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Oslo Accords

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Peace Process: Still Dead

Like other U.S. presidents before him, Donald Trump invited the current Palestinian leader to the White House and told him that there was a “very good chance” of a peace settlement between Israel and a soon-to-be-independent state called Palestine.

The current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, did not break with tradition either. Like his predecessor Yasser Arafat (who visited the White Hours 24 times during Bill Clinton’s two terms as president), Abbas concluded his visit on Wednesday with an optimistic remark: “Now, Mr. President, with you we have hope.” But the “peace process” is still dead.

It has been dead for 22 years now, ever since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. That was the peace deal that enshrined the “two-state solution”, with Israeli and Palestinian states living side-by-side in peace, as the agreed goal of the peace talks. But the Jewish fanatic who murdered Rabin in 1995 for promising the Palestinians a state killed the Oslo Accords, too.

During the election that followed to replace Rabin, the radical Hamas movement, which opposed any compromise peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, launched a massive terrorist campaign inside Israel. Its purpose was to drive Israeli voters into the arms of the right-wing Likud party, which also opposed the peace deal. It succeeded.

The winner of the 1996 election was Binyamin Netanyahu, and he has been prime minister for more than half the time since then. Only once, in a single speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, has he publicly accepted the principle of a demilitarized but independent Palestinian state in at least some of the territories conquered by Israel in 1967. But that was just to please the United States; he didn’t actually mean it.

During the last Israeli election campaign in 2015, an interviewer from the Israeli news site NRG asked Netanyahu if it was true that a Palestinian nation would never be formed while he is prime minister. “Bibi” (as he is known in Israel) replied simply: “Indeed.”

Bibi is generally more cautious than that, communicating his true views on the “two-state solution” to the Israeli public by nods and winks. He needs to reassure the Israelis who vote for him that it will never happen, but too much frankness annoys Washington, which prefers to pretend that somehow, some time, a Palestinian state is still possible.

The ministers who populate Netanyahu’s cabinet are not under the same pressure to go along with the pretense, because most of what they say stays in Hebrew. British journalist Mehdi Hasan recently collected some of their more revealing remarks, like Interior Minister Silvan Shalom’s speech to a meeting of Likud party activists in 2012: “We are all against a Palestinian state, there is no question about it.”

Or Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who said in 2013: “We need to state clearly that there won’t be a Palestinian state west of the Jordan river.” Or frankest of all, Science and Technology Minister Danny Danon: “Enough with the two-state solution. Land-for-peace is over. We don’t want a Palestinian state.”

So this umpteenth attempt to revive the corpse of the late lamented peace process is pure charade. It’s something that American presidents do, mostly for domestic reasons, and Mahmoud Abbas goes along with it because he is desperately in need of some face-time with a leader who really is important. (Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority for four years in 2005, but there has been no election since.)

There’s plenty of blame to go around. The main Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas withdrew its recognition of Abbas in 2009, and has since ruled the Gaza Strip, its stronghold, as a separate Palestinian proto-state. This gives the Israelis the quite reasonable excuse that there is no united Palestinian authority they can negotiate with.

The brutal truth is that the two-state solution’s time is past. Israel has become so strong militarily that it is the region’s dwarf superpower, so it no longer needs to trade land for peace. Many of the neighbouring Arab states, obsessed by their own much bigger security threats and civil wars, have been co-operating quietly with Israel for years now.

Israeli rule over four and a half million non-citizen Palestinians has already lasted half a century. There is no convincing reason why it cannot last for another half-century, although there is bound to be an eruption of Palestinian resistance from time to time.

The One-State Solution

5 November 2012

The One-State Solution

By Gwynne Dyer

“Everybody knows how this will end,” wrote Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s best-known journalists, in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot recently. “There will be a bi-national (state).” The “two-state solution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead; long live the “one-state solution.”

The two-state solution, promised by the Oslo Accords of 1993, was the goal of the “peace process” of the past twenty years. It envisaged the creation of a Palestinian state in the one-fifth of the former colony of Palestine that did not end up under Israeli rule after the war of 1948. That Palestinian mini-state, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, would live alongside Israel in peace, and the long, bitter struggle over Palestine would end happily.

That Palestinian state is no longer a viable possibility, mainly because there are now half a million Jewish settlers living amongst the two million Palestinians in the West Bank and former East Jerusalem. “I do not give up on the two-state solution on ideological grounds,” wrote Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger in September. “I give up on it because it will not happen.”

The greatest triumph of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, has been to make the two-state solution impossible. Both men pretended to accept the Oslo Accords in order to ward off foreign pressure on Israel, but both worked hard and successfully to sabotage them by more than tripling the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank in only twenty years.

Now the job is done, and it is not only Israelis who can read the writing on the wall. Moderate Palestinians, never all that enthralled with the prospect of a tiny “independent” country completely surrounded by the Israeli army, are also giving up on the two-state idea. As Ahmed Qurei, who led the Palestinian delegation that negotiated the Oslo Accords, wrote recently: “We must seriously think about closing the book on the two-state solution.”

So the one-state solution is creeping back onto the agenda, if only tentatively. The current Israeli government will have nothing to do with it, since endless, futile talk about an independent Palestinian state serves Netanyahu’s purposes so well. But one day there will be a different government in Israel, and the Palestinians will still be there. What are the odds that the one-state solution might then get real traction?

In a sense, the single state already exists: Israel has controlled the West Bank militarily since the conquest of 1967, and until recently it occupied the Gaza Strip as well. Almost 40 percent of Israelis already support a solution that would simply incorporate the West Bank into Israel permanently.

But what would Israel do with those two million extra Palestinians who would then live within the country’s expanded borders? Combine them with the million and a half Palestinians in Israel, the descendants of those who were not driven out in 1948, and there would be 3.5 million Palestinians in a one-state Israel that included almost all the land west of the Jordan River.

Add the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who will number another 2 million in five years time, and there would be 5.5 million Palestinians in Israel. That would mean there were almost as many Palestinians in Israel as there are Jews.

That unwelcome prospect is probably why Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew all Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and sealed the border in 2005: if there were ever a one-state solution, he didn’t want those extra two million Palestinians to be part of it. He did want to keep the West Bank, on the other hand – but even without the Gaza Strip, the one-state solution would produce an Israel whose population was more than one-third Palestinian.

This is precisely why an increasing number of Palestinians favour the one-state solution. They have tried guerilla war to get their lands and their political rights back, to no avail. They have tried terrorism, which didn’t work either. They tried negotiation for twenty years, and that didn’t work. So maybe the best tactic would be to change the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an international problem to a civil rights problem.

So the Palestinians should just accept the permanent annexation of the West Bank by Israel, argue the one-staters. Indeed, they should actively seek it. They are already Israeli subjects, by every objective measure of their condition. If they become Israeli citizens instead, then the question of their status becomes a civil rights issue, to be pursued non-violently – and perhaps with a greater chance of success.

That is the logic of the pro-one-state argument among the Palestinians, and it is flawless if you assume that Palestinians would enjoy full rights of citizenship once the West Bank was legally part of Israel. But that is rather unlikely, as the status of Israel’s existing Palestinian citizens already demonstrates. They are much poorer and less influential politically than their Jewish fellow-citizens.

A new public opinion poll in Israel by the Dialog polling group reveals that almost 70 percent of Israeli Jews would object to giving West Bank Palestinians the vote even if Israel annexed the territory they live in. The only alternative is an apartheid-style state where only the Jewish residents have rights, but most Israelis seem quite relaxed about that. The Palestinians are probably heading up another blind alley.

But then, all the alleys are blind.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6, 10 and 11. (“So…traction”; and “Add…Palestinian”)


After the “Peace Process”

1 May 2012

After the “Peace Process”

By Gwynne Dyer

The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, were supposed to lead, through a “peace process”, to the final solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: two sovereign states living side by side in peace. It would have been a sulky, grumpy peace, and the Palestinians would only have got a tiny, overcrowded, impoverished and completely demilitarised country, but at least they would have had a state at last.

The “peace process”, alas, actually died some time ago. It has been almost a decade since insiders really believed that it was going to end up in the “two-state solution” that was envisaged at Oslo. Now that the corpse has finally stopped twitching, it’s time to consider what other roads to a permanent peace settlement remain open. If any.

Yossi Beilin, then Israel’s deputy foreign minister, initiated the secret negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords 20 years ago, but now he has lost almost all hope. Last month he wrote an open letter to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, the interim body that was supposed to morph into the government of the Palestinian state once all the details had been settled. He urged Abbas to dissolve the PA.

“No one thought the PA would be there for 20 years,” he wrote. “It should have ended. So I find myself in the bizarre situation in which I am actually asking to put an end to it. But the bottom line is that, paradoxically, all those who cursed Oslo are now cherishing it.”

What Beilin means is that the Oslo agreement, which was originally “a tremendous victory for the peace camps on both sides,” has actually become a means by which those who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state can spin out the negotiations endlessly. It is now only “a device that has allowed the parties to block a two-state solution.” And who is the main culprit on the Israeli side, in his view? Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Yuval Diskin, the recently retired head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, is even blunter in condemning Netanyahu. “Forget all the stories they’re selling you in the media about how we want to talk but (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) doesn’t. We’re not talking with the Palestinians because this government has no interest in talking to the Palestinians.”

The reason, Diskin says, is because Netanyahu fears that “even the smallest step forward on this issue (of a Palestinian state)” would cause the coalition he leads to collapse. Removing at least most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a precondition for a Palestinian state, but several of the parties in Netanyahu’s coalition would immediately pull out if he agreed to do that.

“Yuval Diskin is a thug,” wrote columnist Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth. “Only one thing can be said to his credit: he is telling the truth.” Moreover, it is a truth that extends beyond Netanyahu’s current government. It is almost impossible to construct a coalition in Israel that does not include some of those pro-settler parties, so not even a leader who actually favoured a Palestinian state could do what is necessary to achieve one.

That is the main reason why the two-state solution envisaged in the Oslo Accords is dead. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good alternatives.

Ahmed Qurei, who led the Palestinian delegation that negotiated the Oslo Accords, recently wrote: “We must seriously think about closing the book on the two-state solution and turning over a new leaf.” But the only alternative is the one-state solution, and that poses equally big problems for both sides.

The single state would contain all the Jews and Palestinians who now live in the lands between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. All this land has been under Israeli control since the 1967 war, when Israel conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but almost half of the residents are Palestinians – and they have a higher birth rate than Israeli Jews.

So a single state for Israelis and Palestinians would involve either permanent Israeli military rule over a large and rapidly growing Palestinian minority, or a binational state where everybody, Jewish or Palestinian, has equal rights, including the vote. But since there are going to be more Palestinians than Jews on this land within ten years, the single state with universal suffrage would no longer be a Jewish state.

A one-state solution that does not give Palestinians equal rights, said Beilin, “means a Jewish minority dominating a Palestinian majority in a few years from now, and that is something that neither Israelis nor the world would accept.” But he adds: “Is it possible to have one state in which a Palestinian will be the prime minister or president? No, Israelis will not accept that.”

There are only three options: the two-state solution, permanent Israeli military rule over a Palestinian majority, or a single state that, although democratic, is no longer exclusively Jewish in character. Of the three, the least objectionable to all the people involved would be the two-state solution. Which is already dead in terms of Israeli domestic politics.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 13. (“Yuval..one”; and “A one-state…that”)

Yasser’s Legacy

29 October 2004

Yasser’s Legacy

By Gwynne Dyer

Yasser Arafat isn’t dead yet. The “blood disorder” that forced him to desert his besieged headquarters in Ramallah and fly to Paris for medical treatment may not kill him, but he is probably never going home again, and his long reign as the undisputed leader of the Palestinian people is certainly over. So it is time to write his political obituary, if not his personal one.

Frantic speculation has already begun about who succeeds him, but it’s unlikely that any single successor can command the support and respect that Arafat enjoyed in the deeply divided Palestinian community at home and in exile. The notion that a new Palestinian leader might be able to reopen peace talks with Israel is built on the myth that they only failed because of Arafat’s stubborn personality. His career seems to be ending in failure — and yet he did achieve something.

He should have died at least ten years ago, of course. It would have been better for his reputation, for he never had the skills to run a proto-state like the Palestinian Authority: even as “President” of the PA, he remained at heart a guerilla chieftain who ruled through cronies and relatives, coopted his opponents with bribes of one sort or another, and never failed to appoint at least two rivals to any position of power.

It would also have been better for peace in the region, for a more astute Palestinian leader might just have pulled off a final peace agreement at the Camp David talks with Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000. It was already late in the game, for the 1995 assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Arafat’s partner for peace in the Oslo Accords, and the subsequent delaying tactics of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996-99, used up most of the available political time and patience, but a more flexible and imaginative man than Arafat might just have managed it.

Arafat didn’t. He baulked at the fact that the Israelis would put none of their proposals into writing (because Barak’s cabinet was already disintegrating back home over the scale of the concessions he was offering). He was utterly unprepared psychologically for the fact that a final deal would mean that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian refugees would never see their ancestral homes again (although everybody else had known it for a decade).

It has been argued that Arafat was wise to refuse the deal Barak was offering because it was only half a loaf, and anyway Barak’s government was already falling. But it was as much of the loaf as Israeli public opinion would accept, and if the deal had been rejected by a subsequent Israeli government after Barak fell, it would have been Israel that took the blame, not the Palestinians.

Arafat was too cautious, and so the deal failed. A month later, Ariel Sharon marched onto the square in front of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem guarded by hundreds of Israeli soldiers and snipers, with the manifest intention of provoking a violent Palestinian response. The Palestinians threw rocks, the snipers opened fire, and that triggered the intifada, just as Sharon (and maybe Barak too, by that time) intended. Four years later, all the peace plans lie in ruins and nothing awaits the Palestinians and the Israelis but endless violence.

So what did Arafat do right? Just two things, but they were big ones. First, he broke the hold of Arab governments who tried to control the Palestinian resistance movements for their own purposes. Then, even more importantly, he made the whole world acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian nation. He did that, for the most part, by successful acts of terrorism.

When Arafat created the Fatah guerilla movement in 1959, the Palestinian refugees who had fled or been driven from their homes in 1948 in what is now Israel were known simply as “refugees”: stateless Arabs who could theoretically be “resettled” anywhere. Arab governments resisted this definition, but in the West it was universal. Arafat changed all that.

The key event in his life was the Six-Day War of 1967, in which Israel conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where most of the 1948 “refugees” had ended up. In response to that disaster, he took Fatah into the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1968, became the PLO’s leader, and launched the campaign of international terrorism that made him famous.

It was universally condemned in the West, and all the authorities vowed that terrorism would never succeed, but by the time Arafat called off the campaign in 1989 he had achieved his goal. The world no longer talked about “refugees”; it talked about “Palestinians”, and just to give them that name implicitly recognised their right to a particular territory. US and Israeli recognition of Arafat as a valid negotiating partner, the Oslo Accords of 1993, and the peace negotiations that took up most of the 1990s were the result.

They failed, and Arafat bears a share (though only a share) of the blame. As he departs from power and perhaps from the land of the living, the future of the Palestinians and the Israelis has rarely looked grimmer. But the history of the future is just as long as the history of the past; we just don’t know it yet. There is still hope, and the historians of the future may be kinder to Yasser Arafat than the judgement of his contemporaries.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 6. (“Frantic…something”;and “It has…Palestinians”)