This was an historic turning point in Arab-Israeli relations. Hammered out in
complete secrecy in Oslo, Norway, by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators acting
without intermediaries, the Oslo Accord forced both sides to come to terms with
each other's existence. Israel agreed to recognize Yasser Arafat as its
partner in peace talks, and agreed to recognize Palestinian autonomy in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip by beginning to withdraw from the cities of Gaza and
Jericho -- essentially exchanging land for peace. The Palestinians in turn
recognized Israel's right to exist while also renouncing the use of terrorism
and its long-held call for Israel's destruction. (A year later, Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat were
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in the Oslo accord.)
Oslo sketched out a peace process with a two-phase timetable. During a five-year
interim period, Oslo envisioned a series of step-by-step measures to build
trust and partnership. Palestinians would police the territories they
controlled, cooperate with Israel in the fight against terrorism, and amend
those sections of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) charter that
called for Israel's destruction. Israel would withdraw almost entirely from
Gaza, and in stages from parts of the West Bank. An elected Palestinian
Authority would take over governance of the territories from which Israel
After this five-year interim period, negotiators then would determine a final
peace agreement to resolve the thorniest issues: final borders (see
map), security arrangements, Jerusalem, whether the Palestinians would have an
independent state, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and
Palestinian refugees' claims to land and property left behind when they fled
» "The Incidental Fruit of Oslo"
A member of the Palestinian National Council summarizes the many flaws in the
Oslo peace process which preserved a status quo that denied Palestinians a
» "The Inner Logic of Israel's Negotiations: Withdrawal Process, Not Peace
Douglas Feith, a Middle East specialist in the Reagan administration, questions
Oslo's logic. "Israel cannot compel good faith on the Arab side, nor can it
ensure mature political leadership there. .... We know for sure that the 'peace
process' means withdrawals by Israel; we do not know for sure whether it will
produce peace, or even whether both sides actually intend that it do so."
» "The Oslo Peace Process Through Three Lenses"
An evaluation of how Oslo encountered severe setbacks within a few years of its
signing. Drawing on his reviews of three books, the author outlines how
"confidence building" measures were undermined by Israeli unilateral
actions, such as the expansion of Israeli settlements (the number of Jewish
settlers doubled since the peace process started in 1993) and by continuing
Palestinian terrorist attacks.
» "Continue the Peace Process? No, It's Heading for Disaster"
"Abundant signs suggest [Oslo's] mixed success will metamorphose into
unqualified disaster; continuing Palestinian violence could develop into a
strategic threat to Israel's very existence," writes Steven Plaut, a professor
at Israel's University of Haifa.
Israeli forces withdraw from Gaza and Jericho, the first step in the peace
process. Israel remains responsible for Israelis and settlements in these
areas; Palestinians are now responsible for public order and internal security
for Palestinians, and will act to prevent terror against Israelis in the areas
under their control. Some 5,000 Palestinian prisoners who have not
participated in attacks against Israelis will be
Signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, this was the second major step in
the Oslo process. Israeli forces would withdraw from the six largest cities in
the West Bank. Three percent of the West Bank territory -- which contained approximately one-third of
its Palestinian population -- now came under Palestinian Authority
jurisdiction. Under Oslo II, the West Bank was to be divided into three areas:
one under exclusive Palestinian control; one where Palestinians had civilian
control and Israelis controlled security; and one area that would be controlled
exclusively by Israel.
After four months of difficult negotiations, Israel agreed to transfer
control of the West Bank city of Hebron to the Palestinian Authority. Unlike
earlier withdrawals from the West Bank, 20 percent of the city -- the central area where more than 400 Jewish settlers lived among 130,000 Palestinians -- would remain under
Israeli control. Palestinians cheered the withdrawal, but Jewish
settlers felt betrayed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
After 18 months of stalemate in the peace process and increasing violence,
President Clinton pushed to get Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make good on
the promises made five years earlier in Oslo. The U.S. convened a summit at Maryland's Wye River Plantation. After a rocky start, Clinton's
marathon 21-hour session with Yasser Arafat, Benjamin Netanyahu, and senior
negotiators produced the Wye River Memorandum.
The agreement allowed for the building of an international airport in the
Gaza Strip. Israel agreed to pull back from an additional 13 percent of the
West Bank and to release 750 Palestinian security prisoners. (Ultimately, only
half of the pull-back is done and only 250 prisoners are released.) The
Palestinian Authority agreed to combat terrorist organizations, arrest those
involved in terrorism, and to collect all illegal weapons and explosives.
(Little or none of this is ever done.)
» An Interview with Benjamin Netanyahu
FRONTLINE's interview with Benjamin Netanyahu in which he discusses the
Wye River Memorandum.
» "Inside Wye Plantation"
Time magazine's detailed account of the negotiations' elements and high
» "Wye River Memorandum: An Analysis"
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers this backgrounder and
analysis of the Wye summit, with related letters and memoranda from officials
» "Wye River Memorandum"
An overview of the Wye agreement from a Palestinian perspective,
published on the Palestine Facts website.
» "The 'Camp Wye' Accords"
An analysis by the president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute of
what transpired at Wye, the U.S.'s dominant role in the agreement, and the
dangers this foretold.
Signed by Yasser Arafat and Israeli's new prime minister, Ehud Barak, this agreement outlined a bold framework and timetable for a "final status"
peace agreement. It also listed further redeployments of Israel's forces in the
territories: Within a few days, Israel was to transfer 7 percent of the West Bank from
its total control to partial control by Palestinians; on Nov. 15, 5 percent more
would be transferred; and on Jan. 20, 2000, a third transfer would take
place. (By then 40 percent of the West Bank would be under partial or full Palestinian
control.) Final-status negotiations would be due by mid-February 2000.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak urged Clinton to convene this summit. Barak wanted
to push for a permanent agreement -- skipping interim redeployments called for
in the Wye agreement -- and envisioned a two-state solution that would end the
Issues never before discussed at senior levels between Israelis and
Palestinians -- Jerusalem, statehood, boundaries, refugees -- were put on the
table. Barak and Clinton suggested a path-breaking plan permitting a
Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem. But the Palestinians criticized
Barak for coming to Camp David with a proposal for dividing the West Bank they
had already rejected. And,in their eyes, the Clinton/Barak plan would have left
the new Palestinian state with significant loss of water and good land, almost
split by Israeli annexation running east from Jerusalem, and with Israel
getting roughly 9 percent of the West Bank. However, U.S. and Israeli officials contend that throughout the summit,
the Palestinians rejected Israeli proposals while offering no proposal of their
own. Publicly, both Clinton and Barak blamed Arafat for the failure to reach an
agreement on a two-state solution.
Despite the setback, however, Arafat and Barak approved a new series of
secret meetings between the negotiators over the following months.
» An Interview with Ehud Barak
FRONTLINE's interview with Ehud Barak in which he discusses Camp David.
» An Interview with Yasser Arafat
FRONTLINE's interview with Yasser Arafat in which he discusses Camp David.
» An Interview with Saeb Erekat
FRONTLINE's interview with Saeb Erekat about Camp David
» "The Negotiation Strategies of Israel and the Palestinians"
Gilead Sher, one of Israel's chief negotiators from 1999-2001, summarizes
each sides' dramatically different political strategies and tactical approaches
to the negotiations, and how Arafat was a critical obstacle throughout the
peace talks. (Note: Sher's article appears toward the end of this newsletter; his is the third out of four essays.)
» "The Compromise That Wasn't Found at Camp David"
An article in Ha'aretz summing up Palestinians' objections to Barak's
proposals. It includes two maps showing the Palestinian version of Israel's
proposal for the final-status arrangement for the West Bank and
» An Interview with Shlomo Ben-Ami on Camp David
Drawing on the diary he kept, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Ehud Barak's representative at
the peace talks, discusses in this Ha'aretz magazine interview the stormy
details of Camp David's negotiations and the subsequent progress made at the
Taba meeting. He analyzes the issues that ultimately derailed an agreement and
offers a harsh appraisal of Yasser Arafat as a leader.
» "Camp David and After: An Exchange"
This June 2002 article in the New York Review of Books lays out Barak's
view of Camp David's failure. It's followed by an opposing viewpoint from Robert Malley, Clinton's special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs who was at Camp David, and Hussein Agha of Oxford University.
» "A Different Take on Camp David Collapse"
A summary by The Washington Post of the Palestinian version of what happened
at Camp David, a version diametrically opposed to the Israeli view.
In a desperate attempt to salvage the peace effort before Israel's election
(hard-liner Ariel Sharon was forecast to defeat Barak) negotiators met in the
Egyptian resort of Taba, focusing on new parameters for an agreement which had
been developed by Clinton the previous month. The new terms went further than
what Israel and the U.S. had offered at Camp David.
In contrast to Camp David, the Palestinians this time made counter-offers.
After a week of off-and-on negotiations, senior Palestinian and Israeli
negotiators announced they had never been more close to reaching agreement on
final-status issues. But they had run out of political time. They couldn't
conclude an agreement with Clinton now out of office and Barak standing for
reelection in two weeks. "We made progress, substantial progress. We are closer
than ever to the possibility of stiriking a final deal," said Shlomo Ben-Ami,
Israel's negotiator. Saeb Erekat, Palestinian chief negotiator, said, "My
heart aches because I know we were so close. We need six more weeks to conclude
the drafting of the agreement."
Two weeks after the negotiations at Taba, hard-liner Ariel Sharon was elected
prime minister, defeating Barak in a landslide. Sharon had consistently
rejected the Oslo peace process and criticized Israel's positions at Camp David
The Palestinian intifada's cycle of violence continued and escalated. On
March 29, 2002, after a suicide bomber killed 30 people, Israel launched
Operation Defensive Shield. Israel's troops re-entered Palestinian cities and
refugee camps, hunting down terrorists and often leaving massive destruction in
Three months later, in mid-June 2002, two more suicide bombings struck
Israel. Sharon announced Israel would immediately begin a policy of taking
back land in the West Bank, and holding it, until the terror attacks stopped.
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