January 17, 2003
"I maintain that Oslo was not given even a day's grace. Immediately, even before the ink was dry, the one side
planned jihad and the brainwashing for jihad, while the other planned settlements. Therefore, I don't think Oslo failed,
because Oslo was never tried. (Israeli writer Amos Oz) ."
The above epitaph sums up the failure of the Israeli - Palestinian peace process initiated by the Oslo Declaration of Principles. The rest is exegesis, but it is important exegesis, that must be undertaken to help us understand the reasons for failure. For it is clear that while the Oslo process has failed, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Israelis and Arabs must continue. The Oslo agreements were only a small part of a larger historical picture.
The Oslo process has a number of remarkable achievements to its credit.. Both sides have come much closer to accepting each other than would have been thought possible in 1990. Israel has a peace treaty with Jordan as well as Egypt. The phrase "Zionist Entity" is close to extinct in the vocabulary of the Middle East, with some notable exceptions. A majority of Israelis, even the right wing Likud party, have come to accept the possibility and even the necessity of an independent Palestinian state. Palestinian leaders say publicly that they accept the right of Israel to exist. History cannot be undone. The failure of Oslo and the Intifada will not erase these achievements. However, we must admit that there is no way forward on this path any longer. Those who do not admit this, or those who think that the process can be salvaged by some superficial changes or by "more of the same" are fooling themselves.
Partisans of each side have produced "Oslo Autopsies," and as usual, each side supplies justification for their positions rather than enlightenment. The Mideast Peace Process: An Autopsy  makes a very good case that the Palestinian leaders never wanted peace, documenting that case with statements of Yasser Arafat and other leaders in Arabic, throughout the Oslo period, reiterating that the final goal of the Palestinians is the destruction of Israel. Repeated terror attacks and unwillingness of PNA officials to stop those attacks undermined Israeli confidence in the peace process. Equally vehement in support of the Palestinian side, an article by Harvard researcher Sara Roy  points out the sins of the Israeli side, including settlement expansion, checkpoints and closures. These, coupled with a precipitous fall in standard of living in the Palestinian areas, sabotaged the peace process according to Roy. In the honored tradition of Middle East disinformation, each polemic ignores the misdeeds of their own side.
Others  have found fault with technical aspects of the Oslo process, such as the vagueness of the agreements, failure of leadership for peace, failure of leaders to meet with sufficient frequency, lack of a public peace process and lack of grass roots mobilization for peace. Variations on this approach may blame one side or the other, but they all share in common the notion that the process failed because of some technical faults in its implementation, or because of incorrect decisions taken by the leadership.
These approaches are representative, each gives part of the picture. Putting them together, it is obvious that as means to achieve peace, the agreements were poor and the process worse. This was not however, due to the incompetence of the framers. Rather, it was a reflection of underlying political and social realities. The identities of each side have been shaped by the conflict, and the national goals and values of each side, as presently defined, are incompatible with peace. The Oslo peace process failed because it conflicted with the national goals of each side, and the actions taken by both sides reflected those goals. These goals would have to be changed if the peace process was to have any hope of success, but the will to change, and mechanism for changing the goals was lacking. A small group of people on either side genuinely wanted the agreements to succeed and saw the future "peace" in the same way. The rest of the people, including the leadership, saw the agreements either as betrayal of the cause, or as a means to wage war by other (diplomatic) means. They defined "peace" as victory over the other side.
The Israeli and Palestinian Consensus
The agreements were framed quite well to serve national goals by both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, who did the precise bidding of their masters. The leadership, rather than betraying the popular desire for peace, did their best to represent the popular desire for implementing the goals that are at the core of their national identities. These goals represent victory over the opposite side and not peace.
We should not mistake these goals for the most extreme viewpoints, that have been artificially accentuated by the outbreak of violence. The extremist views, such as those of the Hamas or the Kahanah Chai group, are frank declarations by each side of the desire to destroy the other side. The consensus goals are not framed in this way, but in decent and acceptable language. They do not define goals in terms of the other side at all, but rather point to the national aspirations of each side. The Palestinian refugees want the right of return. The Israelis want to the right to settle in all of Israel and need to guarantee security, as well as a unified Jerusalem.
From their respective points of view, each side is right, and holds their views without particular malice toward the other side. Both sides view themselves as "Righteous Victims," a phrase coined by Benny Morris , seeking redress of grievances.
The majority of Palestinians wanted to avenge the "catastrophe" of 1948 by massive return of the refugees of 1948 to Israel proper. An IPCRI poll shows that about 90% of refugees insist on this interpretation of "Right of Return" under UN Resolution 194. At a personal level, this desire may not be vengeful, but simply a desire to return home and to seek restitution.
Professor Sari Nusseibeh, almost the only voice in Palestine who advocates giving up right of return in return for peace, has gotten almost no support in Palestine. He was prevented from speaking by angry students at An-Najjah University.
Commenting on Nusseibeh's views, the head of the PLO Political Department, Farouk Kaddoumi, remarked recently, "Only those who have experienced pain and suffering can have a political sense. I'm personally from Jaffa, and that's why I have a different feeling. Of course I'm still dreaming of Jaffa.... The oranges of Jaffa and their odor are still in my mind."
The practical meaning of return of the refugees, as both Israelis and Palestinians admit, is the end of Israel as a Jewish homeland. The goal of dismantling Israel through armed conflict is explicitly part of the constitution of the Fateh, the chief constituent of the Palestine Authority and of the PLO, and it remains their announced goal. Article 12 of the Fateh Constitution states as a goal of Fateh, "Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence." Moreover, the goals are to be achieved by violence. Article 19 states, " Armed struggle is a strategy and not a tactic, and the Palestinian Arab People's armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated." The constitution remains posted at the Fateh Web site at www.fateh.net/e_public/constitution.htm.
Thus, while the PLO officials, including Arafat, had committed themselves to nonviolence and coexistence with Israel at Oslo, the Fateh organization that they head remained committed to armed struggle and destruction of Israel. A similar goal is stated in the constitution of the Hamas . There is no major Palestinian group that has formally adopted the goal of coexistence with Israel, despite frequent assertions by PNA officials during the Oslo process that the Palestinians had decided on a real historic compromise.
The same sort of duality, expressed in other ways, exists on the Israeli side. The Israelis want to maximize Israeli territory, and have always viewed the possibility of a Palestinian state with somewhat justifiable distrust. The Israeli goal has always been acceptance of Israel as an independent state by the Arab world, on Israeli terms. For many Israelis, that means accepting permanent displacement of the Palestinians. For the majority of Israeli Jews, it means Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem. Neither side is willing to admit any culpability in conflict. Each side sees themselves as the wronged party.
The result was that both sides viewed the agreements as a framework defining new rules for the continuation of the conflict, rather than a means of terminating the conflict. The goal of the Israelis was to maximize settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and thereby to maximize the area that would be retained by Israel. Accordingly, the settler population of the West Bank and Gaza rose from about 115,000 when the agreements were signed, to approximately 210,000 by the 2002. These figures do not include the Jerusalem area, where there was also extensive building. Israeli strategy in the West Bank and Gaza was the same as Zionist strategy during the British mandate era - to obtain a Jewish majority in as many areas as possible, with a view to backing the claim to the land as part of Israel, to create "facts on the ground." This is seen in an evaluation written during the Nethanyahu era by Haim Gwirtzman of Bar Ilan University:
"Demographic data on the Israeli and Palestinian populations shows that there are two districts (the Jordan Valley and Judean Desert, and the southern Judean Mountains) in which there is already a Jewish majority today. There are three additional districts (Greater Jerusalem, West Samaria, West Benjamin) in which there no Jewish majority as yet, but in which the current settlement growth rate will allow the creation of a Jewish majority within a few years."
Gwirtzman also saw the aquifers of the West Bank of Israel as vital to Israeli national interests, at least during an interim period. The goal was to maintain the interim period for as long as possible or perhaps indefinitely, in which time it would be possible to achieve the Jewish majority referred to above. The fact that dates and deadlines were not honored is not surprising therefore. Nor is it surprising that Israel was always vague about which parts of the West Bank and Gaza it might retain, and even Ehud Barak went about promising settlers, "We will remain in Ofra and Beit El forever ."
This program did not escape the notice of the Palestinians. Hasan Khadir, a Palestinian author familiar with Israel, claims that to Palestinians it seemed that Israel was using the Oslo process not in pursuit of a “two-state” solution to the conflict, but as a means of getting rid of densely-populated Palestinian areas while maintaining “an improved occupation.”
Among those Palestinians who had agreed to participate in the peace process, the avowed goal of many was, it seems, to obtain an agreement that would be a springboard for the destruction of Israel. In the 1960s, Fatah evolved a plan for a "Secular Democratic State" which would allow Jews who had arrived in Israel prior to 1917 to live alongside Palestinians. This plan was a respectable way of presenting the goal of destroying Israel. Apparently, it has not been abandoned. The current stance of the Fateh is that they are honestly negotiating for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but that that state is a springboard for the secular democratic state:
"To us, the refugees issue is the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state....
...The transitory solution of the refugees issue in the future is through confederation with Jordan. I visualize the future in establishing a democratic state by peaceful means. This will come true when the Zionist illusion comes to an end, the thing that has begun to occur in the Labor Party and Merits ."
These views were consonant with those of Yasser Arafat, who stated on May 10, 1994 in Johannesburg:
"This agreement [Oslo], I am not considering it more than the agreement which had been signed between our prophet Muhammad and Quraish, and you remember that the Caliph Omar had refused this agreement and considered it a despicable truce...But the same way Muhammad had accepted it, we are now accepting this peace effort ."
The treaty of Hudaybiah with the Quraish was subsequently nullified when, according to the Qur'an, the Quraish violated the treaty, and Muhammad felt justified in attacking and destroying them.
More alarmingly, on January 30 1996, Yasser Arafat told a gathering of Arab diplomats in Stockholm:
"We of the PLO will now concentrate all our efforts on splitting Israel psychologically into two camps," Arafat reportedly declared. "Within five years, we will have six to seven million Arabs living on the West Bank and in Jerusalem. All Palestinian Arabs will be welcomed by us. If the Jews can import all kinds of Ethiopians, Russians, Uzbeks and Ukrainians as Jews, we can import all kinds of Arabs to us."
PLO plans, according to Arafat, were to "to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian State. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion; Jews won't want to live among us Arabs."
He told the diplomats, "I have no use for Jews; they are and remain Jews! We now need all the help we can get from you in our battle for a united Palestine under total Arab-Muslim domination."
The meeting, described by the settlers pirate radio station, Arutz-7, was later denied by Arafat, but was confirmed by the Norwegian newspaper Dagen, which published new details regarding Arafat's speech under the front-page headline, 'Arafat Gave Speech about Israel's Destruction.'
PA Minister Abdul Aziz Shaheen stated, "The Oslo accord was a preface for the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Authority will be a preface for the Palestinian state, which in turn will be a preface for the liberation of the entire Palestinian land."
Both sides also assumed that the other side would not keep agreements and could not be trusted. The attitude of the Israelis was summarized by former PM Ehud Barak after the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations. If Arafat had no use for Jews, then certainly Barak had not much use for Palestinians either:
"They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie...creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as "the truth." 
There is no evidence that any real trust or "chemistry" developed. There was never any real process of dialogue it seems, only a meeting of adversaries on the battlefield. The negotiations were a way of waging war by other means. While participants talked about "win-win" strategy, they in fact based their strategies on quite the opposite concept.
To many Palestinians, the Oslo agreements were supposed to be the path to destruction of Israel. To the Americans, and to many supporters of the peace process, the agreements were supposed to lead to a cessation of terror, and to Israeli withdrawal and establishment of a Palestinian state. However, this may not have been the expectation of the Israeli government when the agreements were framed, and it is not the way the agreements were explained to the people. In discussing the Oslo Declaration of Principles in the Knesset in October 25, 1995 , Israeli FM Shimon Peres, soon to be Prime Minister, explained that no settlements need be evacuated, and that the final settlement would not necessarily lead to a Palestinian state. Replying to a question about whether or not there would be a Palestinian state, Peres said:
"Not necessarily. For example, it can also be a blueprint for a Benelux arrangement, a framework including demilitarized zones, even an arrangement for areas without sovereignty."
Replying to a question about settlers evacuating their homes, Peres said,
"The explicit answer is that nobody has been asked to give up his home. Contrary to Camp
David, we conducted negotiations that do not require the evacuation of even one settlement.
The edifice we are building is based on a change in relations, not necessarily a change in locations..."
The people had definite expectations of the behavior of the opposite partners. The Israelis expected to live in peace with the Palestinians, given that they had renounced violence. The Palestinians expected a state and evacuation of the settlements. At the same time, the leaderships of both sides were telling their own peoples quite the opposite. Glorious phrases about dignity and peace of the brave in English, were accompanied by declarations such as those of Peres and Arafat in Hebrew and Arabic. Both sides were aware of the discrepancy, Yet neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli leaderships protested to the other side or took the matter up with the US. Both had resolved on an adversarial model rather than dialogue and cooperation.
Given conflicting statements, we can only judge intentions by actions. In trying to decide whether the English declarations of peace or the other declarations made in the local Semitic languages represented the real intent of the protagonists, we must look at what actually happened. The 100,000 settlers added and the tens of thousands of housing units built in the Oslo years by Israel are effective and mute testimony that Peres was telling the truth in the Knesset. The government carried out a policy precisely in keeping with the spirit of his remarks - no settlers would be evacuated, no Palestinian state could be created. At the same time, the Israel government was almost completely insensitive to provocative acts by settlers that were bound to inflame Palestinian public opinion. Following the massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein on innocent victims in Purim of 1994 in Hebron, the government imposed a curfew on Palestinians rather than Israelis. In several cases, authorities looked the other way when violence, including murder, was directed at Palestinians. Goldstein's massacre, in turn, was supposedly a reaction to a series of roadside ambushes and terror acts perpetrated against settlers by Fatah, even though the PLO had supposedly renounced terror upon signing of the Oslo accords. Neither side wanted peace as it might conceivably be understood by the other side, and neither side worked to make their people ready for peace.
Most of the leaders and the major institutions of both societies, and the majority of the populations, held mutually incompatible views and expectations of peace. They shared the delusion that the peace process was a mechanism that would cause the other side to acquiesce in its own destruction, or provide an internationally sanctioned mechanism for forcing them to do so, based on UN resolutions or treaty agreements and US pressure. This situation could not lead to peace as it is ordinarily understood.
Preparing for Final Status Violence
The time following the signing of the Oslo Declaration of Principles flew by. Neither side made any attempt to ready their people for peace or compromise. Constant terror attacks and political backlash forced postponement of critical deadlines. Both sides gave tacit or substantive encouragement to lobbies and groups whose goals were antithetical to peace. Neither side gave much encouragement to the small groups that favored peace, perhaps because public statements favoring compromise would sabotage the bargaining positions of each side in the adversarial model of negotiations. When you are bargaining for an item of apparel in the market, you do not encourage your wife to say how nice it is or how much she wants it.
In Israel, the government continued to fund the Yesha council, and the settler's pirate radio station, Arutz-7 continued to broadcast opposition to any compromise with Palestinians that would involve giving up settlements.
By the spring of 2000, the battle lines were drawn. The Yisrael B'Aliya center party, led by Nathan Sharansky, left the Barak government in advance of the Camp David talks, in protest over the possibility that the Oslo agreements would actually be implemented. The party is very proud of this stand, and has taken special care to emphasize it in their January, 2003 election advertisements.
For their part, the Palestinians encouraged a hard line stance at every level. Yasser Arafat sought to include Hamas and other groups in the PNA government ahead of the negotiations. Violence was in the air. A Fatah leaflet issued in spring of 1999 declared, "The protests will ignite the land under the settlers' feet and they will leave forever."
What form would the protests" take?. Threatening statements had been made with increasing frequency in the latter years of the Oslo process. A Palestinian American academic and activist, Hisham Sharabi, stated in 1998:
What form would the struggle option take?
It would claim the right to all legitimate forms of struggle, from non-violent forms of resistance to classical forms of armed struggle. From a political point of view, however, non-violent struggle is probably the more effective one in the long run. Yet, if the present conditions of repression and humiliation continue, wide-scale violence could prove to be the more likely option. Opting for national struggle is bound to enhance uncontrollable individual acts of self-sacrifice, the ultimate power of the powerless.
Popular resistance, which is likely to bring back the intifada, will simultaneously lead to building alliances and grassroots organizations, like the ones that emerged spontaneously in the early days of the original intifada (which was snuffed out by the PLO leadership in Tunis). If this succeeds by the turn of the century, this new post-patriarchal liberation struggle will regain the human face of the first intifada and win the support of progressive forces the world over, including the support of progressive Jewish forces in Israel and the United States .
Stating that the national struggle is "bound to enhance uncontrollable individual acts of self-sacrifice" was an open invitation to legitimize suicide bombings, and the theme that such "acts of self-sacrifice" were due to repression and humiliation was repeated quite often. Sharabi's projection of the uprising was perhaps the frankest call for violence prior to the Intifada, but it was only one of many threats and "warnings" by Palestinians, including PNA officials, prior to the actual outbreak of hostilities. Sharabi also hinted at one of the motives for the violence: to wrest control of the process from PLO/PNA, to regain the "human face of the first intifada," which was "snuffed out by the PLO leadership in Tunis." The notion that PLO Tunis was responsible for the end of the first intifada seems quite prevalent in Palestinian circles, but there is no evidence for it.
The PNA sponsored annual Nakba day demonstrations commemorating the defeat of the Arabs in 1948 and calling for return of refugees to Jaffa, Haifa, Beisan (Beit Shean) Majdal (Ashkelon), Birsaba (Beersheba) and Isdood (Ashdod) among many other places in Israel. The demonstrations of 2000 were particularly violent and were accompanied by live fire from Palestinian "Police" as noted.
A variety of organizations agitated for "rights" of refugees and liberation of all Palestine. The Al-Awda (return) group in the USA was organized to prevent "traitors" from giving up refugee rights at the Camp David talks. The Badil refugee organization, was quite active in this respect, and their Al-Majdal magazine reported proudly in June 2000 :
"The following interview with Tayseer Nasrallah (Yafa Cultural Center/Balata Camp; BADIL Board member; 1967 occupied Palestine) and Ahmad Othman (journalist; member of A'idoun Group; Lebanon) was conducted by BADIL in late May 2000 before the resumption of final status negotiations in Washington... The interview highlights the importance of refugee empowerment through strengthening of refugee initiatives, grassroots mobilization in defense of refugee rights, and building networks between refugees in the various countries of exile as well as between refugees and international NGOs and solidarity groups."
So, the Palestinians while entering final status talks, were encouraging grass roots activities to ensure that the talks would fail.
The nature of this "empowerment and grassroots mobilization is made clear from the following, in the same report:
"In our public rally organized in Balata camp in commemoration of the 52nd anniversary of al-Nakba, for example, we had some 5,000 participants and we stated publicly that anyone who surrenders the refugees' right of return is considered a traitor. This has influence on our leadership. I assume that public opinion and popular initiatives also influence the Palestinian negotiators, as long as we are sending a clear message. "
To the Palestinians, the Oslo accords were nothing but a sell out, to be prevented at all costs. This view was furthered by Palestinian organizations such as Badil. From the very same interview in Al-Majdal, we read:
"...Palestinian activists and the intellectual elite were divided into three groups:
The first group are those convinced of the Oslo negotiation process as the only feasible Palestinian option, given the recent powerful developments in the region and the world, most importantly the second Gulf War and its disastrous results, such as the destruction of Iraq, US control of the major Arab resources - especially petrol - and the establishment of a broad Arab alliance with US policy in the region.
The second group is opposed to the process, starting from Madrid to Oslo. In a situation of collapse of the political consensus versus the US supported Zionist project, both on the popular and official level, this group was able to attract considerable support from among the intellectual elite and the national circles in the Arab world. However, action taken by this circle has been restricted to verbal statements rejecting the Oslo process; it has remained unable to stop the collapse of the official Palestinian position by means of concrete political action.
The third group continues to monitor the developments on the ground, in order to determine points of Palestinian weakness and strength. It hopes to be able to trigger a popular initiative which would block the deterioration resulting from the concessions made by the official Palestinian leadership, and to re-build consensus around the principles of the cause of the Palestinian people in the homeland and in exile."
So the Oslo Peace Process was viewed as a "Zionist Project" that could at best be tolerated. Any concession to peace was viewed as "deterioration" that had to be blocked by an "initiative."
All of the talk about "win-win" strategy on both sides was a public relations effort for consumption by foreign audiences. The reality perceived by Israelis and Palestinians was quite different. In the minds of Palestinians the way was prepared for an "initiative" to defend their rights against the "US supported Zionist project" that is, the Oslo agreement, and to "trigger a popular initiative which would block the deterioration resulting from the concessions made by the official Palestinian leadership."
Barak and Camp David
The election of Israeli PM Ehud Barak was not so much an expression of faith in the peace process, as an expression of disgust with the incompetence of Benjamin Nethanyahu. From the Israeli point of view, Nethanyahu had achieved nothing other than angering the Americans, dividing Israelis and making important concessions to the Palestinians in the Hebron agreements and at Wye plantation, with nothing to show in return. Barak got a mandate for "peace with limited liability." To Israelis, the government of Ehud Barak represented a last desperate effort to put the peace process back on track, within very narrow limits, dictated by the distrust of Palestinian leadership that was now widespread.
Agha and Malley  in an influential series of articles in the New York Review of Books, depict the failure of the process as due to errors by Ehud Barak in negotiating with the Palestinians, and Palestinian impatience because Barak, like his predecessors, failed to implement key parts of the agreements. For example, they asserted:
"To begin, Barak discarded a number of interim steps, even those to which Israel was formally committed by various agreements—including a third partial redeployment of troops from the West Bank..."
Barak completed some of the redeployments on Jan 6 and March 21.
Agha and Malley also note that Barak never implemented the transfer of Abu-Dis and other areas in Jerusalem to the PNA. These were approved by the Israeli Cabinet on May 15, 2000 . However, in the same week, Palestinian violence broke out in several places, triggered by the annual Nakba day ceremonies sponsored by the PNA  including live fire used by PNA police against Israelis. The violence forced postponement of the implementation of the Abu-Dis transfer. Likewise, it made it impractical to implement a third redeployment before the final status talks, which were now quite overdue.
Beyond these minor, specific points, it is difficult to imagine that a few, or even many errors in approach, technique or attitude by Barak in his short tenure of office would be enough to entirely destroy a peace process that enjoyed the backing of the United States and European Union. Agha and Malley provide a great many facts as starting points and background for the Barak period and the reasons for his approach: the implementation of Oslo had been delayed, Barak decided to concentrate on Syria first, Barak did not trust the Palestinians, Barak had difficulty selling serious concessions to Israelis, cardinal points such as the refugee issue were not discussed in advance. None of these things, however, occurred in a vacuum. It is noteworthy that Agha and Malley do not allude directly to the Palestinian violence that forced the postponements noted above and colored the political picture that Barak had to deal with.
Agha and Malley do note, in the same paragraph:
"He did not want to estrange the right prematurely or be (or appear to be) a "sucker" by handing over assets, only to be rebuffed on the permanent status deal. In Barak's binary cost-benefit analysis, such steps did not add up: on the one hand, if Israelis and Palestinians reached a final agreement, all these minor steps (and then some) would be taken; on the other hand, if the parties failed to reach a final agreement, those steps would have been wasted. What is more, concessions to the Palestinians would cost Barak precious political capital he was determined to husband until the final, climactic moment,"
But what concessions could he possibly make, if he had already sworn that Ofra and Bethel will be part of Israel forever and ever? Why did he have to husband his precious political capital so carefully? Because the concessions met with stiff resistance in Israel. As we shall see, only a minority of Israelis approved of the concessions made at Camp David, and a clear majority disapproved of the Taba proposal of President Clinton.
We can only believe that the negotiations failed because of some last minute technical errors if we ignore everything that came before the problems that occurred in 2000, which were typical of the entire process, and if we ignore some of the conclusions of Agha and Malley themselves. Agha and Malley noted:
"The war for the whole of Palestine was over because it had been lost. Oslo, as they saw it, was not about negotiating peace terms but terms of surrender[29 ]."
If that is so, then from the viewpoint of the Palestinians, the Oslo Process was totally discredited, and there was nothing that Barak or anyone else could do to save it. It echoes the sentiments expressed in Al-Majdal quite closely.
By the summer of 2000, the final settlement talks that should have been completed before 1999, according to the Declaration of Principles, were quite overdue. The stage was set for the final debacle. US President Clinton was pressing for final status talks in his term, and Ehud Barak had also staked his own political future on an agreement. The Palestinians had set September 13 as the date for declaring a Palestinian state, with or without an agreement, so an agreement was essential.
However, no agreement was in the offing, and indeed, no agreement could be possible, because neither side would agree to conditions that meant acquiescence in its own destruction. The Israelis could never agree to Right of Return, and the Palestinians could never agree to a state in separated bits of real-estate, without control over resources, air space and borders. The problems have been reduced to a difference of opinion about quantities, but that is an optical illusion. To the outsider, a half a percent of area seems to make no difference to anyone. But if the half a percentage of area cuts the state of Palestine in half, it is certainly very relevant. Likewise, admission of even one refugee, accompanied by an admission of "Right of Return" by the Israelis, would eventually lead to pressure on Israel to implement all of that right. This admission was demanded by the Palestinians at Taba . A right, once admitted, cannot be taken away. Its implementation can only be postponed due to extenuating circumstances.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders were faced with the necessity of reaching an agreement in 2000, and at the same time, the impossibility of reaching any agreement that would satisfy the other side, and also be acceptable to their own people. Ehud Barak chose to make the agreement subject to a referendum. At the time, polls showed that a majority of Israelis probably would not support the Camp David or Taba proposals. We can only guess at what would've happened had they come to a vote.
Palestinian leaders chose to deal with the problem a different way. They recognized that they would be unable to present to their people any deal that did not include Right of Return of the refugees as well as total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Since anyone giving up Right of Return would be branded a traitor, and since the punishment of traitors is well known, the fate of the negotiations was sealed. Accordingly, the Palestinians presented nothing at Camp David.
Regarding the Camp David talks, there are reports from supporters of both sides, blaming the failure of negotiations on the Israelis or the Palestinians, or on "mistakes" by both sides. One of the most widely quoted of these summaries is that of Agha and Malley, that insists that the talks failed because of "mistakes" by Ehud Barak. He did not meet face to face with Arafat, did not radiate warmth. Israelis did not present maps or made this or that error. Agha and Malley note however,
"Beyond that, much has to do with the political climate that prevailed within Palestinian society. Unlike the situation during and after Oslo, there was no coalition of powerful Palestinian constituencies committed to the success of Camp David.
The negotiators looked over their shoulders, fearful of adopting positions that would undermine them back home."
What Agha and Malley wrote is exactly correct in view of the agitation by Badil and other groups, but Agha and Malley did not carry it to its logical conclusion. The conclusion is that the failure of the final status negotiations was not due to a "tragedy of errors" by Barak, but rather was the inevitable outcome of everything that had come before. The failure was not an accident. It was well prepared. It was a tragedy in the classic sense, caused by tragic flaws in men and societies that were unable to overcome their basic identities.
The negotiators could not negotiate about much of anything. They could not even grant the other side the minimal rights of self determination. On the Palestinian side, anyone who compromised about right of return would be branded a traitor, and of course, Israel could not agree to Right of Return. Israeli negotiators came ready to defend vital interests in water and security, and in areas of the West Bank where Israel had managed to establish a majority, as Gwirtzman had explained. Israeli negotiators believed, based on the record, that a Palestinian state would continue to harbor and even encourage groups such as Hamas, PFLP and Islamic Jihad, as well as refugee lobbies demanding right of return, and would do nothing to rein in terror activity by these groups in the future, as they had done nothing in the past. Therefore, a Palestinian state could easily become a haven for terrorists who would see it as a base for continuing to the next stage of "liberating" Palestine. That being the case, the Israelis could not offer the Palestinians real sovereignty.
The Israelis played a percentage game. The percentages of land offered were meaningless, because the Palestinian entity that would be created would not have real control over its land, and because they would never get the 92% or 97.5% or 99.44%. The percentages eliminated from discussion all of the Jerusalem area, and all of the area of the Dead Sea that had formerly been under Jordanian control, and all of the no-man's land areas. The percentages included a large desert area in the Jordan valley, on the "back" of the mountain ridge that runs along the eastern part of the West Bank. This area is about 20% of the West Bank. This land would be turned over to the Palestinians only after a certain number of years. The period varied from offer to offer, but the principle remained the same. The land would be turned over conditional on Palestinian compliance with other stipulations of the agreement. It was expected by the Israelis that the Palestinians would not comply, and therefore, they would never get the land. From the Israeli point of view, that was perfectly legitimate. That land is desert. It is not arable and hardly any Palestinians live there. There are a few Israeli settlements there. It is meant as a genuine strategic security asset, guarding control of the West Bank. It would be unthinkable to allow a hostile state to control this area, and there was every likelihood that the Palestinian state would be hostile. From the Palestinian point of view, this was unacceptable, and they were perfectly justified in their own suspicions. Nobody made any "errors."
Therefore, the negotiations were doomed before they started. The political climate in Palestinian society did not change by accident. The change was a result of deliberate PNA policy that gave free rein to extremist political groups such as Hamas, PFLP and to Islamic Jihad and to refugee groups such as Badil, who put out a powerful barrage of propaganda against the Oslo accords, perpetrated well timed terror attacks to sabotage implementation of the agreements, and called for "initiatives" to prevent any final settlement that would leave Israel intact.
Agha and Malley later wrote to the New York Review of books, "The fact is that Camp David and the talks that followed demonstrated that, at their core, Israeli and Palestinian interests are compatible." They did not understand, or did not want to understand, the implications of what they had written before. Palestinians viewed the negotiations as surrender, and negotiators were boxed in by public opinion that demanded right of return. Public opinion that had been encouraged by the leadership. The fact is, that the talks were a masterful exercise in public relations, to obscure a basic incompatibility of interests behind talk about percentages and technical details. Palestinians wanted Right of Return and destruction of Israel, and the Israelis wanted to control the land and the destinies of the Palestinians. There was, in the end, no way to overcome those contradictions, and the violence that accompanied the end of the negotiations was an inevitable, and planned consequence.
There is abundant evidence, despite the conclusion of the Mitchell commission, that violence that began in September 2000 was planned and instigated by the PNA as a "spontaneous" uprising. In addition to statements quoted above concerning the desirability of violence, there is evidence of active planning.
In December of 2000, PNA Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji said in a Gaza gathering, "The PA had begun to prepare for the outbreak of the current intifada since the return from the Camp David negotiations, by request of President Yasser Arafat, who predicted the outbreak of the Intifada as a complementary stage to the Palestinian steadfastness in the negotiations, and not as a specific protest against Sharon's visit to Al-Haram Al-Qudsi [Temple Mount]."
Al-Faluji continued: "The Intifada was no surprise for the Palestinian leadership. The leadership had invested all of its efforts in political and diplomatic channels in order to fix the flaws in the negotiations and the peace process, but to no avail. It encountered Israeli stubbornness and continuous renunciation of the [Palestinian] rights... The PA instructed the political forces and factions to run all matters of the Intifada ..." 
The intifada was "predicted" according to Faluji, but not planned. However, it was viewed as "complementary stage to Palestinian steadfastness in the negotiations," an instrument of state.
Though Faluji denied making the statements, similar statements were also made by Fatah Central Committee member, Sakhr Habash:
"In light of the information, [after] analyzing the political positions following the Camp David summit, and in accordance with what brother Abu Ammar [Arafat] said, it became clear to the Fatah movement that the next stage necessitates preparation for confrontation, because Prime Minister Barak is not a partner who can respond to our people's aspirations. Based on these assessments, Fatah was more prepared than the other movements for this confrontation. In order to play the role given to it, the Fatah coordinated its administrative, civilian and sovereign apparatuses, and was not surprised by the outbreak of the current Intifada... The Fatah movement believed that the phenomenon of comprehensive struggle would appear at the final settlement stage...  "
The intended purpose of the uprising is not entirely clear. Perhaps it was done to prevent the signing of an agreement, or to demonstrate to the disaffected that violence had been tried, and did not work, allowing an agreement to ultimately go forward. Perhaps it was done, as was discussed above, to return the leadership of the Palestinian community to West Bank and Gaza activists, as opposed to PLO Tunis leaders. Perhaps it was needed by the leadership in order to compete with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad. There is speculation that particular factions in the Fatah, led by Marwan Barghouti, wanted to take the leadership initiative away from the older generation led by Yasser Arafat. Another goal perhaps stemmed from the Palestinian perception that the Israelis held the upper hand due to military superiority. The Intifada, it was thought, would help level the playing field. Internationalization of the peace process was one goal, since the PNA felt that the US had unfairly sided with the Israelis. A possibility that should not be neglected, is that groups such as the Fatah, whose ideology and identity were formed around armed struggle, felt they had to vindicate their ideology.
According to the above evidence, the Palestinians at least knew that the Intifada was coming. Sakhr Habash noted, " The Fatah movement believed that the phenomenon of comprehensive struggle would appear at the final settlement stage." This is not surprising if we remember that Fatah ideology is based on armed struggle, but it is somewhat odd considering that the PLO had given up violence in the Oslo accords, and since it was clear that the entire process was based on the premise that there would be no violence.
However the conclusive evidence that the Palestinian leadership kindled the Intifada is provided by Barghouti himself:
"Sincerely, when I arrived at the area of the mosque... I was dissatisfied with the small attendance and when friction did not occur, I became angry. We tried to create friction, but with no success..."
"... I saw within the situation a historic opportunity to ignite the conflict. The strongest conflict is the one that is initiated from Jerusalem..."
"...After Sharon left, I had stayed in the area for two hours with other well known people and we spoke about the character of the reaction and of how people should react in all the towns and villages and not only in Jerusalem. We made contact with all the factions."
"... I prepared a proclamation on behalf of the high Fatah committee in coordination with the brothers in which we called upon the people to react to what happened in Jerusalem. When I came back to Ramallah I continued the talks with the contacts I had gathered around me regarding the character of our activity and the continuation of the reaction.'
Needless to say, the intifada and the Israeli reaction to it have confirmed the worst suspicions of each side regarding the other, and enhanced the political standing of extremists. The notion of transfer, once taboo as a racist ideology, became respectable in Israel after the assassination of transfer advocate Rehavam Ze'evi. Polls show increasing numbers of Israelis, up to 46% support the idea of transferring Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to other countries in order to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel . The suicide attacks have made Palestinians anathema to most Israelis. The tightened closure, constant curfews and reoccupation of Palestinian cities and high casualty rates inflicted by the IDF have eroded the last vestiges of Palestinian good will toward Israelis. For the Palestinians, the consequences of the intifada, rather than any rational ends that made be gained, have justified the intifada and generated support for its perpetuation. For Israelis, the intifada has justified the policies of settler-advocates and hard-line Zionists.
Public Opinion Polls and the Peace Process
Some would have us believe that cynical and inept leaderships are thwarting the desire of Israelis and Palestinians for peace According to polls, Israelis certainly support peace with Arabs. Steinmetz center polls consistently show that 70 to 80% of Israelis support the peace process between Israel and the Arabs. Support for the Oslo accords is not as great, and has been eroded by the Intifada. In October of 1996, nearly 70% of Israelis favored the Oslo agreements or were neutral toward them. By December 1999, this support had shrunk to about 60%. By the end of 2002, only 46% favored the Oslo agreements or were neutral toward them .
The intifada has certainly eroded Israeli support for the Oslo agreements. However, even in 1996, only a minority, including Israeli Arabs were actually favorable toward the process, and in no case were people asked to give their opinions as to what concessions Israel could or should make for peace.
Though they show a willingness for some compromise, public opinion polls in Israel and Palestine are generally consistent with the proposition that Palestinians and Israelis have mutually opposed national goals. A JMCC Poll in 1999 reported that return of the refugees according to UN Resolution 194, as opposed to limited repatriation, was deemed essential to peace by 60% of Palestinians (including non-refugees) in the West Bank and Gaza . A poll released in December 2002 shows that 47% believe the goal of the intifada should be total liberation of Palestine.
Publicity for a recent poll announced, "Majority of Israelis and Palestinians agree on terms of Palestinian State." Examination of the poll results does not support this contention, nor the additional contention that Palestinians support nonviolence. Israelis were asked "If the Palestinians committed to stop using violence against Israel and in fact stopped all violence for an extended period, would you favor or oppose Israel allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state outside the 1967 borders, except for some agreed-upon land swaps?." 51% were in favor, 42% opposed, and the rest did not answer. In other words, about half the Israelis would be willing to return to the Barak formula, which is unacceptable to the Palestinians. 57% of Palestinians were opposed to a Fatah directive requesting a cessation violence. 48% of Palestinians favored continuing violence, even if stopping the violence temporarily would bring about a state such as the one above, with the addition of negotiations in good faith about other status issues. Only 42% were willing to commit to this temporary lull in violence in return for a state. Neither side was asked for opinions regarding recognition of Israel, refugees, cessation of violence or sharing Jerusalem .
Going into final status negotiations, neither Palestinians nor Israelis held positions that were likely to be acceptable to the other side. The leaders cannot be criticized for being unwilling to make peace, since their negotiating positions were consistent with those of the people, or more conciliatory. In July, 2000, 44% of Israelis believed that the positions of Barak at Camp David were too conciliatory, and only 35% believed they were appropriate . The Steinmetz Center Peace index of December 2000 indicated that 57% of Israelis were against acceptance of President Clinton's Taba proposals as a whole. 77% objected to provisions regarding return of the refugees, and over 60% objected to giving up sovereignty in Jerusalem and over the temple mount . In March of 2000, Palestinians were asked, "If the Israelis and Palestinians sign a permanent peace agreement based on "Two States for the Two Peoples" formula, from the point of view of the Palestinians will such agreement mean the end to their historical conflict with Israel?" About 65% said "no" or probably "no" while only about 25% said "yes ." Both sides also held incompatible views about refugees and Jerusalem.
The Oslo fiasco was not due to some technical errors in statesmanship as some would have us believe, nor can it be blamed exclusively on one side, nor can it be blamed only on the leaders who were thwarting the desires of the people.
The mass of evidence, of which we have examined only a small part, indicates that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders had definitions of peace that were incompatible with peace as it is ordinarily understood, and as it was understood by the other side. These goals reflected the consensus opinion in their respective societies. The governments did everything possible to rally the people around these national goals, and little or nothing to prepare them for peace.
On the Palestinian side, the popular consensus solidified around an independent state, right of return, recapture of East Jerusalem and removal of all the settlements. The leadership negotiating positions reflected these goals. On the Israeli side, the consensus was always solidly against the return of the refugees and division of Jerusalem. Though Israelis have come to accept the idea of a Palestinian state, that state is envisioned as something less than what the Palestinians wanted.
Wishful thinking or partisan analysis may support the notion that the people of one or both sides really wanted peace on mutually acceptable terms, and that only chance errors or the actions of the other side or "mistakes" of leaders caused the process to fail. Public opinion polls and election results show consistently that the positions adopted by leaders are, if anything, more conciliatory than those of the respective peoples, and even the more moderate segments took positions unacceptable to the other side. The massive Israeli settlement buildup, and the pledges by moderate leaders, both Peres and Barak, that settlements would remain in place, leave no doubt about the nature of the peace envisioned by Israelis. Euphemisms about "painful sacrifices" and polls that indicate vague assent to vaguely worded questions about concessions for peace cannot erase the facts. Settlement housing continues to be built, and the majority of Israelis voted for the governments that built those settlements. Settlement housing was built under Labor and Likud governments alike. On the Palestinian side, the repeated emphasis on right of return, prophecies of violence, talk of phased solutions and liberation of Palestine leave no doubt about sentiments and intentions. The continuation of terror attacks throughout the peace process, winked at by the PNA, speaks for itself, as do the statements and actions of Palestinian leaders regarding the intifada.
The Oslo accords failed because Palestinians and Israelis still have national goals that are incompatible with each others' existence as free peoples, and with peace. These goals are accepted by a large national consensus on each side, and are encouraged by leaders rather than discouraged, in order to give them strong bargaining positions in the negotiations. This situation should not be viewed as static and unchangeable however. The consensus created around intractable positions is supported by powerful lobbies on each side, operating within Palestine and Israel and in the Diaspora, as well as by foreign powers and Islamist extremist groups. These groups still have not internalized the idea that destroying the other side is impossible. The peace process will succeed if, and only if, the coalitions and organizations created to thwart it are dismantled or neutralized, and the consensus goals of both societies are changed.
"I knew that the end of the month of September  would be the last opportunity before the explosion, but when Sharon arrived at the Al Aqsa Mosque it was the strongest (most suitable) moment for the breakout of the Intifada. This is because the subject concerns Jerusalem, and even more it regards Al Aqsa. The meaning of this - setting fire to the entire region and specifically [due to the fact] that the issue of Al Aqsa inflames and ignites the sensibilities of the masses."
"On the eve of Sharon's visit I participated in a TV panel, on a local TV station. I found this to be the right opportunity to call upon the public to go to Al Aqsa on the following morning because it is not possible for Sharon to arrive at the Temple Mount [El-Haram Al-Sharif] 'just like that' and walk away peacefully. I was determined, and early the next morning I went to Al-Aqsa."
"Sincerely, when I arrived at the area of the mosque, I was disappointed by the people who had arrived. The gathering there consisted entirely of Palestinians of 1948, eight of them Israeli-Arab members of the parliament and over 60 other well-known people. I was dissatisfied with the small attendance and when friction did not occur, I became angry. We tried to create friction, but with no success - due to conflicts of opinions that emerged with other people surrounding the friction created at the Al Aqsa square at the time."
"We did not need a war. The issue is completely different. War breaks out according to the decision of the president or the commander of the military. The Intifada however, was not ignited by a person or a group of people, but it evolved from reaching deeply into the feeling of the masses. There were those who were opposed to the conflict. At the same time, I saw within the situation a historic opportunity to ignite the conflict. The strongest conflict is the one that initiated from Jerusalem due to the sensitivity of the city, its uniqueness and its special place in the hearts of the masses who are willing to sacrifice themselves [for her] with not even thinking of the cost."
... After Sharon left, I had stayed in the area for two hours with other well known people and we spoke about the character of the reaction and of how people should react in all the towns and villages and not only in Jerusalem. We made contact with all the factions."
... "While we were in the vehicle on our way to the Arab Triangle, I prepared a proclamation on behalf of the high Fatah committee in coordination with the brothers in which we called upon the people to react to what happened in Jerusalem. When I came back to Ramallah I continued the talks with the contacts I had gathered around me regarding the character of our activity and the continuation of the reaction."Amnon Barzilai, Poll: 46% of Jews favor transfer from the territories, Haaretz, March 12, 2002 (in Hebrew). Posted at http://www.tau.ac.il/jcss/haaretz1203.html
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