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History, The Intifada and the Persian Gulf War

terrorist raid, Israeli elections, formal dialogue, Scud missiles, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait

The relative quiet in the West Bank and Gaza Strip ended in December 1987 when a series of widespread demonstrations, strikes, riots, and violence known collectively as the intifada broke out. Encompassing the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the intifada began as a spontaneous expression of frustration and resentment at 20 years of Israeli rule and Jewish settlement in the Occupied Territories. As the movement expanded and became more violent, Israel responded with increasingly harsh reprisals, which drew international criticism. Efforts by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin to stop the riots and demonstrations failed, as did an attempt by U.S. secretary of state George Shultz to initiate peace negotiations. The United States excluded the PLO from negotiations as long as the PLO refused to accept Israelís right to exist, and Palestinians would not participate in negotiations that excluded the PLO. The PLOís claim to be the representative of the Palestinian people was further strengthened when Jordan ceded to the PLO its territorial claim to the West Bank in July 1988.

The 1988 Israeli elections were again inconclusive, and a new national unity government was installed, but this time Shamir was to remain as prime minister throughout the tenure of the government. Peres became finance minister while Rabin remained as defense minister. At this time PLO chairman Yasir Arafat acknowledged Israelís right to exist by accepting UN Security Council Resolution 242 (originally adopted by the UN in 1967), and Arafat renounced terrorism. As a result the United States and the PLO began a formal dialogue. In the spring of 1989 the Israeli government proposed a comprehensive peace initiative, but efforts to work out the details soon failed. Negotiations suffered a further setback when the United States suspended its dialogue with the PLO following Arafatís refusal to condemn a terrorist raid on a beach near Tel Aviv by a group affiliated with the PLO.

In March 1990 the Knesset terminated the Shamir government with a vote of no confidence, the first such successful vote in Israelís history. After efforts by former Finance Minister Peres to form a government failed, Shamir succeeded in establishing a coalition of Likud and several right-wing and religious parties in June 1990. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the subsequent Persian Gulf War in 1991 further postponed efforts to seek an Arab-Israeli peace. During the war the United States and other members of an international coalition against Iraq excluded Israel from participation so as not to alienate the coalitionís Arab members. Soon after hostilities broke out in January 1991, Iraq fired Scud missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia in an effort to split the coalition by diverting Arab attention from its anti-Iraqi stance to its opposition to Israel. The plan failed because Israel, at the request of the United States, did not retaliate.

Another area of international affairs also affected Israel dramatically during this period. Beginning in 1989, when the Soviets relaxed restrictions on Jewish emigration, a massive wave of immigrants arrived in Israel. Between 1989 and 1998 more than 700,000 Jews emigrated from the Soviet Union (and, after the breakup of the Soviet Union in late 1991, parts of the former Soviet Union). Successfully absorbing newcomers into all facets of the countryís life once again became one of the main challenges facing Israeli society. Many of these immigrants were highly educated and trained, enhancing Israelís skill base.

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