Israel | 2014 Brings New Military Legislation, Presidential Election, and More Conflict with Palestine
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- Israel Criticised for Attacks on Lebanon
- New Hope for Peace as Leaders Return to Bargaining Table
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- Unaffordable Housing Costs Cause Mass Protests
- Terrorist Attacks Threaten Peace with Egypt
- The Palestinians Request Membership to UN, Give up on Talks with Israel
- Gilad Shalit Released After More Than Five Years
- Exploratory Talks with Palestine Stall while Tension with Iran Increases
- Report Confirms Suspicions over Iran's Nuclear Program
- Violence Erupts with Hamas in November 2012
- 2013 Election Shows a Slight Move to the Center for Israel
- Netanyahu Maintains Tough Stance against Iran and Peace Talks Resume with Palestine
- 2014 Brings New Military Legislation, Presidential Election, and More Conflict with Palestine
- Netanyahu Makes Controversial Speech to U.S. Congress, Wins 2015 Election, Faces Worst Violence in Years
2014 Brings New Military Legislation, Presidential Election, and More Conflict with Palestine
On March 12, 2014, Israel's Parliament passed legislation eliminating exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis. The issue has long been debated in the country where most 18-year-olds, men and women, serve in the military for up to three years. Ultra-Orthodox students enrolled in seminaries have been exempt in the past. The legislation passed by a 65-1 vote. The law included a modest quota for drafting ultra-Orthodox students, an adjustment period of three years where increased service would be encouraged and a threat of penalties for draft evasion. Ultra-Orthodox leaders reacted with threats to end their own current volunteer movement that encourages members of their community to join the military.
President Shimon Peres announced that he would not run for a second term in 2014, even though polls showed that 63% of Israelis preferred that he remained in office. If he were to run, legislation would have needed to be changed because Israel's constitutional law currently permits only one term for the presidency. The election was held on June 10, with Reuven Rivlin beating Meir Sheetrit of the Hatnuah party in a runoff, by a parliament vote of 63-53. Opposed to a Palestinian state, the 74-year-old Rivlin has a strained relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu and a reputation for being politically independent.
Later in June, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed while hiking in the occupied West Bank. Their bodies were recovered days later and a burial was held in early July. The day after their burial, the burned body of a missing Palestinian teenager was found in a forest near Jerusalem. The incidents increased tension between Israelis and Palestinians, including riots in East Jerusalem and an exchange of rocket fire in Southern Israel and Gaza, where Israel targeted Hamas. Netanyahu asked the Israeli police to investigate what he called "the abominable murder" of the Palestinian teenager in what may have been a revenge killing in reaction to the death of the three Israeli teenagers. Within a week, several Israeli Jewish suspects were arrested in connection with the killing of the Palestinian teen. Meanwhile, Hamas leaders praised the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers, but did not take credit for the incident.
The situation continued to escalate throughout July. Hundreds of rockets were launched into Israel by militant groups in Gaza. The rockets reached areas in Israel that previous rocket attacks could not, such as outskirts of Jerusalem. In response, Israel launched an aerial offensive in Gaza, killing dozens of Palestinians. On July 17, Israel launched a ground offensive into Gaza. Israeli officials said that the mission's main focus was tunnels near Gaza's borders that were being used by Hamas to enter Israel. As the violence continued and the casualties mounted on both sides, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Egyptian, Israeli, and Palestinian leaders to negotiate a cease-fire. In the midst of his urgent diplomatic outreach, 16 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded in an attack on a UN elementary school in Gaza on July 24. Israel denied launching the attack, saying Hamas militants were responsible, missing their target. Demonstrations followed the attack, and Palestinians in the West Bank protested to show unity with Gazans. At least five protesters were killed by Israeli fire.
After fighting for seven weeks and attempting several short-term cease-fires, Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended cease-fire on Aug. 26. The agreement was mediated by Egypt. The interim agreement still had Hamas in control of Gaza while Israel and Egypt still controlled access to Gaza, leaving no clear winner in this latest conflict. However, Hamas declared victory. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was criticized in Israel for how costly the conflict has been. Since the conflict began in early July, 2,143 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, with more than 11,000 wounded and 100,000 left homeless. On Israel's side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed.
Two Palestinians, armed with knives, meat cleavers, and a handgun, entered a synagogue in Jerusalem during morning prayers and killed five people on Nov. 18. Four of the people killed were rabbis; the other was a police officer who died hours after the incident. The two attackers were shot and killed by police. It was the deadliest assault that occurred in Jerusalem since eight students were killed during a Jewish seminar in March 2008. Hamas praised the synagogue attack, claiming it was in response to the recent death of a Palestinian bus driver. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack. In a televised address, Netanyahu said that Abbas' condemnation wasn't enough. The incident increased tension in Israel, which was already on high alert after a recent rise in religious violence.
On Dec. 2, Netanyahu fired Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in a statement. The statement also called for dissolving the parliament as soon as possible and quoted Netanyahu as saying, "I will not tolerate an opposition within the government any more. I will not tolerate ministers attacking government policy from within the government." The dismissals showed a deep divide in the current government. Both leaders of separate centrist parties, Livni and Lapid had been Netanyahu's most vocal critics in recent weeks. The current government has only been in office since early 2013. An early election was set for March 17, 2015, two years ahead of schedule.
On Jan. 18, 2015, one Iranian general and six Hezbollah fighters were killed during an Israeli air strike on the Syrian section of Golan Heights. After the attack, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened retaliation. Ten days later Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles into an Israeli-occupied area along the Lebanon border, killing two Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces responded with ground and air strikes on several villages in southern Lebanon. While there were no reports of Lebanese casualties, a Spanish peacekeeper working with UNIFIL was killed. The exchange was the worst fighting between Hezbollah and Israel since their 2006 month long war.
Despite the attacks, both sides quickly sent messages that they were not interested in an ongoing conflict. On Jan. 29, an Israel official said that UNIFIL, a U.N. peacekeeping force located in Lebanon, had passed on a message that Hezbollah was not interested in escalating the conflict. Israel responded, via UNIFIL, "that it will make do with what happened yesterday and it does not want the battle to expand." Widely considered a disaster, the 2006 war caused 1,000 Lebanese and 160 Israeli fatalities.