Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Monday, April 20, 1998 Published at 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK

Israel and the PLO

The former BBC Middle East correspondent, Tim Llewellyn, looks back at the history of Israel.

In the face of Israel's domination of the region after 1967 - the war and occupation of the West Bank pushed nearly 400,000 more Palestinians into Jordan - many Palestinians lost faith in the machinations of Arab regimes and began to build their own nationalist and resistance movement.

[ image: Yasser Arafat]
Yasser Arafat
By the middle of the 1960s, organised Palestinian groups under the umbrella of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) were carrying out border raids into Israel from Jordan and Syria, and after 1967 these intensified.

They were able to exploit a low-level war of attrition between Israel and Egypt and, until 1970, enjoyed the tacit support of the Jordanian and Syrian governments.

Entanglement in Lebanon

Israel retaliated against the guerrillas, striking at them in Jordan at first, then more decisively and extensively into Lebanon, where the Palestinian organisations fled after King Hussein of Jordan crushed and expelled them in 1970.

Israel had the better of the military exchanges, and in 1978 invaded Southern Lebanon, occupying an area across the Israeli border. It created and ran there a mainly Christian Lebanese militia led by a rebel Lebanese Army major.

But the PLO and its Lebanese allies continued to raid and shell northern Israel. The PLO also gained more and more international recognition, in the Arab world and beyond, even in the West, as the official representative of the Palestinian people.

Much to Israel's distress, the Palestinian movement was being seen worldwide as a legitimate nationalist resistance movement with a high political profile - rather than the bloodied terrorists of traditional Israeli propaganda.

[ image:  ]
The Palestinians in the occupied territories were also becoming increasingly active. There were riots and violence that Palestinian activists inside and outside the region were able to exploit at Israel's expense.

The international community continued to blame Israel's continued occupation of Arab lands and its settlements policy for these upheavals.

In June 1982, with a view to putting an end to the PLO as a force to be reckoned with, and quashing its support in the West Bank and Gaza, the Israel Defence Force acted. Israeli aircraft and troops began a supposedly retaliatory move into Lebanon (although the border was in fact quiet at the time).

This quickly became a full-scale invasion lasting more than two months and eventually rolling into the Lebanese capital Beirut itself. Tens of thousands of civilians, Lebanese and Palestinians, were killed and injured.

[ image: Sabra-Shatila - after the massacre]
Sabra-Shatila - after the massacre
World and much of Israeli opinion was appalled. The outrage reached epic proportions when in September 1982, fighters of a Christian militia allied to Israel carried out a massacre of several hundred Palestinian civilians in a Beirut camp, Sabra-Shatila, that the Israeli Army was supposed to be controlling and guarding.

Again, many Arab and independent observers held Israel responsible for the massacre, or at least accused it of almost wilful criminal negligence in not controlling its Christian allies. And there were other, darker conspiracy theories.

An Israeli judicial commission found that the Israeli Army had failed in its duties and was indirectly responsible for the massacre. Even wider worries were voiced in Israel itself as to whether during the invasion the government of Prime Minister Begin had ever really had control of events or the army itself.

[ image: Itzhak Shamir]
Itzhak Shamir
Begin resigned, reduced and wearied by events, to be replaced by Itzhak Shamir, yet another former leader of an extremist underground organisation, the Stern Group, or Lehi, in the 1940s.

In May 1983, Israel signed a defence agreement with Lebanon, which was soon abrogated under Syrian pressure. By 1985 Israeli forces, harassed by Lebanese guerrillas, had pulled back from much of Lebanon. But they widened their "security zone" in South Lebanon.

New enemies

[ image: Defeated, but fighting on]
Defeated, but fighting on
The PLO, it was true, was no longer a military force in Lebanon - the Syrians finished off what pockets the Israelis had not reached. But new and more lethal enemies took up arms against Israel and its allies, the South Lebanon Army led by yet another rebel Lebanese officer. These guerrillas were mainly Lebanese Shi'ites of South Lebanon, particularly the Iranian-backed Hizbollah, or Party of God.

During the next 13 years, the so-called "security zone" in South Lebanon became more and more problematic for Israel. By 1998, the Israelis were trying to find an acceptable way out of the Lebanese thicket.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian problem continued to grow.

The History of Israel
Part 1: The return of the Jews to the promised land
Part 2: The birth of Israel
Part 3: Israel builds a nation
Part 4: Israel in war and peace
Part 5: Israel and the PLO
Part 6: The Intifada
Part 7: The road to Oslo

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |






In this section

The return of the Jews to the promised land

The birth of Israel

Israel builds a nation

Israel in War and Peace

Israel and the PLO

Israel and the Intifada

The road to Oslo