Twenty years after the Oslo agreements, both those who oppose and those who support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process designed during secret negotiations in the Norwegian capital believe the process was about implementing a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, Ron Pundak, one of the architects of the Oslo process, claims in Haaretz that Israeli leadership opposed the idea of two states as a way to resolve the conflict already from the early stages of negotiations.
Pundak is an Israeli historian and journalist who was a member of the team that commenced secret negotiations between Israel and the PLO in Oslo at the beginning of the 1990s.
He adds that while then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres had no vision of the process’ final aim, they made it clear: it is not about two states.
Pundak states that Peres, today Israel’s president, consistently opposed the idea of establishing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to Pundak, Peres aimed at creating a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip while integrating the West Bank into an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian condominium.
On the other hand, the PLO explicitly adopted the idea of two states in its 19th Palestinian National Council of 1988. The organization declared Palestinian Independence in a statement written by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and proclaimed by Yasser Arafat.
This declaration of independence references the 1947 United Nations partition plan for Palestine as providing legitimacy to Palestinian statehood. The declaration does not explicitly recognise the state of Israel. However, an accompanying document that explicitly mentions UN Security Council Resolution 242 and Yasser Arafat’s statements in Geneva a month later were accepted by the United States as sufficient to remove the ambiguities vis-a-vis Palestinian recognition of Israel in the declaration of independence. Based on these additional statements, the declaration can be interpreted to have recognised Israel in its pre-1967 boundaries.
For the PLO, negotiations were a peaceful road to implement this declared independence.
This gap between the PLO perception regarding the aims of negotiations and the Israeli concept became clear in the exchange of letters between the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat that opened the public procedures of the Oslo peace process.
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Rabin on September 9, 1993, President Arafat explicitly recognizes in the name of the PLO “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”. Rabin, however, in a letter addressed to Arafat on the same day, is ready to only recognize the PLO as representing the Palestinian people. At no stage of the Oslo peace process did Israel officially recognise the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state.
The tenor of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was set during the first day of meetings in Norway. Uri Savir, who was Israel’s chief negotiator during these secret meetings, writes in his memoirs of the mafia-style language through which Israelis imposed their preconditions, including statements to the Palestinians such as “you must decide whether we are to act as partners, and solve all our differences through dialogue, or request Security Council-like arbitration and end up with a pile of resolutions that will remain no more than numbers.”
Not only was the international community as a whole distanced from the negotiating table, but so was the history of the Palestinian people. Palestinian negotiators were force to accept reconciliation without receiving – or event expecting – reparation.
On the other hand, Israel was never requested to freeze settlement construction or to stop demolishing Palestinian-owned homes. On the contrary: in the twenty years since the Oslo agreements were signed, 250 thousand new settlers moved to settlements, 12 thousand Palestinian-owned homes were demolished and a 441kilometers long Separation Wall was built to isolate Palestinian communities.
Many claim that through the Oslo agreements the two states solution failed. Uri Savir and Ron Pundak make it clear, however, that the option of two states was never on the negotiating table. The assumption that negotiations would lead Israel to limit the scope of its colonial project failed. This is a challenge not only for the PLO and the Palestinian people, but for the international community as a whole.
* This Article was published by the Alternative Information Center (AIC)