Oslo Accord (1993)

views updated Jun 11 2018


Agreement between Israel and the PLO negotiated secretly in Oslo, Norway, and signed at the White House on 13 September 1993.

In 1993 Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed to recognize each other, and signed a Declaration of Principles (DOP) providing for Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for five years.

Backdrop to the Accord

The agreement resulted from a convergence of events and trends that created an optimal opportunity for peace between the two parties. The first Intifada (uprising) by the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza against Israel's occupation, which began in December 1987, empowered the PLO, as the Palestinians' representative, to seek a diplomatic settlement with Israel. In 1988 PLO chairman Yasir Arafat recognized Israel, accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, and renounced terrorism. The PLO could not immediately capitalize on these concessions, however, because Israel did not reciprocate. The PLO's position deteriorated due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left the PLO without superpower support. Furthermore, the Israeli government of Yitzhak Shamir adamantly refused to deal with the PLO or to make territorial concessions for peace. Believing that Iraq could help the Palestinian cause, Arafat sided with Saddam Hussein during the Gulf Crisis (19901991), and thereby lost the financial support of the Gulf states.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, mass Jewish immigration to Israel, and the destruction of Iraq's army in 1991 enhanced Israel's security, but the Intifada convinced the Israeli Labor and left-of-center parties that continued occupation and repression were deemed costly in terms of international isolation and domestic discord, whereas granting self-government to the Palestinians was gradually viewed as less objectionable.

Moreover, more and more Palestinians and Israelis and their leaders concluded that there was no military solution to their conflict. The PLO had galvanized Palestinians and gained international recognition, but its armed struggle against Israel failed to liberate an inch of Palestine. Even though Israel was considered to be the fourth strongest military power in the world, it could not destroy the PLO or subdue a civilian population of two million in the occupied territories. Both sides concluded that mutual recognition and sharing historic Palestine was the only viable option.

U.S. president George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker III thus had an unprecedented opportunity to broker peace in the Middle East by arranging the Madrid Peace Conference (1991) between Israel and the Arabs, including the Palestinians. When Prime Minister Shamir appeared to be stalling, Bush and Baker withheld a guarantee for a $10 billion loan for Israel. In the next elections in Israel, the public brought to power a moderate coalition, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, with a "territory for peace" policy. But eleven sessions and twenty-two months after Madrid, the negotiations proved unproductive. The PLO regarded the framework for talks as unfair, and did not consider the United States or its middle-range officials to be "honest brokers." Israel realized that Palestinian negotiators from the occupied territories were unwilling or unable to negotiate independently from the PLO.

Norway's foreign ministry arranged for a private, secret channel in Oslo for two Israeli scholars, Yair Hirshfeld and Ron Pundak, who were in touch with Yossi Beilin, Israel's dovish deputy foreign minister, and a PLO economist and aide to Chairman Arafat, Ahmad Sulayman Qurai (Abu Ala). Negotiations began in the winter and spring of 1993. When they progressed, Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, took charge, and convinced security-conscious Prime Minister Rabin to support the agreement. Israel and the PLO initialed two sets of documents in Oslo in late August: an exchange of letters of mutual recognition and the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (DOP).

The Accord and Its Reception

On 9 September 1993 Arafat signed the PLO letter recognizing Israel's right to exist, accepted Security Council Resolution 242, renounced the use of terror and violence, and pledged to remove clauses in the Palestinian Covenant calling for the elimination of Israel. By recognizing Israel, the PLO renounced the Palestinian people's claim to 78 percent of historic Palestine, in which they had lived for centuries. The next day Rabin signed Israel's letter, recognizing the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and declaring Israel's intention to negotiate with the PLO. Implicit was Israel's recognition of Palestinian demands for self-determination and independence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The second document, the DOP, which was signed at the White House on 13 September 1993, outlined a five-year plan for Palestinian self-government, starting with Israel's withdrawal of troops from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, and the transfer of authority over economic development, education and culture, taxes, social welfare, and tourism. This was followed by elections of an interim self-government council. After the second year, negotiations would begin on Jerusalem, refugees of 1948, Jewish settlements, and borders.

Most Israelis and Palestinians were initially approving. Palestinians were disappointed that the most fundamental issues were deferred, but supported the agreement because there was no credible alternative. There were, however, vocal rejectionists in both camps. In Israel, leading figures in the Likud Party such as Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu stated that should they come to power, they would not honor the agreement, and Jewish settlers warned of violent resistance to the removal of settlements. Palestinian radicals initiated deadly violence against settlers and soldiers. Negotiations over implementation of the interim agreement dragged on until another was signed in Cairo in May 1994. Then Israel's troops withdrew and Palestinian police took over in Jericho and the Gaza Strip. Violence by both sides and postponements diminished support for the Oslo Agreement, yet the parties managed to reach a number of partial agreements, including Oslo II, signed at the White House on 28 September 1995. Oslo II set the stage for Israel's further withdrawal from the West Bank and for Palestinian elections.

With each new agreement, the opponents of a peaceful settlement intensified their violence. HAMAS and Islamic Jihad conducted a number of deadly terrorist acts against Israelis. In Israel, the Likud Party increased its inciteful rhetoric against Prime Minister Rabin, providing Jewish extremists with the climate that resulted in his assassination in November 1995. The new prime minister, Shimon Peres, moved forward with the peace process, but was defeated in May 1996 by the Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, who capitalized on popular security anxiety caused by a series of deadly terrorist bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Netanyahu initially declined to meet Arafat, and refused to implement the Rabin government's agreement on troop withdrawal. He pursued a hardline policymuch to the disappointment of the administration of U.S. president Bill Clintonthat included the construction of a controversial Jewish settlement at Har Homa (Jamal Abu Ghunaym) on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Although Netanyahu signed in October 1998 the Wye River Memorandum, which mandated further Israeli withdrawal, Oslo continued to unravel. The election of Ehud Barak of the Labor Party gave some hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but negotiations between Barak and Arafat, mediated directly by Clinton at Camp David in July 2000, and indirectly elsewhere, broke down.

The failure of diplomacy and the worsening conditions in the territories resulted in the Aqsa Intifada, which began on 29 September 2000, the day after Ariel Sharon and an Israeli security force of 1,000 visited al-Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount. Arafat probably acquiesced to, if not encouraged, the violence in the hope of achieving diplomatic gains he could not get at the negotiating table, but by doing so he broke his promise made at Oslo to end the attacks on Israel. Barak was voted out of office in early 2001 and replaced by Sharon, a hard-line member of Likud and an opponent of Oslo. The spiral of violence that followed resulted in the collapse of the Oslo peace process.

Both sides blamed the other for the breakdown. Palestinian officials blamed Clinton and Barak, even though Clinton offered far-reaching parameters on 23 December 2000 that moved the process forward, and Barak made groundbreaking concessions to the Palestinians at Taba, Egypt, in January 2001. Israeli and some U.S. officials, especially Barak and Clinton, blamed Arafat, who had championed a two-state solution for three decades but could not accept the offer at Camp David, which would not have led to a viable, contiguous, and independent Palestine state. The media and the public in the Arab world, Israel, and the United States adopted their respective official one-sided versions of the breakdown. Balanced accountssuch as those offered by Deborah Sontag of the New York Times, Clinton's advisor Robert Malley, and Charles Enderlin, a French-Israeli television journalistreveal complex causes and indicate that responsibility for the failure can be shared three ways.

Despite its detractors, the accomplishments of the Oslo Accord are considerable. For the first time in a century, most Arabs and Jews agreed on a solutiona two-state solution. And, after a decade of negotiations from Madrid to Taba, both sides had narrowed their differences on most of the key issues.

see also aqsa intifada, al-; arafat, yasir; baker, james a.; barak, ehud; bush, george herbert walker; camp david summit (2000); clinton, william jefferson; likud; madrid conference (1991); netanyahu, benjamin; palestine liberation organization (plo); peres, shimon; qurai, ahmad sulayman; rabin, yitzhak.


Abbas, Mahmoud. Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo. Reading, U.K.: Garnet, 1995.

Ashwari, Hanan. This Side of Peace: A Personal Account. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Enderlin, Charles. Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 19952002. New York: Other Press, 2003.

Malley, Robert, and Agha, Hussein. "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors." New York Times Review of Books. 9 August 2001.

Peres, Shimon. Battling for Peace: A Memoir. New York: Random House, 1995.

Said, Edward. End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After. New York: Pantheon, 2000.

Savir, Uri. The Process: 1,100 Days that Changed the Middle East. New York: Vintage, 1999.

Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.

Sontag, Deborah. "Quest for the Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed." New York Times. 26 July 2001.

philip mattar

Oslo Accords

views updated Jun 27 2018


Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) negotiated secretly in Oslo, Norway, and signed at the White House on 13 September 1993. These negotiations were begun in February 1993; on 20 August, they resulted in an accord on the provisional autonomy for the Gaza Strip and Jericho ("Gaza-Jericho First" option). The agreement was followed by the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements for the Palestinian Territories. This document was signed in Washington under the sponsorship of the United States and Russia (the former USSR). The signing was the occasion of a historic handshake between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the leader of the PLO, Yasir Arafat.

The text of the accord established a schedule of negotiations over a five-year period leading to the establishment of a permanent status for the Palestinian territories. Until then provisional autonomy would exist in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The specified phases were: a) 13 October 1993, transfer of administrative powers from the Israelis to the Palestinians; b) 13 December 1993, beginning of Israeli military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho, and formation of a Palestinian police force; c) final withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and Jericho; d) 13 July 1994, elections in the territories of a Palestinian council with jurisdiction over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with the exception of East Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements; e) 13 December, 1998 to 13 April 1999, establishment of a definitive and permanent status for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But in the months that followed, many incidents took place that prevented the application of the measures. Leaders of the Likud party in Israel, such as Ariel Sharon, stated that if they came to power they would not honor the agreement, while violence erupted between Jewish settlers of the Gaza Strip and Palestinian radicals.

On 29 April 1994 in Paris, Israelis and Palestinians signed a protocol on Israeli-Palestinian economic relations. On 4 May in Cairo Prime Minister Rabin and Arafat signed a provisional agreement on the application of autonomy in the Palestinian territories, countersigned by Egyptian president Husni Mubarak, the Russian foreign minister, and the American secretary of state. Six days later the first Palestinian police arrived in the Gaza Strip. On 12 May, after the representatives of the right wing walked out of the Chamber, the Israeli Knesset approved the Cairo Accord by a vote of 55–0. On 13 May the Israeli Army gave the keys of the city of Jericho to the Palestinians, and on 12 July, Arafat arrived in Gaza to set up his headquarters. On 29 August the accord was signed on the transfer by Israel of civil powers to the Palestinians.

SEE ALSO Arafat, Yasir;Gaza Strip;Intifada (1987–1993);Knesset;Mubarak, Husni;Sharon, Ariel;West Bank.

Oslo Accords

views updated May 21 2018


OSLO ACCORDS. SeeIsraeli-Palestinian Peace Accord .