HISTORY, Part 5: 1993 - 2005 Oslo and 2nd Intifada

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Attempts at Reconciliation, the Second Intifada

The Oslo Accords (Oslo I, 1993 and Oslo II, 1995) were an attempt on the part of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to end a long trend of denial. The hope was to create expectations for cooperation, and to build trust over a five-year period, after which more negotiations would result in a lasting peace in the region (Oslo). The photo ops were memorable, but when everyone went home, little happened. In the occupied West Bank it was “business as usual” for Israel: more land was confiscated, more homes were demolished, and settlement population almost doubled. Consequently, on the Palestinians’ side, terrorist attacks continued. Israel blamed the Palestinians for not getting control over terrorism.

Trust was not built: it was eroded—and there had been precious little to begin with. While Israel had promised to gradually return control of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, the reality was that at most, the PA was entrusted with governance of only 18%, while 60% remained under full control of Israel; the little that was left was managed jointly. Add to that border control, trade restrictions, nearly 50% unemployment, and unjustified killings of Palestinians (Shah), and it is no wonder the Oslo Accords were considered a failure.

In 2000, the Camp David Summit came and went without an agreement. Yasser Arafat, president of the PA, was blamed by almost every news outlet for walking away from a “generous offer” including “far-reaching concessions” from Israel, without even making a counteroffer (Ackerman). The facts tell the story a little differently.

For years, the PLO had been willing to accept 22% of its original land—the pre-1967 borders—and to leave Israel with 78% of the land that had been Palestine. But Prime Minister Ehud Barak was unwilling to settle for only 78%: his “generous offer” included Israeli annexation of some valuable, fertile parts of the West Bank (coincidentally containing most of the region’s water aquifers) as well as an ongoing military presence in other parts. In exchange, Israel offered a piece of the Negev Desert that included a former toxic waste dump (Ackerman). This is what Yasser Arafat walked away from.

About the same time as Camp David, several interesting developments emerged from the Israeli government: Barak backed out of the promise he’d made at Oslo II to withdraw from a town in the West Bank; Israel announced two new Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank; news came out that settlement building had increased 81%; and residents of two Palestinian towns received notice that their homes were about to be demolished for a new Jewish-only highway (Ackerman). Only one more incident was needed to send Palestinians over the edge.

Interestingly enough, the parties at Oslo had vowed to “abstain from incitement.” But in September 2000, Likud party leader Ariel Sharon made a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the site of one of Islam’s holiest shrines, as well as Judaism’s. He brought with him over 1,000 armed riot police. The issue of sovereignty over this piece of real estate has never been resolved, so Sharon’s action was provocative, as were his words: “the Temple Mount is in our hands and will remain in our hands…it is the right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount” (Middle). Palestinian demonstrators threw stones and a riot broke out. Yet again, the region spiraled into an Intifada (Moughrabi).

Casualties were higher on both sides for the Second Intifada than for the First: the Palestinians now had more weapons and began to use suicide bombers; the Israelis used tanks, air attacks, and targeted killings. The death toll for Palestinians was about 4,228; for Israelis it was 1,024 (Israeli).

Another attempt at peace negotiation occurred at Taba in the Sinai Peninsula in 2001. This time, Israel brought real concessions and the Palestinians brought real counteroffers. Peace was close—maybe too close. Prime Minister Barak unilaterally broke off the negotiations. It was reported that “the pressure of Israeli public opinion against the talks could not be resisted” (Ackerman). The dominant group maintained its position unchanged and unchecked.

Yet another attempt to find a solution occurred in 2002, when all 23 countries of the Arab League unanimously approved of a Saudi peace plan that included Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a resolution to the refugee issue in exchange for full peace and normalized relations. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made it clear once and for all that any plan like this would be unacceptable when he declared that “a return to the 1967 borders will destroy Israel” (Ackerman).

Ultimately, a “peace process” must be a process, in which two sides compromise and reach an agreement that may not be exactly what each side wants, but is better than conflict. The Palestinians feel that they have been more than generous, as they have given up asking for 78% of their land back. They are willing (except for a few hardliners) to settle for 22%--but they want the full 22%, without Israeli military presence, without checkpoints, without blockades, and most of all without settlements. Israel, on the other hand, seems unwilling to accept anything less than continued occupation. The sense of entitlement to the land and resources at any cost has trumped any desire for peace.