Wednesday, July 24, 2024

What led to the Oslo "Peace Process" by Elaine Hagopian

Frequently Asked Questions

Fact sheet # 2

What led to the Oslo "Peace Process"

Dr. Elaine C. Hagopian, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Simmons College, Boston

What events led to the Oslo “Peace Process”?

In June 1967, Israel conquered and occupied the remainder of Palestine, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai. [See Fact Sheet One on the Origin of the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict for background information up to and including the June 1967 war.] The conquered Palestinian territories included Gaza, Eastern Palestine (known after June 1967 as the West Bank of the Jordan River), and the Eastern part of Jerusalem (known after June 1967 as East Jerusalem). Previously, Gaza had been administered by Egypt after the 1948 war, and East Jerusalem and the West Bank were occupied and annexed by Jordan.

In November 1967, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242 (reaffirmed later in 338) calling upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied Arab territories, and emphasizing the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war. Israel refused to comply with the Security Council Resolution. Instead, Israel initiated actions to transform the Palestinian area and tie it to Israel proper. In East Jerusalem, Israel bulldozed the 350 homes in the Moghrebi area that had been home to hundreds of residents, in order to create a new plaza in front of the Western Wall (located below the Harem es Sharif), sacred to Jews. The leveling of the area was so instant that it belied long-existing Israeli plans for the transformation of all of Jerusalem, awaiting only the opportunity of conquest, which was presented by the 1967 war. Israel also initiated its plan for establishing colonies in and around Jerusalem, in the West Bank and in Gaza as well as in the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai. The latter were removed however in 1978 when Egypt signed a peace treaty with, and beneficial to Israel. Transforming Jerusalem and planting settlers in the occupied Arab territories were/are clear violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 (II), which designated all of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum to be administered by the U.N. Trusteeship Council, as well as the whole range of recognized humanitarian law. It was obvious that Israel was intent on keeping the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories. It has consistently increased and expanded its colonization of these areas, attempting to create facts on the ground with a large Israeli Jewish population in the areas. To date, Israeli settlers number 400,000 in East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. The settlers number approximately 17,000 in the Syrian Golan Heights. This fact sheet will focus on the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

From 1967 to 1990, a series of “peace” initiatives were proposed ranging from the Rogers Plan of 1969 to the 1977-78 non-starter, Carter period Camp David I “Framework for Peace in the M.E.”, the Reagan Plan of September 1982, and repackaged variations of these plans. None of these initiatives included the Palestinian resistance movement, i.e. the Palestine Liberation Organization, as the representative of the Palestinian people.

The focus was on Jordan as the negotiating partner to be underpinned by Israeli-created Palestinian collaborator Village Leagues in the occupied territories. None of these got off the ground primarily because Israel was not interested in yielding any of the occupied territories, and due to the fact that authentic Palestinian representation was excluded from all of the plans. Moreover, the United States was able to effectively exclude the international community from participation in the proposed plans except in a symbolic way. International actors, including the then Soviet Union, Europeans, and the United Nations, were more inclined to balance than was the U.S. and its ally, Israel.

Nonetheless, momentum was building from European and non-Western sources for a two-state solution and recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. In June1980, Western European nations came out with the Venice Declaration, which accepted the legitimacy of the Palestinian national movement and its leadership, the PLO, and affirmed the illegality of the 1967 Israeli occupation of Arab territories as well as continued Israeli colonization of these territories. They reaffirmed U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, and equal rights for the Palestinian people in keeping with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3236 of November 22, 1974. That latter established the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty. Feeling the pressure for a solution that would remove Israel from the conquered Palestinian territories, Israel launched the June1982 invasion of Lebanon where the bulk of the PLO institutions and guerrilla fighters were located. The Israeli goal was two fold: 1) to crush the PLO, and hence the symbol and representative of Palestinian right to self-determination; and 2) to facilitate a Christian state in Lebanon in alliance with Israel. The partner in that effort was to be the Maronite (Latin Church)-led Phalanges party headed by Bashir Gemayel. The Israeli strategy was aimed at dividing the region into weak sectarian states, a policy previously held by the European imperial powers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to the end of WWII. Although the PLO and its fighters were pushed out of Lebanon after the war, relocating primarily in Tunisia, the PLO was not destroyed, and Lebanon did not become a Christian state allied to Israel. Nonetheless, before failure was evident, Israeli forces under Ariel Sharon’s command facilitated the 1982 massacre of some 3000 Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut as part of the effort to force Palestinians to flee to neighboring Syria.

From 1982 to December 1987, the Palestinian struggle faded from the world and Arab screen. The Iraq/Iran war, 1980-1988, in the strategic Arabian/Persian Gulf area drew all the attention. Recognizing that the Arab states had taken Palestine off their list of priorities during this period, the Palestinians under occupation in Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem initiated their intifada (literally meaning shaking off, i.e., the occupation) on December 9, 1987. The popular uprising used a combination of strikes and stone-throwing sessions against Israeli occupation forces. Minister of Defense, Yitzhak Rabin, undertook a policy of breaking the bones of the stone-throwers. In spite of his best efforts, he was unable to quell the uprising, which had become costly to Israel.

In response to the intifada, the Palestine National Council (Palestinian parliament), voted to declare Palestinian Independence on November 15, 1988. [Jordan had already relinquished its claim to East Jerusalem and the West Bank in August 1988, a “claim” that was originally based on Jordanian annexation of these areas after the 1948 war.] The announcement made by PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat included recognition of U.N. Security Council 242, which had as one of its articles (1-ii) the “acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area ... within secure and recognized boundaries from threats or acts of force.” In effect, the PLO recognized the State of Israel, which did not include the occupied territories of course. This confirmed the two-state principle, as originally proposed in the November 29, 1947, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181(ii) to partition Palestine into two states. The Israelis were not pleased by the Palestinian declaration and recognition. To preempt other possible initiatives resulting from the Palestinian move, Israeli Prime Minister Shamir rehabilitated the 1977-78 Camp David notion of autonomy for Palestinians in the occupied territories. He later admitted that he was never serious about such proposals made in 1989 and put forward again in 1991 at the Madrid Peace Conference.

Why and how did the 1990-1991 Gulf war lead to the Madrid/Oslo “peace” process?

From its inception, Israel targeted three Arab states that could possibly challenge Israeli expansion and colonization of Palestine and other Arab territories: Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Egypt was eliminated from this trio by the Camp David 1978 peace treaty with Israel. Syria, the weakest of the three, posed less of a challenge, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. Syria had received most of its military equipment from the USSR. Syria has not been eliminated conclusively. Its remains a significant nuisance to Israel given its influence in Lebanon, and its heartland location in the Levant. Modern Iraq with its abundant resources and assumed military deterrence capability carried the Arab defense mantle. Even after the eight-year war with Khomeni’s Iran, encouraged by the United States as a means to weaken both parties, Iraq remained relatively strong. Israel took the opportunity during that war to bomb and destroy Iraq’s French-built nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. Israel continued to worry about Iraq as it perceived a new intimacy between it and the West. The U.S., which had earlier thought of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as replacing the role played for the U.S. by the overthrown Shah of Iran, became increasingly concerned about Iraq’s sense of itself as a major player in the M.E. The U.S. wanted a dependent Iraq in lockstep with U.S. interests. Israeli and U.S. interest coalesced regarding Iraq’s independent stance.

Iraq provided an excuse for U.S. military intervention in the Gulf area by its occupation of Kuwait. Saddam Hussein was angered by the Gulf states, especially Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for insufficient help in covering his war debts, and for their role in lowering oil prices on the world market, which affected Iraq’s income from oil sales negatively. Iraq also charged Kuwait with siphoning oil from one of its fields across the border.

Alleging that the American Ambassador, April Glaspie, did not object to his conveyed militant intentions toward Kuwait, Hussein understood her to mean there would be no interference from the United States. Glaspie later denied Hussein’s rendition of their meeting. Iraq went ahead and invaded and occupied Kuwait in 1990.

President George Bush reacted immediately, pushed through a U.N. resolution that “legitimized” a U.S.-led coalition of other states to “liberate” Kuwait. Bush convinced Israel to stay out of the war as his coalition had Arab states, and he did not want them to withdraw over an Israeli involvement. Nor did he want the war to be perceived as an Iraq/Israel war.. He conveyed the war as being against Iraqi aggression and occupation of Kuwait, with a possible threat to Saudi Arabia. Clearly, however, American access and control of the oil reserves in the Gulf was the real issue. The U.S.-led coalition not only pushed back the Iraqi occupation forces, but it proceeded to bomb Iraq into the pre-industrial age. Economic and military sanctions followed. Bombings on a regular basis continue up to the present. The country has been split into three zones. Effectively, Iraq was knocked out as a deterrent force to Israel. Moreover, the United States secured “rights” to pre-position its military with armament and air capacity on Kuwaiti and Saudi soil, what scholar Naseer Aruri has called the re-colonization of the area. In effect, the U.S. military controls the whole of the strategic Gulf area and its oil reserves.

PLO Chairman, Yasir Arafat, made the fatal mistake of appearing to side with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Considering that Israel was occupying Palestine, Arafat’s perceived support of Hussein was read as approving the occupation of Kuwait. The Arab Gulf states were angered by his actions, and they withdrew further from supporting the PLO and the Palestinian cause. President George Bush saw this as an opportune time to deal with the Palestinian issue. Bush was seeking to consolidate the American position in the region by finishing with the one major destabilizing issue in the area, the Palestinians. Hence, in return for destroying Iraq, Israel was expected to reciprocate by accepting an American dominated “peace” initiative. Prime Minister Shamir half-heartedly went along with the initiative, but the “to be” Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin was persuaded that a “peace” advantageous to Israel could be secured, given the weakened and isolated position of the Palestinians.

The Madrid Peace Conference opened on October 30, 1991. It, as earlier “peace” initiatives, focused only on the Palestinians of the 1967 Israeli-Occupied territories. The other Palestinian constituency was left out, i.e. the Palestinian refugee diaspora. The Palestinian citizens of Israel have many grievances as well, but they are considered a matter of Israeli domestic politics. The Israelis and Americans insisted that only Palestinians from the territories could attend, and only then as part of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. PLO Chairman Arafat and the PLO itself were not recognized by the United States and Israel as the representatives of the Palestinian people. The Palestine Liberation Organization theoretically represents the whole of the Palestinian people. Israel, supported by the United States, insisted on negotiating only with those from the territories, and only as part of a Jordanian delegation. Jordan was seen by Israel and the US as ultimately the party with whom they could work out an arrangement for the Palestinians in the occupied territories without displacing Israeli control over, and exploitation of the territories. Nonetheless, the Palestinian part of the joint Jordanian/Palestinian delegation was instructed by PLO Chairman Arafat regarding bottom line terms for negotiation. He insisted that Israel must admit to being an occupying power. Israel referred to the territories as administered territories, not occupied. The point is that admission of being an occupying power means that at some point (final status agreements), it must withdraw its forces, and observe other conventions regarding occupation, including the inadmissibility of settlements and keeping any conquered land, including East Jerusalem. Israel refused, and the negotiations came to a standstill. At which point, secret channels were opened in Oslo, Norway to the PLO and Arafat. Arafat, anxious to be recognized as the negotiating partner agreed to drop the demand for Israeli admission of being an Occupying Power as recognized by the international community. Consequently, the Declaration of Principles which was signed on September 1993, and was theoretically based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, evaded the issues of full withdrawal from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, removal of settlements, restoration of resources to Palestinians in the territories, defined borders, and the outstanding UN General Assembly 194 (III) calling for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and property, with full compensation for their lost income and sufferings. Arafat made the supreme blunder of signing the Declaration of Principles, and allowing Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, etc. to be deferred to final status negotiations. In theory, it appeared that the PLO was still covering the whole of the Palestinian people and their rights, but in fact, by signing the DOP, Arafat gave Israel the “right” to negotiate the terms of those issues rather than having them based on UN Security Council Resolution 242 and previous extant resolutions. He essentially agreed to “sign now and negotiate later” as Hanan Ashrawi has often pointed out. The Oslo DOP and the derivative interim arrangements have continued to narrow the terms of negotiations and outcomes to what Israel wants, i.e. isolation of the Palestinian population on disconnected tracks of land in the territories, controlled by Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. This would allow Israel effectively to keep control of the territories and resources without having responsibility for the unwanted Palestinian population. The final dot was to be placed on the capitulation to Israeli demands at the final status talks in Camp David II. It was then that Arafat, wearing his hat as PLO Chairman, the actual negotiating “partner” realized that he was about to give away the Palestinian patrimony and refugee rights. He refused.

In September, the pent-up, condensed existence of Palestinians resulting from Oslo, erupted. The match that lit the fuse was Ariel Sharon’s triumphal assertions at the Haram es Sharif in East Jerusalem. For an analysis of the terms of the Oslo agreements, see Frequently Asked Questions: Fact Sheet Three by Dr. Souad Dajani.


Naseer Aruri, The Obstruction of Peace: The U.S., Israel and the Palestinians. Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, 1995.

Burhan Dajani, “The September 1993 Israeli-PLO Documents: A Textual Analysis,” Journal of Palestine Studies. XXIII, 3, Spring 1994, pp. 5-23.

Elaine Hagopian, ”Is the Peace Process a Process for Peace?: A Retrospective Analysis of Oslo,” in William Haddad, Ghada Talhami & Janice Terry (eds.), The June 1967 War After Three Decades, AAUG Publications, Washington, D.C., pp. 51 – 78.

Donald Neff, “The U.S., Iraq, Israel, and Iran: Backdrop to War,” Journal of Palestine Studies, XX, 4, Summer 1991, pp. 23-41.

__________, “The Clinton Administration and UN Resolution 242,” Journal of Palestine Studies, XXIII, 2, Winter, 1994, pp. 20-30.

Sara Roy, The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development. Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington, D.C., 1995.

Joel Singer, “The Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements: Some Legal Aspects,” Justice, February 1994, pp. 4-13.