From June to December 2003
Hopes for progress toward resolution of the conflict and the implementation of the Roadmap gave way to concern with the Abbas government’s end; in fact, the resignation of Abbas suggested to many observers that the Roadmap was in danger of imminent collapse. The Roadmap sought a way for the parties to deal with each other without the involvement or interference of Arafat, but this proved futile. The hope had been that without the involvement of Arafat (who was seen as involved in the terrorism that characterized the period since the failure of Camp David II), progress could be made, but Arafat could not be sidelined and Abbas was forced to resign.
In late August 2003, a suicide bomber, a 29-year-old Muslim cleric disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, blew himself up on a bus full of Jewish families returning from prayers at a Jerusalem shrine and killed more than 18 people. This was seen by the Israelis as a hudna-breaker. Abbas launched a bid to salvage the shattered truce and the Roadmap by cracking down on terrorists among the Palestinians.
Other terrorist acts followed, and Israel’s military soon retaliated. ultimately, Abbas resigned out of frustration over Arafat’s refusal to cede control over security and other issues, and Arafat made a phoenix-like comeback in the fall of 2003.At different times, Israel has used various methods to deal with the threat of Palestinian terrorism. Increasingly, a dual strategy of creating a barrier to the entry of terrorists into Israel and military actions against terrorists was employed.
After the collapse of the Palestinian hudna, to stop terrorist attacks, Israel decided to approve the next phase in the construction of barriers in the West Bank to shield Jewish settlements there.On September 9, Prime Minister Sharon instructed the security forces to act “relentlessly, continuously and determinedly” to eliminate the terrorist organizations and take all appropriate measures against their leaders, commanders, and operatives until their criminal activity was halted.
This led Israel to decide, in principle, on September 11, 2003, to “remove” Arafat. A cabinet communiqué issued that day noted: “Events of recent days have reiterated and proven again that yasser Arafat is a complete obstacle to any process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel will work to remove this obstacle in a manner, and at a time, of its choosing.” Secretary Powell rejected either the elimination or exile of Arafat as a flawed idea.
By the third anniversary of the start of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the situation had deteriorated for both Israelis and Palestinians. Economic conditions had weakened and the general security situation was worse. little progress had been made toward achieving a solution of the ArabIsraeli conflict. The last hope was for a new Palestinian prime minister who could operate somewhat independently of Arafat.
On October 4, a suicide bomber ran into a crowded seaside restaurant in Haifa and detonated explosives that killed more than 19 people, including children. The united States condemned the act as a vicious act of terrorism and underlined the responsibility of the Palestinian authorities to fight terror and dismantle the infrastructure of terror.
The following day, October 5, Israeli warplanes bombed what they called an Islamic Jihad training base in Syria in retaliation for the suicide bombing. Israel noted that any country that harbors terrorism, trains terrorists, and supports and encourages them will have to answer for their actions. On October 6, President Bush said that Israel should not feel constrained in defending itself against terrorism. The united States would not condemn Sharon’s decision to stage an air strike into Syria in response to the Haifa suicide bombing.
The replacement of Abbas suggested a new period of potential. On November 12, the Palestinian parliament approved Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) as prime minister and his cabinet by a narrow margin. Qureia was a member of the PlO who served as director of finance for Arafat and led the delegation that negotiated the Oslo Accords with Israel. In his first speech, Qureia called for a mutual and comprehensive cease-fire with Israel and urged Palestinians to reject the “chaos on the ground. . . .
We are not terrorists and we shall never be. Our struggle has never been directed against children, women and civilians. . . . We reject it, we condemn it and we refuse it.”The selection of Qureia suggested to the united States and Israel that negotiations and relations might get back on track to improve the situation. It was soon accompanied by a flurry of private activity to move Israel and the Palestinians in the same direction.