Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Why the Oslo Accords failed

Barbara Smith in The New Statesman provides a very good account of how the Oslo Accords failed:

Palestine - How the chance of peace slipped away

Who was to blame? After the collapse, Clinton pointed the finger at Arafat, and it became received wisdom, in Israel and the United States, that the Palestinian leader was wholly responsible for killing the hope of peace, and allowing the chance of independence to slip through his fingers. Barak had made him seemingly generous territorial concessions (roughly 91 per cent of the West Bank plus 1 per cent "compensation" in land from Israel proper). Even more importantly, Barak had bravely broken the Israeli taboo on dividing Jerusalem, agreeing at least in principle to a shared solution. In return, Arafat not only said no to everything, but provided no counter-proposals.

Arafat was indeed deeply at fault: he was a disastrous negotiator, appearing obtusely negative instead of keeping the talks alive. Fatally, he lost the best opportunity that the Palestinians were to have at least for the foreseeable future.

But there was a little more to it than that. The Palestinians believed that they had already made an all-important (and final) concession by agreeing that Israel should keep 78 per cent of the Palestinian Mandate, and that therefore the whole of the remaining 22 per cent should be theirs. Palestinian public opinion was fiercely against any further dealing or concessions on their "rights". Moreover, the Israeli offers were expressed in vague terms, usually through the mouth of Clinton, and kept changing. If only Arafat had been a less ham-handed negotiator, his strategy of holding out for more might have been justified.

Much criticism of Israel, and Sharon and Arafat in particular, relies on not understanding the recent history of the negotiation process. As usual reality is a little more complicated than those who have simple minded views for or against Sharon and Arafat.

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