The Territories, 1982-1987

An overview of Israel's relationship to the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, 1982 - 1987.

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At the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a land dispute. In order to understand this dispute it is necessary to know the history of the territory in question. The following article, part three of a four part series on the topic, discusses the situation surrounding the disputed territories as it evolved between 1982 and 1987, starting with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.  It was published in 1998 and is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Agency.

Aftermath of the Lebanon War

The war itself has been seen by some observers as a way for Israel to weaken the PLO [the Palestine Liberation Organization] and pave the way for the rise of an alternative Palestinian leadership with which to negotiate over the issue of autonomy.

One result of the autonomy concept was the reorganization of the military government in the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria and the Gaza Strip. In late 1981 and early 1982, a new civilian administration was created to look after the government of the territories. Authority devolved from the minister of defense to the coordinator of activities in the territories and through him to the head of the civilian administration, all of who were now civilians. The coordinator was to advise, coordinate, and supervise the activities of all government ministries, the civilian administration, state institutions, public authorities, and private bodies in the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

Essentially, the civilian administration represented Israeli government offices to the Arab population of the territories. Alongside the civil administration, military forces under regional commanders continued to operate in the territories in order to ensure security.

Continued Settlement Building  

The Likud advocated extensive Jewish settlement in the territories throughout its years of power, often in areas heavily populated by Arabs. In addition to the Gush Emunim settlements, which were supported by the Likud government, subsidized suburban neighborhoods were created in the territories within commuting distance of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

A new kind of settler began to move to these areas: In the place of the ideologically committed pioneer came the young family in search of an affordable house and a suburban life style.

The numbers of Jews in the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria began to rise considerably:

1977: 5,000

1983: 23,000

1987: 57,900

1993: 110,900.

By the end of 1993 the Jews had reached just over 10 percent of the total population of the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria (not including Jerusalem). In the same year, the 4,800 Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip constituted 0.64 percent of the total population there.

Opposition

Likud policy was opposed by a number of groups. Tehiya and Gush Emunim called for the open annexation of all of the territories. This position was later shared by groups such as Gen. Rafael Eitan's Tzomet (Junction) movement and Moledet (Fatherland), under Gen. Rehavam Zevi. The Labor Party (which was part of a national unity government with the Likud from 1984-1990) argued that annexation of the territories would put Israel in the position of having to choose between a democratic state and a Jewish state. The extension of equal rights to the residents of the territories would give the Arabs tremendous power, and in the not so distant future, a majority in the Knesset. Refusal to give them equal rights would undermine the democratic nature of the state. Therefore, some form of territorial compromise was required.

On the other hand, Labor agreed with the Likud that turning over the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria and the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians and the formation of a Palestinian state would constitute a grave threat to Israel's security, and that negotiations with the PLO, a terrorist organization that called for the destruction of Israel, were out of the question.

Labor favored a solution that would give the Palestinians some form of self‑government in most (not all) of the areas in question, within a Jordanian‑Palestinian entity. It was felt that Jordan, which maintained close though secret ties with Israel, would have a stabilizing influence on the Palestinian leadership. During the years in which Labor leader Shimon Peres served as prime minister (1984‑86) and foreign minister (1986‑88), these ideas were explored with King Hussein of Jordan.

Zionist parties and extra-­parliamentary groups to the left of Labor (Mapam, Citizens Rights Party, Peace Now) tended to be more accommodating on the issues of a complete Israeli withdrawal, negotiations with the PLO, and the creation of a Palestinian state. The Arab parties in Knesset (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, Progressive List for Peace) generally advocated a total withdrawal from all of the territories, including East Jerusalem, negotiations with the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

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Jonathan Kaplan is administrative director at the Rothberg International School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.