The Oslo agreement was based on a territorial compromise which would be acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians. But as the peace process falters, the "two-state solution" implicit in Oslo may have to give way to a unitary "binational state" as the only way of reconciling competing national claimsby Ahmad Samih Khalidi / October 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
Five years ago, on 13th September 1993, the White House lawn was the scene for one of the most extraordinary acts of contemporary political theatre. After months of secret negotiations in Norway between Israel and the PLO, the US assembled a select audience to bear witness to what has become known as the Oslo agreement and Bill Clinton finally nudged Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin into a historic, if reluctant, handshake with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.
Oslo’s promise lay in the prospect of unprecedented political and psychological engagement between Israel and the PLO and the hopes this raised for peace. The agreement was based on mutual recognition and gradual implementation. Israel would cede territory to an interim Palestinian self-governing authority over a transitional period of five years. The most difficult issues (Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees of 1948, Jewish settlements in the territories, final political borders) would be deferred for “final status talks” to be completed before the five-year period was over. Israel would remain ever vigilant to its security concerns, but sequential withdrawals would allow for the gradual spread of Palestinian jurisdiction to all areas except those reserved for final status deliberation.
The text itself was pedestrian and laced with loopholes. But beyond the clich?s and the legalese, both sides shared a fundamental (albeit unstated) premise: peace could only be attained on the basis of an agreed separation between Arab and Jew, leading to the demarcation of a final political division of the land. For most Israelis and Palestinians, Oslo’s text was less important than its spirit: a hope for deliverance from the 100-year conflict over Palestine and peaceful coexistence between the two competing nationalisms in the Holy Land.
Five years later, Oslo is dead or dying-depending on your perspective. The image of the White House handshake has taken on the quality of dusty newsreel. Of the three Nobel laureates who made Oslo possible, Rabin has been assassinated by a member of his own tribe, Peres rejected by his electorate, and the future of a physically shaky and often incoherent Arafat seems less certain than ever. On all sides there is a retrenchment into pre-Oslo antagonisms. Above all, there is the sense of a historical moment slipping away.
Rabin’s death largely destroyed the hope for progress along the trajectory drawn at Oslo. The return to power of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud coalition in May 1996 accelerated a realignment away from…