Friday, January 30, 2009
The way Israel has conducted its military operations in Gaza extends a wider and dangerous trend towards state unilateralism, says Conor Gearty.
21 - 01 - 2009
Conor Gearty is the director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics. Among his books are Civil Liberties (Oxford University Press, 2008) and Essays on Human Rights and Terrorism (Cameron May, 2008). His forthcoming books are on Liberty and Security (Polity) and Social Rights (Hart). His website is conorgearty.co.ukThis article, with minor editorial variations, first appeared in the Tablet (17 January 2009)Also by Conor Gearty in openDemocracy:"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the next sixty years" (10 December 2008)
The Israeli attack on the Gaza strip in has exposed the relative impotence of international law in the face of determined sovereign action. On 8 January 2009, the United Nations Security Council called for "an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza." It also urgently insisted on the "unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment."
On 9 January the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, told a special session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) that "international human-rights law must apply in all circumstances and at all times." The high commissioner strongly urged the parties to the conflict "to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law to collect, care for and evacuate the wounded and to protect and respect health workers, hospitals, and medical units and ambulances." Pillay also called on each side "to allow the deployment of independent human-rights monitors in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory to document any violations of international-human rights and humanitarian law."
In reminding the HRC that "violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked", she suggested that the council "should consider authorising a mission to assess violations committed by both sides in the conflict in order to establish the relevant facts and ensure accountability." In its resolution on 12 January, the council said that it "strongly condemns the ongoing military operation carried out ... in the occupied Gaza Strip, which [has] resulted in massive violations of human rights of Palestinian people and systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure"; it decided to send "an urgent independent international fact-finding mission" to investigate what is going on.
The practice of war
The anger evident in all this UN activity, and in particular the passion evident in the high commissioner's choice of words - reflected too by the secretary-general himself during his visit to Gaza on 20 January - is founded upon the blatancy of the disregard of the law that has been evident in Gaza.
This is not solely or even mainly about whether the operation was justified; the concern is rather with how it was conducted. International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict of this nature carefully to distinguish between combatants and others, targeting only the former. It also requires that the wounded and sick must be collected and cared for by the party to the conflict which has been within its power. Methods of warfare which are likely to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering should not be used.
The Human Rights Council was particularly exercised by what its resolution refers to as the "targeting" of UN facilities in Gaza. Even the normally discreet International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued what was for it a highly unusual statement to make in the course of a conflict. This condemned the Israeli military for having breached international humanitarian law in having failed to allow access to a neighbourhood within which were later found four small children, starving among twelve corpses (including those of the children's mothers): according to the ICRC, the Israel Defence Forces had delayed four days before allowing the organisation's medical teams into the area. It would be wrong to say that none of this international activity has had any effect at all: there can be little doubt that Israel has felt some diplomatic and possibly even economic pressure arising from the way in which it conducted its operations in relation to Gaza. But in the absence of any kind of enforcement mechanism, the legal effect of all this international noise has been for all practical purposes zero.Indeed, without any kind of international adjudicative body to which Israel is required to defer, the media spokespeople deployed to justify Israel's actions to the world, together with their supporters in the world community of academic "terrorism experts", have been able to argue that the attacks are legitimate under international law.
The argument - based on the right of national self-defence in Article 51 of the UN charter, together with the alleged use by Hamas of civilian areas from which to launch rockets on Israel - might not be able to survive a few hours in a court of law; but all it needs to withstand is at most five minutes' interrogation in the media, and it is more than fit for this purpose. The Israeli leaders were able to declare their operation a success before it was allowed to become an embarrassment to Barack Obama on his 20 January 2009 inauguration; they can hope that within a few months this dirty little war will have faded into a background already littered with a succession of such disproportionately violent encounters.
The response of law
Many lessons should already have been learned from these earlier episodes. There are two fresh ones. First, the United States attack on Libya in April 1986 - ostensibly based on an alleged right of pre-emptive self-defence supposedly to be found within Article 51 - was an event in the history of international law from which (it is now clear) the subject has yet to recover. President Reagan's decision to bomb Tripoli opened the door to a unilateralism in international affairs that has shed more and more of its UN camouflage as time has gone on, and without any apparent ill-effects for those who practice it.
This is clear in the way that, as things stand, Navi Pillay's warnings about individual criminal responsibility are empty threats. The Israelis have not the slightest intention of subjecting themselves to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court anytime soon. So while the UN and the ICRC are attacked in Gaza and civilians die in their hundreds, the restricted functionaries at The Hague continue with their decent work unearthing yet further evidence of past wrongdoing by deposed African tyrants. It is for this among other reasons that so many of the less powerful nations are so opposed to agreeing a definition of terrorism at the UN: imagine how fortified Israel would be by a UN convention which condemned attacks on them but had nothing to say about Israel's own military operations.
Second, therefore, there should be no UN movement on a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention until there is both international agreement to clarify the remit of Article 51 and a collective decision properly to enforce international humanitarian law. If the new president of the United States were privately torn between his response as an empathetic human to the onslaught on Gaza and his concern not to tackle powerful interests so early in his term of office, he could do worse than launch an international campaign to restore faith in international human rights and international humanitarian law. If this really meant something - and if it were made clear that the United States's most loyal allies were expected to lead the way - then that would make the military planners in Tel Aviv very nervous.
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| The struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is one of the most enduring and explosive of all the world's conflicts. It has its roots in the historic claim to the land which lies between the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan river. |
For the Palestinians the last 100 years have brought colonization, expulsion and military occupation, followed by a long and difficult search for self-determination and for coexistence with the nation they hold responsible for their suffering and loss.
For the Jewish people of Israel, the return to the land of their forefathers after centuries of persecution around the world has not brought peace or security. They have faced many crises as their neighbours have sought to wipe their country off the map.
BBC News Online highlights some of the key dates of recent Middle East history and looks back at the origins and development of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The land that now encompasses Israel and the Palestinian territories has been conquered and re-conquered throughout history.
Details of the ancient Israelite states are sketchy, derived for the most part from the first books of the Bible and classical history. Some of the key events include:
- 1250 BC: Israelites began to conquer and settle the land of Canaan on the eastern Mediterranean coast.
- 961-922 BC: Reign of King Solomon and construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon's reign was followed by the division of the land into two kingdoms.
- 586 BC: The southern kingdom, Judah, was conquered by the Babylonians, who drove its people, the Jews, into exile and destroyed Solomon's Temple. After 70 years the Jews began to return and Jerusalem and the temple were gradually rebuilt.
- 333 BC: Alexander the Great's conquest brought the area under Greek rule.
- 165 BC: A revolt in Judea established the last independent Jewish state of ancient times.
- 63 BC: The Jewish state, Judea, was incorporated into the Roman province of Palestine
- 70 AD: A revolt against Roman rule was put down by the Emperor Titus and the Second Temple was destroyed. This marks the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora, or dispersion.
- 118-138 AD: During the Roman Emperor Hadrian's rule, Jews were initially allowed to return to Jerusalem, but - after another Jewish revolt in 133 - the city was completely destroyed and its people banished and sold into slavery.
- 638 AD: Conquest by Arab Muslims ended Byzantine rule (the successor to Roman rule in the East). The second caliph of Islam, Omar, built a mosque at the site of what is now the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in the early years of the 8th Century. Apart from the age of the Crusaders (1099-1187), the region remained under Muslim rule until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th Century.
1897: First Zionist Congress
The First Zionist Congress met in Basle, Switzerland, to discuss the ideas set out in Theodor Herzl's 1896 book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). Herzl, a Jewish journalist and writer living in Vienna, wanted Jews to have their own state - primarily as a response to European anti-Semitism.
The Congress issued the Basle Programme to establish a "home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured by public law" and set up the World Zionist Organisation to work for that end.
A few Zionist immigrants had already started arriving in the area before 1897. By 1903 there were some 25,000 of them, mostly from Eastern Europe. They lived alongside about half a million Arab residents in what was then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. A second wave of about 40,000 immigrants arrived in the region between 1904 and 1914.
1917: Shifting sands
At the time of World War I the area was ruled by the Turkish Ottoman empire. Turkish control ended when Arab forces backed by Britain drove out the Ottomans.
Britain occupied the region at the end of the war in 1918 and was assigned as the mandatory power by the League of Nations on 25 April 1920.
During this period of change, three key pledges were made.
In 1916 the British Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, had promised the Arab leadership post-war independence for former Ottoman Arab provinces.
However, at the same time, the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between war victors, Britain and France, divided the region under their joint control.
Then in 1917, the British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour committed Britain to work towards "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", in a letter to leading Zionist Lord Rothschild. It became known as the Balfour Declaration.
1920’s – 1930’s:
The Zionist project of the 1920s and 1930s saw hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrating to British Mandate Palestine, provoking unrest in the Arab community.
In 1922, a British census showed the Jewish population had risen to about 11% of Palestine's 750,000 inhabitants. More than 300,000 immigrants arrived in the next 15 years.
Zionist-Arab antagonism boiled over into violent clashes in August 1929 when 133 Jews were killed by Palestinians and 110 Palestinians died at the hands of the British police.
Arab discontent again exploded into widespread civil disobedience during a general strike in 1936. By this time, the militant Zionist group Irgun Zvai Leumi was orchestrating attacks on Palestinian and British targets with the aim of "liberating" Palestine and Transjordan (modern-day Jordan) by force.
In July 1937, Britain, in a Royal Commission headed by former Secretary of State for India, Lord Peel, recommended partitioning the land into a Jewish state (about a third of British Mandate Palestine, including Galilee and the coastal plain) and an Arab one.
Palestinian and Arab representatives rejected this and demanded an end to immigration and the safeguarding of a single unified state with protection of minority rights. Violent opposition continued until 1938 when it was crushed with reinforcements from the UK.
1947: UN partition of Palestine
Britain, which had ruled Palestine since 1920, handed over responsibility for solving the Zionist-Arab problem to the UN in 1947.
The territory was plagued with chronic unrest pitting native Arabs against Jewish immigrants (who now made up about a third the population, owning about 6% of the land). The situation had become more critical with the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazi persecution in Europe. Some six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust during World War II.
The UN set up a special committee which recommended splitting the territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states. Palestinian representatives, known as the Arab Higher Committee, rejected the proposal; their counterparts in the Jewish Agency accepted it.
The partition plan gave 56.47% of Palestine to the Jewish state and 43.53% to the Arab state, with an international enclave around Jerusalem. On 29 November 1947, 33 countries of the UN General Assembly voted for partition, 13 voted against and 10 abstained. The plan, which was rejected by the Palestinians, was never implemented.
Britain announced its intention to terminate its Palestine mandate on 15 May 1948 but hostilities broke out before the date arrived.
The death of British soldiers in the conflict made the continuing presence in Palestine deeply unpopular in Britain. In addition, the British resented American pressure to allow in more Jewish refugees - a sign of growing US support for Zionism.
Both Arab and Jewish sides prepared for the coming confrontation by mobilising forces. The first "clearing" operations were conducted against Palestinian villages by Jewish forces in December.
1948: Establishment of Israel
The State of Israel, the first Jewish state for nearly 2,000 years, was proclaimed at 1600 on 14 May 1948 in Tel Aviv. The declaration came into effect the following day as the last British troops withdrew. Palestinians remember 15 May as "al-Nakba", or the Catastrophe.
The year had begun with Jewish and Arab armies each staging attacks on territory held by the other side. Jewish forces, backed by the Irgun and Lehi militant groups made more progress, seizing areas alloted to the Jewish state but also conquering substantial territories allocated for the Palestinian one.
Irgun and Lehi massacred scores of inhabitants of the village of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem on 9 April. Word of the massacre spread terror among Palestinians and hundreds of thousands fled to Lebanon, Egypt and the area now known as the West Bank.
The Jewish armies were victorious in the Negev, Galilee, West Jerusalem and much of the coastal plain.
The day after the state of Israel was declared five Arab armies from Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq immediately invaded Israel but were repulsed, and the Israeli army crushed pockets of resistance. Armistices established Israel's borders on the frontier of most of the earlier British Mandate Palestine.
Egypt kept the Gaza Strip while Jordan annexed the area around East Jerusalem and the land now known as the West Bank. These territories made up about 25% of the total area of British Mandate Palestine.
1964: Formation of the PLO
Since 1948 there had been fierce competition between neighbouring states to lead an Arab response to the creation of Israel. That left the Palestinians as passive onlookers.
In January 1964, Arab governments - wanting to create a Palestinian organisation that would remain essentially under their control - voted to create a body called the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
But the Palestinians wanted a genuinely independent body, and that was the goal of Yasser Arafat who took over the chairmanship of the PLO in 1969. His Fatah organisation (founded in secret five years earlier) was gaining notoriety with its armed operations against Israel.
Fatah fighters inflicted heavy casualties on Israeli troops at Karameh in Jordan in 1968.
1967: The 1967 War
Mounting tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbours culminated in six days of hostilities starting on 5 June 1967 and ending on 11 June - six days which changed the face of the Middle East conflict.
Israel seized Gaza and the Sinai from Egypt in the south and the Golan Heights from Syria in the north. It also pushed Jordanian forces out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Egypt's powerful air force was put out of action on the first day of fighting when Israeli jets bombed it on the ground in a pre-emptive strike.
The territorial gains doubled the area of land controlled by Israel. The victory heralded a new age of confidence and optimism for Israel and its supporters.
The UN Security Council issued resolution 242, stressing "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security". The resolution called for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict". It also called for an end to "all claims or states of belligerency and respect for... the sovereignty... of every state in the area and their right to live in peace... free from threats or acts of force".
According to the UN, the conflict displaced another 500,000 Palestinians who fled to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
1973 Yom Kippur war
Unable to regain the territory they had lost in 1967 by diplomatic means, Egypt and Syria launched major offensives against Israel on the Jewish festival of the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. The clashes are also known as the Ramadan war.
Initially, Egypt and Syria made advances in Sinai and the Golan Heights. These were reversed after three weeks of fighting. Israel eventually made gains beyond the 1967 ceasefire lines.
Israeli forces pushed on into Syria beyond the Golan Heights, though they later gave up some of these gains. In Egypt, Israeli forces regained territory and advanced to the western side of the Suez Canal.
The United States, the Soviet Union and the United Nations all made diplomatic interventions to bring about ceasefire agreements between the combatants.
Egypt and Syria jointly lost an estimated 8,500 soldiers in the fighting, while Israel lost about 6,000.
The war left Israel more dependent on the US for military, diplomatic and economic support. Soon after the war, Saudi Arabia led a petroleum embargo against states that supported Israel. The embargo, which caused a steep rises in petrol prices and fuel shortages across the world, lasted until March 1974. In October 1973 the UN Security Council passed resolution 338 which called for the combatants "to cease all firing and terminate all military activity immediately... [and start] negotiations between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East".
1974: Arafat's first UN appearance
In the 1970s, under Yasser Arafat's leadership, PLO factions and other militant Palestinian groups such as Abu Nidal launched a series of attacks on Israeli and other targets.
One such attack took place at the Munich Olympics in 1972 in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed.
But while the PLO pursued the armed struggle to "liberate all of Palestine", in 1974, Arafat made a dramatic first appearance at the United Nations mooting a peaceful solution.
He condemned the Zionist project, but concluded: "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
The speech was a watershed in the Palestinians' search for international recognition of their cause.
A year later, a US State Department official, Harold Saunders, acknowledged for the first time that "the legitimate interests of the Palestinian Arabs must be taken into account in the negotiating of an Arab-Israeli peace".
1977: Israel's resurgent right wing
Hardline Irgun and Lehi groups may have been instrumental in the creation of Israel in 1948, but their heirs in the Herut (later Likud) party failed to win an Israeli election until 1977.
Until this time Israeli politics had been dominated by the left-wing Labour Party. Likud ideology focused on extending Israeli sovereignty in the whole of the earlier Britsh Mandate Palestine, as well as claiming Jordanian territory as part of the "Greater Israel" of Biblical times.
The new government, led by former Irgun leader Menachem Begin, intensified Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza with a view to creating "facts on the ground" to prevent any future territorial compromise over the areas captured in 1967.
Agriculture minister Ariel Sharon spearheaded this movement as chairman of the ministerial committee for settlements until 1981.
1979: Israel and Egypt make peace
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat stunned the world by flying to the Jewish state and making a speech to the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on 19 November 1977.
Sadat became the first Arab leader to recognise Israel, only four years after launching the October 1973 war (known as the Yom Kippur war in Israel). The war was indecisive after Egypt and Syria had attacked Israeli forces occupying Sinai and the Golan Heights. It ended with the issuing of UN Resolution 338 calling for "a just and durable peace in the Middle East".
Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David accords in September 1978 outlining "the framework for peace in the Middle East" which included limited autonomy for Palestinians. A bilateral Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed by Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin six months later in March 1979.
The Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had seized in the 1967 war, was returned to Egypt.
Arab states boycotted Egypt for breaking ranks and negotiating a separate treaty with Israel.
Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamist elements in the Egyptian army, who opposed peace with Israel, during national celebrations to mark the anniversary of the October war.
1982: Israel invades Lebanon
The Israeli army launched a massive military incursion into Lebanon in the summer of 1982. Operation "Peace for Galilee" was intended to wipe out Palestinian guerrilla bases near Israel's northern border, although Defence Minister Ariel Sharon pushed all the way to Beirut and expelled the PLO from the country.
The invasion began on 6 June, less than two months after the last Israeli troops and civilians were pulled out of Sinai under the 1979 treaty with Egypt. The action was triggered by the attempt on the life of Israeli ambassador to London Shlomo Argov by the dissident Palestinian group Abu Nidal.
Israeli troops reached Beirut in August. A ceasefire agreement allowed the departure of PLO fighters from Lebanon, leaving Palestinian refugee camps defenceless.
As Israeli forces gathered around Beirut on 14 September, Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Christian Phalange militia, was killed by a bomb at his HQ in the capital. The following day, the Israeli army occupied West Beirut.
From 16 to 18 September, the Phalangists - who were allied to Israel - killed hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps as they were encircled by Israeli troops in one of the worst atrocities of nearly a century of conflict in the Middle East. Mr Sharon resigned from his post as defence minister after a 1983 Israeli inquiry concluded that he had failed to act to prevent the massacre.
1987: Palestinian intifada
A mass uprising - or intifada - against the Israeli occupation began in Gaza and quickly spread to the West Bank.
Protest took the form of civil disobedience, general strikes, boycotts on Israeli products, graffiti, and barricades, but it was the stone-throwing demonstrations against the heavily-armed occupation troops that captured international attention.
The Israeli Defence Forces responded and there was heavy loss of life among Palestinian civilians. More than 1,000 died in clashes which lasted until 1993.
1988: PLO opens door to peace
Despite its military might, Israel was unable to quell the intifada which started in 1987 and was backed by the entire Palestinian population living under Israeli occupation.
For the PLO - based in Tunis since its expulsion from Lebanon in 1982 - the uprising threatened the loss of its role as the main player in the Palestinian "revolution" as focus shifted to the occupied territories and away from the diaspora population.
The Palestinian National Council (a government-in-exile) convened in Algeria in November 1988 and voted to accept a "two-state" solution based on the 1947 UN partition resolution (181), renounce terrorism and seek a negotiated settlement based on Resolution 242, which called for Israel to withdraw from territory captured in the 1967 war, and Resolution 338.
The US began dialogue with the PLO. But Israel continued to view the PLO as a terrorist organisation with which it would not negotiate. Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir proposed elections in the occupied territories before negotiations on a self-rule agreement.
1991: Madrid Summit
The 1991 Gulf War was a disaster for the PLO and its leader Yasser Arafat whose support for Iraq alienated his wealthy supporters in the Gulf.
With Kuwait liberated from Iraqi control, the US administration devoted itself to Middle East peacemaking - a prospect more appealing to the financially weakened and politically isolated Arafat than Israel's hard-line Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Numerous visits by the US Secretary of State James Baker prepared the ground for an international summit in Madrid. Syria agreed to attend, hoping to negotiate a return of the Golan Heights. Jordan also accepted the invitation.
But Shamir refused to talk directly with PLO "terrorists", so a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation was formed with prominent Palestinian figures- who were not from the PLO - taking part. In the days before the summit, Washington withheld $10bn of loan guarantees from Israel in a rare moment of discord over the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
A worldwide audience watched the historic summit begin on 30 October. The old enemies were each given 45 minutes to set out their positions. The Palestinians spoke of a shared future of hope with Israel, Shamir justified the existence of the Jewish state, while Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara dwelled on Mr Shamir's "terrorist" past.
After the summit the US set up separate bilateral meetings in Washington between Israel and Syria, and with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegations.
1993: The Oslo Peace Process
The election of the left-wing Labour government in June 1992, led by Yitzhak Rabin, triggered a period of frenetic Israeli-Arab peacemaking in the mid-1990s.
The government - including the "iron-fisted" Rabin and doves Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin - was uniquely placed to talk seriously about peace with the Palestinians. The PLO, meanwhile, wanted to make peace talks work because of the weakness of its position due to the Gulf War.
Israel immediately lifted a ban on PLO participants in the stalemated bilateral meetings in Washington. More significantly Foreign Minister Peres and his deputy Beilin explored the possibility of activating a secret forum for talks facilitated by Norway.
With the Washington bilateral talks going nowhere, the secret "Oslo track" - opened on 20 January 1993 in the Norwegian town of Sarpsborg - made unprecedented progress. The Palestinians consented to recognise Israel in return for the beginning of phased dismantling of Israel's occupation.
Negotiations culminated in the Declaration of Principles, signed on the White House lawn and sealed with a historic first handshake between Rabin and Yasser Arafat watched by 400 million people around the world.
1994: Birth of the Palestinian Authority
On 4 May 1994 Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation reached an agreement in Cairo on the initial implementation of the 1993 Declaration of Principles. This document specified Israel's military withdrawal from most of the Gaza Strip, excluding Jewish settlements and land around them, and from the Palestinian town of Jericho in the West Bank. Negotiations were difficult and were almost derailed on 25 February when a Jewish settler in the West Bank town of Hebron fired on praying Muslims, killing 29 people.
The agreement itself contained potential pitfalls. It envisaged further withdrawals during a five-year interim period during which solutions to the really difficult issues were to be negotiated - issues such as the establishment of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories and the fate of more than 3.5 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 upheavals.
Many critics of the peace process were silenced on 1 July as jubilant crowds lined the streets of Gaza to cheer Yasser Arafat on his triumphal return to Palestinian territory. The returning Palestinian Liberation Army deployed in areas vacated by Israeli troops and Arafat became head of the new Palestinian National Authority (PA) in the autonomous areas. He was elected president of the Authority in January 1996.
1995: Oslo II and the assassination of Rabin
The first year of Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho was dogged by difficulties. Bomb attacks by Palestinian militants killed dozens of Israelis, while Israel blockaded the autonomous areas and assassinated militants. Settlement activity continued. The Palestinian Authority quelled unrest by mass detentions. Opposition to the peace process grew among right-wingers and religious nationalists in Israel.
Against this background, peace talks were laborious and fell behind schedule. But on 24 September the so-called Oslo II agreement was signed in Taba in Egypt, and countersigned four days later in Washington.
The agreement divided the West Bank into three zones:
· Zone A comprised 7% of the territory (the main Palestinian towns excluding Hebron and East Jerusalem) going to full Palestinian control;
· Zone B comprised 21% of the territory under joint Israeli-Palestinian control;
· Zone C stayed in Israeli hands. Israel was also to release Palestinian prisoners. Further handovers followed.
Oslo II was greeted with little enthusiasm by Palestinians, while Israel's religious right was furious at the "surrender of Jewish land". Amid an incitement campaign against Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a Jewish religious extremist assassinated him on 4 November, sending shock waves around the world. The dovish Shimon Peres, architect of the faltering peace process, became prime minister.
Conflict returned early in 1996 with a series of devastating suicide bombings in Israel carried out by the Islamic militant group Hamas, and a bloody three-week bombardment of Lebanon by Israel.
Peres narrowly lost elections on 29 May to the right-wing Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, who campaigned against the Oslo peace deals under the motto "Peace with Security".
Netanyahu soon enflamed Arab opinion by lifting a freeze on building new settlements in the occupied territories and provoking fears about undermining Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem by opening an archaeological tunnel under the compound of al-Aqsa mosque - one of Islam's holiest sites.
Despite his antagonism towards the existing peace process, Netanyahu, under increasing US pressure, handed over 80% of Hebron in January 1997 and signed the Wye River Memorandum on 23 October 1998 outlining further withdrawals from the West Bank.
But his right-wing coalition collapsed in January 1999 in disarray over the implementation of the Wye deal. He lost elections on 18 May to Labour's Ehud Barak who pledged to "end the 100-year conflict" between Israel and the Arabs within one year.
The five-year interim period defined by Oslo for a final resolution passed on 4 May 1999, but Yasser Arafat was persuaded to defer unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood to give a chance for negotiations with the new administration.
2000: Second intifada
Initial optimism about the peacemaking prospects of a government led by Ehud Barak proved unfounded. A new Wye River accord was signed in September 1999 but further withdrawals from occupied land were hindered by disagreements and final status talks (on Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and borders) got nowhere. Frustration was building in the Palestinian population who had little to show for five years of the peace process.
Barak concentrated on peace with Syria - also unsuccessfully. But he did succeed in fulfilling a campaign pledge to end Israel's 21-year entanglement in Lebanon.
After the withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, attention turned back to Yasser Arafat, who was under pressure from Barak and US President Bill Clinton to abandon gradual negotiations and launch an all-out push for a final settlement at the presidential retreat at Camp David. Two weeks of talks failed to come up with acceptable solutions to the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
In the uncertainty of the ensuing impasse, Ariel Sharon, the veteran right-winger who succeeded Binyamin Netanyahu as Likud leader, toured the al-Aqsa/Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on 28 September. Sharon's critics saw it as a highly provocative move. Palestinian demonstrations followed, quickly developing into what became known as the al-Aqsa intifada, or uprising.
2001: Sharon returns
By the end of 2000 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak found himself presiding over an increasingly bitter and bloody cycle of violence as the intifada raged against Israel's occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.
With his coalition collapsing around him, Barak resigned as prime minister on 10 December to "seek a new mandate" to deal with the crisis. However in elections on 6 Febuary, Ariel Sharon was swept to power by an Israeli electorate that had overwhelmingly turned its back on the land-for-peace formulas of the 1990s and now favoured a tougher approach to Israel's "Palestinian problem".
The death toll soared as Sharon intensified existing policies such as assassinating Palestinian militants, air strikes and incursions into Palestinian self-rule areas. Palestinian militants, meanwhile, stepped up suicide bomb attacks in Israeli cities.
The US spearheaded international efforts to calm the violence. Envoy George Mitchell led an inquiry into the uprising, while CIA director George Tenet negotiated a ceasefire - but neither initiative broke the cycle of bloodshed.
2002: West Bank re-occupied
Palestinian militants carried out an intense campaign of attacks in the first three months of the year, including a hotel bombing which killed 29 on the eve of the Jewish Passover holiday.
In response, Israel besieged Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound for five weeks and sent tanks and thousands of troops to re-occupy almost all of the West Bank.
Months of curfews and closures followed as Israel carried out operations it said were aimed at destroying the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.
Controversy raged as Israeli forces entered and captured the West Bank city of Jenin in April. A UN report later refuted Palestinian claims of a massacre, but Amnesty International concluded that the Israeli army had committed war crimes in Jenin and also Nablus.
May saw a five-week stand-off between the Israeli army and a large group of militants and civilians sheltering inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.
In June, US President George Bush called for Palestinians to replace their leader with one not "compromised by terror", and outlined a timetable for negotiations which would later become the plan known as the "roadmap".
Israel began building a barrier in the West Bank, which it said was to prevent attacks inside Israel, although Palestinians feared an attempt to annex land.
Mr Arafat faced heavy pressure to reform the Palestinian Authority and rein in the militants.
Palestinian attacks continued, met with periodic Israeli incursions and a ten-day siege which reduced much of Mr Arafat's compound to rubble.
2003: Road map hopes
After several Palestinian attacks in January, Israel stepped up operations against Hamas, killing the militant group's founder.
With the US and Israel continuing to refuse to deal directly with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader appointed Mahmoud Abbas as his prime minister.
In late April, the US published the much-delayed roadmap, which outlined a step-by-step timetable towards a negotiated Palestinian state, with the first phase contingent on an end to Palestinian violence and Israeli incursions and settlement activity.
In May, the Israeli cabinet endorsed the plan, though it put on record several reservations.
At a summit with the US president in Aqaba, Jordan, in June, Mr Abbas called for an end to the armed intifada, while Israeli President Ariel Sharon declared his support for the creation of a "democratic Palestinian state at peace with Israel".
Further negotiations led to pull-backs of Israeli forces in Gaza and Bethlehem. Mr Abbas secured a temporary cessation of violence from Palestinian militant groups.
In August, after seven weeks of relative calm, the truce disintegrated with a spate of tit-for-tat Palestinian suicide bombings, Israeli raids and targeted killings.
After a long-running power struggle with Mr Arafat over control of the Palestinian security apparatus, Mr Abbas resigned in early September. He was replaced by Arafat loyalist Ahmed Qurei.
Construction of the West Bank barrier continued throughout the year despite growing international criticism.
The Israeli cabinet voted to "remove" Mr Arafat and in December Mr Sharon told the Palestinians he would implement a policy of unilateral separation unless they halted violence.
2004: Arafat dies
Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli air strikes continued. Israel provoked outrage among Palestinians by killing Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in a targeted missile attack in March.
A second senior leader, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, was killed a month later.
In April Ariel Sharon revealed a "disengagement plan" which included the withdrawal of all 8,000 settlers and the troops that protect them in the Gaza Strip, and from three small settlements in the northern West Bank.
Construction of the West Bank barrier continued, despite increasing protests and changes to the route in response to a verdict in the Israeli High Court.
In July, the International Court of Justice in The Hague pronounced the barrier illegal, but Israel dismissed the non-binding ruling.
Intra-Palestinian political turmoil broke out over the summer as Yasser Arafat, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and various Palestinian factions battled over reform of the security forces.
After three bombings in August and September and numerous Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli towns, Israel launched a major and bloody incursion into northern Gaza.
In late October Arafat was taken ill and flown to France for emergency treatment. He died of a mysterious blood disorder on 11 November.
The news was met with an outpouring of grief among Palestinians. Emotional crowds engulfed Mr Arafat's compound in Ramallah as his body arrived by helicopter to be buried.
Mahmoud Abbas, who had spent a brief spell as prime minister in 2002, was confirmed as Arafat's successor as chairman of the PLO.
2005: Gaza pullout
Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority after a landslide victory in January elections.
But post-election attacks by Palestinian militants immediately threatened to derail hopes for renewed peace talks.
However, Mr Abbas deployed Palestinian police in northern Gaza and by February had persuaded Hamas and Islamic Jihad to begin a temporary, unofficial cessation of violence.
Mr Abbas and Mr Sharon went on to announce a mutual ceasefire at a summit in Egypt, although the militant groups stopped short of making their fragile – and far from watertight - truce official.
Preparations for – and controversy over – Ariel Sharon's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip continued, with the Israeli Prime Minister securing cabinet backing and fending off calls for a referendum from opponents.Despite widespread protests by settlers, the withdrawal went ahead in late August and early September, with emotional scenes as Israeli troops removed some settlers by force.