Why the Oslo Process Failed?

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Why the Oslo Peace Process Failed

Over the past few weeks, US President Joe Biden has renewed calls for the so-called two state-solution. “We cannot give up on a two-state solution,” or so he repeated on October 20th, November 19th , November 24th, December 5th and on other occasions as well (1, 2, 3, 4).

Let’s therefore explore what went wrong the last time Israeli and Palestinian leaders went down the “two-state solution” route.

The idea of the two-state solution was an idea born out of the Oslo Process, which laid the faulty foundation for everything to follow. So let’s talk about Oslo.

Problem #1: Many Palestinian political & militant organizations were left out of the process.

The Oslo Process, which set in motion the 2-state solution framework, excluded Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This was a strange decision by Israel & the PLO, since, for years prior to the signing of the Accords, these were the primary groups engaged in an armed struggle against the Israeli military. Hamas carried out attacks against Israeli military targets in February 1989, May 1992, July 1992, October 1992 & December 1992, and against Israeli civilians in December 1990 & June 1993. The PLO — the group that signed the Accords with Israel — had already renounced violence in 1988. How did Israel expect to solve for the bloodshed without negotiating with the groups causing it?

You might be asking yourself — how could Israel negotiate with groups calling for its destruction? Weren’t those groups opposed to negotiations? On June 1, 1988, Hamas leaders Mahmoud al-Zahar and Ibrahim al-Yazuri traveled from Gaza to Tel Aviv to meet with Yitzhak Rabin, then Israeli Minister of Defense. They presented Rabin a plan to solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Israel had to declare its intention to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. Then, it had to transfer authority of the territories to a neutral party, such as the UN, the European Common Market, the Arab League, or the Organization of African States. Israel also had to release all Palestinian detainees and allow the Palestinians to name their representatives without Israeli interference. Then Israel and the Palestinians would negotiate final status issues. Hamas put a peaceful framework in place to solve the conflict.

Negotiations must therefore include all parties to the armed conflict, especially the ones engaged in the arms part of the conflict. Hamas and Islamic Jihad cannot be left out of the peace talks, nor can other armed groups like the Lion’s Den or the Jenin Brigades. The best way to guarantee the failure of a future peace process is to exclude political and military groups party to the conflict.

Problem #2: Israel was both party to the Agreement & the Enforcer of the Agreement.

The Israel-Palestine conflict involves weak political and military groups of stateless people, on the one hand, and a strong state with a powerful military, on the other hand.

What is needed in such an environment is a neutral 3rd party to ensure mutual compliance. During the Oslo Process, the United States was neither neutral nor did it exert enough power ensuring mutual compliance. In fact, during the 2000-2001 negotiations, documents were presented to the Palestinian negotiating team from the American diplomats, with the notes of the Israeli diplomatic team accidentally left in the margins. In other words, the Israelis and Americans collaborated on establishing a position, that would be handed to the Palestinian team for review. The most powerful country in the world was acting on behalf of side that already had all the power and leverage in the negotiations.

The result was Israel decided how to interpret the rules of engagement, and insisting on retaining the right to interpret the rules of engagement, because it could, because it had all the power. We know this because Israeli leaders have admitted it. “What happened with the Oslo Accords?” asked Bibi Netanyahu in a 2001 leaked recording. “I was asked about the Oslo Accords before the election in 1996, will you fulfill them?”

Bib Netanyahu said: “I gave my own interpretation to the agreement in such a way that will allow me to stop the race back towards the 1967 borders. How did we do it? Nobody defined what military facilities are, so I also defined them as being security zones. The entire Jordan Valley, for me, is a ‘military facility.’”

And then Netanyahu, as he himself confesses in the leaked recording, refused to sign the Hebron Accords of 1997 unless both Arafat and US Secretary of State Warren were to sign a document conceding that “Israel and Israel alone gets to define what a military facility is.

Netanyahu had exercised his veto power on the entire Oslo Process to preserve his ability to define how the terms of the Accords were allowed to be interpreted. This guaranteed their failure.

Problem #3: Israel and the Palestinians never had equal seats at the negotiating table

The Israeli negotiators enjoyed all the rights and privileges afforded to them by the State of Israel, especially freedom of movement. Meanwhile, the Palestinian negotiators were subjected to Israeli occupation, closure, harassment and humiliation at military checkpoints and lockdowns.

Meetings between Palestinian Authority representatives & Israeli officials took place in Tel Aviv in 2000-2001. And so Palestinian Authority officials would have to drive from Ramallah to Tel Aviv, and thus pass through Israeli checkpoints. Diana Buttu recalls that, nearly every time they would pass, the Israeli military would hold up very senior members of the Palestinian delegation for hours at checkpoints: old men, left in the sun for hours, having their permits inspected by 19-year old Israeli soldiers. This was standard operating procedure. And all of this begs the question, how can you negotiate with a state that has its foot on your neck?

Instead, what is needed is a process that treats Israelis and Palestinians equal. This is the crux of the matter, or at least that’s what Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in 2006. It’s too bad no one took him seriously:

Little will change for the Palestinians under Olmert's plan. Our land will still be occupied and our people enslaved and oppressed by the occupying power. So we will remain committed to our struggle to get back our lands and our freedom. Peaceful means will do if the world is willing to engage in a constructive and fair process in which we and the Israelis are treated as equals. (source).

Sending you so much love.