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

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Thursday, April 23, 1998 Published at 08:07 GMT 09:07 UK

Israel and the Intifada

Can a regular army fight civil unrest?

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

Israel's survival and progress has been almost as much a result of Arab disunity and political bungling as of the Israelis' own skills, ingenuity, commitment - and the massive, almost uncritical support they receive from the United States.

[ image:  ]
The mid-1980s saw the Palestinians down but not out. Israel had tried everything to crush their spirit. Civic elections in the occupied territories in the mid-1970s brought Israel an embarrassing roster of insubordinate pro-PLO mayors and councils.

Attempts to undermine the Palestinian national movement by organising and financing pro-Israeli groups (the "Village Leagues") made little ground.

[ image: Hamas activists protesting against both Yasser Arafat and Israel]
Hamas activists protesting against both Yasser Arafat and Israel
Israeli support for Islamic extremists, as an opposition force to the secular pro-PLO movement, eventually blew up in Israel's face. Hamas, for example, which was born out of the Moslem Brotherhood with Israeli encouragement, is to this day a central factor in the Palestinian resistance and political system.


In late 1987, a spontaneous yet well-organised uprising - the "Intifada" - began in Gaza and spread like a fire across the West Bank and into Jerusalem itself.

[ image:  ]
Daily strikes and demonstrations, with Palestinian youths hurling stones and petrol bombs, kept the Israeli occupation army at full stretch for nearly three years. The Intifada drew world attention not only to Israel's 20 or so years of illegal military occupation of the territories and East Jerusalem, but also to the brutal measures Israel was using to put down the uprising.

Although the PLO was not the author of the uprising, it quickly added its organisational weight and approval, and took or tried to take much of the credit for it.

First moves towards peace

In 1988, the PLO officially accepted the existence of Israel, the "two-state solution". As a consequence, the United States joined most of the rest of the rest of the world in recognising the PLO and beginning a limited dialogue with its leaders. However, a Palestinian fringe group's attack on holidaymakers on an Israeli beach temporarily stopped the exchange.

[ image: While missiles were fired in the Gulf, the PLO lost its financial backers]
While missiles were fired in the Gulf, the PLO lost its financial backers
But in 1990, as Israel was managing to contain the uprising, the Arab world indulged in one of its characteristic episodes of self-destruction - the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Yasser Arafat, the PLO Chairman, who now lived in exile with his movement in Tunis, was caught between his powers of leadership and long-term political acuity. He decided to go along with public Palestinian opinion. Many on the Arab "street" supported Saddam Hussein as a supposedly committed and coherent enemy of Israel, and because of a general dislike of the rich Kuwaitis.

[ image:  ]
The rich Gulf states, who were a vital part of the international alliance that was formed to remove Iraq from Kuwait, shunned Yasser Arafat and cut off his money supply.

Scores of thousands of Palestinians whose earnings had been returned to families in the occupied territories and who had consistently paid their PLO dues were kicked out of their lucrative positions in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The PLO was broke, seemingly helpless and isolated.

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