Why Oslo really failed

Acts of violence created an impossible situation for the political leaders implement peace.

oslo accords 88 (photo credit: )
oslo accords 88
(photo credit: )
With the renewal of the peace process it is worthwhile to look at some of the lessons that should have been learned from the failure of the process thus far. This article is the first of three that will provide some insights into some of those lessons. Lesson Learned: In protracted conflicts it is not sufficient to only detail the beginning of the process; it is important, and perhaps essential to reach agreement on at least the principles of longer-term final or permanent status issues. The Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP) signed on September 13, 1993 provided a framework for mutual recognition between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This agreement, it was hoped, would provide the sides with the framework and the mechanism to begin a process of normalization, mutual recognition, mutual confidence building, and to lead to future negotiations. The DOP also listed the main issues in conflict that must be resolved for the permanent status between the two sides. The DOP dealt with procedural issues for the short term focusing on temporary status issues, leaving the core issues of the conflict for later stages. The two sides adopted the Kissengerian notion of "constructive ambiguity" in order to "sell" the agreements to their own constituencies. In doing so, each side was also allowed to interpret what they perceived to be unwritten agreements regarding the final or permanent status that will emerge at the end of the process. The main issues of the conflict: borders, Palestinian sovereignty or statehood, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, refugees, etc. were not included at all in the initial negotiations. They were left out of the agreement to be dealt with at a later stage. These issues are the heart of the conflict. By not reaching at least a declaration of principles on these issues at the beginning of the process, each side was free to develop among their own constituencies disparate understandings of what the final outcome would be. Rather than coming closer together on most of the core issues, the gaps in understandings grew throughout the years when no negotiations took place regarding the final status. LESSON LEARNED: Dates are holy. The DOP set up a timeline for implementation. The basic timeline determined that there would an interim period of five years and that negotiations on permanent status "will commence as soon as possible, but not later than the beginning of the third year of the interim period." The DOP also set forth a schedule for Palestinian elections and Israeli redeployments or withdrawals from Palestinian territories. The second Oslo agreement set up a more rigid schedule for further implementation of Israeli withdrawals. In early 1995, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, following a series of terrorist attacks, assured the Israeli Knesset that there are "no holy dates" and that further Israeli redeployments would not be implemented according to the schedule set forth in the agreements. From that time on, throughout the peace process implementation of agreements were not kept according to what had been the agreed upon dates. A process of mutual breaching of the agreements began as each side came to understand that if the other side did not comply with the signed agreement, then they too are not bound to what they signed. The entire process was predicated on the implementation of the agreements on a time frame that demanded that each side fulfill its part of the deal on time. A unilateral Israeli decision to breach the agreement on the time table of implementation led the Palestinians to breach other elements of the agreement. The Israeli decision was based on the belief that the Palestinians were not undertaking a sincere battle against terrorism. The Palestinians argued that their best weapon against terrorism is the progress of the peace process and the Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian territories, and thus a Catch 22 cycle of breaches following breaches ensued and progressed until the final breakdown in the end of 2000. Permanent status negotiations did not begin as scheduled. Israeli withdrawals did not take place on schedule, while at the same time violence increased, opposition on both sides gathered support and breaching the agreements became the norm Lesson Learned: Political violence cannot be tolerated. THE OSLO process was marked from the outset with a continuation of Palestinian violence and terrorism. With the signing of the agreement in September 1993 there was a huge drop in the number of attacks, however, they never completely ended. Additionally, during Succot 1994 a Jewish terrorist massacred Muslim prayers in the Ibrahimia Mosque in Hebron. In 1995 we were witness to many acts of fundamentalist Islamic suicide bombers who murdered Israelis indiscriminately. These acts of violence created an impossible situation for the political leaders who stood behind the peace process on both sides. There is no simple known formula for what leaders should do when their citizens fall victim to terrorism aimed at halting a peace process. Ceasing the process would only award those who seek through their terror to achieve precisely that result. It was prime minister Rabin who articulated the policy that the fight against terror would continue as if there were no negotiations and that the negotiations would continue as if there was no terror. Other than agreeing with that basic formula, there are probably at least two additional points that could be raised and may point to some lessons that should be learned. First, it was probably a mistake to call the victims of terror "the casualties of peace." First, this is wrong - they were casualties of continued warfare and not casualties of peace. The notion that these victims of terrorism suffered as a result of a peace process only served to strengthen the opposition to the peace process in both publics. Words are very important and very powerful. Second, at almost no time during the peace process did the two sides work honestly and sincerely together, in partnership, to confront the problem of terrorism and violent opposition to the peace process. Had the two sides worked together against the problem, rather than the two sides working against each other, there is a chance that the results could have been more positive. More often than not, Arafat was blamed by the Israelis for not preventing terrorism emanating from areas that were not even under his security control and responsibility. Without opening the argument of whether or not Arafat was ever really sincere in fighting against terrorism, the likelihood of a real Palestinian effort against its own extremists could have been enhanced through a cooperative approach rather than the antagonistic approach that was employed. The more that Israel blamed the Palestinian Authority, its leaders and its security chiefs for failing to prevent terrorism, the more these same people were presented in their own media as agents of Israel, as they suddenly responded to Israeli demands to "round up" some extremists and imprison them. There is no doubt that the leaders on both sides failed to find a positive and effective way of confronting the spoilers, the extremists and the killers on both sides. This is not a problem that has surfaced only in the Israeli-Palestinian context - it is a problem that has become one of the most significant dangers to peace making around the globe. The writer is co-ceo of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research & Information. This is the first of a three-part series.