In the last 20 years, the Oslo Accords have turned from a dream into a nightmare
for their main architect, Israeli left-wing politician Yossi
“Enough is enough, it has to die,” Beilin told The Jerusalem Post
on the eve of the anniversary of the famous Sept. 13, 1993 handshake on the
White House lawn between then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Palestine Liberation
Organization chairman Yasser Arafat and US president Bill
Beilin, who at the time was deputy foreign minister in the
Labor-led government, stood on the lawn with hundreds of other dignitaries,
filled with both hope and fear.
On the positive side, after over a year
of work on the process, Beilin said, “It was like a bar mitzva for me. Everyone
hugged me and congratulated me.” He imagined then that the five-year negotiating
track Oslo set out would indeed culminate in a two-state solution that would end
But he feared that the ceremony that marked mutual
recognition between Israel and the PLO, and the first direct legal negotiations
between the sides was premature, because it gave the false impression that peace
had already arrived.
“I thought people watching TV would say, ‘Okay, at
least one problem has been solved,’” Beilin said.
Indeed, the Oslo
Accords are often spoken of as a peace process that lasted seven years, but fell
apart in Camp David in 2000 without the conclusion of a final-status agreement
for a two-state solution.
But in reality, the Oslo Accords had served as
an interim agreement between Israel and the PLO that provided a framework by
which both sides could operate together in the West Bank and Gaza, in lieu of
It created the most substantive changes to the
West Bank and Gaza since Israel won control of the territory during the 1967 Six
For the first 26 years after the war, Israel had sole military
and civilian control of the area and handled all aspects of Palestinian
With the onset of Oslo, the PLO leadership under Arafat, which had
been exiled in Tunisia, was allowed to return to the area. Through Oslo, under a
newly created government called the Palestinian Authority, Palestinians were
granted civilian autonomy of 40 percent of the West Bank. This included all the
Palestinian cities and many of their outlying villages, now known as Areas A and
The Palestinians were also granted the right to a police force in
order to maintain internal law and order. A host of joint committees were set up
for Israelis and Palestinians to cooperate on issues of mutual interest, such as
security, economics, water, electricity, the environment, transportation, labor
When the negotiation portion of Oslo broke down in 2000, its
operational changes continued for the next 13 years through other peace
initiatives such as the Road Map and Annapolis, and they remain legally binding,
according to Israel’s former ambassador to Canada Alan Baker, who served as
Israel’s legal adviser on the Oslo Accords.
“Legally, it is still valid,”
Initially, the changes were positive for the Palestinians,
because they empowered the PLO and gave them the blueprint to move toward
statehood. But as time passed and no agreement was in sight, the Palestinians
felt restricted by an accord that bound their statehood aspirations to
negotiations, while at the same time allowing Israel to solidify its hold on
Area C of the West Bank. All Jewish settlements are located in Area C, which
covers 60% of West Bank territory and is home to a minority of Palestinians. It
also has the largest stretches of undeveloped land in the West Bank.
Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the UN from 1997 to 1999, this week
recalled the skepticism he felt as he watched the White House ceremony on
television from his Jerusalem home.
“I felt this could either produce a
breakthrough in peace or a total disaster. I was tending to think it could lead
to a disaster,” Gold said, as he sat in his office in the Jerusalem Center for
Gold was struck by concerns raised by people close to the
process, including some close to Rabin. Gold said he felt it was put together
too quickly, and placed politics over security.
Security concerns, both
in light of territorial issues and terror concerns, was one of the central
problematic issues, said Gold.
“The process was riddled with problems.
Rather than start with Israel’s security requirements, which I was aware of, and
then construct a political settlement that would protect Israel’s security, it
worked in the exact opposite way – of first coming to a political agreement and
then asking the army to break its head finding a solution,” Gold said.
top of that, he explained, “You were taking an organization which was on your
terrorist list, living in Tunisia, and which was on the losing side of history
and you were planting it in Gaza and the West Bank.” It raised obvious
questions, he said.
“Are you certain it has made a transformation? Are
you really dealing with the Nelson Mandela of the Palestinians or with a
movement that retained a fundamental reservation about Israel’s existence?”
Unfortunately, Gold said, Arafat did not disavow violence in
favor of statehood.
As policy adviser to Netanyahu when he first became
prime minister in 1996, Gold said, he was privy to intelligence reports that
showed that in 1997 Arafat gave the green light to terrorist attacks against
That was followed, he said, by the more than 1,000 Israeli deaths
in Palestinian terror attacks during the second intifada, which began in October
2000 – after the Oslo talks feel apart.
“We have to reach peace with our
Palestinian neighbors, but the diplomatic approach that you take is the $64,000
question. You want a peace process that is workable, not one that is
doomed to fail,” Gold said.
But over time, he said, he has come to
understand its value, as an interim agreement; so much so, that until a
permanent solution is found, he believes the Oslo Accords should be
“It became a document that allowed Israelis and Palestinians to
manage their differences. I think it would be a mistake for Israel to renounce
it,” Gold said.
“The Oslo agreement prevents complete chaos in the
relationship,” Gold said.
Baker explained that it locks both sides into a
On the shelf in his study at the Jerusalem Center for
Public Affairs, he has a frayed copy of Oslo I, signed in 1993, and a follow-up
document, Oslo II, signed in 1995.
He opened it as a reference while he
talked, and flipped through its pages, filled with notes and coffee stains, as
he looked for a relevant paragraph to make his point.
“The assumption was
that the final-status agreement would ultimately be the agreement that would
lead to the establishment of the Palestinian state, and no other way,” Baker
“It says specifically here, the final clauses say, ‘Neither side
shall initiate or take any step that would change the status of the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of permanent status negations,’” Baker
This means, “the Palestinians won’t declare a state outside of the
negotiating process and the Israelis won’t annex [Area C].
This is what
was behind this language and given that I was involved in drafting it, I should
know it.” Oslo II also grants legal standing to both the presence of the PA and
Israel in the West Bank, Baker said.
“From the minute we [Israel] signed
Oslo II in 1995, Israel’s presence in the West Bank in Area C was with the
agreement of the Palestinians,” Baker said.
Palestinian agreement in that
document to Israel’s presence in Area C until a permanent agreement is reached,
means that Israel can not be considered an occupying power, Baker
Gold said Israel never benefited diplomatically from this
revolutionary shift – in which Israel could no longer be considered an occupier
in the West Bank.
“Smart diplomacy in the mid- 1990s would have taken
that change and run with it,” Gold said.
“Israeli diplomacy never took
advantage of the revolutionary change and we allowed ourselves to be condemned
as occupiers in one international forum after another,” he said.
recalled that after the Accords were signed, the International Committee of the
Red Cross, a body entrusted with overseeing the implementation of the Fourth
Geneva Convention, held a seminar in Gaza to ponder if it still had a role to
play in light of the new changes.
Oslo is the document used by Israel to
object to Palestinian unilateral statehood efforts at the UN and the
International Criminal Court, Gold said.
But Beilin maintained that
Oslo’s positive impact has been replaced by negative results, as a process
designed to last five years has hit is 20th anniversary.
In his worst
nightmare, he said, he never imagined this scenario.
As an interim
agreement, Beilin said, the Oslo Accords function as a document that allows the
status quo to continue.
“Now it has to end,” Beilin said.
charged that it provides only a fig leaf of autonomy for the
“It is being used or abused by those who opposed it at the
beginning, so that it became a kind of an umbrella for the continuation of the
settlements,” Beilin said.
“It became the asylum for those who do not
want to solve the problem. It does not serve those who want an independent
state, and those who want to save Israel as a democratic and Jewish state,”
He is among those who hope that the results of the latest
round of peace negotiations that began in late July under US Secretary of State
John Kerry will lead to a document that would replace Oslo.
He does not
believe, he said, that it is possible to come to a final-status agreement within
Kerry’s nine-month timetable.
But, he said, it would be possible to come
an interim agreement that is part of a gradual process toward a permanent
Such an agreement, he noted, would immediately grant the
Palestinians sovereign statehood with temporary borders that already include
portions of Area C, thereby increasing the PA’s territorial hold.
move, he said, would improve Israel’s international standing.
also allow the PA to begin to absorb some of the Palestinian refugees who have
But former PA minister of prisoner affairs Ashraf al-Ajrami
said he has learned from Oslo to be skeptical of interim agreements.
watched the handshake on the White House lawn on a television set in an Israeli
jail, where he served time from 1984 to 1996 for his activities against
“We followed everything about the agreement. We were very hopeful
that prisoners would be released and we would have a Palestinian state,” said
But, he said, now Palestinians fear that a second interim
agreement will become a permanent one.
Israel will use it to make facts
on the ground and to make it impossible to have an independent state, Ajrami
said. The only possible interim agreement the Palestinians would consider would
be one with a set timetable for implementation of a permanent
“Israelis used the Oslo period to make facts on the ground,
especially by building intensively in the settlements and everywhere in the West
Bank. So now, the Palestinians think that the Oslo Accords did not bring them
what they wanted – a state.”
“Many of them now consider that the Accords
have ended,” Ajrami said.