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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnelcDyxA00&t=1579s

I am referring to this lecture. Mehran Kamrava claims that the terms of the Peace agreement were so skewed that it made Palestine statehood impossible. Among these were 3 things:

  1. The leadership chose policies that sustained the status quo instead of working towards statehood.
  2. Dividing Palestine into 3 parts, 1 ruled by the Israel, 1 ruled jointly by Israeli military with Palestinian Civilian govts. and another under Palestinian control
  3. Giving Israel economic control over Palestine with the accompanying Paris Protocol which made Israeli currency dominant in Palestine and gave Israel the right to collect Tariffs not Palestine.

These terms seem very 1 sided. This has lead political scientists like Kamrava to claim that Palestinian leadership betrayed the public. My question is basically did they do that ? Why would they do that ? OR was their situation such that they had to accept these terms and it wasn't a betrayal ?

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    There is a assumption in the question that Arafat actually accepted the terms and was trying to come to an agreement. Lack of progress in this in the last couple of decades may indicate that there was now real effort at an agreement. Remember to ask if before asking why.
    – Walter
    Apr 14, 2022 at 0:04
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    Like with any negotiations, that's probably the best they could achieve. From the other side, it was (or at least was felt) a big concession. If you demand all or nothing, you likely get nothing. Stepwise approach is usually more productive. IMO, the Palestinian leadership did betray the public, but in its failure to effect further progress.
    – Zeus
    Apr 14, 2022 at 2:08

3 Answers 3

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As mentioned in the comment of Zeus (on the question), every deal comes with concessions.

It must also be noted that the Oslo accords wasn't intended to be the final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It was designed to serve as a first step towards Palestinian self-rule, and as a platform for future negotiations.

See it all in the full agreement here; https://ecf.org.il/media_items/612

Let me explain. Up until the Oslo accords (since the creation of earth) there was no recognized Palestinian entity (Palestinians were Jordanian citizens until the six-day-war). As a result, there was no recognized (or even unofficial) Palestinian "leadership". Therefore, there was no person in existence bearing the authority to sign a document in the name of the Palestinians (that is, Arabs living in Palestine/Land-of-Israel).

On the other hand. In order for Israel to allow itself to partially entrust its security in the hands of the Palestinians, (i.e. to give over the authority over a territory from which Israel can be literally destroyed), the Palestinians must have a viable government which was proven to be effective at countering terrorism and is itself strongly committed to peace and tranquility. The Oslo accords were established in order to allow for the Palestinians to develop such a government.

Therefore, the authority of the Palestinian government was designed to be limited at first, so that Israel's security wouldn't become so gravely compromised if the Palestinian government doesn't develop in the way it was supposed to.

Regarding the Paris Protocols, which were signed in 1994. Those were designed in order to allow for Palestinians to work in Israel and use Israel's sea ports for import and export, etc. According to the agreement, Israel collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, for Palestinian transactions done in Israel. See the protocols here; https://unctad.org/system/files/information-document/ParisProtocol_en.pdf

It should be noted that in Dec/2018 the Palestinian Authority has officially requested to renegotiate the Paris protocols, the request was accepted by Israel. But after the outbreak of Covid, the PA has withdrawn their request fearing that any changes may further destabilize their economy.

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The founding premise of PLO was that Palestine should be liberated through armed struggle, similar to how FLN and NLF liberated Algeria and Vietnam from colonial rule.1 However, unlike the Algerian and Vietnamese people, the Palestinian people is geographically fragmented with more Palestinians living outside than inside of Palestine. Due to Israeli interference, PLO never gained a foothold within Palestine and instead had to operate from Palestinian bases in the surrounding states.

In the 1970's, PLO conducted guerilla warfare against Israel from Lebanon. This warfare failed to move Israel and incensed its Lebanese hosts who suffered the brunt of Israeli retaliation. It came to an end in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon during which Israel ousted PLO from the country.2 As no other state would host the PLO guerillas, they relocated to Tunisia, over a thousand kilometers away from Palestine. The physical distance made armed struggle impossible.

The bloody war was a military defeat for PLO, but also a diplomatic bluster for Israel. It's heavy-handedness and bombings of densely populated refugee camps tarnished the country's image. The most iconic moment of the war was the Sabra and Shatila massacre in which an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia killed over 2,000 Palestinian civilians in two refugee camps.2

Meanwhile, strategic thinking within PLO changed. Politicans began to talk about a two-state solution with a Palestinian state existing alongside - not replacing - Israel. By 1982 this transformation was complete. The struggle shifted focus, from guerrilla warfare to searching for a political solution.3

No similar policy shift occurred on the Israeli side. It (and the US too) continued to regard PLO as a terrorist organization with which it would never negotiate. Furthermore, it continued to build settlements on territory it had occupied in the 1967 war, in contravention of international law.

In December 1987 a Palestinian popular uprising in the occupied territories against the Israeli occupation -- the first intifada --broke out. And with it came Hamas. Hamas was ideologically opposed to Fatah (the dominant party in PLO) and based in Islamism rather than the latter's left-wing secularism. It had its power base in Palestine, in Islamic charities operating in Israel and in the occupied territories. While PLO could only watch the intifada from afar, Hamas actively participated in it.

Against this backdrop, masterminded by Yassir Arafat, PLO launched a "peace offensive" in 1988. The plight of the Palestinians would be presented to the international community and the United States in particular to put diplomatic pressure on Israel to force it to the negotiation table.4,5 The same year, PLO also declared the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and called for convening an international peace conference to settle the Palestine question on the basis of Security council resolutions 242 and 338. This declaration effectively recognized Israel's right to exist and limited the Palestinian claim to the Palestinian territories occupied in the 1967 war. PLO furthermore rejected "terrorism in all of its forms, including state terrorism." I.e. it acceded to the US administration's conditions for dialogue. Israeli intransigence, however, meant that no PLO-US dialogue were forthcoming.6,7

Two developments in the early 1990's greatly affected PLO. The first was the collapse of the Soviet union. With it, PLO lost the backing of a super power. It also feared the influx of up to a million Soviet Jews which Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir threatened to settle in the occupied territories.5 The second was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and PLO's support for Iraq. It was a strategic blunder of gigantic proportions. It eroded international support for PLO including the consensus (except for the US and Israel) on the need for Palestinian self-determination and it caused a massive shortfall in the PLO's coffers as the wealthy gulf states stopped their donations.8 Incidentally, Hamas did not throw its weight behind Saddam and was rewarded with continued financial assistance.5

So what could have caused PLO to enter into secret negotiations with Israel that culminated in the Oslo accord?

  1. An earnest belief in that there was a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Indeed, PLO had for years sought to negotiate with Israel.

  2. Failure to comprehend the Israeli strategy. The West Bank is not the Sinai. Israel considers the West Bank Jewish heartland that is theirs by right. Arafat had not even seen an Israeli settlement with his own eyes and perhaps did not understand that Israel was not willing to let the Palestinians have a sovereign state on the territory. In fact, what the Palestinians eventually received from Oslo is less than earlier ideas for limited autonomy the Israelis had proposed such as the Allon plan or the self-governing plans sported by Menachem Begin during the Camp David talks.

  3. PLO had renounced terrorism and the Palestinians' claim to 78% of historical Palestine (Israel proper) and needed a big "win" to show that the sacrifices were worth it.

  4. Competition from Hamas and other "rejectionist" groups.9

  5. The disastrous situation for the PLO caused by its support for Saddam Hussein. By 1992, PLO was isolated, facing bankruptcy and divided within itself.10 As PLO negotiator Ahmed Qurei recounted: "under these circumstances, we had no alternative but to go to Oslo when the idea presented itself, however unlikely or unpromising it might seem. Such a meeting seemed a last hope to keep our cause alive"11

The Allon Plan, proposed by Israeli minister Yigal Allon after the 1967 war (from Wikipedia):

Footnotes

  1. Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993, Yezid Sayigh, 1997, p.112-129
  2. 1982 Lebanon war, Michael Fischbach
  3. The Palestinian Dilemma: PLO Policy after Lebanon, Rashid Khalidi, 1985
  4. Arafat's Trials at Tunis: Enemies Inside and Out
  5. Sayigh, The Road to Oslo, p.638-51
  6. Palestinian Declaration of Independence, 1988: Historic Undertakings For the Sake of Statehood, Maher Charif
  7. P.L.O. Proclaims Palestine to be an independent State; hints at recognizing Israel, Youssef M. Ibrahim, Nov. 15, 1988
  8. The PLO and the Gulf Crisis, Philip Mattar, 1994
  9. “Did you enjoy Oslo?” London’s West End applauds a failed peace process, 2018, Robert A.H. Cohen
  10. Secret Channels: The Inside Story of Arab-Israeli Peace Negotiations, 1997, Mohammed Heikal, p.10
  11. From Oslo to Jerusalem: The Palestinian Story of the Secret Negotiations, 2006, Ahmed Qurei
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The US was the broker for the Oslo Accords and touted itself as an "honest broker". It was not then as was immediately obvious to anyone who followed the Israeli-Palestine conflict and nor is it now. The US policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict closely tracks that of Israel itself rather than being an independently thoight out one.

An interesting parallel is in Mandatory Palestine. The Covenant of the League of Nations defined class A mandates - which included Palestine - as regions which had attained a sufficient level of development that made them "provisionally independent states". Also various British and Allied pledges supported the Palestinian claim. However, it was only after three years of a revolt that the British reluctantly and conditionally admitted the principle of independence. But they always intended to subvert this promise. This is clear from the minutes of a British cabinet meeting in Feb 23, 1939 where it appears the British colonial secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, and his cabinet colleagues meant to prevent Palestinian representative government whilst 'supporting' the independence of Palestine.

Likewise with the US when it came to brokering a peace between Israel & Palestine. What was implied or promised was never to actually be. There were many Palestinians, individuals as well as groups that saw through this charade. For example, according to Anne Le More in International Assistance to tye Palestinians after Oslo: Political Guilt, Wasted Money:

Oslo was opposed by the islamic movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, parties on the left such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and also by intellectuals, mainstream politicians amd former peace negotiators such as Haydar Abd al-Shafi, Karma Nabulsi and Edward Said. The latter who famously described the agreement as a "Palestianian Versailles."

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    This doesn't answer the question 'why did Arafat accept the terms', if everyone 'saw through this charade'. Was he an American agent? Also remember that many Israelis, 'individuals as well as groups' believed this was a surrender and betrayal (with the well-known result). Finally, it's worth noting (for the sake of clarity) that the meaning of the word 'Palestine' between the 2nd and 3rd paragraph is very different.
    – Zeus
    Apr 19, 2022 at 0:42
  • @Zeus: What I'm saying is that the PLO was in a weak position due to the 'dishonest' brokering of the US and this forced the acceptance of an agreement that was deterimental of the Palestinian position. No, Arafat was not an American agent. Apr 19, 2022 at 3:41
  • @Zeus: And No, I did answer the question. Apr 19, 2022 at 4:02

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