On This Day

rabin arafat, rabin arafat clinton, israel palestine agreement
Doug Mills/AP
President Clinton watches as Yitzhak Rabin, left, and Yasser Arafat shake hands in the East Room of the White House after the Mideast accord signing.

On This Day: Israel Cedes Civil Control of West Bank to Palestinians

September 28, 2011 05:00 AM
by Jennifer Ferris
On Sept. 28, 1995, Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed an agreement handing over civil control of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.

A New Chapter for the Middle East?

On Sept. 28, 1995, a group of world leaders watched as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed a 400-page document, turned to each other, smiled and shook hands. Onlookers applauded loudly, hoping they had witnessed a moment that would be remembered as the catalyst for Middle Eastern peace.

The document, drafted after hundreds of hours of negotiations, spelled out the terms under which part of the West Bank, a hotly contested strip of land between Israel and Jordan, would be delivered into Palestinian control.

After nearly three decades of Israeli occupation and a century-old conflict over Palestinian self-rule, Rabin had agreed to withdraw most Israeli settlers from the West Bank, and to give up police and civil control in six Palestinian cities and 450 villages. However, 70 percent of the land would still be under Israeli military control.

The pact was still seen as something of a victory for Palestine, which had been without land or a functional government for decades. Under the terms of the Sept. 28 agreement, Palestine would elect a council and a leader, and Israel would begin a phased release of Palestinian political prisoners.

Background: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Debate over ownership of the West Bank region has raged since World War I and the disintegration of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

During the war, the British government promised to help build a “Jewish national home” in the former Ottoman territory of Palestine. The idea appealed to many Jewish groups, who faced growing anti-Semitism in Europe and felt a strong sense of historic and religious entitlement to the city of Jerusalem.

Granted colonial authority over the territory by the League of Nations, Britain attempted in 1921 to carve it into two zones: a Jewish area, and a “Palestinian Mandate” located in the West Bank. But Jewish immigrants began spreading into the West Bank region, and bloody street clashes occurred as many Palestinians, fearful of losing their chance for self-rule, reacted with anger.

After decades of escalating conflict and failed attempts to secure peace by limiting Jewish land purchases, the British government handed the whole problem over to the United Nations.

The UN partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab areas, and established Bethlehem and Jerusalem as international zones in 1947, allowing for the creation of the modern state of Israel the following year.

But war broke out again, and by 1949, Israel had won control over most of the former territory of Palestine, with Jordan seizing the West Bank and Egypt taking the Gaza Strip.

Israel continued its expansion in 1967, waging the Six-Day War that ended with Israel’s capture of the remaining Arab territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Citing security concerns, an Israeli military government established harsh measures throughout the former Arab territories, including curfews and tight controls governing Palestinians.

In response, the Palestine Liberation Organization formed outside of Israel’s borders, with Yasser Arafat at its head. In 1987, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza launched the “intifada,” a revolt against the Israeli government marked by escalating incidents of anti-Israeli terrorism and riots in the occupied territories.

In recent years, the Palestine Liberation Organization has gained increasing acceptance as a powerful political force and an important strategic partner in any effort to resolve conflict in the Middle East. The United States has continued its efforts to serve as a mediator in Israel’s ongoing Middle East conflicts.

Later Developments: Rabin assassinated; the Middle East “road map”

Rabin’s decision to sign the agreement with Arafat in 1995 was wildly unpopular among Israeli citizens. A little more than a month after signing, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish religious fanatic who opposed his efforts to seek peace through compromise. But Rabin’s death actually furthered that cause, and by 1996, much of the Palestinian territories were under self-rule.

But many of Rabin’s successors were decidedly against compromise with the Palestinians and conflicts have continued to flare in the West Bank. In 2002, the Israelis re-occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and began building a wall between what they declared was their territory and the remaining Palestinian lands.

In 2003, international efforts to encourage peace in the region resumed with the drafting of a “Roadmap to Peace,” and in 2005, Israel once again began to disengage from the West Bank.

Reference: A guide to the disputed territories


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