The uprising of 1987 to 1990 that saw Palestinian youths facing down Israeli armor with stones and Molotov cocktails may have been an expression of hopelessness and despair. But it led to something that was, at the time, considered a victory: The Madrid Conference, followed by the Oslo Accord, the return of Yasser Arafat to Palestinian territory, the raising of the Palestinian flag and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority to preside over the infrastructure of self-governance ahead of a transition to Palestinian statehood.
Many Israelis and Palestinians saw these developments as launching an irreversible momentum toward ending the conflict by creating a Palestinian state at peace with Israel. That remained conventional wisdom among many for the first six years after Rabin’s assassination, despite election of Benjamin Netanyahu — an implacable opponent of Oslo — as prime minister. Many viewed even the ongoing settlement expansion as an irrelevant, last-gasp provocation from the right that would inevitably be reversed when a final agreement was concluded.
For Palestinians, however, the ongoing settlement expansion not only meant more land confiscated and increased restrictions on their freedom of movement; it was also taken as a sign that Israel had no real intention of withdrawing from the occupied territories.
The failure of the Camp David and Taba talks to conclude the Oslo process confirmed that suspicion in the minds of many, and what followed was the second intifada and the suicide bombings and the Israeli army’s reoccupation of much of the West Bank.
Ariel Sharon, whose provocative show of force in the precincts of Al-Aqsa Mosque in August of 2000 triggered the protests that marked the start of the second intifada, used the suicide bombings to justify building the security barrier, which was planned under previous governments. Sharon, a longtime champion of the settler movement, was elected prime minister in 2001 and used the building of the wall as an excuse to carry out a land grab — its route deviated from the Green Line boundary between Israel and the occupied territories, resulting in the uprooting and dispersion of Palestinians whose homes were demolished and the separation of villages from their farmland to make room for the wall.
Those settlements have only expanded in the ensuing decade, gobbling up more privately held Palestinian land, while the Palestinian Authority has coordinated with Israel to suppress all political and security challenges. Even more desperate is the plight of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, who live in squalor and despair as more and more settlers arrive, in violation of international law but sanctioned by Israel’s courts and under the protection of Israeli security forces.