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Finger on the pulse; are the Oslo Accords dead?

In the most iconic moment of a meeting in Washington DC in 1993, a smiling Yasser Arafat (R) extended his hand to Israeli prime minister Yitzahk Rabin (L) who, after a brief hesitation, accepted it
J. David Ake (AFP/File)

“In the end these agreements were a mistake,” Israel’s primary initiator and negotiator of the Oslo Accords, Dr. Yossi Beilin told i24NEWS during his studio interview on the 25th anniversary of their signing.

25 years ago, the world watched as a historic handshake took place on the South Lawn of the White House between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat, with a beaming President Bill Clinton at the nexus, hands on the leaders’ shoulders.

But nobody knew that the accords could actually exacerbate the situation should they fail to be fully implemented.

“All the parties think the accords are dead, but they don’t want to declare it,” Ahmed Ghoneim, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Commission in Ramallah, told i24NEWS in an exclusive interview.

Clinton’s eagerness to help engineer a historic moment blew the accords out of proportion and created an unrealistic expectation for its promise, Beilin explained, despite the accords’ limited architecture.

According to Beilin, the accords failed in part because negotiators were “deceived by extremists on both sides.”

“We were, in a way, influenced by the majorities which were very supportive on both sides… and we did not understand that it is enough to have a few people who thwart the project if they are ready to sacrifice their lives,” Beilin told i24NEWS.

But Ghoneim, who was also a major proponent for both Intifadas, said that the resistance movements have their time and place, though a “side-effect of the second Intifada is harming the peace campaign”, adding that confidence in the Palestinian capacity for peace must be restored in the Israeli public going forward.

J. David Ake (AFP/File)

September 13, 1993 marked the first time in history that Israel and the Palestinians publicly recognized one another’s legitimacy, but in the years of the “peace process” that followed, never truly recognized each other’s sovereignty.

“Finally, the time is approaching where there will be safety in Israel’s house, where the Palestinians will write their own destiny,” US President Bill Clinton famously said at the signing of the second part of the Oslo Accords in 1995, referred to as Oslo II.

The Oslo Accords, however, were the unintended result of original efforts to negotiate a different solution involving a confederation with Jordan.

“We wanted very much to the border in order to ensure a democratic Jewish state. We tried to do our best with Jordan. The handwriting of the agreement with Jordan in 1987 was my handwriting,” the main architect of the accords, Yossi Beilin told i24NEWS.

“The idea was a kind of confederation between Jordan and the Palestinians, and the Likud headed then by the Shamir rejected it totally.”

“What was left mainly is to try and do it with the Palestinians themselves.”

“Palestinian leaders… like Hanan Ashrawi, who is still on the scene today, told us very clearly: You want to talk to us. We are ready to talk to you, but if you don’t talk to the PLO, there will be nothing.”

‘Partial success’ / Pyrrhic victory

According to Ahmed Ghoneim, who was also present in Tunis after Israel drove the PLO out of Lebanon in 1982 during the First Lebanon War, the Accords were a partial success in that they represented the first time Palestinians could claim an identity that saw their own authority established in their land.

However, the partial success may be more accurately cast as a pyrrhic victory, Ghoneim explains, for lack of reciprocity in the recognition afforded by the agreement.

“Fatah’s fatal mistake was to recognize Israel without Israel recognizing the Palestinian state. There is supposed to be mutual recognition,” explains Ghoneim.

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But European voices tend to take a broader perspective on the accords beyond the establishment of the PA.

Norway’s Embassy in Israel, for example, described the accords’ broader positive ramifications for the region at large.

“They also had an impact on the regional dynamics in Middle East. They paved the way for peace between Jordan and Israel, and for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from South Lebanon. They improved the relations between Israel and its regional neighbors, and opened new international venues and diplomatic relations for the Palestinians and also for Israel,” Norwegian Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer told i24NEWS ahead of the 25th anniversary.

Yet, Norway’s ambassador also echoed Beilin’s comments on the interference of extremists groups that foiled prospects for peace.

“The two accords also had an impact on domestic politics both in Israel and Palestine. They provided hope for some, and they spurred anger and opposition from others – like most peace processes do. Groups and individuals took to violence to stop the process. Deceptions and fear ultimately derailed the process in a way that several, serious new initiatives were not able to overcome.”

He nevertheless remained hopeful regarding the prospect of peace through a two-state solution.

“Norway believes it is possible to achieve a durable peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. While the parties’ positions remain apart and the trust between the peoples so low at the moment, Norway believes that much can still be done to overcome obstacles and to make progress towards a negotiated two-state solution. There simply is no alternative to stop all violence and to find ways to live together, beside in peace and security,” he added.

From hopeless to hopeful and back again

Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat were both awarded nobel peace prizes for their work. Oslo set grand but vague goals. Most of these goals, like Palestinian self-determination and a lasting peace treaty, were never realized. Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by an Israeli far-right extremist against territorial concessions.

GPO

Three bullets killed Israel’s strongest supporter of the Oslo Accords.

Palestinian suicide bombings began in earnest by the mid 90s, and the Israeli public began to turn away from the left-wing government’s ideals. The right was far less forgiving and unwilling to make agreements signed under Rabin’s leadership.

“Something is deeply wrong here. We all wanted real piece in Oslo I. We thought that Arafat would indeed annul the covenant calling for Israel’s destruction that Arafat would indeed fight terrorism and instead we’ve seen an explosion of terrorism and talks by Arafat about jihad, holy war, against the Jewish people,” a younger Benjamin Netanyahu said as leader of the Likud party in the mid 90s.

Amid the growing ideological divide in Israeli society, it was the second Intifada that truly killed any chance of peace accords. Between 2000 and 2005, terrorists murdered more than 1000 Israelis. And Israel’s military responses killed 3000 Palestinians.

Israel’s peace camp started to shrink. While Oslo’s hopes may have been dashed, the agreements left leave an enduring framework for security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as well as limited self-governance in Palestinian controlled territories.

The 2nd Intifada, and Israel’s response to the devastation of suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians entering Israel through the West Bank and Gaza, marked the end of the general exit permit system, which allowed most Palestinians to travel in and out of Israel freely, thus ending widespread daily contact between Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

Demands and Commitments

Through the Oslo process, the PA committed to destroying all terror groups and confiscating all illegal weapons from individuals who threatened Israel’s security. It also said it would preserve and protect all Jewish holy sites that fell under PA control in the selective land transfers.

SAID KHATIB (AFP)

Israel demanded Arafat recognize the state’s right to exist and, therefore, amend the PLO charter which called for the destruction of the State of Israel in its entirety.

Many in Israel did not believe they could trust Arafat who was still seen as a terrorist despite his move to the political arena.

“The criticism about Yasser Arafat is known to me. It was very clear from the beginning that we are making peace with a terrorist who reneged on terrorism but actually kept this option for rainy days,” Beilin tells i24NEWS in reference to negotiating with Arafat.

“The real divide in Israeli society about [peace] was not whether Arafat or the PLO was the right choice - because we did not have others! The questions is whether we are ready to divide the land in order to ensure that Israel will have a Jewish majority and a democracy,” he adds.

To the world at large, it seemed the Oslo Accords influenced Arafat to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a nation and transition Palestinian society toward stable and autonomous rule.

However, as the five-year interim period began, it became clear that changing the name of the PLO and the partial removal of terrorist elements from its ranks did not equate a firm commitment on the part of all Palestinian factions toward peace.

The first part of the accords, Oslo I, determined that Palestinian demands (i.e. the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as its capital and Israel’s withdrawal of Jewish settlements from areas transferred to PA control) would be addressed following a five-year interim period meant to establish mutual trust and understanding between the two peoples.

“There were some genetic faults in the body of Oslo. The graduality [of the process] and the different stages of implementation, and the divisions of areas A, B, and C,” Ghoneim tells i24NEWS referring to the division of the West Bank into areas under Israeli control verses Palestinian Authority control.

Where are we now?

When asked if Israeli society today is ready for another peace initiative like Oslo, Dr. Beilin answered, “Yes, people are normal people everywhere. They want peace. They don’t want what is happening in Gaza. They don’t want knives. They don’t want other things. The obvious thing is not ideology so much.”

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“The issue of let us live our life, educate our people, and have our salaries is so common and so universal it is even childish to talk about it.”

As the Likud remains the dominating party in Israel’s government, in coalition with some of the more extreme entities and individuals in Israeli politics, the Jewish state seems ever more divided into the camps of left and right.

“The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin wasn’t just the assassination of a prime minister but the assassination of hope for peace,” Ghoneim told i24NEWS.

According to Ghoneim, for the peace process to move forward, Israel must recognize East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital and says “we have to respect the right of return of every Palestinian.”

But he says that Palestinians must be sensitive to Israel’s “demographic issue” and can discuss the form it takes once Israel respects it and apologizes. Palestinians can move to East Jerusalem or other places that wouldn’t affect Israel’s demographics.

Ellie Stern is a journalist and editor at i24NEWS.

Jon Gratch, also a journalist and editor, at i24NEWS contributed this report.

Comments

(1)

Stillborn. Arafat had NO intention to ever make peace. Only hudna.

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