Beyond Images - Briefing 15  Perspectives on the Arab-Israeli Conflict 
ISRAEL'S WITHDRAWAL FROM PALESTINIAN TOWNS: how terror forced Israel to re-occupy
London - published Friday 30 August 2002

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"Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for 35 years, controlling every aspect of life of the Palestinian people. The intifada broke out so that the Palestinians could get Israel's army of occupation out of their lives for good".

Summary of Response

  • This is a myth. By September 2000, when the intifada broke out, Israel had already withdrawn from all Palestinian towns, leaving over 90% of West Bank Palestinians under Palestinian self-rule. Israeli soldiers never entered them.

  • The violence of the past two years has forced Israel to re-enter these towns in order to quell the sustained wave of terrorism originating from them.

  • Palestinian violence has been completely self-defeating. Far from ending the Israeli occupation, it has caused Israel to reoccupy - temporarily.

How Israel wound down the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the 1990s

  • Ever since the intifada broke out in September 2000, Palestinian spokesmen have given the impression that the whole of West Bank life had been under an Israeli stranglehold at that time - and that the intifada was an explosion of frustration with that situation.

  • In fact, this was not the case. Throughout the mid-1990s, Israel took steps to wind down its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and to transfer to the Palestinians the day-to-day running of their lives. These steps took place as a result of the Oslo peace negotiations. The key stages of Israel's withdrawal were the following:-

    • Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho as long ago as 1994

    • The Palestinians elected a self-rule authority, the Palestinian Authority, in 1995, which subsequently built up a large and well-armed security force, and received hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid to build up Palestinian self-rule;

    • Israel withdrew from most other Palestinian towns during 1995-6 (four years before the intifada began), including Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin, Bethlehem, Qalkilya, and Tulkarem;

    • Israel withdrew from Hebron under a separately negotiated agreement in 1997.

  • By 1997 over 95% of Palestinians were living under Palestinian, not Israeli, rule. Of course, the self-rule fell short of independence. Restrictions on movement were regularly imposed by the Israelis, for "security reasons", and Israel's existing settlements expanded.

  • Nonetheless, it is a myth to suggest that the Palestinian people were under Israeli military occupation of the West Bank when the intifada broke out. Not only had the occupation been very substantially wound down, but Israeli proposals were on the negotiating table, at Camp David and at Taba, to end the West Bank occupation altogether (proposals which the Palestinian leadership rejected) (see Beyond Images Briefing - What Actually Happened At Camp David and Taba ?)

The consequences of Palestinian violence on Palestinian towns

  • How has the intifada changed this since September 2000?

  • For the first 18 months of the Palestinian violence, Israel did not re-enter any of the Palestinian towns, despite the fact that terror groups operated there freely and openly declared their intention to launch further strikes against Israeli civilians.

  • However, following the wave of attacks of March 2002, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, and then Operation Determined Path (in June 2002). For the first time in many years, Israeli soldiers re-entered these Palestinian towns, in order to disrupt the "infrastructure" of the terrorist groups, curb the attacks and seize the ringleaders.

  • The Israeli Government has repeatedly declared that it does not wish to re-occupy permanently, and that as soon as the terror abates it will withdraw from the towns.

  • The self-rule enjoyed by the citizens of Nablus, Tulkarem, Bethlehem, Jenin and the other West Bank towns has been ended, not because Israel wished to re-enter these towns, but because its Government felt that it was left with no choice but to do so.

Beyond Images conclusions

  • Far from ending Israel's occupation, the Palestinian groups caused Israel's re-occupation of its major population centres. Palestinian "resistance to occupation" has been completely self-defeating. Their self-rule gains have been thrown away for the time being, and the occupation, which Israel had agreed to wind down, has now temporarily reinstated.


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