At the end of the 20th century the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, initiated by the historic Oslo accords of 1993, saw the parties bilaterally sign an agreement for the last time, before a crisis of very serious proportions hit the whole region; in the following years, in fact, the outbreak of the second intif ā ḍ a , the electoral victory of A. Sharon (from the right-wing Likud party, Fusion) and the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington (2001) would have radically changed the regional and international scenario, making the clauses of the agreement between the Israeli Labor Prime Minister E. Barak and the Palestinian leader Y. ̔Arafāt, signed in Egypt, in ŠŠarm al-Šayẖ, on 4 September 1999, almost anachronistic. This agreement provided for the achievement of a final and resolving treaty between the parties by September 2000, and the staggering of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank on three dates: September and November 1999, January 2000. Immediately after the approval of the agreement by the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), the government released as planned a first group of 199Palestinian prisoners (another 150 were released the following month), and initiated the transition of 7 % of the West Bank to the Palestinian civilian administration. Towards the end of the year, however, the relaunch of the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank caused the Palestinians to leave the negotiating table. In March 2000, at the same time as the Israeli-Palestinian talks resumed, a further 6.1 % of the territory of the West Bank passed to the Palestinian National Authority. At the same time, the Israeli government announced the unilateral withdrawal of its troops from the so-called security zone in Lebanon, which ended, after an occupation lasting over twenty years, on the 24th.May. The border between the two states still remained a high-risk area, where the militias of Ḥ ezboll ā h (Party of God) operated, a Shiite organization founded in 1982 with Iranian and Syrian support to oust Israel from Lebanese territory, and equipped with of a military wing responsible for numerous terrorist actions. For Israel 2001, please check naturegnosis.com.
In the meantime, pressure was mounting in the Knesset against Barak, hostage of the more orthodox and nationalist religious component of his government, who opposed both the peace process with the Palestinians and the attempt to secularize the life and customs of the country. In July the government entered a serious crisis, and in this delicate domestic political situation the Camp David negotiations were opened, strongly supported by US President B. Clinton and by Barak himself. The complexity of the topics in question, at the heart of which was the East Jerusalem problem and the fate of the Palestinian refugees, led to the failure of the meetings. While for the first time Barak went so far as to question the control, but not the sovereignty, of Israel 242 of the UN (1967). The confrontation between the parties was also hampered by Barak’s refusal to freeze the creation of new settlements in the Palestinian territories and by the Israeli failure to comply with the clauses already agreed upon in the previous agreements signed between the parties. In this context, while the secularization campaign launched by Barak languished (introduction of civil marriage, abolition of the Ministry for Religious Affairs, as well as limitation of privileges for ultra-Orthodox religious), at the end of September the second intif ā broke out. ḍ a , called al-Aqṣā, which spread rapidly from Jerusalem to Gaza and the cities of the West Bank (see also Jerusalem and Palestine). The Palestinian revolt increasingly threatened the now precarious political coalition that supported Barak, and in December he announced special elections for the post of prime minister, in which the roster of contenders would be limited to members of the Knesset only.
The elections of February 2001 saw a 62 % voter rate, the lowest ever recorded in Israel to date. Barak was defeated with 37.6 % of the vote, while Sharon, the Likud leader after the resignation of B. Netanyahu in 1999, obtained 62.4 % and was charged with forming the new government. Eight parties, including Likud , Mifleget ha-Avodah ha-Yisra’elit (Israeli Labor Party) and Shas ( Shomrei Torah Sephardim , Sephardi Guardians of the Torah), the leading ultra-Orthodox religious party, formed this broad government of national unity. As the level of confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians rose, and the construction of new settlements east of Jerusalem continued, Sharon, in response to the escalation of Palestinian attacks on settlers, ordered the entry of the army into the territories of the Gaza Strip administered by the Palestinian National Authority (April-May). Between May and June a state of creeping war had already prevailed in the region, dramatically characterized by the suicide attacks of Islamic Ǧ ih ā d and Ḥamās ( Ḥarakat al-Muqāwama al-Islāmiyya , Islamic resistance movement, founded in Gaza in 1987) against Israeli civilians (e.g., in Tel Aviv on 1 June in front of a nightclub, with 20 dead and over 120 wounded). In the Palestinian territories, meanwhile, the number of innocent victims of the violent Israeli reprisals was growing, and the economic and living conditions worsened considerably.