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Photo: The Handshake: Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat with US President Bill Clinton in between, Sept. 13, 1993.
The Handshake: Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat with US President Bill Clinton in between, Sept. 13, 1993.

Oslo Accords

The Oslo Accords were bilateral agreements signed in Washington following negotiations, part of which were clandestine, between Israel and the PLO. The signed agreement was entitled the ďDeclaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements.Ē Its main concern was on Israeli withdrawal from the territories of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, in order to allow the establishment of a Palestinian Authority for self-government for an interim period until permanent arrangements would be established.

The process began in January 1993 in a meeting with two Israelis, Dr. Yair Hirschfeld and Dr. Ron Pundak, and Palestinian representatives headed by Ahmed Qurei, aka Abu Alaa. The contact between the groups was made through Norwegian mediators, who contacted Dr. MK Yossi Beilin. A short time later, Beilin was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and he officially acknowledged these talks, while depicting them as unofficial. Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres was updated by Beilin after the first meeting took place in January, and Peres informed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in early February.

From its early stages, both parties spoke of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the transfer of economic responsibilities in Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians. An initial draft of the declaration was made up in February and March. In April, Abu Alaa informed Hirschfeld on the Palestinian consensus not to include the subject of Jerusalem in the interim agreement, but he did ask for an official recognition in the negotiations. Rabin and Peres conceded to continue holding the talks by a representation of government officials, headed by Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Uri Savir.

Yosel Singer, who served in the Military Advocate General Unit and later appointed as the legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had joined the talks in June. The talks in Oslo were conducted by Savir, Singer, Hirschfeld and Pundak. They reported to and consulted with Deputy Foreign Minister Beilin, Deputy Minister of Defense Mordechai Gur, and Assistant to the Foreign Minister Avi Gil. With Rabinís consent, Singer began formulating a new draft of the declaration, which was given to the Palestinians in June.

The following month, Rabin contacted PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat through a telegraph forwarded by Minister of Health Haim Ramon and Arafatís Israeli advisor, Dr. Ahmad Tibi. Arafatís response was given to Rabin on August 4th. The mutual recognition between the parties was unofficially debated at the end of July and officially during August, at the consent of Rabin and Peres. Despite Rabinís lack of objection to the talks, it was only at this time that he became convinced of their possible success. This was due to his understanding that the Palestinians have agreed to several terms: Approval for maintaining the present settlements; acknowledgement of Israelís responsibility for the safety of its citizens within the territories; and that all options will be open for negotiations towards a permanent solution.

On the night between August 18th and 19th, Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst served as a mediator between Peres, who was located at the time in Stockholm, Sweden, and Arafat and Abu Alaa from PLO headquarters in Tunisia. The Declaration of Principles was initialed the following day. It was signed by Savir, Abu Alaa, Singer, and Hassan Asfur, in the presence of Peres.

On August 27th, Peres and Holst reported to US President Bill Clinton regarding the progress of the talks. The Americans, who knew of the talks but remained doubtful, were awestruck. The Israeli government and public were notified about the agreement on August 30th. It remained unclear as to whom will sign the declaration in Washington: It was first decided on Peres and Abu Mazen, but on September 13th the problems regarding the mutual recognition were resolved, allowing Rabin and Arafat to sign the Declaration of Principles at the White House in Washington.

The signing of the declaration had dramatic consequences for the policy of Israel towards the PLO. Israel acknowledged the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and announced on its intent to begin negotiations, as a part of a comprehensive peace process in the Middle East. Arafat, in the name of the PLO, acknowledged Israelís right for a safe and peaceful existence. Arafat committed himself to the peace process and to work towards a peaceful solution to the conflict; he obliged to abstain from the use of terror and violent acts; he acknowledged the United Nationsí Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and had guaranteed to approve the necessary changes in the Palestinian manifest in the Palestinian National Council Ė mainly concerning chapters contradicting the declaration or disapproving of Israelís right for independence.

The accords were controversial within the Israeli public and the Knesset. The left-wing parties were supportive, but right-wing parties were highly critical: Rabin was accused of legitimizing a leader and an organization which he himself slandered in the past; other accusations concerned the relinquishment of the historical homeland of the Jewish people while undermining Israelís safety.

Following two days of debates in the Knesset on the Governmentís announcement, a motion of no-confidence was raised on September 23rd 1993 in regard to the signing of the declaration. This motion was dismissed by 61 Knesset Members, while 50 voted in favor and 8 abstained.

The declaration of principles was instrumental for the future Cairo Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area (signed in May 1994) and the Taba Agreement (signed in July 1995).

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