September 13, 2021 marks 28 years since the Oslo I Accord was finalized and signed after multiple rounds of intense secret negotiations, in a bid to advance a lasting peace process for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The agreement was signed by then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)'s Mahmoud Abbas and then US secretary of state Warren Christopher, and was later followed up with a public signing ceremony in September.
The accord was the result of secret negotiations facilitated by then-US president Bill Clinton, and later followed up in 1995 by the Oslo II Accord.
For their part in signing the agreement, then Israeli prime minister Rabin, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Peres would collectively be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Heralded by many as the closest to ever truly solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Oslo Accords in reality 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 Palestinian statehood.
It saw the transformation of the PLO into the Palestinian Authority, which was now seen as the legitimate governing body of the Palestinians. The agreement also mandated that Israel recognize the PLO's new role as the representative of the Palestinian people, as well as mandating the Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to exist.
But most notably, it created the most substantive changes to the West Bank and Gaza since Israel won control of the territory during the 1967 Six Day War.
These were unprecedented at the time and caused considerable controversy on both sides of the political spectrum. This was especially evident on the Right, where many opposed giving up land to the Palestinians, and protesters organized by the then-opposition Likud featured images of Rabin dressed as a Nazi or in a gun's crosshairs. The most notable result of this was the assassination of Rabin by Yigal Amir, a right-wing extremist who opposed the peace initiative. but also was seen by many as a step in the right direction.
One of these people is Israel's former minister Yossi Beilin, who was heavily involved in the negotiations leading up to the Oslo Accords.Speaking to The Jerusalem Post in 2018, Beilin argued that was Oslo undoubtedly correct.
“It’s very difﬁcult to call Oslo a failure,” he said. “The failure is that Oslo was not implemented. The most important reason was Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and after a few months of Shimon Peres, another prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] was elected who was against Oslo.”
But ultimately, the legacy of the Oslo Accords is not one of peace, as despite years of efforts to build off of this historic moment, nothing concrete ever actually materialized. In fact, many would argue that it only served to make the situation worse.
Most notably, the negotiations eventually culminated in the Camp David Summitt in 2000, where Clinton hosted Arafat and then-prime minister Ehud Barak.
This summit was a failure, with Arafat refusing to agree to anything and later led to the Second Intifada, a period of violence that saw more Israelis were killed – 1,053, according to Foreign Ministry figures – more than were killed in the 1956 Sinai Campaign (231), the 1967 Six Day War (776) or the 2006 Second Lebanon War (164).
“If you ask people why we failed, you will get many different answers on both sides,” said Mike Herzog, Israel's new ambassador to the US who had played key roles in every significant negotiation with the Palestinians since 1993.
“Many Israelis will tell you it is because the Palestinians were not willing to recognize us or give up their aspirations on all of Palestine. And many Palestinians will tell you that Israel was never really willing to divide the land, and continued to embark on settlement activity.”
As such, the Oslo Accords is remembered by many for being a failure, despite also being arguably the defining legacy of both Rabin and Peres.
As noted by historian Moshe Dann in a 2018 column for The Jerusalem Post, despite Oslo having been meant to "demonstrate Israel's strengths in its willingness to make concessions for peace," Rabin's and Peres's legacy "is not only a 'peace process' that failed... but a policy which enabled and encouraged enemies dedicated to Israel’s destruction."
Gil Hoffman and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.