- The Oslo process is the foundation of Israeli-Palestinian mutual recognition and formal efforts at reconciliation.
- In a range of areas, Israel honoured its commitments under the accords (primarily granting the Palestinians greater autonomy), while the Palestinian leadership has struggled – and sometimes blatantly rejected – their Oslo-related obligations (especially to abandon terrorism).
The Oslo Peace Process set up a framework to negotiate an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians with both sides signing onto a series of confidence-building measures geared to build momentum toward a final agreement.
Initial deliberations took place secretly in Oslo, Norway, between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The agreed premise was that the two parties would negotiate various issues surrounding the conflict (including borders, refugees, the status of Jerusalem, etc.), “leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.” 1
The spirit of Oslo is best summed up in the Declaration of Principles of the Agreement signed by the two parties on September 13, 1993, which included mutual recognition and stated:
The Government of the State of Israel and the PLO team (the “Palestinian Delegation”), representing the Palestinian people, agree that it is time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict, recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights, and strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process1
In the Declaration of Principles and in subsequent agreements signed in 1994, Israel and the PLO committed to peace. For Israel, this meant a phased withdrawal from designated areas of the West Bank and Gaza, a transfer of governing powers to the PLO (in the fields of education, culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism), and the creation of a Palestinian police force. The PLO was required to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce terrorism against Israel, crack down on Palestinian terror groups, and hold free elections for the establishment of Palestinian self-government – in addition to assuming a range of governing powers.
In 1995, the second phase of Oslo (known as Oslo II) was rolled out, including the division of the West Bank and Gaza into three Areas – A, B, and C. In a phased withdrawal from Areas A and B, the Palestinians would assume security functions (although the Palestinians agreed that Israel would retain the ability to respond to terror threats). Pending a final negotiated agreement, Area C, which contained Israeli settlements, would remain under Israeli control.
In total, this would put 96% of the Palestinian West Bank population under the purview of Palestinian security forces and effective self-government. In total, the cities transferred to the Palestinian Authority include Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin, Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah, and Gaza. While Israel was forced to re-establish its security presence during the Second Intifada (when Palestinian terror attacks claimed more than 1,000 Israeli lives), this presence has since been scaled back. Today, Palestinian security forces are in total control of the Gaza Strip and remain predominant in Areas A and B.
At the time, the Olso Accords were hailed as a watershed event in the making of what many foresaw as the “new Middle East,” in which Israelis and their Arab neighbours would enjoy the economic and social benefits of peace and normalized relations. However, as a result of the breakdown of the peace process at Camp David in 2000-01 (and the subsequent Second Intifada), this dream has yet to be realized.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin paid the ultimate price for taking the brave step of signing the Oslo Accords. On November 4, 1995, after speaking at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist opposed to the peace process. Despite criticism and intense debate surrounding the peace process, in pursuit of Rabin’s vision of security for Israelis and autonomy for Palestinians, Israeli prime ministers have since upheld Israel’s obligations under Oslo and made repeated proposals for comprehensive peace with the Palestinians.