From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong? - Ron Pundak

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From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?
by Dr. Ron Pundak
June 2001

There is a PDF version of Ron Pundak,
“From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?” Survival, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 31-45. It appears to be longer, a little different and is part of a longer document. I can't copy the file but you can read it here.


Three approaches can be distinguished regarding the question of what went wrong with the peace process, which began in Oslo. The first approach maintains that peace between Israelis and Palestinians was, and remains, impossible. The second claims that such a peace can be reached but that the two constituencies are as yet unable to acknowledge that it is the only option and are therefore unready to make the necessary and painful concessions. Finally, the third approach counters that the opportunity for peace did in fact exist, but that it was squandered due to the misperception of each of the sides regarding the real interests of the other party, and to the faulty implementation and management of the entire process. This paper focuses on the third approach.

The uprising, which began the morning after the visit of the then opposition leader and now Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount/ Harem-ash-Sharif, on September 28th 2000, did not begin with the first rock thrown by a Palestinian youth, or shooting by a “Tanzim” activist. The rock and the rifle, and in particular the demonstrations and clashes of Palestinians with IDF forces, are tied to the events of the past seven years since the signing of the Oslo Agreement. Sharon’s visit, and the killing of worshippers on the plazas of Jerusalem’s mosques on the following day, was the match that ignited the powder keg, which had threatened to explode for years.

The tenure of former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (1996-1999), made it clear to the Palestinians that an elected Israeli Government might actually not be interested in reaching a peace agreement on the basis of the principle of United Nations Security Council Resolution UNSCR 242 (land for peace). This, together with the immense gap between the expectations raised by his successor Ehud Barak’s Government and the grim reality (the continuation of settlements, lives in the shadow of checkpoints, an unstable economic situation and other elements which will be described below) had an unmitigated effect on Palestinian public opinion. The Palestinian public and the “street” leadership – which originally was an enthusiastic supporter of the peace process and of the need to reach reconciliation with Israel – came to the conclusion that Israel did not in fact want to reach a fair agreement to end the occupation and grant the Palestinian people “legitimate rights”.

In particular, from the moment when the five years of the Interim Agreement period expired and a Permanent Status was not even visible on the horizon, the clock began to tick towards the explosion. For Israel, the only way to prevent the detonation was to effect the agreements signed with the Palestinians rapidly and seriously, and to embark promptly on intensive Permanent Status negotiations. Prime Minister Ehud Barak failed to understand this. Indeed, his error was twofold: he decided not to implement the third redeployment, which represented the single most important element in the Interim Agreement; and although he entered into negotiations on Permanent Status earnestly and in goodwill, he did so on the basis of faulty basic assumptions which caused their collapse.

This paper will offer an non-exhaustive and selective examination of what went wrong on the road from Oslo to Taba, and aims to shed light on the Palestinian perspective to which Israelis are not generally exposed.

The Process of Implementation and the Netanyahu Government

The relative failure of the Oslo process can be traced back to the beginning of the period of implementation of the DOP Agreement. The “Oslo Spirit” which influenced the two leaderships, neither permeated to the level of the Israelis who formulated the complicated system of the implementation agreements (the “Gaza and Jericho Agreement” and the Interim Agreement of September 1995), nor to the Israeli officials who were in charge of negotiating with the Palestinians on translating the agreements into concrete actions.

The “Oslo Spirit” was based on the understanding that the negative history between our two peoples represents an almost insurmountable obstacle for conventional-type negotiations, taking as a point of departure the existing imbalance of power between the occupier and the occupied. Our goal was to work towards a conceptual change, which would lead to a dialogue based, as much as possible, on fairness, equality and common objectives. These values were to be reflected both in the character of the negotiations – including the personal relationships between the negotiators – and in the proffered solutions and implementation. This new type of relationship was supposed to influence the type and character of Palestinian-Israeli talks, which would develop between other official and semi-governmental institutions in the future, as well as future dialogue between the two peoples.

For many years, the two peoples had tried to attain achievements at the expense of the other side. Every victory won by one side was considered a defeat for the other, according to the principles of the “zero-sum game” theory. In contrast, “Oslo” was, from the start, guided by efforts to abandon this approach, and to achieve as many win-win situations as possible, notwithstanding that the balance of power was tipped in Israel’s favor.

Agreements were signed, various responsibilities and spheres of authority were passed on to the Palestinians, but the basic Israeli attitude towards the Palestinians continued unabated, and the patronizing attitude of occupier to occupied remained. It was not replaced by a relationship of equality required of former adversaries headed in a new political and historical direction. In parallel, the Palestinians tended to underestimate the painful significance for Israel of the murderous terrorist attacks by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, which only intensified following the signing of the Oslo Agreement, and of the incitement conducted openly by the Palestinian side. Instead of actively pursuing the inciters and demonstrating a 100% commitment to fighting terrorism and its infrastructure which simultaneously hurt Israel and the Peace Process, the PA attempted both to coordinate counter-terrorist measures with Israel and to present a “soft” attitude in dealing with its leadership, infrastructure and activists.

The three-year tenure of the Netanyahu Government, which according to the timetable should have seen the climax of the implementation of the Interim Agreement and of negotiations on Permanent Status, established new rules of the game and served only to reduce the hope of Israelis and Palestinians alike. From a political point of view this period can be characterized in a single word: failure. Palestinians, the Arab world and the wide circles in the international community raised the question: does Israel really want peace? If the peace process had indeed developed as planned and led to the signing of an agreement with the Palestinians, history would have smiled at the irony that the Netanyahu Government, despite all predictions to the contrary, introduced the Middle East into an era of peace. But true to character, Netanyahu sabotaged the peace process relentlessly, and made every effort to delegitimize the Palestinian partner. At the same time, the reality forced Netanyahu to continue, albeit reluctantly and in limited fashion, the implementation of the process. The Americans imposed the Wye Agreement on him, which symbolized the implementation of the second redeployment according to the Interim Agreement.

Netanyahu’s “ultimate weapon” in his campaign against the Palestinians was the mantra that the other side was not fulfilling its part of the agreements and that without mutuality Israel would not implement its part. In practice, during Netanyahu’s tenure, both sides committed breaches with regard to the Agreement, but the breaches of the Israeli side were both more numerous and more substantive in nature. The Palestinians did not stop the vitriolic propaganda against Israel by radio, the printed press, television and schoolbooks; did not collthe illegal firearms; did not reach an agreement with Israel on the de facto growth of their Police Force; and did not prove that they were wholeheartedly combating fundamentalist terrorism, including the imprisonment of its activists.

Israel on its part did not implement the three stages of the second redeployment, i.e. did not leave territories which were supposed to be transferred to the Palestinians; completed only one section out of four with regard to the freeing of Palestinian prisoners; did not undertake the implementation of the safe passage which was supposed to connect the West Bank and Gaza; repeatedly delayed the permit to build the airport and maritime port in Gaza; prevented the transfer of monies belonging to the PA for extended periods of time; and continued to establish new settlements, to annex territories for new settlements and to expand existing ones.

The Palestinians were humiliated. The foot-dragging combined with the arrogance of the Israeli Government, and in particular of its Prime Minister, in their relations with the Palestinian public and its leaders, undermined their belief in the process. The Palestinian message to the Israeli peace camp towards the end of Netanyahu’s tenure and election of Barak was clear: an erosion of hope and faith was taking place. The Palestinian “street” and its leadership interpreted Israel’s policy as seeking to destroy the very core of the Palestinian national dream. Moreover, they warned, if this trend continued Israel would find itself without a partner. The Fatah movement – the cornerstone of the Palestinian support for peace – would be replaced by the Hamas as the dominating popular movements.

The Barak Era

The new Government of Barak took office in the spring of 1999. It was met with high expectations. The window of opportunity which had been identified during the Madrid Conference in 1991 and unlocked in Oslo in 1993, was still waiting to be thrown open. In 1999, the political situation in the region was ripe for a breakthrough, but time was scarce. Nevertheless, the Palestinian leadership was still able to contain the violence, which could easily have erupted during Netanyahu’s tenure. The Palestinian public seethed not merely in response to the delaying of the final dates of the Interim Agreement, but mainly from its growing conviction that the Netanyahu Government – like that of Shamir before him – had no intention of moving towards peace. The average Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza continued to experience humiliating treatment, new settlements were established both on and off expropriated land, and the general perception was of continued occupation.

Barak should have taken as his guiding principle Ben Gurion’s pragmatic approach, which Rabin employed to such success. This approach is based on the real interests of Israel, rather than on a pressure group or messianic- or security-oriented lobbies, and its actions were designed to achieve its goals. In the final event, Barak quoted Ben Gurion and wished to emulate him, while in fact he implemented policies which bore a Ben Gurionistic vision but actually more closely resembled – in terms of results – those of Golda Meir prior to the October 1973 war.

The version of events, which was fed to the Israeli public during Barak’s tenure, was different from the reality on the ground. The “Oslo years” under Barak did not see the end of the Israeli occupational mentality, did not enable real Palestinian control over the three million citizens of the PA, did not bring an end to building in the settlements or to the expropriation of land, and did not enable economic growth in the territories. In addition, Barak’s repeated statements that he was the only Prime Minister who had not transferred land to the Palestinians raised questions for many about his sincerity. The suspicions increased once it became clear to the Palestinians that Barak would not transfer the three villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem (Abu Dis, Al Eyzaria and Arab Sawahra) to PA control after both the Government and the Knesset had approved the transfer.

For the average Palestinian during Barak’s administration, the so-called “fruits of peace” were hardly encouraging: closures which were interpreted as collective punishment; restrictions on movement which affected almost all Palestinians; a permit-issuing system which mainly hurt decent people already cleared by Israeli security; mistreatment at IDF and Border Police checkpoints often aimed, on purpose, at PA officials; a dramatic decrease in employment opportunities in Israel, leading to increased unemployment and the creation of new pockets of poverty; water shortages during the summer months as opposed to the abundance of water supply in the Israeli settlements; the destruction of Palestinian homes while new houses were built in the settlements; the non-release of prisoners tried for activities committed before Oslo; Israeli restrictions on building outside Areas A and B; and the establishment of Bantustan-like areas, controlled according to the whim of Israeli military rule and on occasion dictated by its symbiotic relationship with the settlers’ movement. The settlers, for their part, did everything within their power to obstruct the spirit and word of the Oslo Agreement. The result was a relentless struggle, over land resources, with the settlers often receiving the tacit backing of the IDF and the civil administration in the West Bank (a majority of whose staff are themselves settlers).

This difficult situation was magnified by the deep disappointment felt by Palestinians due to the failing governing style of the PA, the discovery of corruption among politicians, the administrative arm, and the security and police apparatuses. These institutions treated the Palestinian public in a manner, which was far from acceptable democratic norms. The Palestinians came to hate the political elite, which had been imported from Tunis, as well as the local leadership, which rapidly conformed to the corrupt standards of the “Tunisians”. The tension between the “street” and the senior officials continued to grow. In this context it proved comfortable for the PA to blame Israel for every problem, which arose.

Precisely at this delicate and complex point, the PA should have reassessed its relationship with the Palestinian public, as well as its relations with the Israeli public. Without the support of these two constituencies any hope of peace and stability was lost. Vis a vis the Palestinian public, the PA should have implemented radical reforms; “cleaned the stables”; created transparent and trustworthy financial systems; fired corrupt senior officials; reorganized the institutions of the PA; and fostered an enthusiastic state-building enterprise which would attract Palestinians from abroad to join the national effort. The PA implemented none of these actions. Chairman Arafat continued to rule by the obsolete methods brought from Tunis. This attitude permeated the political and public spheres in a destructive fashion, increasing the hatred of the public towards its leadership.

The Palestinian leadership’s attitude towards the Israeli public was equally erroneous. Instead of promoting messages which would bring home to Israelis the Palestinian problem and the many difficulties they faced – e.g. humanitarian, national and political aspects – the Israeli public was met with a barrage of declarations of war (Jihad), terrorist attacks, daily propaganda which could even be interpreted as anti-Semitic and the (mistaken) sentiment that the Palestinian side does not desire peace. President Sadat captured the hearts of Israelis, and King Hussein brought them to like him as a person. This was completely alien to Arafat. Neither he nor the Palestinian leadership did anything in order to coax and persuade the center-left portion of the Israeli public, a constituency that represented their natural ally.

This situation made it easy for Barak to continue the status quo. Sufficient efforts were not made on the Israeli side – both in the governmental and the public spheres – to alter the basic assumptions (“changing the hadisk”) regarding the Palestinians. Official Israeli institutions continued – often without being aware of it – to place more obstacles in the way of implementation of the various agreements, and hinder development in areas and spheres handed over to PA control and responsibility. This trend can be seen for example in the various economic restrictions, which were imposed, and in the hindrance of the development of industrial zones. As a rule, the Israeli side claimed that “security considerations hold priority over all others”. This position dictated – in the first period of implementation – the many closures imposed on the West Bank and Gaza, which prevented the Palestinian population from injecting an essential flow of funds to the Palestinian economy through regular work in Israel. Imposition of closures became the prevailing norm, turning into an instinctive reaction, imposed even when not required by security considerations. It has since been proved that the relation between closures and the deterrence of terrorism remained minimal. They were instead employed as a psychological device aimed at the Israeli public, proof that “something is being done”.

Moreover, the political leadership in Israel was fearful all along – due to mistaken electoral considerations – of revealing to the public what should have been the true message of the period of implementation of the Oslo accords, namely that the entire process was intended to result in a Permanent Status Agreement, its essence being a peace agreement through the creation of a Palestinian state in the majority of the occupied territories, with its capital in Arab East Jerusalem, and a respectable solution – both practical and symbolic – to the refugee issue.

The Policies and Politics of Ehud Barak

From the outset, Barak caused a feeling of ambiguity in the Palestinian leadership. On the one hand he appeared serious and determined to reach a permanent status agreement that would include all outstanding issues. On the other hand, he conveyed right-wing messages, particularly with regard to the “price” he was willing to pay in return for an agreement. Former Minister Haim Ramon (in an interview to “Zman Tel Aviv” March 2, 2001) explains that: “When Barak said ‘we cannot give assets if there is no permanent status agreement,’ he used right-wing terminology. One of the problems was that Barak promised them [the Palestinians] and didn’t deliver. Barak refused to implement the agreement on the third redeployment as Israel had promised [in the Interim Agreement of September 1995]. He said, ‘if we give, they will receive and will not be satisfied’.”

In the article, Ramon relates to Barak’s first political maneuver, in which he actually forced the Sharm A-Sheikh Agreement of September 1999 on the Palestinians, according to which the third redeployment would be postponed to a date agreed upon in the Agreement. Ultimately, however, contrary to this agreement, Barak failed to implement the third redeployment. The logic was similar to that which guided him immediately after the Oslo Accords: Israel should not relinquish assets before it was completely certain of the nature of the final agreement. While the basic logic of Barak’s approach can be either accepted or challenged, the fact is that this approach was presented to the Palestinians along with public declarations announcing his affinity for the leadership of the National Religious Party (NRP) and the settlers, and that UNSCR 242 does not include the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians concluded that Barak – much like Netanyahu – was not willing to reach a fair agreement.

Barak’s first strategic mistake, as Prime Minister, was his decision to defer the Palestinian track in favor of an attempt to conclude a peace agreement with Syria. In light of the dismal relations that had developed between the Netanyahu government, and the Palestinians, and in light of initial Palestinian fears regarding Barak’s intentions, and even though Barak’s maneuver might have seemed logical to him and his advisors – but not so to many experts – he should have initiated a special meeting with Arafat – who expected an invitation. At such a meeting the priorities of the Prime Minister could have been explained and possible measures (such as specific redeployment and/or releasing prisoners) discussed, which would serve to alleviate the burden on the Palestinian leadership and public during this uncertain waiting period, thus assuring the Palestinians that one track of negotiation did not exclude the other.

Barak did not adopt this approach. He concentrated instead on the Syrian track, which eventually reached – some might say by his own fault – a dead end. Moreover, the Prime Minister rejected Arafat’s request to freeze the construction of settlements during negotiations, and did so primarily in order to maintain his coalition with the NRP, although he did announce that no new settlements would be established. When settlers began constructing dozens of illegal hilltop strongholds, which the Palestinians considered new settlements, Barak missed an opportunity to send a conspicuous message to the Palestinians and the settlers alike by removing the strongholds through legal means or even by force. Instead, he preferred to negotiate and barter with the settlers in order to remove, retain or duplicate some of the remaining strongholds to other locations. From the Palestinian point of view, the message was clear although Barak, apparently, had not meant to convey it as such.

Here, too, Barak was captive of the mistake made by many Israelis, who view political and security developments strictly through a pair of Israeli “glasses.” Barak failed to understand that in negotiating with the settlers, he was read differently by the Palestinians than he was by Israelis. He did not understand that in “removing Arafat’s mask” in order to “see if Arafat could make tough choices,” he actually unveiled the truth under the mask behind which he and a majority of Israelis disguised themselves, consciously or subconsciously. The Israeli public and leadership were not prepared, or had not been prepared, to pay the necessary price for a peace agreement. In the aforementioned article, Ramon describes his answer to the Prime Minister’s question whether Arafat was prepared to pay the price for peace. He asked “Are we ready? Did we remove settlements? Have you already divided Jerusalem?” Ramon’s conclusion is severe: “Ehud was actually against Oslo, his government abandoned the path for peace. He said ‘either there will be peace or we will know who we are talking to’.”

Barak was not opposed to a peace agreement with the Palestinians. He was honest, serious and sincere in his quest to conclude a fair Permanent Status Agreement. Although he was emotionally sympathetic to Gush Emunim, and his mental setup was formed by 35 years in the military, rationally Barak was “left-wing”, positioning himself politically left of many of the leaders of the peace camp in all matters relating to permanent status. He understood that the occupation corrupts Israel, and he comprehended the Palestinian desire for a state. He even admitted on television, that if he were Palestinian he would almost certainly have become a freedom fighter in one of the terrorist organizations. However, this ambivalence reflecting the contradiction between his emotions and his rationality, created a dissonance that further amplified his natural inability to market almost any policy, and especially his ideological-rational policy.

One of Barak’s problems was that – while negotiating – he rejected the concept developed in Oslo and its multi-phase strategy. His “all or nothing” approach he created brought us to where we are today. The “all or nothing” approach could have succeeded provided that it was accompanied by confidence-building measures towards the Palestinian public and the development of a personal relationship with its leaders. If Barak had invited them on an “all or nothing” journey, while creating a supportive environment of trust and hope, we would by now have an agreement between the two sides.

Another of Barak’s major fwas his inability to develop personal relations with the Palestinian leadership, and primarily with Chairman Arafat. Rabin and Peres, each in his own way, was able to create intimate working relations with Arafat, the personal nature of which provided a safety net for crisis resolution, overcoming gaps in negotiations. Barak not only disparaged the value of such an approach (during almost two weeks of Talks at Camp David, Barak refused to hold a one-on-one meeting with Arafat), but he caused Arafat to distrust him. Arafat was quoted as saying that “Barak is worse than Netanyahu.” The alternative to creating “chemistry” with Arafat could have been to create a special relationship with Abu Mazen, his deputy, but here, too, Barak failed. As a result, no relationship was created which could have helped to bridge over the difficulties and distrust, which arose during negotiations.

Barak’s difficulties in working with the Palestinians were not very different from those he encountered in managing internal Israeli politics. The issues were different, but the approach was essentially the same. It began after the elections with the establishment of a non-partisan, non-political team that was designated to negotiate in order to build a coalition. He essentially excluded the Labor party leadership from the process and alienated his partners. In the end, the government was assembled just two days before the 45-day limit, leaving everyone except for Barak – who remained smiling – angry, suspicious and exhausted. He ruptured his relations with Uzi Baram and Ra’anan Cohen (two pillars of his party); appointed Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben Ami to positions (Justice and Internal Security) which did not match their qualifications and appointed Haim Ramon as a Minister of little importance in the Prime Minister’s Office. He also attempted to keep Peres out of the government. After forming the government, however, he was obliged to create a special position for Peres as Minister for Regional Cooperation. He tried to bypass Avrum Burg by nominating someone for the position of Chairman of the Knesset who had little chancing of winning, and finally bestowed ministries of high socio-economic importance upon coalition partners instead of his own party. In response to problems that emerged from coalition negotiations, Barak replied that he could not be pressured or blackmailed. If he blinked now, he added, it would impair his ability to negotiate with President Assad.

With the establishment of the government, his course of action did not change. He managed to turn supporters into adversaries. He failed to resolve internal problems, addressing them only when they had reached a point when they could barely be solved. He handled the strike of the physically disabled and the teachers’ strike in a similar manner. Towards the Israeli-Arabs, of whom 95% had voted for him, he was condescending from the onset, establishing no framework for cooperation with the Arab parties or the Arab leadership on the municipal, social and religious levels. The problem was not one of a lack of will, honesty or vision, but rather the fact that Barak was the poorest of managers.

The Negotiations on the Permanent Status between Israel and a Palestinian State

The Oslo Accords basically aimed to set in motion a process that would bring about – through a Permanent Status Agreement (PSA) between Israel and the PLO – peace, coexistence, and decreased probability of confrontation and war. One of the more substantive issues in this context, relates to whether a PSA should address and resolve all outstanding issues outlined in the Oslo Accords (Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with neighbors, and other issues of common interest titled “generic issues” such as water and economics), or whether the resolutions of complicated issues – Jerusalem, refugees, territorial questions – should be postponed in favor of an agreement which will leave some issues open for further negotiation.

According to the Oslo Accords, all issues, especially those that are particularly sensitive and problematic, will be placed on the negotiating table. Discussions on any of the issues can therefore be postponed only if agreed upon by both sides. From the onset of the negotiating process, it should have been clear to Israel that the Palestinian side was adamantly insistent that only a comprehensive package addressing all issues of permanent status would be considered. Israeli debate on whether it was correct for Barak to discuss Jerusalem and refugee issues is therefore irrelevant, and demonstrates the dominating feature of Israeli discourse which ignored the fact that in order to bring about a real resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no other choice exists but to resolve all issues on the agenda.

Outstanding issues would leave the agreement hostage to extremists on both sides, which would continue to fight in order to thwart the possibility of concluding these issues in future, negotiations, and thereby leave the process of peace and reconciliation at their mercy. A PSA must be clear, while its implementation could be – and perhaps should be – gradual. In any case, and not as was in Oslo, the ‘End State’ must be clear to both sides. From a historical-political perspective, being cognizant of possible complexities and complications, all players – Israel, the Palestinians, the Arab World including the rejection front, and the international community – were ripe at this time for an historic step. In this context, Barak’s decision to work towards this end was both justified and sound.

Barak was not convinced, upon entering the negotiations, that Israel had a true partner for peace in the present Palestinian leadership headed by Arafat. He still wished to examine whether the Palestinian leadership viewed the peace process as a strategic decision and whether a critical mass of the Palestinian public supported Arafat and his way. Barak was prepared to go “all the way” in order to reach an agreement, leading Israel towards making the necessary concessions. However, he was not willing to do what was necessary on the ground in order to prove his intentions, and he expressed extreme positions in his political statements.

In stark contrast to the hesitations of the Israeli Prime Minister, the Palestinian leadership and a majority of the public were willing to negotiate and to make the necessary concessions, provided that Israel would present clear negotiating positions that would lead to their strategic goal, and that the reality of the occupier vs. the occupied would actually change on the ground.

Barak’s negotiating strategy with the Palestinians was mistaken. He should have presented the principles underlying the proposed solutions (mainly regarding the territorial issue) at the early stages of negotiations. This would have provided the Palestinians with an incentive to move forward with the negotiations, and their leadership with an opportunity to convince their suffering public that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, in the tradition of “Persian Market” bargaining, Barak engaged in foot-dragging during negotiations. Abu Mazen – the Palestinian architect of the Oslo Accord and a politician with great experience and understanding – who wanted to be the Palestinian figure leading the negotiations, repeatedly recommended that the general principles guiding the Permanent Status agreement be established at the onset of negotiations. An Israeli agreement to this would have turned Abu Mazen into a strategic partner with the political strength to carry the weight of negotiations on his shoulders. Instead Barak rejected this proposal, fearing he would “expose” his positions too early in the game. Barak should have understood that without a presentation of these principles, an agreement could not be reached. Moreover, by introducing these principles he would have injected motivation to the Palestinian side and strengthened the pragmatic camp, which claims, even today, that an agreement with Israel is possible. The tragic result was that even when Ba“exposed” his positions at the end of the negotiations, it was too late, and done in a manner which was not viewed as trustworthy by the Palestinians. Moreover, by not laying down principles, and leading the negotiations as he did, Barak weakened the Israeli position and had to concede again and again without receiving anything in return.

Barak also relied, mistakenly, on the recommendations of senior Government officials – who in fact were disconnected from the Palestinian reality on the ground and from its policies – who advised him that it would be possible to close a deal on one of two options: either on a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 80% of the West Bank, with an annexation of 20% to Israel and without territorial exchanges in return; or on a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 70% of the West Bank, with an annexation of 10% without territorial exchange, leaving the rest (20%) for future negotiations. Other experts, and the Intelligence community, in contrast did not believe that the Palestinian leadership has a margin for territorial concessions. They emphasized that Arafat’s condition for accepting an agreement was 100% of the territories, with certain exchanges of territories in order to accommodate Israel’s special needs and the reality that had developed on the ground over 30 years of occupation. Barak did not accept this position, and proceeded to advance territorial proposals, which had no chance to be a basis for a viable agreement.

Barak failed to grasp that from Arafat’s and the Palestinian point of view, the Palestinians had already made the most important territorial concession. There, the Palestinians accepted for the first time the principle of exercising their self-determination – i.e. a Palestinian state – on only 22% of mandatory Palestine. As a result of misreading the Palestinian perspective, Barak was convinced at the outset that it would be possible to reach an agreement without territorial exchanges, and the inaccurate conclusion that the exchange could be based on less than a clear and equitable 1:1 ratio, as Prime Minister Rabin had agreed to in the Peace Agreement with Jordan in 1994. The Israeli offer at Camp David was based on a map, which included an annexation of approximately 12% without territorial compensation. Towards the end of the talks, the Americans made clear to the Palestinians that the maximal Israeli offer included an annexation of 9% and a compensation of 1%. In Camp David, Barak didn’t take the necessary step to reach the desired endpoint, and the version presented in retrospect by Israeli spokespersons, claiming that Barak at Camp David offered 95% and an additional 5% in compensation, or alternatively 97% and another 3% compensation, is a form of rewriting history.

This highly responsible man – who could withstand extremely stressful situations, had amazing powers of concentration and analytical capacity, and who was used to coping with new situations – may have failed precisely because of his qualities. Barak’s approach to negotiation was influenced by arrogance, single-mindedness and the fallacy that “only I have the big picture, and only I know and understand it all”. His strategic vision and historical insight collapsed because he failed to understand how to reach his important goals. He attempted to impose his game rules on the negotiations, to force a Barak-like move on an environment, which was unaccustomed to functioning according to his code.

Barak also recruited the American administration to this end. In retrospect, it seems that the American administration – and in particular the State Department – contributed to the failure of the negotiation process. The traditional approach of the State Department, which prevailed throughout most of Barak’s tenure, was to adopt the position of the Israeli Prime Minister. Consequently, the Palestinians suspected the Americans of not being honest brokers. This was demonstrated most extremely during the Netanyahu administration, when the American Government seemed sometimes to be working for the Israeli Prime Minister, in an effort to convince (and even attempt to force) the Palestinian side to accept Israeli offers. This pattern of behavior also was visible during Barak’s tenure. The Israeli line was adopted by the Americans without sufficient consideration of the positions and needs of the Palestinian side. With time, President Clinton and the White House staff developed a more profound understanding of the Palestinian position, and a willingness to push the Israelis to alter and roll forward their positions. However, the behavior of the Palestinian side – mainly during the Camp David Talks – psychologically eroded this support, causing the Americans to return instinctively to the traditional pattern of backing Israel’s positions.

President Clinton’s public statement at the close of the Camp David Talks, to the effect that the Palestinian side was responsible for its failure, was a mistake. The President’s position was a reaction to the behavior of the Palestinians during the Talks, and a personal expression of disappointment. He may also have been motivated by a desire to assist a friend – Barak – who was in a difficult political situation at home. The Palestinian Delegation practiced foot-dragging, its representatives on occasion demonstrated an unwillingness to fully engage in the discussions, adopted a passive approach and contradicted each other. Their behavior left a negative impression on Clinton comparing with the frog leaps undertaken by Barak who broke taboos and took great personal and political risks. Nevertheless, Clinton should have been less emotional and more presidential, and should have understood three basic facts: Firstly, the Palestinians could not and from the outset were not prepared to complete the negotiations during a single summit which took place three to five months before the date set for the end of negotiations. Secondly, the proposed Israeli positions, while being far-reaching, remained far from the minimum, which would have enticed the Palestinians to sign an agreement. And thirdly, to corner Arafat would always produce the opposite result and push him to commit actions contrary to requirements for a successful conclusion of the negotiations.

It is important to note that Barak’s notion that Camp David was to represent “the” summit to end all summits, an approach of all or nothing was fundamentally wrong. From the beginning, the Palestinians were opposed to the Talks, and were dragged into them by the Secretary of State and the President. The Palestinians believed that the time was not ripe, and that the two sides were as not yet ready for a concluding summit. Arafat was not aware of Barak’s intentions, which produced rabbits and other gifts from his top hat. When these were revealed in Camp David, the Palestinians were not ready with concrete positions in reaction. It was therefore impossible to reach an agreement at Camp David. From Arafat’s point of view, July was too early a date to reach an agreement. His timeline was September or November, with a preference for the latter. Tactically, his goal was to continue with discrete negotiations, as in Stockholm, until the end of the summer, and then to hold a number of summit meetings which would reach their climax after the American elections, when the President would feel free of the influence of the Jewish vote, and not bound by electoral obligations to his Vice President and the candidacy of his wife in the Senate elections.

When the summit was forced upon him, Arafat requested – but was unable to prevail – that there would be not one but a series of summit meetings which would enable him to build a coalition at home, both within the political elite and with the Palestinian public. This need was not sufficiently apparent to, nor recognized by, the Israelis and the Americans. Towards the end of the negotiations in Oslo in the summer of 1993, Abu Mazen and Abu Ala were also busy building an internal coalition. At the time, this coalition building enabled Arafat to declare his support for the agreement. The Palestinian leadership was then able use the combined force of his and the coalition’s support in order to market the agreement to the lower echelons of the leadership and to the Palestinian public. Without such an internal coalition composed of elements within Fatah and the PLO, Arafat cannot sign an agreement.

In the period leading up to Camp David, the Palestinian leadership was divided over, and engaged in, an internal struggle over who would lead the negotiations, but no less on who would be the heir to Arafat. Israel did not know how to maneuver in this context, and was seen to be involving itself in internal Palestinian politics. One of the Americans’ worst mistakes was that they also seemed to be taking a stand on this issue. They appeared to be grooming Mohammed Dahlan, the Head of Preventive Security Forces in Gaza, at the expense of number two in Fatah, Abu Mazen. In the final event, this struggle adversely affected the functioning of the Palestinian delegation. At certain points – both within the negotiations proper and outside them – various Palestinians presented harsh positions, which were designed to hurt their colleagues by making them appear too lenient.

Insufficient and amateur preparation combined with unclear proceedings was not only characteristic of the Palestinian side. The Israeli side, for example, arrived at the summit without being prepared on the complex and sensitive issue of Jerusalem. Barak justified the lack of preparation, stating that he feared “leaks” would result in political attacks accusing him of dividing the city. The negotiators were not familiar with the possible models of solutions or with the physical terrain in and around Jerusalem. This mistake was exacerbated when the Prime Minister decided to direct the discussions, at the summit, to an exaggerated focus on Jerusalem and, specifically, on the most sensitive issue of the Temple Mount/Harem-ash-Sharif. In fact, the logic of the negotiations required the opposite approach. The Palestinians were prepared to reach an agreement on all the other issues, and to leave the two most sensitive issues (the Temple Mount and the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees) for the end of the negotiations. This setup would have provided both sides with a clear balance of the gains and losses involved, and would have urged them to reach an agreement on these sensitive issues. Instead, Barak adopted the opposite approach, adding fuel to the fire in the form of an Israeli demand to change the religious status quo in the area of Harem-ash-Sharif by building a Jewish synagogue within the boundaries of the sacred compound. Such an act had not been contemplated for two thousand years, since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

It should be emphasized that the Palestinians made extremely significant mistakes that adversely effected the negotiations, with regard to these issues. These mistakes rendered the Israeli public suspicious of the Palestinians’ strategic aims, and advanced a process whereby the average Israeli removed his support from Barak and from permanent status negotiations. On the issue of the Temple Mount, Arafat and the Palestinian negotiating team should not have expressed doubts about the importance and holiness of the Temple Mount for the Jewish people. The legitimate Palestinian claim for sovereignty over the Harem-ash-Sharif was not strengthened by the inconsiderate attempt to ignore the historic Jewish connection to the site.

The second issue proved even worse. Excited Palestinian declarations regarding the Right of Return of every refugee to the State of Israel created a suspicion among the vast majority of the Israeli public, from left to right, that the Palestinian intention remains to eradicate the Jewish state using a Trojan horse in the form of the Right of Return. The extreme Palestinian positions united Israeli-Zionist society. It appeared as an attempt to destroy the foundation on which the Oslo concept was based: the principle of two states for two peoples, the mutual recognition of the right for self-determination of the Palestinian people, and the legitimacy of a national home for the Jewish people. Climbing the high tree of the total Right of Return and the subsequent debate based on extreme positions foreign to those taken by the Palestinians throughout the negotiations beginning in Oslo and until this period, constituted a major blow to the negotiations. The Palestinians touched upon two highly sensitive Israeli nerves: the religious and the national damaging themselves and the possibility of reaching a Permanent Status agreement.

The Palestinians were also found lacking in the tactical negotiations. In doing so, they did not help those in the Israeli political system who were trying to convince the Prime Minister to go the full distance in order to reach an agreement. The Palestinians changed the head of delegation on several occasions, and presented demands and positions, which later turned out only to represent the positions, and reflect the interests, of the negotiator at the time. Throughout the negotiations, the Palestinian team conveyed a feeling that there was no end to Palestinian demands and that this pressure would continue to increase as the conclusion of an agreement neared. Those who negotiated with the Palestinians in the past were familiar with this tactic. Its aim is to exhaust the path of negotiations up to the decision-making point when it is time to sign. The Israeli negotiators, however, felt that the rug had been drawn out from under them, even with regard to proposals that had already been agreed upon.

As negotiations advanced, Prime Minister Barak understood that to reach an agreement he must adopt an approach based on correcting mistakes while in full motion. Such a “correction” was first observed in the nomination of Adv. Gilad Sher as Chief Negotiator and that of Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami as the Head of the Israeli Delegation. Further “corrections” occurred immediately following Camp David, when it became clear that the negotiations with the Palestinians could and should be continued, even though the Prime Minister earlier had announced the Israeli Camp David proposals to be null and void. Barak also realized that he should make use of more experienced people, whom he had refused to involve in the past. This resulted in the establishment of the peace cabinet, which included Ministers Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin – who had gained vast experience since the beginning of the Oslo Process. Beilin’s involvement in the last-minute negotiations at Taba – albeit successful – apparently came too late.

The negotiations in Taba, which took place moments before Barak’s government lost the elections, proved that a permanent status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was within reach. The distance between the two sides narrowed during the last week of negotiations in Taba, and the climate in which the discussions were conducted was reminiscent of the approach, which was adopted during the Oslo talks. In effect, this lead to dramatic progress on all issues on the agenda, in almost all the most important issues. The talks did not end in an explosion, but rather in the feeling that the time remaining would not enable the two sides to reach a written and signed agreement. On the delicate issue of the Palestinian refugees and the right of return, the negotiators reached a draft determining the parameters and procedures for a solution, along with a clear emphasis that its implementation would not threaten the Jewish character of the State of Israel. In the territorial dimension – which constitutes the main basis for any agreement – the new maps presented by the two sides were closer than ever before to an agreed-upon borderline. Israel reduced its demands to 6% but still insisted on merely symbolic and minimal territorial compensation, while the Palestinians agreed to an Israeli annexation of approximately 3% along with a territorial compensation of the same amount. Had the Taba approach been tried from the onset of Barak’s tenure, we could today be on the road to peace.

The Intifada

Since September 29, 2000, Israeli-Palestinian relations entered a phase of a collapse of the peace process paradigm. The second Palestinian Intifada erupted, leaving both publics deeply shaken, and leading to Barak’s downfall and the breakdown of permanent status negotiations. This is first and foremost the result of a double misperception. The Palestinian side reached the mistaken conclusion that the Israeli public and Barak were not prepared to pay the price necessary for a genuine agreement and peace. Both the Israeli public and the Prime Minister were in fact willing to go the necessary distance, on the condition that the Palestinians expressed publicly the conciliatory positions which they had stated privately, and that they demonstrated non-tolerance and determination in combating terrorism. The Israeli side, for its part, reached the mistaken conclusion that the Palestinians did not want peace, and were instead bent on destroying the Zionist State both from within and from outside it. Israel concluded that there was no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, or at least not one would who had the ability or the will to pursue it. In reality, the Palestinians had not altered their basic position held since 1993, calling for a two-state solution based on a non-militarized state along the 1967 borders with a pragmatic solution to the refugee problem.

The Fatah leadership, which led the uprising and represents the Palestinian “street”, was more frustrated than anyone. The Fatah and the Tanzim (the local organizational base of the Fatah) were, and remains, Arafat’s support base on the road to peace, which he has followed since September 1993. The Fatah leadership believed in the Oslo Agreement as the stepping-stone to a “liberation of the land” through a just peace. They therefore took upon themselves to market the Agreement to the public, and assumed a moral responsibility for its implementation. Consequently, once they reached the conclusion that the process was not leading towards the fulfillment of these goals, they felt that they bore the responsibility for what they viewed as a barren process and even an historical trap. For seven years, they had defended the peace process and fought for it in Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps, and against opposition from right (Hamas) and left (the rejection front), out of a belief that it would result in a Palestinian state, peace and economic growth. The explosion was only a matter of time once they concluded that Israel wasn’t a partner for peace, that the negotiations were being dragged on, that building in the settlements had accelerated and that the hope for a state had evaporated. The Fatah feared that it would lose its strength opposite Hamas, and preferred in this context, and as a movement for national liberation, to lead the uprising rather than to be dragged into it by Hamas.

It is our duty as Israelis to observe the equation also from the Palestinian perspective. As long as the Palestinian side maintained hope, based on the continuing negotiations, the Palestinian leadership could persuade its public that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that the suffering is worthwhile in order to achieve a fair agreement and a just peace, without settlements or occupation. Once the public saw this light had been extinguished, frustration and despair took the place of hope, and the Intifada erupted.


This paper has presented the problems and obstacles met by the Oslo process since September 1993. It would, however, be inaccurate to conclude from the critical description in this paper that the Oslo process and the options it offered for a permanent status agreement were faulty by design. This paper argues that the Oslo approach and its objectives, which were introduced during Yitzhak Rabin’s tenure, were never rightly implemented and should therefore not yet be discounted.

The faulty implementation during Netanyahu’s administration, and the problematic management of permanent status negotiations under Barak are the two main obstacles, which prevented the sides from reaching an agreement. Other obstacles included Palestinian insensitivity to the Israeli perception of the daily threat of terrorism to their personal security; Israeli insensitivity to the suffering of an entire people possessed with a collective pride and struggling to gain national liberation from continuing occupation; the destructive effect of anti-Israeli incitement and propaganda; and a fledgling Palestinian political system which acted negligently and employed a double language. These factors enabled the deterioration of the situation into violence.

Nevertheless, the possibility of reaching an agreement remains. The Oslo Agreement represents the link between the era of conflict and the era of peace. The Oslo process brought about an historical change in the Israeli-Arab conflict, including the peace agreement with Jordan and a process of recognizing Israel’s legitimacy by the Arab world. The process also created an Israeli-Palestinian consensus on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and on a process of reconciliation founded on a fair agreement and common future interests. The period of the implementation of the agreement and the results of the negotiations on permanent status were supposed to represent the foundation for a comprehensive and lasting peace agreement.

This foundation began to form, but was crippled and was not realized. This did not result from a lack of willingness of the Israeli and Palestinian publics to reach an agreement, but from poor management of the process. If the two sides are able to recognize their mistakes and learn from them, it will be possible to renew the negotiations and to reach a permanent status agreement which will represent the first leg on the long and difficult journey to reconciliation between the two peoples and peace between their two states.

haGalil onLine 22-08-2001

Boy it's never going to end

In parallel, the Palestinians tended to underestimate the painful significance for Israel of the murderous terrorist attacks by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, which only intensified following the signing of the Oslo Agreement, and of the incitement conducted openly by the Palestinian side. Instead of actively pursuing the inciters and demonstrating a 100% commitment to fighting terrorism and its infrastructure which simultaneously hurt Israel and the Peace Process, the PA attempted both to coordinate counter-terrorist measures with Israel and to present a “soft” attitude in dealing with its leadership, infrastructure and activists.

One more thing to look up. Anyone has "Fateful Triangle" by Chomsky ?

In the meantime, not doing enough to stop terrorists is not "open incitement." Showing a "soft attitude" is not open incitement. Coordinating counter-terrorist measures with Israel is not open incitement. Hope Chomsky destroyed that myth and I can quote him soon.


When settlers began constructing dozens of illegal hilltop strongholds, which the Palestinians considered new settlements, Barak missed an opportunity to send a conspicuous message to the Palestinians and the settlers alike by removing the strongholds through legal means or even by force. Instead, he preferred to negotiate and barter with the settlers in order to remove, retain or duplicate some of the remaining strongholds to other locations. From the Palestinian point of view, the message was clear although Barak, apparently, had not meant to convey it as such.

I guess when Palestinians do that kind of thing, it's called open incitement. But when Barak does it, it's only a misunderstanding on the part of the Palestinians.

The problem was not one of a lack of will, honesty or vision, but rather the fact that Barak was the poorest of managers.

Again. Same stupid shit. Barak was a poor manager, surely; does that exclude a lack of will on his part ? Certainly not. Once more, the "oh no! me too stupid" pretext is used to excuse the behavior of a politician. Cf Bush.

Official Israeli institutions continued – often without being aware of it – to place more obstacles in the way of implementation of the various agreements, and hinder development in areas and spheres handed over to PA control and responsibility.

Uhhh... So the institutions were not aware of what they were consciously doing in broad daylight, after a good night of sleep ? "Oh noes, me don't know what me does"

This whole article is suspicious

Just read this:
The second issue proved even worse. Excited Palestinian declarations regarding the Right of Return of every refugee to the State of Israel created a suspicion among the vast majority of the Israeli public, from left to right, that the Palestinian intention remains to eradicate the Jewish state using a Trojan horse in the form of the Right of Return. The extreme Palestinian positions united Israeli-Zionist society.
The Right of Return is an extremist position ? No! It's the base-line from which negociations must start.

And this:
The Fatah feared that it would lose its strength opposite Hamas, and preferred in this context, and as a movement for national liberation, to lead the uprising rather than to be dragged into it by Hamas.
Wrong, this was disspelled by Jerome Slater elsewhere on the forum. The uprising was spontaneous and later on, the Fatah rode the wave:
Furthermore, there is no known evidence that the intifada was ordered by Arafat, despite Friedman’s repeated assertions, as in: “Please don’ t tell me you can’ t control your own people. You’ve sold us that carpet one too many times” (“Dear Ariel and Yasir,” October 23, 2001). The best evidence today strongly suggests that the intifada was a grassroots and spontaneous explosion of Palestinian rage—indeed, one that was directed not only at the occupation but at Arafat’s failure to have ended it. It is probably the case that Arafat later gained a significant degree of control over the non-Islamist groups participating in the intifada, and therefore over some of the Palestinian violence; even so (Friedman to the contrary notwithstanding), few informed observers believed that Arafat controlled the suicidal terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

And this:
The second Palestinian Intifada erupted, leaving both publics deeply shaken, and leading to Barak’s downfall and the breakdown of permanent status negotiations.
Wrong again. The intifada erupted several weeks later. After Barak left the Taba negociations. Again, Jerome Slater:
On several occasions, Friedman wrote that, after Camp David, Arafat “walked away” from further negotiations and “launched” the intifada. The facts are clearly otherwise, however. To begin with, the intifada did not erupt until two months later, and the precipitating cause was not a negotiations deadlock but Ariel Sharon’s highly provocative “visit” (accompanied by over 1,000 Israeli police officers) to the Temple Mount.

Of Music and Fruit.

This article demonstrates "The Power of Narrative"! A little twist here, a little distortion there, sprinkle in some reverse chronology and leave a few things out, like the history of the dispute and the associations of the author. Voila! The Perp is the Victim and any untidy details are due to good intentions gone wrong.
The clever Chattering Class is made stupid through its predeliction for sophistication and their egos will not allow them to distinguish it from sophistry. "Never mind the lyrics, listen to the tune", they say.

The simple counter to it all is, "By their fruits you shall know them".