Making Peace with the PLO: The Rabin Government's Road to the Oslo Accord, by David Makovsky. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996. 163 pages. Appendices to page 233. Chronology to page 239. $16.95 paperback.
The Process: 1,100 Days that Changed the Middle East, Uri Savir. New York: Random House, 1998. 315 pages. Index to page 336. $27.95 hardcover.
Almost five years have passed since Israel and the PLO concluded secret negotiations at Oslo that led to the extension of formal mutual recognition and the signing of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) on interim self-government arrangements for the West Bank and Gaza. After the historic handshake between then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, the road traversed by the erstwhile antagonists toward a just and durable peace has been tortuous, producing a curious admixture of significant accomplishments and disappointing failures.
On the positive side, Palestinian self-rule was initially established over Jericho and much of the Gaza Strip following the withdrawal of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and administrative personnel from these areas in May 1994. After the signing of the Oslo II accord in late September 1995, the IDF withdrew from the six largest cities in the West Bank, enabling the newly elected Palestinian Authority (PA) to exercise sole jurisdiction over an area (designated as "A" in the Agreement) comprising 3 percent of the West Bank's territory and encompassing approximately one-third of the Palestinian population. As part of this accord, it was further agreed that the parties would share control over the 450 villages in the West Bank, comprising 23 percent of the territory (designated as "B" in the Agreement) and containing 67 percent of the population, with the PA exercising authority over civic matters (education and culture, health, social welfare, taxation and tourism, among others), and Israel retaining jurisdiction over security matters. In January 1997, 80 percent of the city of Hebron came under Palestinian jurisdiction, leaving only a small enclave of some 500 Jewish settlers to be guarded exclusively by the IDF. Moreover, several thousand Palestinian prisoners and detainees were released by Israel over the past five years, and the ground was laid for more intensive economic cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Jewish state.
As impressive as these accomplishments are, they have been overshadowed by severe setbacks that shattered the immediate post-Oslo euphoria. Since 1993, well over 100 Israeli civilians were killed and more than 500 injured in terrorist attacks perpetrated by Palestinian opponents of the peace process. During the same period, scores of Palestinian civilians lost their lives in bloody clashes with the IDF and militant Jewish settlers. Contrary to initial expectations, economic conditions for most of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza have deteriorated as well. According to a recent report by the International Monetary Fund's Middle Eastern Department, the unemployment rate by the beginning of 1997 was 15 percent higher than it was in 1993, and the per capita income had dropped by 20 percent. It has been estimated that one-fifth of all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live in poverty and that the current unemployment rate among Palestinians is approximately 30 percent.
There is mounting evidence that neither the Palestinian Authority nor Israel has lived up to its obligations under the Oslo accords. In addition to its failure to curb terrorism, the PA unilaterally increased the number of its armed security personnel from 9,000 to 16,000. Although Israel committed itself in the 1995 Oslo II accord to implement a total of three redeployments from the West Bank by mid-1997, the second and third withdrawals have yet to take place a full year after the mutually agreed deadline. Likewise, the so-called "final-status" negotiations - covering Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, and relations between the Palestinian entity and other neighbors - that were slated to begin no later than May 4, 1996, have yet to take place.
Equally distressing, since its ascent to power in May 1996, the Likud-led Israeli government under the leadership of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has consistently taken unilateral actions designed to predetermine the outcome of at least two issues that were specifically reserved for the final-status phase: settlements and Jerusalem. Specifically, in December 1996, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza were designated as "national priority areas," making their present and future inhabitants eligible for significant financial advantages. Furthermore, the Netanyahu cabinet has approved and initiated the expansion of existing settlements in order accommodate the "natural" growth rate of the Jewish population in the West Bank. Likewise, Mr. Netanyahu has implemented several policies intended to cement Israel's control over an ever growing Jerusalem metropolitan area. Specifically, these policies include the opening in September 1996 of an exit to the northern end of an ancient tunnel under the Old City, close to the Temple Mount; the approval in March 1997 of the Har Homa project envisioning the construction of housing for some 32,000 Jews on a disputed hillside (known in Arabic as Jebel Abu-Ghneim) in an area south of the city; the razing to the ground of Arab houses in East Jerusalem. In addition, on June 21, 1998, the cabinet approved of a two-pronged plan to expand the city's municipal borders: annexation of suburbs in Israel proper to ensure a Jewish majority of 70 percent in Jerusalem, and the inclusion of two Jewish settlements east and north of the city, and the West Bank land between them, under a new "umbrella" planning authority with regional power previously exercised by the military.
Tragically, the once-promising Oslo peace process has been moribund for the past 18 months. and the prospects for its revival appear to be very dim as Israel and the Palestinian Authority currently haggle over the magnitude and timing of a second and long-overdue Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. As a price for accepting an American proposal for an additional redeployment of 13 percent, the Israeli government has insisted that the PA live up to its alleged obligations under the Oslo accords by detaining terrorists, confiscating unauthorized weapons, outlawing terrorist organizations, ceasing incitement against Israel in the Palestinian media and at public meetings, reducing the Palestinian police to the number mandated by the agreement, handing over for trial murderers of Israeli citizens, preventing the transfer of funds earmarked for Hamas from American and European sources, and having the Palestinian National Council rescind those provisions of the Palestinian Covenant calling for Israel's destruction.
Sufficient time has elapsed since the beginning of 1993 to enable one to step back and address with requisite detachment a number of important questions about the entire peace process: What factors motivated the PLO and Israel to enter into direct negotiations in the first place? What roles did third parties, Norway and the United States in particular, play in the process that produced the Oslo accords? What factors facilitated and impeded the attainment of the DOP? What accounts for the breakdown of the peace process? What lessons can be drawn from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations?
Fortunately, the answers to these questions can be culled from three informative books that have been published since 1995. The authors of two of these works actually took part in the negotiating process. Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO and head of the PLO's Department for National and International Relations, served as a key adviser to Yasser Arafat during the negotiations. His Through Secret Channels contains extensive minutes of each of the sessions that were held in Oslo and is supplemented by five appendices that include relevant documents. As director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, Uri Savir was his country's chief negotiator with the PLO between 1993 and 1996. The Process not only provides an unusually candid account of the secret Oslo negotiations but also recounts the growth of Savir's warm and personal friendship with Abu Ala, his Palestinian counterpart across the table who had initially been introduced to Savir by a Norwegian diplomat as "your enemy number one." The third work, Making Peace with the PLO, was written by David Makovsky, the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. Based on interviews with Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, American and Norwegian officials, Makovsky's reconstruction of the Oslo process is enhanced by the inclusion of 20 relevant documents, ranging from Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967, to a letter regarding Jerusalem from Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to his Norwegian counterpart, Johan Jorgen Holst, dated October 11, 1993.
While they go over some common ground, the three accounts differ sufficiently in their treatment and coverage of the subject matter so as to provide distinct perspectives on the peace process. Specifically, Abbas's book spans the period from the clandestine contacts between Israelis and the PLO dating back to the late 1970s to the signing of the DOP in September 1993. Makovsky's account begins with the Labor party's electoral victory in mid-1992 and ends three years later, just prior to the conclusion of the Oslo 11 agreement. Savir focuses on his involvement in the negotiations from mid-May 1993 until his resignation in mid-June 1996. Furthermore, while Abbas's work is very descriptive, Savir and especially Makovsky infuse their work with trenchant analyses.
Makovsky identities several factors that impelled Israel to enter into direct negotiations with the PLO. First, by late 1992 and early 1993, it had become apparent to the Rabin government that the PLO had been severely weakened by the end of the Cold War and by the aftermath of the Gulf War. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the PLO was deprived of a historically important source of diplomatic support and military training. In addition, the PLO's annual budget was cut by one half after Kuwait and Saudi Arabia stopped their contributions in retaliation for the PLO's alignment with Iraq. As a result, the PLO was forced to shut down several institutions and to curtail many of its activities in the occupied territories. A politically and financially weaker PLO not only posed a reduced threat to Israel but also made it a potentially more malleable and receptive negotiating partner.
Furthermore, by March 1993, the Labor government came to realize that previous efforts to create a Palestinian authority in the West Bank and Gaza that would exclude the PLO's Tunis leadership had failed. After the Israeli and the non-PLO Palestinian delegations resumed their talks in Washington in April 1993, Rabin was convinced that Arafat would block progress as long as the PLO was deprived of direct participation in the negotiations. Rabin therefore sought to exploit the Oslo secret channel not only as an opportunity to gain important information on various PLO positions, but also as a secret forum to reach compromises on issues that were impeding progress in the official American-sponsored Washington channel.
According to Makovsky, Rabin expected to reap three important benefits for Israel as a result of the direct negotiations with the PLO. First, a deal with the PLO would reduce the incidence of terrorism and thereby enhance the personal security of Israeli citizens. Second, striking a bargain with Israel would give the PLO added incentive to combat radical Islamic groups committed to the destruction of the Jewish state, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Lastly, reaching agreement with the PLO would enhance prospects for resolving longstanding disputes between Israel and neighboring Arab states. Makovsky concludes that while Rabin would have preferred to strike a deal with Damascus, he pursued the Palestinian track instead for two major reasons: unacceptable Syrian demands and the urgency of the Palestinian problem, vividly highlighted by the intifada.
MOTIVATIONS OF THE PLO
Whereas Israel's willingness to negotiate directly with the PLO stemmed from security considerations, the PLO's participation in the Oslo channel represented the culmination of the organization's longstanding quest for recognition, legitimacy and the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Mahmoud Abbas notes that beginning with the thirteenth session of the Palestine National Council (PNC) in March 1977, the PLO sought on numerous occasions to establish contacts with peace-oriented Israeli individuals and organizations. In fact, dozens of such meetings were held, some of them even after the enactment by the Knesset in August 1986 of a law banning contacts with the PLO under the penalty of imprisonment. For example, during July-August 1987, five meetings were held between Moshe Amirav (member of the Central Committee of the Herut party), Sari Nusseibi (a Palestinian academic and prominent figure in the Palestinian nationalist movement), and Feisal Husseini (who is generally regarded as the PLO's leading representative in the Occupied Territories), focusing on the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its administrative capital, following a three to five-year transition period. Unfortunately, these contacts were broken off after Husseini's arrest and after then-Defense Minister Rabin issued orders to bomb a Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank.
Even more intriguing is Abbas's revelation that in June 1992, a few weeks before the Israeli elections, an unnamed West Bank Palestinian representing the PLO established direct contact with Likud leader Ariel Sharon in search of an alternative to the stalled bilateral negotiations in Washington. Unfortunately, this channel was broken off by Sharon following premature disclosures of its existence by the Israeli media. Frustrated by the first five rounds of the Washington talks that were conducted under Likud, the PLO continued to seek an additional channel with the newly-elected Labor government. Such a side channel, Abbas notes, would allow negotiations to take place with a minimum of formalities in a setting that would enable everyone to "talk freely and probe matters without inhibition." In the PLO's initial view, the secret Oslo channel would not replace, but rather establish some common ground and work in tandem with the official talks in Washington.
The PLO's determination to break the deadlocked Washington negotiations was further reinforced by the heavy toll inflicted on the Palestinians by harsh Israeli policies and by the rapidly deteriorating economic and social conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. In addition, Makovsky points out that PLO leaders entered the Oslo process believing that their compliance with an interim agreement for the territories would inexorably result in Palestinian statehood. Abbas confirms this expectation by noting that "the mechanism by which the terms of the [Oslo] accord will be implemented will eventually give rise to the emergence and crystallization of many features of sovereignty, and this process will go on until complete national sovereignty is realized."
THIRD PARTIES: NORWAY AND THE U.S.
Collectively, the three accounts shed considerable light on the involvement of Norway and the United States in the process that culminated in the DOP. Establishing a secret and unofficial Israeli-PLO backchannel was the brainchild of Terje Larsen, a Norwegian sociologist who, along with Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Egeland and his Israeli counterpart Yossi Beilin, helped to set up several rounds of exploratory discussions in Oslo beginning January 1993. Held under the cover of the Norwegian Institute for Applied Social Science, the initial talks involved two Israeli academics, Yair Hirschfeld and Ron Pundak, and three PLO officials: Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei), Maher al-Kurd, and Hassan Asfour.
Both Makovsky and Savir provide ample evidence that after the talks were elevated to an official level in late May 1993, Larsen, Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst, and his assistant Mona Juul played critical roles in advancing the talks. In addition to providing liaison between Oslo, Tunis and Jerusalem, the three Norwegians offered their good offices and on more than one occasion managed to bridge gaps between the parties. For example, it was due to their mediation that Arafat retreated from a prior insistence that the Palestinian authority be empowered to exercise control over the extraterritorial roads between Gaza and Jericho. Likewise, Foreign Minister Holst was instrumental in extracting mutual concessions that led to agreement on several sticky issues in the DOP, and he played a key role in proposing acceptable wording regarding mutual recognition. Abbas emphasizes that in addition to assuring utmost secrecy and providing a congenial atmosphere for the talks, Holst's integrity in relaying ideas and choosing subjects for discussion with both sides was critically important for cementing mutual trust among the interlocutors.
All three authors confirm that the United States had been aware of the Oslo channel long before Foreign Minister Shimon Peres presented the agreed-upon DOP drafts to Secretary of State Warren Christopher in California on August 29, 1993. According to Makovsky, when he was informed by the Norwegians of the Oslo talks in February 1993, Christopher responded favorably and promised further discussions which never materialized. Toward the end of March 1993, Deputy Foreign Minister Egeland forwarded the initial draft of the DOP to Dan Kurtzer, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and at the end of May 1993, Foreign Minister Holst informed Christopher that Israel had upgraded the talks to the official level. Curiously, however, neither of these communications drew any American response. Nor did the United States react when Peres revealed to charge d'affaires William Brown in early July 1993 that Israel was close to striking a bargain with the PLO.
Several factors may have accounted for the passive American orientation toward Oslo. Makovsky speculates that Washington perceived the backchannel as a move engineered by Peres which stood little chance of gaining support from Rabin. He also notes that news of other secret talks between PLO and Israeli officials, all of which had ended in failure, had reached Washington previously. It is also likely that American officials viewed the bilateral talks in Washington as the most viable arena for attaining diplomatic progress. In addition, it is reasonable to assume that Rabin, who was skeptical about the Oslo channel until late in the endgame, saw no reason to secure greater American involvement for fear that the United States would pressure Israel to agree to unacceptable terms. Savir, on the other hand, suggests that Washington did not take the Oslo track seriously because it calculated, erroneously as it turns out, that a breakthrough with Syria was more likely and more important.
Several factors enhanced the likelihood that the Oslo negotiations would eventually produce mutually acceptable agreements. Makovsky notes that at the very beginning of the process in January 1993, all participants agreed not to delve into historical grievances and to maintain total secrecy in order to maximize opportunities for uninhibited exchange of views that could be retracted without incurring political costs. He concludes that the secret sessions enabled both sides to "explore the parameters of a deal without making irrevocable concessions." Abbas, on the other hand, is considerably more ambivalent in assessing the utility of secrecy.
While acknowledging that the participants were indeed able to probe difficult matters without inhibition, he argues that as long as the talks were shrouded in secrecy, Israel could either deny the existence of the Oslo channel, or it could reveal it and thereby kill it off. As things turned out, both sides maintained their commitments to secrecy and no leakages occurred despite the fact that the PLO, according to Abbas, had shared information about the talks with the governments of Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Israel made a critically important move when it decided in late May 1993 to upgrade the talks to the official level by dispatching Deputy Foreign Minister Savir to Oslo. Prior to this development, according to Abbas, the Palestinians were unclear about the extent to which Pundak and Hirschfeld, the two academics, represented the Israeli government and could make commitments on its behalf. While the Palestinians suspected that their interlocutors were close to Yossi Beilin in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Pundak and Hirschfeld kept denying that they were representing any official body. Makovsky regards the upgrading of the talks as a pivotal turning point because it transformed Oslo from exploratory exchanges to official and genuine negotiations. Savir's presence also provided the PLO with new tactical leverage because it could now match Israel's ability to threaten the disclosure of the channel. Most significantly, by upgrading the talks, Israel in fact agreed to recognize the PLO as a legitimate bargaining partner.
According to Savir, a critical point was reached in mid-July 1993, when both sides agreed to proceed in three successive phases: an initial Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, a five year interim arrangement for the West Bank and Gaza, and final-status negotiations. On numerous occasions before and after this juncture, both parties agreed to abandon previously held positions and to compromise on issues that were critically important for each side. For example, early on in the negotiations, the PLO agreed to exclude Jerusalem from the area of interim Palestinian self-rule. The PLO also moved away from its earlier insistence on exercising full jurisdiction in the territories by agreeing to exempt Jewish settlers and Israeli military installations from Palestinian control. Yet another pivotal Palestinian concession was made by Yasser Arafat in August 1995, just prior to the signing of the Oslo II accord, when he agreed to three additional Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank over an 18-month period without securing any clarifications or assurances about their size and locations.
For its part, Israel eventually agreed to withdraw from Jericho and Gaza within three months following the signing of the DOP, after initially proposing a two-year transition period during which Gaza would be placed under some sort of international trusteeship. Likewise, in return for Arafat's agreement to exclude East Jerusalem from Palestinian self-rule, Foreign Minister Peres agreed to send a letter to his Norwegian counterpart committing Israel not to interfere with activities of existing Palestinian institutions in the eastern part of the city. In order to assuage one of the PLO's major concerns, Israel further agreed to forward to the Palestinians the 1992 Labor government's decision to freeze settlement activities in the territories. Savir emphasizes that "[W]ithout such a policy there clearly would have been no agreement."
The most vivid and telling example of mutual give and take, one that also highlights the political costs entailed in making concessions on highly charged issues, involved the city of Hebron. As a price for renewing the talks that had stalled after an Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 31 Palestinian worshipers inside the Cave of Patriarchs in February 1994, Arafat insisted on the removal of the approximately 500 Jewish settlers from the heart of the city and demanded that the PA be permitted to dispatch to the city a Palestinian police force alongside an international contingent. Demonstrating the ability to make politically difficult decisions, Arafat eventually dropped the demand for removal of settlers and agreed to have the matter of a Palestinian police presence in Hebron discussed by a joint committee.
A few months thereafter, Peres cut a deal with Arafat permitting the PA to have a police station in the city. After IDF commanders objected strongly and expressed concerns about the Jewish settlers' opposition to the presence of a Palestinian police force in Hebron, Peres is reported by Savir to have exploded in anger with the following admonition:
You want 150,000 Hebronites to remain under our control because of 400 Jews? There's a limit to arrogance and a limit to timidity. I'm telling you that we can break Arafat, if that's what you want. But then we'll be left with Hamas, an intifada, and terror. We've made a decision to strive for a political settlement. Today we must decide who's in charge in this country: the government or a handful of settlers. And to you generals, I say: you too must weigh this matter from the standpoint of security. Enough of this dread of how the settlers will react.
A short while thereafter, Peres's proposal was accepted unanimously.
Makovsky identifies several additional factors that enabled Israel to reach agreement with the PLO. First, the most crucial decisions were made by only two officials, Rabin and Peres, and both of them enjoyed considerable discretion throughout the process. Their influence was further enhanced by the exclusion of the highest ranking military officers as well as the inner and full cabinets from the decision-making process. It is also evident that Peres and Rabin supplemented each other's strengths in shepherding the Oslo accords to eventual approval by the Knesset.
Whereas Peres recognized the need for the Oslo channel, successfully convinced Rabin of the need to go forward with the PLO, and helped formulate policy positions, Rabin enjoyed immense political credibility that enabled the Israeli government and public to accept Oslo. Rabin's reputation as a security "hawk" dated back to his former service as IDF chief of staff and defense minister, but it was further enhanced by more recent actions that he had ordered as prime minister: the deportation of over 400 Hamas activists to Lebanon in early December 1992; the sealing of the territories in March 1993 following a spate of stabbings by Palestinians inside Israel proper; and launching attacks against Hezbollah bases in southern Lebanon in July 1993 in retaliation for the lobbing of Katyusha rockets against Israeli settlements in the northern Galilee.
Lastly, all three authors recognize that Oslo would not have been possible without the willingness of the parties to defer resolution of the most vexing and complicated issues - including Jerusalem, refugees, final borders and settlements - to the final-status phase. Makovsky notes that this format represented fundamental concessions on both sides: Israel, because it agreed for the first time to place these emotion-laden issues on the bargaining table, and the PLO, because it agreed to postpone resolution of these critically important issues in the first place.
Unfortunately, several factors prolonged the Oslo negotiations and eventually complicated the implementation of the DOP. Makovsky notes that because Hirschfeld and Pundak had received little direction from either Beilin or Peres, the two academics put forth during the initial exploratory talks several proposals that deviated sharply from official Israeli policy positions. Specifically, the initial version of the DOP, drafted in March 1 993, failed to specify limits on the Palestinian Authority's jurisdiction, included East Jerusalem in the Palestinian self-rule area, envisioned a U.N. trusteeship in Gaza, and incorporated acceptance of binding third-party arbitration to resolve outstanding disputes. As a result, Israeli officials were compelled to offer several subsequent concessions to the PLO merely in order to retract positions previously articulated by the unofficial Israeli interlocutors.
The tendency of the Palestinian negotiators to withdraw earlier concessions and to introduce new demands reinforces Savir's observation that the talks "resembled a marathon chess game fraught with feints, bluffs and diversions." According to Makovsky, the PLO sought toward the end of the Oslo talks in mid-July 1993 no less than 26 revisions in a draft to which it had agreed a week earlier. The Palestinians now demanded exclusive control of the Allenby Bridge across the Jordan River and over the roads between Gaza and Jericho, and they insisted that Arab residents of East Jerusalem be eligible to run in the elections for the self-rule council. Toward the end of July 1993, the PLO introduced several additional demands regarding the size of the Palestinian police force in Gaza and Jericho, control of the border crossings, and the timing of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. In the end, Abu Ala persuaded Arafat to reverse the PLO position on eight of the 16 points in the DOP that were still in dispute between the parties, and Savir successfully convinced Rabin and Peres to change their position on the remaining eight issues that blocked the agreement.
Makovsky attributes the long delays in the implementation of the Oslo accords to the failure of the parties to address in the DOP several issues that needed and deserved much earlier resolution, including control of the border crossing points, the actual territory in Jericho and its environs from which Israel was expected to withdraw, and the nature of security arrangements.
According to Savir, the post-Oslo negotiations dragged out for a variety of other reasons: the absence of established Palestinian political structures and procedures, the excessive concentration of power in Arafat's hands, and the continuous bickering among Arafat's closest advisers. The negotiations were further impeded by the Palestinians' belief that time was on their side, which justified their reluctance to examine details with requisite attention, and by the opposite tendency of the Israelis to exploit time and to become obsessed with minutiae. Savir concludes that ultimately, the parties stumbled from one impasse to another because
[W]hile committed to achieving a division of powers with the Palestinians, Israel tried to impose on them a security doctrine requiring everything Israel considered important to remain in its control. The Palestinians were likewise asking for the impossible. They wanted to separate themselves completely from Israel without taking into consideration Israel's most vital interest: combating violent opposition to the peace process as the foundation of a joint strategy. Thus, contrary to the guiding principle of the Oslo negotiations, each side wanted to extract the maximum from the other, rather than exploit the advantages of a partnership.
BREAKDOWN AND COLLAPSE
Because their accounts end several months before Rabin's assassination and the ascent of Likud to power, neither Abbas nor Makovsky anticipated the breakdown and eventual collapse of the Oslo process. Savir, on the other hand, is refreshingly candid in exploring the reasons for the gradual disappearance of the mutual trust that had made Oslo possible in the first place and that now lies at the heart of moribund peace process.
He argues that both parties committed serious errors not long after the ink on the 1993 Oslo accord had dried. Despite prior commitments to combat terror, Arafat could not prevent the deaths of 15 Israelis at the hands of Palestinian militants during the first six months of autonomy. Subsequently, in retaliation for the deaths of innocent civilians, Rabin ordered the closures of the territories in October 1994, thereby committing the mistake of imposing collective punishment on all Palestinians and exacerbating the already high levels of unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza. The declining economic conditions, according to Savir, simply encouraged additional violence and enabled Palestinian opponents of reconciliation with Israel to portray the Gaza-Jericho agreement as a continuation of the occupation by remote control.
Relations between the parties worsened in March 1995, when the Rabin government scoffed at Arafat's demands for release of Palestinian security prisoners, lifting the closure of the territories and imposing an unqualified freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. On October 6, 1995, a few days after Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo II accord, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu proclaimed at a large protest demonstration in Jerusalem that the agreement was an "act of surrender" and constituted a "danger to the existence of the state of Israel." Lamenting the failure of the Israeli Left to defend the peace process against attacks from the Right, Savir notes that "[T]hese autumn months were an occasion not to take peace for granted but to. make a stand in the streets, as Americans had done during the Vietnam War and French had done during the withdrawal from Algeria."
The prospects for peace did not improve even after the fallen Rabin had been replaced by Shimon Peres, the chief architect of the Oslo process. On the contrary, a series of terrorist bombings in the heart of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv left 55 Israelis dead and scores injured in late February and early March 1996 and compelled the dovish Peres to blame Arafat for the bloodshed. Savir maintains that the deadly terror wave not only intensified the anti-Oslo propaganda campaign of the Israeli Right but also cost Peres the election.
Reviewing the entire process, Makovsky laments that the Oslo accords were sold to the Israeli public as a historic breakthrough despite the fact that Rabin and Peres had known that neither the mutual recognition nor the DOP could "produce an outbreak of idyllic harmony between Israelis and Palestinians." Regrettably, the unrealistic expectations generated by the Rabin-Arafat handshake simply heightened the disappointment that accompanied the post-Oslo terror waves.
Savir, on the other hand, concludes that "the greatest weakness of the three-year negotiation effort was that its message did not filter down enough to the people." He argues that both Israeli and Palestinian decision makers frequently reacted to internal criticism by maintaining that diplomacy was the best means to attain traditional policy goals: security for Israel, eventual statehood for the Palestinians. As a result, there was insufficient emphasis on reconciliation and even less appreciation for the other side's dilemmas.
For his part, Abbas reminds us that the negotiating phase of the Oslo process and its likely outcome reflect the asymmetrical bargaining positions between Israel, the more powerful party in control of the critical bargaining chips, and the considerably weaker PLO. As Abbas correctly notes, those "provisions in the [Oslo] accord that might be considered the seeds of [Palestinian] independence are not enough to bring about full independence, because what really determines the final outcome is might, for might is more compelling than law, despite what the world says about sovereignty and respect of the law."
Since Netanyahu's ascent to power in mid-1996, the asymmetrical power positions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have become especially manifest in a number of ways. They explain why a Palestinian international airport at Dahaniya, near the Gaza Strip's southern end, is yet to be opened for traffic; they account for the fact that the newly constructed port in Gaza still remains closed; they help us understand why safe passage for Palestinians traveling between Gaza and the West Bank is yet to be implemented; and they surely account for the continuous growth of the Jewish presence in the territories and the 134-percent increase in the number of new housing units in Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank during the first quarter of 1998 as compared to the same period in 1997. Ultimately, the asymmetrical Israel-PLO power relationship has enabled the Netanyahu government to transform the Oslo process from one of mutual rights and reciprocal obligations to a situation where Israel has nothing but rights and the Palestinians have only commitments and duties. This peculiar asymmetry is most vividly captured in Prime Minister Netanyahu's recent acknowledgment that "when lam convinced that we have a good arrangement of the kind I have been working to achieve, one which provides security, protects the Israeli settlements, and safeguards national interests while strictly requiring Palestinian compliance with obligations undertaken, I will not hesitate to bring it to the government and the Knesset."
The foregoing statement lends credence to Savir's plaint that for the present Israeli government, "Oslo is a problematic legacy that contradicts its ideology on the Land of Israel, its perception of constant hostility toward us, and its conviction that peace can be achieved only by deterrence." In the meantime, the clock that was set into motion by the Oslo process keeps ticking down to May 4, 1999, the date on which the five-year interim agreement is due to expire. While it is difficult to predict the future, it is nevertheless very likely that the next few months will be fraught with danger. Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, suspects that violence will flare up again between Israelis and Palestinians due to the failure of the parties to reach the final-status talks. On the other hand, Menahem Klein, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, fears that terror may erupt during the final status negotiations, if they ever begin, because both sides will confront each other from maximalist positions.
If and when the interim agreement expires and there is nothing to replace it, Mr. Arafat has vowed to unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state in the areas currently under the control of the PA. Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the other hand, has promised to respond to such a move by formally annexing the remaining areas in the West Bank. Either move will deal a death blow to what looked like a promising beginning only five years ago. In that context, Abbas, Makovsky and Savir have performed an invaluable service. Read collectively, their accounts not only remind us how far Israelis and Palestinians have come in such a short period, but they also enable us to understand how much further the parties must travel if they are ever to reach a genuinely just and lasting peace between them.