What or how much have Israeli governments offered Palestinians for peace?

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzakh Rabin and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat sign the Oslo accords


The standard line of the Israeli government and its sympathisers is that the Israeli government under Yitzakh Rabin in 1993-1995 offered a fair and equitable peace settlement to the Palestinians which granted them their own land and a viable state - and that this offer was rejected by the Palestinian leadership, thus proving that they don't want peace.

Similar claims are made about the Wye accords of 1998 under Netanyahu and the failed Taba negotiations under Ehud Barak in 2001.

All these claims are wildly inaccurate. (As Professor Norman Finkelstein's knowledge of this far exceeds mine i'll partly be summarising his account in chapter 7 of his book "Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict" - feel free to get hold of his book and check his sources) (1). I also use other sources though including Israeli historian Avi Shlaim's 'The Iron Wall' (2))

Presenting military occupation as a 'right' or 'claim' to the West Bank

The Oslo II agreement of 1995 states "Neither party shall be deeemed ...to have renounced or waived any of its existing rights, claims or positions". Finkelstein points out that what this means in practice is that Oslo II gave Israel the right to keep holding land it had illegally settled in the West Bank and to continue claiming most of the West Bank and all the territory it conquered in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war despite the many UN resolutions calling on it to end the occupation and withdraw its forces to its pre-1967 war boundaries (2)

Monopolising 80% of West Bank water supplies for Israelis

One of the key issues in the Middle East is control of clean fresh water - which is in short supply. Finkelstein points out that Sthe Oslo II agreement guaranteed that future water use by Israelis and Arabs respectively in the West Bank would be based on "average annual quantities" used in the past which Schedule 10 of the agreement reveals meant Israelis would keep getting 80% of West Bank water supplies and Palestinians only 20%. At most this was a suggestion that possibly Arabs/Palestinians wouldn't have any more of their water taken from them. It offered to give the Palestinians and Bedouins precisely nothing more than the pittance they had already. (3)

Granting Palestinians no state, no sovereignty, no security and no end to occupation and settlement

The biggest issue was sovereignty or a really independent state for Palestinians. Oslo II offered Palestinians isolated cantons or islands of land in a minority of the West Bank and the whole of Gaza, each surrounded entirely by Israeli territory. The maps accompanying the proposed agreement gave Israel full sovereignty over all the territory assigned to it (including much of the West Bank) and full sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem. By contrast in Palestinian areas the Palestinian 'Council' or 'Authority' (never 'state' or 'government') was to be responsible for funding and running its own public services and police force. However that police force and Palestinian courts were to have no jurisdiction over the actions of any Israeli - whether soldiers, tourists or settlers - even inside 'Palestinian' areas. Any Israeli military or police or intelligence forces could however arrest and try any Palestinian even within the areas of Palestinian 'sovereignty'. The Palestinian 'Authority' could not change any existing laws enforced by occupying Israeli forces or courts in Palestinian areas without the agreement of the Israeli government and military (4).

A map of the territory offered by the Israeli government of Yitzakh Rabin to the Palestinians in the Oslo II negotiations of the 1995 : Source - Avi Shlaim (1999) 'The Iron Wall'= (5)

This was not an offer of a Palestinian state but merely an offer to Palestinian leaders and police to act as Gendarmes for the Israeli government who must obey the Israeli government on any and all disputed issues. There would in effect be no sovereignty or independence - and no end to military occupation. Any Israeli forces withdrawn from the West Bank could , under the terms of the agreement, re-enter it at any time. No settlers would have to leave. More could take Palestinian land at any time.

As Finkelstein points out the offer was actually very similar to lthat given to Bantustan style "states" like Transkei and KwaZulu Natal by the South African government under Apartheid. (The South African government continued funding much of the governance of these dependant states while the Palestinian 'Authority' was offered no funding except those customs dues released to it by the Israeli government (which could and have since repeatedly been cut off by the Israeli forces collecting them). Since the economy of the occupied territories is constantly disrupted by Israeli military checkpoints, economic blockades, closure of most roads to Palestinians and destruction of houses and orchards to make way for settlers (none of which would end under Oslo II) these would not fund much. As a result Palestinians would be (and are) reliant on foreign aid.) (6)

No Palestinian leader could possibly have got support from their electorate for an agreement which gave their people nothing but more occupation dressed up to look like independence. The Oslo agreements offered Palestinians not an equitable deal or an independent state but nothing except empty words. Unsurprisingly Arafat (and even his successor as Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas) rejected it at the time. They couldn't do anything else. They were then castigated around the world and told this was "proof" that "the Palestinians don't want peace". Yet the PLO and Abbas had signed up to the slightly less one sided Oslo I Accords of 1993.

Giving Israelis over 70% of West Bank Land

As the map above shows and Israeli historian Avi Shlaim records the Oslo accords offered Palestinians less than a third of the land area of the West Bank (without full sovereignty or a full withdrawal of Israeli military forces or settlers from the land nominally under Palestinian control). Israel would keep control of over 70% of West Bank land.

Hamas now reviled for rejecting the Oslo Accords

Today Hamas are being reviled for refusing to respect "international agreements" such as the Oslo Accords which granted the Palestinians nothing and in fact took away their previously undisputed (except by the Israeli government) right to the territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war (7).

The Oslo Peace Process - A Tiny but significant step in the right direction brought about by the Palestinian people's Intifada, not by the PLO or the Israeli government

"Break their bones...Use might, force and beatings" Israeli Defence Minister (and later Prime Minister) General Yitzakh Rabin to Israeli troops trying to end strikes demonstrations and riots by the Palestinians in the occupied territories in the 'First Intifada' or 'Uprising' in December 1987 Shlaim (1999) p 453

"An army can beat an army but an army cannot beat a people" Israeli Academic Shlomo Averi on the Intifada December 1987 ; Shlaim (1999) p454

"In the name of the Palestinian people we wish to directly address the Israeli people, with whom we have had a prolonged exchange of pain : let us share hope instead. We are willing to live side by side on the land ...Sharing however requires two partners willing to share as equals. Mutuality and reciprocity must replace domination and hostility for genuine reconciliation and co-existence under international legality. Your security and ours are mutually dependent, as intertwined as the fears and nightmares of our children." Haidar Abdel SShafi, head of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference, 1991

It would be exaggerating to say that the Oslo peace process was not a step forward. Never before had an Israeli government agreed to consider even transitional arrangements that might lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the future. By 1999 70% of Israelis either supported or were resigned to the necessity of a Palestinian state to achieve peace. Having said this the Oslo Peace process would never have taken place if the Palestinian people had not risen up in strikes, demonstrations (and even , sadly, riots) in the occupied territories from 1988 on - and if the Israeli government and military's attempts at the use of force to crush them had not failed and in the process generated international media coverage and sympathy for the Palestinians. The PLO played no part in beginning the First Intifada which was led by Palestinians who lived in the West Bank and Gaza - and it was these Palestinians who negotiated the first breakthrough in both the Oslo negotiations and their failed fore-runner at Madrid in 1991.

Oslo also showed that even those who initially advocated brute force, like Rabin and Arafat, could become peacemakers.

Having said that the Oslo negotiations were flawed in that bilateral negotiations between two sides so unequal in power could never have brought about a fair and equitable peace settlement. This meant the peace deal inevitably would not last. The bias of the two Clinton administrations towards the Israeli government and their adoption of Israeli government positions as their own also made the US government utterly ineffective as a facilitator of peace during the Oslo negotiations (1993-1995) and just as much in the Wye negotiations (1997-8) and the Taba negotiations (2001).

The Wye Accords of 1998

In 1998 the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian rperesentatives signed the Wye River Memorandum in Washington under which Israel agreed to increase the proportion of the West Bank under nominal Palestinian control to 40% and the Palestinian Authority agreed to do everything it could to prevent Hamas or Islamic Jihad attacks on Israelis from the territory assigned to it. However Avi Shlaim points out that while the Palestinian Authority attempted to keep its side of the bargain Netanyahu's government did not.

The Taba Negotiations of 2000 to 2001

During the Israeli election campaign of 2001 and the Second Palestinian Intifada (or 'uprising') Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to attend peace talks at Camp David at the invitation of the US government of President Bill Clinton. Clinton and his officials as usual took the Israeli governments' negotiating positions as their own, making them anything but impartial as mediators and resulting in their failure to shift the distribution of power and influence between the Palestinians and Israel towards anything approaching a balance. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak , one of the Israeli negotiators has since said that "Taba was bullshit. Taba was an elections exercise...Taba was not aimed to reach an agreement. Taba was aimed to convince the Israeli-Arabs to vote".

Back to sanctions and military strikes

Of course Barak lost the 2001 Israeli election to the hard-liner Ariel Sharon who largely abandoned the peace process in favour of the Gaza charade covering massive expansion of settlements in the West Bank and constant sanctions, bombardments and military offensives against the Palestinians. His successor Ehud Olmert has largely followed in Sharon's footsteps - agreeeing to negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, the elected Palestinian President, but refusing to negotiate with the elected Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas or any of his party and continuing sanctions and military strikes on Gaza (see the section on 'The Coup Against Hamas)

From the foundation of Israel on many Israeli governments have conceded only the minimum necessary to prevent too much international criticism while relentlessly annexing more Palestinian land. The plan is not to negotiate peace with the Palestinian people but to force them out at gunpoint where possible and when that’s too controversial make life so painful and hopeless for them that the majority leave. A few Palestinians may be bought off with the right to divert foreign aid and customs revenues into their own pockets (as has been the case with Fatah) and the Israeli government will present them with “peace deals” which offer the Palestinians as a whole nothing, as at Oslo (8), (9), (10), (11)).

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007

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Sources and Footnotes

(1) = Finkelstein, Norman G. (2003) 'Image and Reality of the Palestinian Conflict' (2nd Edition), Verso, London and New York, 2003 , chapter 7 "The Apartheid Option" (pages 172-184)

(2) = Finkelstein - As above - pages 172-173

(3) = Finkelstein - As (1) above - pages 173-174

(4) = Finkelstein - As (1) above - pages 174-175,181

(5) = Shlaim, Avi (1999), 'The Iron Wall - Israel and the Arab World', Penguin paperback, London, 2000, page 529

(6) = Finkelstein - As (1) above - pages 174,177-181

(7) = Guardian 9 Feb 2007 , 'Not a great deal of substance' : 'Optimism that the agreement between Hamas and Fatah will yield results is distinctly muted, writes Ian Black' , http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2009764,00.html

(8)= Morris, Benny ( 1999) Righteous Victims, John Murray Limited, London, 2000

(9) = Finkelstein, Norman G. (2003) , ‘Image and Reality of the Palestinian Conflict’, Verso, London & New York , 2003

(10) = Kimmerling, Baruch (2003), ‘Politicide : Ariel Sharon’s war against the Palestinians’, Verso, 2003, pages 13-34 (esp. 18)

(11) = Cook, Jonathan (2006) , ‘Blood and Religion : The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State’, Pluto Press, London, 2006

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007