The Mideast: A Century of Conflict
Part 7: The Second Intifada and the Death of Oslo

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at Camp David
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the Camp David summit in July 2000.
Photo: U.S. State Department

Map of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza
Map of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
Source: Foundation for Middle East Peace, © Jan de Jong; Map: NPR Online

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Oct. 8, 2002 -- Signed at a Sept. 13, 1993, White House ceremony by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the Oslo agreement was meant to bring peace. But for many reasons, the Oslo process did not succeed, says NPR Diplomatic Correspondent Mike Shuster. In the seventh and final part of Morning Edition's series on the Middle East conflict, Shuster examines the death of Oslo, and what has become of the peace process in the years since.

Just two years after the Oslo signing came what Shuster calls "the first blow (to the agreement), and many consider it fatal." On Nov. 4, 1995, a young right-wing Israeli zealot shot Rabin to death after a peace rally in Tel Aviv. With that, says Shuster, "the lone Israeli politician of his generation who seemed capable of making peace had been gunned down."

Other blows to the peace process followed. As Israel prepared for the 1996 elections, pitting Labor's Shimon Peres against the Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, the Hamas organization carried out a series of deadly suicide bombings in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. Netanyahu was elected -- and "when Likud came into power in 1996, Oslo was essentially over," says William Quandt, author of Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967. "You had a prime minister in Israel who didn't believe in it." Netanyahu slowed the implementation of the Israeli withdrawal from West Bank areas, even as he increased the pace of Jewish settlements there.

Yasser Arafat had returned from exile in 1994 and set up the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and in those portions of the West Bank that the Israelis abandoned. But his method and style of governing also contributed to the failure of the Oslo process, says historian Avi Shlaim, author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. "The Palestinian leadership, Yasser Arafat in particular, bear a share of the responsibility for the breakdown -- in particular, for violating some of the terms of the Oslo agreement by importing arms, by having much bigger security forces than they were entitled to, and by not laying the foundations for a democratic regime that respects human rights," says Shlaim.

President Clinton stepped in to try to revive the peace process: In October 1998, after two weeks of meetings that Clinton hosted at the Wye River Plantation in Maryland, Arafat and Netanyahu signed an agreement meant to give Oslo new life. When Netanyahu returned to Israel, says Shuster, he "again dug in his heels," blaming Palestinians for failing to fulfill the bargain. However, the peace process still had the support of the majority of Israelis; and in 1999, Netanyahu's coalition fell apart, and he was defeated in a bid for re-election by Ehud Barak.

In July 2000, Clinton brought Barak and Arafat together for a final round of negotiations at Camp David -- but the attempt failed. Says Shuster: "Barak made an offer that many consider Israel's best ever. But when he unfolded a map that showed a Palestinian state made up of several unconnected cantons surrounded by Israeli troops, Arafat walked away."

The second Intifada broke out soon thereafter and proved more deadly than the first. Rioting gave way to guerrilla attacks and then to the apparently endless series of suicide bombings. Israeli forces marshaled tanks, helicopter gunships and jet fighters, leaving many Palestinian civilians and gunmen dead. With the collapse of Barak's government, Israelis chose Ariel Sharon as their prime minister. In late March, Sharon launched a full-scale invasion of Palestinian territories, much of which remain occupied.

Over the past century of conflict, says Shuster, "it has always been hard for the two sides to perceive a path to peace. The great irony of the past decade is that almost like equal poles of a magnet, the closer the Israelis and Palestinians came to each other, the more violently they pulled away."

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 late 1950s 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 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 Persian Gulf War, but agreed to compromise with Israel after Iraq's defeat. Signed 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.

Ariel Sharon (1928- )
Ariel Sharon Israeli general and politician, currently prime minister. Began military career leading a crack unit during 1948 war for independence. Was commander of unit during a controversial attack in 1953 on a Jordanian village, in which many women and children were killed. As general during Six Day War in 1967, led tank unit that captured strategic Mitla Pass in Sinai Peninsula. Spearheaded Israeli counterattack in the Sinai during 1973 Yom Kippur War. Helped form Likud coalition, and became defense minister in Menachem Begin's government. The principal architect of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. An Israeli investigating commission found he had "indirect responsibility" for massacres in Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps outside Beirut in which hundreds of women and children were slaughtered by Lebanese Phalangist allies of Israel. Returned to official position in government of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996. Elected prime minister in 2001 by biggest electoral margin in Israeli history. Has carried out re-occupation of Palestinian territories since that time.

Other Resources

• See photos and statements from the failed July 2000 Mideast summit hosted by President Clinton at Camp David.

• Read the 1998 Wye River Memorandum and review other Mideast peace efforts under the Clinton administration.

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