Oslo - Peace Process

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During the 1991 Gulf War, an international coalition expelled Iraq from Kuwait. The United States used the momentum of these events to start a new Middle East peace initiative. Centrepiece of these efforts was the aim to achieve a settlement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The initiatives led to the holding of the Madrid Conference at the end of October 1991. All parties of the Middle East conflict were invited to attend the conference, including delegations from Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The representative of the Palestinians, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), was not invited. Yet, the PLO was in close contact with Palestinians participating at the conference as part of the Jordanian delegation. After the initial conference, negotiations broke into bilateral and multilateral tracks between the conflict parties. Stalemate in the official talks with Palestinian representatives led the newly elected Labour administration under Yitzhak Rabin to conduct a diplomatic revolution: the decision to hold direct talks with the PLO. In September 1993, the encouraging outcomes of these secret negotiations held under the auspice of the Norwegian government led to the signing of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, better known as Oslo I.

September 1993: Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangement The Declaration of Principles was not a fully fledged agreement but rather a framework for further negotiations, mainly by providing a strict timetable. “The Declaration laid down that within two months of the signing ceremony, agreement on Israel’s military withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho should be reached and within four months the withdrawal should be completed. (…) At the same time, elsewhere in the West Bank, Israel undertook to transfer power to ‘authorized Palestinians’ in five spheres: education, health, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism. Within nine months, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were to hold elections to a Palestinian Council to take office and assume responsibility for most government functions except defence and foreign affairs. Within two years, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to commence negotiations on the final status of the territories, and at the end of five years the permanent settlement was to come into force.” Both Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat -- the two leaders at that time -- were jointly awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize of 1994, honouring their efforts to make peace. Despite severe internal criticism on either side, the Declaration was followed by five major agreements signed by Israel and the PLO.

May 1994: Gaza-Jericho-Agreement The talks concerning the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area scheduled in the Declaration of Principles repeatedly plunged into crisis. They lasted considerably longer than the two months allowed for in the original timetable. Among other reasons, a central cause of the delay was the disparity between Israeli security considerations and the Palestinian wish for an early and extensive transfer of authority. Finally, after nearly eight months, the Gaza-Jericho negotiations were completed on May 4, 1994 with the signing of the Gaza-Jericho-Agreement. The Agreement outlined the steps to be taken for the implementation of the principles agreed upon earlier in the Declaration of Principles. Subsequently, Israel withdrew its security forces from the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area and transferred the authorities to the newly established Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority. Furthermore, the five-year interim period referred to in the Declaration of Principles officially began on the day that the Gaza-Jericho-Agreement was signed.

September 1995: Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip The first stage of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was concluded by the signing of the Interim Agreement on September 28, 1995. The Agreement, popularly known as Oslo II, incorporated and superseded the earlier agreements achieved between Israel and the PLO. Most considerably, it outlined steps of a redeployment of Israeli military forces from Palestinian centres of population, set a timetable for elections to a Palestinian Council and divided the West Bank into three areas; Area A, B and C. Area A was set under exclusive Palestinian, Area C under exclusive Israeli control. Area B was decided to face mixed responsibility, with the PLO exercising civilian authority and Israel remaining in charge of security matters. With these arrangements, Oslo II marked the “point of no return” in partly ending Israel’s coercive control over the Palestinians. The signing of the Agreement was accompanied by fierce criticism from the Israeli right. One month later, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a religious-nationalist Jewish fanatic at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. Like the murderer intended, the attack was a blow to the entire peace process. Presidential elections in May 1996 brought Benjamin Netanyahu into office, giving the peace process a new spin.

January 1997: Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron The electoral victory of Likud under the leadership of Benyamin Netanyahu in May 1996 had far-reaching implications for the peace process. From the very beginning, the party was strongly opposed to the land-for-peace policy of the former Labour government under Yitzhak Rabin. The two and a half years of Netanyahu’s term were marked by policies that aimed to defer and subvert the Oslo agreements. While arguing that all steps taken by his government occurred in reaction to Palestinian actions, his term was dotted with unilateral steps like the demolition of Arab houses, the confiscation of land and the building of new settlements. Only through considerable foreign pressure during his term, two agreements dealing with the concession of territory to the Palestinian Authority were signed: The first one concerned the Redeployment in Hebron, in Oslo II originally scheduled to be completed in March 1996. After Netanyahu’s election, these negotiations came to a halt. It was only in January 1997, when the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron was signed. The redeployment was completed within days after the signing of the Agreement.

October 1998: Wye River Memorandum The second agreement under Netanyahu conceding territory to the Palestinian Authority was signed on October 23, 1998. The Wye River Memorandum was intended to fulfil earlier provisions by establishing a three-step timetable for the implementation of phases one and two (of three) of further redeployment envisaged in Oslo II. After the formal approval of the Memorandum by the Israeli Cabinet and by the Knesset, the first of the three decided steps of redeployment was carried out on November 20, 1998. Afterwards, “despite the ratification of the Wye River agreement by the Knesset, Mr. Netanyahu came under fire from the extreme right and from the religious parties, even in his own government coalition, who objected to any withdrawal from Palestinian territory. He announced that the next phase of withdrawal, on 18 December, would not take place and finally, on 20 December, suspended implementation of the agreement.” The Right's subsequent uproar led the Knesset to pass a vote of no confidence in Netanyahu's government and general elections were pushed up. In the elections on May 17, 1999 Netanyahu lost against his competitor from the Labour Party, Ehud Barak.

September 1999: Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum on Implementation Timeline of Outstanding Commitments of Agreements Signed and the Resumption of Permanent Status Negotiations With the original interim period already running out on May 4, 1999, the election of Ehud Barak, a Labour politician, as Prime Minister revived the peace process. After six months of negotiations, the deadlock created by the failed implement of the Wye River Memorandum was overcome by the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum. A timetable for the final status talks was set up, demanding a comprehensive agreement by September 13, 2000. In a promising start, the implementation of phases one and two (of three) of further redeployment envisaged in Oslo II began in due time, though no regulations for the third phase were set. After the opening of the final status negotiations on November 8, 1999 and rising disappointment on the Palestinian side, difficulties aroused again. The renewed deadlock led to the announcement of negotiations to be held in Camp David with American help. The negotiations ended in a disappointment on both sides with Barak hoping to impose his terms with the help of the American brokers and Arafat rejecting the offered proposals. After then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit on the Temple Mount on September 28, 2000 and the subsequent outbreak of the Second Intifada, the set deadline expired without an agreement being reached. hoping to impose his terms with the help of the American brokers and Arafat rejecting many of the offered proposals. (Shlaim, A. (2005). 256f)

Literature

BBC. Al-Aqsa Intifada timeline.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangement.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Gaza-Jericho Agreement.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Guide to the Middle East Peace Process.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum: Selected Documents and Stages of Implementation.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Wye River Memorandum.

MEDEA. Why River Memorandum.

Nobelprize 1994.

Shlaim, A. (2005). The Rise and Fall of the Oslo Peace Process. In: International Relations of the Middle East, Hg. Fawcett, L. Oxford: Oxford University Press, S. 241-61.