The Offspring of Intifada and the Madrid Conference

An excerpt from:

Israel and Palestine Book


Within a week of the children launching the first stones in 1987, the Muslim religious organisation HAMAS was formed, with the stated aim of reuniting Palestine and destroying Israel.

Another group to be inspired by the rebellious youth were the Arabs of Israel. Back in 1948, when most had fled the Jewish half of Palestine in the War of Independence, some people chose to remain in their homes. Although these die-hards were awarded only second-class citizenship in the Jewish state, they still fared better than those who fled to the refugee camps. The latter had left everything behind and were denied the right to ever return.

Israeli Arabs represented almost a fifth of the population, and their expression of solidarity with the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories frightened the Jewish state, who now believed they had an enemy within.

The final source of support for the Palestinian uprising came from the ‘Peace Now’ movement, established to protest the siege of Lebanon, and organisers of the 350,000-person march in Tel Aviv.

Then, the PLO finally announced their acceptance of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, accepting the original two-state solution and recognising Israel’s right to exist. This lay the groundwork for peace. The US, for one, saw the possibilities this represented and, compared to HAMAS, the PLO was the preferred negotiating partner.

But Israel was still caught like a rabbit in the headlights of the Intifada. The rebellion was still going strong, with no sign of abating. To prevent youths launching stones, Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered that they be beaten and their bones broken.

Curfews were introduced, sometimes for days at a time, to impose order on the recalcitrant Arabs. Olive groves were destroyed, depriving people of food and livelihood.

Homes were demolished in acts of collective punishment. Beforehand, a ministerial order was required to raze a house to the ground. That responsibility was now devolved to area commanders.

In the first year of the Intifada, 311 Palestinians were killed, over 50 of them children under the age of 16. Thousands were wounded. Tens of thousands were arrested. More than 500 homes were demolished.

With an uncompromising Israeli government in power, the uprising was set to continue with varying intensity until 1993, a six-year war. The Intifada only abated when there came a hope of peace.


After almost a decade of fighting, the war between Iran and Iraq came to an end in 1988. The cessation of hostilities saw the continuing Intifada threaten to return the Palestinian cause to the international stage, but then came Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It seemed the Occupied Territories might be pushed down the agenda once again.

Instead, Saddam offered to obey the United Nations’ Resolutions and withdraw from Kuwait, if only Israel would similarly comply with her own obligations. Instead, Israel joined Syria and Saudi Arabia and the allied forces to oust Iraq from its southern province.

With the defeat of Saddam, America was keen to reward the Arab countries that had supported the war effort. It was time to put some pressure on Israel.

Syria, the Lebanese, the Jordanians, and a Palestinian delegation all agreed to appear at an international peace conference to be held in Madrid in October 1991. Israel responded to the invitation by promoting hard-liners such as Rehavam Ze’evi to the government and announced a plan to double the number of Jewish Settlements in the West Bank.

Their plan was to scupper the deal before the parties even got to the table, but the USA was not about to let down her new allies and threatened to withhold a series of loans to the Israeli government if she did not comply.

The Knesset backed down, and Yitzhak Shamir agreed to appear in person, even though the conference was only aimed at Foreign Ministers.

President George Bush Senior opened the talks. He outlined the agenda. The ultimate goal was for ‘total withdrawal from the Occupied Territories in exchange for peaceful relations.’

The enormity of the task became apparent when the Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, denounced the Israeli Prime Minister. He held up a photograph showing Shamir as a 32-year-old man in an old British ‘Wanted’ poster.

Al-Sharaa called Shamir a terrorist, a terrorist accused of the murder of Count Bernadotte, the UN official in charge of the partition talks in 1948. ‘This man kills peace negotiators,’ said the Syrian minister.

Shamir responded by calling the Palestinian delegates terrorists, this despite the fact the PLO had been excluded from talks and in their place were a group of moderates and intellectuals.

It didn’t matter. The discussions descended into farce, and there was never any prospect of peace emerging.

As the Israeli Prime Minister later confirmed, ‘I was happy to keep talking for another ten years. By that time, there would be half a million Jews in the West Bank and it would be too late for the Arabs to do anything about it.’

The Madrid conference came to a close, but a modicum of communication had been established, some of which would later prove fruitful.

For Yitzhak Shamir, despite his truculence, the fact he’d appeared at the talks at all angered the extremist groups keeping his coalition government in power.

A vote of no confidence in his leadership was returned in the Knesset, early elections were held in June 1992, and Shamir was defeated. In his wake came the Labour candidate who offered both the Israelis and the Palestinians their best chance of peace. His name was Yitzhak Rabin.