30 years later: Failures and lessons learned from the Oslo Accords

No peace prospect between Israelis and Palestinians is currently on the table, but much will depend on how political uncertainty in the Palestinian arena plays out

The Media Line|
September 13 marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the historic Oslo Accords. The agreement aimed to establish a path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians in a reasonable timeframe. However, three decades later, the goal remains elusive.
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At a recent conference sponsored by the conservative Israeli organizations Israel Defense and Security Forum (IDSF), the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and Israel Victory Project, participants argued that the agreement had a more negative impact than promoting its intended goal of peace.
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Singing of the Oslo Accords in Washington
Singing of the Oslo Accords in Washington
Singing of the Oslo Accords in Washington
(Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
Israeli parliamentarian Yuli Edelstein, a member of the governing Likud party, told The Media Line that in retrospect, the Oslo Accords were “a terrible mistake made 30 years ago. Unfortunately, the expectations were very high, but the reality turned out to be very different,” he said.
The accords were signed in Washington, DC, by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, and U.S. President Bill Clinton, who mediated the talks. Initially, the agreement granted limited independence to the newly created Palestinian Authority in Gaza and Jericho in the West Bank.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi, founder and chairman of IDSF, told The Media Line that despite clear negative consequences, the Israeli government persisted with the initiative.
From the outset, “they started really building terror military infrastructure, and then instead of stopping it at the very beginning when it failed, Israel continued to enlarge this agreement, and it resulted in devastating attacks,” he said.
Avivi pointed out that since the Oslo Accords, the number of civilians killed or injured has been tenfold compared to the entire period from 1948 to the signing of the Accords.
“It completely changed life in Israel,” he added.
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לחיצת היד ההיסטורית בבית הלבן
לחיצת היד ההיסטורית בבית הלבן
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shake hands at the signing ceremony of the Oslo Accords at the White House; in the middle: US President Bill Clinton
(Photo: AP)
Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at JCPA and a member of IDSF, said that initially, there was widespread euphoria among Israelis, who believed that genuine peace was within reach. However, that optimism was shattered by the wave of post-Oslo terror attacks that ultimately culminated in the Second Intifada.
Especially when the Second Intifada broke out, and even beforehand due to the preceding terrorism, “more Israelis became disillusioned, and I think the number of Israelis that became disillusioned was the vast majority,” he told The Media Line.
Known also as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the Second Intifada was a Palestinian uprising against Israel that began in September 2000 and continued until February 2005.
Kuperwasser said that he harbored skepticism about the accords from the outset.
“I was on the South Lawn of the White House when it was signed. At the time I was quite suspicious of Arafat because beforehand I used to be in charge of Palestinian affairs in Israeli intelligence,” he said.
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Palestinians in Gaza celebrating the anniversary of the Second Intifada
Palestinians in Gaza celebrating the anniversary of the Second Intifada
Palestinians in Gaza celebrating the anniversary of the Second Intifada
(Photo: Reuters)
Avivi argued that Israel’s greatest mistake was its choice of negotiating partner for the peace accords.
“I think that the biggest failure was really choosing to do business with a murderous terror organization like the PLO,” he said. “We had local leadership in the Palestinian towns in Judea and Samaria, but we chose to go to an organization that was founded in 1964, before the Six-Day War in order to liberate Palestine, meaning basically annihilate Israel.”
Avivi added that it became clear during the Palestinian leader’s speech in Gaza after the Accords signing.
“When I heard the first speech Arafat gave in Gaza. I was shocked,” he said. “We are talking about a peace agreement, and Arafat arrives while smuggling weapons and terrorists inside his car. And then he gave a speech full of hate saying that with blood, they’re going to fight Israel, and I felt very uncomfortable. I felt that something was really wrong.”
In 2005, under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli government decided to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. Edelstein described this as an unfortunate consequence of the Israeli government’s understanding of the negotiations as a failure.
“The terrible result that came was this idea that you couldn’t make peace with the Palestinians. The result was the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. We tried a good way. Now let’s try unilaterally. It didn’t work out either because you can’t run away from reality. And we are facing what we are facing right now,” Edelstein said.
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שרידי האוטובוס
שרידי האוטובוס
Exploded bus following a terror attack during the Second Intifada
(Photo: AP)
Former MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh argues that the crucial error during the negotiation and signing of the Oslo Accords was not stipulating the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state as a condition.
“Thirty years after Oslo, what we know of as those buses that exploded and the terror attacks that continued post-Oslo can be directly traced to the lack of acceptance of the State of Israel, including the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat, who it signed the Oslo Accords,” Cotler-Wunsh told The Media Line.
She contends that the error stems from both the international community and Israeli stakeholders not understanding that demanding recognition is essential for fruitful negotiations and, ultimately, the road to peace.
In 2020, the groundbreaking Abraham Accords were inked between Israel and major Gulf nations, which had previously vowed not to recognize Israel until the Palestinian issue had been resolved.
“[The Abraham Accords] shift the paradigm from the three noes of Khartoum—no to recognition of Israel, no to negotiation with Israel, no to peace with Israel—to the three yeses—yes to recognition, yes to negotiation, and yes to peace, in that order,” Cotler-Wunsh said.
“It is impossible to make peace, and then negotiate its terms, and then see if we recognize each other’s right to exist,” she continued.
After Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, the Arab League gathered in Khartoum, Sudan, and issued a resolution known as the “Three Noes,” which rejected recognizing, negotiating with, or making peace with Israel. The resolution was first broken by Egypt when it signed a peace accord with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994, and later by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan in the context of the Abraham Accords.
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L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
(Photo: AFP)
Edelstein stressed that the Abraham Accords are “a game changer in terms of the Palestinian realization that they are not holding hostages anymore. They have to become practical and if they want to negotiate, they have to realize that,” he said.
The current Palestinian situation is both unstable and uncertain. A consensus among observers suggests that peace will remain elusive until a successor replaces the aging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“There is no real prospect at the moment of any kind of peace, especially because Mahmoud Abbas is the same Abbas who was a terrorist long ago. He doesn’t really want to be remembered as somebody who actually made peace. So we’ll have to wait until the day after Abbas,” Avivi said.
He further noted that Israel is bracing for a range of scenarios that could unfold once Mahmoud Abbas vacates his position.
“Unfortunately, most of the names that are being mentioned are the ones who are even more leaning toward terrorism and anti-Israel positions than Mahmoud Abbas himself,” Edelstein said.
“We have to make sure that next time we sign agreements, there will also be agreements to live with,” he added.
The story is written by Debbie Mohnblatt and reprinted with permission from The Media Line.
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