1996 In Review

The following is a look back at significant events related to the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East in general, which took place during 1996:

Jan. 5: Yahya Ayyash, a leading member of Hamas is assassinated by a rigged portable phone in the Gaza Strip. It is believed that the Israeli security service "Shin Bet" was behind the killing.

Jan. 9: More than 50 countries and international organizations attend a donors' conference in Paris and pledge $865 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Jan. 16: U.S. Vice President Al Gore visits Jericho and meets with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Jan. 20: The first Palestinian general election for the Presidency of the Palestinian Authority and the Legislative Council takes place. Voter turnout in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem is heavy, averaging 80%.

Feb. 10: The Palestinian Central Election Commission (CEC) declares final results of the election. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat receives 87.1% of the vote against 9.6% for his challenger, Mrs. Samiha Khalil. Breakdown of seats in the Council includes: Fatah, 50 seats; independents (including seven members associated with Islamic groups), 37; and one seat for FIDA, formerly the Democratic Front.

Feb. 25: Two suicide-bombers blow themselves up, killing 25 Israelis and injuring 77 others. One explosion takes place in West Jerusalem and the other in the southern town of Ashkelon. A statement is issued by the "Students of the Engineer" claiming responsibility.

March 3: Another bomb explodes in an Israeli bus in Jerusalem, killing 19 people and injuring ten others. Again, an armed wing of Hamas claims responsibility.

March 4: Fourth suicide bomb attack occurs in Tel Aviv, killing 14 people and injuring 130 others.

March 7: The Palestinian Legislative Council is inaugurated and convenes for the first time in Gaza City, declaring the "birth of a new democracy in the Middle East".

March 13: Leaders of 27 nations attend a one-day "Summit of Peacemakers" in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and discuss terrorism and peace in the Middle East. The summit was called for and co-chaired by U.S. President Bill Clinton and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

April 15: The U.N. Security Council holds a meeting on the situation in the occupied territories and discusses Israel's closure of the territories. The meeting was requested by the Palestinian Mission with the support of the Arab Group. No action was taken by the Council due to U.S. objection.

April 19: On the ninth day of a broad Israeli military operation against Lebanon, the army fires an artillery barrage into a United Nations peace-keeping camp in Qana in southern Lebanon, killing more than 100 Lebanese civilians and injuring more than 100 others.

April 21: The Palestine National Council holds its twenty-first session in Gaza City for the first time since 1964. After four days of deliberation the Council decides by majority vote to "abrogate the provisions of the PLO Charter that are contrary to the exchanged letters between the PLO and the Government of Israel of 9 and 10 September 1993". The PNC also reelects Mr. Yasser Arafat as the Chairman of the Executive Committee and elects the other members of the Committee.

April 29: The Labor Party Council approves a platform for the Israeli general election, removing the opposition for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

May 1: Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority, makes his first official visit to the United States and meets with President Bill Clinton at the White House.

May 5: Israeli and Palestinian delegations start the first session of the second stage of negotiations on the final settlement in the Red Sea resort of Taba.

May 12: Israeli government decides to allocate 11 million shekels ($3.4 million) to be invested in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Israeli Peace Now Movement protests the government's decision and calls it "political bribery".

May 29: Israeli elections take place on the basis of a new system in which the electorate votes directly for the Prime Minister, in addition to electing the members of the parliament.

 

May 30: It becomes clear that Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu has defeated the incumbent Shimon Peres by a slim margin. Later Mr. Netanyahu is officially declared the elected Prime Minister of Israel with 50.3% of the vote against 49.6% for Mr. Peres.

June 22: Arab Summit is convened in Cairo, Egypt for two days. The summit, in its final communique, reaffirms the participants' commitment to peace and issues a warning to the new government of Israel to adhere to the "land-for-peace" principle as the basis for the peace process.

July 11: For the first time, Palestine participates in the Olympic games at the 100th Olympiad in Atlanta, Georgia.

July 16: UNRWA inaugurates its headquarters in the Gaza Strip after 18 years of running operations from the U.N. office in Vienna.

July 19: Israeli government revives plans to build two highways and two bridges through the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

 

Aug. 2: Israeli Cabinet votes unanimously to lift a freeze on expansion and construction of settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Aug. 27: The Israeli army and police demolish the building of the Burj al-Laqlaq Society in the Old City of Jerusalem, which provides services for children, the handicapped and the elderly.

Aug. 27: The Israeli Defense Minister approves plans to immediately build 900 new units in the settlement of Kiryat Sefer in the West Bank.

Sept. 4: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Yasser Arafat for the first time at Beit Hanon crossing point between Israel and Gaza Strip.

Sept. 9: Socialist International convenes it twentieth congress at U.N. headquarters in New York. During deliberations of the congress, Fatah, the mainstream PLO faction, is admitted to the Socialist International as an observer. The congress also adopts a resolution on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, recognizing the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and statehood.

Sept. 17: The Israeli Defense Minister approves further plans to build 1,800 more units in the Matityahu settlement in the West Bank.

Sept. 24: The Israeli government opens a tunnel in the vicinity of Al-Haram Al-Sharif. Palestinians demonstrate against the Israeli action throughout the occupied Palestinian territory. On 25 September, several Palestinian demonstrators are shot dead and many injured. In the ensuing days demonstrations continue and clashes take place between the Palestinian police and the Israeli soldiers, resulting in casualties on both sides. The Israeli army uses tanks and gun helicopters against both Palestinian police and civilians. The events result in the killing of 69 Palestinians, 15 Israeli soldiers and one Egyptian.

Sept. 28: U.N. Security Council reacts to the situation and adopts resolution 1073 (1996) by a vote of 14 to 0, with the U.S. abstaining. The resolution expresses deep concern about the tragic events and calls for the immediate cessation and reversal of all acts which have resulted in the aggravation of the situation, and also calls for the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians.

Oct. 2: A summit takes place at the White House in Washington upon invitation by President Clinton and is attended by President Arafat, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and King Hussein of Jordan. Summit fails to produce agreement, but it is agreed that negotiations will resume on 6 October.

Oct. 8: President Arafat visits Israel to meet with President Ezer Weizman at his home in Caesarea in northern Israel.

Oct. 15: King Hussein of Jordan makes his first visit, since 1967, to the West Bank, arriving to a formal reception in Jericho.

Oct. 23: French President Jacques Chirac becomes the first world leader to address the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah. He also visits Gaza, receiving an unprecedented, warm reception.

Nov. 12: A two-day Middle East and North Africa Economic Conference convenes in Cairo, Egypt.

Nov. 12: The Palestinian Department of Statistics releases its 1996 census report, announcing that there are 2.53 million Palestinians living in the Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.

Nov. 18: Israeli government approves construction of 1,200 housing units in the settlement of Emmanuel in the West Bank.

Nov. 18: About 4,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails carry out a one-day hunger strike.

Nov. 29: The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is celebrated. At U.N. headquarters in New York, the U.N. Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly, among others, address a solemn meeting.

Dec. 5: European Union's first Middle East peace envoy, Miguel Angel Moratinos, begins his work.

Dec. 13: Israeli government decides to grant settlements in the West Bank and Gaza vast incentive programs as a national priority area.

Dec. 21: Dennis Ross, the American Middle East envoy, returns to the region and conducts intensive negotiations with the aim of reaching agreement on the Israeli redeployment from Al-Khalil (Hebron) and other steps in the framework of the peace process.

Note: During 1996, the Israeli authorities repeatedly imposed a siege upon the Occupied Palestinian Territory for a total period of nine months. The siege was imposed on 5 January for a week, lifted only for three days and imposed for five months before it was partially lifted on 22 July. From 25 September until 10 November, towns and villages in the West Bank were isolated by the Israeli military in addition to the overall siege of the territory, after which the siege was partially lifted.