TEL AVIV: At precisely 11 am the ceremony began on the White House lawn. The announcer proclaimed the entrance of US President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and Palestinian Chairman Arafat. Disregarding the rules of etiquette, I stood on my chair to get a better look at the day s heroes. As someone who was involved in the process that led to this moment from its inception, and as an Israeli who only months before couldn’t have imagined such a scene was possible, I was emotional. The three figures ascended the podium to sign a historical agreement between the national Zionist movement and the national Palestinian movement.
When Rabin shook Arafat’s hand, the crowd erupted in applause and people cried “bravo! Rabin s speech stole the show: “We wish to open a new chapter in the sad book of our lives together, a chapter of mutual recognition, of good neighborliness, of mutual respect, of understanding .
Rabin and Peres chose to pursue negotiations with the PLO because they had a long-term vision. They were entirely convinced that it was the right thing to do for the sake of Zionism and Israel’s security.
Approximately two months after the signing, Rabin admitted that “the most difficult moment of my term in office was when I had to make the decision of whether or not to go with the PLO . That interview was given on Nov. 4, 1993. Exactly two years later, the prime minister was assassinated by a despicable political murderer, a right wing religious Jew, convinced that by murdering the prime minister he would succeed in halting the political process. History will tell whether or not he achieved his goal.
The idea which underlined the Oslo process was that the conflict needs to be solved, not managed. It is in Israel’s vital interest not to cease its efforts even for a moment until a peace agreement is signed. Peace is a fundamental component of Israel’s national security, and a peace agreement can be achieved without harming its real vital interests.
The practical principle that guided the Oslo process was to leave the traditional doctrine of zero-sum game behind, and try to achieve as many win-win situations as possible. A few years later, an atmosphere of animosity prevailed once again and reinstated the zero-sum doctrine. Trust was replaced by mistrust and hope faded.
Albeit violence, terrorism, obstacles mounted by the Palestinians and Arafat’s occasionally strange and frequently untrustworthy behavior, an analysis of the post-Oslo era shows that the Israeli role in the deterioration of the Oslo process, and the failure to implement it and reach a final status agreement, is tremendous, and certainly doesn’t fall short of the Palestinian responsibility for these failures.
Israel’s contribution to the failure of the accords is primarily rooted in the fact that it refused from the outset to define clear political aims (two states based on the ’67 border). Its contribution is also manifest in the increase in the number of settlements and settlers and the deterioration of the economic situation in the territories. These are processes that make the goal of founding a Palestinian state seem further away than ever before.
The good news is that despite the drastic deterioration, the anchor hasn’t been detached from the seabed and there is still a political mechanism which holds all the components of the process together. The relations between the two governments continue to take place within the framework stipulated by the Oslo agreement, even in moments of crisis. Only if the principle of conflict management were to usurp the principle of conflict resolution, with one side making the strategic mistake of deciding that there is no chance for peace (and makes that decision for the other side as well), would the Oslo agreements and its derivatives cease to be the glue which prevents the situation from propelling out of control and endangering the region and possibly the whole world order.
The public on both sides wants peace, and the majority of people on both sides of the green line are willing to accept a realistic and pragmatic agreement which could also be acceptable to the other side. Public opinion polls conducted regularly have proven for years that the average person wants a peaceful resolution and that the extremists on both sides are a relatively small group.
In the test of time, the Oslo Accord was and is an achievement without precedent. In the first place it meant mutual recognition between the two national movements. The Palestinians recognize the state of Israel and Israel recognizes the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people with legitimate political rights. Furthermore, after 100 years of struggle, the two sides agreed on partitioning the land and letting go of their historical claims to the entire territory – claims that had hitherto been the root cause of the conflict. In addition, because the sides had opted for a political solution to the conflict, a mechanism for implementing the agreement was created on the basis of UN resolution 242 as well as for agreeing on the core issues in question. This development also offered an important message that the language of nationalism or religious fundamentalism – both of which are based on the “us or them mentality, is being replaced by the logic of realpolitik.
In our case, there is no right versus left or religious versus secular, but, rather a joint principle which serves each side as well as both sides together. At the end of the day there is only one option: two states, on the basis of the 1967 borders – with two capitals in Jerusalem – existing side by side, thus enabling both nations to achieve self-determination.
Dr. Ron Pundak is the Director General of the Peres Center for Peace. He played a decisive role in creating the secret track of the unofficial Oslo negotiations and subsequently served as a member of the official Israeli negotiating team under the late Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).