Palestine Primer for the Perplexed

Palestine was the name Rome gave to their province of Judea after the Bar-Kochba revolt which ended in 135, approximately 100 years after the death of Jesus. Having come to the conclusion that the Jewish connection with Judea and Israel led them to continually rebel against foreign control, they renamed the place for the Jews' ancient enemy, the Philistines. Though the Philistines had been destroyed and deported from the coastal plain by Babylon in 586 BCE, their memory had not been eradicated. Babylon was replaced by Persia, then by the Greeks and then Rome (in mid-1st century BCE). When Rome was taken over from within by Christianity, Palestine became synonymous with the Holy Land. Taken over by the Arabs in the 7th century, Palestine as a geographical entity soon disappeared, but the name remained a term for the Holy Land within the Christian world. While remaining inhabited largely by Arabs, the Turks became the ruling power in the 16th century and remained as such until World War I.

The Ottoman Turks had put an end to the last vestiges of the Roman Empire when they conquered Constantinople in 1453. They then continued their advance in Europe, but stopped when Shi'ism began to spread in Iran, preferring to take care of this 'heresy' in their back yard. While they were at it, they took all of the Middle East. The emergence of two major centers of Moslem power, one in the ancient Hittite center in Anatolia, one in Egypt, had made a clash inevitable. The final showdown took place in 1516 at Marj Dabik in Syria; the Turks used the new weapon of firearms, the Mamelukes claimed that men of honor do not kill their enemies at a distance; honor lost, gunpowder won, the world of Islam had a new center of power. Once more the Holy Land (a tiny, insignificant part of the Ottoman Empire) was ruled from Constantinople, now known as Istanbul.

Following the Ottoman conquest in 1517, the Holy Land comprised more or less a number of districts under the jurisdiction of the province of Damascus until 1830. Most of these then fell within the province of Sidon, then Akko (Acre), then Damascus again, and finally were incorporated in the province of Beirut. Following Napoleon's Middle Eastern adventure the Ottoman Empire became a political/diplomatic battleground for the West and Russia obliging the Turks to make various changes within the Empire [more information on Turkish times is available here]. Things grew still more complex with the beginning of the Zionist settlements in the 1880's [more information available here] . This led the Turks to rule a portion of the Holy Land (the district - Sanjak - of Jerusalem) directly from Istanbul.

Palestine 1887 - 1914

At this point the Turkish Empire had shrunk a little from when it ruled all of North Africa as well as the Middle East.

Ottoman (Turkish) Empire Eve of World War 1

Over the course of the 19th century, the Turks had lost North Africa to France and Spain (and a little to Italy). Egypt, while nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire, was in fact controlled by Great Britain. The battle for influence within the Ottoman empire was won by the end of the 19th century by Germany, which accounts for the enormous number of German built institutions [Churches and schools in particular]. Thus when World War 1 broke out, aided by Britain's failure to deliver warships commissioned by the Turks and Germany filling in the gap, the Turks joined the war on the side of the Germans. This led Great Britain to eventually take the Turkish Empire apart.

Unable to make headway on the front in Europe, the British tried a flanking maneuvre in the East. Failing at Gallipoli they went further east, eventually breaking through at Beersheva and Gaza. Initially they concentrated on defending the Suez Canal, first on the banks and then further into Sinai, but while Asquith was Prime Minister Britain was not fully committed to the Palestine campaign. When David Lloyd George succeeded him and Allenby placed in charge of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, the campaign was committed to taking over Turkey's Middle Eastern Empire.

The British tried to encourage the Arabs (or some Arabs) to rebel against their Turkish overlords. As Christians involved in a war against Moslems, they played the ethnic card; they made an offer to Sherif Hussein (placed by the Turks in charge of Mecca and Medina) to establish an Arab Kingdom were he to lead an Arab revolt. This resulted in Husssein's son Feisal fighting alongside Lawrence of Arabia. A few months later Great Britain, France, and Russia reached an agreement (the Sykes-Picot Agreement) dividing the Middle East into areas of Great Power influence. A third undertaking by Britain expressed sympathy for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people [the Balfour Declaration]. At the war's end Britain was in control of the Middle East and somehow had to settle its differing commitments.

The Genesis of Palestine

Germany and Turkey's Asian and African possessions were judged by the victors as not yet ready to govern themselves. In line with this thinking, they were distributed among the Allied powers under the authority of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which itself was an Allied creation. Basically the mandate system was a compromise between the Allies' wish to keep the former German and Turkish colonies and their pre-Armistice declaration (November 5, 1918) that annexation of territory was not their aim in the war. The mandates were divided into three groups on the basis of their location and their level of political and economic development and were then assigned to individual Allied victors (known as mandatory powers, or mandatories). Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and Palestine (modern Jordan and Israel) were assigned to Great Britain, while Syria went to France.

During April 19 - 26, 1920, the prime ministers of Great Britain, France, and Italy, and representatives of Japan, Greece, and Belgium met at San Remo, on the Italian Riviera, to decide the future of the former territories of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The conference approved the final framework of a peace treaty with Turkey, which was later signed at Sevres, on August 10, 1920. The Treaty of Sevres abolished the Ottoman Empire and obliged Turkey to renounce all rights over Arab Asia and North Africa. It also provided for an independent Armenia, an autonomous Kurdistan, and a Greek presence in eastern Thrace and on the Anatolian west coast, as well as Greek control over the Aegean islands commanding the Dardanelles. When the new Turkish nationalist regime rejected the Treaty of Sevres, the Treaty of Lausanne was agreed instead in 1923; the earlier Allied demands for Kurdish autonomy and Armenian independence were scrapped, and Turkey's current borders were recognized.

During the Conference of San Remo, two class A mandates were created out of the old Ottoman province of Syria: the northern half (today's Syria and Lebanon) was mandated to France, the southern half (Palestine - today's Jordan and Israel) to Great Britain. The province of Mesopotamia (Iraq) was also mandated to Great Britain. An Anglo-French oil agreement was also concluded, which gave France 25 percent of Iraqi oil and favorable oil transport terms, and in return France agreed to the inclusion of Mosul in the British mandate of Iraq. Under the terms of an A mandate the individual countries were deemed independent but subject to a mandatory power until they reached political maturity.

The Sherif of Mecca's son Feisal, the Arab ally of T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and the British, had arrived in Damascus with his forces October 3, 1918 (shortly after the Australian cavalry, who, in hot pursuit of the Turkish army, did not stay) and was hailed by the Arabs as their King. When the British forces reluctantly withdrew in 1920, finally honoring their agreement with the French, he was expelled by the French Army, and took refuge with the British. They later installed him as ruler of Iraq instead and, in the interim, to prevent his brother Abdullah from joining the Arab rebels against the French, divided their future mandate of Palestine along the lines of the Jordan River, offering Abdullah the eastern side (75% of Palestine), a move to be made formal 2 years later.

In July 1922, the League of Nations entrusted Great Britain with the Mandate for Palestine (the name by which the country was then known). Recognizing "the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine," Great Britain was called upon to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine (Eretz Yisrael). Two months later, in September 1922, the Council of the League of Nations and Great Britain decided that the provisions for setting up a Jewish national home would not apply to the area east of the Jordan River, which constituted three fourths of the territory included in the Mandate ("Transjordan" in 1946 would become the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). The mandate officially came into force September 29, 1923.

Palestine, now governed by Great Britain, was, for the first time in over 1000 years, a distinct geographical entity with clearly defined borders.

The Arabs expressed their opposition to the Mandate and Jewish settlements with intermittent outbreaks of violence, culminating in a major revolt from 1936 - 1939. At this point the British had come to the conclusion that perhaps promoting a Jewish National Home was working against British interests, and she began to significantly restrict immigration by Jews. This did not satisfy the Arabs, nor did the offer - in the middle of the revolt - of the Peel Partition Proposal.

The British White Paper of 1939 limited Jewish emigration to 15,000 a year for the next 5 years and thereafter only with Arab agreement effectively brought to an end the British commitment under the Mandate to promote a Jewish National Home. When the Second World War was over and the new Labour Government continued the same policy the Jewish Revolt against the British began.

Britain, weary from the war, from its withdrawal from India, had had enough. She referred the entire issue to the United Nations. The UN sent out a commission who eventually came up with a proposal to partition western Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. On November 29, 1947 the Security Council, with 33 for, 13 against and 10 abstentions, approved partition in Resolution 181. Britain set May 15, 1948, as the date for ending the mandate.

The Zionist movement accepted the resolution, the Arabs rejected it and struck the first blow on November 30, 1947 when 7 Jews were killed in an attack on a Jewish bus. The war was fought in 2 phases and on 2 fronts: the first phase comprised a local war [between 650,000 Jews and 1,260,000 Arabs] fought while the British were still in Palestine. It was fought over control within the major towns and for control of the roads between the towns. Local Arab militants, aided mainly by irregular volunteers from Arab countries, had launched violent attacks against the Jewish community in an effort to frustrate the partition resolution and prevent the establishment of the Jewish state. They were successful on the roads, less so in the towns. As the war spread and the disintegration of the British administration progressed, external intervention increased. Alarmed by the continued fighting, the United States, in early March 1948, began to rethink a forcible implementation of partition, and on March 16 the UN Palestine Commission reported its inability, because of Arab resistance, to implement partition. On March 19 the United States called for the suspension of the efforts of the UN Palestine Commission and on March 30 for the declaration of a truce and the further consideration of the problem by the General Assembly.

The Zionists insisted that partition was binding and, nervous about the change in U.S. policy, and feeling there was now less likelihood of British intervention, went on the offensive in an attempt to forward the establishment of the state. Having suffered a number of setbacks when they had only reacted to attacks, they launched two successful offensives during April. These successes were aided by the failure of an Arab attack on Mishmar HaEmek, and the death in battle of al-Qadir al-Husseini, commander of the Jerusalem front, and perhaps also by what appears to have been a massacre, by Irgunists and members of the Stern Gang, of inhabitants of the Arab village of Deir Yasin. On April 22 the Arabs conceded defeat in Haifa and abandoned the city, Jaffa fell on May 13 and at the same time the Zionist forces of the Haganah embarked on a campaign of psychological warfare. The Arabs were divided and poorly served by their leaders, many of whom had sought refuge elsewhere while calling on their fellow Arabs to stay put and fight. The Jewish population comprised an organized community that had developed political, economic and social institutions, in effect a nation state in everything but name.

On May 14 the last British high commissioner, General Sir Alan Cunningham, left Palestine and the British Mandate came to an end.

The War of 1948

On the same day the State of Israel was declared and within a few hours won de facto recognition from the United States and de jure recognition from the Soviet Union. But early on May 15 units of the regular armies of Syria, Transjordan, Iraq, and Egypt crossed the frontiers of Palestine.

The initial fighting was critical for the newborn Jewish state. Forbidden weapons by the British Israel was unequipped with anything but the most basic weapons, and the initial fighting comprised Arab advances and desperate attempts by the Israelis to hold them off. Montgomery believed the Jews would be overrun and slaughtered. Yigal Yadin, Israel's Chief of Operations, was more optimistic - he thought there was a 50-50 chance. As it happened, after the first month of fighting the tide turned and in a series of campaigns, by December 1948 the Arab forces were routed.

By the summer of 1949 Israel had signed armistices with its neighbours. It had been recognized by more than 50 governments throughout the world, joined the United Nations, and extended its sovereignty over about 8,000 square miles (21,000 square kilometres) beyond the mandated Jewish state west of the Jordan River. 2,000 square miles more were divided between Transjordan and Egypt. Transjordan kept the hilltops it had occupied west of the Jordan River, including East Jerusalem, although its annexation of those lands in 1950 was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan. In 1949 the expanded country was renamed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Egypt retained control over, but did not annex, a small area on the Mediterranean coast that became known as the Gaza Strip. The Arabs of British Palestine, never quite able to combine as a unified community, were now a social and political non-entity.

Comparing the above map with the Partition proposal one can see that Israel gained a fair amount of territory in the war and attached it to Israel. Jordan annexed the territory she had conquered and it became part of the Hashemite Kingdom. Egypt retained the strip along the coast that she had conquered though she did not annex it and the Gaza strip remained conquered territory with the United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) responsible for the welfare of Arabs displaced by the war. Israel took a decision June 30, 1948, not to allow back those Arabs who were no longer in place.

A Political-Military Survey of Modern Israel

Despite the decision Israel allowed the return of 150,000 Arab refugees, mostly to reunite families. A major raison d'etre of the newborn state was to provide a homeland for all Jews who sought one. This led to the 1950 Law of the Return, which provided for free and automatic citizenship for all immigrant Jews; over the ensuing 3 years the Jewish population doubled, placing an enormous burden on the strained resources of the newborn state. At the same time border incidents with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan grew apace.

In particular trouble in the Gaza area escalated in 1956, after Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. On October 29 Israel carried out a preemptive attack on Egyptian territory and within a few days had conquered the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula, while Britain and France invaded the area of the Suez Canal. Under pressure from the United States, the USSR, and the United Nations Israel withdrew from Sinai in November 1956, and from Gaza in March 1957. UN forces were sent to the Sinai and Gaza to keep peace between Egypt and Israel.

In 1963, Ben-Gurion resigned as prime minister and was succeeded in that office by Levi Eshkol. Eshkol had to cope with increased guerrilla incursions into Israel from Syria and the shelling of Israeli villages by the Syrian army from the Golan Heights.

Six Days and Yom Kippur

In May 1967, Nasser moved the Egyptian army into the Sinai desert and demanded that the UN withdraw. The UN acceded and Egypt blockaded the Israeli port of Eilat (on the Gulf of Aqaba) by closing the Straits of Tiran, and moved its army towards the Israeli border, declaring its intention to destroy the Jewish state. Israel called up its reserves and normal activity ground to a halt.

On June 5, 1967, Israel made a pre-emptive strike against Egypt and Syria; that same morning Jordan attacked Israel. Over the next six days, Israel conquered and occupied the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula, the Golan Heights and the West Bank including Jordanian Jerusalem; the conflict became known as the Six-Day War. Israel annexed east Jerusalem combining the Arab and Israeli sectors into one Jerusalem, and offered the annexed Arabs Israeli citizenship. The rest of the territory taken, was and is occupied and controlled by the army.

After the war Arab guerrillas, operating largely from Jordan, stepped up their incursions. This basically came to a stop when King Hussein of Jordan - in a bloody battle known as 'Black September'- disarmed the Palestinian guerillas who had become a threat to his own government.

When Eshkol died in 1969, Golda Meir was recalled from retirement and illness to become prime minister. Over the next few years Israel lived in a state of no war and no peace. Then, on October 6, 1973, at 2pm on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Egypt and Syria simultaneously attacked Israeli positions in the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Other Arab states sent contingents of soldiers to aid in the attack on Israel. Egypt's troops crossed the Suez Canal and advanced into Sinai. Toward the end of the conflict, Israel troops themselves crossed the Suez, surrounded Egypt's Third Army and cleared the road to Cairo. On the Golan Syrian troops were pushed back and an artillery battery placed a few kilometers outside Damascus. The UN Security Council called for a ceasefire on October 22 and 23 and shortly after the fighting ended.

Trying Peace

In December 1973, the first Arab-Israeli peace conference took place in Geneva under the auspices of the UN. An agreement to disengage Israeli and Egyptian forces was reached in January 1974, largely through the shuttle diplomacy of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Israeli troops withdrew several miles into the Sinai, a UN buffer zone was established, and Egyptian forces reoccupied the east bank of the Suez Canal. A similar agreement between Israel and Syria was reached May, 1974, again through the efforts of Kissinger. Israel withdrew from lands captured in the 1973 war, plus a strip along the '67 border which became Syrian territory and a UN buffer zone. But she continues to hold most of the Golan Heights (comprising just under 1300 of Syria's 185,000 sq. kilometers).

A growing protest against the government, largely due to the surprise attack and the failure to call up the reserves led Golda Meir to resign in 1974. She was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin, who had retired as Chief of staff and had been appointed Israel's ambassador to the US. His government fell when planes bought by the airforce landed on Shabbat and the National Religious Party resigned from the government. Before the ensuing elections Shimon Peres replaced Rabin as head of the Labor Party, but under his leadership Labor lost the elections for the first time since the inception of the state. Many of its traditional voters switched to a new central party headed by Yigal Yadin. In 1977, the Likud party under the leadership of Menachem Begin won the elections with 48 seats. Begin formed a right-wing coalition, totally opposed to the idea of a Palestinian state, committed to the modern state expanding into the Biblically promised Land of Israel [Judea and Samaria in particular] and Jewish settlements sprang up all over Israeli-occupied territories, in particular near the old Biblical towns in what was now the West Bank.

Nevertheless it was under Begin's stewardship that Israel signed its first peace agreement with one of its neighbors. In 1977, Egyptian President Sadat visited Jerusalem and addressed the Knesset. A year later, under the watchful eye of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel was negotiated at Camp David, and a formal treaty signed on March 26, 1979, in Washington. Egypt recognized Israel and opened trade relations between the two countries; Israel returned Sinai to Egyptian control but Egyptian forces in the Sinai were restricted. It was also on Begin's watch that the Allon road was built running largely along the lines of Allon 's plan - rejected by his own Labor party - for reaching an accommodation with Jordan.

The 1980s to the Present

Neither Jordan nor Lebanon were involved in the '73 war, but whereas the border with Jordan remained quiet, the north was a different matter. After "Black September" the PLO had regrouped in Lebanon finding a base in the refugee camps there. There they formed an alliance with the Shi'ites and reopened the old Lebanese civil war. The government forces soon found themselves unable to cope and in the end turned to Syria who sent in an army and restored order; but they didn't go back to Syria and from 1976 on Lebanon was basically a Syrian puppet.

The PLO now turned its attention to Israel and began to regularly shell Israeli towns and villages and occasionally invade Israel. Towns like Qiryat Shemona found themselves under constant attack and living underground in bomb shelters. Retaliations having little effect, in March 1978 the Israeli army went into Lebanon, pushed the PLO back behind the Litani River and withdrew when the UN sent in an Interim Force [still there] to act as a buffer. UNIFIL turned out to be less than useless and PLO attacks continued on a regular basis from further back and under the shelter of Syrian guns. There were however less direct attacks invading Israeli territory largely through Israel's promotion of the South Lebanese Army, a Christian militia under Major Saad Haddad.

In 1982 PLO forces blew up a bus and shot Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov, leaving him a virtual vegetable. Israel bombed PLO bases in Lebanon in retaliation and when these began to fire into Israel, Israel invaded Lebanon again. Much to the surprise of most Israelis (including, it appears, Prime Minister Begin) Israeli forces, orchestrated by Defence Minister Sharon, reached the outskirts of the Lebanese capital, Beirut. It was here that Israel allowed Lebanese Christian militias (Maronite militias, not Israel's long-standing allies in the south) into the camps of Sabra and Shatilla and a massacre ensued, causing an outcry in Israel and a demonstration of some 400,000 which led to Sharon being found indirectly responsible by an Israeli judicial commission and unfit to be Defence Minister. Shortly after Begin resigned and was replaced by Yitzhak Shamir as Prime Minister and head of the Likud.

After a withdrawal to Tunisia by the PLO was negotiated, Israeli forces withdrew, but remained in southern Lebanon where they patrolled in conjunction with the SLA finding themselves in conflict now with a new militia, Hizbollah. Hizbollah was largely a consequence of the shift in power in Iran as the Ayatollah Homeini took over from the Shah and a devout Shi'ite Moslem regime was instituted. In her agenda to spread Shi'ism Iran began to finance Shi'ite militias and the traditional Lebanese Shi'ite Amal found themselves upstaged by the Iran-backed upstart Hizbollah. Israel continued to control south Lebanon, in constant conflict mostly with Hizbollah.

After Begin resigned and Shamir became Prime Minister, the following elections left Israel in a stalemate with the Likud and Labor both winning 40 seats. Each party found itself unable to form a government without the other and eventually a government of national unity was formed with Peres as Prime Minister for the first 2 years and Shamir for the next 2 years. Rabin served as Defence Minister throughout, while Peres and Shamir swapped positions as Foreign Minister. In the following 1988 elections, Shamir again created a National Unity Government with Labor, but without the "rotation" element of its predecessor. This government fell in 1990 when Labor withdrew, but Shamir succeeded in forming a narrow coalition government.

During Shamir's premiership large numbers of emigrants from Ethiopia and far more from the Soviet Union increased Israel's population by nearly 10% in the years of 1989 to 1992. This led to significant unemployment and a lack of housing. Shamir was happy to settle as many as he could in the occupied territories. In December 1987, the first Arab Intifada and during the 1991 Gulf War, which had nothing to do with Israel, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles into Israel, presumably in an attempt to provoke Israeli retaliation which they hoped would break up at least the Arab part of the coalition against them. Israel however failed to retaliate. In August 1991 peace talks opened between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

In 1992 Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister for the second time. He had engineered a change in Labor internal elections so that the entire body of party members and not just the central committee voted for head of the party. In the subsequent party elections Rabin replaced Peres as head of the party and Labor won the 1992 elections. Shamir resigned as head of the Likud (and in 1996 from the Knesset). Benjamin Netanyahu won the Likud internal elections and became head of the party and head of the opposition. Jordan having renounced its claim to the West Bank [the territory Jordan won in 1948 and lost in 1967), Rabin's government pursued Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, at Oslo with the PLO and in 1994 with Jordan.

On the non-peace front, in 1993 (July 25-July 31) Israel opened a campaign against Hizbollah (known in Lebanon as The Seven-Day War). This was in the wake of a series of rocket attacks into Israel and attacks which killed five soldiers in Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon. Hizbollah responded with more rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets. At the same time an agreement was being hammered out with the PLO; The Oslo Accords, officially called the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements or Declaration of Principles (DOP), were completed in Oslo on August 20, 1993, and officially signed in a public ceremony at Washington on September 13, 1993.

The PLO moved into the West Bank and the Gaza strip and in 1995, Israel and the PLO agreed on a transition to Palestinian self-rule in most of the West Bank. Israel began to slowly withdraw from these territories, gradually handing over control of towns to the PLO. Nevertheless violent attacks on Israelis continued and Arafat officially lauded those responsible. In 1994 a treaty with Jordan ended the 46-year-old state of war between the two nations.

Then on November 4th 1995 Rabin was murdered by a religious Jewish extremist and Peres replaced him as Prime Minister. On Peres's watch Israel carried out Operation Grapes of Wrath (April 11-April 27, 1996) in an attempt to end shelling of northern Israel by Iranian and Syrian-backed Lebanese Islamic militia. The Israel offensive ended when a UN camp at Qana, Lebanon, was hit by an Israeli bomb killing about 100 Lebanese civilians who had sought shelter there.

Shortly after, elections were held in Israel. This was the first election in Israel where the Prime Minister was elected directly, so that the public voted separately for the Prime Minister and separately for a party. While the new system gave more power to the head of government it also promoted a fragmentation of the Knesset so that the slow consolidation of parties over the past decades now reversed itself with some 33 parties running and the formation of a workable government made more difficult.

A series of bombings among Israel's civilian population on the eve of the 1996 elections swung public opinion in favor of Netanyahu who won by the slimmest of margins. His government lasted nearly 3 years before falling, with Netanyahu's inexperience showing. In an attempt to allay fears about Israel's future policies, Netanyahu undertook to honor all previous agreements and most of Hebron was handed over to Palestinian control in January 1997. In 1998, Israel agreed to withdraw from additional West Bank territory, while the Palestinian Authority pledged to take stronger measures to fight terrorism. Further negotiations over territory came to a standstill and in the following elections Ehud Barak, former Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, now the new head of the Labor Party, defeated Netanyahu (who resigned as head of the Likud) and became Prime Minister May 17, 1999.

He too had little political experience and tried to run the country in US presidential style, in the process tearing his own political base to shreds. Barak had run on a campaign promise to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanese territory, and now - unusual for a politician (which perhaps, Barak demonstrated he was not) - carried out his campaign promise. On the diplomatic front, he ignored the Palestinians and attempted to reach an agreement with Syria. When these attempts ground to a halt he turned to the Palestinian problem which he tried to solve in a single step, bypassing the step by step approach of Oslo, which was not going well anyway, and in a summit at Camp David made an attempt to reach a final status agreement with Arafat, to settle all outstanding problems and to put an end to the conflict. Arafat however was not prepared to negotiate and simply said no to all Israeli offers, making none of his own in return. Here you can see a map of the status on the ground up to this point.

Two months later he initiated the intifada, which grew more and more violent. Barak's government fell apart and resigned in December 2000. Barak lost the ensuing elections to Ariel Sharon, who had replaced Netanyahu as head of the Likud.

Sharon formed a national-unity coalition. In 2002 the Passover bombings and others killed some 130 Israelis in 1 month. Sharon's government ordered the reoccupation of West Bank towns in an attempt to stop the attacks. In October 2002, Labor accused Sharon of favoring Israeli settlers in the occupied territories over the poor, and withdrew their support. Sharon called for parliamentary elections in early 2003, and in January the Likud won a substantial victory at the polls. The following month Sharon formed a four-party, mainly right-wing coalition government.

In May, 2003, Sharon's government accepted the international "road map for peace" with some reservations; the plan envisaged the establishment of a Palestinian state in three years. Talks resumed with Palestinians, a three-month cease-fire with Palestinian militants was supposedly agreed, and Israel lifted some restrictions in Gaza and the West Bank. But suicide bombings and Israeli retaliations resumed in August, and in October Israel attacked Syria for the first time in 20 years, bombing what it called a terrorist training camp in retaliation for suicide bombings. Syria hosted and still hosts the heads of the most virulent anti-Israel militant Palestinian groups.

Israel's much talked about, but still largely unconstructed, security barrier in the West Bank, which, if erected, would include some 15% of that territory, brought widespread international condemnation in late 2003. In July 2004, an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (requested by Palestinians and the UN General Assembly) deemed its construction illegal under international law because it was being constructed on Palestinian lands. Israel's position is that the territories are undefined and cannot be defined as Palestinian. Meanwhile in response to an appeal by concerned parties, Israel's own High Court of Justice in June 2004 ordered the wall to be rerouted in certain areas because of the hardship it would cause Palestinians.

In March 2004 Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, was killed in an Israeli strike, Palestinian militants threatening dire retaliation. At the same time Sharon put forward his plan to withdraw from the Gaza strip, a plan rejected in a nonbinding vote (May, 2004) by his own party. The plan then resulted in defections from his coalition, but Sharon went ahead. In October 2004, he secured parliamentary approval for the plan. The plan also called for abandoning some West Bank settlements while expanding others. Sharon formed a new coalition with the Labor party, which supported the Gaza withdrawal, in January 2005. He followed this up with a truce with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and in March 2005, Israeli forces withdrew from Jericho and began to leave other West Bank towns. In August the Gaza settlements were evacuated and the next month Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza.

In November 2005, Amir Peretz, a trade union leader, replaced Shimon Peres as head of the Labor party and pulled Labor from the government, bringing about new elections. Sharon withdrew from the Likud to form the centrist Kadima [Forward] party, apparently to force a realignment of Israeli politics and retain the prime ministership. In January 2006, however, Sharon suffered an incapacitating stroke and was replaced by Ehud Olmert, who became acting prime minister and leader of the new party.

Kadima won 29 seats (significantly less than the 40 the polls had given Sharon) in the March 2006 elections. Olmert in May formed a new coalition government. Escalating rocket attacks from Gaza and the capture by Hamas guerrillas of an Israeli soldier led to an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in June, 2006, as well as other actions against Hamas and the Palestinians.

A new front was opened when, on July 12, 2006, Hezbollah launched "Operation True Promise" at 9:05 AM. A diversionary attack of rockets and mortars was followed by Hezbollah troops entering Israel where they attacked two Israeli Humvees with rocket-propelled grenades, killing three soldiers and capturing two others. In response, the Israeli army launched air, naval, and ground attacks at Hezbollah targets across Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching hundreds of rockets into northern Israel, as far as Haifa, Afula and elsewhere. A cease-fire was reached on August 14th.

A government-appointed commission was set up to investigate Israel's conduct of the war, and the government's standing was shaken. Matters were not been improved by a series of potential scandals involving the President, the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister (since convicted and sentenced to prison) and more. The Winograd Committee found that the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff had no clear target in mind, that they had failed to examine a variety of options before acting and that they had performed poorly throughout. The Chief of Staff resigned, followed later by the Minister of Defence and eventually Ohlmert resigned. Livni took over, Netanyahu returned to lead the Likud, and Barak to lead the Labor Party. Elections took place February 10, 2009 in the wake of the Cast Lead Operation in Gaza, carried out when rocket attacks from Gaza, which had substantially slowed for the previous 6 months, were renewed on a substantial scale.

Voter turnout was 65.2% with 3,373,490 valid votes, resulting in 21 parties that ran not making it into the Knesset and 12 that did with the following results:


No. of votes

No. of seats




Likud - Ahi



Yisrael Beytenu









United Torah Judaism



United Arab List - Ta'al



National Union






Meretz and The New Movement



Habayit Hayehudi - The New National Religious Party (NRP)






Netanyahu formed a large, unwieldy, 7-party coalition government with 30 cabinet ministers, and the future is obscure.