Oslo Accords Revisited

As the on going General Summit at the UN grabs the attention of the world, one can not stop reminiscing about the fact that this month marks the twentieth anniversary for the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

oslo-accordsCan you believe that it is already so many years ago that the world watched in joy upon the handshake between two men who are no longer with us: former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his counterpart, former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

Despite the obvious flaws and uncertainties that the Oslo Accords were born with, they nevertheless marked a significant breakthrough between Israel and the Palestinians, two adversaries that has experienced decades of conflict. A mutual recognition replaced a former mutual rejection of the counterpart. A historic compromise was brokered back then by former American President Bill Clinton.

What made the Oslo Accords initially successful was the principle of one step at a time. None of the key-issues such as the fate of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, the settlements or final borders were mentioned.

All of the final-status agreements were to be solved at a later stage. The Oslo Accords basically consisted of trying to give the Palestinians some sort of jurisdiction over their future area, beginning with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho.

The late Palestinian historian Edward Said argued that the Oslo Accords were a tool presented to the Palestinians for absolute surrender as they would only get 22% of the land that was originally promised in the UN Partition Plan of 1947. Others like the Israeli “New Historian” Avi Shlaim praised the agreement and thought that this would finally bring an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Oslo Accords had many flaws, but they were not doomed to fail as many pundits claim.

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In the end they failed, because the leaders who accepted the agreement passed away and the leaders who inherited the Accords were not as keen on making peace as their predecessor. The current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously served as premier in the late 90s and he did not view Oslo as positive as the late Yitzhak Rabin.

Neither did his successor Ariel Sharon, but when Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton tried to make peace with Arafat, it was the latter who held his horses. None of the politicians had the courage or felt they could trust their counterpart.

Today it seems like history is repeating itself, as the current US Secretary of State John Kerry has managed to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. However time will only tell if this round of negotiations will prove more successful. Not much is known about the current negotiations, but apparently all issues are to be discussed.

Maybe this time peace will be brokered? History begs to differ, as it has shown so many flawed attempts, including the initially brightest of them all, the Oslo Accords.

David Jano earned his Master’s degree in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Southern Denmark. He is an expert on Israeli politics, society and culture, and has contributed to Danish television, radio and various written Danish Media. Read other articles by David.