In the Israeli public, many claim that the Oslo agreements, which are probably the most advanced diplomatic action between the sides throughout history, have failed. This argument is used often to present the diplomatic solution as unachievable. What is this argument actually based on?
The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 through 1995, were intended to grant Palestinians autonomy over certain areas of the West Bank and Gaza. In return for this, the Palestinians were to recognize Israel's right to exist, and renounce violence and terrorism. Final status negotiations were to be conducted in 1999 that would resolve remaining issues, such as administration over Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, as well as the fate of Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in other Arab countries.
Some of the terms of the agreements were quickly fulfilled. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat stated recognition of Israel, and an interim Palestinian government was established which Israel granted control over much of the West Bank and Gaza.
The West Bank and Gaza were divided into three areas. In Area A, Palestinians would have full military and civil control. This area consists of densely populated Palestinian metropolitan areas. In Area B, the Palestinians would have civil control, but the area would be under Israeli military control. In Area C, Israel would have full military and civil control. Area C contains all Israeli settlements, as well as the Jordan Valley.
Despite Israel's withdrawal from much of the West Bank and Gaza, and despite the PLO's recognition of the state of Israel, many terms of the agreement were not met. Despite Arafat's renouncement of terrorism, Israeli fatalities from terrorist attacks increased after the Oslo Accords were signed.
However, the primary reason for statements that the Oslo Accords have failed is the failure of final status negotiations to reach an agreement, and the subsequent Second Intifada. The 2000 Camp David Summit was intended to produce an agreement that would create a Palestinian state, permanently resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Summit did not result in an agreement. Arafat rejected every Israeli offer, and the collapse of the summit resulted in the Second Intifada. The Second Intifada was a Palestinan uprising that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, and over a thousand Israelis. Many Palestinian militant organizations, including Arafat's Fatah, engaged in terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, violating the PLO's renouncement of violence.
Further developments failed to fully resolve the conflict. While Israelis and Palestinians have attempted final status negotiations again, none have so far resulted in an agreement. Violence persists as well, particularly from Gaza. Though the security fence around the West Bank has substantially reduced the number of terrorist attacks, Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to launch rocket attacks from Gaza.
Many of the aspects of the Oslo Accords that were intended to be interim still persist today. The West Bank is still divided into areas A, B, and C, and the Palestinian Authority still governs the West Bank, though Hamas is currently in control of Gaza, boycotting the PA.
None of this is to say that the ultimate goals of the Oslo Accords are unachievable. Nothing that has happened since their signing precludes the establishment of a Palestinian state. Indeed, offers to create one have been made as recently as 2014. However, the Oslo Accords were intended to lay the foundation for the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and at least so far, the conflict has yet to end.
The Oslo Accords were a set of agreements—Oslo I, the Gaza–Jericho Agreement and Oslo II—between the state of Israel (lead by prime minster Yitzhak Rabin) and the Palestine Liberation Organization(lead by Yasser Arafat), internationally regarded as the representative of the Palestinian people. The principal aim of the accords was solving the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict via a peace treaty based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338.
Oslo I was roughly a framework for negotiations, the Gaza-Jericho agreement provided for a limited amount of Palestinian autonomy within the Gaza Strip and Jericho following IDF redeployment, and the third agreement, Oslo II, divided the West Bank into areas with the goal of interim self-government pending final status negotiations, which would include the "difficult" issues: the division of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, the borders, Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, as well as security. This interim period was meant be at most five years. Areas A and B were Palestinian areas; they had full control over area A but Israel retained security control of Area B. Area C, easily the largest region, consisted of land (including the settlements) Israel retained control of.
Israelis argue that one of the major reasons that the Oslo Accords failed was due to Palestinian terrorism, a view which many Israelis in fact continue to hold today. This is not wholly untrue, of course - terrorism targeting Israeli civilians from the Palestinian side, chiefly from Hamas, was quite common during this period. This view however is unnuanced and one-sided. During May 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party were elected. Ideologically, the Likud party was and is averse to the idea of a Palestinian state and any meaningful negotiations. The goal of this new government was therefore to impede negotiations through the building of settlements. Additionally, Netanyahu had an extremely intransigent position with respect to the division of Jerusalem. The role ideology played in Israeli politics, in particular the notion that the Jewish people had a right to all of Eretz Yisrael, mustn't be understated; indeed, members of the fanatical religious right assassinated Rabin in 1995.
A general theme which is seen to emerge in Israeli discourse was that the Palestinian "state" was never to really be a "state", but rather roughly an autonomous bantustan. Thus, even the best offers made during the year 2000 would not have offered Palestinians full self determination; Israeli troops would remain stationed in the Jordan Valley, the airspace would remain controlled, and the Palestinian state would lack an actual military. Prior to Barak, the Israeli government's goal was, in the words of political scientist Norman Finkelstein, "bantustanization" (see Morris, 2001 ch. 13-14 and Shlaim, 2014 ch. 12-13 for further discussion of Israel's aims during the Oslo period) with Israel maintaining (and expanding) remaining settlement blocs whilst giving Palestinians nominal autonomy in certain regions. Israel's disregard for the potential the settlement building had to disrupt the fragile peace process contributed to the demise of the Oslo process.
Observe the following graph. In particular, note the growth from the mid-nineties to the early 2000s. The settlements played an important role in the Oslo Peace Process.
Subsequently, the election of the moderate Ehud Barak in 1999 implied that there was still indeed hope for peace. Barak was a pragmatic man, much less ideologically committed than Netanyahu but nevertheless the settlement growth continued. Two main peace efforts having to do with the final status negotiations occurred during his years as prime minister: the 2000 Camp David Summit and the Taba Summit. These talks failed, and the Second Intifada, the second Palestinian uprising against Israel, ensued. It is a matter of controversy who is to blame for the failure of these talks. A common view is that Arafat rejected a "generous" offer, though this view has been challenged by a number of observers(see 2). The persistent Palestinian terrorism, cumulatively resulting in hundreds of Israeli casualties, lead the Israelis to elect the hard-liner Ariel Sharon, who was in many ways much more extreme than Netanyahu. Palestinian terrorism and the subsequent (often ruthless) Israeli response polarized both sides politically. Though there was an attempt by the US in 2003 at restarting the peace process with the Road Map, this was ultimately a fruitless endeavour.
In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza. Israel supporters regard this as yet another demonstration of Israel's desire for peace, though Sharon's confidant admitted that the goal was to "freeze the peace process" and consolidate a grip on the West Bank (see 3).
Israel has erected a wall inside the West Bank, deviating substantially from the 1949 armistice lines (the internationally recognized borders of the state of Israel) with the ostensible aim of stopping Palestinian terrorist attacks. The role of this wall is a matter of debate, with Israel-supporters presenting convincing statistics regarding the drop in terrorist attacks from the West Bank, and Palestinian-supporters noting that the wall is an exercise in unilateralism and is meant to expropriate swaths of land.
In 2006, Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group, was elected in the Gaza Strip. There have since been several wars, most notably last year in 2014. The common view is that Hamas fires rockets into Israel and Israel responds militarily and by maintaining a blockade. The nature of the Hamas-Israel conflict is as well a matter of heated political debate.
In summary, much of the Israeli viewpoint can be reduced to two words: Palestinian terrorism. The Israeli view is that Arafat started the Intifada and remained an unrepentant terrorist until his death in 2004. Moreover, the one issue which the Israelis are resolutely opposed to which the Palestinians have not officially wavered is the right of return, which Israelis believe would most likely result in "the destruction of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people". Palestinians have not recognized Israel as a Jewish state, and this was always a major impasse during Oslo and indeed is currently as well.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, note the common human rights violations in the territories, the settlement growth and the myriad historical injustices, starting in 1948 with the Nakba, that they have been forced to endure as a people.
Ultimately, however, since the conflict has not ended yet, it is difficult to say what historians will regard the Oslo process when (or, as disheartening it is to admit, if) this conflict ends, for the Oslo agreement, particularly the original letters of recognition between the PLO and Israel, did have the positive effect of initiating meaningful and lasting dialogue between Fatah and Israel; it will more or less be the basis of any future agreement.
Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist–Arab Conﬂict, 1881–2001 (Vintage Books, 2001)
Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (London, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014)