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Gershon Baskin, "Why Oslo Failed" Part 1--Jerusalem Post 8/13/07

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Why Oslo really failed



Aug. 13, 2007


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

 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

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

/The writer is co-ceo of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research &
Information. This is the first of a three-part series./

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