Twenty years after the signing of the fateful Oslo Accords between Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Knesset members are debating the merits of the peace process and the two-state solution paradigm.
Parliamentarians from both Israel’s left and right agree that the process has not yielded the results anyone hoped for, including the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians, and agree that Israelis and Palestinians are more skeptical than ever about the prospects for a negotiated settlement.
Where Knesset members disagree is on whether the process was flawed from the outset, and on whether the principles that led to the signing of the interim peace agreement should still be applied. Consequently, the 20-year anniversary of the Oslo Accords, signed Sept. 13, 1993, has not seen a celebration of the agreement’s outcome but rather a debate on its merits.
“The main lesson is that the paradigm of the left – that land for peace will bring security to the region – has failed,” Deputy Defense Minister and MK Danny Danon (Likud) told JNS.org.
On the other side of the political divide, MK Hilik (Yechiel) Bar, deputy speaker of the Knesset and secretary general of the Labor Party, said that thinking about the alternatives to the Oslo Accords and to Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations “is foolish, unfair, and it will not happen.”
“There is no other option than to have a Jewish state and a Palestinian state based on the ‘67 borders,” Bar told JNS.
Details of the current round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations are largely being kept from the public. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appear to be entertaining the possibility that a peace settlement can be reached through the current round of negotiations, most Israelis and Palestinians are not paying much attention.
In an unusual turn of events, members of Israel’s governing coalition and the prime minister’s party are coming out against negotiations, while members of the opposition are supporting the government’s initiative.
“The prime minister said clearly that he supports negotiations without preconditions. Yet he hasn’t said where he stands on the outcome of negotiations,” said Likud’s Danon.
“I think Israelis are waking up and they have understood that the idea is not valid anymore, and we see more and more Israelis shifting. We should not endorse any idea that we will give land to the Palestinians,” he said.
Labor’s Bar, however, believes it is the very distrust between Israelis and Palestinians that makes a two-state solution a necessity. Bar insists that if peace efforts had played out only slightly differently, the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank provinces of Judea and Samaria could have resulted.
“We had three major attempts to make peace,” said Bar. “One was Rabin-Arafat. The treaty was signed. But as we know, Rabin was [assassinated]. There is no way to know what would have happened if Rabin were still alive.”
The second attempt, said Bar, was between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat. During those negotiations, Barak offered Arafat more than 95 percent of the West Bank for a Palestinian state. Arafat famously rejected the offer, and embarrassed President Bill Clinton in the process.
“Arafat chose to die as a shahid [martyr], not as a peacemaker. That was his choice,” Bar said.
As for the third round, between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, “Both sides say it was Olmert’s legal problems at home in Israel that prevented the negotiations from going all the way,” Bar said.
While the three rounds of negotiations ultimately resulted in failure and greater distrust between the two sides, with a second intifada following in the wake of the Barak-Arafat parleys, Bar suggested that Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations may still deliver results.
“This current Knesset has a very clear majority for the two-state solution. I think that more than seventy Knesset Members would vote for a two-state solution if brought for a vote,” he said, adding that “the status quo is unsustainable.”
Other Knesset members are less than optimistic that negotiations will cure decades of unrest.
“When you try a certain medicine and it doesn’t work, you need to either realize the medicine doesn’t work or reanalyze the disease,” said Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud).
“Oslo was based on three incorrect assumptions,” according to Hotovely. “The first assumption is that the conflict is about territory. The second assumption is that Arabs and Jews should not live together, and that segregation and separate states can create peaceful existence. The third assumption was that the conflict was about 1967.
“[Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon proposed segregation, with the unilateral disengagement from Gaza. The result was radicalism. Hamas took over. Gaza didn’t become Singapore like many hoped it would. Instead, rockets started falling on Sderot.”
As to whether the current peace talks will yield results, Hotovely is certain they won’t.
“I’m sure Bibi Netanyahu has goodwill, but the talks will fail. The reason is because the conflict is not about [Israeli territorial expansion in] 1967, it is about Israel’s independence in 1948,” Hotovely said.
The conflict is not about territory. The conflict is religious. It may be difficult for liberals to realize that the conflict may not have a logical solution.”
“We’ve been there, we’ve done that. We’ve tried it. It failed. We need to try something else,” she said.
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