Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, former US president Bill Clinton, and the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Why Oslo really failed: Let`s not repeat old mistakes

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This is a compilation of 3 documents that Gershon Published in July-August 2007, Why Oslo really failed, Why Oslo really failed and Let`s not repeat old mistakes

With the renewal of the peace process it is worthwhile to look at some of the lessons that should have been learned from the failure of the process thus far.

Lesson Learned: In protracted conflicts it is not sufficient to only detail the beginning of the process; it is important, and perhaps essential to reach agreement on at least the principles of longer-term final or permanent status issues.

The Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP) signed on September 13, 1993 provided a framework for mutual recognition between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This agreement, it was hoped, would provide the sides with the framework and the mechanism to begin a process of normalization, mutual recognition, mutual confidence building, and to lead to future negotiations. The DOP also listed the main issues in conflict that must be resolved for the permanent status between the two sides. The DOP dealt with procedural issues for the short term focusing on temporary status issues, leaving the core issues of the conflict for later stages.

The two sides adopted the Kissengerian notion of `constructive ambiguity` in order to `sell` the agreements to their own constituencies. In doing so, each side was also allowed to interpret what they perceived to be unwritten agreements regarding the final or permanent status that will emerge at the end of the process.

The main issues of the conflict: borders, Palestinian sovereignty or statehood, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, refugees, etc. were not included at all in the initial negotiations. They were left out of the agreement to be dealt with at a later stage. These issues are the heart of the conflict. By not reaching at least a declaration of principles on these issues at the beginning of the process, each side was free to develop among their own constituencies disparate understandings of what the final outcome would be. Rather than coming closer together on most of the core issues, the gaps in understandings grew throughout the years when no negotiations took place regarding the final status.

LESSON LEARNED: Dates are holy. The DOP set up a timeline for implementation. The basic timeline determined that there would an interim period of five years and that negotiations on permanent status `will commence as soon as possible, but not later than the beginning of the third year of the interim period.`

The DOP also set forth a schedule for Palestinian elections and Israeli redeployments or withdrawals from Palestinian territories. The second Oslo agreement set up a more rigid schedule for further implementation of Israeli withdrawals. In early 1995, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, following a series of terrorist attacks, assured the Israeli Knesset that there are `no holy dates` and that further Israeli redeployments would not be implemented according to the schedule set forth in the agreements.

From that time on, throughout the peace process implementation of agreements were not kept according to what had been the agreed upon dates. A process of mutual breaching of the agreements began as each side came to understand that if the other side did not comply with the signed agreement, then they too are not bound to what they signed.

The entire process was predicated on the implementation of the agreements on a time frame that demanded that each side fulfill its part of the deal on time. A unilateral Israeli decision to breach the agreement on the time table of implementation led the Palestinians to breach other elements of the agreement. The Israeli decision was based on the belief that the Palestinians were not undertaking a sincere battle against terrorism. The Palestinians argued that their best weapon against terrorism is the progress of the peace process and the Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian territories, and thus a Catch 22 cycle of breaches following breaches ensued and progressed until the final breakdown in the end of 2000.

Permanent status negotiations did not begin as scheduled. Israeli withdrawals did not take place on schedule, while at the same time violence increased, opposition on both sides gathered support and breaching the agreements became the norm

Lesson Learned: Political violence cannot be tolerated.

THE OSLO process was marked from the outset with a continuation of Palestinian violence and terrorism.

With the signing of the agreement in September 1993 there was a huge drop in the number of attacks, however, they never completely ended. Additionally, during Succot 1994 a Jewish terrorist massacred Muslim prayers in the Ibrahimia Mosque in Hebron. In 1995 we were witness to many acts of fundamentalist Islamic suicide bombers who murdered Israelis indiscriminately.

These acts of violence created an impossible situation for the political leaders who stood behind the peace process on both sides. There is no simple known formula for what leaders should do when their citizens fall victim to terrorism aimed at halting a peace process. Ceasing the process would only award those who seek through their terror to achieve precisely that result. It was prime minister Rabin who articulated the policy that the fight against terror would continue as if there were no negotiations and that the negotiations would continue as if there was no terror. Other than agreeing with that basic formula, there are probably at least two additional points that could be raised and may point to some lessons that should be learned.

First, it was probably a mistake to call the victims of terror `the casualties of peace.` First, this is wrong – they were casualties of continued warfare and not casualties of peace. The notion that these victims of terrorism suffered as a result of a peace process only served to strengthen the opposition to the peace process in both publics. Words are very important and very powerful.

Second, at almost no time during the peace process did the two sides work honestly and sincerely together, in partnership, to confront the problem of terrorism and violent opposition to the peace process. Had the two sides worked together against the problem, rather than the two sides working against each other, there is a chance that the results could have been more positive.

More often than not, Arafat was blamed by the Israelis for not preventing terrorism emanating from areas that were not even under his security control and responsibility. Without opening the argument of whether or not Arafat was ever really sincere in fighting against terrorism, the likelihood of a real Palestinian effort against its own extremists could have been enhanced through a cooperative approach rather than the antagonistic approach that was employed. The more that Israel blamed the Palestinian Authority, its leaders and its security chiefs for failing to prevent terrorism, the more these same people were presented in their own media as agents of Israel, as they suddenly responded to Israeli demands to `round up` some extremists and imprison them.

There is no doubt that the leaders on both sides failed to find a positive and effective way of confronting the spoilers, the extremists and the killers on both sides. This is not a problem that has surfaced only in the Israeli-Palestinian context – it is a problem that has become one of the most significant dangers to peace making around the globe.

With the renewal of the peace process, it is worthwhile taking a moment to look at some of the lessons that should have been learned from the failure of the process thus far. This article is the second of three that will provide some insights into some of those lessons.

Lesson Learned: Protracted conflicts in which there is little or no trust and confidence require external mechanisms for verification of implementation of the agreements, external mechanisms for insuring compliance, and external mechanisms for external dispute resolution.

The Israeli-Palestinian agreements did not have any external mechanisms of verification of implementation, for ensuring compliance and for dispute resolution.

The DOP stated: `Disputes arising out of the application or interpretation of this Declaration of Principles, or any subsequent agreements pertaining to the interim period, shall be resolved by negotiations through the Joint Liaison Committee (JLC) to be established… Disputes which cannot be settled by negotiations may be resolved by a mechanism of conciliation to be agreed upon by the parties.`

What happens when and if the sides cannot resolve the disputes or disparate interpretations of the agreements through agreement? What happens if the sides are not capable of reaching an agreement on the mechanism of conciliation?

THIS IS precisely what happened. Each side breached the agreements, or interpreted their obligations or the obligations of the other side in different ways, and then issued statements against the other side. The JLC that was established was simply incapable of resolving the disputes because it became the forum through which each side raised it claims against the other – not for the purpose of resolving the dispute but to `score points` against the other side.

When the breaches piled up so high the JLC ceased to function, as did most of the joint bodies that were formed through the agreements. There was no mechanism established that could fairly determine which claims were valid and which were less valid. There was no external mechanism to help the sides comply with the commitments they had taken upon themselves. There was no external mechanism that could help bring about resolution of the disputes; and thus once the process of breaching the agreement became the norm, there was little or no value in signing new agreements.

SIGNING new agreements nevertheless became part of the process – these agreements mainly stating that the sides would undertake the implementation of agreements already signed in the past. At least two formal agreements were subsequently signed that were aimed at repairing the damages of formerly breached agreements (the Wye River Protocol and the Sharm e-Sheikh Agreement), yet these agreements were also breached. Throughout the process, the failure to resolve the disputes also emanating from a lack of external mechanisms led to further breakdowns in trust and confidence that further limited the ability of the sides to continue negotiations on the core issues.

It seems that had the sides invented mechanisms involving acceptable third parties for processes of verification of implementation, compliance assurance and dispute resolution, perhaps breaches of the agreement would have been resolved from the very first breach, and future disputes would have been contained and resolved. Leaving the verification, compliance assurance and dispute resolution means to the two disputing parties alone sabotaged the process from within.

Lesson learned: Agreements must be as explicit as possible.
TOO MUCH of the Oslo Agreements was open to too many varied and opposing interpretations. Several of the best examples relate to territorial and settlement issues. Palestinians understood that upon signing the DOP Israeli settlement activity would cease in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians believed that Israeli agreement to specify that the process was based on UN Security Council Resolution 242, that the process would not prejudice the outcome of final status agreements, that the Israelis agreed to mention the integrity of Palestinian territories and that the Palestinian Council would have authority over all areas of the West Bank and Gaza `except external security, settlements, Israelis, foreign relations…` meant that Israel would refrain from the construction of new settlements or from expanding existing ones. This, however, did not happen.

The Israelis claimed that nowhere in any of the agreements did Israel agree to cease settlement construction. Israel further claimed that the construction of new settlements, bypass roads or the enlargement of existing settlements did not prejudice the outcome of the permanent status agreements because their construction did not impinge on the possibility that they would either remain under Israeli sovereignty by agreement, or be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty by agreement. According to the letter of the agreements, Israel is correct.

On the other hand, there is little doubt that the continuation of settlement construction, the continued confiscation of Palestinian lands and the construction of bypass roads was one of the major factors that led to the end of the Oslo process. One can only ponder: Why, then, did the Palestinians not demand an explicit reference to the cessation of all settlement construction in writing as part of the agreement?

ANOTHER example of so-called `constructive ambiguity` appears in Oslo 2, where there is reference to further Israeli redeployments to `specified military locations.` The agreement also states that `the two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period` (Article XI, paragraph 1). Furthermore, the agreement states `the two sides agree that West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, except for issues that will be negotiated in permanent status negotiations, will come under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Council…` (Article XI, paragraph 2).

From these statements the Palestinians understood that Israel would withdraw from all territories of the West Bank and Gaza except for settlements and military bases prior to the beginning of permanent status negotiations and that approximately 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza would be under their control, leaving only an additional 10% of the territory open for negotiations.

THE ISRAELI understanding was different. While the built up areas of settlements accounted for only 2%-3% of the territory, the zoning maps of the settlements that Israel had authorized through its various planning bodies accounted for more than 40% of the West Bank and Gaza.

With regards to `specified military locations,` Israel later stated (under prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu) that this referred to `security zones` and not military bases. The specified military locations would account for about 6% of the territories, while `security zones` can be anything. As such, Israel related to the entire Jordan Valley as a `security zone,` and therefore precluded further redeployment from that area.

There is no problem in providing additional examples where non-explicit language may have made the signing of an agreement possible, but in fact made its amenable implementation impossible.

Lesson Learned: Peace must pay – peace must have a constituency.
There were many promises that peace would pay. Shimon Peres spoke about a new Middle East that would flourish with the fruits of peace. A lot of money was pumped into the process and economic development projects and large scale infrastructure development projects were launched. At the same time, in response to a continuation of terrorism, various Israeli governments imposed new systems of closures limiting Palestinian access to Israel and to Israeli markets.

The most effected sector was that of the export of Palestinian labor to Israel. Economic data point to the fact that the losses to the Palestinian economy equaled and even surpassed the total amount of donor funds that were pumped into the process. The result on the ground was a continual shrinking of the Palestinian economy (with the exception of 1999-2000). The common Palestinian citizen became poorer and the Palestinian economy actually suffered significant losses after September 1993. In short the fruits of peace were never delivered to the plates of the average Palestinian citizen.

Lesson Learned: Mediators must be ready and prepared to play bridging roles when required.
For most of the Oslo peace process the Americans were perceived as a kind of mediator. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators more often than not requested that the American serve a convener role and not a mediator role. There was great reluctance to invite the Americans or others to submit bridging proposals. The Palestinians feared that the Americans were too close to the Israeli positions and the Israelis fear too much intervention by any outside parties. As such, both sides forfeited the valuable roles that credible mediators can play.

Peace processes that are as entrenched and complex as the Israeli-Palestinian example require outside intervention by credible neutral parties that are ready to back their proposals with political and economic weight. The peace process would have benefited greatly by the active participation of credible and experienced mediators.

Cooperation between former enemies requires assistance. The Oslo peace process created about 30 joint bodies and coordination committees for cooperation. Over the years of the intifada all of the joint committee ceased to function.

THE JOINT water committee did continue to work throughout most of the past years into the intifada. This body issued at least two statements co-signed by the heads of the committee regarding their decision to keep water out of the bounds of the intifada. The reason for this success is that the committee quickly became a tri-lateral committee with direct US participation.

During these difficult times, the committee did not meet if there was no third party convener. The Americans served as inviters as well as deliverers of messages between the sides. They hosted the meetings, facilitated the discussions and the follow-ups and also provided the funding for most of the projects agreed upon between the sides. Without the American involvement in this committee, there would not have been a joint water committee when it was most needed.

Lesson Learned: Peace processes must be `civilized` – the role of the military must be reduced.
The Oslo peace process, after the first stage of negotiations was controlled primarily by military and security personnel on both sides. As time passed, the role of the military-security forces in controlling the relations between the sides became more and more entrenched and institutionalized. All of the joint committees and bodies had high level participation from the military-security forces.

The `civil affairs` coordination between Israel and the Palestinians was controlled by the office of the Coordinator of Government Affairs in the Territories – a military officer at the rank of g eneral. Even though the coordinator dressed in civilian clothes for meetings with the Palestinians, it was clear that it was still the IDF and the Ministry of Defense on the front line. In the end, the role of the civilian ministries and officials became minimized in favor of the military.

Military personnel are not usually trained in the arts of peace making. They usually lack the sensitivities necessary for transforming relations that were based on conflict and animosity into relations of peaceful neighbors. The heavy handed continued presence of the military also signaled to Israelis and Palestinians alike that the basic dynamics of the relations did not change after signing peace agreements. The military occupation simply changed its clothes, as was stated by many Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

THERE WERE great expectations that the peace process would end the occupation and the mentality of occupation. There should have been a conscious decision to transfer all coordination and cooperation outside of direct military-security matters to civilian ministries. Coordination of agricultural affairs should have been dealt with by the two ministries of agriculture, tourism by the ministries of tourism, etc. without military presence overriding decisions and setting the tone.

Peace processes must be civilized and de-militarized.

Lesson Learned: Personal relationship building is important.
It might sound a bit too obvious but it must nonetheless be stated explicitly – peace is built first and foremost of the personal relationships of individuals.

The Oslo process created a mechanism called `joint patrols.` Usually, personal relations between the Israeli and Palestinian soldiers did not develop. The Israelis traveled in their own jeeps and the Palestinians in theirs. Not all of the officers in the joint patrols even knew the names of their colleagues from the other side with whom they patrolled everyday. When crises occurred and violence broke out, even before September 2000, in many cases, the joint patrols ceased to function. When these joint patrols were most needed – for the exact circumstances for which they were created, they were unable to function.

There were of course exceptions to the rule. It has been reported that the joint patrol that worked in the Jenin area until September 2000, continued to function throughout all of the prior crises, even when joint patrols in other areas were not functioning. A researcher who looked into the workings of the joint patrols discovered that the commanders of the Jenin joint patrol on both sides had become close personal friends. They had visited each other at home after work and on holidays. Their families knew each other and they liked each other. When crises occurred, they picked up the phone and spoke with each other. They were able to raise their complaints with each other and then they continued to work together, and their work was much more effective.

Lesson Learned: Ongoing contact between leaders is essential
There was never a `hotline` between the office of the Israeli primier and the office of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority. The hotline is not only the technology of a special phone line – it is a concept. When there is an emergency, pick up the hotline and deal with the crisis quickly and directly. Crises brewed, perked and then exploded. They were then allowed to fester until `enough` suffering had occurred or until the international community intervened and pushed the sides to end the crisis.

EVEN DURING the beginning of the events of September-October 2000 there was no direct contact between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. At the time when direct contact could have been the most potentially powerful means of putting an end to the crisis and the violence, the resistance to that contact due to the total lack of trust and confidence between the leaders meant that the leaders essentially preferred to escalate the conflict through vociferous mutual criticisms rather than overcoming their mutual dislikes of each in favor of the larger interests of their people.

Lessons learned: Peace education must be undertaken seriously and incitement against peace must end.
Throughout the years of the Oslo peace process, peace education was tremendously undervalued while at the same time incitement against peace in the media on both sides and in Palestinian educational text books continued and grew.

Education for peace is an essential part of peace making. Equal attention to reaching agreements should be placed on the development of peace education tools, on teacher training and on insuring that the materials and the trained teachers reach the classroom.

When the Palestinian Authority limited and even prevented the participation of Palestinian students and teachers in peace education program, a giant red light should have flashed brightly for policy makers warning them that the peace process itself is in danger.

Lessons learned: Peace processes must also take place from the bottom-up.
The Oslo peace process was largely framed as a top-down strategy for achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The strategy was based on reaching political agreements between the government of Israel and the PLO. The expectation was that political agreements between the leaders would significantly change the realities on the ground and the peoples of both sides would almost automatically support the process.

As an afterthought, the sides added to the Oslo II agreement an annex calling for the institution of people-to-people projects as a means of strengthening peace between the two peoples. The international community embraced the agreements and the idea of people-to-people projects. However, during all of the years of the peace process (until September 2000) an estimated $20-$25 million dollars only was allocated for funding people-to-people projects. In the final assessment, the people-to-people process was not taken seriously, not by the donors and not by the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority which allocated almost no funding at all to this process and paid only lip service to it politically.

Most Israelis and Palestinians never participated in a people-to-people program. Most Israelis and Palestinians never even knew about people-to-people programs and activities. Some successful people-to-people programs did continue into the intifada and have been sustained up to today.

At the time of the outbreak of violence, most of the donors froze their support for these projects taking a `time-out` for assessment and evaluation. Just when these funds were needed more than ever, they became more and more difficult to find.

The people-to-people NGOs have played a most significant role in the past years in keeping contacts between the sides alive and viable. Without them there would be almost no positive contacts at all today between Israelis and Palestinians.

There must be recognition by the governments and representatives of the value of this work and when the sides come back to the negotiating table, they should invest a lot more energy and thought into how to integrate the bottom-up peace making process within their overall strategies.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
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.
Gershon Baskin

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