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History, Barak’s Tenure

Israeli troops, Golan Heights, bold steps, new election, Arafat

Barak took office in July 1999 and created a broad center-left coalition government. He pledged to take “bold steps” to help forge a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. He focused his attention on negotiations with the Palestinians, but he also expressed eagerness to reach a peace agreement with Syria. In addition, he promised to withdraw Israeli troops from southern Lebanon within one year.

These steps led to increased optimism regarding the peace process. Barak transferred some West Bank territory to the authority of the PNA and also hinted that he might return virtually all of the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace. Barak met with U.S. president Bill Clinton in July 1999 and set a 15-month deadline for a final peace settlement with the Palestinians. Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians began in November 1999 but soon bogged down over further transfers of land in the West Bank to Palestinian control.

In December 1999 Israel and Syria agreed to resume peace negotiations. Talks held in January 2000 were inconclusive, however, and a summit meeting between Assad and Clinton in April of that year failed to end the stalemate.

Exasperated by the failure of the Syrian talks and concurring with growing Israeli dismay with further casualties in southern Lebanon, Barak unilaterally ordered the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon to the countries’ international border as confirmed by the United Nations. The withdrawal was completed by June 2000.

In an effort to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward, the United States convened a summit at Camp David, Maryland, in the summer of 2000, at which Clinton, Barak, and Arafat focused on a comprehensive peace agreement. Despite intense efforts and some areas of accord, no ultimate agreement was reached. The failure of the summit led to the outbreak of a second intifada (known as the Al Aqsa intifada, after the holy Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem) in September 2000. Violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis rocked Israel. The failure of the Camp David summit and the ensuing violence brought the peace process to a halt and eroded Barak’s political support. Barak suddenly resigned as prime minister in December 2000, and called for a new election for prime minister in February 2001.

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