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Israel's flag Photo: Oren Agmon
Israel's flag Photo: Oren Agmon
 
Knesset building, Jerusalem Photo: Zoom 77
Knesset building, Jerusalem Photo: Zoom 77
 
Declaration of Independence, Israel, 1948
Declaration of Independence, Israel, 1948 
 
The Western Wall Photo: Ata Awisat
The Western Wall Photo: Ata Awisat
 
 

The State of Israel

Established in 1948 as the Jewish State, struggling for its safe existence and in constants pursuit of peaceful coexistence with its neighbors; from history and geography, to politics and economy, here are the facts about the State of Israel

Ynetnews
Latest Update: 12.12.07, 14:43 / Israel News

The State of Israel was formed on May 15 1948 as a Jewish state and a democratic republic. Over time it became one of the only two democracies in the Middle East, the other being Turkey.

 

Israel's Borders

In the West – the Mediterranean Sea and the Gaza Strip; in the North – Lebanon and Syria; in the East – Jordan and the Palestinian Authority's autonomous territories; and in the South – Egypt and the Red Sea.

 

Fact File
Israel – the essentials  / Ynetnews
From the national anthem, religion and demographics to languages, industries and government, here are some essential facts about the State of Israel
Full story

Israel holds territories that it captured in 1967 from Syria (the Golan Heights), Jordan (the West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza). In certain sections of the West Bank, an autonomous Palestinian Authority was established.

 

Government and Administration

The state of Israel is republic, defined as a parliamentary democracy with proportional representation. The legislative authority is the Knesset and the executive authority is the government.

 

Since the country's inception, no political party has achieved an absolute majority, thus making all of Israel's governments coalition governments.

 

The Israeli president is chosen by the Knesset once every seven years. His role is primarily symbolic: the president in the highest office, he has no part of the three branches of government and no political status.

 

The President is the one who delegates the job of establishing that government on one of the members of Knesset after an election; Presidential consent is required for the dissolution of the Knesset, should it be required.

 

The President authority also extends to granting presidential pardons, appointing secular court judges, rabbinical judges to religious courts, and Kadis to the courts of Muslim law; appointing members to the Council on Higher Education, the National Academy of Science, the Broadcasting Authority, the Authority to Rehabilitate Prisoners, the Chief Rabbinical Council and the Governor of the Bank of Israel; The President also confirms and endorses the credentials of the Israeli ambassadors leaving for posts abroad and receives the credentials of the foreign diplomats posted in Israel.  

 

Israel is administratively divided into 6 districts and 14 provinces. Judea, Samaria and Gaza have a separate administration. The regional authorities – municipalities and local or regional councils – have legal jurisdiction in their area, as well as responsibility to provide residents with legal, social and sanitary services.

 

The country has a mandatory education law, which states that all Israeli children are entitled to eleven years of State funded, free education, ranging from kindergarten to the 10th grade. Israel's higher education system includes universities, colleges and institutions of religious instruction (yeshivot, midrashot).

 

Israel provides general health care, making an array of medical services available for every citizen. Healthcare enforcement is divided between the Ministry of Health and the health maintenance organizations. Israeli citizens are required to pay a health tax to the National Insurance Institute to ensure their social rights.

 

State of Israel: History 

The State of Israel was established in 1948, amidst clashes with British Mandatory forces, Arab residents, and the Arab states which declared war on the nascent state on the very day of its founding.

 

The struggle for Israeli independence  

In the wake of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, as well as the worldwide Zionist Movement, became increasingly cognizant of the fact that an independent and sovereign Jewish state was necessary to provide a safe haven for the decimated Jewish nation.

 

The struggle was carried out on two fronts: An armed and political battle against the British Mandatory forces, and a worldwide diplomatic campaign for the cause, especially in the United States. Concurrently, much effort was invested in the Ha’apalah, the so-called “illegal” Jewish immigration to Israel, which was, in effect, against British Mandatory policies.

 

Although Britain emerged victorious from World War II, during the post-war years, the British Empire began to unravel. Once the British Raj ended in India, the Land of Israel lost much of its strategic importance, as the British no longer required a foothold adjacent to the Suez Canal.

 

In 1947, Britain requested that the UN retract its Mandate on Israel. The UN appointed a special committee (UNESCOP), which recommended the land west of the Jordan River be partitioned into two states: one Jewish and one Arab.

 

On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly voted in favor of partition, which became known as UN Resolution 181; according to which, the British Mandate was set to expire on May 15, 1948. Since the 15th came out on Shabbat that year, the National Council convened on Friday, May 14, and declared the establishment of the State of Israel – acknowledging the historical connection between Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel) and its land, but flailing to specify its borders.

 

The Declaration of Independence further introduced the name of the Jewish State: “We hereby declare that as from the termination of the Mandate… the present National Council shall act as the provisional administration and… shall constitute the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called Israel.” The name was derived from the Land of Israel, the historic name of the Jewish national homeland.

 

Both the US and the USSR immediately recognized Israel, and additional countries followed suit. However, the Arab League was determined to destroy the new state, and on May 15, the Egyptian, Jordanian (then called Trans-Jordanian), Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese armies, together with irregular forces from other Arab nations, invaded Israel.

 

From the War of Independence until the Sinai War (1948-1956)

The War of Independence evolved from a conflict between two resident populations to a full-fledged war between organized armies. Following a year and a half of fighting, an Armistice Agreement was reached between Israel and most of the Arab countries. Iraq, which continued to maintain a state of war with Israel, remained the lone exception.

 


War of Independence: Hagana troops practicing (Photo: La'am)

 

From this point on, Israeli history was shaped by wars with its Arab neighbors, each leaving a unique, lasting impact on Israel’s foreign affairs, economy, and social fabric.

 

Even as the war raged, the new state’s institutions were organized: The Assembly of Representatives became the Knesset, and the National Council became the government, under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion. The government assumed the Mandatory Government’s authorities, but since the British left without orderly transferring powers, the process was complex and difficult.

 

Meanwhile, large immigration waves reached Israeli shores: Between 1948 and 1951, some 700,000 Jews arrived, entire communities from Libya, Yemen, Bulgaria, and Iraq. In 1950, the Law of Return, which granted full Israeli citizenship to every Jewish immigrant, was enacted. 1955-1957 saw more immigrants arrived, including around 160,000 North African and Eastern European Jews.

 

The War and immigration waves took their toll on the young state and an austerity program (1949-1952), which involved much rationing, was instituted. In 1952, the government signed a controversial reparations agreement with Germany. Despite the resulting political and public storm, the agreement increased the market’s momentum.

 

Arab infiltrations began almost immediately following the Armistice. Palestinian refugees would cross Israel’s borders to commit crimes and, later, acts of sabotage, to which Israel responded with reprisal attacks.

 

Although the situation escalated gradually, some historians cite the Black Arrow attack of February 28, 1955, as a key turning point: On that night, the IDF attacked an Egyptian army installation in the Gaza Strip. In response, Egypt began organizing bands of Palestinian infiltrators called “fedayeen”, which, in essence, comprised the first Palestinian terror organization.

 

Israel then began strengthening its military ties with France, since Ben-Gurion insisted that Israel not go to war without the support of at least one major power. Blaming Egyptian leader Gamal Abed an-Nasser for much of its Algerian troubles, France was amenable to Israeli overtures. After Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956, Britain joined the conflict. On October 22, senior representatives of France, Britain and Israel met in Sèvres, outside of Paris, and agreed to go to war against Egypt. The Sinai War began on October 29.

 

From the Sinai War until the Six Day War (1957-1967)

The Sinai War ended on November 6, 1956. The world’s superpowers soon forced Israel to relinquish all its territorial achievements and the IDF pulled back from the Sinai and the Gaza Strip in March 1957, when a UN Emergency Force was mobilized along the border.

 

A period of relative quiet ensued, and Israel strengthened its economy and developed the national infrastructure during the interlude. By 1966, another 300,000 immigrants had arrived but faced with the severe recession of 1965, immigration rates dropped.

 

Israeli politics was jolted when David Ben-Gurion resigned and left the Mapai party and Levi Eshkol became the next prime minister; and Israel sent out diplomatic feelers to a number of newly independent Asian and African nations, as well as to several South American countries. 


IDF Chief Rabbi, Goren, at the Kotel (Photo: La'am)

 

In 1964, neighboring Arabs began infiltrating the borders again. In addition, the Palestinians formed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and terrorists entered Israeli territory.

 

Meanwhile trouble was brewing in the northern border: Following the completion of the National Water Carrier, both Syria and Lebanon repeatedly attempted to divert the sources of the Jordan River; Israel responded with fire, the situation quickly deteriorated, and the IDF and Syrian army were involved in heavy fighting, referred to as “the War for Water”.

 

The southern border saw trouble of its own: Egypt expressed concern over Israel's alleged Dimona nuclear reactor and after a dogfight over the Golan Heights on April 7, 1967, during which six Syrian aircraft were downed, Egypt allied itself with Syria. On May 15, Egyptian forces entered Sinai, in violation of the 1957 Sinai War agreement. Egypt further closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships and ordered UN forces to withdraw from their positions along the border.

 

War was imminent The IDF called in its reserves, and Prime Minister Eshkol transferred the defense portfolio to Moshe Dayan. A historical first was achieved when the Herut party joined the newly formed national unity government.

 

On June 6, the Six Day War broke out, as the IDF went to war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

 

From the Six Day War until the Yom Kippur War (1967-1973)

Unbridled euphoria swept through Israel in wake of its stunning victory in the Six Day War. The IDF had acquired the Golan Heights, Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip, and the entire Sinai Peninsula up to the Suez Canal; but most important – Jerusalem had been reunified, and for the first time since 1948, Jews were able to pray at the Western Wall.

 

Israel immediately annexed the eastern portion of Jerusalem, declaring other territories were being held in the hope of a peace treaty. “We are waiting for a telephone call from the Arabs,” said Dayan.

 

Yet, despite Dayan’s declaration, the government officially authorized Jewish settlement to be built in the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley, southern Sinai, and, eventually, also the area around Rafah. Official policy was more ambiguous in Judea and Samaria, where the government preferred Jews not move into areas heavily populated by Arabs. Nevertheless, many such settlements were established, supported by numerous government ministers and Knesset members. In addition, a construction wave was initiated in eastern Jerusalem, which the Arabs and much of the world insisted on calling “occupied territory”.

 

In November 1967, the UN Security Council accepted Resolution 242, which included the concept of “land for peace”, but the vote had no practical significance. In February 1969, Prime Minister Eshkol passed away, and Golda Meir the first – and only women so far – to be Israeli prime minister.

 

The PLO built bases in the eastern Jordan Valley and sent terrorists into Israel. Several pursuits were launched in the valley during 1968-1970, until Jordan expelled the terrorists following 1970's “Black September”. Most Palestinian organizations relocated to southern Lebanon and Syria.

 

Arab terrorism also targeted Israeli civilian aviation and high profile attacks were committed in Israel itself, aided at times by foreign terror organizations: examples includ the hijacking of an El-Al airplane to Algeria on July 23, 1968, which was the first of its kind; the massacre at the Lod Airport on May 30, 1972, which was committed by Japanese terrorists masquerading as passengers; and the abduction and subsequent murder of 11 Israeli Olympians in Munich on September 5, 1972.

 

In March 1969, Egyptian President Nasser instructed his army on the Suez Canal front to open fire on all exposed targets, setting off the War of Attrition, which comprised of heavy fire exchanged across the canal, several raids behind enemy lines (on both sides) and Israeli air attacks deep into Egyptian territory. In August 1970, the US imposed a ceasefire, the war ended and Nasser died a few weeks later.

 

Despite ongoing fighting along the borders, Israelis felt safe and secure, as the country places its full confidence in the IDF’s ability to protect the nation. It was the first time since the Israel was formed that the public believed its existence was guaranteed.

 

From the Yom Kippur War until the Political Upset (1973-1977)

Disillusionment was exceptionally painful. Egypt and Syria clandestinely planned a full-fledged surprise attack on Israel, hoping to retrieve the territories they lost during the Six Day War. The assumption was that even if they were unable to regain the land themselves, Israel would be forced to give up the territories, due to the international pressure which would surely result from the war. On Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973, the Yom Kippur War broke out.

 

The IDF was caught off guard, but soon recovered: The territory lost on the Golan Heights was regained within three days, and ten days after the fighting began, IDF forces penetrated Egyptian territory; but the sense of defeat, which had characterized the first few days of fighting, did not abate even once the war had ended. 


En rout to battle. The Yom Kippur War (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

 

The aftermath of the war saw a national commission of inquiry, headed by Chief Justice Shimon Agranat, appointed to probe the war. The commission made several recommendations concerning high-ranking military leaders, including then IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar, but refrained from discussing the political echelon.

 

A number of Arab countries sent troops to fight alongside Egypt and Syria and the oil-rich Arab nations, collectively known as OAPEC, announced they were placing an oil embargo on the US and Holland, due to their support of Israel.

 

Shockwaves raced around the world as the so-called “first energy crisis” had begun as crude oil prices quadrupled within just a few months. The energy crisis threatened most of the world’s non-OPEC members, many of whom blamed Israel. Israel lost much of its international standing as a result of the war, and it economy, largely dependent on oil imports, suffered.

 

Nonetheless, Israel managed to weather the war’s economic fallout, mainly due to unprecedented American aid. Since 1974, American foreign aid to Israel, comprised of both military and economic aid, has equaled several billion dollars a year. Still, the economic upswing of the prewar period was considerably overturned.

 

The settlement enterprise continued and so did terror. In 1976 the infamous hijacking of an Air France plane to Entebbe, Uganda occurred. The subsequent IDF rescue mission on July 4, 1976, resonated throughout the world. On June 7, 1981, Israel conducted another daring raid and destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor a short while before it was scheduled to go live.

 

Labor won a proportional majority in elections held shortly after the war, but the public's faith in the party’s veteran leadership was gone. Prime Minister Meir and Defense Minister Dayan were forced to resign. Yitzchak Rabin became the next prime minister.

 

From the Political Upset until the Lebanon War (1977-1982)

The 1977 elections have often been described as a dramatic political upset: for the first time in Israeli history, a group of center/right parties, collectively known as the Likud, formed a government. Menachem Begin, who had led the opposition since the state’s founding, became the prime minister. Although the upset can be attributed to the aftershocks of the Yom Kippur War, other factors also contributed to the political turnaround, as a great rift began tearing through Israeli society.

 

A radical turnabout in Israeli-Arab relations occurred near the end of 1977: Clandestine talks between Israeli and Egyptian officials resulted in Egyptian President Anwar Sadat publicly announcing his intention visit Jerusalem, address the Knesset, and discuss peace.

 


Israeli PM Begin with Egyptian President, Saadat and US President Carter

in Camp David (Photo: AP)

 

Sadat arrived in Israel on November 19, as Egypt and Israel launched peace talks, under American auspices. Two years later, in 1979, the two signed the Camp David Accords. Virulent public storms arose in the wake of the subsequent Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai and the evacuation of Yamit in 1982.

 

A series of governmental countermeasures soon followed and included the enactment of the Jerusalem Law of 1980 and the declaration of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 1981.

 

A major social development of that time was the growing strength of the Orthodox (haredi) sector. Prior to 1977, this closed community had been relatively insignificant; with minimal involvement in the nation’s politics, but in 1977, Begin invited Agudat Yisrael, a haredi party, to join his coalition. As a result, the haredi public’s ranks swelled, and its members became more politically and economically active.

 

The northern border new some unrest again, as the Lebanese civil war, which had begun in 1975, grew steadily worse. Israel’s anti-terrorist activities included forming the South Lebanese Army (SLA) under Saad Hadad’s command and opening the so-called “Good Fence”; but the terror continued, and on March 14, 1978, the IDF entered Lebanese territory as part of Operation Litani. Israel retreated approximately three months later, after a UN peacekeeping force was stationed as a buffer between the Israeli border and PLO positions throughout southern Lebanon, creating, in effect, the SLA-controlled security zone.

 

The arrangement soon proved ineffective, and on June 6, 1982, following an assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador to Britain, the Lebanon War began.

 

From the Lebanon War until the Oslo Accords (1982-1995)

Unlike previous Arab-Israeli wars, the Lebanon War did not end with either a ceasefire or an armistice agreement. Although the IDF controlled about half of Lebanon’s territory, Israel had managed neither to destroy the PLO nor to impose a “new order” on Lebanon.

 

Lebanese Phalangist leader Bashir Gamayel was assassinated on September 14 and in the aftermath Christian Lebanese forces massacred Palestinian residents of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, igniting a storm of protests in Israel and throughout the world. The Israeli government and the IDF were accused of ignoring the massacre, and the Kahan Commission, appointed to investigate the killings, recommended that Defense Minister Ariel Sharon be dismissed. 


IDF forces patrolling the Lebanese border (photo: GPO)

 

IDF forces in Lebanon came under continuous fire and terror attacks by the assorted paramilitary organizations operating in Lebanon. In 1985, the IDF began slowly retreating southward, and a “security zone”, under joint IDF-SLA control, was established in southern Lebanon. Relative calm prevailed on Israel’s northern border, but flare-ups persisted within the security zone.

 

Socially and economically, this was a tempestuous period in Israeli history: The Likud-led government oversaw certain economic steps which quickly led to galloping inflation, reaching 400% by its 1983 peak and throwing the Israeli economy into chaos. In August 1983, the Lebanese quagmire and the country’s desperate economic straits caused Begin to resign, citing “personal reasons”. Yitzchak Shamir became the next prime minister.

 

The 1984 general elections resulted in a “hung” Knesset, and a national unity government was formed on a rotation basis. Shimon Peres was the prime minister for the first two years, and then Shamir, maintaining the same coalition, replaced him in October 1986.

 

In order to stabilize the economy, the national unity government took a number of drastic steps, including the implementation of a comprehensive price freeze, and managed to curb the inflation. Nevertheless, the economy did not immediately rebound. In the following 1988 elections, the Likud achieved a very narrow margin of victory, resulting in another unity government, but this time, there was to be no rotation. In March 1990, Peres, seeking to regain power, tried to topple Shamir's government but failed.

 

Although some Palestinian Arabs had become members of terror organizations and a small number had committed terror attacks, most refrained from protesting Israeli rule. In December 1987, however, everything changed. A wave of uprisings, later to be known as the Intifada, broke out in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Israel proved unable to quell the riots.

 

A reluctant Shamir agreed to take part in the Madrid Conference, an international peace conference which included Palestinian representatives, albeit as part of the Jordanian delegation; but the Palestinian uprising continued, unabated.

 

In early 1991, Israel became an unwilling participant in the First Gulf War. Iraq responded to US-led Coalition attacks by launching Scud missiles at Israel. Although there were few causalities and property damage was relatively minimal, the constant fear of unconventional weapons led to widespread panic. Nevertheless, life quickly returned to normal once the war had ended.

 

Rabin replaced Peres as Labor party chairman and garnered a majority in the 1992 elections, largely as a result of the optimism generated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing large immigration wave which began in late 1989. The economy flourished, and the government’s primary concern was the Intifada.

 

Clandestine talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Oslo, Norway, climaxed in the Oslo Accords. As part of the controversial agreement, Israel accepted the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinians and granted it autonomy over a large portion of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. In return, the Palestinians promised to recognize Israel’s existence, to refrain from further terrorist activities, and to end the Intifada. The Accords were signed in Washington on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, accompanied by am historical handshake between Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

 

From the Oslo Accords (1993) until Today

The Oslo Accords significantly impacted Israel. As per the agreement, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was founded. Shortly thereafter, in October 1994, Israel signed an historic peace treaty with Jordan, and tentative peace talks were initiated with Syria.

 

Israel’s international standing improved dramatically, and immigration continued to soar. In the period between 1990 and 1995, over 500,000 immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe and other nations, and the economy boomed.

 

Yet, Israel paid dearly for the Accords: The Palestinian attacks continued unabated, as Israel accused Arafat and the PA of not preventing the terror; In addition, the PA established military or paramilitary armies in excess of their Oslo mandate and the Palestinians claimed that new Israeli settlements violated Oslo's "spirit”.


The Oslo Accord: Rabin, Arafat and Clinton (Photo: AP)

 

On November 4, 1995, the so-called peace process came to a screeching halt. Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli right-wing extremist, Yigal Amir.

 

Peres, who took his place as prime minister, pushed-up the general elections to the beginning of 1996 (direct prime ministerial elections had been introduced in the meantime) and was defeated by the Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu, whose political views were diametrically opposed to Rabin’s and Peres’.

 

The peace process advanced sporadically at best, and many Israelis began vociferously opposing the Oslo Accords. The new government was short lived, as Netanyahu resigned in 1999. In May of that year, Ehud Barak was elected as the next prime minister.

 

Barak was unable to get the peace process back on track, but was able to keep his election promise of an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. In May 2000, the last IDF tank retreated to the Israeli border; the SLA collapsed and an uneasy calm reigned along the northern border.

 

Although the Syrian talks resumed, no breakthrough was achieved. US President Bill Clinton attempted to jumpstart the peace process and, modeling himself after his predecessor Jimmy Carter in 1978, invited Barak and Arafat to Camp David in July 2000. Disappointingly, the talks failed and in the following September, the Intifada resumed with a vengeance.

 

The October riots

Jewish-Arab relations deteriorated further during the bloody riots of October 2000. Then-opposition chairman Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit to Temple Mount enraged the Arab sector, triggered a raging Palestinian uprising: thousands of Israeli Arabs participated in violent disturbances; efforts were made to attack Jewish communities; major highways were closed to Jewish traffic; numerous structures were destroyed; and a Jew was killed when a rock was thrown at his vehicle.

 

Israeli police attempts to control the riots resulted in the deaths of 13 Arab citizens and many more were wounded; Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip continued to clash with Israeli and Israeli-Arabs evidenced unprecedented levels of cooperation and identification with their brethren on the other side of the Green Line, dramatically increasing the sense of hostility between Israeli Jews and Arabs dramatically increased. 


Riots at Umm al-Fahm (Photo: Yariv Katz)

 

In the riots' aftermath, then Prime Minister Ehud Barak set up the Or Commission to investigate the riots and as well as the governmental response, including police behavior.

 

In 2003, the Or Commission would publish its findings, including the following review of Jewish-Arab relations: “Minority-majority relationships are problematic in every place, and especially in a state that defines itself according to the majority’s nationality… In any event, establishing reasonable harmony in majority-minority relations is a difficult task imposed on every societal sector. This task requires a particular effort from state institutions which express the majority’s hegemony.

 

"Refraining from such an effort, or only partially attempting it, creates a sense of neglect and a reality of neglect among the minority, which are likely to become more severe with the passage of time. These phenomena also characterize the Arab minority in the State of Israel, which, in many respects, is the victim of discrimination.”

 

The end of 2000 saw Barak resign from office, as new elections were held in early 2001. The direct election law was meanwhile revoked and the Likud, headed by Ariel Sharon, returned to power.

 

The renewed Intifada hit Israel hard: Seemingly overnight, the economy plummeted into a recession, immigration decreased and Israeli society became more fractured. Sharon’s Likud garnered a large majority in the 2003 elections, and he remained prime minister. Meanwhile, the so-called “Al-Aksa Intifada” raged on, and Israeli efforts to decrease the terror had little to no effect.

 

In March 2003, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, became PA prime minister under Arafat, and many were optimistic that change was in the air. By that time, the Israeli government had declared that Arafat was “irrelevant”. The Palestinians declared a “hudna” (a temporary ceasefire) and claimed that they were refraining from terror attacks. At the same time, Israel pulled back some of its forces from PA-controlled territory, but the hudna led nowhere: within a very short while, the Palestinians were once again committing terror attacks, and the Israelis were forced to respond.

 

In mid 2003 Abbas resigned his position as Palestinian prime minister but in late 2004, faced with Arafat's deteriorating health he returned to office. After Arafat's death on November 11 2004, Abbas was named chairman of the PLO and in January 2005 was voted Palestinian president. Israel was optimistic regarding the chances of peace with the PA once more.

 

The disengagement from the Gaza Strip

In 2004 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon started pushing the idea of a unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The move called for the removal of 21 Israeli settlements in the Strip and from four settlements in the northern West Bank. The move, said Sharon, was designed to improve Israel's security and international status in the absence of an active political negotiation process to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

The idea sparked controversy from the moment of its inception, provoking political outbursts and mass public objection, especially from the political right, which tried rallying up the Israeli public against the move through mass protest rallies and the blocking of major highways.

 

Likud members demanded their leader hold a referendum on the plan, prior to an Israeli cabinet vote. Held on May 2, 2004, the referendum ended with 59.5% of the voters deciding against the disengagement plan.

In early June, Sharon's government approved an amended disengagement plan 14 to 7, but the bill was to go back and forth numerous times in the following year.

 

The government subsequently formed the Disagreement Authority, which was supposed to oversee all the logistic, infrastructural, financial and social aspects of the disengagement.

 

In August 2005 the Gaza pullout began: Some 142,000 IDF soldier, Border Guard troops and police officers tool part in the operation, named Operation Yad La'ahim (reaching out to our brothers) and delivered the evacuation orders to the residents.

 

Within two weeks 23 settlements – Bedolah, Beni Atzmon, Dugit, Elei Sinai, Gadid , Gan Or, Ganei Tal, Katif, Kfar Darom, Kfar Yam, Kerem Atzmona, Morag, Neveh Dekalim, Netzarim, Netzer Hazani, Nisanit, Pe'at Sade, Rafiah Yam, Slav, Shirat Hayam and Tel Katifa in the Gaza Strip and Homesh and Sa-Nur in the West Bank, with their 9,400 residents were evacuated. The West Bank settlements of Gamin and Kadim, which were also included in the disengagement evacuated voluntarily, prior to the pullout's onset.

 

Many agreed to leave peacefully, but security forces also found themselves clashing with those who refused to do so. The pullout's most violent altercation took place at Amona, as thousands of settlers and right-wing activists clashed with IDF and police troops. The three-and-a-half scuffle ended with 200 casualties, including some 80 security forces' personnel and MK Effie Eitam (National Union).


Security forces, settlers clashing at Amona (Photo: AP)

 

The disengagement was seen by the Palestinians as evidence to Israel's defeat and Hamas' true power. Soon, any hope of a normalization of relations between the neighboring Jewish and Palestinian communities faded, as Hamas upped the attacks on Israel, barraging the city of Sderot, Gaza vicinity communities, western Negev with Qassam rockets and mortar shells.

 

On November 21 2005, Sharon announced he was leaving the Likud and forming a new party which would allow him the freedom to carry out his new political vision, and so came Kadima.

 

The move sent shockwaves through Israeli politics, as prominent figures from all ends of the political map soon joined the new party: Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Meir Sheetrit, Gideon Ezra, Avraham Hirschson, Roni Bar-On, Haim Ramon and Shimon Peres, to name a few, rallied to Sharon's side, as Kadima rounded 150 members in its first day of founding alone, emerging as a new political force to be reckoned with.

 

In January 2006, Ariel Sharon suffered a mass stroke which left him comatose. His deputy, then Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, took over as acting prime minister.

 

In March 2006, Kadima won the general elections by a landslide. The party won 29 sits in the Knesset and Ehud Olmert became the prime minister of Israel.

 

In September 2008, Olmert resigned from office due to the police's recommendation to indict him in various corruption affairs and following Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's election as Kadima chairwoman.

  

He was replaced as prime minister by Benjamin Netanyahu following the 2009 elections.

 

 

 

 

First Published: 08.01.06, 16:09

 

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