had sent them into the camps to clear out any remaining terrorists, little imagining they would also turn on whole families, including defenceless women and children. They should have known better. The bodies, bloated by the sun, were shown to the world on television. Israel was blamed for the hundreds of dead. At a subsequent inquiry in Israel in 1983, Sharon was judged primarily responsible and his dismissal as minister of defence was urged. It is to Begin’s discredit that though Sharon had to quit the defence post he remained a minister in Begin’s and successive governments. Massive ‘Peace Now’ rallies in Israel and mounting Israeli casualties among the forces occupying parts of the Lebanon finally persuaded the government to order their withdrawal. The Lebanon war had been a disaster for Israel. It achieved fundamentally nothing. The Lebanon remained torn between rival Muslim Iranian and Iraqi factions, the Druse and right-wing Phalangist Christians. Central government was nearly powerless and was dominated by Syria. Killings continued daily in the city, divided between Muslim West Beirut and Christian East Beirut by the so-called Green Line, until the Christian Forces agreed to withdraw in November 1990. The West learnt that it can achieve nothing, by force or by diplomacy, to bring peace to the Lebanon, even though rival Muslim groups held Western hostages. And the Syrians, still controlling parts of the country, were stuck in the quagmire of conflict. The Syrians did not withdraw as promised, but after 1990, under Asad’s watchful gaze, Lebanon rediscovered a fragile peace. Begin accepted the consequences of his failure and, haunted by the many Israeli casualties, resigned in September 1983, to be replaced by another Likud hardliner, Yitzhak Shamir. The election of 1984 ended in a stalemate, with the religious parties holding the balance. Instead of giving in to their demands, Labour and Likud agreed on a ‘National Unity’ government, shared between Shamir and the Labour leader Shimon Peres. Such a divided Cabinet could follow no decisive policies. The paralysing division of the Israeli electorate continued, with Likud supporters favouring hardline policies on the West Bank and the Palestinian question, and Labour supporters more ready to find a compromise solution. The result, as a new generation of Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza grew to manhood, was a violent challenge to the continued Israeli occupation – the uprising, the intifada, that began in December 1987. Israel’s young conscripts were ordered in to re-establish control. Civil conflict is brutalising. Inexperienced Israeli soldiers were unequal to the task of dealing with stone-throwing young men and children; in frustration bullets were fired, unarmed Palestinians killed. A military curfew was imposed, which alienated the Palestinians still further. Yasser Arafat was one of the great political survivors, a familiar figure on the world’s stage until his death in November 2004; he had dedicated his life to creating a Palestinian state. Through terrorism the Palestinians succeeded in drawing global attention to their cause when neither their Arab brethren nor the rest of the world cared. For the Arab nations the Palestinians were pawns to be supported or rejected as their own interests dictated, and the PLO fighters were fractious and rebellious ‘guests’ of their host nations. Thus the PLO were successively expelled from Jordan, Egypt and the Lebanon. But Arafat had succeeded in dominating the mainstream of Palestinians in 1969 as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. During the 1970s he supported terrorism as the only effective weapon the Palestinians had. In 1974 at the Arab summit in Rabat the Arab nations accepted the PLO as the authentic voice of the Palestinians, a step forward that implied independence not only from Israel but from Jordan’s King Hussein. Arafat came to recognise that continued terrorism would now harm his cause, which needed world support. Bitter enmities developed between him and those Palestinian factions that continued their campaign of terrorism. But he would not condemn individual terrorist attacks against Israel either, for fear of losing support among the Palestinians who regarded these fighters as martyrs. So he spoke in two contradictory voices: to the West he gave assurances, which he promptly denied giving when speaking to his own people. During the 1980s Arafat worked out a ‘legitimate’ strategy for creating a Palestinian state. It would have been unrealistic to have as its objective the destruction of Israel and the retaking of the whole of Palestine. Instead, a mini-state solution emerged. The Palestinian state would comprise the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. To gain the support of the US, Arafat in December 1988 publicly renounced terrorism and accepted Israel’s right to exist. Talks between the US representatives and the PLO were held sporadically, but ended when Arafat once more appeared to condone terrorism in practice. Meanwhile, in Israel, Shamir resisted all US pressure to consider some form of genuine Palestinian autonomy, exchanging Gaza, the West Bank (or most of it) and East Jerusalem for peace. The Israeli right also rejected any direct negotiations with the PLO. Israeli opinion, however, was deeply divided and the rest of the world was losing patience with what appeared to be Israeli intransigence. The continued killing of Palestinians, and the indiscriminate shooting on the Temple Mount in October 1990, after Palestinians had hurled stones at praying Jews, further alienated world opinion. Yitzhak Shamir’s coalition with Labour had collapsed the previous March in bitter disagreement over the peace process. With the help of extreme right-wing religious groups, he was able to form a new government in June, offering no hope of concession to the Palestinians. The government would neither negotiate with the PLO nor allow a Palestinian state to be created. Yasser Arafat’s cause was seriously hurt when he sided with Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and he lost his Arab friends in the Gulf who had supported the PLO with money. The Israelis, moreover, could declare that the fears for their own security were not exaggerated, as Scud missiles from Iraq fell on Tel Aviv to the cheers of the Palestinians. In August 1992 the Labour leader Rabin, promising to seek peace, replaced the ‘hardline’ Shamir. Rabin turned out to be as tough as Shamir in dealing with Palestinian fundamentalist terrorists belonging to Hamas. The ‘peace process’, begun under the Americans’ aegis in Madrid in October 1991, made little progress despite round after round of talks between Palestinian and Israeli representatives. Rabin, in total secrecy, now authorised Foreign Minister Peres to negotiate directly with the PLO in Norway. It would create new hopes for peace only to be frustrated later. The longest and bloodiest war in the Middle East in the 1980s was the Gulf War between Iran and Iraq, which in the course of eight years devastated large areas of both countries and left at least half a million dead and many more crippled. On 22 September 1980, Iraq attacked Iran, counting on a swift victory. It was just twenty months after Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Teheran in triumph on 1 February 1979. Khomeini had rapidly disposed of the politicians and generals still loyal to the Shah’s regime, having them summarily executed by secret revolutionary courts. That conflict between the royalists and revolutionaries had cost thousands of lives and left the economy in ruins, though Khomeini continued to be revered by the mass of the people. The mosques with their local revolutionary komitehs played a vital role during and after the revolution. Once more, to the outside world Iran appeared to be going through months of turmoil and near anarchy, with radical Muslim groups, Marxist and more moderate opposition politicians struggling for control of the country, with the ulema, or clergy, acting independently as a rival faction. Khomeini, the acknowledged leader, at first kept in the background. For a time the state was confusingly divided between a prime minister and a formal government and the Islamic Revolutionary Council. But between 1979 and 1982, the Council gradually took over real power, first by creating its own political party, the Islamic Revolutionary Party, then by setting up an Islamic militia of Revolutionary Guards. During the summer of 1979 the Islamic Revolutionary Party dominated the Assembly, which produced a constitution for the Islamic Republic. This laid down that religious leadership would guide the country. There could be no other leader than the ‘Grand Ayatollah Iman Khomeini’, who was also the commander-in-chief and head of the Supreme Defence Council. He could declare war and peace; he was empowered to approve and appoint the president on his election by the Assembly; he was the chief justice. The ordinances of Islam were supreme, but the believers of Islam would be free to debate their differences. Khomeini invariably sided with the radicals. Soon revolutionary Iran was enmeshed in fighting the Kurds, the most nationalistic ethnic minority in the country. The Kurds’ success in October 1979 forced Teheran to accept a compromise ceasefire. A new enemy was branded just a short while after – the American ‘Satan’. Khomeini, fearing a US-backed attempt to overthrow the Islamic Revolution and restore the Shah to power, demanded the Shah’s extradition to stand trial. The Carter administration, which had allowed the Shah to enter a New York hospital, refused. Directly encouraged by Khomeini, militant students thereupon seized the American Embassy on 4 November 1979 in a well-planned operation to capture secret US documents, in a bid to compromise the US as well as internal opponents. Fifty-two Embassy staff were held hostage for fifteen months until 21 January 1981, the day of Reagan’s inauguration. In the meantime, rivalries among clerics and politicians in Iran appeared to present a picture of complete disarray. This is what tempted the Iraqis to invade Iran: the conditions seemed ideal for the defeat of an old rival for predominance in the Gulf. The immediate cause of conflict was the Shatt al-Arab, the waterway between Iraq and Iran leading out to the Gulf. Should the frontier run in midchannel or were both banks Iraqi territory? If the latter, Iranian shipping would have to pay tolls to the Iraqis and Iraq would control the waterway through which oil tankers passed. The dispute goes back to the nineteenth century, and a settlement of 1937 favouring Iraq was torn up in 1969 by the Shah, who imposed the median line by a show of force. Relations between Iran and Iraq deteriorated, with each country encouraging national dissident movements in the other – especially of Kurds, who straddled both countries. But between 1975 and 1978 peaceful relations were restored. The Islamic revolution in Iran, however, alarmed Saddam Hussein’s socialist Baathist regime, not least because it was condemned by Khomeini as hostile to Islamic rule. Saddam ruthlessly crushed the internal opposition, executing militant sympathisers of the Iranian Islamic revolutionaries. Khomeini meanwhile called on the Iraqi army to overthrow Saddam. Full-scale fighting began on 22 September 1980 with an Iraqi invasion. The Iranian air force did well in response. Each side attacked the other’s oil centres, but despite advancing rapidly the Iraqi army failed to capture the great refinery at Abadan. Iranian artillery continued throughout the war to deny Iraqi warships passage of Shatt al-Arab, while the Iranian army and the new Revolutionary Guards defended fanatically, inflicting heavy casualties on the Iraqi forces and preventing them from extending their early gains. The conflict became a war of attrition – though one which strengthened the hold of the Iranian clergy. Khomeini declared a holy war which, he said, would end only when Saddam Hussein, the aggressor against the Islamic Republic, had been overthrown. From the spring of 1982, the Iranians, with their much greater reserves of manpower, began to gain the initiative, gradually pushing the Iraqis out of the territories they had captured in the first month of the war. Mediation attempts and offers of a ceasefire were rejected by the Ayatollah because Saddam Hussein remained in power unpunished. Young Iranians, many barely out of childhood, enlisted in the Revolutionary Guards in response to Khomeini’s call to fight evil. To die for the faith brought glorious martyrdom and would ensure a welcome in heaven. In the martyrs’ cemetery in Teheran, ‘the fountain of blood’ graphically symbolised the sacrifice of life. Prayer meetings, attended by thousands in villages and cities, strengthened resolve. Tens of thousands of young volunteers hurled themselves in humanwave attacks against the Iraqi defences. Saddam Hussein was equally successful in maintaining the war spirit but less so in representing himself as the pan-Arab champion against the old Persian foe. Syria, Iraq’s rival, backed Iran and in 1982 blocked Iraq’s oil pipeline to the Mediterranean; even Israel, though Zionism was denounced by the revolutionaries in Iran, appears to have provided some secret technical assistance to the Iranian army and air force. For most of the war the Soviet Union and the US were anxious to contain Iran and to counter the ‘export’ of Iranian-style Muslim fundamentalism to the USSR’s Central Asian republics or to America’s allies in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The leaders of the Gulf states, which were in the direct firing line, feared Iran the most and so supplied money to Iraq. But fears that Iranian-style revolutions would destabilise the Gulf states proved unfounded. Iran suffered huge losses in driving the Iraqis out. Its forces had no hope of defeating the wellentrenched Iraqi army, whose military supplies were purchased with Saudi Arabian, Kuwaiti and US help. The US arms embargo, and the international fleet from the West, which protected the tankers of the Gulf states from Iranian retaliation after the Iraqi attacks on Iranian oil installations, underlined Teheran’s diplomatic isolation. Weapons did reach Iran, despite embargoes – indeed, the bizarre Iran–Contra affair belongs to this chapter of secret arms deals. They were not enough to turn the war in Iran’s favour, but they were sufficient to prolong the military stalemate. Iran’s war effort was being worn down by the end of 1987. Long-range Iraqi missile attacks sapped morale in Teheran, and the enthusiasm of recruits was waning as Iran’s offensives failed to make much further progress. Iraq’s use of poison gas added to the horrors of the war. Once more the Iranian poor suffered the most, while the rich could indulge in imported luxury goods. Nonetheless, Iranians, unlike Iraqis, were allowed a considerable degree of freedom to debate and discuss. The shooting down in July 1988 of an Iranian airliner, mistaken by a US warship as a fighter coming in to attack, helped to convince the Iranian leadership that the American ‘imperialists’ would stop at nothing. After Khomeini, the most powerful man in Iran was Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani, the adroit speaker of the Assembly, a cleric and faithful follower of Khomeini. Rafsanjani, a pragmatist, concluded that the war had to be brought to an end. All depended on Khomeini, who had never compromised or given way on a matter of right and wrong. But the sorry state of Iran and the inability of the military to mount any more offensives persuaded him with great reluctance and feelings of bitterness to side with Rafsanjani and with those who wished to end the war. Accordingly Iran accepted the ceasefire resolution of the United Nations. On 18 July 1988, Khomeini’s message that after eight years the war had ended without the defeat of Iraq stunned the Iranian masses. The death of Khomeini a year later, in June 1989, tilted power more to the moderates, and Rafsanjani took over the leading role in the country, though the radicals remained a powerful group. Rafsanjani’s efforts to improve relations with the West were obstructed by a bizarre affair, the earlier publication by Salman Rushdie, a British author, of The Satanic Verses, which Muslims condemned as blasphemous. Violent protest erupted in many Muslim countries, and Khomeini pronounced a fatwa, a religious sentence of death on Rushdie, who had to go into hiding. Even after the Ayatollah’s death, Rafsanjani was not able to undo the sentence. But Iran’s relations with the West were improving, buttressed by its cooperative behaviour during the Kuwaiti Gulf War. It remained an important factor in any Middle Eastern peace order. Iraq interpreted Iran’s change of heart as a victory. In the aftermath of the war, Iraq decided to crush the dissident Kurds in the north by killing them with poison gas in their villages; 100,000 refugees escaped into Turkey. It was a crime against humanity, but the world did no more than express regret. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein strengthened his regime’s hold killing tens of thousands and fostered his personality cult. In 1990 a subservient Assembly appointed him president for life. The growing power and pretensions of Iraq now began to cause alarm in the West and Israel. Its invasion on 2 August 1990 of its neighbour, Kuwait, over which Saddam had angrily claimed sovereignty, marked the start of a new world crisis. That Saddam Hussein should start another war so soon after the conclusion of the devastating and fruitless conflict with Iran took the West by surprise. Kuwait had assisted Iraq and now became its victim. The quarrel between the small emirate and its powerful neighbour arose out of a disputed frontier and the oil field that straddled it. Iraq also accused Kuwait of lowering the price of oil by over-production. Iraq was desperately short of funds, so the oil-rich emirate was a tempting prize to seize. Even the Arab states believed that the dispute could be mediated with their help and accepted Saddam’s assurances that he would not attack Kuwait. When he did so, he caught Kuwait, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia entirely off-guard. It was a gamble, but with the most powerful army in the region Saddam believed he was safe. Kuwait was annexed as Iraq’s ‘nineteenth province’, though the plundering by the invading soldiers did not diminish. Iraq’s claim to the emirate was in fact historically spurious. Kuwait had existed as an entity (a British protectorate in 1899 and granted independence in 1971) before Iraq was created from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The West acted promptly, the lead given by the Bush administration in Washington. On 6 August 1990 the Security Council passed a resolution that required all member states to cut off trade with Iraq. Iraq’s main export earner, oil, was paralysed. In all, twelve resolutions, of increasing severity, were passed at the UN. They required Iraq to quit Kuwait unconditionally, and on the initiative of the US a deadline was set for 15 January 1991, after which date, if Iraq had not by then left Kuwait, ‘all necessary means’ to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait were authorised. The Security Council was in rare unanimity. The Chinese wished to show their respect for the international rule of law after the world’s condemnation of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Gorbachev, who had met George Bush in Helsinki on 9 September, was looking for Western assistance to help meet the economic crisis at home and joined the American president in condemning Iraq’s invasion. As the deadline drew near, the mediating efforts of the UN secretarygeneral Javier Perez de Cuéllar failed, as did a last-minute attempt by Gorbachev. Bush acted without hesitation, strongly supported by Margaret Thatcher. Saddam Hussein could not be allowed to get away with his forcible annexation. After Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf emirates would be at his mercy. As controller of the Gulf’s oil, he could hold the industrial world to ransom. Syria and Egypt were not prepared to allow Saddam’s Iraq such a huge increase of power either. Thus from the beginning the US and Britain could count on regional Arab allies, including of course the Gulf emirates and Saudi Arabia, whose vast financial reserves were at the disposal of the alliance. A war against Iraq would thus not be another Western ‘colonial’ drubbing of an Arab nation. The US mounted a tremendous military effort, the largest since Vietnam, and the speediest build-up of military might since the Second World War. By the time the land war began, half the forces were not American, though the US had made by far the largest contribution to the fighting forces on land, on the sea and in the air. The command of the allied armies, more than 600,000 strong, was assumed by the US general H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who soon became a swashbuckling television personality. Never before had almost every minute of a war been televised as a worldwide spectacle. War was never formally declared, and media correspondents remained in Baghdad even through the weeks of air attacks which preceded the land war. Bush was the acknowledged leader of the international effort, which comprised more than thirty nations contributing forces, munitions or cash. Principal among them were Britain, Egypt, Syria, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, with further troops made up of exiled Kuwaitis. Financial aid was provided by Germany and Japan. Most of the twenty-eight allies had a non-combatant role: for example, just over 200 men were sent from Czechoslovakia, all of them medical and chemical-warfare specialists, while 310 Muslim mujahideen guarded shrines. Bush was careful to keep within the limits set by the UN resolutions. Six months were needed to build up a force considered sufficient to deal with what was said to be the fourth-largest army in the world. Meanwhile diplomacy and increasing pressure failed to move Saddam out of Kuwait. As a gesture of goodwill early in December 1990, he released the 20,000 foreigners working in Iraq, 3,000 of them Americans, whom he had held as hostages, as ‘human shields’. He indicated a readiness to withdraw from Kuwait if a Middle Eastern conference were called to discuss not only Kuwait but also Israel’s occupation of Arab territories and the Palestinian question, a ploy designed to split the Arab nations aligned against him. At worst he would emerge a hero in Arab eyes for having forced a settlement of the Palestinian demands. But Bush would permit no direct linkage of the Palestine issue and Kuwait. Saddam could not be seen to have profited from aggression. The Iraqi leader now threatened ‘the mother of battles’ for Kuwait and the use of chemical weapons if attacked. Early in the morning of 17 January 1991 the shooting war, Desert Storm, began with air strikes on strategic targets in Baghdad. For six weeks thousands of air sorties were mounted against Iraqi military targets, roads, bridges and essential services. New high-technology weapons worked with awesome accuracy. Inevitably there were also innocent civilian casualties, most tragically when an air-raid shelter in Baghdad received a direct hit. Iraqi counter-strikes with Russian Scud missiles were militarily ineffective but the devastating allied air strikes were beginning to create a popular Arab reaction in North Africa, Jordan and other Muslim countries. It was overkill. By the end of the onslaught, Iraq’s fighting morale had been sapped. When the land war opened on 24 February, the high-tech armour sliced through and completely outflanked the Iraqi troops. Their number and fighting readiness had been overestimated – many of those dug in in Kuwait were half starved and only too happy to be taken prisoner. In just 100 hours the whole Iraqi army had been routed. No accurate figures for Iraqi casualties killed has been established; they were probably between 30,000 and 90,000; the US suffered 389 killed, the British 44 killed, and the total for the allies was about 466 dead and in all about 1,187 wounded. The only real danger to the Arab–Western coalition, the involvement of Israel in the war in retaliation for the Iraqi Scud missile attacks, was averted by US diplomacy and the stationing of US Patriot defensive missile batteries in Israel. On 26 February Saddam announced withdrawal from Kuwait and on the following day Iraq accepted all the UN resolutions. That same day, 27 February 1991 Bush ordered the suspension of fighting. He saw grave disadvantages to future Arab–Western relations if the defenceless Iraqis continued to be slaughtered as they fled from Kuwait and from the areas in Iraq occupied by allied troops. Bush also concluded that Saddam could no longer resist whatever demands were made and was unlikely to stay in power. Saddam, however, signalled his defiance by setting alight Kuwait’s oil wells as his routed troops pulled back. It was a disaster months of fire-fighting only partially overcame. An uprising by the people of Iraq was expected, but not the forms it took. The Shia Muslims rebelled in the south of the country, seizing Basra, and the Kurds in the north saw their opportunity for gaining at least autonomy, if not independence. The Kurdish rebels rapidly occupied the principal northern towns, as well as the oil-rich Kirkuk district. Iraq was falling to pieces. The Soviet Union, Syria and Turkey, with restless Kurdish minorities of their own, were all greatly concerned by the Kurdish rebellion. For the US, the possibility of an extension of Shi’ite Iranian influence in southern Iraq was equally unacceptable. And so the Kurds and Shi’ites were left to their fate as the rump of Saddam’s forces with tanks and aircraft brutally crushed the risings. A ‘just’ war ended unjustly, and the Western world and the Iraqi people became victims of Realpolitik. For those members of the Security Council with internal repressions of their own on their conscience, China and the Soviet Union, the principle that the UN could not interfere in the ‘internal’ affairs of a country was sacrosanct. For the US, striving for peace and stability, the raising of the Kurdish national question in 1991 seemed likely to add another explosive issue to others already detonated in the Middle East, foremost among them the Israeli–Palestine and Arab conflict. In the face of the human catastrophe that threatened the Kurdish people as they fled into the inhospitable mountains of northern Iraq the civilised world felt some sense of responsibility. Britain and the US declared the region a ‘safe haven’ and, with air bases in Turkey and UN backing, enforced their decision to stop any further Iraqi military action. The UN also orchestrated humanitarian aid though there was much criticism at the lack of competence revealed that winter. During the course of 1992 the Kurds established quasi-independence, with their own guerrilla army, government and elected parliament while declaring their aim to be only a federal, democratic Iraq. The Kurds were especially dependent on the toleration of Turkey, their most powerful neighbour, and therefore avoided going as far as stating that their aim was an independent Kurd nation. Iran, Syria and Turkey all have their own Kurdish minorities and had a common interest in crushing any such ambitions. To reassure the Turks, the Iraqi Kurds even made common cause with them, fighting against their own ethnic kin, the Kurdish Marxist guerrillas in Turkey. But even Kurdish autonomy remained precarious and was regarded with suspicion by its neighbours. They wanted a unified Iraq, led by a strongman other than Saddam Hussein. The fate of the Shias in the south of Iraq initially attracted less attention. But Saddam’s brutal repression, when it extended to the ethnic Arab families living primitively in the marshes in the south of the country who made their simple living from fishing, eventually aroused the West. A second ‘no fly zone’ was declared to cover the south to provide some, far from complete, protection. Saddam Hussein meanwhile remained in power in Baghdad, surviving an international economic blockade and the humiliations inflicted by the UN. Perhaps these were even proving counterproductive as Iraqis rallied to their leader who was presented as standing up to overwhelming Western hostility. Saddam played a cat-and-mouse game frustrating the fulfillment of UN demands that he throw open his nuclear facilities for inspection and destroy his missiles as long as he dared. It remained in the interests of the nations in the region and of the West to maintain Iraq as a unitary state and that helped Saddam to survive for so long after defeat. What appeared to be morally right did not necessarily correspond to what were regarded as the wider interests of peace in the Middle East and the priorities of the world’s most powerful nations. Bush’s decision to stop at Iraq’s frontier was in part based on a miscalculation, that Saddam could not survive such a defeat but that his successor should be enabled to hold the country together as a counterweight to Iran. General peace in the volatile Middle East remained a distant prospect. But on 13 September 1993 there was one totally unexpected and dramatic turn for the better. On that day on the White House lawn the Israeli prime minister, Rabin, shook the hand of PLO chairman Arafat. Their agreement had been secretly brokered by the Norwegian foreign minister and became known as the ‘Oslo Agreement’. Arafat signed a letter recognising that Israel must exist in peace and security and Rabin accepted the PLO as the ‘representative of the Palestinian people’. Gaza and Jericho were to be handed over to Palestinian self-rule when all the details had been worked out. There was an outcry from opponents – from Hamas and from among the fearful Jewish settlers in 144 settlements on the West Bank and Gaza, who constitute some 4 per cent of Israel’s population. The detailed negotiations dragged on, and the December date for the handover passed. Three months later a fanatical Israeli settler sprayed a mosque in Hebron, the Patriarchs’ Tomb, with bullets from the automatic weapon many settlers carry, killing thirty Palestinians; Hamas retaliated in kind. The Israeli army was seen to maintain order one-sidedly – ready to shoot at Palestinians, but not at Jews. It was a setback, but there was no alternative but to try to implement what had already been agreed in principle in Washington. Meanwhile a resistant Hafez Assad was cajoled by the Americans without success to normalise relations with Israel. His prior demand was that he recover the Golan Heights. In Egypt, Mubarak came under increasing pressure from groups of Muslim fundamentalist terrorists. The fires of conflict thus continued to smoulder under the surface. Hopes of peace turned to ashes. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, based in the West Bank and Gaza, continued to launch suicide bombing attacks on Israel and the peace accord reached between the PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 was in tatters. Rabin was attacked by the Likud opposition and its leader Binyamin Netanyahu for ‘betraying’ Israel, and was assassinated not by an Arab terrorist but by a Jewish fanatic at a peace rally in Tel Aviv in November 1995. Shimon Peres, who succeeded him as prime minister, attempted to build on the trust Rabin had established with Arafat. But elections in May 1996 were preceded by bombs and deaths in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv which created divisions between those Israelis who supported the peace process and those who thought it would undermine security. Netanyahu won by the narrowest of margins. His approach was far more hard line. By the end of 1997 Gaza and only a small part of the West Bank had come totally under Palestinian control. By constructing a new settlement on the southern edge of East Jerusalem, Netanyahu brought negotiations with the Palestinians to a halt. But his refusal to abide by the Oslo timetable to leave the West Bank was overshadowed by the behaviour of Arafat, who failed to distance himself from Hamas and the continuing suicide bombings. Islamic Jihad and Hamas set off bombs in buses, busy markets and shopping streets. The Clinton administration managed to keep the peace process alive until the election in May 1999 of Ehud Barak, who replaced Netanyahu. Peace hopes revived. The biggest obstacle to overcome is a legacy of hatred and mistrust increased by the violence on both sides. Cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis besides banishing death and destruction promises great benefits for both peoples. Can the bridge that leads to peace be constructed? It can certainly not be done without outside help. There was some progress, in May 2000 Israel withdrew from the Lebanon though this greatly encouraged Palestinian terrorists who saw it as a victory. Arafat and Barak with their advisers were brought together by Clinton at Camp David. The Camp David blueprint in July 2000 that followed, to be sure, did not offer a final peace deal and would have left thorny problems outstanding but it was a historic advance that proved the courage and political will of Israeli’s prime minister Ehud Barak. The Camp David secret negotiations had brought the two sides closer but with characteristic misjudgement Arafat held out on the eve of the Israeli elections and so the window of opportunity closed. Instead of persevering with the course of peace soon after he returned, he believed that one more blow and shock would secure more concessions from Israel on the issues that had broken up negotiations in Camp David – sovereignty over Haram-al-Sharif (the Muslim Holy sites), Temple Mount its Jewish name, over the legal right of return of Palestinian refugees now increased to 3.5 million of whom over a million were herded still in camps, and over a territorial map of the new state that would be viable and removed most of the more than 100 Jewish settlements. The US provides most aid and support for Israel and could exert most pressure. Previous efforts to mediate a peace had failed. The Arab world accused the West of double standards ignoring some UN resolutions and demanding enforcement of others. Against Iraq, President George W. Bush, the son of the president of the first Gulf War, and Tony Blair later justified war in 2003 because Saddam Hussein did not fulfil the resolutions of the Security Council. But what about Israel which had also failed to carry out Security Council Resolution 242 (1967). This had called for a ‘just and lasting peace’, for the Israeli forces to withdraw from territories occupied in the Six- Day War, and for a ‘just settlement of the refugee problem’. Fourteen other resolutions followed on issues as diverse as Israel’s settlement policy, a ‘flagrant violation’, and the abuse of the human rights of the Palestine people. Was this not indeed an example of double standards? This argument is persuasively presented and has moral force but from a strictly legal point of view deserves close scrutiny. In the first place Resolution 242 was rejected by the Arab nations who refused to accept the existence of Israel within any borders and not until 1993 did the PLO and Israel agree to negotiate to implement the resolution. There is also a crucial difference between the dozen resolutions concerning Iraq passed after the first Gulf War under the UN Charter’s Chapter Seven and the Resolution on Israel and the Palestinians. On the Iraqi resolutions the Security Council is empowered under Chapter Seven to take all actions including war to enforce its will. The resolutions on the Israel–Palestine conflict were passed under Chapter Six where the UN acts as a mediator and makes recommendations that are not binding on the countries in dispute however strongly worded. From the point of view purely of international law the distinction is crucial. The renewal of violence undermined Barak who was obliged to counter with the strong arm of the Israeli army ranged against stone-throwing Palenstinian youths. The numbers of Palestinians killed and wounded exceeded those of the Israelis and inflamed passions. The casualty was the peace process and Barak’s electoral chances. Barak was defeated by Israeli’s ‘strongman’ Ariel Sharon in 2001. The future looked bleak.

 

 

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