30 Years of the Oslo Accords – Insights and Lessons Learned
– a Roundtable Discussion
On September 4, 2023, to mark 30 years since the signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO and the start of the Oslo process, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Israel’s Defense & Security Forum held an expert consultation in Jerusalem that addressed different aspects connected to the Accords, the Palestinian Authority, the PLO, and Israel.
The goal of the consultation was to evaluate the policies adopted by Israel regarding the Accords, including the manner in which the Palestinian side (Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] and the Palestinian Authority [PA]) complied with its commitments. In addition, the discussions focused on shaping suggested policies for the immediate-, medium-, and long-term.
The discussions were divided into five central panels, individual presentations, and one-on-one discussions.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen:
The Foundations of the Oslo Accords
The first panel, moderated by the president of the JCPA, Dan Diker, included one of the primary architects of the Oslo Accords, Dr. Yair Hirschfeld, alongside Dr. Einat Wilf and former Israeli government Minister Brig.-Gen. (res.) Effi Eitam.
During the conversation, Dr. Hirschfeld explained how the Oslo Accords provided, in his opinion, the basis for Israel-Palestinian relations, predominantly the ability for the Palestinians to have their own leadership.
Dr. Wilf explained that, in her opinion, promoting the two-state solution was and remains an imperative Zionist goal. She added that the mistake of the Oslo Accords was to assume that the Palestinians wanted a state living side-by-side with Israel, but that at every critical juncture, the Palestinians had rejected all the offers made to realize that goal.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Effi Eitam said that the Oslo Accords were born out of subversion and that even then, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin recognized that Shimon Peres and his staff sought to change the basic ideology and mindset, undermining the legitimacy of functioning government order and conventions.
Watch this panel here:
The Israeli Media and the Oslo Accords
The second panel, moderated by journalist Nave Dromi of the Middle East Forum Israel, focused on the response of the Israeli media to the Accords. It included journalists Yossi Yehoshua and Ariel Kahane, together with Nitzan Chen, head of the Government Press Office, and Dani Zaken, acting head of Army Radio, who themselves reported on the developing Oslo Accords and their implementation.
During the session, Nitzan Chen argued that at the time the media had been recruited to support Oslo, but that due to changes in the nature of journalism, “If Oslo were today, the media would not let it get to a White House signing.” He added that the Oslo failure is no smaller than the Yom Kippur War failure.
Yossi Yehoshua argued that the IDF also went along with the Oslo negotiations or, as is well known, were kept in the dark and not consulted before the signing of the Declaration of Principles.
Watch this panel here:
The Breaching of the Oslo Accords by the Palestinians
The third panel, moderated by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, included Dr. Izabella Tabarovsky, former Member of the Israeli Knesset and human rights lawyer Michal Kotler-Wunsh, journalist and Arab Affairs expert Pinchas Inbari, Lt.-Col. (res.) and journalist Baruch Yedid, and Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. The panel focused on the many breaches of the Oslo Accords by the Palestinians, including incitement to terror and murder, the PLO/PA’s Pay-for-Slay policy, Palestinian antisemitism, and PLO/PA corruption.
During the discussions, Michal Kotler-Wunsh argued that Israel and the international community are still experiencing the Palestinians’ ignoring the conditions of international law. She added that, despite the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians have never truly dropped all the demands of Khartoum’s “Three noes.” On a positive note, she added that the Abraham Accords represent a paradigm shift in the acceptance of Israel’s existence.
Dr. Taborovsky examined the Palestinian ideology and explained how it follows Soviet propaganda that saw Zionism as an imperialist and colonialist act. She explained how PLO/PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is still acting according to his academic thesis in Soviet anti-Zionist institutions that distorts the history of the Holocaust.
Baruch Yedid explained how Abbas and his Fatah party have lost public support and are seen by the Palestinians as corrupt and inept.
Pinchas Inbari related how he was the first journalist to expose the Oslo track. He added that he doesn’t think Oslo is redeemable and that new leaders can continue it. He further noted that, in his speech before the UN last year, Abbas demanded the creation of a state not based on the 1967 lines, but rather on the borders set out in the 1947, Arab rejected, UN Partition plan.
Khaled Abu Toameh explained that the Palestinians saw Oslo as a victory and as the result of a tired Israel after the First Intifada. Abu Toameh told the story of his 1994 interview with Palestinian “police” who had just arrived in Jericho. When he asked them about “peace,” he said, “they thought I was stupid.” The uniformed men with their AK-47s said, “We are fedayeen.” Abu Toameh added, “Never did I hear a Palestinian leader say, ‘we are heading for peace.’”
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Special presentations were made by Dr. Michael Doran, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at the Hudson Institute, and lawyer and journalist Caroline Glick.
Dr. Doran spoke about the complexities of U.S. policy towards the Middle East and that it is often perceived that the task of the U.S. is to contain Israel and weaken it in order to appease Arab demands.
Watch the presentation of Dr. Doran here:
Caroline Glick spoke from personal experience of how she, in her position in the IDF, prepared and circulated reports documenting the constant Palestinian breaches of every provision of the Oslo Accords, but that the senior IDF staff became annoyed with her for bringing the information to their attention.
Watch the presentation of Caroline Glick here:
The Abuse of “Human Rights” Discourse to Undermine Israel’s Legitimacy as the Nation-State of the Jewish People
The fourth session, moderated by Lt.-Col. (res.) lawyer Maurice Hirsch, was devoted to discussing the abuse of “Human Rights” discourse to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The panel included Professor Eugene Kontorovich, Professor Greg Rose, former Italian member of parliament and journalist Dr. Fiamma Nirenstein, and lawyers Anne Herzberg, Brooke Goldstein, and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner.
Anne Herzberg discussed the involvement of NGOs, in consultation with and funded by foreign governments, participating in the coordinated attack on Israel.
Professor Kontorovitch discussed international law and Israel’s sovereign claim to the borders of the British Mandate.
Professor Rose discussed the developments in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.
Dr. Fiamma Nirenstein told the story of her meeting with Yasser Arafat and how she had asked him to draw a map dividing the area between a sovereign Israel and the future Palestinian state. She explained how Arafat became furious with her question and had her thrown out.
Brooke Goldstein claimed that the Oslo Accords were responsible for turning murders into statesmen and funneling billions into terrorism that kills thousands of innocents. She added, “We are witnessing the child intifada” where hundreds of innocent Muslim children are indoctrinated into fundamentalist Islam where they commit terrorist acts. She explained how the Oslo Accords have only increased hatred towards Jews.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner discussed the lawsuits that she spearheaded on behalf of the victims of terror against the PLO/PA. She also stressed the need to promote the bill to provide more substantial punitive damages not only for the benefit of the victims but also as a deterrent against the PA and its Pay-for-Slay policy.
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MK Yuli Edelstein
In a one-on-one conversation, the Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yuli Edelstein, spoke with the founder and chairman of Israel’s Defense and Security Forum, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman spoke to Jerusalem Center President Dan Diker.
MK Edelstein addressed subjects linked to the Oslo Accords and the negotiations to broaden the Abraham Accords to include Israeli-Saudi Arabian normalization.
Edelstein expressed his unwavering support for the legislation to provide substantial punitive damages to the victims of terror that is being discussed in the committee that he heads. He said that the Israeli security establishment had claimed that the legislation would potentially cause the financial downfall of the PA. Edelstein said he had rejected the argument, since any damages awarded would be taken from the monies Israel deducts from the PA, as a direct consequence of its Pay-for-Slay policy.
Watch the conversation between MK Edelstein and Brig.-Gen. Avivi here:
Amb. David Friedman
Ambassador Friedman recalled how when the Trump administration took office, the prevailing paradigm was the Oslo Accords. He added that after studying the Accords, the administration understood how ambiguous they were and how they could be interpreted differently. The administration came to the conclusion that the Oslo Accords were just a “bunch of handshakes” without real meaning. Friedman lamented the fact that the Palestinians boycotted the Manama Peace Conference. He concluded that there is no one left in the world who believes that a Palestinian state is something that is wanted.
Watch the conversation between Ambassador Friedman and Dan Diker here:
The Day After Mahmoud Abbas
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser and Brig.-Gen. (res.) Oren Solomon made presentations that focused on the scenarios and Israel’s strategic goals following the exit of 87-year-old PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Watch the presentations here:
In their presentations, Kuperwasser and Solomon stressed the fact that the preparations for the “day after Abbas” have to be made now and that waiting for him to actually leave would be a disaster. While also discussing internal Palestinian affairs, such as who would succeed Abbas, Kuperwasser and Solomon focused on mapping out the Israeli interests and how those interests could best be served.
The Way Forward
The final panel, headed by Arab affairs expert Yoni Ben Menachem, included Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gershon HaCohen and former U.S. official Dr. David Wurmser.
Maj.-Gen. HaCohen discussed the imperative to understand the underlying motivations and actions of the Palestinians and for Israel to regain the initiative.
Dr. Wurmser explained how after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Oslo process gave a major success to the international progressive forces and international trends. He added that so long as Israel maintains the current state of affairs, Israel’s strategic standing will decline due to the continued undermining of its legitimacy.
Watch this panel here:
The general consensus expressed throughout the discussions was that the Oslo Accords had failed to achieve their goals. They did not bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians but emboldened the rejectionism of the Palestinian leadership, which is still committed to destroying Israel.