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The Oslo Accords by Professor Galia Golan

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  • PeaceNowUK@aol.com
    The Oslo Accords Professor Galia Golan The Oslo Accords were significant, valuable and indispensable as well as historic, not for the details therein but for
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2001
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      The Oslo Accords
      Professor Galia Golan

      The Oslo Accords were significant, valuable and indispensable as well as
      historic, not for the details therein but for the principle of mutual
      recognition they contained.  In fact the accords were actually a Declaration
      of Principles comprising what was the "historic compromise" for both sides
      (though the term was Palestinian), namely Palestinian acceptance of the State
      of Israel and by implication a two-state solution, and Israeli recognition of
      the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, referring explicitly
      to the legitimate and political rights of both peoples.  This was comparable
      in importance - and psychologically - to Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1977.

      The Oslo Accords, as the DOP is referred to, (usually including thereby the
      subsequent Cairo Agreement), were, however, also an interim agreement
      outlining measures to be taken building up to the opening of final status
      talks.  It was believed by Israel that a period of time was necessary to
      prepare domestic public opinion, test the intentions of the other side and
      create a degree of trust.  It is possible that these were also the
      Palestinians' assumptions. Indeed there was great skepticism on both sides,
      possibly even more in the respective leaderships than in the publics, but the
      leaderships had reached the conclusion that this was an alternative worth
      trying:  Rabin believed that a window of opportunity had been created by the
      changes in the world order, including the Arab world, with the collapse of
      the Soviet Union.  He was also concerned over of the spread of weapons of
      mass destruction in the region, and he was aware of the greater willingness
      of the Israeli public to compromise as a result of the Intifada.  Arafat was
      under pressures from within the occupied territories, but also faced the loss
      of the Soviet Union as well as the loss of financial resources from Saudi
      Arabia and help from the Arab world as a result of PLO support for Iraq in
      the Gulf crisis.  Additionally, both political elites as well as their
      publics (among the Palestinians, mainly in the population under occupation,
      presumably less in the diasporas and refugee camps) had been gradually moving
      toward the "historic compromise", namely mutual recognition and a two-state

      It is relatively easy today to point to the flaws in the Oslo Accords, and
      there were in fact analysts on both sides who hastened to point them out from
      the outset.  The more frequently noted problems were, first, the interim
      nature itself of Oslo.  It could have been foreseen that a prolonged period
      (no later than three years until the beginning of final status talks) in
      which the two sides were to act as if there were peace (stop terrorism and
      violence, cooperate on security, withdraw from certain areas, etc.) without
      there actually being peace or even acknowledgment of the ultimate mutual goal
      (Palestinian State next to the State of Israel), would invite opponents to
      intensified action.  A second problem was the absence from the accords of an
      explicit ban on further building of settlements or land expropriations (for
      the building of by-pass roads) in the occupied territories.  In fact the
      by-pass roads were in part a result of Oslo as Israel redeployed its forces
      in the West Bank and Gaza. The Oslo Accords stated only that agreements
      reached in the interim period should not prejudice or preempt the final
      status negotiations and that the West Bank and Gaza Strip were to be treated
      as one entity.  That is as close as the DOP got to a reference, however
      obliquely, to the settlement issue.  For the Palestinians the continued
      building and land confiscation were daily, concrete signs of continued
      Israeli aggression, increasingly viewed as indications that Israel had no
      intention of leaving the territories or, at best, of leaving sufficient or
      contiguous territory upon which to build a Palestinian state.  This sentiment
      was further aggravated by the gradual nature of the accords, by which
      additional areas became subject to roadblocks and checkpoints, and freedom of
      movement was increasingly reduced.  A further flaw, according to Palestinian
      observers, was the obligation of the Palestinian side to prevent terrorism in
      conditions in which the Palestinians did not have full authority.

      While these were problems arising from the accords themselves, an additional
      cause for the failure of Oslo was that the accords were not fully implemented
      - nor was a mechanism created to monitor implementation.  Each stage was
      negotiated and renegotiated, each new agreement led to still another
      agreement to implement the previous agreement, delays and postponements
      became the norm.  Israel benefited significantly - internationally and
      economically, from the appearance of peace, although internally the opponents
      became exceedingly vociferous, even violent though not especially greater in
      number.  On the Palestinian side, however, the benefits (release of
      prisoners, return of PLO people from exile, in time Israeli withdrawal from
      the cities and so forth) were overshadowed by increased (not reduced)
      restrictions on Palestinian movement, including in particular the closure of
      East Jerusalem, continued loss of land and houses, and the failure to
      implement further elements of the accords (prisoner releases and the like).  
      As Palestinian disappointment began to appear, the opponents to Oslo, namely
      Hamas and Islamic Jihad increased their terrorist actions, and the
      Palestinian Authority either would not or could not take sufficient steps to
      stop them.  In response to the terror attacks, the Israeli public opted in
      May 1996 for a right-wing government to restore order - although not to
      abandon Oslo.

      It is a moot point as to whether or not Rabin could have weathered the
      terrorist attacks of early 1996, but his assassination had brought Shimon
      Peres to office in November 1995, and Peres was not able to persuade the
      public that he could provide peace with security - thus leading to the
      right-wing victory in the elections of May 1996.  The fact that Benyamin
      Netanyahu was elected on the promise to continue the peace process was an
      indication that there was still majority support for Oslo (the polls
      indicated this as well), but it may be argued that the Oslo process actually
      ended with this election.  The process did break-down, despite further
      agreements (signed only under great outside pressure), as the right-wing
      government in Israel not only suspended many of the measures called for by
      Oslo but also deepened the occupation through further restrictions, land
      expropriations, house demolitions, settlement building and caustic rhetoric.  
      More or less total disillusionment with Oslo set in among the Palestinian
      public. This could be seen not only in the collapse of cooperation in many
      areas, including security, but also in the negative changes that took place
      in the Palestinian media and official rhetoric.  Something of the opposite
      occurred for the Israeli public:  with the break-down of the peace process
      Israel lost many of the benefits it had reaped during the Oslo period
      (1993-1995), the economy declined, terrorism continued, diplomatic isolation
      set-in, all this and more leading to a decision by the Israeli electorate in
      May 1999 to abandon the right-wing alternative and return to a genuine peace
      process in hopes that a renewal of the process would restore Israel's economy
      and position in the world.   

      The Israeli public greeted the election of Barak with great optimism that the
      Oslo process would be revived, final status talks would finally begin (three
      years late) and peace would ultimately be achieved.  Barak's promise of
      specific target dates were of less interest to the public at large for whom
      revival of the economy was the most important thing, believing that peace was
      now a sure thing.  Barak promised also peace with Syria and, more
      specifically, in response to the growing domestic pressure, withdrawal of
      Israeli troops from Lebanon within a year.

      The Palestinian public was far less optimistic, and it is probably the case
      that Israelis greatly underestimated the damage that had been done by the
      failure to implement Oslo and the regression of the intervening years.  
      Failing to understand this has meant failure to understand the reason a
      violent Palestinian revolt, the Al Aksa Intifada broke out, after Camp David

      Did the Oslo Accords die at Camp David?  Did they cause the failure of Camp

      Pages and pages of newsprint have been expended regarding the reasons Camp
      David led to what appears to be the end of the Oslo process.  Unquestionably
      a significant factor lies with the tactics employed by Barak, from the
      beginning of his administration up to and including the "take it or leave it"
      manner in which he concluded Camp David - tactics which included priority for
      the Syrian track (like Rabin before him Barak apparently believed that only
      Syria constitutes a military threat, the Palestinians could wait), along with
      insensitivity to counter parts on the other side as well as to advisors on
      his own side.  One may add to this President Clinton's timetable and
      designation of blame after Camp David.  Similarly, Arafat's failure to
      present counter-proposals at Camp David - such as those in fact presented
      later at the Taba talks, must also be taken into account.  An attempt by
      Arafat to garner public support for what was virtually a secret continuation
      of the talks after Camp David may also have made a difference, although his
      authority had already been greatly impaired by the failure of Oslo to bring
      an end to the occupation (and by his authoritarian form of rule).

      In fact Camp David failed because the offer presented by Barak contained
      major territorial elements Arafat could not accept (most notably the division
      the West Bank into three disconnected sections) and Arafat's position on
      Jerusalem was one Bark could not accept (Palestinian retention of the Temple
      Mount).  Given the finality of the Barak offer, clinched by Clinton's public
      allocation of blame and followed by the absence of information regarding
      continued talks, the Palestinian public gave vent to its frustration and
      hopelessness by means of the second Intifada begun at the end of September
      2000.  Even that did not end the Oslo process, since formal talks were
      resumed at Taba.  The progress achieved at Taba, however, was too late for
      the Israeli elections given the damage caused by the continued violence and

      The failure of Camp David has also been attributed to the formula of Oslo
      itself, namely, not the interim nature of the accord but actually the final
      component: final status talks to resolve all outstanding issues including
      Jerusalem and the refugee problem.  Strong arguments have been heard, on the
      left and on the right (based on different premises) to the effect that there
      should not have been an attempt to seek a comprehensive final agreement but
      rather another interim accord, leaving the issues of Jerusalem and the
      refugees to a later stage.  It may be counter-argued, however, that the
      Palestinians could not create a state without resolution of these two issues
      while Israel could not remove settlements without a peace agreement.  Thus an
      interim agreement could at best implement earlier elements of Oslo (another
      withdrawal, further prisoner releases), but no final status issues (border,
      settlements, security, even water) could have been resolved independently of
      the difficult Jerusalem issue and, most likely even the refugee problem.

      In the wake of the Intifada and the election of Sharon, the options all
      appear to be post-Oslo, that is, an abandonment of the Oslo path.  Sharon's
      plan is another interim agreement for a long period in which the Palestinians
      would have control over 42% of the West Bank and Gaza with the remaining 58%
      under Israeli control (area C of the previous accords).  It would appear most
      unlikely that the Palestinians would agree to such an agreement unless of a
      very, very short duration (which is not Sharon's offer).  

      A large majority of Israelis today support the idea of unilateral withdrawal
      or unilateral separation (see the Peace Index, Haaretz, 5 June 2001).  These
      are two separate ideas, often confused or intentionally blurred in the public
      debate.  Their growing popularity arises from both the reaction to the
      continued violence and terrorism and to the conviction that a peace agreement
      is not possible.  The unilateral withdrawal idea is based on the premise that
      the territories do not enhance Israel's security and together with the
      settlements (or because of the settlements) actually hinder Israel's
      security.  Since an agreement is not possible today, because of Arafat or
      Sharon, or perhaps ever possible, it is in everyone's interest to eliminate
      at least this source of conflict - Israel's control over the West Bank and

      The unilateral separation idea does not posit Israel's relinquishment of the
      territories or the settlements inside them.  Rather it calls for construction
      a strong (physical) barrier between the territories and Israel proper - with
      freedom of access to and from the settlements for Israelis and continued
      Israeli military control of the territories.  A more moderate view - espoused
      by many in the unilateral withdrawal camp, and probably the view most widely
      supported, would have Israel draw a line around the areas it wants directly
      to control or a line wherever it is in Israel's interest to have the line,
      fortify it against Palestinian penetration and leave the remainder of the
      territories under Palestinian control with Israeli control of the Jordan Rift
      (the outer border in the East).  

      The simple unilateral withdrawal idea stands virtually no chance of adoption
      in as much as it is hard to imagine an Israeli government (or even majority
      public) willing to abandon the settlements without an agreement - including
      security agreements with the Palestinians.  For Israel to pick up and leave
      the territories may be an appealing policy in the eyes of many in Israel, but
      despite its general popularity it would appear to be totally impractical at
      this time (as distinct from the years prior to the massive Jewish settlement
      of the territories - namely pre-1979).  Unilateral separation is a far more
      likely option for the Sharon government (indeed it was contemplated by both
      Rabin and Barak), although it would not end either the conflict or the
      violence and terrorism, while it would require a still larger Israeli
      military presence in the territories to protect the settlers.

      The question remains, then, is there a possibility of an agreement and what
      would it comprise?  The majority of Palestinians want an agreement.  Their
      hatred for Israel is undoubtedly greater than perhaps any time in the past,
      and many (the majority?) would probably prefer a bi-national state in all of
      mandated Palestine (Israel plus today's occupied territories) in which they
      would soon become the majority (in fact there is already a non-Jewish
      majority for the under 14 population of the area between the sea and the
      Jordan).  Yet the Palestinian elites and most of the population realize that
      such a solution is not an alternative, and the 1988 PLO decision to accept a
      two-state solution remains the Palestinian policy.  The majority of Israelis,
      too, want an agreement, even though hatred of the Palestinians is greater
      than perhaps any time in the past, and many (not the majority) would like to
      hold onto the territories permanently.  It is argued that Arafat does not
      want an agreement, preferring his role as revolutionary fighter-leader rather
      than mundane government president; it is argued that Sharon does not want an
      agreement, preferring greater Israel over the truncated Israel of 1949-1967.  
      Neither side today believes that the other is genuinely interested in a peace
      agreement yet polls indicate that the populations want-and the leaderships
      claim that they too want - to return to the negotiating table.

      Estimates vary as to Arafat or Sharon's willingness or even ability to make
      peace given the steps each would have to take to combat opposition
      forces.   Nonetheless, I believe that each would be capable of "selling" an
      agreement provided he were willing to reach one mutually acceptable - and I
      would put the chances for Arafat being willing as higher than the chances of
      Sharon being willing to reach such an agreement.  The reason for that
      estimate is that the only real possibility for a Palestinian-Israeli peace
      agreement is the general model presented in the Clinton bridging proposals,
      and that model is far closer, at least in direction and general principles,
      to the Palestinians' needs than to Sharon's ideology.  In the case of new
      leadership, expectations may not warrant optimism, for younger Palestinian
      leaders may be more, not less, militant than Arafat and less able to maneuver
      majority support; center-left Israeli leaders will certainly be more flexible
      than Sharon, but they will have a more difficult time garnering support for
      compromise given the damage caused by the Al Aksa Intifada.  Nonetheless,
      given the perceived need for a settlement on the part of both peoples, there
      is still a good chance (though less certain than five years ago) that any
      leadership presenting a mutually agreed settlement will be able to win
      support for it.

      The parameters of such an agreement are generally clear, and indeed were
      close to achievement at the Taba talks:  a Palestinian State in all of the
      West Bank and Gaza Strip with the exception of two or three clusters of
      settlements along the new border of the West Bank, with territorial
      compensation to the Palestinians from an area south of Gaza; Palestinian
      control of the Jordan Rift (possibly some element or period of joint or
      international control); various types of demilitarization and security
      arrangements (though not Israeli control of the skies and outer borders);
      Jerusalem as the capital of both states with Palestinian rule in East
      Jerusalem and Israeli rule in West Jerusalem as well as in certain designated
      neighborhoods, and international or some form of joint control of the holy
      places including the Temple Mount (though possibly Palestinian control of the
      Temple Mount); the choice of return for a specified number of refugees
      according to numbers determined in negotiation subject to Israeli control,
      plus international compensation (with Israeli participation) and resettlement
      for the vast majority of refugees.

      There may be gradual implementation of such an agreement, just as it is
      possible that there will be minor, very temporary interim agreements even in
      the Sharon period.  But the chances for achieving a final agreement will be
      enhanced if two major mistakes of the original Oslo Accords are avoided,
      namely continued Israeli building in the territories and uncertainty as to
      the final outcome, namely a Palestinian state.  Security cooperation is
      imperative; international monitoring would be helpful; and two important
      provisions for facilitation of the negotiating process would be restoration
      of some confidence in the other side through implementation of the earlier
      agreements regarding incitement, arrests and releases, and mutual education
      (citizen diplomacy once again).
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