- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

The incursion into Lebanon in 1982 was not a fight for Israel's survival, but a misadventure. The government reluctantly set up a commission of inquiry, which forced the resignation of the head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Yehoshua Saguy, and criticized Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the foreign minister, Yitzhak Shamir.

The strongest finding was directed at Gen. Ariel Sharon for "having disregarded the prospect of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists" and "for not ordering appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the chances of a massacre." Gen. Sharon told the Cabinet that accepting the report amounted to a "mark of Cain" on all of Israel.

But Mr. Begin stripped him of the defense portfolio, although he did not remove Gen. Sharon from the Cabinet. Bashir Gemayel's brother, Amin, was elected president of Lebanon and signed a peace treaty with Israel the next May. But it was a stillborn agreement, which Mr. Gemayel repudiated nine months later, under pressure from Syria and its allies.

As the Lebanese civil war intensified, the Israelis pulled back from the outskirts of Beirut to the Awali River to try to limit their mounting casualties.

Meanwhile, a new foe emerged from the Lebanese hornet's nest stirred by the Israeli invasion: Hezbollah, the "Party of God," a radical Shi'ite Islamic movement inspired by the Iranian revolution. Hezbollah adopted the new tactic of suicide car bombings. Suicide truck bombers blew up the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Marine barracks, the French military compound and an Israeli base in Tyre.

Another favored tactic in Lebanon was the kidnapping and ransom of Western hostages, including Terry Waite and John McCarthy.

On Sept 15, 1983, Mr. Begin stunned his Cabinet by announcing his resignation. "I cannot go on any longer," he said, apparently demoralized by the daily antiwar protests outside his window.

Mr. Shamir, a leader of the Stern gang, was chosen to replace Mr. Begin. He led Likud into the 1984 elections, which ended in a tie between Likud and Labor. A government of national unity was formed in which Shimon Peres, the Labor leader, became prime minister for the first two-year rotation.

With more than 650 Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon, the Peres government acted to end the agony by withdrawing the army in January 1985 to a narrow "security zone" a buffer zone as much as 9 miles wide patrolled by the Israelis and their client militia, the South Lebanon Army.

The first intifada

Four Palestinian workers from Gaza were killed in a traffic accident on Dec 8, 1987. The rumor quickly spread that they had been slain by Israelis. The Gaza Strip erupted in riots, which quickly spread to the West Bank. The mass uprising became known as the intifada, a word that means "shaking off."

The Israeli government, and even the Palestine Liberation Organization, did not understand the significance of the protests that broke out. The uprising, which raged for the better part of five years before petering out in the early 1990s, was a broad campaign of daily riots, strikes and boycotts.

The incidents ranged from spray-painting slogans and stoning Israeli soldiers to killing those accused of being collaborators. Eventually, it turned into an armed struggle.

The daily scenes of soldiers shooting stone-throwers was for many in Israel a deeply disquieting, if not revolting, spectacle. The most powerful armed forces in the Middle East, the embodiment of everything that was considered noble in Zionism, was reduced to chasing, beating and shooting poverty-stricken Arabs through the slums of Gaza and the villages of the West Bank.

As some reserve soldiers refused to serve in the occupied territories, the Israeli left began to agitate for a withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The intifada was often more damaging to Palestinians than to Israelis, but it forged a powerful sense of national awakening among Palestinians under Israeli occupation, who had until then been on the sidelines of the upheavals experienced by exiled Palestinians.

After the crippling of the PLO's military infrastructure in Lebanon, the intifada moved the center of Palestinian politics to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israelis were jolted out of the delusion that Palestinians had come to accept a "benign" occupation. The start of the intifada saw the birth of a Palestinian faction, Hamas, the acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement.

By bringing Palestinian grievances once more to the daily television bulletins, the Palestinian youth, or shebab, gave the PLO a new lease on life. In June 1988, Jordan renounced all links with the West Bank.

In November, the PLO proclaimed a Palestinian state without specifying its borders and Yasser Arafat set about a diplomatic initiative in which he recognized Israel's right to exist and, to widespread skepticism, publicly renounced terrorism.

The United States opened a dialogue with the PLO but cut off contact after an attack on Israeli beaches in May 1990 by a PLO faction led by Abu Abbas.

Arafat's Gulf war dilemma

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the crisis presented the PLO with a particularly acute problem. Should it maintain its pro-Iraqi policy and support the seemingly powerful Saddam Hussein? Or should it line up with Egypt and the Gulf Arab states that were mobilizing their forces to help the United States liberate the emirate? Either way, it would offend powerful friends.

Mr. Arafat made a great show of trying to mediate a solution, but ultimately tilted toward Baghdad to the point of suggesting that the Palestinians were in the "same trench" as the Iraqis.

Saddam's "linkage" offering to withdraw from Kuwait once Israel withdrew from the occupied territories turned him into a false Messiah of the Palestinians. But Mr. Arafat had blundered.

Iraqi forces were pushed out of Kuwait by an international alliance led by the United States. Furious Gulf states cut off the flow of vital funds to the PLO, while hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were thrown out of liberated Kuwait, where Mr. Arafat had once worked and helped found Fatah.

During the war, Israel was attacked by 40 Iraqi Scud missiles, but was told by the United States not to retaliate for fear it would upset the anti-Iraq coalition.

For many in Israel, the missile attacks proved that territory in itself was no longer a guarantee of security. The Gulf war heralded a realignment in the Middle East. Radical states were on the defensive, the Arabs lost their supply of weapons from the collapsed Soviet Union and the United States became predominant.

The Americans dragged the Israeli prime minister, Mr. Shamir, to the 1991 Madrid peace conference as the political price for Arab support in the war against Iraq. His public confrontation with the United States over the expansion of Jewish settlements was an important factor in Likud's defeat in the general elections in 1992.

Israel's election of the Labor government under Yitzhak Rabin salvaged Mr. Arafat's fortunes. During secret negotiations in Norway, Israel and the PLO reached a momentous agreement on Palestinian autonomy that was supposed to lead to a permanent peace within five years.

Signed in Washington in September 1993, the agreement was closely modeled on the autonomy provisions of the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, once bitterly reviled by the Palestinians.

The essential ingredients that made it palatable to Mr. Arafat were Israel being ready to recognize the PLO as its negotiating partner and there being an implicit understanding that the accord would lead to an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and establishment of a Palestinian state.

Mr. Arafat was given a "down payment" in the form of an Israeli withdrawal from Jericho and most of the Gaza Strip, to be followed by a "redeployment" from Palestinian cities and a series of "further redeployments" to be negotiated in later talks.

More than two decades after he began his armed struggle, Mr. Arafat made his triumphant return to Gaza in July 1994.

The most difficult issues including the status of Jerusalem, the borders of the Palestinian "entity," the fate of Jewish settlements and resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem were to be dealt with last, in the final-status negotiations.

The Oslo accords envisaged a step-by-step process that was supposed to create the trust necessary to resolve the most bitterly divisive issues. But by leaving core questions ambiguous and unresolved, it provided opportunity for extremists on both sides to undermine the accords.

A warning of the devastating impact that hard-liners could have came in Hebron on Feb. 25, 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler, burst into the Cave of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, and killed 29 Muslims at prayer before he was bludgeoned to death. A similar number of Arabs were killed during rioting in Hebron later in the day.

Forty days later, at the end of the Muslim period of mourning, Raed Zakarne, a 25-year-old Palestinian Islamic militant, blew himself up in car bomb that he detonated next to a crowded Israeli bus in the town of Afula. He killed seven Israelis, including a female Arab passenger, and wounded more than 50 others. This was the first Hamas suicide bombing against Israeli civilians, a tactic that would henceforth be used repeatedly.

Adopted by Islamic Jihad (and much later by Fatah), suicide bombings undermined the belief of the Israelis in peace.

In response, Israel imposed increasingly severe security restrictions on Palestinians, cutting off the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem from one another. Palestinian standards of living plummeted, as Arab workers were kept out of Israel.

Series to be concluded next Wednesday.


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