Why the Oslo Accords Failed

What went wrong?

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[The Oslo Accords, which were signed in 1993, were designed as confidence-building measures to create trust between Israelis and Palestinians and bring peace to the region. Yet less than a decade after those accords were signed, the region was already mired in war. Following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, a former member of Peace Watch, a watch-dog group that monitored the implementations of the Oslo Accords, analyzed what went wrong.

Since the writing of this article, Arafat's death in 2004 changed the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, leaving the Palestinian Authority to govern the area. Although the terrorist bombins have subsided, rockets continue to be fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The hopes of peace and security that the Oslo agreements offered have still not been realized.]
 
The failure of the Oslo agreements can be ascribed to the same reasons that are usually the cause of most agreement failures: both parties felt that Oslo had not delivered what they had expected from it.
 
Oslo was from the start meant to be an interim agreement as a prelude to the expected difficult negotiations toward a final agreement. An important component of it was that peace could be spread by goodwill on the part of the leaderships of both peoples.

The Expectations

Palestinian expectations were in the main twofold. The first expectation was that the Oslo process would bring to a halt the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Israeli withdrawals were to proceed according to a fixed schedule leading to Palestinian Authority control over more than 90 percent of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, setting the stage for final Israeli withdrawal all the way to the 1967 borders.
 
The second expectation centered around increased economic development in Palestinian society, lifting Palestinians out of crushing poverty and narrowing the gap in living standards between them and the Israelis that many Palestinians thought humiliating and enraging.
 
Israeli expectations mostly centered on security. Decades of Palestinian terrorism had led many Israelis to fear that relinquishing control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip would leave Israel exposed to hostile Palestinian movements who would use the territories as springboards from which to launch terrorist acts well within Israel.
 
The Oslo agreements were to assuage these fears by establishing a Palestinian Authority that would consider organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as a threat to its own existence, thus aligning Israeli interests in fighting terrorism with the interests of the Palestinian leadership.
 
Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's prime minister when the agreements were signed, put it rather inelegantly when he stated that the Palestinian Authority would fight terrorism more effectively than Israelis ever could because it would operate without constraints imposed by “human rights groups and the Israeli Supreme Court.” In that statement, he was expressing the hope many Israelis pinned behind the agreement for an anti-terrorism alliance between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Oslo agreements even established “joint patrols” involving Israeli and Palestinian soldiers patrolling side by side to prevent terrorist attacks.
 
In summary, the Oslo agreement set up an expected quid pro quo that could be stated as “land and economics in exchange for security.” The unraveling of the Oslo process began with the sense that the quid pro quo was not being implemented as planned.

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Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.