Backgrounder Israeli Army Presence in West Bank Harks Back to Outcome of 1967 War
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Backgrounder Israeli Army Presence in West Bank Harks Back to Outcome of 1967 War

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Thirty-five years after Israel’s army moved into the West Bank, it once again has assumed control over the area.

Confronted with a long series of Palestinian terror attacks, Israeli forces last month took over most of the Palestinian population centers in the West Bank.

Given this turn of events, it is useful to look back on the recent history of the region.

Israel first captured the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War, after Jordan’s King Hussein refused to heed Israeli warnings not to have his army join the Egyptian and Syrian forces arrayed against the Jewish state.

Israel’s lightning-fast victory gave it control over what came to be known as the territories — the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

At first, it seemed as if the Palestinian population was not interested in resisting the Israeli presence.

This may at least partly have been a result of the “Enlightened Occupation,” a policy introduced by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.

The policy allowed for open bridges between the West Bank and Jordan, family visits for those on opposite sides of the Jordan River and a considerable degree of self-government on the municipal level.

For the most part, the local Palestinian leadership was not interested in terrorism. It was pro-Jordanian and feared the radicalism of Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Those who did engage in terrorist attacks against Israel were caught, and by the end of 1967, the PLO leadership decided that it could not fight Israel from within the West Bank.

The PLO’s failure to launch a “people’s war” against Israel in 1967-1970 led to a wider use of terrorism launched from Jordan and Lebanon.

The PLO also embarked on a campaign of international terrorism that included hijacking airplanes and — in their most notorious assault — targeting Israel’s athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

During this period, Israel tightened its hold over the West Bank with the creation of a string of Jewish settlements.

The establishment of the first Jewish settlement in Hebron in 1968 was followed by others in the areas known historically as Judea and Samaria.

The driving force behind the settlement campaign was Gush Emunim — Hebrew for the “Bloc of the Faithful” — whose members were mostly associated with the National Religious Party.

At first, the Labor-led government resisted the private settlement initiatives, but it eventually gave in.

When Menachem Begin and the Likud Party came to power in 1977, settlement efforts intensified.

All West Bank land that was not privately owned was declared state land — which was then used for building settlements and roads.

Israel also tightened its hold over the West Bank and Gaza Strip by creating an administration that handled the day- to-day civilian needs of the Palestinian population.

Although the Palestinians were required to pay taxes, the government invested very little in the development of an economic infrastructure. The Palestinian economy relied heavily on tens of thousands of Palestinian day laborers working in Israel.

During the early 1980s, there was a slow process of politicization of Palestinian society.

In 1987, this process culminated in the intifada, or Palestinian uprising. Israeli soldiers soon were confronted with demonstrations, riots, stone-throwers and stabbings. Unlike the current conflict, however, there was little use of firearms or explosives.

The dimension of the rioting surprised Israeli officials, whose initial efforts to crush the uprising were ineffective.

A year after the start of the intifada, Hussein declared in July 1988 that Jordan was renouncing all claims to the West Bank.

In November of that year, the Palestine National Council — the Palestinian parliament-in-exile — met in Algiers and issued a formal declaration of independence based on U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, which in 1947 partitioned Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.

After Arafat renounced the use of terror during an appearance at the U.N. General Assembly in December of that year, the United States lifted its ban on dealing with the PLO.

As the intifada continued, the Israeli public became increasingly willing to reach a political settlement with the Palestinians.

The intifada gradually died out by 1990 and international support for the Palestinians waned with their support for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which led to the Gulf War.

The growing influence of the United States in the wake of the Gulf War, combined with the diminishing power of the PLO and Syria, led to the Madrid Conference that began in October 1991.

Though it produced no tangible results, it did pave the way for the Oslo peace process launched under the Labor-led government of Yitzhak Rabin, which was elected in 1992.

Agreements reached in the Oslo process led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. For the first time, Palestinians enjoyed limited self-rule in the territories.

Israeli withdrawal from the territories began in the West Bank city of Jericho and the Gaza Strip in May 1994.

Arafat’s return to the territories in July 1994 stirred up hopes among the Palestinian population that independence would follow soon.

Further Israeli withdrawals followed, but so did new momentum for the settler movement.

At the same time, the fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad succeeded in slowing down the peace process with a wave of massive terrorist attacks.

For the past two years, Israeli officials have sought a response to the steadily mounting number of Palestinian terror attacks.

In April and June, Israel responded with massive anti-terror campaigns in the West Bank.

In June, the coalition government of Ariel Sharon announced a new policy that Israel would retake control of the West Bank in response to terror attacks.

Israeli tanks and troops are now stationed either inside or on the outskirts of Palestinian population centers that for a relatively brief period were under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Arafat’s Palestinian Authority is still in power, but his regime — long denounced as corrupt by Palestinians and outside observers alike — is shaky.

The Palestinian economy is in ruins with record high unemployment.

Israeli officials say they have no desire to reassume control over civilian affairs in the West Bank, and that the military presence in the West Bank is only temporary.

The Palestinian Authority is more in control on the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army has so far refrained from entering the towns and refugee camps.

But the future of the territories appears as uncertain as ever.

At the same time that Arafat announced general elections for early next year, President Bush has called for his removal as a precondition for international support for a future Palestinian state.

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