The Territories, 1987- 1998

An overview of Israel's relationship to the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, 1987 - 1998.

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At present, most of the West Bank/Judea‑ Samaria is still in Israeli hands. The residents of these territories elected their own Legislative Assembly.

The Rabin Assassination

While Israeli policy in the early 90s had been generally satisfactory to most parties to the left of Labor, there had been harsh criticism from the Likud and the more hard‑line parties which claimed that the government had put Israel's future in the hands of terrorists who had not abandoned their desire to destroy the state. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist attacks originating from the territories (especially the Gaza Strip) were raised as proof of Palestinian intentions and the failure of the Palestinian Authority to act decisively against anti‑Israel terrorism. Extremist groups even raised the specter of violent "resistance" to any attempt to turn additional territory over to the Palestinians. Some groups went so far as to label Prime Minister Rabin a traitor, delivering up Israel to its enemies.

Then, on November 4, 1995, an individual from one such group assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Shimon Peres, who took over for Yitzhak Rabin, presided over a country torn. It was during his interregnum that the level of terrorist attacks increased, with a total of 60 Israelis killed in separate incidents in Jerusalem, Ashkelon and Tel Aviv. These attacks were further proof of the Labor government's inability to insure Israel's security, and Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud was elected Prime Minister in Israel's first direct prime ministerial elections. Netanyahu initially followed a hard line in dealing with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian talks, holding on to his beliefs that Israel needed to show its strength by being non‑ conciliatory. The enthusiasm of the hard‑liners which followed his election was short lived, however, as 1997 witnessed more attacks, including the murder of seven schoolgirls by a Jordanian soldier in Naharayim on the Israeli‑Jordanian border and two separate suicide bomb attacks in Jerusalem which killed 21. His subsequent dealings with Arafat ultimately led to intervention by the United States and the signing of the Wye Memorandum in October, 1998, which was designed to facilitate implementation of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip of September 28, 1995. The memorandum dealt with issues of redeployment and security in the West Bank, anti‑Israel clauses in the Palestinian charter which still had not been amended and economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Wye Memorandum, however, was the start of a process which Netanyahu was loathe to finish.

One year and one Prime Minister later, (Ehud Barak who defeated Binyamin Netanyahu), Israeli and Palestinian representatives signed the Sharm Ee‑Sheikh Memorandum, restating the commitment of the two sides to full implementation of all agreements reached since September 1993. The Memorandum set out to resolve the outstanding issues of the interim status, in particular those set out in the Wye Memorandum of October 23, 1998. This document was intended to form a kind of bridge between the completion of the interim period and the initiation of the permanent status.

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