Is Oslo dying? Is it already dead? Was it defective from birth, and
therefore predestined to whither in infancy? Or is it only
suffering from a passing ill¬ness that it will surely
Whatever the answer, Oslo is in deep trouble.
Yasser Arafat defined the Oslo document as "the best possible
agreement in the worst possible circumstances," and he was right.
The weakness of the PLO after the Gulf War was exploited to the
full by the Israeli negotia¬tors, especially in the final
phase of the negotiations in Oslo, when Rabin's men effectively
took over from the Peres-Beilin outfit.
In spite of this, many of us greeted the agreement
enthusiastically. As we saw it, the decisive historical step was
the mutual recognition of the Israeli and Palestinian nations after
110 years of mutual denial. Compared to this revolutionary
breakthrough, everything else was of secondary importance.
The birth defects of the Oslo DOP were, of course, obvious even
then, and we did not refrain from pointing them out. We hoped,
however, that the dynamics of peace would take over, and with
goodwill on both sides the faults of the agreement would be
This, quite simply, has not happened. The goodwill has evaporated,
the defects have come to the fore.
Most of the defects of the agreement can be traced to one central
point: the absence of basic agreement about the final aim of the
While it is axiomatic for the Palestinians that the interim period
must lead to the establishment of the State of Palestine in the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem,
the Israeli government asserts that the question of the final aim
is completely open.
This view clashes with the words of Article I: "It is understood
that... the negotiations on the permanent status will lead to the
implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338."
Resolution 242 is not a meaningless mantra, but a binding document
based on "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by
war" and demanding "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from
territories occupied in the recent (1967) conflict." In the context
of Oslo, this clearly means the termination of Israeli rule in the
West Bank and Gaza. As neither Egypt nor Jordan demands these
territories back, it follows that they must be turned over (after
the interim period) to the Palestinian people - and this is indeed
the essence of Oslo, as understood by objective observers.
However, the Israeli government consistently denies this basic
assump¬tion in word and deed, insisting that "all options are
open." Since the sign¬ing, it becomes more and more clear that
the real aim of the Rabin govern¬ment is the partition of the
West Bank and Gaza between Israel and Palestinian enclaves (this is
called "territorial compromise"), leading to the annexation by
Israel of the following areas: Greater Jerusalem (up to Bethlehem,
Jericho and Ramallah), the Jordan Valley, the enlarged Etzion bloc,
the enlarged Ariel bloc, the Katif bloc and more.
This is now openly propagated by Meretz leader and Environment
Minister Yossi Sarid, who fancies himself as the unofficial
spokesman for Mr. Rabin. (Earlier on Mr. Sarid, who has been
appointed by Mr. Rabin as a member of the Israeli negotiating team,
coined the phrase: "We must twist the arm of Arafat, but without
This plan explains the continued half-secret settlement activity
which has only lately come under scrutiny. If one puts the map of
the new (or "enlarged" old) settlements, roads, bridges and tunnels
on top of the old map, the form of the planned old "partition"
clearly emerges. After the partition of 1947 and 1949, this would
reduce the Palestinian part of Palestine to a mere shadow.
Elections: a Central Issue
The controversy over the settlements is a function of this basic
disagree¬ment. According to the DOP, this was to be one of the
subjects to be dis¬cussed in the "permanent status"
negotiations, which are supposed to start "not later than" May
1996. The agreed solutions were to be implemented three years
later. Until then, all existing settlements were to remain in
place, under the protection of the Israeli army.
This is nearly impossible to reconcile with the central provisions
of the agreement, under which the Israeli army was to leave the
"populated areas" of the West Bank not later than July 1994 (on the
eve of the Palestinian elections). Scores of tiny Israeli
settlements are - on pur¬pose - so located as to make the
withdrawal of the occupation forces from Palestinian roads, towns
and villages impossible.
The solution would have been a unilateral Israeli decision to
dismantle immediately at least all these exposed settlements, such
as Netzarim and Kfar Darom near Gaza, the Jewish enclaves in Hebron
and Kiryat Arba, etc. This, Mr. Rabin most emphatically refuses to
do, for reasons of his own (whether psychological or political),
and there the matter, and indeed the whole peace process, rests
As the withdrawal is hitched in the agreement to the general
elections for the self-government council, these were simply
prevented by the Israeli government from taking place. Yet the
elections are the very essence of the whole agreement. Nearly all
other provisions revolve around this central act.
"Direct, free and general political elections will be held for the
Council (i.e., the "elected council" of the "Palestinian Interim
Self-Government Authority" mentioned in Article I) under agreed
supervision and interna¬tional observation, while the
Palestinian police will ensure public order ... An agreement will
be concluded ... with the goal of holding the elections not later
than nine months after the entry into force of the Declaration of
It follows that the elections should have taken place "not later
than" July 13, 1994. But on that date, negotiations on "the exact
mode and conditions of the elections" had not even started. They
have not started in real earnest even now.
Election day is the second major date in the agreement (the first
being the date fixed for the transfer of authority in Gaza and
Jericho). By causing a major delay, the Israeli government has
avoided the implementation of many of its obligations under this
agreement, and not only the "redeploy¬ment" of the Israeli
Next to the settlement issue, Jerusalem is the second big land-mine
on the road to peace. Article V of the DOP says: "Permanent status
negotiations will commence as soon as possible, but not later than
the beginning of the third year of the interim period ... these
negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including: Jerusalem,
refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders ... "
The Israeli government pretends that the words "as soon as
possible" just do not appear. It has repeatedly asserted that even
the raising of the Jerusalem issue by the Palestinians at this time
is a denial of the agreement. As the wording clearly shows, this is
completely false. The Palestinians are perfectly entitled to raise
this issue at any time. (However, the Israeli gov¬ernment is
not obliged to agree to the start of negotiations on this issue
before May 1996.)
Any agreement to negotiate on any issue automatically includes the
obligation to negotiate "in good faith." This is an internationally
accepted principle, which is also embedded in Israeli law (Article
XIII of the Law of Contracts). This obligation is in sharp contrast
to the frequently repeated statement of the Israeli government that
there is nothing to negotiate since "Jerusalem will remain the
eternal capital of Israel, under sole Israeli sov¬ereignty."
"In good faith" presupposes a process of give and take and an
eventual compromise. If the Israeli government has no intention to
honor this obligation, why did it agree to this Article?
Furthermore, the obligation to negotiate "in good faith" includes,
as a matter of course, the obligation to freeze the situation on
the ground. If one side can change the situation in such a way as
to preclude any future com¬promise at all, then obviously, the
obligation to negotiate makes no sense. But the Israeli
authorities, both governmental and municipal, are proceed¬ing
at full speed to change the situation in Jerusalem irreversibly by
expro¬priating land, destroying houses, building new Jewish
neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, etc.
The same, of course, is true for the obligation to negotiate on
This includes a self-evident undertaking not to build or expand
settlements during the interim period.
Closure - a Blatant Violation
According to Article IV of the DOP, "The two sides view the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose
integrity will be pre¬served during the interim period." This
is a major principle, giving the self-¬government a solid
territorial basis (and constituting a major departure from Camp
David-style "autonomy"). This principle is broken daily by the
Israeli Government and its military and civilian arms, who treat
the West Bank (outside of Jericho) as if the occupation there is
continuing unchanged. The endless delays in the implementation of
the "safe pas¬sage" between Gaza and Jericho are just one
Another example is the insistence of the Israeli Government on its
con¬tinuing ownership of so-called "government land" in the
West Bank. This land, actually the land reserves of the population
for its expanding needs, should be turned over to the Palestinian
authorities in the wake of "early empowerment."
The most blatant violation of this article is the so-called
"closure" imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Apart
from its devastat¬ing economic consequences, this closure cuts
Gaza off from the West Bank, and both from Arab Jerusalem, which
harbors nearly all the important eco¬nomic, medical, political
and cultural facilities and institutions of the Palestinian people.
It seems that the closure, allegedly imposed for securi¬ty
reasons only, serves mainly as a corridor to the solution
envisioned by Mr. Rabin: the archipelago of enclaves.
Not all the measures necessary for the creation of an atmosphere
con¬ducive to Israeli-Palestinian peace are spelled out in the
Oslo or Cairo agreements, but follow from the preamble of the
The preamble of the Oslo agreement defines its aim as follows: "To
put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict, recognize
their mutual legitimate and political rights, and strive to live in
peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a
just, lasting and comprehen¬sive peace settlement and historic
reconciliation through the agreed political process."
There is a basic contradiction between an agreement aimed at a
historic reconciliation and a dictate based on the prevailing
balance of power. One example: historic reconciliation means that
both Israelis and Palestinians draw a line under 112 years of
conflict, with all their concomitant acts of war, bloodshed and
even atrocities, committed by both sides. Fighters of both sides,
whether in uniform or not, who did whatever they did in order to
serve their people - according to their own conviction - must be
included in this general reconciliation.
However, the government of Israel sticks to the terminology of the
occu¬pation and goes on pretending that many Palestinians are
"criminals," It refuses to release in particular those "with Jewish
blood on their hands." The same rule is not applied, of course, to
soldiers and settlers who have Palestinian blood on their hands
(some 1,500 men, women and children have been killed in the
Intifada alone), the vast majority of whom have not even been
brought to justice. Yet today, about 6,000 prisoners, men, women
and even children, remain in prison, creating frustration,
disillu¬sionment and hatred. The same goes for many hundreds
of houses in the West Bank that have been sealed by the military
authorities as a form of collective punishment.
The Prevailing Mood
The stage for many of the violations has been set by the famous
statement of Mr. Rabin, "No dates are sacred." This constitutes a
blanket declaration of intent not to honor the agreement, which
has, since then, been amply supported.
In any treaty, as in any commercial agreement, dates are indeed
sacred, being an essential part of every undertaking. (As a friend
said to me, "Try to tell your banker the date on your promissory
note is not sacred!")
On the other hand, the Israeli Government insists that Arafat has
violat¬ed the agreement, because he has not yet fulfilled his
undertaking in the letter preceding the Washington handshake: "to
submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the
necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant." Yet this
undertaking has no time limit. Therefore, no date - whether sacred
or not - applies in this case.
This has its reason. The Israeli Government had no desire to compel
Arafat to convene a meeting of the PNC for this purpose, before a
solid majority for the Oslo agreement has come into being. Until
now, the very opposite has happened: the climate of frustration and
despair strengthens the hand of the Palestinian opponents. Also,
and perhaps more important¬ly, Mr. Rabin does not allow
hundreds of Palestinian leaders, such as George Habash and Naif
Hawatmeh, to come to Gaza, where such a meet¬ing must take
place. It will be well-nigh impossible to get them out again after
As for the Israeli contention that Mr. Arafat is breaking the
agreement by not putting an end to terrorism by Hamas, Jihad and
other opposition groups, even in Israeli military circles there is
no agreement about what the Palestinian National Authority could or
should do. However, there can be no doubt about a basic fact: the
effectiveness of any measures to prevent such violence depends on
the prevailing mood of the general Palestinian public.
As long as many Palestinians believe that Israel has no intention
at all to implement the agreement in letter and spirit, but rather
intends to contin¬ue the occupation in a different form,
violence may be expected to flourish. There is not much that Mr.
Arafat, confined to Gaza, his arms "twisted" by Mr. Rabin, can do