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The Oslo Accords: How Far it Went?

Brief History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The conflict between Israel and Palestine can be described as an “existentialist” one which arose from conflicts of two identities claiming the same territory for their political state and national homeland.[1] The conflict boils down to a long line of historical events that prelude to the present controversy. After the end of World War I, Palestine has been under the mandate of the British. During the post World War II, the United Nations General Assembly decided to end the mandate and the splitting of territory into two: the first territory comprised of the Arab state and the other one is the Jewish state. The Jewish state led by the Zionist accepted this partition but the Arab state, including its neighboring countries, disapproved the same. The partition led to bloody war especially in May 1948. The end of the said war led to the declaration of Jewish leaders independence of Israel.

The first ever attempt to resolve the conflict between the two warring Arab-Jewish states is the Armistice Agreement signed in 1949 and entered into by Egypt and Israel. However, both Israel and Palestine took the armistice agreement differently which later on led to its failure to end the conflict. One of the most salient relevance of the agreement is the attempt of both states to plot a defined territory.

The armistice lines became the official borders of the State of Israel, which included larger portions of Palestine than the UN partition plan had originally allotted to the Jewish state. Two parts of mandatory Palestine remained under Arab control: the West Bank, which was eventually annexed by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip, which came under Egyptian administration.[2]

The problem, however, of the said status quo in territory was inevitable. The Palestinian government viewed this movement of establishing Jewish state within the Arab territory as patently illegal. Thus, the Arab leaders aimed to eliminate such establishment. In 1967, the Israeli-Palestinian war led to the blurring of territories mapped during the armistice agreement. Israel later on took control of the following territories: Golan’s Height in Syria, Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, Gaza Strip, and the West Bank.[3] One of the consequences of the war was the withdrawal of armed struggle against Israel by the Arab neighboring states. Hence, the fight was left within the Palestinian themselves. As a matter of fact, in 1979, the Egyptian President visited Jerusalem and entered into peace treaty with the Israel. The disengagement of the Arab states did not stop Palestine to pursue its goal. Under the leadership of Yaser Arafat, an independent movement Fatah, spearheaded the Palestine Liberalization Organization. Through the years, internal struggles in the area remained unresolved. International organizations also attempted to help resolve the unending conflict; Oslo Accords was one of those attempts.

The Making of Oslo Accords

A diplomat once said, “Successful diplomacy is an alignment of objectives and means.” From this statement, an alignment of two elements are necessary to achieve success in diplomacy. However, the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been found wanting in that aspect since the Jews came home from centuries of diaspora to proverbial land of promise. An attempt to fix the conflict rooted since six-day war through the war of Yom Kippur, was the Oslo Accords or Process. Oslo Accords was due to the failure of a previous peace process, Camp David summit.[4]

The Oslo breakthrough occurred because, gradually and slowly, major sectors of both societies were persuaded that their long-term interests and shorter-term domestic concerns required significant changes in their attitudes to­ ward accommodation with the other side. The new thinking was encouraged by historical events, developments on the ground, intervention by outside powers, and direct interac­tion between the parties.

The goal of the Oslo Accords was to end the conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people represented by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) pursuant to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. It has been regarded as a revolutionary attempt in the foreign policy of the Israel, which was due to efforts of three people: Israel’s deputy minister Yossi Beilin, foreign minister Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin. They held out direct peace talks with the PLO.[5]

The unofficial talks dealt initially with economic cooperation but quickly broadened into a dialogue about a joint declaration of principles. In May, Peres took a highly significant decision: he ordered Uri Savir, the director-general of the foreign ministry, and Yoel Singer, a high-flying attorney who had spent twenty years in the IDF legal department, to join Hirschfeld and Pundik on the weekend trips to Oslo. At this point Peres began to report to Rabin regularly on developments in the Norwegian back-channel. At first Rabin showed little interest in this channel but he raised no objection to continuing the explorations either. Gradually, however, he became more involved in the details and assumed an active role in directing the talks alongside Peres. Since Abu Ala reported directly to Arafat, an indirect line of communication had been established between Jerusalem and the PLO headquarters in Tunis.[6]

Although there are institutional developments which incidentally resulted from the Oslo process, it failed to attain its principal objectives which is “peaceful settlement of the conflict of Israel and its neighbors”. This was partly due to, (1) the Oslo Process’ failure or lack thereof to address the underlying cultural and religious enmity between the Jewish-Israeli and the Islamic-Palestinians, (2) the assumption that an institutional-diplomatic approach would actually affect the individual the decisions Israeli or Palestinian on a near one-to-one basis, (3) the insufficient means to muster the political will in the enforcement of the stipulated terms in the accord, (4) lastly, the absence of a feasible mechanism to bind or align the objective and means of the diplomatic efforts.

The Oslo Accords: How Far it Went?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be discussed without considering the social, economic, and religious dimensions. It was in fact due to the establishment of the State of Israel in May 14, 1998, primed and triggered by a strong lobby by the World Zionist Movement, that encouraged the British government to turn over the British Mandate mainly to the Jews as the proposal of partitioning the Mandate Palestine between the Jews and Arabs. The Two-State approach which the Oslo Accords advocate did not really retrospect on the historical root that caused the conflict in the first place; that the Pauli Exclusion Principle of Natural Science is not only analogous but applicable on the failed social experiment that is a Jewish-Arab State of Israel. It is difficult to expressly recognize, let alone to verbalize that no two unit of matter, nation, culture or even religion, can occupy the same finite unit of space or territory.

Article I of Oslo I provides that the aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is, among other thing, to establish the Interim Palestinian Self-Government Authority, the elected council for the Palestinian people of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for the transitional period of not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement.[7] From the provision, one can already see that finite territory or space is a crucial subject matter of the conflict. Basically Oslo I sets the ground work for Israel to gradually and eventually vacate the West Bank and Gaza in favor Arabs to the disadvantage in the perspective of Jews already living in said territories. Placed in a situation where an individual would have to leave his home, although justly compensated, would surely breed more than trivial annoyance to the cause of said displacement. To the average individual Jew, he would likely see the Palestinians as a people who took away their homes and to the average individual Palestinian-Arab, he would likely see the Jews as hegemonic squatters of their land. Hence, the socio-cultural enmity coupled with the fact that both Nations are founded upon a theocratic society, Islam and Judaism. On the one hand, imagine being a Jew and waking up to an Adhan (Call to Prayer), being reminded constantly that these people took away your preferred home just because some agreement says so. On the other hand, imagine being an Arab-Muslim and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) occupying the Gaza strip prohibiting Adhan. In sum, it all boils down to whoever controls the largest portion territory can “freely” exercise one’s culture and religion as can be witnessed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration plans to build an entirely new settlement in the West Bank.[8] This, of course, is not to absolutely pin the Oslo Process of dismissing the cultural and religious enmity but the way the agreement was framed does not directly address said matter. It should be noted that Netanyahu is one of the radical oppositionist of the Oslo Process.

The return of power of the Likud under the leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu dealt another body blow to the Oslo peace process. From the very beginning the Likud had been bitterly opposed to the Labour government’s land-for-peace deal with the PLO. Netanyahu himself repeatedly denounced the accord as a violation of the historic right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and as a mortal danger to their security. The foreign policy guidelines of his government expressed firm opposition to a Palestinian state, to the Palestinian right of return and to the dismantling of Jewish settlements. They also asserted Israel’s sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem and ruled out withdrawal from the Golan Heights. In the Arab world this programme was widely seen as a declaration of war on the peace process.[9]

Another reason why the Oslo Process did not attain its objective is the Framers underlying assumption that an institutional-diplomatic approach would translate into peace and acceptance on the ground among their people. Yes, it is valid argument that without institutions like the United Nations Security Council and Neutral Mediator States, Diplomacy would have a hard time taking shape but it is equally naïve to assume that such institutions will curb the enmity between the two Nations on the level of the individual.

Oslo I establishes the baseline institutions that are need such as the Interim Palestinian Self-Government Authority, The Council, a Working Palestinian Police Force and many more while Oslo II lays the down the detailed guidelines on how these institutions are going to be established and their respective roles and function in ushering the peace in the region. On paper, it really sounds promising but the realities on the ground prove otherwise when young suicide bombers and rockets of Hamas wreak havoc on the residential and commercial hubs of Tel-Aviv and when young IDF conscripts breach doors of Palestinian homes or Israeli Bombs kills Palestinian infants in the hope of eliminating “insurgents” without the cost of Jewish troops.

While it can be argued that, these institutions are intended to regulate or eliminate such occurrences and that total control of individual action cannot be achieved, it would really enhance these institutions if each individual Arab or Jew would begin to have a mindset of acceptance of their neighbors, and place it upon themselves to undertake the challenge of genuine reconciliation rather than nurturing vengeance or retribution.

Article VI and VII of Oslo I, Article X of Oslo II provides for the administrative transition from the Israeli Military Government and the Civil Administration to the Palestinian Council.[10] Again, it sounds good on paper but did anyone really stop to think what will happen to the Jobs of the Israeli Military Government and Civil Administration governing these areas? Naturally, these civil servants would not want to end the occupation for the very reason that they will lose jobs. After the transition, it is expected that the functions of these government agencies would cease to be relevant and surely there would be lay-off. Hence, to an individual Israeli Civil Servant, it would greatly benefit him if the occupation or the status quo continued. With that illustration, it seems that the Oslo Process in substance is as brittle as Rice Krispies. It actually has form by way of its proposed institutional approach but lacking in substance by being silent on the level of the individual.

The third reason for the failure is the insufficiency of the means to muster the political will in the enforcements of the accords. The United Nations as an organization committed to promote world peace and mutual respect among Nations can only do so much as mediating and facilitating the peace process. It is eventually up to the parties-in-interest to settle the issues of their conflict. In the course of the transition, period numerous violations of the Oslo Accords were violated by both parties, whether officially or covertly.[11]  The UN cannot do anything more but condemn such acts. Although periodically, it sends observation teams and investigating delegations, its role is only fact finding rather than actual enforcement of the Accords. The five years’ interim period ended in May 1999 without reaching a comprehensive peace agreement, but elements of the Oslo Accords remained. However, the interim Palestinian Authority became permanent, and a dominant factor of the PLO. The West Bank remained divided into three areas. 60% of the West Bank and under exclusive Israeli military and civilian control. Less than 1% of area C is designated for use by Palestinians, who are also unable to build in their own existing villages in area C due to Israeli restrictions.[12]

In some way, there were institutions that were created incidental to the Oslo Accords but the purpose of the accords is from reach. In fact, it took a detour during the second Intifada in 2000-2002. The aim enunciated in Article I of Oslo I were thrown out the window when Ariel Sharon, the 11th prime minister of Israel visited the temple mount and this was seen by the Palestinians as provocative subsequently causing protest and stoning. The IDF and police dispersed the mob with tear gas, rubber bullets and eventually lethal force.

The final reason which encapsulates the first three is the absence of a feasible mechanism to bind or align the objective and means of the diplomatic effort. In both Oslo I and II, there was no mention of how the limited means would achieve the common objective of parties and at the same time cater the sufficient national interest of each. The whole Accord was about providing for the Palestinians, and Israel losing the Natural Gas deposits of the Gaza strip and living space in the West bank to the proposed Palestinian Authority.

Although the truly aggrieved party in terms of territory are the Palestinians, natural gas deposit and production are chips a rational state does not just give away without a fight. No wonder it failed to attain the principal objective and the violence continues to the present day. The accord did not offer an advantageous peace to Israel or at least a reasonable compromise. As Carl von Clausewitz aptly put it,

For it is easy to see that if our opponent is likely to agree to stop fighting, on terms that would be advantageous to us, then logic requires that at least we ask ourselves whether further fighting to the very end is rational. It might be seen to be appallingly wasteful; it might actually destroy the chance of an advantageous peace to which a lessening of our military presence would have led. Admittedly, it might turn out that neither of this consideration is sufficient, in a particular case to justify a lessening of our military pressure upon our opponent. But empathetically they are the kinds of consideration which intelligent governments have often explored and exploited, in order to bring a burdensome war to an advantageous close.[13]

According to scholars, the failure of Oslo Accords can be attributed to some shortcomings. One of these is the fact that it did not resolve the core issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict.[14] It is also noteworthy to emphasize that its failure is also attributable to the two states – Israel in renouncing the deal and Palestine in resorting to violence. The Oslo Accords may have failed in achieving its principal objective in resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict but it does not absolutely place the accords as useless. The flaws of the accord might give future diplomats handling the matter something consider in drafting a long sought peace in the Palestine.


Oslo Accord I, September 13, 1993.

Carl von Clausewitz. Trans. By Colonel J.J. Graham, ‘On the Nature of War’, (London: N: Trubner, 1874).

Kelman Herbert, ‘The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process and Its Vicissitudes: Insights from Attitude Theory’, (American Psychologist Association 2007).

Libberman and McKirdy, ‘Israel to build entirely New Settlement in West Bank’, (CNN 1 February 2017) <http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/01/middleeast/israel-settlements-approved/> Accessed March 27, 2017

Saeb Erekat, ‘What Israel seeks is Apartheid’, (Palestine News Network, October 2015). <http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/10/killed-oslo-accords-151001072411049.html> Accessed March 27, 2017.

Shlaim Avi, ‘The Rise and Fall of Oslo Process’, (Oxford University Press 2005).

World Bank Report# AUS2922, ‘West Bank and Gaza: Area C and the future Palestinian economy, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Department: Middle East and North Africa Region,’ (World Bank Organization, 2013).

 [1] Kelman Herbert, The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process and Its Vicissitudes: Insights from Attitude Theory, (American Psychologist Association 2007) 287.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Shlaim Avi, The Rise and Fall of Oslo Process, (Oxford University Press 2005) 243.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Article I, Oslo Accord I, September 13, 1993

[8] Libberman and McKirdy. “Israel to build entirely New Settlement in West Bank, (CNN 1 February 2017) <http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/01/middleeast/israel-settlements-approved/> Accessed March 27, 2017

[9] Shlaim Avi, The Rise and Fall of Oslo Process, (Oxford University Press 2005) 254.

[10] Art VI & VII Oslo Accord I. September 13, 1993; Art X Oslo Accord II. September 28, 1995

[11] Saeb Erekat, What Israel seeks is Apartheid, (Palestine News Network, October 2015). <http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/10/killed-oslo-accords-151001072411049.html> Accessed March 27, 2017.

[12] World Bank Report# AUS2922, West Bank and Gaza: Area C and the future Palestinian economy, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Department: Middle East and North Africa Region, (World Bank Organization, 2013) 11.

[13] Carl von Clausewitz. Trans. By Colonel J.J. Graham, On the Nature of War, (London: N: Trubner, 1874) 34.

[14] c

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