A Quarter-Century of Process and No Peace

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

September 23, 2018

Twenty-five years after the 1993 Oslo agreement, several observers have taken stock of the current status of Palestinian aspirations for statehood and, more broadly, of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. There is general consensus among commentators outside of Israel that the Palestinians have yet to realize any tangible gains from the agreement signed more than two decades ago. The dream of a Palestinian state, roughly along the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, has retreated even further in the distance.

Jerusalem Post observer Herb Keinon believes that the reason Oslo failed is due to shifts in the political landscape in Israel: “The longed-for peace still tarries, the New Middle East of Shimon Peres, one of the architects and leading proponent of the Oslo Accords, never emerged. In fact, some argue that the handshake 25 years ago did not improve the chances of peace between Arabs and Israelis, but actually – because it raised and then dashed hopes – pushed them farther away. A quarter-century since the formal kickoff of the Oslo process, peace between the two sides has rarely felt more distant. Yet the signing of the DOP, as it came to be known, fundamentally changed Israel. Israel in September 2018 is a much different place, compared to September 1993. Most tellingly, since that time the right wing has been in power for almost 18 years, the left wing for four years, and a party identified as centrist – Kadima – for three.”

Meanwhile, approaching the issue from a Palestinian point of view, Amir Taheri, writing for Asharq Alawsat, argues that rather than helping the Palestinian cause, the Oslo accords may have had a deleterious effect on their ability to achieve their long-held aspirations for statehood: “‘Oslo’ not only did not envisage the creation of a Palestinian state but may have even postponed it sine die. It created a new status quo in which those with guns and money on the Palestinian side felt comfortable while the Israeli side could also avoid contemplating the longer-term prospects of an unstable situation. Ironically, the two-state idea has morphed into a cliché, especially for anyone running out of ideas as to how to deal with what Tony Blair once described as ‘the most difficult problem in the world’…. Even if one does not believe that ‘Oslo’ was still-born, it should be clear by now that the scheme is now all but dead.”

As this Saudi Gazette editorial also suggests, the Palestinians may have been too willing to compromise in Oslo, allowing Israel to “take advantage of Palestinian goodwill”: “In hindsight, the Palestinians’ big blunder was agreeing to deal with the biggest issues of the problem at the end of the talks, not tackle them head-on from the start. Pushing the issues to the side not only gave Israel plenty of time to do nothing, but called into question the very name of the agreement. The Oslo Accords became a misnomer, for there was no actual accord; only a deal to talk to reach one. Israel took advantage of Palestinian goodwill…. Likud’s platform simply never allowed for a Palestinian state. Oslo faltered and eventually failed because Israel negotiated in bad faith. It reneged on its side of the deal.”

Roni Shaked, in an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, believes that the landmark agreement between Rabin and Arafat may have “contributed to Israeli occupation” by shifting the burden of maintaining the occupation away from Israel and to the Palestinians and the international community: “The Oslo agreement is not dead, it is alive and breathing. Although only the first articles were ever implemented, the reality it had created has benefitted Israel—the occupation of the territories became much cheaper. The establishment of a political Palestinian entity exempted Israeli governments from a burden of sustaining the territories, not only when it comes to: economy, education, health, employment, infrastructure and welfare, but from the enormous security burden that only those who have been to Nablus, Jenin and Hebron before Oslo, would understand…. The finished version of the Oslo agreement did not harm Jerusalem, which remained unified, the right of return did not materialize, no borders were established in the eastern part of the country and the areas under a Palestinian control are reminiscent of enclaves.”

The National’s Joseph Dana builds on a similar narrative, characterizing the last 25 years as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s “darkest [chapter]. Far from its promise of a two-state solution, the legacy of the Oslo Accords is little more than the steady advancement of Israeli interests and Palestinian fragmentation. Since the agreement came into effect, Israel has rapidly deepened its West Bank settlement project while taking active measures to ensure geographic and political division among Palestinians. Israel’s matrix of control over Palestinian life is all but complete as its domination goes virtually unchallenged. With an eager partner in the White House and the two-state solution dying – if not already dead – Israel has thrust the conflict into a dangerous new phase, in which key Palestinian demands are simply removed from the negotiation table. Such moves would have been unthinkable when Oslo was crafted and that highlights how the accords have been deftly used to Israeli ends.”

Unfortunately, there are few signs that the conditions for peace are likely to get better any time soon. If anything, some have suggested that the current U.S. president’s bias has left Palestinians with little hope and low expectations. For example, Jerusalem Post’s Avi Jager urges President Mahmoud Abbas to accept the current proposals coming out of the White House, saying they’ll only get “worse”:  “In the past, every refusal of the Palestinian leadership to accept a serious peace proposal has always been followed by a worse proposal. Currently, the Palestinians are losing momentum. Israel’s ties with the U.S. have never been stronger, and the high demand for Israel’s innovative water and security technologies have dramatically improved Israel’s popularity in the region and beyond. If the Palestinian leadership continues rejecting peace deals, only a limited opportunity will remain for prospects of a Palestinian state…. The perilous wheel continues rolling. President Abbas refuses to learn from past mistakes, as he remains committed to the ‘definitive no’ policy. Furthermore, he is misreading current trends in the region and in the international arena, indicating that while Israel has moved forward, Palestinians have fallen behind.”

However, in a Khaleej Times op-ed, Daoud Kuttab pushes against such arguments, asserting instead that Palestinian willingness to compromise over important issues must not be seen as a sign of weakness: “Palestinian leaders have shown a willingness to compromise even on contentious issues like Jerusalem (agreeing to keep it united); refugees (accepting that only a limited number could return to Israel); and even land swaps (as long as they are equal in size and nature). But such compromises would be made only within the context of a peace settlement that included the establishment of an independent Palestinian state conforming to the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. That is the basic framework toward which stakeholders should be working. The first step, however, must be to rebuild trust, not just between the Israelis and Palestinians, but also with third-party brokers. The US cannot expect to serve as a credible intermediary if it persists with a blatant pro-Israeli bias.”

According to a recent editorial by the Saudi Gazette editorial staff, President Donald Trump’s decision to close down the PLO office in Washington, DC has rendered moot any effort to make forward progress in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: “Whether President Trump delivers his much-vaunted Middle East peace plan in a speech or on Twitter, it is very probably dead before he opens his mouth or his fingers hit his smartphone. Every peace plan is about negotiation and compromise. And such talks are hardly going to work if you throw one of the parties out of the room before a word has been spoken. That is what the Trump administration has done with its extraordinary announcement it is closing down the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Washington mission…. It is hard to see how this move is anything less than ill-advised, if the president is really sincere in his own Middle East peace plan.”

According to Jordan Times staff reporters, some much-needed support for the Palestinian leadership on the issue of Jerusalem and the refugee right-of-return came this week from Jordan’s Prime Minister:  “During a meeting on Sunday with head of the Lower House Palestine Committee MP Yahya Saud and members of the committee, the prime minister said that His Majesty King Abdullah always underlines the centrality of the Palestinian issue and its prominence on Jordan’s foreign policy agenda. Razzaz stressed that Jordan would not hesitate to offer any form of support for the Palestinian people. He also reaffirmed Jordan’s support for solving the Palestinian issue within the framework of the two-state solution, leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Such words of support may be of little comfort to the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. Turning the “Oslo is dead” argument on its head, Ramzy Baroud’s Gulf News op-ed draws a line between the negotiations that led to Oslo and those currently ongoing in the White House: “It is quite common for political commentators these days to reference the ‘dead’ Oslo Accords, if not the ‘dead’ Peace Process altogether. But there is more to Oslo than mounds of papers, signatures and technical details. Oslo represented something else entirely: it was a US-led strategy to end the ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’ in favor of Israel and at the expense of Palestinians. That mindset is stronger today than it was 25 years ago…. The US is currently following a blueprint of a strategy in which it advances Israel’s ‘victory’, while imposing conditions of surrender on defeated Palestinians. Despite its ‘diplomatic’ and legal language, that was also the essence of Oslo.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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