It was at the end of 1987 where resistance to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip began to sharply escalate in the form of demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, and violence. It came to involve virtually the whole Palestinian population in those areas, and continued even two years later in spite of the hundreds of Palestinian deaths and thousands of detentions that came at the hands of Israeli police forces.
The uprising was the product of a generation that had been brought up under Israeli control. By the late 1980's two out of every three Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had either been born or were less than five years old when the Israeli occupation began. For two decades the people had no control over their own lives and their future was becoming increasingly unsure. This was primarily due to the creeping annexation of land by the Israeli occupation authorities and the establishment of Israeli settlements on the confiscated lands. By 1993, more than 60 percent of the West Bank land and about 50 the land of the overcrowded Gaza Strip had been appropriated by Israel (Peretz, 1990). Some of it was destined for Jewish settlements, inhabited in many cases by militant right-wing settlers seeking Israeli annexation of these areas. The settlements were meant to "establish facts," and hence make Israeli control irrevocable. The presence of these settlers seriously worsened the tensions between Palestinian and Jewish settlers.
For two decades Israel had done much to prevent independent economic or social development and to subject the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the needs of the Israeli economy: these areas became the second largest market for Israeli exports, provided a pool of cheap labor for Israel, and offered a field for lucrative Israeli investment. West Bank and Gaza Strip workers had to pay part of their low salaries into the Israeli social security fund, but could not receive benefits. All residents were heavily taxed, but the Palestinian workers received much less benefits than the Israelis enjoyed. It came to the point that the occupation not only paid for itself but became profitable to the Israeli state.
Over the years the Israeli occupation authorities expelled more than 1,700 Palestinians for political offenses. They punished the families of many suspects (often later found innocent) by demolishing their homes. They arrested and detained many thousands of Palestinians, often by means of administrative detentions without trial that bypassed even the military justice system. Eventually so many people had been harmed by the occupation in one way or another that a large proportion of Palestinians apparently felt that they had nothing left to lose.
What resulted starting on Dec. 9, 1987, was clearly a popular uprising. It included children, teenagers, adults, and elderly people, men and women, every class of the population from laborers to wealthy merchants, and every region from the cities and towns to the refugee camps to isolated villages. Medical relief committees, food distribution cooperatives, local agricultural production initiatives, educational committees, and other ad hoc local groups sprang up to sustain the uprising. The uprising was led in each locality by a committee representing all the area's political forces--generally the three or four main groups composing the PLO (Nasser and Heacock, 1990). A similar leadership formed at higher regional levels, and it was topped by an underground coordinating group that signed its periodic communiques "PLO--Unified National Leadership of the Uprising in the Occupied Territories" (Peretz, 1990). As members of the leadership were detained by the Israelis--who after 18 months had detained more than 20,000 people--their places were taken by others.
The uprising shattered the barrier of fear of the occupier, strengthened the sense of self-reliance, and in general empowered a population that had been systematically deprived of control over its destiny during two decades of Israeli occupation, and before that for 19 years under Jordanian and Egyptian rule. The resiliency of the uprising in spite of varied forms of Israeli repression over many months showed that the Palestinians had learned well how to rely on themselves and on institutions that they created. And while many demonstrators often threw rocks and gasoline bombs, they generally avoided more lethal weapons and tactics. The uprising helped crystallize a new and much younger leadership, and marked the beginning of a new phase of the Palestinian national movement (Nasser and Heacock, 1990).
The uprising provoked intense sympathy in the Arab world and galvanized Palestinians everywhere, bringing their cause to the attention of the world (Gerner, 1992). Palestinians inside Israel carried out sympathy demonstrations and strikes. A growing number of Jews voiced doubts about Israeli policy. As a direct result of domestic and other pressures sparked by the uprising, Jordan's King Hussein, on July 31, 1988, severed his country's links with the West Bank and renounced Jordan's sovereignty over it, thereby reversing nearly 40 years of Jordanian policy.
PLO leader Arafat rode a strong wave of international support during and after the intifada (Peretz, 1990). He was able to speak before the United Nations General Assembly. During that U.N. meeting, and afterwards, Arafat sought to satisfy the United States' two long-standing conditions for negotiation: a recognition for the rights of Israel to exist and a renouncement of terrorism. The critical sentence at that speech that many thought should satisfy the U.S. recognition requirements was the following (Gerner, 1992):
"The PLO will seek a comprehensive settlement among the parties concerned in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the State of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors, within the framework of the international conference for peace in the Middle East on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338 and so as to guarantee equality and the balance of interests, especially our people's rights, in freedom, national independence, and respect the right to exist in peace and security for all."
Yet, the United States and Secretary of State George Shulz were not completely satisfied. Thus, Arafat gave it one more try at a news conference the following day, in which he said:
"In my speech also yesterday, it was clear that we mean our people's rights to freedom and national independence, according to Resolution 181, and the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to exist in peace and security, and, as I have mentioned, including the State of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors, according to the Resolutions 242 and 338. As for terrorism, I renounced it yesterday in no uncertain terms, and yet, I repeat for the record. I repeat for the record that we totally and absolutely renounce all forms of terrorism, including individual, group, and state terrorism."
Afterwards, the United States announced that the PLO had met the conditions for negotiation, and low-level talks between the PLO and the United States ensued. But it was in 1993 when the most significant talks took place, unbeknownst to most of the world. Secret, direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO took place in Norway. They culminated in a draft peace agreement, and were followed by formal mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO on September 10. Three days later the agreement was signed on the White House lawn and sealed by a handshake between Arafat and Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin.