Ted Thornton
History of the Middle East Database
Oslo and Aftermath
1993 - 1994
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Yasir Arafat 696.JPG (53015 bytes)
Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat (1929-2004) (photo: al-Majalla)

1993   From January 20-22, Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Quraya ("Abu Ala") and Israeli negotiator Yair Hirschfeld conducted initial secret talks in Norway that led to the Oslo agreement the following fall. Other talks took place in London. 

On February 15, Israeli security forces blew up ten Palestinian homes in Gaza searching for fugitive members of HAMAS.

In March 1993, the World Trade Center in New York City (United States) was bombed by a militant Arab group some members of which were trained by CIA operatives to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan.  Among those convicted in the attack was Egyptian Islamic cleric Umar Abd al-Rahman, one of the leaders of the jihad movement in Egypt and the spiritual leader of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya which was, at the same time, trying to overthrow the government of Egypt and set up an Islamic government there.  Abd al-Rahman had been tried in Egypt in connection with the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, but was eventually released. 

From March 12 -19, 1993, India was torn by riots in Bombay and Calcutta in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya by Hindu nationalists.  1,200 were killed. (more violence in 2002). 

On June 26, 1993, United States President Clinton ordered a missile attack (23 Tomahawk missiles) on Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in retaliation for an alleged plot by Iraqi agents to assassinate former President George Bush as he visited Kuwait in April. On June 5, 1994, a court in Kuwait convicted ten Iraqis and three Kuwaitis in connection with the plot. 

In July, Israel mounted a massive air attack against Hizbullah strongholds in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah commandos had killed seven Israeli soldiers and fired Katyusha rockets into northern Israeli towns. In response, Israel launched "Operation Accountability, a week-long series of air, artillery, and naval assaults during which 130 Lebanese were killed and 300,000 fled their homes.

The Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs featured an article by Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington entitled "The Clash of Civilizations" (a phrase he borrowed from Bernard Lewis) in which he predicted that the war of the future would pit one civilization against another. In the context of the Islamic world, he meant an impending war between Islam and the West. Editors of Foreign Affairs reported that no single article had generated so much discussion since George Kennan wrote an article in the same journal in 1947 arguing for a policy of "containment" with respect to the Soviet Union.  Huntington's critics were numerous (see, for example, Richard Bulliet) and included Edward Said, who argued that cultures worldwide were too mixed and that to divide them off against one another as sharply as Huntington had done amounted to trading in caricatures (an offense Said himself had been accused of committing in his book Orientalism). Indonesian lawyer Karim Raslan ( "The Islam Gap," New York Times Op-Ed piece, Feb. 15, 2006) was another who argued against unitary portraits of cultures. Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma writing in 2004 ("Seeds of Revolution," The New York Review of Books, vol. 51, no.4, March 11, 2004) said, "the fault lines do not coincide with national, ethnic, or religious borders. Moderate Muslims in Indonesia and Pakistan are as much the targets of Islamist zealotry as Westerners," and, "we have not been witnessing the Manichaean history of one civilization at war with another. On the contrary, it is a tale of cross-contamination, the spread of bad ideas": ideas such as radical, abstract Jacobinism exported out of Europe and into the late colonial and post-colonial Middle East where it found fertile ground in the Islamist revival movements taking shape there. (See also "Wars of Words and Images") All of this notwithstanding, by 2008, Huntington's thesis had begun to achieve a new cachet even with former critics like Fouad Ajami, who wrote, "Nearly 15 years on, Huntington's thesis about a civilizational clash seems more compelling to me than the critique I provided at the time." ("The Clash," New York Times Book Review, Jan. 6, 2008, 10).

On August 13, 1993, Israel ended the official ban on talking to the PLO. Later in the month the world was stunned to learn that the Israelis and the PLO had been meeting secretly in Oslo, Norway for months hammering out an agreement.

On September 13, 1993, following months of secret meetings between representatives from the two sides in Norway, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Yitzak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, signed their historic "Declaration of Principles" (DOP text at MidEastWeb) on the lawn of the White House. Known also as the Oslo Accord and the "Jericho-Gaza First Agreement," the pact set into motion a five year transitional designed to lead toward "autonomy" for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Arafat had come under mounting pressure from circles inside and outside the PLO to do something to move the peace process along.  For all of the fanfare, Arafat and Rabin were both widely believed to have made a "peace of the weak." Arafat’s disastrous decision to back Saddam Hussein’s claims to Kuwait in 1990 alienated the PLO from nearly all members of the Arab anti-Iraqi coalition, especially Saudi Arabia which had bankrolled the PLO from the beginning. PLO coffers had all but dried up and Arafat had found himself increasingly unable to control events and wield influence over either extremist or moderate elements inside the Palestinian territories. Rabin, too, had faced mounting internal political pressure from Israelis across the whole spectrum.

That the 1993 Oslo Accords "deck" was stacked in favor of Israel and to the disadvantage of the Palestinians was seen most quickly by the hardliners on both sides:  Palestinian extremists began resorting to commando attacks to upset the accord, and, Israeli extremists began to use Oslo as license to grab more and more Palestinian land and resort to vigilante attacks upon Palestinians.  By 1996 the lopsided nature of the agreement became statistically demonstrable.  A United Nations report that year  indicated that Gaza's per capita GNP had fallen by 37% since 1992, the year before Oslo, and total GNP had declined by 18.5%. In the first six months following Oslo, unemployment in Gaza rose by 8.2% to reach 39.2%.  Real wages in Gaza dropped 9.6% during 1995.  Salaries of Gazans working in Israel dropped 16%.  (UN Special Coordinator for the occupied territories (UNSCO), Economic and Social Conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Gaza, October, 1996) cited in Amira Hass, Drinking the Sea at Gaza, trans. by Elana Wesley and Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta (New York:   Henry Holt, 1996), 345.  Oslo turned Palestine into a checkerboard of Israeli controlled domains interspersed among Palestinian controlled areas.  Israeli and Palestinian authorities were supposed to coordinate security to keep both peoples moving easily across the zones.  What happened instead was a grotesque lengthening of an already tense border.  With increasing violence came a proliferation of checkpoints, but everyone quickly realized that maintaining security would be immensely more difficult.  The seeds of the second intifada (begins in September, 2000) were sown here.  (For information on the first intifada, click here)

As of the summer of 1995, not a single one of the deadlines called for in the pact had been met on time. Violence on both sides and Israeli foot dragging impeded the process.

On October 4, a Palestinian drove a booby trapped car filled with explosives into an Israeli bus in the West Bank wounding 29.

In Saudi Arabia in 1993, anti-government opposition from Wahhabi theologians continued to grow, especially in such cities as Buraydah.   (see more below) 

Also in 1993, Tansu Ciller, head of the secularist "True Path" party, became the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister in Turkey.

1994  On February 25, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, an Israeli-American physician, member of the militant Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron, and former disciple of Jewish Defense League founder, Meir Kahane, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on early morning Palestinian Muslim worshippers at the Machpelah Cave gravesite of the Patriarch Abraham killing 29. Riots broke out in the territories. Calls to disarm the settlers arose amidst fear of civil strife between militant settlers and Israeli government forces.

In April, Palestinians bombed two Israeli buses killing 15 and wounding 70.

Meanwhile, the peace process lurched along. After many delays and threats of derailment, an accord was signed by Arafat and Rabin in Cairo on May 5 paving the way for self-government in Jericho and Gaza to begin.

In May, 1994, Christian Armenia and Muslim Azerbaijan agreed to a ceasefire in their struggle over the area called Nagorno-Karabakh, which was primarily populated by Armenians.  Fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia began in 1988 and escalated after both countries achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. When the fighting ended, Armenia held not only Nagorno-Karabakh, but a portion of Azerbaijan as well. (See general history of Armenia, 1918)  (Source:  CIA Factbook, http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/am.html). 

Again after many delays and threats to retreat, Yasser Arafat, at 3:15 p.m. on July 1, 1994 crossed the border from Egypt into Gaza at Rafah to take control of Gaza and Jericho.

On July 17, sixteen days after Arafat's triumphal return to Gaza, the so called "Bread Intifada" (uprising) took place at the Erez Checkpoint, the main entry and exit point between Israel and Gaza.  Palestinian workers, exhausted from rising before dawn to endure long lines, searches, and harassment at the checkpoint, began a shoving match with Israeli guards. The guards had closed the line after several Palestinian workers without permits tried to sneak through.  At the end of the day, four were dead:  three Gazan workers shot by an Israeli soldier and one Israeli guard killed by Palestinian police. 

On the diplomatic level, the pace quickened further when, in mid July,1994 it was announced that Israel and Jordan were close to an agreement ending the nearly 46 year long official state of war between the two nations (since the 1948 war). It was revealed that King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin had met secretly several times over the preceding months. On July 25, 1994, again on the White House lawn, Rabin and the king signed a preliminary pact. The formal treaty was signed on October 26,1994. Among other points, the accord stipulated that Israel recognized the "special role" of Jordan in overseeing the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. This point infuriated Arafat who regarded it as an effort by Israel and Jordan to deny Palestinian autonomy over East Jerusalem which Arafat considered the capital of the future Palestinian state.

By August, 1994, after scarcely a month on the job, the Arafat controlled Palestine National Authority (PNA) began receiving complaints about harassment of newspaper editors who criticized it, and appointments and dismissals apart from due process. Complaints widened later in the fall to include arbitrary imprisonment of opponents, bribery, corruption, cronyism, and mismanagement of funds provided by international donors for construction and improvements to the infrastructure of PNA controlled areas. PNA financial mismanagement caused donor nations to withhold promised monies until Arafat brought his house to order.

On August 5, 1994, NATO entered the war in Bosnia on behalf of besieged Muslim Bosnians

On August 19, controversial Jewish philosopher, social critic, and biochemist Yeshayahu Leibowitz died at the age of 91 in Jerusalem. A Zionist and Orthodox Jew, Leibowitz advocated the strict separation of state from religion and infuriated many of his Israeli countrymen by warning that soldiers who followed orders to serve in the Israeli occupied territories were in danger of becoming "Judeo-Nazis." He advocated the "two-state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Anti-Saudi Wahhabi Muslim dissidents continued to put pressure on the Saudi royal family to initiate reforms. One of them, Muhammad al-Masari, worked from his home in exile in London.  In September, 1994, a group of Wahhabi clerics led a march through the streets of the city of Buraydah protesting government corruption and immoral behavior on the part of officials.  Buraydah was in the traditional heartland of the tribe of Saud, and so the government was unnerved.  The event came to be known as the "Buraydah Uprising."  The government jailed many of the leaders including fiery preacher Safar al-Hawali and another influential preacher named Sheikh Salman al-Oudah (who was considered so dangerous he was held for five years). Hawali and Oudah were the leaders of the sahwa ("awakening") movement, which blended radical Wahhabi teachings with the thought of Sayyid Qutb.  In 1998, there was more trouble in Buraydah when protesters hoisted Islamic banners on the minarets of mosques to protest Saudi rule (the protest went on for 48 hours before it was put down by the National Guard).

Also, in September 1994, in Afghanistan a new Islamist faction, the Taliban ("students") led by 35 year old Muhammad Omar rose up. 

On October 14, 1994, Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed and seriously wounded on a Cairo street by an extremist who claimed to be acting in accordance with the beliefs of Islam.

Also in October, Jordan and Israel signed their peace treaty. For the parties to the Oslo Accord, however, October was a bad month. On the ninth, HAMAS militants opened fire on a crowded Jerusalem street killing two and wounding thirteen. On the 16th, a nineteen year old Israeli corporal who had been kidnapped by Arab extremists, was killed when IDF forces raided the building where he was being held. On October 19, 1994, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up an Israeli bus in Tel Aviv killing 22 and wounding 48. (more on the history of the tactic of suicide bombings in Middle East resistance movements.  See other attacks below and in the mid-nineties.)

On November 11, a Palestinian suicide bomber rode his bicycle into an Israeli army post outside the Netzarim settlement near Gaza killing three Israeli officers and wounding 11, including some Palestinian bystanders.

On November 17 (al-Juma al-Aswad - "Black Friday"), PNA police killed 14 HAMAS followers and wounded 100 in a shootout at a Gaza mosque. Economic and social unrest in Gaza mounted and Arab newspapers began to speak openly of fears of "civil war."

On Christmas day, a member of Arafat's Gaza police force blew himself up at a bus stop in Jerusalem wounding 12.


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Last Revised: January 7, 2008