The Mideast: A Century of ConflictPart 6:
From the First Intifada to the Oslo Peace Agreement
Oct. 7, 2002 -- Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had been living under Israeli occupation for 20 years when their frustration and anger broke out into open rebellion in December 1987.
In Part Six of Morning Edition's series on the Middle East conflict, NPR Diplomatic Correspondent Mike Shuster reports on that Palestinian uprising, now known as the first Intifada, and the Oslo peace agreement that followed in 1993.
The Palestinians "were stateless, living under the humiliation of identity checks, body searches and verbal abuse that were the rule of the Israeli army, watching helplessly as Israel expanded Jewish settlements on what had been their land," Shuster reports.
The Intifada "galvanized Palestinians everywhere, and it created an enormous amount of sympathy for the Palestinian cause," says historian Philip Mattar, executive director of the Institute for Palestine Studies
The Israeli army would seize Palestinian stone-throwers and literally break their arms. As these scenes were broadcast to the world, they were seen as "a Palestinian David against the Israeli Goliath," Shuster says
And, Mattar says, the Intifada sent a message to the Israeli public that "this could be very costly to you financially and morally. And it swayed many politicians and many generals and military people in Israel to accepting the concept of a Palestinian entity at that point."
Israel's government was divided between the right-wing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party. Israeli historian Benny Morris says the Intifada led to the breakdown of Israel's unity government in 1990.
Labor reached the conclusion that one cannot suppress the Intifada and must give the Palestinians some form of statehood because the Intifada cannot be beaten just militarily," Morris says. "Whereas the Likud preferred basically a military solution to the Intifada
Yasser Arafat's exile in Tunisia caused a vacuum in the Palestinian political leadership, giving rise to Islamic fundamentalism -- in the form of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad -- in the West Bank and Gaza.
As the Intifada stretched into two and three years, more and more Israelis concluded it was time to settle with the Palestinians. In 1992, Rabin was elected prime minister, and he authorized secret negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization in Oslo.
The Israelis and the Palestinians signed the Oslo peace agreement Sept. 13, 1993, at the White House. The agreement envisioned creating a Palestinian state and an end to the conflict, "but it provided no road map," Shuster says.
All the hardest issues were postponed: what to do about Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the status of Jerusalem, final borders of the two countries, and whether the Palestinian refugees could return to their original homes.
Both sides were close to agreeing on an outline for dealing with many of those issues when Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish right-wing zealot.
Had Rabin survived, had that outline been given flesh and bones, it's not inconceivable that by 1998, '99, you would have had two states living side-by-side," says historian William Quandt, author of Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967