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Peace process chronology: Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

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NEW YORK, Sept. 7 (JTA) – The following is a time line of key events since the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was launched five years ago on the White House lawn. The period was marked by at least 15 bombings of Israeli targets by Palestinian terrorists – as well as numerous drive-by shootings and stabbings of Israelis – several of which are included here:

* Sept. 13, 1993 – Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat exchange a historic handshake on the White House lawn as the two sides sign the Declaration of Principles, a timetable for launching Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

* May 4, 1994 – Israel and the PLO sign the Cairo Agreement for establishing self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho. Jericho comes under self-rule on May 13. Israel completes its withdrawal from Gaza on May 18.

* Sept. 28, 1995 – Rabin and Arafat sign the Interim Agreement, which sets the stage for an Israeli withdrawal from six West Bank towns.

* Nov. 4, 1995 – Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated by Yigal Amir, a 25- year-old religious Jewish law student, after a Tel Aviv peace rally. Shimon Peres steps in as prime minister.

* Jan. 20, 1996 – Palestinians in the territories vote for the first time to elect an 88-member legislative body. Arafat is elected leader of the Palestinian Council with 90 percent of the vote.

* Feb. 25-March 4, 1996 – Israel is left reeling by a series of Hamas suicide attacks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon that claim 59 innocent lives and wound some 220 others.

* May 29, 1996 – Israelis narrowly elect Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.

* June 22-23, 1996 – Egypt hosts the first Arab League summit in six years to develop a united front against the new Netanyahu government’s approach to the peace process.

* Sept. 4, 1996 – Netanyahu and Arafat hold their first meeting. Both sides agree to discussions on redeployment from most of Hebron, the last West Bank town to be turned over to the Palestinians.

* Sept. 25, 1996 – Palestinian rioting erupts in response to the opening of a new entrance to an ancient tunnel alongside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. In three days of violence, 15 Israelis and 61 Palestinians are killed. Hundreds are wounded.

* Oct. 1-2, 1996 – Netanyahu, Arafat and Jordan’s King Hussein attend an emergency summit in Washington after the previous week’s violence. The summit ends with an agreement for Israel and the Palestinians to launch intensive discussions aimed at reaching an agreement on Hebron.

* Jan. 14-15, 1997 – Netanyahu and Arafat reach the Hebron Agreement during a late-night summit held at the Erez Crossing separating Israel from the Gaza Strip.

* Jan. 19, 1997 – Arafat is greeted by thousands of cheering Palestinians when he returns to Hebron for the first time in 30 years.

* Feb. 9, 1997 – Netanyahu and Arafat meet at the Erez Crossing to discuss the next stages of the peace process.

* Feb. 11, 1997 – Israel releases 31 Palestinian female prisoners, among them some who had been convicted of killing Israelis. The move marks the second time, after the Hebron redeployment, that the Netanyahu government acts to fulfill clauses of the Interim Agreement.

* March 18, 1997 – Israeli bulldozers begin construction work for the new Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in eastern Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority soon suspends negotiations with Israel.

* March 21, 1997 – Three days after the start of construction at Har Homa, a Hamas suicide bomber detonates an explosion at the Cafe Apropo in central Tel Aviv, killing 3 Israelis and wounding 47 others.

* July 30, 1997 – Two suicide bombers strike in the Mahane Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem, claiming 16 victims and wounding 170 others.

* Aug. 20-21 1997 – Arafat holds “National Unity Conference,” during which he embraces political leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israeli officials question Arafat’s commitment to cracking down on terrorists.

* Sept. 4, 1997 – Three suicide bombers detonate near-simultaneous explosions at the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in downtown Jerusalem, killing five and wounding more than 190.

* Sept. 7, 1997 – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells a Cabinet meeting that Israel will not “follow the normal course of the Interim Agreement” because of the clear “violations on the part of the Palestinian Authority.”

* Sept. 10, 1997 – U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright makes her first visit to the Middle East since becoming America’s top diplomat in January. After leaving Jerusalem three days later, Albright admits that she made little progress in her meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials. She states that she will not return to the region just to “tread water.”

* Oct. 1, 1997 – Israel frees Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Five days later, Yassin returns to a hero’s welcome in Gaza.

* Oct. 7, 1997 – For the first time since the furor erupted over Har Homa, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meet to discuss implementing portions of the Interim Agreement – including a safe-passage route, an airport and seaport in Gaza and the return of Palestinian prisoners. None of the issues have yet been resolved.

* Oct. 8, 1997 – Netanyahu and Arafat hold a pre-dawn meeting at the Erez Crossing. The two have not met since.

* Jan. 19, 1998 – Netanyahu begins a three-day visit to Washington. His meeting with President Clinton is overshadowed by a breaking scandal involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Reports in the Arab press allege that the sex scandal was a Zionist plot aimed at deflecting Clinton’s attention from the stalemated peace process.

* May 4-5, 1998 – Albright holds separate meetings in London with Netanyahu and Arafat in an effort to move the deadlocked peace process forward. The parties discuss a widely reported U.S. proposal, floated for months, under which Israel would redeploy from a further 13 percent of the West Bank in exchange for specific Palestinian steps against terror. The talks are inconclusive.

* Aug. 27, 1998 – Bomb filled with nails explodes in a trash can in Tel Aviv. Twenty-one people are injured in the attack.

* Sept. 9, 1998 – U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross arrives in the region for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at breaking the stalemated peace process. Political observers believe his trip signals that the talks are in the final stretch. The more optimistic among them say that Israel and the Palestinians will sign an agreement on or near the fifth anniversary of the historic Rabin-Arafat handshake.

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