Crisis in the Middle East

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The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:
The Facts

  • The Outbreak of Violence
  • Palestinian Authority Action
  • Israeli Action
  • Reaction of the International Community

  • The Outbreak of Violence:

    Violence broke out in late September in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and in some Israeli-Arab towns. The violence was initiated and orchestrated by the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians have advanced from using rocks, firebombs and gunfire in demonstrations to directed gunfire attacks against the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, and against Israeli civilians and vehicles in the territories. There is a renewed threat of Palestinian terrorism within Israel, particularly since the bombing of the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem.

    • Widespread Palestinian violence erupted on Friday, September 29 in the Old City of Jerusalem and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian leadership and others claimed that the visit of Likud Party Chairman Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount the previous day had provoked the violence. However, there were other incidents of violence against Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip days before the Sharon visit, and widespread violence did not break out until a full day after Mr. Sharon’s visit to the area. Israeli leaders stated that the Palestinian violence was "orchestrated" by Palestinian leadership. Indeed, even before the Sharon visit there were incendiary calls for action on the Palestinian media and in sermons by religious leaders. The PA closed the schools under its jurisdiction and coordinated the busing of demonstrators to the Temple Mount on September 29. Since the outbreak of violence, the PA has sent Palestinian children and teenagers to the frontlines of the demonstrations every day, providing cover for those with live ammunition.
    • The violence has led to scores of fatalities. We are all saddened by the loss of life – Israeli and Palestinian – and had hoped that the cease fire understandings reached at Sharm el-Sheik on October 17 and negotiated by Yasir Arafat and Shimon Peres in Gaza on the early morning of November 2 would be implemented so that calm could be restored. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has violated the basic principles of the agreement, to "...take immediate concrete measures to end the current confrontation, eliminate points of friction, ensure an end to violence and incitement, maintain calm and prevent recurrence of recent events."
    • For many Israelis, the most disturbing development in this most recent chapter of Palestinian violence has been the demonstrations by Israeli-Arabs in the first few days of the conflict. Israeli Arabs, who represent 16.8% of the population, are full citizens of the State of Israel, and the vast majority fully participate in the Israeli democratic process. There have been unfortunate incidents of Israeli civilian attacks on Israeli Arabs, including an attack on a mosque in Tiberias. Prime Minister Barak, Chief Rabbis Lau and Ovadia Yosef have condemned this Jewish violence and have called on all sides to restore calm. Prime Minister Barak has since authorized a government inquiry into the Israeli-Arab demonstrations.

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    Palestinian Authority Action:

    The Palestinian Authority is in full control of the gun-shooting Tanzim militia and rock-throwing children in the streets. Since the outbreak of violence the PA has done little to attempt to quell the violence and at the very least, has tolerated brutal attacks against Israelis and Jewish holy sites. Instead, the Palestinian leadership and media incite greater hostility towards Israel and Jews. The PA has also released dozens of convicted terrorists from Palestinian prisons, thereby increasing the threat of a new terrorist campaign against Israeli targets.

    • The Israeli Government has accused the Palestinian Authority of orchestrating the violence, organizing the protests by children and teenagers, and authorizing the members of the Tanzim – the Fatah-affiliated militia – to conduct armed warfare against Israeli soldiers and civilians. The Israeli Army has accused the Palestinian Red Cross of aiding Palestinian snipers, by ferrying gunmen in ambulances to conflict points, transporting rocks to demonstrations in ambulances, and by allowing snipers to shoot at Israelis out of Palestinian Red Cross buildings.
    • Since the outbreak of the conflict, Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat has not spoken out publicly against the violence, against the brutal lynching of two Israel reserve soldiers in Ramallah on Thursday, October 12, against attacks on Jewish holy sites, and has not taken action to stop the violent demonstrations. Despite agreements reached with Israel calling for a public directive for an end to street violence, Chairman Arafat has refused to do so.
    • Over the past weeks, Chairman Arafat has authorized the release of almost all of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists held in PA prisons. Many of those released are responsible for suicide bus bombings in Israel. While the PA police has stated that they are re-arresting these convicted terrorists, many remain at large. Already, it is believed that some of those released might have been involved in the November 2 bombing of Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda which killed two Israelis and wounded scores more.
    • The Palestinian leadership has a history of organizing "spontaneous" eruptions of violence for political advantage. The PA’s "green light" and incitement to violence contravenes its commitment in agreements with Israel to end anti-Israel violence and terrorism and to cease hostile anti-Israel propaganda. As in past such incidents, the Palestinian Authority has the power to stop anti-Israel violence and demonstrations.
    • Throughout the conflict, Palestinians have shown tremendous disrespect towards Jewish holy sites. On Saturday, October 7, a Palestinian mob attacked Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, burning Jewish religious texts and destroying the building. An Israeli of American origin, Hillel Lieberman, was brutally murdered as he ran to the Tomb in an effort to save the religious texts. The attack occurred just after Israeli troops withdrew from the holy site in an effort to pacify a tense situation. The Palestinian Authority had assured Israeli officials that they would keep order in the area. The

    Shalom al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho was attacked a number of times by Palestinian mobs, harming religious objects. Before the outbreak of the violence, Palestinian leaders had been publicly denying the Jewish religious connection to the Land of Israel and to Jerusalem, all while assuring the international community that all holy sites would be respected and protected under Palestinian sovereignty. The violent Palestinian reaction to the Sharon visit to the Temple Mount and the shocking destruction of Joseph’s Tomb belie these disingenuous assurances.

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    Israeli Action:

    Israel has attempted to use restraint in responding to Palestinian violence and has made a concerted effort to limit Palestinian casualties. The violence is particularly jarring in that it occurs as the most serious negotiations for a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians were being pursued. According to reports, Prime Minister Barak offered the Palestinians far greater concessions on Jerusalem than ever anticipated. The Palestinians refused the Israeli offer and turned to violence.

    • The Israel Defense Forces have shown the greatest possible restraint in dealing with armed Palestinian protestors and snipers, and are making a determined effort to limit Palestinian casualties. Israeli soldiers have very strict procedures that they are only permitted to use live ammunition when shot at or in a life-threatening situation. Whenever possible, Israel responds to Palestinian violence in a very directed manner, at carefully specified targets. As a result of the Israeli redeployment from Palestinian population centers (as agreed to in Israel-Palestinian peace agreements), Israeli forces are not stationed inside Palestinians cities and town, but well outside them. Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protestors and snipers occur when Palestinians seek out and provoke Israeli soldiers and civilians. There have been tragic Palestinian fatalities over the course of the conflict. In many of these cases, the Israeli military conducts internal investigations to determine whether errors where made by its soldiers.
    • Israel has publicly and consistently demonstrated its commitment to negotiating peace with the Palestinians. The current impasse in the peace process negotiations came about with the abrupt end of the Camp David Summit in late July 2000. At the summit, Prime Minister Barak reportedly offered the Palestinian far-reaching concessions on Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees and other issues. Chairman Arafat refused Israel’s offer and abruptly left the summit. At the post-summit press conference, U.S. President Bill Clinton acknowledged that while Prime Minister Barak "showed particular courage and vision and an understanding of the historical importance of the moment," Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasir Arafat failed to demonstrate a flexibility or willingness to compromise his maximalist positions, particularly on Jerusalem. Since that time, the United States has sought to renew the negotiations. Just forty-eight hours before the start of the violence, Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat met at the Barak home for dinner to discuss the renewal of negotiations.
    • Seven years since the start of the Oslo peace process, there has been a major transformation in the governance and environment for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A series of significant interim agreements have been concluded and implemented by Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has undertaken a series of redeployments from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To date, 99% of the Gaza Strip and 39.7% of the West Bank are under the control of the Palestinian Authority. 99% of the Palestinian population resides under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Throughout the interim period there has been much criticism that while Israel has undertaken territorial sacrifices for peace, the Palestinians have not fully complied with their signed commitments in the interim agreements, particularly those in the realm of security and anti-Israel propaganda.
    • The willingness of the Israeli public to accept an agreement with the Palestinians in which Israel will make substantial concessions will depend on their belief that Arafat and the Palestinian leadership will truly prevent the use of violence and anti-Israel incitement.
    • Under Israeli rule, Christians and Muslims have always administered their own holy places and institutions and they have free access to Israel’s democratic court system in order to present any claim of violation of these rights. Immediately upon the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, Israel passed the Protection of Holy Places Law which guarantees the sanctity of all holy sites and makes it a punishable offense to desecrate or deny freedom of access to them. The principle of free access to holy places for all religions was reaffirmed in the "Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel," enacted by the Israeli Knesset in July 1980. Under these procedures, Israel has authorized the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount to be administered by Islamic religious authorities. Under Israeli sovereignty, people of every faith have the right to visit the Temple Mount.

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    Reaction of the International Community:

    The international community has not been helpful in resolving this conflict. For the most part, statements by international leaders have bolstered the Palestinian’s cynical use of violence and have not called on the Palestinian leadership to stop the demonstrations. Furthermore, the approach of the international community has served to strengthen Chairman Yasir Arafat’s efforts to "internationalize" the conflict by involving numerous "mediators" and an international "protection force."

    • Since the outbreak of hostilities, the international community has not played a helpful role. In particular, the United Nations has passed a series of biased resolutions that contradict the goals and nature of the cease fire understandings and only serve to exacerbate existing tensions and possibly prolong the violence. This type of action by the U.N. is a throwback to the days of the Arab propaganda war aimed to influence the world community against Israel. The approach of the international community only serves to encourage the Palestinians to draw the conclusion that violence pays – a most dangerous conclusion for the future of the region. U.N. action includes:

      • An extremely one-sided resolution was passed by the United Nations Security Council on October 7, just hours after the attack on Joseph’s Tomb. It is disappointing that the United States did not veto this unacceptable resolution.

      • The U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva on October 19 continued its long-time pattern of biased and one-sided action against Israel and passed a resolution accusing Israel of "war crimes."

      • The United Nations General Assembly passed another anti-Israel resolution on October 20, blaming Israel for the "excessive use of force" against Palestinians. The resolution was passed despite the opposition of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke called the special session convened to discuss the violence "a forum to beat up on Israel."
    • The Palestinians have recently begun an extremely detrimental campaign to have an international "protection force" established separating Israeli forces and Palestinians. There is no need for such a force; the violence could stop immediately if the Palestinians chose to stop it and commit to a negotiated settlement with Israel. This effort is a blatant attempt by the Palestinians to internationalize the conflict with Israel, to undermine the chances for a negotiated peace between the parties, and to set the stage for a unilaterally declared Palestinian state. The "protection force" is part of an ongoing effort by the PA to unseat the United States as the prime facilitator of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and to draw other countries into the conflict who are believed to be more sympathetic to the Palestinian position. Furthermore, once such a force is in place, the Palestinians would undoubtedly feel that they now had internationally-protected full sovereignty over territory without having to sign a peace agreement with Israel. Behind the shield of an international force, they might feel free to declare a state with the knowledge that they have the protection of the international community.
    • The Arab world has also exacerbated tensions. On October 23, the Arab League, convening in Cairo for the first time in four years, harshly condemned Israel while declaring that it "salutes the uprising of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian land." The statement also announced the end of normalized economic, cultural and other relations with Israel. Only formal diplomatic relations remain in place. Already, Morocco, Tunisia, Oman and Qatar have taken steps to scale back trade and other ties with Israel.
    • Some international leaders have played a constructive role in seeking an end the violence and renew peace negotiations. The United States continues to play a crucial role as facilitator of Israel-Palestinian negotiators. Despite the political uncertainty of election season, President Clinton remains actively engaged with the parties. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has also sought to reduce tensions and played a key role in negotiating a cease fire understanding at Sharm el Sheikh.

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