Yossi Beilin, one of the authors of the Oslo Accords, offers seven insights into their achievements and their failures.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat (R) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (L), as US President Bill Clinton stands between them after signing the Israeli-PLO peace accord at the White House in Washington, DC, Sept. 13, 1993.
Exactly 25 years ago, on a hot day in Washington, the eyes of the world were trained on the White House lawn at a sight that was until then a wild fantasy: PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands. With the sponsorship of the young leader of the free world, US President Bill Clinton, and their deputies Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, and they signed a statement of principles meant to bring about a historic peace agreement.
A quarter century later, most of the West Bank territory remains under the direct military control of Israel, the Palestinian cities are governed by a problematic independent administration and the scaffolds — the institutions created for the purposes of an interim agreement that was supposed to end in 1999 — still stand. The temporary has become permanent and the optimism that flourished in the first days after the secret process in Oslo and the agreement that grew out of it were revealed has turned sour. In the estimate of many supporters of the permanent-status solution, it is becoming less and less achievable.
The many articles and documentary films that have been produced to mark the quarter century since that signing ceremony have raised a number of questions, which I’ll attempt to answer here.
Why was there a need for the Oslo channel, if negotiations were already taking place in Washington between an Israeli delegation and a joint delegation of Jordan and Palestinian leaders of the occupied territories (alongside negotiations with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan)?
The Jordanian-Palestinian delegation was artificial and did not succeed in advancing toward an interim arrangement as it was supposed to do according to the mandate of the 1991 Madrid Summit. The Palestinians received instructions directly from the PLO and the Jordanians received instructions from King Hussein, so there was a need to change the paradigm and establish an informal channel.
The Oslo process was born on April 29, 1992, just a few weeks before the election. Terje Rød-Larsen, who ran the Norwegian research institute FAFO, asked to meet with me during a visit to Tel Aviv. I was then a Labor Party Knesset member. He knew about my diplomatic work on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and suggested that after the election, if I am appointed to a role with bearing on diplomatic negotiations, I could use his institute for secret talks to try to resolve the problems that have held up talks in Washington. After our victory in the election, I examined two other options that were rejected: the United Kingdom and the United States. Oslo was, in my view, the only practical option.
Why were Peres and Rabin not informed about the secret channel?
The hostile relationship between Rabin and Peres is key to understanding Oslo. For years they served together and developed great mutual distrust. When Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992 he preferred not to name Peres foreign minister, but in the end, appointed him on two conditions: Peres would not deal with any bilateral diplomatic process or with Israel-US relations. Peres agreed to these strict conditions, but felt uncomfortable telling me about them.
In September 1992, on the sidelines of the visit of my Norwegian counterpart, Jan Egeland, to Israel, an informal meeting was held to discuss the option of the secret channel. Rød-Larsen, his wife Mona Juul, my friend Yair Hirschfeld and my diplomatic adviser Shlomo Gur participated. The conclusion was that I should inform Peres about the offer of a secret meeting in Oslo between myself and Faisal Husseini, the most important Palestinian leader in the occupied territories who was very involved in the diplomatic process.
On the day I intended to broach the topic with Peres, he told me that he had asked Rabin’s permission to meet with Husseini, whom he has known for a long time, but was denied. This was when he first told me of the conditions under which he was appointed foreign minister. It was clear to me that I couldn’t suggest a meeting between myself and Husseini, since I would have to ask Rabin’s permission and Rabin would not have allowed it. I knew that I could ask for such permission only if we could succeed in reaching a draft agreement with the Palestinians.
I asked Hirschfeld to open the channel and to find an alternative to Husseini. The Palestinian figures we talked with said that without direct talks with the PLO, there would be no advancement. It was Hanan Ashrawi who suggested talking with Mahmoud Abbas’ deputy Abu Alaa (Ahmed Qurei), and a meeting took place on Dec. 4, 1992, in London between him and Hirschfeld.
Did the Oslo talks take place in contravention of Israeli law?
No. The Oslo talks began on Jan. 20, 1993, immediately after the Knesset passed a law to cancel the prohibition on contacts with the PLO.
Why did Rabin agree to authorize the continuation of the talks, after all?
Despite his earlier promises not to negotiate with the PLO, Rabin agreed because he did not succeed in advancing the talks in Washington, and he did not fulfill his central campaign promise of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians within six to nine months. As expected, at the moment we presented Peres and Rabin with a paper agreed upon with a Palestinian partner, they found it very hard to reject it.
What was the “Oslo philosophy?”
The Oslo process didn’t have an original philosophy. I intended for the results of the secret talks to be presented as a miraculous, fully resolved understanding to ensure the delegations signed an agreement in Washington. The main importance of Oslo was mutual recognition of the PLO and Israel and the ability to solve several concrete problems that prevented the Washington talks from advancing. But the principal component was the continuation of the idea of a Palestinian five-year autonomy, which emerged from the 1978 Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt and was affirmed at the Madrid summit.
The philosophy of Oslo wasn’t a belief that through the graduated process, love would break out between the sides and a peace agreement would later be achieved, but rather Rabin’s wish to prove that he is continuing something and is not breaking down existing frameworks.
In my view this was the greatest mistake of the Oslo process. When we understood that we are sitting down with people who truly want to reach an agreement with Israel, we should not have been satisfied with this, because it’s not every day that such an opportunity arises. I believed then that we must immediately continue to negotiations on a permanent-status arrangement and not allow extremists from both sides to thwart the process. Rabin told me that if we go to a permanent arrangement and fail, it would be very difficult to return to discussing an interim agreement.
Why has Oslo not brought peace?
Because of violence that prevented us from having the time to realize the agreement and the trap of an asymmetrical negotiation.
The extreme right in Israel and Islamic groups used violence that we did not foresee to thwart the process and to denigrate it in the eyes of the public. The first murderous eventoccurred in February 1994, when a religious Jewish doctor from Kiryat Arba settlement, a reserve officer, entered the Hebron Cave of the Patriarchs in his military uniform and massacred 29 Muslims in cold blood and injured many others. The second event was the most dramatic: the assassination of Rabin in 1995 by an extremist Jew who did so explicitly to stop the process. The third was the provocative 2000 visit of then-opposition head Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount.
After 40 days of mourning the Hebron massacre, Hamas’ suicide attacks began. A day after Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, the second intifada began. Arafat was not strong enough to stop it and at a certain stage he too got on board the wave of violence.
When such an asymmetrical negotiation takes place, the stronger party must be careful not to gain too much. We succeeded in convincing the Palestinians not to mention a freeze in settlement construction, but Israel continued to build settlements after the Oslo agreement, and this was the gravest Israeli provocation. Likewise, we got an agreement to extradite Palestinian citizens (and not only Israeli citizens who happened to be in the territories) but in most cases the Palestinians did not carry this out. This made it easy for the right to declare that the Palestinians are violating the agreement.
In 1996, after Rabin’s assassination and Peres’ defeat in the election, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minster. As the opposition leader he promised to nullify the Oslo agreement that was signed only two and a half years earlier, and as prime minister then and now he continues to succeed in turning the interim agreement into a permanent one. Netanyahu understands that the agreement gives him the most expedient conditions to maintain the status quo. Under its auspices he can delay transferring the majority of the West Bank to the Palestinians and pride himself in fulfilling an international agreement.
The fact that the most right-wing government Israel has ever had is holding tight to the Oslo agreement is its greatest failure. That’s what the Palestinians feared from the start, and we erred when we reassured them this won’t happen.
Oslo brought about the peace agreement with Jordan, gave Israel a critical strategic advantage in the Middle East, revolutionized its diplomatic standing after several states established diplomatic relations and created economic growth by means of unprecedented international investments.
The most important lesson of Oslo is the imperative of seizing a diplomatic opportunity to reach a permanent arrangement like to the Clinton Parameters and the Geneva Initiative, and not to be lured into believing that a diplomatic window that opens will remain so for long.
A 2018 demonstration against antisemitism in Berlin. Photo: Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch.
A slight drop in the number of antisemitic incidents in Berlin during the first half of this year is no excuse for complacency, the city’s antisemitism commissioner emphasized on Thursday following the publication of statistics for hate crimes targeting Jews in the German capital from January-June 2019.
“Antisemitism remains a serious problem that we cannot tolerate in Berlin,” Lorenz Korgel — the city’s commissioner for combating antisemitism — told local news outlet Berliner Morgenpost. “The number of antisemitic incidents remains at a high level. ”
People wear kippas at a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue denouncing an antisemitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)
The population of the State of Israel has increased 2.1% since last year, according to a report released in time for Rosh Hashanah by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Today, there are 9.1 million citizens of Israel, of which some 6.7 million (74%) are Jewish, the report shows. The country’s citizens also include 1.9 million Arabs (21%) and 0.4% of “others,” including Christians and those of other minority groups.
A women holds up a sign against anti-Semitism at a rally in New York City on Sept. 22, 2019. Photo: Rhonda Hodas Hack.
JNS.org – Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in front of City Hall in New York on Sunday, calling on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other municipal leaders, as well as those on the national level, to act against antisemitism and the wave of antisemitic hate crimes taking place against the Orthodox Jewish community.
The beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 17, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.
On the eve of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, ushering in the Jewish year of 5780, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics released its traditional end-of-the-year findings.
Israel’s population now stands at 9.092 million people — 6.744 million (74.2 percent) of whom are Jews, with 1.907 million (21 percent) Arabs and 441,000 (4.8 percent) listed as “other.”
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason. Photo: Instagram.
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason play Pertshik and Hodl, whose love story takes them all the way to Siberia in the award-winning show by the National Yiddish Theatre.
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“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” — Sherlock Holmes, The Boscombe Valley Mystery
“Israel must, in the most blunt and clear way possible, illustrate to Washington that the prosperity of Jordan is a first-rate Israeli security and strategic interest.” — Former head of Mossad Ephraim Halevy at “Between Jerusalem and Amman: 25 Years Since the Signing of the Peace Agreement Between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Institute for National Security Studies, Sept. 25, 2019.
A thought came to mind the other day.
For all the bluster about Judaism and anti-Semitism in America, I am not convinced that far-out-left and liberal young Jews, who have been very strident and even threatening on Israel-related issues and local American political battles, have done much on the ground to confront and quash, one way or another, attacks on Jews. They have portrayed themselves as gliding along a moral highway but have permitted immoral actions to exist quite close to home, far from Gaza (did any of them recite a public Kaddish in the town square for murdered and injured Jews, or their damaged and desecrated property)?
One of the hallmark features of Yom Kippur are the communal sins which we need to repent for. Most Jews focus on what we have done personally towards G-d and towards others. Little thought is given to how we could be better as a community. Or the sins we bear as a community.
However, the communal recitation of the Al Chet, repeated over and over on Yom Kippur is to drive the point home that we are responsible for one another
Incoming freshman Member of Knesset from the leftist, Democratic Union list, Yair Golan, did it again. Golan’s constant delegitimization of his political opponents on the right, smacks of the same delegitimization that tyrants, dictators, demagogues and assorted totalitarians always use, just before the Putsch.
In that regard, he’s right when he said recently, “I’m reminding people that the Nazis came to power democratically, so we have to be careful, very careful, so that radicals with a messianic view won’t exploit Israeli democracy to replace the system of government.” Think “
As Israeli frustration mounts about violence coming out of Gaza, the idea of a ground invasion, and once and for all to finish with Hamas aggression, becomes more appealing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed this approach, saying, “There probably won’t be a choice but to topple the Hamas regime.” While sympathetic to this impulse, I worry that too much attention is paid to tactics and not enough to goals. The result could be harmful to Israel.