Three decades after the signing of the Declaration of Principles, which was the starting point of the Oslo Accords, there is still disagreement about it among the Israeli public. Supporters of the Oslo process claim that it was the beginning of a reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, which was sadly interrupted due to the failed conduct of both leadership, who did not know how to cross the Rubicon on the way to a historic compromise that would bring an end to this intractable conflict.
On the other hand, critics of the process claim that it was a historical mistake that originated from the illusion of the Israeli governments led by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, and later by Ehud Barak, that a peace agreement could be reached with the Palestinians, who for their part saw the Oslo Accords as part of the PLO’s 1974 Phased Plan.Despite the controversy, it seems that looking back, it can be stated that the Oslo process had its shortcomings, but also advantages that contributed to Israel’s national security.
First, for Rabin, the Oslo Accords were a means of separating Israel from the Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with the aim of overcoming the demographic threat and preventing a situation in which Israel turns from a Jewish and democratic state into a binational state, an aim most Israelis support. For him, the Oslo Accords were an instrument for creating a political separation between Israel and the Palestinians, and establishing a de facto state in the concentrations of Palestinian population in the West Bank.
This political separation, originating from the Oslo Accords, in which 95% of the Palestinian population is controlled mainly by the Palestinian Authority, has become a three-decade-old fact.
Second, the Oslo process made it clear to the mainstream Jewish public in Israel and to its leadership, that there is no chance of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinian national movement in the near future. Similar to the position of Netanyahu, Rabin did not support the establishment of a Palestinian state, rather of a “minus-state,” where Israel would continue to control the Jordan Valley, in the broadest sense of the word, and the settlement blocs.
On the other hand, in the negotiations on the permanent settlement, Barak and Ehud Olmert offered far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians. These included, among others, the establishment of a Palestinian state on 100% of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip with an exchange of territories, relinquishing control of the Jordan Valley, limited acceptance of refugees, and the division of Jerusalem.
After Barak’s and Olmert’s concessions – which were never supported by Israeli society’s mainstream – were rejected by the Palestinian leadership, the Israeli public realized that the gap in positions between the parties did not allow for reaching an agreement. This realization would not have been possible without the Oslo process, in the framework of which the Palestinian reluctance towards Israel reaching out for peace was revealed. In this aspect, the Oslo process was a learning experience for Jewish society in Israel and its leadership, by causing it to mature and rid itself of the optimistic illusions that peace is at hand.
Third, a key lesson that the Israeli Jewish society and its leadership learned from the Oslo process is that it is better for Israel not to rely on others regarding its security. The Rabin government’s expectation that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority would fight the Palestinian terrorist organizations and prevent terrorist attacks against Israel turned out to be disconnected from reality. The Oslo Accords bestowed on the PA, headed by Arafat, the authority to manage the lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and equipped it with weapons in order to fight the Palestinian terrorist organizations.
However, in the end, the weapons were turned against IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens when members of the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, who were supposed to fight the Palestinian terrorist organizations as required by the agreement, even took part in terrorist attacks against Israelis. Also, the suggestion that a multinational force in the Jordan Valley would cut off Israel from threats from the east – an issue on which Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas agreed as part of the negotiations they conducted on a permanent settlement – turned out to be an illusion.
The clear lesson is that Israel should stick to its security doctrine, that is, to protect itself by itself, and not rely on others. The Israeli public and its leadership realized, at a heavy cost in blood, that the historical conflict must be wisely managed and that reality demonstrates time and time again that the struggle cannot be resolved in the foreseeable future.
The Trump plan is the best option
In conclusion, in light of the accumulated experience after three decades since the beginning of the Oslo process and in order to curb the threat of the binational state, it would be better for the Israeli government to unilaterally pursue implementing additional elements of the “Trump plan.” These include applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs in the West Bank, which would signal the desire for separation between Israel and the Palestinians, while at the same time avoiding settlements in areas with a dense Palestinian population.
These moves should be carried out with a broad national consensus, while clearly explaining to the Israeli public that they fulfill the Zionist vision and strengthen the national security of the Jewish state.
The writer is a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), and a research fellow at the University of South Wales, UK. His recent book is Israel: National Security and Securitization (Springer, 2023).