My research examines
the Oslo peace process 1993-2000 and will address three main
aspects: International mediation; the role of leadership and
opposition to conflict resolution.
This paper will
focus predominantly on the mediator/s role, in particular
the US, and to lesser extent on leadership and religious
fundamentalism as an obstacle to peace.
1993 brought an
historical shift in the bloody history of
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The accord between Israel and
the PLO – the Oslo peace accord - symbolised a new dawn in
who presided over this historic moment, assured the two
sides the support of the only reaming superpower –the US.
American involvement as mediators in Middle East conflicts
and especially in the Arab-Israeli dispute has a long
history. US role is crucial and central to any conflict
resolution and conflict management in the region. However,
the Oslo accord was achieved without US active
participation. In fact it was Norwegian officials and
Israeli academics that initiated the talks. Inspite of the
fact that the US took a back seat its blessing and approval
It is important to
note that every Israeli-Arab-Palestinian peace process
relied on mediation. As Kenneth Stein and Samuel
Lewis argue that -since World War II, every US administrator
had had to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle
East. The role of a third party is as central to the history
of the Arab-Israeli conflict as is the tradition that such a
third party has a dual obligation. Both sides have expected
and continue to expect a ‘ mediator umpire’ to play an
active role in resolving differences’.
The role of any
mediator is delicate and complicated. In many cases the
parties have mixed feelings and they would sometimes welcome
an excuse to end the negotiations rather than be forced to
make difficult decisions. The mediator should have a good
knowledge of the history behind the issues. History weighs
very heavily on Arab and Israeli leaders. Memories of past
injustices, wars, and betrayals crowd and shape today’s
decisions. All parties fear being pulled by outside forces
into a risky negotiating process whose end could be national
If Israeli or Arab
leader are to acquire any real confidence in a third party
mediator, that person will have to demonstrate real
understanding not only of the issues, but also of the
historical connections, underlying fears, and basic
principles that shape the behaviours of both sides. History,
in that sense can be seen as a real obstacle to any
Arab-Palestinian negotiation and future agreement. So much
so, that part of the success behind the secret channel in
Oslo was the fact that both parties agreed not to dwell on
the past and to forget about history. Traditionally, the
task of conflict resolution has been seen as helping parties
who perceive their situation as zero-sum (Self's gain is
Other's loss) to recast it as a nonzero-sum conflict (in
which both may gain or both may lose), assisting both sides
to move towards a positive sum direction
The role of the
third party is to assist with this transformation,
confronting the top dog if necessary. This means
transforming hostile, unbalanced relationships into peaceful
and dynamic ones.
Parties to a
conflict accept mediation when they believe it is in their
best interests to do so; that is, when they believe that
"mediation will gain an outcome that is more favourable than
the outcome gained by continued conflict." Similarly,
parties will accept mediation when rejecting it will result
in greater harms. Parties may fear incurring bad relations
with the proposed mediating nation or international
sanctions if they refuse to negotiate. In addition,
mediation may offer parties a way to negotiate compromises
without losing face, and make sure that terrorism and
security threat would be eliminated. These two factors are
of immense importance as confidence building measures are
integral to any resolution.
were the first ones to be the facilitators of the process.
As a country that is not directly involved in the
Arab-Israeli conflict the Norwegians were able to provide a
relatively neutral basis. Yair Hirsfield, member of the
Israeli delegate in Oslo, noted that the Norwegians gave the
negotiation a real framework. They mediated also with the
Americans and without the Norwegians’ skills it would not
have worked. They also helped secure financial aid and Terje
Larsen, the founder and director of the FAFO, made
Clinton became president the Cold War was over and optimism
and belief in a new era dominated the international era.
However, the end of the Cold War heralded new challenges
The dominant focus
was on domestic issues. But the president made it clear that
he wanted to keep the peace process on track. It is clear
that the Clinton administration believed that there was a
need for an active US role and that the success of the
process depended largely on its role.
Some might argue
that given the US’ close relations with Israel it is bound
to be biased and cannot fulfil one of the main criteria of
the mediator which is to be impartial.
However, it is this
special relationship that empowers the US to be a mediator.
In Israel’s view there is no force, regional or
international that Israel trusts apart form the US. Although
Egypt and Jordan also assisted Israel throughout the
process, it is the US that has real influence over Israel’s
decision makers. Furthermore, many Israeli leaders from the
right to the left, from Rabin to Netanyahu look towards the
US as Israel’s main guarantor. Therefore it is the only
party that can exercise pressure on Israel. As Zartman and
Touval argue- mediators need not be impartial to be accepted
or effective. Instead, they argue, "mediators must be
perceived as having an interest in achieving an outcome
acceptable to both sides and as being not so partial as to
preclude such an achievement".
at the history of the conflict it is clear that the Arab
leaders themselves considered US involvement and commitment
crucial. This was the case after the October 1973 war and
the following Camp David agreement of 1979 between Israel
and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan in 1995.
To that degree the
initial stages of the Oslo accord were unique as they were
achieved without US aid, but with its blessing and with the
assistance of another third party.
importance of the US was quite clear after the DOP was
signed and especially after Rabin’s assassination in 1995.
But even during
Rabin’s time in office, even before the official ceremony in
the White House in 1993, the US had to put pressure on Rabin
and convinced him to attend the ceremony. Rabin had its own
reservation of shaking Arafat’s hand in front of millions of
people, thus politically recognise what he perceived to be a
premiership the US had an easier task, as Rabin and Peres
were fully committed to implementing the agreement. There
were however, difficulties in that period as well. But, to
large extent the Oslo spirit, was still alive.
After Rabin’s assassination the Clinton administration
became much more involved in the process. Both Netanyahu and
Barak relied heavily on the US and especially on the
President’s personal involvement. When Benjamin Netanyahu –
Bibi was elected the entire process was in danger of
collapsing. As head of the right wing Likud party, Netanyahu
was staunchly opposed to the agreement. Netanyahu’s ideology
was very different to those in the Labour party and he
believed in the ideology of ‘Greater Israel’. He also
disputed the legitimacy of the PLO to represent the
Palestinians because it was never elected. Furthermore, the
slogan ‘Land for Peace’ which was advocated by many in the
Labour party was not accepted by Bibi.
Albright became secretary of state she consulted James Baker
who suggested using the same methods he employed with the
former PM Shamir before the Madrid conference in Oct 1991.
According to this strategy it would be wise to accept both
sides demands, indicating US’s willingness to take the
initiative and be patient. Indeed, her patient was putting
to the test many times. Albright was quick to learn and
realised she had difficult ‘clients’. Arafat and Netanyahu,
she wrote, lived about twenty miles and one universe apart.
Clinton, the chief
mediator put all his weight and credibility to further the
negotiation. He laid out a detailed plan for a phase
withdrawal from the West Bank and during the Camp David
summit in 2000 he promised $8 million from the participants
of the economic summit in Okinawa putting the total amount
available for refugee rehabilitation and resettlement and
compensation around $40 billion.
Both the Israeli
and the Palestinian delegates share the feelings that
Clinton did it utmost and was very familiar with all the
details. According to Mohammed Sajani, director and founder
of the American Institute Studies and the Jerusalem Studies,
Clinton encouraged the Palestinans and the Israelis alike to
rise above scepticism and animosity. He called upon both of
parties to seize the opportunity to establish peace between
frustration was evident, especially towards the end of his
presidency. Few days before he left office, He and the
Chairman had one of their last conversations. Arafat thanked
the President for all his efforts and told him he was a
great man. But the President replied by saying-‘ Mr
Chairman I am not a great man, I am a failure and you have
made me one.’
This study will
question the effectiveness and the limitations of mediation
upon conflict resolution. In addition this research will
also address the question of CBM in a lengthy- bloody
The other two main
issues this research examines are- the role of leadership
and religious groups as opposition to the peace process.
political analysts have debated whether great moments, or
turning points in history are the result of a special
momentum and right timing, or due to great leadership. It is
no doubt that both are crucial, however, if the right brave
leader is not there to seize the opportunity then no
progress or process will take place. It was the election of
the Israeli Labour party in 1992 lead by Yitzhak Rabin that
paved the way for the Oslo peace accord. Initially Rabin was
apprehensive about the back channel negotiations in Oslo,
especially in view of the unsuccessful negotiations in
Washington at the time. Rabin’s main aim was a peace accord
with Syria and the negotiations with the Palestinians were
However, once it was
clear that peace with Israel’s northern neighbour was not on
the cards and that there were real chances of agreement with
the Palestinans Rabin was willing to give it a chance.
For many years,
successive Israeli governments built their policies around
the collective sense of isolation - as a ‘nation that shall
dwells alone’. It was common to both labour and Likud
governments. It was a genuine feeling but also one that was
used to justified certain foreign and defence policies.
Rabin recognised it was time to break away from the
paralysing sense of isolation and victimhood.
‘We must overcome the sense of isolation that has held us in
its thrall for almost half a century. We must join the
international movement toward peace, reconciliation, and
cooperation that is sweeping the entire globe lest we be the
last ones to remain, all alone, in the station’.
was pro-American, He liked America very much despite
critical attitude of some aspects of American society, and
greatly enjoyed the five years stay as the Israeli
ambassador to Washington. But more important he believed
that only the U.S. was able to offer inducements to
the parties involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict and to
compensate them for the risks taken.
The Oslo agreement
had many opponents on both sides.
Palestinian organisations opposed the agreement launched a
chain of attacks inside Israel: A series of car bombs,
suicide bombings and nail bombings struck Israeli centres.
On the other hand,
the incitement campaign against PM Rabin intensified. Oslo’s
aggressive opponents were comprised of many of the settlers
in the West Bank and some Likud members including Netanyahu,
who manipulated the situation to his own political
advantage. Their campaign against Rabin went beyond
legitimate criticism of a leader and his policies. Some of
the settlers and their associates believed that the law of
the land is subordinate to the law of the Torah,
God’s instructions are paramount, overruling even the laws
of the state. The legal system was worthy as long as it did
not clash with their views. It was this belief that served
to stimulate discussions of ‘taking necessary action’
against the PM. Looking at some of the settlers’
publications one cannot but be horrified to see how far
these discussions went.
Believing that they
were God’s messengers, murdering the PM was not out of
question. . Many Israelis on the right and especially those
belonged to ‘Gush Emunim’ opposed the Oslo agreement because
it would lead to Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and
the creation of a Palestinian state, which in their view is
a political mistake and a mortal sin. Still, one can argue
spite of these
difficulties there was positive progress. The ‘Oslo Spirit’,
which can be described the spirit of good will and trust,
was kept. But 4th November 1995 brought a shock
no one thought was possible: In a peace rally in Tel-Aviv
Rabin was assassinated by a right wing Israeli Jew.
A fundamentalist and
extreme in his views, Amir was a Zionist religious student,
influenced by the some of the Rabbis in the settlements
perceiving Rabin’s actions as a mortal danger to Israel.
Hence, although Amir operated on his own, he was a product
of a political stream in Israel that did not respect the
democratic process and were convinced they were saving
Israel from apocalyptic future.
One would hope that
the bullet’s assassination would not succeed in bringing the
peace process to a halt, but Rabin’s death created a hole
and wounded the process.
We can speculate as
to what would have happened if Rabin was not murdered. Would
the ‘Oslo spirit’ carry on? Was the problem that How would
he have reacted to the growing Palestinian attacks? Would he
have managed to keep the public on his side? We can only
guess, as we shall never know the answers. But what is clear
is that no one enjoyed the same credibility as Rabin and no
one had the same ability to see it through. The renewed
optimism following Barak’s election in 1999 was short lived.
According to the literature, Barak was willing to compromise
more than any other Israeli leader before him, in return
for ‘ end of conflict’. But the attempts during the summit
in Camp David came to a dead end resulting in new outbreak
In conclusion- was
the Oslo accord the wrong formula or did political
environment change to such a degree between 1993-2000? Were
there enough CBMs? and was the agreement used as a ‘hostage’
on both sides?
The Oslo process succeeded in changing the paradigm, it
created a new reality and mutual recognition, but did not
bring an end of conflict or reduction of violence. However,
history also teaches us that wars cannot last forever:
disputes are eventually resolved, hatred overcome, and peace
secured. In Rabin’s words:
‘We can continue to kill -- and continue to be killed.
But…we can also give peace a chance’. (5 October
1995: Knesset’s speech)
Madam Secretary, 2003
Beyond Peace (1996)
From Oslo Accord to a Final settlement (1999).
Chester A. Crocker &
Fen Osler Hampson (eds.), Managing Global Chaos: sources
of and responses to International conflict, (1996).
Clinton, Bill, My
Oslo: A formula for Peace, ( 2000)
Perkins J.Edwards and G.Corr (eds.), The Middle East
Peace Process: Vision Versus Reality, (2002)
biography, (Hebrew), (2006)
Karpin, Michael and
Ina Friedman, Murder in the Name of God, (Hebrew),
Kenneth Stein and
Samuel Lewis, Mediation in the Middle East’ in:
Managing Global Chaos’, (1996)
Makovsky, David, ‘Making
Peace with The PLO’, (1996).
Ross, Dennis, The
Missing Peace, The inside story of the fight for the Middle
Peace, Farrar, Straus and Goroux, New-York, 2004
Moshe Ma’oz and Khalil Shikaki (eds.) Peace Process: Oslo
and the lessons of Failure (2002)
Said, Edward, The
End of the Peace Process, (2001)
Brother against Brother: Violence and extremism in Israeli
Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination,
Tesller, Mark, A
History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, (1994).