Browse Topics



The Mideast: A Century of Conflict
Part 6: From the First Intifada to the Oslo Peace Agreement

audio icon Listen to Part 6 of Mike Shuster's series.

more Read a transcript of Part 6 of Mike Shuster's series.

more See a map of the Mideast since the 1982 return of the Sinai to Egypt.

Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands as President Clinton looks on
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shake hands on the White House lawn Sept. 13, 1993, as President Clinton looks on.
Photo: National Archives

View complete photo

"We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough!"

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking at the 1993 signing ceremony of the Oslo agreement with the Palestinians

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.

Yasser Arafat (1929- )
Yasser Arafat Leader of Palestine Liberation Organization from 1969 to present. Believed to have been born in Cairo, Egypt. Attended University of Cairo, becoming a civil engineer. In the late 1950s he helped form Fatah, one of the Palestinian groups created to fight the state of Israel. Launched guerrilla operations against Israel in 1965. Tried but failed to organize insurrection against Israel's occupation of the West Bank after Six Day War in 1967. Spoke to the U.N. General Assembly on behalf of Palestinians in 1974. Established base in Beirut, but was ousted by Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Sent into exile in Tunisia. Supported Iraq's Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf War, but agreed to compromise with Israel after Iraq's defeat. Signed the Oslo Agreement with Israel in 1993 and was co-recipient of Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres, Israel's then foreign minister. Returned to Gaza and was elected president of Palestinian Authority in 1996. Walked away from Camp David negotiations in 2000. Now under siege in Ramallah by Israeli army.

Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995)
Yitzhak Rabin Israeli soldier and statesman who signed Oslo peace agreement with PLO in 1993. Born in Palestine and joined the precursor of the Israeli army in 1941. Directed the defense of Jerusalem for Israel during the 1948 war of independence. Became chief of staff of the Israeli army in 1964. Suffered short nervous breakdown in days before the outbreak of the 1967 Six Day War. Retired from army in 1968 to become Israel's ambassador to the United States. Succeeded Golda Meir as prime minister in 1974. Served as defense minister in the Labor-Likud coalition government from 1984-1990, during which he carried out Israel's crackdown on the first Intifada. Elected prime minister again in 1992 and authorized secret negotiations with the PLO in Oslo. Assassinated in 1995 by an Israeli right-wing fanatic after attending a peace rally in Tel Aviv.

Other Resources

• Read the 1993 Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.