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AP 246

GSM (97) 10

Original: English

Four years after oslo: is there still a middle east peace process ?


Mr. Pedro MOYA (Spain)


International SecretariatOctober 1997

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A. The Context...... 1

B. The Oslo Accords...... 2


A. 1994: A Generally Positive Trend...... 4

B. 1995: The Gathering Storm...... 6

C. 1996: The Slippery Slope...... 8

1. The Palestinian Elections...... 8

2. Security threats and the Election of a Likud Government...... 8

3. Developments in South Lebanon...... 9

4. September Escalation...... 9


A. The Hebron Agreement...... 10

B. Peace Unravels...... 11


A. The Stand-off...... 12

B. The Options...... 14


ANNEX 1 : Declaration of Principles, 13 September 1997 (“Oslo I”)18

ANNEX 2 :...... "U.S. Middle East Policy and the Peace Process" 28

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1.Four years ago, the historic handshake between Yitzhak Rabin, the then Prime Minister of Israel, and Yasser Arafat, representing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), on the White House lawn, seemed to hail the dawning of a new era on the Middle East. The long and bitter existential conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was fading away, heralding not only a new relationship of co-operation between Israel and the Palestinians, but the possibility of a "new Middle East" based on mutual acceptance and active partnership between Israel and its Arab neighbours. In the late summer of 1997 (at the time this report was completed) the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is at a standstill, the tension has increased between Israel and Syria, with repercussions in the form of renewed military skirmishes in southern Lebanon; relations between Israel and Egypt are at an all time low; and even compromise-minded King Hussein has had difficulties concealing his irritation at some of Israel's moves. So what has happened between the signing of the Oslo Accords on 13 September 1993[1] and the late summer of 1997?

2.This Report purports to look at the development of the peace process during those four years, in order to remind members of the very specific conditions that had made Oslo possible, and to retrace the unfolding of events that undermined its implementation to a perhaps fatal point. Today, the pursuit of Oslo's gradual approach hardly looks like an option any more. At the time of writing, a return to the intifada - or worse, since some Palestinians now have arms - seemed more likely. An ambitious policy would be to bypass the Oslo step by-step schedule in favour of negotiations for an immediate overall settlement. That option, even more than Oslo, would require both parties to be ready to compromise and to give up the hope of using time in their favour. It would also require a definite commitment by outsiders to nudge them into a settlement. Your Rapporteur will argue that the Allies have a definite responsibility to assume in this matter.


A. The Context

3.The Oslo Accords, which formally put an end to four decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (as represented by the PLO), were concluded in very specific circumstances. Some of those were related to the general Middle East context, and some to the particular situation of the Israelis and the Palestinians at the time.

  1. The general circumstances have to do with the aftermath of the Gulf crisis and war, coinciding with the collapse of the communist world, which led to fundamental strategic realignments in the Middle East. Thus:

-following the decision of most governments in the region to line up with the anti-Iraqi coalition, most Arab countries found themselves for the first time on the same side of the battleline as Israel and the United States; therefore, the anti-Israel front, which had already been seriously weakened by the "separate peace" with Egypt (Camp David Agreements of 1978) was further eroded;

-Moscow's eclipse from the political-strategic equation and its (belated) joining of the coalition against Saddam Hussein deprived the Arab countries of an alternative to alignment on Washington;

-thanks to its successful leadership during the Gulf War, the United States appeared as the sole superpower and had both the wisdom and the wherewithal to push its vision of a "new Middle East", including a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

4.Thus the United States was able to initiate the multilateral process that began in November 1991 in Madrid with the gathering of regional actors that had participated in the anti-Saddam coalition under joint American-Russian sponsorship. The Madrid process was meant to provide a context for a series of bilateral negotiations between Israel, on the one hand, and the Palestinians, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, on the other.

5.Second, there were factors linked to the particular position of Israel and the Palestinians:

-the Palestinian leadership of Yasser Arafat was seriously weakened by two elements: (i) his (as well as Jordan's) "backing the wrong horse" by supporting Saddam Hussein during the Gulf war led to his isolation in the Arab world, the drying up of financial support from the oil-rich Gulf monarchies and a loss of support from the normally well disposed Europeans; (ii) his authority was dwindling vis-à-vis that of the Palestinians "of the interior" who had resisted Israeli power through the intifada;

-Israel's Labour Government, elected in June 1992, looked more willing than its predecessors to compromise, convinced in the words of then Prime Minister Rabin, that it was time for Israel to "change strategic priorities" and find an accommodation with its Arab neighbours ;

B. The Oslo Accords

6.There was therefore a "window of opportunity" to be exploited to change the face of the Middle East in 1991-93. Still, despite these favourable circumstances, the agreement reached by the Israelis and the Palestinians in August 1993 represented a quantum leap in both sides' attitudes. For the Israelis, it required quite a psychological turn about to recognize as a legitimate partner an organization, the PLO, which it had termed terrorist, and fought as such, for some 30 years. In addition, since 1948, the circumstances which had accompanied the creation of Israel and its preservation had created a deeply ingrained "siege mentality", out of which the Jewish people was now called to grow. Although there was already a precedent with the Camp David agreement with Egypt, the prospect of common and co-operative living on a day-to-day basis with the Palestinians was quite another threshold to cross. Likewise, for the Palestinians, it was an act of faith to commit to end hostilities against Israel (although Yasser Arafat had explicitly recognized Israel's right to live in peace and security in his UN December 1988 speech) for the sake of a vague promise of a future "autonomy".

7.Indeed, Oslo was based on a "constructive ambiguity". Although the "Declaration of principles" signed in Washington refers to Resolutions 242 and 338 of the UN Security Council, which establish the principle of "land for peace", nowhere is the precise extent of the land to be returned to the Palestinians specified, nor the type of sovereignty they would be able to set up on that land.[2] From the Palestinian perspective, the only immediate prospect after Oslo was an Israeli military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area within seven months at most (with the conditions still to be negotiated) and the gaining of civil administration over those two areas. The conditions governing autonomy, providing for the withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and transferring power to a Palestinian Authority, were to be settled in interim negotiations. Most importantly, the essential issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were not dealt with: Jerusalem, refugees, the settlements, security arrangements, frontiers, co-operative arrangements with other neighbours were explicitly relegated by the Oslo Accords to negotiations on the permanent status scheduled to begin, at the latest, three years after the start of the interim period.[3] From the Israeli point of view, the performance expected from Arafat was a responsible exercise of the economic and social management of the areas to be returned under his control, and, more importantly, a scrupulous and unyielding policing of those areas and full co-operation with Israel on security matters.

8.Arafat was heavily criticized by part of the Palestinian leadership for having "sold out to the Israelis",[4] i.e. having accepted peace with Israel without any clear trade-off, and was accused of acting mainly out of a personal ambition to reassert his weakened legitimacy as the uncontested Palestinian leader. Some Palestinian intellectuals also warned him of the impossible burden he had taken upon himself by accepting responsibility for policing the Palestinian areas and the custody of major economic dossiers : the Israelis would be able to blame him if he failed to maintain law and order, while the Palestinians would turn on him if there were no improvements in their socio-economic conditions.[5] Aware of these possible pitfalls, Arafat used all the resources of his political leadership to convince the Palestinian people that peace would mean the cessation of the constant humiliation and repression inflicted on them by the Israeli police and military, that it would ease their daily travel and work in Israel and therefore enable them to maintain a decent standard of living, and, ultimately, that the political negotiations underway were leading towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian State. In the end, it was only by holding out that promise of a future State of Palestine that he was able to bypass the scepticism of the intellectuals and the hostility of the grassroots radical movements (the Islamic Hamas and Jihad, the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine), and gather the support of the majority of Palestinians behind his policy.

9.For the Israelis, on the other hand, the Accords were acceptable because the Declaration of Principle failed short of underwriting the project of Palestinian statehood, even though that outcome was implicit in the logic of separation ratified by the agreement. It has to be realized that only in its 1996 electoral platform did the Labour Party drop its rejection of a Palestinian state, while the Likud continues to hold to an undefined concept of "expanded autonomy".[6] Nevertheless, following the insurances given by the Labour Government at the time, the Palestinians had some grounds to believe that they would soon be in control of 80 90% of the West Bank and Gaza. For its part, despite serious misgivings about the political and security implications of Oslo, part of the right of the political spectrum in Israel was willing to rally to the Accords thanks to the presence in the government of Yitzhak Rabin, the hero of the 1967 Six Day War, whom they could trust for not taking risks where security was concerned.

10.When assessing the peace process four years after Oslo, it is necessary to remember those very specific circumstances that made the Accords possible, as well as the premises on which the assent of the Palestinian and Israeli people was based: for the former, the prospect of access to statehood at the end of the process; for the latter, the conviction that their security would not be endangered by greater Palestinian autonomy.


A. 1994: A Generally Positive Trend

11.In spite of the goodwill shown on both sides, the entry into force of the Oslo Accords was not without its problems and, from the outset, there were delays in meeting the timetable. The question of security and public order, which was later to plague the peace process, immediately came to the forefront, with Israel wishing to ensure that its nationals would not be endangered by a transfer of power to the Palestinian police, even within the limited geographical area covered by the initial Agreement (Gaza-Jericho). Thanks to an arrangement over security questions arrived at in February 1994, it was possible the following May in Cairo to reach a more substantial agreement laying down concrete conditions for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area and the transfer of certain civil and economic powers to a newly-constituted Palestinian Authority.[7] Thus, five months behind the Washington timetable, Yasser Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, became responsible for the security and welfare of the population of the Gaza Strip and Jericho. The security of the Israelis, wherever they were, was to remain the exclusive prerogative of the Israeli armed forces.

12.Determined to demonstrate to the Palestinians that he had been right in his political choice and anxious to reassure the Israelis of his good faith, Mr. Arafat was to persevere in the execution of the commitments he had entered into in spite of very serious setbacks. On 15 February 1994, 29 Palestinians were shot by a Jewish fanatic at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron; in April Hamas carried out a series of attacks in Israel leading to dozens of deaths and injuries; in August, further attacks by Hamas in Gaza and near Bethlehem left one Israeli dead and 10 injured; in September there was an assault by Islamic Jihad against an Israeli patrol in the Gaza Strip; and on 19 October an attack on a bus in Tel Aviv, for which Hamas claimed responsibility, left 22 dead. In the face of this upsurge in extremist Palestinian violence, Mr. Arafat did not hesitate to respond with repression by an increasingly efficient and sometimes brutal Palestinian police. Indeed, he knew that the demonstration of his ability to preserve law and order in the Territories was a requirement for Israel to accept further progress in the peace process, and more specifically for Israel's endorsement of the steps necessary for the establishment of an elected Palestinian Council. Conversely, Mr. Arafat had very little recourse against Jewish acts of terrorism, such as that in Hebron in February 1994, and he was just as powerless to respond to the distress caused to the Palestinian population by the closures of the Territories imposed by Israel following each occurrence of Palestinian terrorism.

13.Nevertheless, developments locally and regionally seemed to confirm that the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority was on the right track. Firstly, the Cairo Agreement of 4 May enabled him to install his administration in the Gaza Strip in early July 1994. That agreement was followed in late August 1994 by another one covering the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of civil responsibility for education, health, welfare, tourism and taxation for the whole of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.[8] Furthermore, the regional climate had improved with the signature in July of a Declaration of non-aggression between Jordan and Israel, followed by a proper peace treaty in October 1994[9]. In the regional context, mention should also be made of the decision by the Gulf States to end their boycott of firms trading with Israel and of the first economic summit which brought Israel and its Arab partners together in Casablanca from 30 October to 1 November 1994, at the initiative of the Moroccan authorities. This summit represented both a clear step forward in the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab States and the start of promising economic and financial co-operation for the Mediterranean Basin as a whole. Thus the "new Middle East" seemed to be gradually taking shape.

B. 1995: The Gathering Storm

14.The first months of 1995 were not auspicious. It was during this period that evidence arose of a vicious circle leading to longer and longer delays in the implementation of the peace process. There were repeated acts of terrorism perpetrated by extremist Palestinian groups (particularly the Islamic Jihad assault in Netanya on 22 January 1995 which left ten dead; the attack on a bus on 19 March which left two dead and five injured among the settlers; and uninterrupted violence in the Gaza Strip from April to June). These terrorist attacks sadly exposed the difficulties of the Palestinian Authority to police the territory placed under its control. As a reaction, there was a hardening of the Israeli position which took two main forms: the more and more systematic closing off of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which deprived thousands of Palestinians of their living and compounded the frustration of the population; and the refusal of Israel to withdraw its forces from the West Bank until such time as the security of its citizens was assured. As a result, the elections to the Palestinian Council, which should have originally taken place ten months after the signing of the Declaration of Principles (i.e. in Summer 1994), were only finally held in January 1996.

15.If headway was nevertheless made in 1995, it was because of the determined attitude of US diplomacy. As a result of a series of marathon negotiations between the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat in August and September 1995, an Interim Accord was initialled on 24 September at Taba, Egypt, and signed in Washington on 28 September. This agreement (also called "Oslo II")[10] covered several important outstanding issues, particularly where security was concerned: