The Oslo Accords, 20 Years Later
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE OSLO ACCORDS
- After more than a half-century of bloody conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Zionist Jews, in 1993 Israeli and Palestinian leaders sat down face to face at the negotiating table for the first time in an attempt to forge peace.
- Oslo marked the beginning of a bilateral negotiations process, with international mediation monopolized by the US, Israel's greatest patron, that would become the model for all subsequent negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
- Oslo created the Palestinian Authority (PA), a supposedly interim self-rule government that governs Palestinian population centers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza under overall Israeli military occupation.
WHY DID OSLO FAIL?
- Israeli leaders never accepted the creation of a genuinely independent Palestinian state as part of the two-state solution, continuing to colonize Palestinian land and deepen their control of Palestinians in the occupied territories while supposedly negotiating an end to the occupation.
- The hardline positions of successive Israeli governments were supported by the Clinton administration, and subsequently the administration of George W. Bush, which both failed to do anything to stop settlement construction or other Israeli violations of signed agreements and international law. Instead of serving as an honest broker, the US acted as "Israel's attorney," in the words of longtime senior US State Department official Aaron David Miller.
- The direct bilateral negotiations framework of Oslo accentuated the massive power imbalance between the two parties, which was further reinforced by the failure of the US to act as an even-handed mediator.
- While massively expanding settlements and attendant infrastructure such as Israeli-only roads on occupied Palestinian land, Israel began to place severe restrictions on Palestinian movement, both within the occupied territories themselves and between the territories and the outside world. Rather than gaining their freedom from decades of Israeli military rule, during the Oslo years most Palestinians instead witnessed a deepening of Israel's control over their lives and their land, causing widespread frustration and disillusionment with the peace process.
- A close examination of the agreements comprising the Oslo Accords and Israeli actions on the ground, most notably rapidly expanding settlement construction, indicate that Oslo was intended by its Israeli and American architects to cement Israeli control over the occupied territories while shifting responsibility for policing the Palestinian population from the Israeli army to the security forces of the PA, thus "streamlining" the occupation for Israel.
RESULTS OF OSLO ON THE GROUND
- Between 1993 and 2000, the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), nearly doubled, from 110,900 to 190,206 according to Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem. Today, 20 years after the start of Oslo, there are more than 300,000 Israeli settlers living on Palestinian land in the West Bank, and another 200,000 in East Jerusalem.
- Between 1993 and 2000, almost 1700 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories were destroyed by Israel, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
- Oslo fragmented the West Bank into three separate administrative districts, Areas A, B, C, and Gaza was separated from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (See below section on Oslo II for more on Areas A, B, and C.)
- Occupied East Jerusalem was virtually severed from the rest of the West Bank as a result of Israel's construction of a ring of settlements around the city's expanded municipal boundaries. (See here for map of settlements around East Jerusalem.)
- Oslo resulted in increased restrictions on Palestinian movement within the occupied territories and between the occupied territories and the outside world. Today, at any given time, there are approximately 500 barriers to Palestinian movement in the West Bank, an area smaller than Delaware.
- The restrictions on Palestinian movement and frequent curfews and closures imposed on the occupied territories during the Oslo years and subsequently devastated the Palestinian economy, which has become largely dependent on Israeli tax transfers and international aid.
Oslo I (1993)
Signed on the White House lawn by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin, Oslo I (also known as the Declaration of Principles) was a relatively short document that declared: "The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process is, among other things, to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority... for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years..."
Official Exchange of Letters Between the PLO and Israel (1993)
In an exchange of official letters, the Palestinians formally recognized "the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security." In return, Israel acknowledged the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people but did not endorse the creation of a Palestinian state.
Gaza-Jericho Agreement (1994)
A much longer document than Oslo I, the Gaza-Jericho Agreement spelled out in greater detail the role of the Palestinian Authority and its relationship with Israel, and called for a final peace agreement to be reached within five years.
Protocol on Economic Relations (1994)
The Protocol on Economic Relations (also known as the Paris Protocol) delineated economic relations between Israel and the PA. Amongst other provisions, it stipulated that Israel collect taxes and tariffs from Palestinians and then transfer the funds to the PA. This arrangement has given Israel enormous economic leverage in its dealing with the PA, with Israel frequently withholding desperately needed revenues.
Oslo II (1995)
Oslo II provided for a redeployment of the Israeli military from some parts of the occupied territories and divided the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) into three separate administrative districts: Area A, comprising the approximately 17% of the West Bank where most Palestinians live, which is nominally under PA civil and security control (although Israel continues to exercise overall control); Area B, which comprises approximately 23% of the West Bank and which is under nominal Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control; and Area C, comprising the approximately 60% of the West Bank where most settlers live, which is under full Israeli civil and military control. As a result, Israel maintained total control over most of the West Bank while turning over responsibility for Palestinian population centers to the PA.
Hebron Protocol (1997)
The Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron stipulated further phased withdrawals of Israeli soldiers from sections of Hebron and other parts of the West Bank.
Wye River Memorandum (1998)
The Wye River Memorandum was intended to facilitate the implementation of parts of the Oslo II agreement which Israel had failed to carry out previously, including redeployments of Israeli forces.
Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum (1999)
Similar to the Wye River Memorandum, the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum was intended to implement sections of Oslo II that Israel failed to enact previously, in particular further redeployments of Israeli soldiers. It also called for a permanent agreement on final status issues to be reached by September 2000.
The Clinton Parameters (2000)
Issued in December 2000, the Clinton parameters were a framework for a permanent peace agreement proposed by US President Bill Clinton following the breakdown of talks at Camp David in July 2000. For the Palestinians, its key points included the creation of a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank with Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif mosque complex in the Old City (known as the Temple Mount to Jews). For Israelis it stipulated that settlements comprising 80% of Jewish settlers would be incorporated into Israel, along with settlements in East Jerusalem, and that Israel would retain control over Jewish holy sites in the Old City.
photo: Christopher Hazou/IMEU