The Last Days of the Oslo Accords

The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has finally hit a dead end. With his current quest for a UN Security Council “timetable for an Israeli withdrawal” almost certain to be either vetoed or rejected, the Palestinian leader faces further rejection by his own people. In the latest polls, his popularity on the West Bank has sunk to the lowest percentage in the history of such opinion-taking. If an election were to be held today, Abbas would most likely be easily defeated by the Hamas candidate. But with a unity government in place, elections between Fatah and Hamas are scheduled to take place within the next six months. As the diplomatic horizon closes and the prospect of an election nears, Abbas’s rhetoric grows more militant, as does the total level of PA incitement.

Within the Palestinian community, only a very small minority still believes that an independent West Bank state (with East Jerusalem as its capital) remains a feasible diplomatic objective. And of course the majority of Palestinians are correct. Because complete independence was never a notion that any Israeli government (left or right) could ever agree to. This has always been the essential fallacy of the Oslo Accords. The Palestinians had assumed that the border with Jordan would be under their complete control, and that even with a so-called “demilitarized state”, the blurring of this key security border could become a fait accompli over time. But from Rabin onward, no such notion has ever been entertained by either the center-left or the center-right in the Jewish state. In other words, the vast majority of Israelis have always held that Israeli control of the Jordan River border is, indeed, essential in any peace accord with the Palestinians.

As of this very moment, a solid three-quarters of the Israeli electorate are firmly against any plan in which Israeli troops would be forced to leave the Jordan Valley. In a most recent poll commissioned by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (conducted by Shivukim-Panorama on October 12-14), 75% of Israeli Jews came out in opposition to such an idea. And most astounding of all, a majority of left-wing voters (52%) were in agreement with their center-right fellow citizens. Prime Minister Rabin would have been pleased. In fact, all the former Labor hawks of Israeli history would have been pleased.

Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama need to study this poll and understand its results. Any thought of an American plan that would require an Israeli withdrawal from the essential territory of the Jordan Valley will be firmly rejected by the Israeli people. The timing of such a plan — in the middle of the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the war against ISIS — would be a grave mistake and engender a major crisis in American-Israeli relations. In all likelihood, Prime Minister Netanyahu would call for an election which would be run as a referendum on the so-called Kerry-Obama plan. Certainly the Democratic Party would be extremely reluctant to enter into the 2016 presidential election season with its lame-duck administration in Washington at severe odds with both its own presidential candidate and a firmly entrenched new Israeli government (maybe even a broad-based national unity government) committed to never retreating to the “suicide lines” of 1967.

So where does all this leave the moribund “peace process”? The short answer is: It is very difficult to see any way forward if Palestinian elections usher in the rise of an Hamas president. But without some dramatic new turn of events, this prospect could become very real. With the Oslo process blocked (after twenty-one years, nothing has been achieved), the diplomatic sun appears to be setting. A fourth round of negotiations, based on the misplaced outcome perceptions of the Palestinian Authority, will yield only further recriminations directed by both parties at one another. The UN road is a strict Palestinian monopoly and seeks to bypass the necessity of negotiation. But the negotiations have failed because the very concept of a Palestinian-Jordanian border is outside the central strategic Israeli imperative for security. So what’s to be done?

Obviously nothing, if Hamas gets elected. But postponing elections (without some dramatic, new turn-of-events happenstance) will only work to weaken Abbas and call into question the entire Palestinian administration on the West Bank itself. In other words, we’re all at checkmate. We can’t move forward with elections on the West Bank, and we can’t postpone them. At risk is the very institution of Palestinian government. So what would constitute a dramatic, new turn-of-events happenstance? What can be done is for Israel to recognize the Palestinian Authority as the government of a Palestinian state. This state’s initial authority would reside within the autonomous communities of the West Bank, while a finalized definition of its jurisdiction and the nature of its sovereignty within the disputed territories would begin as a new state-to-state negotiation. In other words, Israel would recognize the PA as the State of the Arab people of Palestine and Palestine would recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people. The final relationship of the two states would be left in abeyance, while the interim phase of negotiations would be between equal diplomatic state entities. Palestine would be a recognized UN member state, but its borders and final authority would be subject to Israeli agreement. Hamas would be left out in the cold (unless, of course, it also recognized Israel).

From the very beginning of the Oslo Accords, I didn’t believe that they could work. I never trusted Arafat and his team to be men of genuine peace. So far, Abbas and company have not proved me wrong. I believed in Rabin and knew that he would stand up for Israel’s vital security interests. But I always feared those in the far-left who appeared comfortable with the 1967 “suicide lines”. And while I’m not a Labor hawk, I believe that the majority of the Labor Party (the 52%) truly wish for a secure and secular peace with the Palestinians. But as a “national dove”, I have yet to be convinced that a genuine peace with the Arab Muslim people of Palestine is even attainable. I believed that the facts on the ground were religiously justifiable, and that genuine peace could not be established without a permanent Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. As a religious Jew, I am ready to defend the concept of shared-rule for the disputed territories and Jerusalem as a political necessity; I am even prepared to defend the concept theologically. And though I would be unhappy without at least religious equality within the heartland of Judea and Samaria, for the sake of a genuine peace (for generations to come) I would accept a Rabin-like outcome if, through elections, that was the will of the Jewish people of Israel.

But these are definitely the last days of the Oslo Accords. And without a dramatic new turn of events, any hope of a regional alliance system leading to a balance of power and a moderation of hegemonic tendencies (both Sunni and Shia) will be impossible. With the Iran nuclear negotiations on the verge of either a bad deal or stalemate, the current prospects for the region remain dire. The last thing that the Middle East needs now is for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to end in utter failure.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).