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What caused the wave of terrorism that began in September 2000?

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What caused the wave of terrorism that began in September 2000?

Beginning in September 2000, Israel suffered from terrorist attacks on an almost unprecedented scale. Its citizens had to live with the day-to-day fear of being blown up by suicide bombers or shot to death by Palestinian gunmen. Over 1,100 Israelis lost their lives and many, many thousands more were maimed or psychologically scarred for life.

The wave of terrorism that began in September 2000 is the direct result of a strategic Palestinian decision to use violence - rather than negotiation - as the primary means to advance their agenda. Despite Palestinian claims to the contrary, Israel's so-called "occupation" of the territories is not the true cause of the terrorism, as negotiations could have peacefully resolved all aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict well before the violence started.

When the wave of violence and terrorism began in September 2000, the Palestinians originally claimed that it was a spontaneous reaction to the visit of then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount. However, later statements by Palestinian leaders in the Arab-language media contradicted this assertion. Neither did the report issued by the Mitchell Committee, composed of American and European leaders, give support to the earlier Palestinian claim. Consequently, Palestinian spokespersons changed their tactics and instead began to assert that the violence was a response to Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza.

This claim ignores events both before and after 1967 (when Israel came into control of the territories during a war of self-defense) that prove that the "occupation" is not the true cause of Palestinian terrorism. Not only did Palestinian terrorism precede Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza; it has often hit brutally at those moments, as in 1994-1996, when the peace process was making the greatest progress.

Terrorism from Gaza continued even after Israel left that territory in 2005. The history of Palestinian terrorism makes it abundantly clear that the terrorists are not opposing Israel's presence in the territories; rather they are opposed to making any kind of peace with Israel.

Indeed, the current wave of terrorism began shortly after intense high-level negotiations were conducted to find a permanent resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In July 2000, a Middle East peace summit was held at Camp David, hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton and attended by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak. During the summit, Israel expressed its willingness to make far-reaching and unprecedented compromises in order to arrive at a workable, enduring agreement. However, Yasser Arafat chose to break off the negotiations without even offering any proposals of his own. Consequently, the summit adjourned with President Clinton placing the blame for its failure squarely at Arafat's feet.

Nevertheless, Israel continued to pursue a negotiated peace. At the Taba talks in January 2001, the Israeli government made known to the Palestinians its willingness to make additional compromises in order to achieve peace. Inexplicably, the Palestinians again rejected a peaceful solution. Later Palestinian claims belittling the Camp David and Taba proposals were refuted by the most senior American officials involved in the negotiations. For example, in an April 22, 2002 television interview, former US Special Envoy Dennis Ross characterized the charge that the West Bank would be divided into cantons as "completely untrue," noting that the offered territory "was contiguous."

Israel had already demonstrated its willingness to take substantial risks for peace. In the framework of the peace treaty with Egypt, it returned the Sinai Peninsula, an area that had given Israel significant strategic depth. In the negotiations that had been conducted since September 1993, Israel had gone far in addressing Palestinian aspirations in the West Bank and Gaza. It negotiated the establishment of a governing Palestinian Authority (PA) in the territories, which gradually expanded its jurisdiction and powers. In fact, after extensive Israeli withdrawals, the PA administered a significant portion of territory and 98% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.

It is clear that the wave of Palestinian terrorism, which began in the wake of the Camp David summit failure, has nothing to do with a spontaneous Palestinian action to "resist the occupation." The Palestinian leadership had taken a strategic decision to abandon the path to peace and to use violence as their primary tactic for advancing their agenda. This decision undermined the bedrock foundation of the peace process - the understanding that a solution can only be reached through compromise rather than inflexibility, and through negotiation rather than violence.

The Palestinian claim that Israel's presence in the territories caused the terrorism began as a desperate attempt to deflect criticism after Arafat rejected Israel's peace proposals. It quickly evolved into an excuse for the inexcusable - the indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians.

Terrorist attacks can never be justified, and they are particularly tragic when the disputed issues could have been settled through negotiations. The Palestinian Authority had been given a real opportunity to end the conflict through negotiations. However, Israel's olive branch was met with a hail of gunfire and a barrage of suicide bombers. The greatest obstacle to peace is not the lack of a Palestinian state, rather it is the existence of Palestinian terrorism.

Despite fervent Palestinian claims to the contrary, the PA's deliberate decision to use violence as a political tool is the true and only source of the wave of terrorism that began in September 2000. It is that decision that has caused the death of over 1,100 Israelis and severely harmed Israel's dreams of peace with its Palestinian neighbors.

These texts are taken from material published by the Israel Ministry of Foreign affairs. with additional comments and hyperlinked materials. They were apparently published in connection with the Annapolis peace conference of 2007, but they have extensive applicability beyond it. They explain fundamentals of Israeli policy as well as the meaning of Zionism and history of the conflict.

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Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs text is at Israel, the Conflict and Peace. Original text  is copyright by Ami Isseroff and Zionism-Israel Center.

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