In 1991 Saddam Hussein's Iraqi military forces invaded and occupied the tiny Persian Gulf protectorate of Kuwait. U. S. president George Bush persuaded the United Nations to issue military sanctions against Hussein and organized an international military coalition against him. U. S.-led military forces quickly defeated the Iraqis, but not before Hussein had launched a number of missiles against Israel. The Israelis did not retaliate because they feared the reactions of the other Arab states and the Palestinians, who were solidly behind Hussein.
In 1993, faced with the continuing Intifada, hostile public opinion around the world, and increasing U. S. pressure, the Israelis at
One of the most sacred sites in Judaism, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City is a remnant of an ancient temple. Many Jews make pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to pray at the wall. (PhotoDisc)
Last recognized the PLO and Arafat as the spokesman for the Palestinian people and opened negotiations. The Israeli government also allowed the creation of an entity called the Palestinian Authority (PA). They recognized Arafat as the head of the PA and began negotiations designed to eventually lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
In 1995 the representatives of Israel and the PA met in Oslo, Norway, to negotiate a timetable for the establishment of the Palestinian state. After the signing of the Oslo Accords, however, further progress toward a settlement of the Palestinian problem slowed to a crawl. In late 1998, Palestinians and Israelis did agree on a partial Israeli evacuation of the West Bank. Despite this evacuation of the West Bank, a final peace settlement seemed elusive. Hopes that such a settlement would be reached were dashed by the events of the early twenty-first century, when the country was plunged into a new cycle of violence.
A New Intifada
One of the major difficulties of the Palestinians and Israelis concerned the status of holy places. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem posed a particular problem. Arabs regarded this as the place at which Mohammad ascended to heaven. In the eyes of Jews, this was the site of the ancient Jewish temple. The disagreement resulted in a new Palestinian uprising after Ariel Sharon, leader of the Israeli opposition party, visited the Temple Mount on September 28, 2000. Palestinians reacted with protests and riots. When the Israeli military responded by attempting to put down the riots, the soldiers were met by stone-throwing youths. The militia of the Palestinian Authority became involved and fighting broke out between the Israelis and the lightly armed Palestinian forces. Palestinian civilians, including large numbers of children, were killed in the ensuing violence.
Israeli's relations with its Arab neighbors, which had been improving, worsened rapidly with international attention to Israeli attempts to suppress the new uprising. Within Israel, many citizens concluded that Prime Minister Ehud Barak's efforts at compromise and reconciliation had led only to intensified anti-Israeli activity by Palestinians. Israeli voters responded on February 6, 2001, by electing as prime minister Ariel Sharon, whose visit to the Temple Mount had touched off the rebellion. Palestinian activists, in the wake of the election, turned to the devastating strategy of suicide bombings. Beginning in March, 2001, a series of suicide bombings staged chiefly by the Palestinian Hamas organization resulted in heavy and unpredictable loss of life among Israeli civilians. Israeli settlers in Palestinian areas were also ambushed and murdered.
After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Yasir Arafat made an apparent attempt to bring the violence to a halt by declaring a cease-fire. However, American sympathy for Palestinians, which had been growing as the Israeli military cracked down on civilians, decreased sharply as a result of televised scenes of Palestinians cheering and celebrating the death and destruction in the United States. Arafat's cease-fire proved futile, because the suicide bombing continued. On October 17,2001, the Israeli minister of tourism, Rehavam Ze'evi, was killed by Palestinians to retaliate for the earlier killing by Israelis of a Palestinian leader. Israeli forces responded by invading Bethlehem and other West Bank cities.
By September, 2002, two years after the beginning of the new Intifada, news sources reported that at least 1,537 Palestinians and 591 Israelis had been killed in the uprising. When the Palestinian Legislative Council met in the city of Ramallah in that month, their gathering was held in a city under Israeli military occupation, and the Israelis barred twelve Palestinian legislators from attending on the grounds that they were connected with terrorist activities. Israelis were living with the constant threat of terrorist bombings and nervousness over the consequences of a possible American invasion of Iraq. Palestinians, in turn, felt oppressed by the Israeli military and angry about Palestinian deaths.
As the suicide bombings continued into late 2002, the Israeli military moved into more Palestinian-controlled areas. As a result, anti-Israeli feelings grew more intense among the Palestinians and among sympathizers with the Palestinians around the world. Tensions in Israel also contributed to the mobilization of radical Islamic forces in other countries. In late November, 2002, an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya was destroyed by a car bomb, and an Israeli airliner taking off from a Kenyan airport came under missile attack. The al-Qaeda international terrorist network, or a group associated with it, was suspected of being behind the attacks.