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Background from Madrid to Louisville: a Timeline of Arab-israeli Peace

November 21, 2001
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Setting forth his vision for Israeli-Palestinian peace this week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made repeated reference to the 1991 Madrid peace conference.

“Last month marked the 10th anniversary of the Madrid conference,” he said “It’s a time to look forward, as well as look back. We are looking forward now as we try to capture the spirit of Madrid and create a renewed sense of hope and common purpose for the peoples of the Middle East.”

Powell also dispatched two U.S. mediators to the Middle East to try to breathe life back into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. With their arrival expected in coming days, here is a look back at 10 years of attempts to achieve peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors:

The 1991 Madrid meeting was hosted by the Spanish government and cosponsored by the United States and Russia. The three-day conference became possible after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the 1991 Gulf War.

Two negotiating tracks were established at Madrid: separate bilateral talks involving Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, which were intended to resolve past conflicts and sign peace treaties; and multilateral negotiations aimed at building the Middle East of the future.

The first-ever direct talks between Israel and its four neighbors took place in November 1991. More than a dozen sessions subsequently were held in Washington.

The first round of multilateral talks opened in Moscow in January 1992. The negotiations focused on issues concerning the entire Middle East — water, environment, arms control, refugees and economic development. Multilateral talks continued throughout the 1990s.

The talks between Israel and Jordan continued for almost two years following the Madrid conference, culminating in the signing of a peace treaty on Oct. 26, 1994.

Talks with Syria, which continued sporadically throughout the 1990s, broke off in January 2000 when Syrian President Hafez Assad rejected an Israeli offer to withdraw from the Golan Heights.

In 1993, Israel and the Palestinians held a series of behind-the-scenes talks in Norway that launched what became known as the Oslo peace process.

On Sept. 9, 1993, Yasser Arafat sent then-Prime Minister Rabin a letter stating that the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. The PLO also renounced the use of terrorism.

In reply, Israel formally recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.

On Sept. 13, 1993, Rabin and Arafat exchanged a historic handshake on the White House lawn after their representatives signed the Declaration of Principles, which outlined a five-year interim period of Palestinian self- rule. Along with creating a blueprint for a Palestinian government, the declaration set forth guarantees for Israel’s security.

The declaration put into motion the Oslo peace process and set the stage for a series of historic events:

May 4, 1994 — Israel and the PLO sign the Cairo Agreement for establishing Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho. Jericho comes under Palestinian 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 more West Bank cities.

Nov. 4, 1995 — Rabin is assassinated by Yigal Amir, a religious Jewish law student who opposes Israel’s transfer of lands to the Palestinians.

Jan. 20, 1996 — Palestinians in the territories for the first time vote to elect an 88-member legislative body. Arafat is elected president of the Palestinian Authority.

Feb. 25-March 4, 1996 — Israel is left reeling by a series of suicide bombings in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon that claim 59 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 Netanyahu’s approach to the peace process.

Sept. 25-27, 1996 — Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip erupt in violence over an Israeli decision to open an entrance to an archaeological tunnel near the Temple Mount. For the first time, Palestinian police who received their weapons under the peace process turn them on Israeli soldiers. In three days of fighting, 15 Israelis and 57 Palestinians are killed and hundreds wounded.

Jan. 17, 1997 — After months with little progress in peace talks, Israeli troops withdraw from 80 percent of Hebron. The move comes days after the two sides sign the Hebron Agreement following painstaking negotiations.

Little more was achieved by the two sides until Netanyahu and Arafat signed the Wye River Memorandum at the White House in October 1998, following a nine-day summit hosted by President Clinton at the Wye Plantation in Maryland.

The accord set forth a detailed timetable for Israel to withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank. In exchange, the Palestinians were to take specific steps to clamp down on terror, seize illegal firearms and clamp down on incitement.

On May 17, 1999, Israelis elected Labor Party leader Ehud Barak by a sweeping margin as the nation’s new prime minister. The elections took place the same month that the five-year period of interim Palestinian self-rule spelled out in the Oslo accords was to end and be replaced by a final peace accord.

After several years punctuated by terror attacks and mutual recriminations, it had become clear that the five-year timetable was too optimistic.

On Sept. 4, 1999, Barak and Arafat signed the Sharm el-Sheik Memorandum, restating the sides’ commitment to implement all agreements reached since September 1993.

The agreement formed a kind of bridge between the completion of the interim period and the start of final-status negotiations on Sept. 13, 1999.

On July 11, 2000, Barak and Arafat, with teams of negotiators, met at Camp David at President Clinton’s invitation. After two weeks of discussions, Clinton declared the summit a failure.

On Sept. 28, 2000, the Palestinian intifada began, initially spreading even into Arab areas inside Israel. It would intensify over the next year.

In December 2000, before he left office, Clinton hosted Israeli and Palestinian representatives for fruitless negotiations. He then released an American outline of a final peace accord, but stated that it would leave office with him the following month.

After suffering several no-confidence votes, Barak called for new prime ministerial elections to be held in February 2001.

In January 2001, with elections approaching, marathon talks between Israeli and Palestinian delegations were held in Taba, Egypt, ending in a joint statement but no agreement.

Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister by a landslide in early February, and both he and Barak announced that previous proposals the Palestinians had rejected were no longer on the table.

In May 2001, an international panel led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell set out a roadmap back to peace negotiations.

The Mitchell Commission called for a truce followed by a cooling-off period and confidence-building measures — such as a halt to Israeli settlement expansion and the disarming of Palestinian militants — and the eventual resumption of peace talks.

Powell announced at the time that the United States would use the Mitchell report as the basis for a new initiative aimed at ending Israeli-Palestinian violence. The announcement followed pressure from European and Arab capitals for more American engagement to defuse the crisis.

Following a particularly grisly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on June 1, CIA director George Tenet brokered a cease- fire that went into effect on June 13. However, it proved short lived.

Peres and Arafat met in September 2001 and reiterated their commitment to the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations and the Tenet understandings.

Under intense international pressure after the previous week’s terror attacks in New York and Washington, Arafat declared another cease-fire on Sept. 18.

It, too, was short lived.

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