1996: A Turbulent Year for Israel

1996 has been a very turbulent year for Israel. This lies in the
assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995. Rabin’s great work in the
peace process with it’s Arab neighbors has been nearly reversed by Israel’s
newly elected Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who actively opposed the peace
process in the election. Netanyahu’s term of service has not only affected
Israel politically but also socially, intellectually, religiously, and
economically.

In dealing with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians Netanyahu was
originally quoted saying that he would only meet with Arafat under special
circumstances and that, “the era of one-sided giving was over.” Warren
Christopher, Secretary of State for the U.S., was able to arrange a peace
conference with Arafat on the Gaza border. One article called it a ,
“Psychological breakthrough” (Netanyahu meets with Clinton). The issues at hand
were Israel fulfilling it’s pledge to the Palestinians to redeploy it’s troops
stationed in the West Bank town of Hebron so that they will only guard the 440
Jews who live there, from the tens of thousands of Palestinians. Also at issue
were the exit permits given to Palestinians allowing them to go from there jobs
in Israel to there homes in Gaza and the and the West Bank. That leads to
another issue over whether or not a rail link between Gaza and the West Bank
should be formed. The major problem with that would be the cost. In the next
round of Israeli-PLO peace talks, both sides could not reach a compromise and
after four hours talks failed. To complicate matters further 3,000 houses were
approved to be built in the West Bank by the Israeli government. “Peace Now
spokesman”, Alon Arnon, called the housing, “A final burial of the hope of
peace.” (West Bank Settlement Approved) Netanyahu also ended the month by
opening a tunnel to Muslim and Jewish Holy sites that resulted in bloody riots
that killed 76 people.

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The month of October cooled down a bit with an ice breaking summit in
Washington. Netanyahu returned with a change in attitude calling Arafat a
person whom he could resolve problems with. But aside from his change in
demeanor no substantial agreements were made.

In November Israel went on high alert in fear of an attack planned to
disrupt the peace process, possibly on the one year anniversary of the Jihad’s
leader Fathi Shakaki. Again the peace effort was thrown back when the Israeli
government announced plans to double the number of Jewish settlers in the West
Bank. At one point Netanyahu asked the U.S. and Germany to help use their
influence in Iran and Syria to hold the terrorists at bay. Arafat also grew
tired of what he considered to be stalling on the part of the Israeli government.

He called for plans already agreed to, to be put in motion. Netanyahu then
makes a statement that he envisions, “A Palestinian entity with broad power,”
but fell short of declaring full independence. One article called this a sign
that Netanyahu was, “moving towards the Israeli political center.”(Netanyahu
Mulls Palestine Land) Towards the end of November peace talks tookplace about
the redeployment of troops in Hebron. The main issue that stalled the talks was
Israel’s insistence on written agreements that Israeli troops could chase
Palestinian suspects into the city.

In December, peace talks continued and as of now a decision was on the
verge of being reached once final details were worked out. On January 1, 1997 a
Jewish military officer, believed to be mentally disturbed ,walked into a
Palestinian market and opened fire. Waving after being arrested he said,
“Hebron, always and forever.”
Israel also had some serious problems with it’s Arab neighboring
countries. In September Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks to
counter Lebanese guerrillas who had ambushed an Israeli patrol. The guerrillas
are part of Hezbollah, or party of god. Shortly after the attack Lebanon moved
300 commandos to the southern border to, as a Lebanese statement says, “cope
with any Israeli venture in the region.” Both Israel and Lebanon are under
investigation to find if they had broken any cease-fire agreements.

Jordan, Israel’s closest Arab ally issued a blunt statement to Israel
declaring, “Anything can happen if peace is not achieved.”(Rift widening quickly
between Israel and Jordan) Hussein attended a luncheon with Netanyahu, Clinton,
and Arafat saying, “What you need sir, is not the arrogance of power but the
vision that Rabin had… Maybe one day you will have it.”
Israeli-Syrian relations also were greatly strained. Syrian peace talks
have been greatly strained since the May terrorist attacks. As a precondition
for opening up peace talks Syria is demanding the Golan Heights, an area of
tremendous strategic value and Israel’s only ski resort, to be given back to
them. In September, Syria pressured Israel by moving troops closer to Israel
along the Lebanon border. But eventually both sides withdrew. As of now both
sides are at a stand still while Netanyahu continues to approve housing for the
Golan Heights.

The increase of Jewish settlements also angered Egypt another of
Israel’s allies in the Arab world. The West Bank housing will, said an Egyptian
official, “Destroy trust between Israel and it’s Arab neighbors.”
Socially Israel has it’s share of problems. In November an Israeli
lawmaker who advocated a crackdown on violence against women was “under the
spotlight” for allegedly beating his own wife. Haim Dayan was once talking
about wife abusers and said, “I would slice their hands to pieces so that would
be the last time they ever raised their hand to a women.”(Israeli Lawmaker under
spotlight) The women’s rights group, Naamat, estimates that one in every four
women are or will be assaulted by their partners. The reason for this says
Naamat spokeswomen, Carmel is, “The level of violence and anger is very high .

..and it’s influences the family situation. Another Israeli agreed, “Israelis
still live by the sword”
Violence is also frequently seen in the Israeli abuse towards
Palestinians. In November two Israeli border guards were arrested after being
video taped beating and kicking six Palestinian laborers. Israeli and
Palestinian human rights activists claim that such beatings happen all the time
and are designed to instill fear in Palestinians so that they will not try to
get into Israel illegally. In response Yasser Arafat said he would distribute
video cameras to Palestinians living near the checkpoints to monitor further
violence.

Another trend with Israel socially is the ever growing flow of
foreigners into Israel from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. The
foreigners complain of discrimination and abuse from employers who pay low wages
and house them in rat infested hotels. The Labor Ministry estimates that there
are 300,000 foreign workers in Israel and two thirds of them have overstayed
visas and are there illegally. One immigrant commented on the abuse saying,
“Society tolerates it because these people are not Jews.”
On the lighter side there has been a dramatic increase in the UFO
sightings over the Israeli skies. Skeptics say, “Israelis are simply being
swept away by the U.S. pop culture.” The movie Independence day and the series
X-Files are big hits in Israel. A recent Israeli pole finds that one in every
two people believe in Aliens.

Intellectually there has been little change in Israel. One Palestine
city was connected to the internet in November. When a West Bank University
tried to lease dedicated lines to be hooked up to the university it got the run-
around from Israel, so it turned to a new technology developed in Israel,
wireless microwave communications. The technology’s founder says he estimates
to have 3,000 clients a year from now hooked up to the internet.

Religiously there has been many developments in Israel. On September 22
Israel marked a day of atonement, Yom Kippur. Yasser Arafat called Netanyahu to
wish him a happy New Year. On Christmas eve thousands of pilgrims filled
Bethlehem’s 1,600 year old church to celebrate Christmas. At the mass’s sermon
the priest criticized Israel’s rough treatment of Palestinians and religious
leaders on both sides that foster extremism.

Economically Israel has suffered under Netanyahu’s hard-line attitude.

Some cold facts include:
Exports rose only 4 percent(a third of the recent average increase)
Tourism is down 10 percent
Unemployment rose with Israel’s high tech industry reporting losses.

The GNP spent on the military, currently a 10th is now rising.


Netanyahu argued that these problems are inherited but experts cite
rising Arab-Israeli conflict scaring away foreign investment. Koor Industries,
Israel’s largest industrial company reported their third quarter losses at ten
percent. The cause for the loss CEO, Benjamin Gaon, says is Israel’s high
interest rates and the shekels rise against the U.S. dollar.

Towards the end of December Israel, in an attempt to lower the 300
million a month deficit by raising taxes. This, experts claim is a result of
Israel’s economic slowdown. Jacob Frenkel, the governor of the bank of Israel
says that the government should try to focus more on reducing the government
spending(50% of the GNP) than raising taxes. Either way Netanyahu has a tough
road ahead of him to try to keep down inflation and taxes while still trying to
reduce Israeli’s debt.

Under Netanyahu Israel has seen rough times in all aspects. Netanyahu’s
slow change towards the political center will better serve Israel, but is it
going to be in time? Netanyahu’s continued West Bank Housing projects keep
infuriating the Arab world. In Israel’s future I see more bloodshed but hope
still exists for the peace that Prime Minister Rabin had hoped for before his
assassination. Politically I see peace on the horizon with Arafat and the PLO
but see future conflicts with Syria over the Golan Heights. There will be
renewed terrorist attacks with the Israeli pullout from Hebron because political
extremists will not be settled until they obtain all of what they want. The
middle east is one of the most volatile regions in the world so no one knows for
sure what awaits it.
Category: Social Issues