When I heard late last week that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO Central Committee decided they would no longer manage their relations with Israel on the basis of the Oslo agreements, I almost burst into laughter. I thought to myself, what remains from those agreements anyway? From September 1993 until September 1999, the governments of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed six agreements:
• Declaration of Principles – September 1993
• Paris Economic Protocol – April 1994
• Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area – May 1994
• Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – September 1995
• Wye River Agreement – October 1998
• Sharm el Sheikh Memorandum – September 1999
Way before August 2019, all six of these agreements were breached in the most substantive ways – by both sides. Both Israel and the PLO in fact breached the most significant and basic obligations they took upon themselves, and did not implement what they agreed to do. The failure of the Oslo peace process is the failure of both parties. Neither side is innocent, and both sides have direct responsibility for where we are today.
After hearing the decision of the PLO Central Council, I decided to go back and reread the agreements. I didn’t have to get very far to discover the total non-existence of what both parties agreed to implement. I will bring just a few direct quotes from the agreements to demonstrate their non-existence in reality. Let’s start with the timeline.
“The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process is, among other things, to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority, the elected Council, for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement.”
That was signed on September 13, 1993. By my count, the interim period should have ended in May 1999, five years after the establishment of the PA. That was only 20 years ago. The parties agreed to launch permanent status negotiations according to the Declaration of Principles: “Permanent status negotiations will commence as soon as possible, but not later than the beginning of the third year of the interim period, between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian people representatives.”
They did begin only at the end of year five, only after the Palestinians threatened to declare unilaterally their independence (which they had done already in November 1988). The beginning of negotiations in May 1999 was only ceremonial and did not really begin until the failed Camp David summit in July 2000. “It is understood that these negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest.” There is still no agreement on any of the core issues.
By my count, the six Oslo agreements established 26 joint working bodies, commissions, committees and frameworks for cooperation. Not one of them exists today. Those joint bodies were supposed to be in charge of almost every aspect of life at the meeting points of relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Here are a few of the joint bodies that no longer exist:
Joint Civil Affairs Coordination and Cooperation Committee, Joint Regional Civil Affairs Subcommittees, District Civil Liaison Offices, a Standing Cooperation Committee, the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Liaison Committee, the Monitoring and Steering Committee, Joint Security Coordination and Cooperation Committee, Joint Regional Security Committees, Joint Patrols, Joint Mobile Units, Joint Liaison Bureaus, Joint Water Committee, Joint Economic Committee, Joint Scientific Committee for the Environment, Joint Tourism Committee, Joint Antiquities Committee, and more.
The underlying purpose of all of this joint work was to build trust and confidence between the parties in order to enable them to better negotiate the permanent status issues.
MOST PEOPLE don’t realize that the Oslo agreements were not a peace treaty. The parties never signed a peace treaty. The agreements were about a peace process that failed to reach peace. During the process Israel was supposed to withdraw from more than 90% of the West Bank prior to finalizing the borders between the two sides. Israel was supposed to transfer authority to the Palestinians in all areas that it was supposed to withdraw from, including in what is called area “C,” which still constitutes 62% of the West Bank and remains 20 years later under full Israeli control.
Many Israelis make the false assumption that the Palestinians gave Israel permission to rule area “C” throughout the interim period and perhaps forever. They also wrongly believe that Palestinians gave up any claim they have to Jerusalem because they agreed that the PA during the interim period would have no authority in Jerusalem.
Here is what was written in the agreements:
“The two sides agree that West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, except for issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will come under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Council in a phased manner, to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Council…. The further redeployments of Israeli military forces to specified military locations will be gradually implemented in accordance with the DOP [Declaration of Principles] in three phases, each to take place after an interval of six months, after the inauguration of the Council, to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Council…. During the further redeployment phases to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Council, powers and responsibilities relating to territory will be transferred gradually to Palestinian jurisdiction that will cover West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations.
Further redeployments from Area C and transfer of internal security responsibility to the Palestinian Police in Areas B and C will be carried out in three phases, each to take place after an interval of six months, to be completed 18 months after the inauguration of the Council, except for the issues of permanent status negotiations and of Israel’s overall responsibility for Israelis and borders.”
With agreements not worth the paper they are printed on, what should be done? Israel is safe, secure, prosperous, recognized, democratic and strong. The Palestinians are the complete opposite. But Israel’s future is based on both Israel and the Palestinians finding a way to live together or next to each other in peace. Yet realistically, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
I don’t have the space to lay out a detailed plan so here it is in a nutshell. The new Palestinian declaration is a step in the right direction. Now it is time to turn the State of Palestine into a reality. Time to stop cooperating with the occupation. Time to continue gaining recognition of statehood from every country possible. Time to put a peace treaty between the State of Palestine and the State of Israel on the table, with maps, borders and even principles for having a Jewish minority in the State of Palestine. This is what they should have done years ago. It is not too late. At least they have woken up officially to the non-existence of the Oslo agreements.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
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