Why did the hope for peace associated with the Oslo process unravel so quickly?

Note on how to cite this journal:

Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/conflict-insight 

The Oslo accords were a set of written agreements between Israel, represented by Labour party leader Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat, who was representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, mediated in most part by US president Bill Clinton (Erakat, 2019). The first meeting, “Oslo I”, was signed in Washington D.C. in 1993. The “Oslo II” accord was signed two years later in Egypt. Having set up the conference, the US insisted that it be based upon the United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, which outlined Palestinian’s right to self-determination and the principle of ‘land for peace’ (Inbari, 2019). This premise had been accepted by the Palestinians, however initially rejected by Israelis, as the following events would prove to the Israelis, and later the Palestinians, that giving up land in return for peaceful coexistence was a stretch of the imagination (PBS, 2020). The agenda of the Oslo accords was its own reason for failure and why the hopes for peace diminished as quickly as the agreements were signed. This report will detail the intractables at the core of the paradox; the settlements in the West Bank, radically increased terrorist activity, and the factors hindering the implementation of whatever peace was hoped for post-Oslo accord signatures.    

Expanding settlement plans prevailed no matter the situation 

Imminently prior to the first Oslo conference, the Likud manifesto announced plans to expand on the settlement-building, with the intention of doubling the settler population in the occupied territories over four years (Berry et. al, 2006). The Oslo I accord negotiated requirement was for Israel to withdraw completely from Gaza and Jericho, leaving a Palestinian police force to take over internal security within four months of signing the agreement (Erakat, 2019). The Oslo accords had been signed under a Labour government. A counter-movement had been initiated within Israel mainly by Benjamin Netanyahu as the leader of the Likud party in his rejection of the accord, pledging to cancel it should he be elected Prime Minister (PBS, 2020). However, even during the Rabin administration from 1992 to 1995, the settler population in the occupied territories increased from 74,800 inhabitants to 136,000, according to the 1997 Foundation for Middle East Peace report (Berry et. al, 2006). This went entirely disregarded during the peace process and would only increase upon Netanyahu’s election, which has been described as a response to a discontent Israeli public for Rabin having negotiated with the widely despised PLO, a first in Israel’s history (PBS, 2020).  

PLO and its fragmentations pose a constant threat to the security of Israel 

The conference talks avoided dialogue with a large proportion of the PLO and Fatah party. Israel negotiated directly with Yasser Arafat and his few close associates (PBS, 2020). The Declaration of Principles between Palestinians and Israel had been published and signed by both parties in September 1993 in front of the White House (Brown, 2003).  

An agenda of the Oslo accords outlined the approval for Rabin to deport 416 Hamas militants to Lebanon following the murder of an Israeli border policeman (Berry et. al, 2006). This was an attempt to undermine their influence in Palestinian territories. This had an obverse effect, as Hamas came into contact with Hizbullah guerrillas who provided Hamas with training and resources, techniques used upon returning or communicating with aspiring terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank (Baconi, 2018). Hamas first employed suicide attacks shortly after deportees returned home, a practice that would become a common weapon used against the Israeli civilian population (Reuters, 2008). 

Unclear orders contributed to territorial claims neither side would accept 

A core failure in the Oslo Accords which contributed to the deteriorating hope for tangible long-term peace was that the most significant core issues of the conflict affecting both parties had been stalled for later points in the negotiations or ignored entirely; defining statehood, detailing borders, and acknowledging the significance of Jerusalem for both sides and who feel entitled to claim it as their capital and unwilling to divide the city (Berry et. al, 2006). For this reason, the IDF was unable to retract to any given borders, another requirement during negotiations.  

Rabin and Arafat concluded the interim agreement in September 1995, which entailed dividing the West Bank into three areas: 

  • Area A: 3% of the West Bank including Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and a majority of Hebron controlled predominantly by the Palestinian Authority 
  • Area B: 23% of the West Bank encompassing 440 villages administered by the PA, while joint Palestinian-Israeli patrols would oversee security  
  • Area C: 74% of the West Bank comprising all Jewish settlements would remain under Israeli control (Berry et. al, 2006)

Overall analysis

An interpretation might suggest that this agreement was deemed treasonous by both sides of the conflict and the interconnectedness of these factors contributed to the failure. While settlers argued this arrangement was prepared to hand the land over entirely to the Palestinians, their Palestinian counterparts voiced vexation at Israel maintaining excessive power on land that is not officially theirs (Berry et. al, 2006). These disagreements had fatal results for Rabin, who was assassinated by a settler as well as 62 Israelis who became victims to Hamas suicide attacks in March 1996 following Israel’s attempt to crack down on militants in their 97% claim to West Bank activity (PBS, 2020). 

While the PLO officially agreed to end the armed struggle against Israel, and in turn Israel agreed to recognise the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people (Baconi, 2018), neither Palestine nor Israel would do their signed promises justice. This is largely attributable to the core fault of the Oslo Accords themselves, namely the vagueness and arguable favouring of the symbolic over pragmatic approach to maintaining peace in the region. The dawn of suicide attacks following Hamas’ exposure to Hizbullah resulted in the Israeli public drifting away from the hopes of peace, with one famous grassroots slogan stating “this peace is killing us” (PBS, 2020). It was not long before Netanyahu gained momentum as an opposer of the peace process, paving way for a more intensified approach to the annexation of the West Bank and consequent undermining of any peace process in the near future (Holmes, 2019). 

Conclusion 

Taking these key factors into account, it can be concluded that while the hope for peace associated with the Oslo process had initiated the conferences in the first place, the reality in the participants’ respective home states was profoundly misjudged and indeed the opposite of the Oslo accord signing ceremonies’ serenity. The reality of the situation between Israel and the Palestinian territories had been widely disregarded in favour of adopting the theoretical approach set out by the UN with American help. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baconi, T. (2018) Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance. [ebook] Stanford University Press, Chapter 1, 2. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/745999/hamas-contained Accessed: 28 May 2020 

Berry, M. and Philo, G. (2006) Israel and Palestine – Competing Histories. UK: Pluto Press, pp. 19-23, 89-100 

Brown, N. (2003). Palestinian Politics after the Oslo Accords. [ebook] University of California Press, chapter 1, 6. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/552361/palestinian-politics-after-the-oslo-accords Accessed: 28 May 2020 

Erakat, N. (2019). Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. [ebook] Stanford University Press, Chapter 4. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/876604/justice-for-some Accessed: 28 May 2020 

Frontline PBS (2020) Netanyahu at War [YouTube video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W-xxpXzAC0 Accessed: 28 May 2020 

Holmes, O. (2019) ‘Netanyahu vows to annex large parts of occupied West Bank’, The Guardian, 11 September. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/10/netanyahu-vows-annex-large-parts-occupied-west-bank-trump Accessed: 28 May 2020 

Inbari, P. (2019) The Oslo Accords Saved the PLO and Renewed Its Struggle against Israel. Jewish Political Studies Review, pp. 238-242. Available at: www.jstor.org/stable/26642827 Accessed: 28 May 2020 

Reuters (2008) ‘TIMELINE: Suicide Bombings in Israel’, Reuters, 5 February. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-explosion-chronology/timeline-suicide-bombings-in-israel-idUSL0565679420080205 Accessed: 28 May 2020 

Rotberg, R. (2006) Israeli and Palestinian Narratives of Conflict – History’s Double Helix. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 15, 29-39 

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