History of the Middle East peace process


The first direct negotiations between all the parties involved in the Middle East conflict took place in Madrid in 1991, marking the start of the Middle East peace process.

Oslo accords

US Secretary of State welcomes the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams
US Secretary of State welcomes the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams© picture alliance / dpa

Secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations then led to a breakthrough, resulting in the Oslo Declaration of Principles signed in Washington on 13 September 1993. This Declaration was intended as a foundation for Palestinian self-government and final status negotiations. In its wake, the Palestinian Authority was established and its powers and responsibilities defined by the 1994 Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area.

Germany was the first country to open a diplomatic mission in the Palestinian territories – initially in Jericho – after the Palestinian Authority was founded. The majority of EU countries now have representations in Ramallah or consulates-general in Jerusalem.In 1996, Oslo II enabled the development of a Palestinian political structure, beginning with elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council and to the office of President of the Palestinian Authority. Oslo II had been signed on 24 September 1995; on 4 November 1995, the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish extremist.

The Second Intifada and peace efforts

The Middle East peace process came to a standstill following the breakdown of negotiations at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and the declaration of the Second Intifada that September.

Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel thwarted efforts for peace. The Palestinian population was entirely dependent on international humanitarian aid. By the end of the Second Intifada in 2005, several thousand had died on both sides.At its summit meeting in Beirut on 27–28 March 2002, the Arab League approved the peace initiative of the then Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. In this Arab Peace Initiative, the Arab states offered Israel normalised relations in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders (including in Jerusalem) and called on Israel to accept a consensual solution for Palestinian refugees.

The Arab Peace Initiative (PDF, 41 KB)

A peace plan for the Middle East: the road map

While violence continued between Israel and Palestinians, the US, the EU, Russia and the UN Secretary-General decided in Madrid on 10 April 2002 to work together as the Middle East Quartet. On the basis of preparatory work by Germany and the EU, the Middle East Quartet developed a peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians, known as the road map, in 2003. The goal is to achieve the two-state solution: Israel and an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, existing side by side within secure and recognised borders. On 3 June 2003, Prime Minister Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Abbas publicly accepted the road map. The UN Security Council approved it on 19 November 2003 and called on the parties to the conflict to meet the obligations laid down in the document.

Roadmap for Peace in the Middle East PDF / 113 KB

Annapolis Conference

After the Second Intifada ended, the peace process gained new momentum with the Middle East conference in Annapolis in November 2007, where Israelis and Palestinians agreed to enter into direct negotiations, the aim of which was to conclude an agreement by the end of 2008. Both sides also reaffirmed their obligations under the road map. After the conference, the Arab League stated that their Arab Peace Initiative offer still stood. In December 2007, direct and secret negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians began.

However, the attempt to reach Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the end of 2008 was unsuccessful. This was due as much to developments in domestic politics as to the complexity of the issues on the negotiating table: Israel’s parliament was dissolved in autumn 2008 and elections held on 10 February 2009. On the Palestinian side, the conflict between the various factions continued. After armed conflict broke out in and around Gaza on 27 December 2008, direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were suspended.

Joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration from the Annapolis conference (PDF, 663 KB)

International efforts

A new phase of the peace process began when US President Barack Obama took office in January 2009. The US, represented by then Special Envoy George Mitchell (2009-2011), worked intensively to broker the resumption of direct talks between the parties. These efforts included convincing Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree to a ten-month moratorium on settlement-building. In September 2010, shortly before the moratorium period was due to end, talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas resumed. Only a few weeks later, however, they broke off again, as Israel was unwilling to accept the Palestinians’ demand that the moratorium be extended beyond the end of September 2010.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2012, President Abbas announced a resolution to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to that of observer state in the UN General Assembly. Israel rejected this step as a unilateral action. On 29 November 2012, the General Assembly passed the resolution. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said the decision underscored the urgency of a resumption of meaningful negotiations. He urged both sides to renew their commitment to a negotiated peace.

During his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in March 2013, US President Barack Obama called for new unconditional negotiations. Secretary of State John Kerry subsequently held confidential talks with the parties on how matters should proceed. In July 2013, the first new direct talks took place, which were scheduled to last nine months. Despite intensive US efforts, however, it was not possible to reach an agreement. Since then, the negotiations have come to a standstill.

Escalation of violence and ceasefire

At the end of October 2012, a new round of violence broke out in and around Gaza. Palestinians fired rockets at southern Israel and Israel reacted with air strikes. In mid-November, the situation became worse: more than 2000 rockets were fired at Israel, which again responded with air strikes. In the end, well over 100 people were killed. Thanks above all to efforts by Egypt, a ceasefire was reached between Israel and those in power in the Gaza Strip, which – apart from the occasional exchange of fire – held until June 2014.

Following the suspension of the peace process, the situation escalated again in June 2014. Following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers on 12 June 2014, several hundred Palestinians were arrested in the course of the Israeli search operation and many people were injured or killed on the Palestinian side. The killing of a Palestinian teenager on 2 July 2014 led to violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis, especially in East Jerusalem. Parallel to these incidents, there has been a massive increase in the number of rockets fired from Gaza at Israel. Israel reacted on 8 July 2014 with the launch of the military operation Protective Edge, which ended with a ceasefire on 26 August 2014. During this period, more than 2200 people were killed.

Since September 2015, there have been clashes on and around Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Violence spread to the West Bank and Israel in October. Over 40 Israelis and 250 Palestinians have been killed since then, mainly in stabbing attacks by Palestinians and interventions by Israeli security forces. The situation has become calmer, but remains volatile.

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