In 1989 the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union by 1991 enabled hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews to be able to leave the Soviet Union and immigrate to Israel. In addition, Israel had been working throughout the late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s to rescue Ethiopian Jews and bring them to safety in Israel.
1990s: Continual Efforts Towards Peace
Although in the 1991 Gulf War Israel was attacked by Iraqi missiles, the 1990s were, for the most part, a decade of significant steps towards Middle East Peace. In 1991 the Madrid Peace Conference on the Middle East outlined a framework for bilateral peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians and Israel and Syria.
When Yasser Arafat ostensibly renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist in 1993, Israel agreed to negotiate in order to try to live in peace. Even though the terrorism against Israeli citizens continued, in 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin met with PLO leader Yasser Arafat in Washington, D.C. On September 13, 1993, Rabin and Arafat famously shook hands on the White House Lawn as Israel and the PLO, representative of the Palestinian people, signed the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government Arrangements for the Palestinians.
These agreements, also known as the Oslo Accords, were designed to guide a transitional period of Palestinian self-rule: Israel would gradually withdraw from the Gaza Strip and various areas in the West Bank, while during this time the Palestinian Authority (PA, which was formed from the PLO) would set up a functioning government in areas from which Israeli troops withdrew. However, key issues such as how much and which territory was to be ceded by Israel, what would be the status of Jerusalem, and what would be done with the Palestinian refugees, were not yet specified. Nevertheless, for their progress, Rabin, Arafat, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. In 1994 the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty was also signed, significantly marking the second official peace treaty between Israel and one of its close neighbors.
In 1995, Palestinian self-government expanded in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Tragically though, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4th by right-wing radicals who protested Israel’s withdrawing from these lands in exchange for peace with the Palestinians. In 1997, 1998, and 1999 Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed a series of interim agreements.
2000s: More Violence, More Failed Attempts at Peace
In July 2000 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, and United States President Bill Clinton met at the 2000 Camp David Summit. Barak offered Arafat a Palestinian state in all of Gaza, more than 95% of the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. However, Arafat rejected the offer.
Soon after the failure of the Camp David Summit, the Second Intifada started in fall 2000, bringing renewed violence by Palestinian terrorists against Israeli civilians. In response to several large-scale terrorist attacks, including the horrific “Passover Massacre” in a hotel in Netanya on March 27, 2002 in which a Hamas suicide bomber killed thirty civilians and wounded at least 140 others, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, reoccupying the West Bank in order to put a stop to the terrorist attacks from Palestinians based in that region.
In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, forcing the evacuation of many Israeli civilians. This withdrawal was designed to provide the Palestinians with a truly autonomous region in which they could begin to build a state of their own. Unfortunately, though, the Gaza Strip soon became a terrorist base, particularly for Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization. Rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza on and off ever since. Read also about education and technology in Israel here.
In June 2006, Hamas terrorists crossed the Israeli border and kidnapped an Israeli soldier, and in July Hezbollah, another terrorist group based in Lebanon crossed the border as well and killed some Israeli soldiers as well as kidnapped others. In addition, Hezbollah intensified missile attacks at northern Israel. In response, Israel carried out military operations against Hezbollah in what came to be known as the Second Lebanon War.
In 2006 the terrorist group Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, and by 2008 was firing enormous numbers of rockets and mortars at Israeli cities and towns within range of Gaza. In response, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza with the goal of stopping the shelling of Israeli civilians. The violence has since cooled, but today terrorists in Gaza still shoot rockets at Israel and Israel retaliates. Despite these circumstances, there are so many good reasons to visit Israel.
After almost two years of meetings, on September 16, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with another peace proposal, offering a Palestinian state including Gaza, almost 100% of the West Bank, and East Jerusalem as the state’s capital. Much progress was made in these negotiations, but in the end, Abbas did not accept the proposal. If you plan to visit Israel, take a closer look at this post.
The Stalled Peace Process
In September 2010, United States President Barak Obama tried to re-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and end the over six-decade violent conflict. Obama, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt met in Washington D.C. However, unfortunately, negotiations soon fell apart as a moratorium on Israeli settlement building expired, and Abbas refused to resume peace talks without an extension of the moratorium, which Netanyahu would not grant.
With the reconciliation of the more moderate Fatah party in the West Bank and the more radical and violent Hamas in Gaza in May 2011, and with the Palestinian attempt at a Unilateral Declaration of Independence at the U.N. in September 2011, Palestinian statehood seems imminent. While voting in the U.N. on this bid remains stalled, in November 2011 the Palestinians were admitted to UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), and now appear to be unwilling to accept anything less than full UN membership, despite the U.S.’s promise to veto such a move in the Security Council.
Meanwhile, the Quartet on the Middle East, consisting of the UN, the US, the EU, and Russia, is currently attempting to restart negotiations without preconditions between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis have accepted to do so, but the Palestinians are insisting that Israel adhere to the preconditions of stopping all settlement activity in the West Bank and formally recognizing the pre-1967 lines as the borders of the future Palestinian state. However, since Israel is not willing to stop West Bank construction or recognize those borders ahead of negotiations, talks are currently stalled. It is crucial that Israel and the Palestinians restart negotiations. Nevertheless, whether Palestinian statehood in the near future will bring peace to Israel remains unclear. Now, with the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, it looks like peace is further away than ever before.