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The Gulf War

Armoured vehicles of the Coalition Forces in Kuwait, 1991 Photo HH
Armoured vehicles of the Coalition Forces in Kuwait, 1991 Photo HH

On 2 August 1990, Iraqi air and ground forces invaded neighbouring Kuwait. The United Nations mandated an international coalition, led by the United States, to drive the forces of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. American President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker succeeded in forming a coalition of 34 nations, including eight Arab countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Syria, and units of the Kuwaiti Armed Forces that had escaped across the border to Saudi Arabia. Jordan, Yemen and the PLO on the other hand politically supported Saddam Hussein. On 17 January 1991, the coalition commenced with air operations against Iraqi positions in both Kuwait and Iraq, followed on 23 February by a massive ground assault over a very wide front, Operation Desert Storm. A hundred hours later the battle was over. During this so-called Gulf War Iraq launched Scud missiles on targets in both Saudi Arabia and Israel, in an attempt to provoke Israeli retaliation, which could have divided the coalition. Under American pressure, Israel did not retaliate.

Madrid Conference

US President George Bush Sr. speaking at the Madrid Conference
US President George Bush Sr. speaking at the Madrid Conference

Shortly after the liberation of Kuwait, Washington considered the time right (also in return for the Arab support) to organize a multilateral Middle East peace conference in Madrid (Spain, 30 October – 1 November 1991). Besides the United States and (formal host) the Soviet Union, delegations from Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon attended the meeting as well as representatives of Egypt, the Gulf Cooperation Council (as an observer delegation), and the European Union. The PLO – which experienced a severe drop in funding and political backing following its support of Iraq during the Gulf War – was not invited. Instead, prominent personalities from the West Bank (except from occupied East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip – all close to the PLO – were added to the Jordanian delegation, which thus became twice the size of the other Arab delegations present. Plenary multilateral talks on a ministerial level were followed by bilateral negotiations between Israel, Jordan/Palestinians, Syria, and Lebanon. Subgroups in which experts participated dealt with issues such as the Jewish settlements, water, refugees, and so forth.

Multilateral and bilateral talks and negotiations continued for months, without much result. Israel did not succeed in achieving a separate peace agreement with Jordan. The talks with Syria became deadlocked on the issue of total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The Palestinian delegation stuck to its demand of recognition by Israel of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, the dismantlement of the Jewish settlements, the establishment of a Palestinian state, and a solution for the refugees.

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