Page last updated 29 Oct 2015
On the twentieth anniversary of the Oslo Accords the Institute for Middle East Understanding published a retrospective assessment as to why Oslo mattered, why it failed and the results on the ground. It provides a perfect introduction to this section and is reproduced below.
Subsequent events – particularly the repeated wars on Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014 – are not dealt with as direct chronology in these background pages. Articles were posted on the website as the conflict unfolded and may be found by searching through these postings. But analyses of these events are still of direct relevance today and are to be found scattered though these pages, particularly in the key debates section Is Hamas to blame? Is Gaza still occupied?.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE OSLO ACCORDS
- After more than a half-century of bloody conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Zionist Jews, in 1993 Israeli and Palestinian leaders sat down face to face at the negotiating table for the first time in an attempt to forge peace.
- Oslo marked the beginning of a bilateral negotiations process, with international mediation monopolized by the US, Israel’s greatest patron, that would become the model for all subsequent negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
- Oslo created the Palestinian Authority (PA), a supposedly interim self-rule government that governs Palestinian population centers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza under overall Israeli military occupation.
WHY DID OSLO FAIL?
- Israeli leaders never accepted the creation of a genuinely independent Palestinian state as part of the two-state solution, continuing to colonize Palestinian land and deepen their control of Palestinians in the occupied territories while supposedly negotiating an end to the occupation.
- The hardline positions of successive Israeli governments were supported by the Clinton administration, and subsequently the administration of George W. Bush, which both failed to do anything to stop settlement construction or other Israeli violations of signed agreements and international law. Instead of serving as an honest broker, the US acted as “Israel’s attorney,” in the words of longtime senior US State Department official Aaron David Miller.
- The direct bilateral negotiations framework of Oslo accentuated the massive power imbalance between the two parties, which was further reinforced by the failure of the US to act as an even-handed mediator.
- While massively expanding settlements and attendant infrastructure such as Israeli-only roads on occupied Palestinian land, Israel began to place severe restrictions on Palestinian movement, both within the occupied territories themselves and between the territories and the outside world. Rather than gaining their freedom from decades of Israeli military rule, during the Oslo years most Palestinians instead witnessed a deepening of Israel’s control over their lives and their land, causing widespread frustration and disillusionment with the peace process.
- A close examination of the agreements comprising the Oslo Accords and Israeli actions on the ground, most notably rapidly expanding settlement construction, indicate that Oslo was intended by its Israeli and American architects to cement Israeli control over the occupied territories while shifting responsibility for policing the Palestinian population from the Israeli army to the security forces of the PA, thus “streamlining” the occupation for Israel.
RESULTS OF OSLO ON THE GROUND
- Between 1993 and 2000, the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), nearly doubled, from 110,900 to 190,206 according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Today, 20 years after the start of Oslo, there are more than 300,000 Israeli settlers living on Palestinian land in the West Bank, and another 200,000 in East Jerusalem.
- Between 1993 and 2000, almost 1700 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories were destroyed by Israel, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
- Oslo fragmented the West Bank into three separate administrative districts, Areas A, B, C, and Gaza was separated from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (See below section on Oslo II for more on Areas A, B, and C.)
- Occupied East Jerusalem was virtually severed from the rest of the West Bank as a result of Israel’s construction of a ring of settlements around the city’s expanded municipal boundaries. (See here for map of settlements around East Jerusalem.)
- Oslo resulted in increased restrictions on Palestinian movement within the occupied territories and between the occupied territories and the outside world. Today, at any given time, there are approximately 500 barriers to Palestinian movement in the West Bank, an area smaller than Delaware.
- The restrictions on Palestinian movement and frequent curfews and closures imposed on the occupied territories during the Oslo years and subsequently devastated the Palestinian economy, which has become largely dependent on Israeli tax transfers and international aid.
1. The Oslo Accords, 20 Years Later
Institute for Middle East Understanding, 11 Sep 2013
A brief summary of key events and documents of the period, and a summary of the reasons for Oslo’s failure. As well as the material reproduced above, it contains a Key Documents section.
2. The Morning After
Edward Said, London Review of Books, 21 Oct 1993
A contemporary and highly perceptive critique of Oslo, exposing the “the truly astonishing proportions of the Palestinian capitulation…The fact is that Israel has conceded nothing, as former Secretary Of State James Baker said in a TV interview, except, blandly, the existence of ‘the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people’. Or as the Israeli ‘dove’ Amos Oz reportedly put it in the course of a BBC interview, ‘this is the second biggest victory in the history of Zionism.’”
3. The Rise and Fall of the Oslo Peace Process
Avi Shlaim, in Louise Fawcett ed., International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, 241-61.
“This chapter focuses on the two principal parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict – Israel and the Palestinians. It traces the emergence, the development, and the breakdown of the peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO from 1991 to 2001. The main landmarks in this process are the conclusion of the Oslo accord, the implementation of the accord, Oslo II, the Camp David summit, and the return to violence. The main conclusion is that the Oslo accord was not doomed to failure from the start: it failed because Israel, under the leadership of the Likud, reneged on its side of the deal.”
4. Twenty years since Oslo, US leadership has yielded endless ‘process’ with no ‘peace’ in sight
Josh Ruebner, Mondoweiss, 13 Sep 2013
Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation sums up the lesson of the past two decades since Oslo to answer the question can the (then new Kerry) talks lead anywhere:
“The answer depends, to a large extent, on whether the United States continues to act as ‘Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations,’ in the words of former Clinton- and Bush-era U.S. ‘peace process’ player Aaron David Miller, or finally acts as the ‘honest broker’ it claims to be but has not been to date.”
5. Camp David: a Tragedy of Errors
Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, The New York Review of Books, 9 Aug 2001
“Israel is said to have made a historic, generous proposal, which the Palestinians, once again seizing the opportunity to miss an opportunity, turned down. In short, the failure to reach a final agreement is attributed, without notable dissent, to Yasser Arafat… For a process of such complexity, the diagnosis is remarkably shallow. It ignores history, the dynamics of the negotiations, and the relationships among the three parties. In so doing, it fails to capture why what so many viewed as a generous Israeli offer, the Palestinians viewed as neither generous, nor Israeli, nor, indeed, as an offer…”
“Mr. Malley, as Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, was a member of the US peace team and participated in the Camp David summit. Mr. Agha has been involved in Palestinian affairs for more than thirty years and during this period has had an active part in Israeli-Palestinian relations.”
6. The Myth of the Generous Offer: Distorting the Camp David negotiations
Seth Ackerman, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 1 Jul 2002
Starting from the overwhelming preponderance of the narrative that the Palestinians rejected the most generous of offers and its implication: there is nothing Israel can do to make peace with its Palestinian neighbors, Ackerman argues that “Had Arafat agreed to [the proposed] arrangements, the Palestinians would have permanently locked in place many of the worst aspects of the very occupation they were trying to bring to an end.”
7. Kerry’s Quest for an Israel-Palestinian Peace: What You First Need to Know
Scott McConnell, The American Conservative, 3 Jan 2014
Particularly useful for the excerpts of Jeremy Slater’s “What Went Wrong: The Collapse of the Israeli Palestinian Peace Process,” which appeared (behind a firewall) in Political Science Quarterly in the summer of 2001.
“I’ve not seen anywhere a more careful and substantial debunking of the main talking points of Israeli hasbara, from the notion that the war was forced upon Israelis who in 1948 were otherwise all too happy to accept the UN’s partition resolution, to the idea that Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians everything they could conceivably have wanted for an independent state at Camp David in 2000, only to have Yasser Arafat walk away. Both propositions are simply false…”
8. How Not to Host a Summit
Aaron David Miller, Foreign Policy, 10 Jul 2012
The 2000 peace talks at Camp David offer key lessons on how not to solve the world’s most intractable conflict: “To put it bluntly, this summit should never have been held with the goal and expectation of reaching an agreement — any agreement, let alone one to end the conflict. None of the big three — Arafat, Barak, and Clinton — were ready, willing, or able to pay the price for that.”
a) General introduction
b) Timelines and maps
c) From earliest times to the present – introductions and overviews
d) The Palestinian refugees
e) From 1948 to 1967
f) Oslo and after
g) Gaza’s special history