Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: Negotiation of the Oslo Accord (1993)
August 20, 1993 marked the conclusion of negotiations for the Oslo Accord --formally known as the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements. The Oslo Accord (now known as the Oslo I Accord) was an outcome of the 1991 Madrid Conference, an attempt by the international community to revive the Israel-Palestine peace process. While the Oslo I Accord was not a peace treaty in itself, it took steps to set an atmosphere conducive for negotiating a permanent peace agreement. However, peace still remains an elusive dream.
Oslo I provided for the withdrawal of Israel from Jericho and Gaza. A Palestinian Authority (PA) would be established and assume governance in the areas for a five-year period. The agreement did not establish a separate Palestinian state. Over the course of the five year term, the two parties would negotiate the core issues of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, security and borders to arrive at a long-term peace deal.
After the series of secret talks that took place in Oslo over several months, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in a letter of recognition, acknowledged the State of Israel and vowed to reject violence. Israel, in turn recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. This was the first time in history that the State of Israel and the PLO formally recognized each other.
The ceremonial signing of the declaration took place at the White House about a month later, although the U.S. had not been actively involved in the negotiation process. The agreement was signed by then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO negotiator Mahmoud Abbas, and witnessed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. The following year, Arafat, Peres and Rabin were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “their efforts to create peace in the Middle East”
Following the declaration, in September, 1995, another accord --formally known as the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip or Oslo II-- was reached. The agreement divided the West Bank into three areas, controlled by either Israel, Palestine, or Palestinian civil authority with Israeli military authority. Shimon Peres referred to the negotiations as a "tightrope," acknowledging that he and other principals had to overcome "mountains of hatred, chasms of fear" to travel the uncharted road.
The Oslo Accords, however, were not welcomed by all. Israelis on the right deemed the PLO a terrorist organization and opposed negotiating with them. Other Israelis worried that the agreement would dispossess them of the land that was rightfully theirs. On the Palestinian side, groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine refused to recognize Israel.
In 1995, Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli who opposed the Oslo Accords on religious grounds at a peace rally. Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party, which has always rejected the idea of Palestinian statehood, was elected Prime Minister. The two sides had been unable to reach an agreement on the core issues of dispute. The peace process, thus, began to decline amidst a surge of riots and bombings, and by the end of 2000, the failure of the Oslo Accords was clear. The vision of Arab-Israeli peace still remains unrealized.