Palestine: Key historical events
The following is based on an article written by HASSAN CHARFO, head of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia's international department, which originally appeared in the Czech communist daily newspaper Halo Noviny on December 22 last year. It concisely backgrounds the present Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
* * *After the First World War, Britain won a mandate to govern Palestine. In 1917 the British Government had promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine in its so-called Balfour Declaration. The mandate system devised by the League of Nations was intended to prepare local populations for independence, but in the case of Palestine it failed. In 1917, 90 percent of the original population were Arabs, who conducted an unsuccessful campaign against British domination. Instability in the territory increased in proportion to the rise in the number of Jewish immigrants. After WW2 had ended and because of tension between the Arab and Jewish populations the General Assembly of the United Nations Organisation adopted Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947. This resolution divided Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem each given a special status. They were to be administered by a special international regime. The United Nations promised the Jews 56 per cent of the territory of Palestine at a time when they owned less than seven per cent of it and accounted for only one-third of the population. The state of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948 and this led to the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war. When it ended, Israel controlled 77.4 per cent of the territory of Palestine, including most of the land allocated to the Arab state. Jewish military activities, massacres and expulsions led to the depopulation of 418 Palestinian villages and the departure of 750,000 people — 60 per cent of the Palestinian population. The Palestinians became a nation of refugees. Refugees to return On December 11, 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 194, which confirmed the right of the Palestinian refugees to return. Today the number of refugees who have been denied this right of return is close to four million. Israel has always refused to implement the UN resolution. Another aggressive war by Israel in 1967 created a new wave of refugees, after it occupied the rest of Palestine, the Sinai Peninsula belonging to Egypt and the Golan Heights belonging to Syria. The Israeli Government annexed East Jerusalem, which became part of Israel. The UN Security Council, in condemning the Israeli aggression, demanded that Israel withdraw from all land occupied in the war and return to its pre-war borders. [Resolutions 242 and 338] These resolutions have never been carried out by Israel and both Israeli and US negotiators studiously ignore any mention of them. The heavy defeat suffered by the Arab states in the 1967 war increased the popularity of the Palestinian resistance groups which had been organised in the camps for Palestinian refugees in neighbouring Arab countries. PLO Foremost among them was the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which was formed in 1964. Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Fatah movement, became Chairman of the PLO. The PLO went on to become the leading body in the national struggle for independence and it was soon transformed into the central force of the Palestinian diaspora. In October 1974 a summit of Arab heads of states recognised the PLO as the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people. The UN General Assembly confirmed this status by inviting Arafat to address it in 1974. It also granted the PLO observer status at the United Nations and in all UN bodies. Intifada The present phase in Palestinian-Israeli relations began in 1987 with the start of the Intifada. This was an uprising by unarmed civilians living on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip and mobilised all social classes and groups of Palestinians. The Intifada convinced Israel and its main ally, the USA, that the Palestinian-Israel conflict could only be solved at the political level and forced them to agree to negotiations. During the Intifada at least 1,600 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers and around another 100,000 were wounded, many suffering permanent disabilities. Before the outbreak of the Gulf war in 1990, Arab, European and American leaders made many proposals aimed at enabling a general agreement to be concluded by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders as part of a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although none of these got very far, many were used as the basis for convening a Middle East Peace Conference on October 30, 1991 in Madrid. At the end of this conference the delegates from Israel, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon and the allied Palestinian-Jordanian delegation agreed to hold bilateral and multilateral negotiations. Secret Palestine-Israel talks were also opened on January 20, 1993 in Norway. On September 9-10, Chairman Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin exchanged letters on mutual recognition. On September 13 in Washington the two leaders signed an Israeli-Palestinian declaration on the principles of a peace settlement. Agreements This declaration resulted in major changes in the control of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The two sides agreed that the Israeli army would withdraw from certain Palestinian territories, which were put under Palestinian (rather than PLO) administration. These agreements should have lasted for a five-year interim period, during which the two sides were to have negotiated and implemented an agreement for a permanent legal settlement. A number of issues relating to borders, security measures, water, Jerusalem, refugees, cooperation with neighbouring countries and the fate of the Jewish settlements were still in dispute. The first Israeli military withdrawals began in April 1994. Control of the city of Jericho on the West Bank and close to two-thirds of the Gaza Strip passed to the Palestinian leadership. On the basis of the Palestinian-Israeli phased agreement of September 28, 1995, the Israeli army withdrew from all Palestinian cities on the West Bank (apart from Hebron) and also from smaller towns and villages. The interim agreement also led to the creation of three territorial categories on the West Bank: * Category A territory, where a Palestinian administration took over responsibility for the Palestinian population and internal security; * Category B territory, where the Palestinian leadership took over responsibility for the administration, while Israel was responsible for internal security; * Category C territory, where Israel remained in sole control. It had full control of the borders, external security, Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements. According to this phased (interim) agreement, Israeli military forces should have carried out three further withdrawals — from the whole of the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements. These should have taken place by July 1997, but by January 2000 they had still not been implemented. Provocation When the Israelis opened a tunnel under Haram al-Sharif, the most sacred Muslim holy place in Palestine, there were demonstrations and clashes for four days, during which 62 Palestinians and 14 Israelis died and 1,600 Palestinians and 50 Israelis were injured. Despite the tense state of relations, which peaked under the government of Benyamin Netanjahu, the two sides initialled the Hebron Protocol of January 15, 1997, which committed Israel to withdrawing its troops from 80 per cent of Hebron while retaining control of the places where the Jewish settlers live. Palestinian-Israeli relations were also adversely affected by Israel's forcible expansion by building illegal Israel settlements in Palestinian- occupied territories. This took place despite Palestinian and international condemnation. In 1997 Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanjahu announced that he intended to establish a Jewish settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim, to the south of Jerusalem. The settlement, reinforced by a circle of other Jewish settlers around East Jerusalem, accelerated the bitter confrontation between Palestinian protesters and Israeli military units on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian leadership responded angrily and negotiations were broken off for several months. This interruption in the talks came to an end with the signing of the Wye River Memorandum on October 23, 1998, which helped implementation of the second phase of Israeli military withdrawals from the West Bank while the Palestinian leadership committed itself to further strengthen security. The Netanjahu Government, which had signed the Wye River Memorandum very reluctantly, soon gave in to internal political pressure and announced Israel's refusal to implement the memorandum, plunging Palestinian-Israeli relations into a new crisis. Netanjahu's defeat at the May 1999 Israeli elections led to an improvement in relations between the PLO and Israel. They signed the Sharm El-Sheik Memorandum of September 4, 1999, which set deadlines for implementing outstanding commitments under the Palestinian- Israeli agreements, including further withdrawals of Israeli military forces, the freeing of Palestinian prisoners, the building of a port in Gaza and the opening of a security corridor for travellers between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. No progress By January 2000 no concrete progress had been made, and in the meantime a great many contentious issues remained unresolved, including the continued building of Israeli settlements, the presence of hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails, recognition of an Arab state of Palestine and the Israeli policy of Judaization in Jerusalem. The desperation of the Palestinian people and the failure of Israel to carry out agreements already entered into has led to Intifada 2 — a new rising of the Palestinian people. The Intifada is supported by the entire Palestinian people, those living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the millions of Palestinian refugees now scattered across the world. It is also supported by the Arab countries and by progressive opinion everywhere. On December 9, 2000, at a meeting in Cyprus, communist and workers' parties from all over the world condemned the expansionist and aggressive policy of Israel, the USA's main ally in the Middle East, and demanded implementation of UN Resolutions 194, 242 and 338 on the withdrawal of Israeli occupation troops from the Arab lands and the return of Palestinian refugees. At the same time they pledged full support for the struggle of the Palestinian people for their legitimate rights. * * *Postmark Praha January 14, 2001