Last week marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords (September 13, 1993) at the South Lawn of the White House. Israel’s Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin and his nemesis, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) were the focus of the event. Rabin was reluctant to shake Arafat’s bloodied hands but urged by President Bill Clinton, he reluctantly stretched out his hand. The moment appeared to the international community and the media as a “miracle in the making,” but the yearned for peace that the Accords promised was dead on arrival.
Arafat never intended to make peace with the Jewish State, he only wanted to enact the “peace of Hudaybiyyah,” a ten-year treaty the Prophet Mohammad made with the Meccan Quraysh tribe in 628CE. Weakened and shunned by the international community, including most of the Arab world for his support for the Iraqi dictator Sadam Hussein’s brutal invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Arafat was isolated in his Tunis bunker. He was rescued by the follies of the Israeli Labor party dreamers, including Yossi Beilin, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Yair Hirschfeld, Ron Pundak, and Yoel Singer, Rabin’s confidant. Uri Savir headed the Israeli negotiating team. On the Palestinian side, Ahmed Qurei, aka Abu Ala was the chief negotiator. The Israelis figured that in his weakened position, Arafat might be amenable to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In September 1993, just prior to the White House signing of the Accords, Israel and the PLO signed the Declaration of Principles on Palestinian Self Rule, the first agreement between the two sides that became known as the Oslo Accords. The US was kept in the dark about the ongoing negotiations in Oslo, the Norwegian capital. Once the Oslo negotiators completed their work, both Rabin and Arafat were happy to embrace US President Bill Clinton as the facilitator. Clinton was naturally delighted to host the occasion of the signing of the Accords at the White House, and the prestige the occasion provided him.
Ironically, when this reporter interviewed Rabin earlier, the PM was adamant that he would not negotiate with Arafat. It took some persuasion from Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Rabin’s arch-rival in the Labor Party, and the positive movement in Oslo negotiations, that persuaded Rabin to accept the negotiation process. Rabin didn’t trust Peres, and Arafat even less.
It didn’t take long after the signing of the Oslo Accords at the White House that Arafat, in a speech at a Johannesburg South African mosque, called for Jihad to liberate Jerusalem. The speech was secretly recorded by a South African journalist and subsequently broadcast on Israeli radio. Arafat’s remarks came just days after the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in Cairo, and only three days before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were to withdraw from Jericho.
Arafat declared that the Jihad would continue, and that Jerusalem is not only for the Palestinian people but for the entire Muslim Uma. Arafat compared the unpopularity of the agreement with Israel among Muslims with the Hudaybiyyah Treaty in which Mohammad agreed to a 10-year truce with the Quraysh tribe and then when he got stronger in Medina, he conquered Mecca. Arafat’s message to his listeners was clear: just as Mohammad was waiting for the right moment to violate the Hudaybiyyah Treaty, he (Arafat) was waiting for the right moment to violate the Oslo Accords with Israel.
The Israelis, nevertheless, wanted to believe in a breakthrough with the Palestinians despite Arafat’s making his intentions clear. For Arafat, the Oslo Accords was the Trojan Horse that would give him entry to the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. What ensued in the subsequent years was terror by suicide bombers and the “revolving prison door.” Arafat would pretend to arrest a Palestinian terrorist murderer for show, and immediately release him/her with a blessing for his/her good work.
Three decades after the signing of the Declaration of Principles which led to the Oslo Accords, Israelis are still divided on whether Oslo was a positive development or the opposite. One positive that came out of the Accords was that Israelis are now certain that no one can provide security for Israeli citizens but Israelis. The thought that Arafat’s or Mahmoud Abbas’ security services could effectively deal with Palestinian terror, an idea entertained at the time by Rabin, proved to be wrong and harmful. For Itzhak Rabin the Oslo Accords were a way to separate Israel from the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In Rabin’s mind, the demographic factor played a significant role. He was fearful that Israel might turn from a Jewish and democratic state to a bi-national state. This, however, is no longer a major concern since Jewish birthrates have neared that of the Palestinians. In any case, with 95% of the Palestinians now under the Palestinian Authority jurisdiction, the Oslo Accords served as the instrument for the separation.
The Oslo process made it clear to the majority of Israelis and its leadership that there is no chance to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or conclude a peace treaty with the Palestinian national movement, in the near future. The current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the late PM Itzhak Rabin held similar views regarding a Palestinian state. Rabin opposed a Palestinian state but was for a “state-minus,” whereby Israel would continue to control the Jordan alley, and the settlement blocs. Netanyahu is opposed to a Palestinian state because it would be a terrorist state, and ultimately controlled by Hamas.
The Oslo process meant to end Palestinian terror and provide security for Israel and sovereignty for the Palestinians. But for Arafat and his successor, replacing Israel rather than living side-by-side with it is the ultimate goal. Moreover, now unlike in 1993, there are two Palestinian states; the Islamist Hamas ruling Gaza with an uncompromising agenda to destroy the Jewish state, and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority that failed its people.
At the signing of the Oslo Accords, President Bill Clinton said “The children of Abraham have embarked together on a bold journey.” That journey was never seriously undertaken by Arafat or his successor Mahmoud Abbas. This was proven in July 2000, at the Camp David summit, when Arafat refused to “end the conflict,” and launched the second Intifada, despite far-reaching concessions made by Israeli PM Ehud Barak. In 2008, Abbas similarly refused to end the conflict when offered even more extensive concessions. Thus, three-decades later invoking the “Oslo process” conjures up a feeling of defeat.