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Monday, April 20, 1998 Published at 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK

The road to Oslo

Yitzhak Rabin: "There is a time for war, and there is a time for peace"

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

After the Gulf war, the United States tried to reshape Middle Eastern politics. With great effort the American government organised the first-ever effective Israel-Arab-Palestinian dialogue. The negotiations, based on the concept of "land for peace", were launched at Madrid in October 1991, and involved Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

[ image: Yitzhak Rabin signing the Oslo Treaty at the White House]
Yitzhak Rabin signing the Oslo Treaty at the White House
Within two years the initiative foundered. But behind the scenes negotiations continued, with face-to-face talks in Norway between the PLO and the Israeli government. This resulted in the Oslo Accords of September 1993, approved by Israel's then prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, and endorsed by US President Bill Clinton.

Concentrating on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Israel at last recognised the PLO and gradually allowed the organisation's members and leadership to return to - some of - the occupied territories.

The agreements envisaged an interim period of Israeli withdrawals and redeployments from and in the territories and limited autonomy for the Palestinians, in return for peace and an end to Palestinian claims on Israel proper.

Open questions

However, the decisive questions of the status of Jerusalem and its Arab population, the settlements, the refugees and Israel's borders were put off until the interim period was over, towards the end of the decade.

[ image: Jewish settlements continue being built, here at Har Homa in East Jerusalem]
Jewish settlements continue being built, here at Har Homa in East Jerusalem
Since then, the accords have foundered though have not yet been abandoned. Israel continued to expand its settlements mightily during the 1990s, both during and after - and in spite of - the Madrid peace conference and the Oslo accords. The Judaisation of Arab East Jerusalem proceeds apace.

Israel's negotiations with the Syrians and Lebanese collapsed nearly two years ago. Only Jordan and Israel have made peace, albeit, like the Israeli treaty with Egypt, most of the Arab population is cool towards the treaty.

The future of Israel

Israel is an advanced, prosperous, industrialised Western-style implant in the Middle East, decades ahead of its neighbours in technological and military prowess.

It has its own military-industrial complex, has highly developed computer, construction and textile industries, and is the world's second-largest exporter of cut and polished diamonds.

[ image: American Jews fundraising for Israel]
American Jews fundraising for Israel
American irritation with its current leadership is unlikely to turn into significant withdrawal of military, financial, political or moral support. The Jewish lobby in the United States is as forceful as ever in seeing Israel's interests pursued without serious hindrance in the corridors of American power, especially Congress.

Israel's biggest dangers are internal. There is growing Palestinian resentment and frustration inside Israel and the occupied territories, which could soon lead to unprecedented bloodshed.

[ image: Modern Israel: ultra-orthodox and secular Jews have to learn to co-exist]
Modern Israel: ultra-orthodox and secular Jews have to learn to co-exist
There are the tensions between Israelis themselves, between fractious and extremist religious groups and the secular majority, who see the nature of their pragmatic Zionist ideals being compromised by overly powerful and coddled religious fanatics; between right and left, that is anti- and pro-compromise with the Arabs; and between European and Oriental Jews - a clash of class status and ethnic origins.

For Israelis, May 15, 1998, is not a straightforward 'Happy 50th Birthday'.

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

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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