Oslo 20 years after

star-Oslo-AccordsRabin-Clinton-ArafatOslo Accords – Success and/or failure
Tel Aviv University
20 June 2013

Mea Culpa. I attended the conference in June and promised to blog. Here am I more than four months later, still writing.  It’s become like an irritating term paper you finish on principle after you have passed the course, without it. Much of it was finished it off in my hotel room in Yerevan, Armenia (blog to come) so if it’s scrappy, so be it.

Thanks to Caroline Glick’s Israel’s twenty year nightmare for the inspiration to complete the job. Whats a few extra months in twenty years?


In the interest of full disclosure I define success as the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted†. So please don’t tell me the Oslo Accords were a success because of the peace treaty with Jordan or Egypt. That’s a bonus. Don’t tell me the aim of the Oslo Accords was a Palestinian state. That was denied at the time. We were promised PEACE.

No one seems all that interested in the process leading to Oslo. I claim that a more perfect example of bad management and insult to democratic principles could not be imagined. that would be true even if by some miracle the Accords had succeeded.

One does not create a successful agreement by systematically excluding everyone who would have to work with it from the process and then telling them to make do.

Rabin is famously credited with saying, The view from here is not the view from there, to explain how he could justify abandoning long-standing Israeli consensus and Labor policy, after the election‡. That, on a two seat majority achieved by bribing members of the opposition. it is no defence that Menachem Begin, who was accused of something similar with Sadat. He had the decency to call an open vote in the Knesset. He didn’t just bully and intimidate his own party to push it through.

Like many, I believe, I voted for Rabin precisely because he campaigned as the tough, dependable, bluntly honest general. Had Rabin stated, in the election, that he intended to make an agreement with the Palestinians no matter the consequences, I wouldn’t have voted Labor. I suspect enough would have agreed with he to deny him government.

Isn’t that the way democracy is supposed to work?

Conference impressions

Yossi Sarid and Ephraim Sneh

It’s difficult to summarise a whole day’s talk and I confess I came with limited expectations especially when the first panel consisted of Ephraim Sneh and Yossi Sarid. Was this conference organised by the BBC? A panel discussion where everybody, including the chair agrees in advance?

I have a theory that inability to accept the failure of the Oslo Accords has as much to do with a politician’s personal inability to admit their own failures as any continuing belief in land–for–peace. That phrase, by the way, was never mentioned by anyone. Wasn’t that what Oslo was supposed to be about?

The Heinrich Boll Stiftung associated with the German Greens Party had a great deal to do with the conference. Mark Berthold

The Heinrich Böll Stiftung was also involved. I couldn’t help thinking the German Greens (for that matter any Greens) are not known as the best friends of Israel.

As a reference I gave my own very unscientific rating as to how the participants saw the success or failure of Oslo, based on their presentations. Many of the speakers seemed determined not to relate directly to the question that was the basis of this conference. I don’t know why. Could it be that criticising Rabin and Peres in academia is as much a career destroyer as it is supposed to be in the media and entertainment? Or could it be the organizers didn’t really inform them they were supposed to give an answer?

Oslo: a success Neutral or didn’t relate Oslo: a failure
10 (mostly morning) 9 3 (mostly after lunch)

The best and the worst

There is no way I can summarise every speakers presentation. It would bore you to death if I tried. So I have compromised by picking the quotables from everybody. There were some surprises. There’s quite a gallery of photographs as well. Enjoy them (I hope) and reuse them freely, as with anything from Five Minutes for Israel.

20YrsAfter_0093Among the standouts were a number of speakers I had never heard – or heard of – before. Avichai Snir, from Netanya’s school of banking and capital markets, spoke about the Palestinian economy now and then. An issue that tends to swept under the carpet is the what an economic basket case the Palestinian Authority is. The world is less and less willing to pay its huge debts. It seems that the nuts–and–bolts of how the new state, if and when, will support itself are too trivial for any of the two-staters to consider.

20YrsAfter_0098Another was Gidon Bromberg from Friends of the Earth on water problems. He said something that I wish all speakers on Palestine would acknowledge. Israel gives the Palestinians every drop that the Oslo Accords obliges it but there is still a major shortfall. On the other hand pollution from Hebron industries reaches Beer Sheva and then on to Gaza and the Mediterranean.

Instead of libeling Israel by claims that it is stealing Palestinian water advocates for Palestine should be asking for a redrawing of those specific clauses. Are they embarrassed to admit their negotiators screwed up? Water is a solvable problem that doesn’t need to wait for a comprehensive solution.

20YrsAfter_0130Hiba Husseini, a Palestinian lawyer was another stand-out, even though she was visibly irritated when I asked her who was negotiating for the Palestinians. The PLO, of course! Do they in any real way still exist? Do they have meetings, joint resolutions? Are any PLO members who are not Fatah appear on the negotiating teams?

Her major point was that the failures of the Accords were the absence of dispute resolution and constructive ambiguity. An agreement for the sake of agreement has risks greater than advantages.

Tsippi Hotovely

Zippi Hotevely came over as shrill and unreasonable. Given that she had a slam dunk in front of her that was a surprise. It was only when I read my notes I realised that she had said some very interesting things that somehow I missed in the shrillness.

Yossi Sarid came over as rambling and not-with-it? Was he that way at Oslo. It would explain many things.


Four Palestinians were listed on the programme. Two appeared. The then current appointment/resignation/ interim reappointment of the Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, may have had a lot to do with it.

Taisir Amre

By contrast to Husseini, Taisr Amre, Professor of Economics,  was a complete washout and gave a rant that would not be out-of-place in the more extreme Facebook groups or  Comment is Free. Pity. As an economist he must have had some genuine insights in his field of expertise.

The crowd was polite (agreed with him?) which led me to think. Do Palestinian conferences invite Israelis? Only those Israelis who agree with them? If an Israeli delivered a rant, like Amre’s, would the Palestinians sit quietly or give him even a polite clap at the end?

Quotables – the things people say

Remarks, snarky or otherwise from 5MFI in green. Summarising every presentation would be too time-consuming. Not to mention, unbearably long.

Dr. Ephraim Sneh, Chair S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic dialogue

  • Only Rabin was able to make the agreement work. Truly frightening. What sort of plan is that?
  • Suicide bombers were directed by Iran to derail Oslo. ???

Mr. Yossi Sarid, former Minister of Education and Environmental Protection

  • Rabin was surprised by the First Intifada. The opponents of the accords predicted it.
  • It was a mistake not to expel the settlers in the beginning. Not the least authoritarian?
  • It was a mistake to do Oslo in stages. Better to do this like lemmings – only faster.
  • Rabin said. “The best army can do no more than the best army. No more useless wars. All that followed were useful?

Dr. Ron Pundak, Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO

  • Peres threatened Rabin if he didn’t proceed Peres would go public with “Rabin against Peace”. That’s good management or is it good government?

Dr. Ephraim Lavi, Tami Steinmetz, T.A. University

  • The pain of Oslo would be less than the pain of No Oslo. Unfortunately he didn’t go into this in any depth, at all.

Prof. Asher Susser, Dayan Center, T.A. University

  • I’m a professor at Tel Aviv but despite that I’m still a Zionist. 🙁.
  • UN 242 minus UN 194 equals 48 🙂
  • Palestinians will never accept Israel as a Jewish state. So why negotiate?

Amnon Lord, Senior editor Makor Rishon

  • The Israeli Left has become more radical but smaller. Compare this with Tamar Hermann’s quote.

Prof. Tamar Hermann, Israel Democracy Institute

  • What was the view of the Left has become centre and even Right.
  • Oslo is a label. It can be repackaged like chocolate.

Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, Har Zion Yeshiva

  • A program based on conflict between Jewish groups can’t bring peace.
  • I asked Rabin, “Mr. Prime Minister what will you give in a final agreement”? He answered, There will be none. There will never be an agreement on Jerusalem. I expected shock from the audience but there was none.
  • Oslo blocked the way to an agreement.
  • The most correct way to stability and later peace is a long-term hudna based on the non recognition of claims. At last someone who doesn’t pretend Islam is not a factor.

Prof. Tasir Amre

  • The only change from Oslo is breaking the taboo of not talking — and that doesn’t necessarily produce something positive.
  • If there is no state on the 1967 borders we will go back to the one-state solution. Not one person in audience or the panel related to this as a threat.

Gidon Bromberg, Friends of the Earth Middle East

  • No water in (Palestinian) schools leads to girls not going to school because they would have to urinate outside.
  • Water is a solvable problem. It’s all or nothing that keeps water hostage.

Adv. Col (ret) Pnina Sharvit, IDF Military Advocate-General’s Department

  • Oslo caught the Palestinians by surprise. And everybody else, including the Israelis. That can’t be a good way to make a solid agreement.
  • I saw Palestinians who wanted progress. That is not the image most Israelis have. I still think most Palestinians don’t want peace. They want victory.

Prof. Aeyal Gross, Tel Aviv University

  • The history of Israel’s occupation is one of ambivalence (over occupation/not occupation — Geneva convention)
  • The temporary becomes the permanent.

Dr. Yael Ronen, Sharei Mishpat College

  • One plus one does not equal two. Sounds great but I wish I remember what it meant.
  • The United Nations says Palestine is not a state. UNESCO says it is. It’s a state without control. Israel has the control.

Adv. Hiba I. Husseini, Palestinian legal expert

  • Palestinians were dragged into gradualism.
  • The agreements were too soft. No dispute resolution clauses. A bad legal contract made with the idea that a bad agreement was better than none?
  • Constructive ambiguity. The risks are greater than the advantages.
  • Pacta sunt servanda. The cardinal rule of international law prevents the breaking of agreements. I’m waiting for a Palestinian to admit that Arafat broke the agreements by terrorism — still waiting.

Adv. Col. (ret) Daniel Reisner, IDF Military Advocate General’s Office

  • Much of what Hiba Husseini said was correct.
  • Palestinians want international law in agreements to avoid negotiations. They wanted victory.
  • Palestinians want terms unique in international law such as the Right of Return.
  • Palestinians wanted to delete human rights laws under constructive ambiguity — to fight Hamas unhindered. So much for them being Israel’s puppets. No one then or now saw the immorality of making agreements with the PLO when they don’t represent half the Palestinians?

Dr. Reuven Pedatzur, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue

  • Oslo was a success because Israel decided on a policy towards the Palestinians. Decided or were dragged? I seem to remember being presented with a fait accompli from a party with the slimmest possible majority whose leader had during the elections promised to do exactly what he had done..

General (ret,) Klaus Naumann, NATO

  • I am speaking as a German with a clear obligation to the prosperity of Israel.
  • Israel: Needs friends, OK Needs to give dignity to enemies, OK Needs openness and transparency, OK Needs impartial control by outsiders. Children, must respect their elders because they know better what is good for them?
  • Israel must win back the hearts and minds of alienated former friends. At what cost?

MK Tzippi Hotoveley, Deputy Min. of Transport

  • Why isn’t Abbas here? Does this even require a comment?
  • There was unacceptable terror after Oslo until Sharon ended the agreement. I thought the whole point of this conference was that the agreement was still, more or less in force?
  • The status quo will lead to Apartheid. That’s certainly a twist on the Israel is an apartheid state (already) slur.
  • Jabotinsky’s option of a state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan remains.
  • One and a half million Arabs will get citizenship including the vote.
  • The Jews (one million is enough) of the world will come. Wow! The one state solution from a Likudnik!
  • Sherut Leumi (nonmilitary national service) for Arabs, Haredi and those (Arabs) from the territories. And for her next trick …?

MK Isaac ‘Buji’ Herzog, Israel Labor party

  • Palestine acts like a state – I ate in a restaurant! That quote is so surreal I wonder if I misheard.
  • I want Gush Etzion as part of Israel and the solution is a land swap – Twenty per cent of the settlements need to be emptied.
  • The historic mistake of Abu Mazen is his refusal to sit with the elected Prime Minister. That implies that Abbas wants a settlement that Israel could agree with. His political and real life expectancy depends on NOT reaching the only settlement that Israel or for that matter Herzog could agree to.

Dr. Yair Hirschfeld, Economic Cooperation Foundation and Haifa University

  • Begin began the process towards two states at Camp David.
  • The Palestine Authority is the success of Oslo. Talk about redefining success.



I am not a professional journalist, do not take shorthand and had no recording machine. In addition, I was listening to most speakers in Hebrew without the benefit of the instant translation but note taking in English. I may not be quoting word-for-word but I am reasonably confident I got the sense right. Extra big disclaimer. if I have wrongly identified someone in the gallery, deepest apologies. Let me know.

Extra credit

† The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000
‡ Quoting from memory.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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