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The Oslo Process – Fate or Folly?

In her celebrated book “The March of Folly”, the noted American historian Barbara Tuchman provided a fascinating account of historical cases that were a paragon of political foolhardiness and reckless policy.
Tuchman defined “Folly” as a policy consisting of a triad of factors:

1. It must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight,
2. A feasible alternative course of action must have been available, and
3. The policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime.[1]

Today, when there is general Israeli consensus and an international understanding that the “Oslo Process” has collapsed, the question of whether it was a matter of fate or folly, has yet to be addressed. Notably, were the Oslo Accords a natural foregone outcome of previous peace negotiations between Israel and its neighbors—including the Camp David accords with Egypt and the 1991 Madrid Conference—or do they, in effect, constitute a drastic distortion and tragic detour from that path?

In order to reach an informed conclusion to the questions presented above, the backdrop to Oslo must be understood, the implications of the Accords analyzed, and the possible alternatives—if indeed existing at the time—thoroughly examined.


A. The Oslo setting

On Monday, Sept. 13th, 1993, the Declaration of Principles (DOP) was signed on the South Lawn of the White House, and sealed with an historic handshake between late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman, Yasser Arafat. Rabin took this opportunity to note that the agreement was the first between the Palestinians and Israel since the founding of the State of Israel, and marks “an historic moment which hopefully will bring about an end to 100 years of bloodshed and misery between the Palestinians and Jews, between Palestinians and Israel.”[2]

Reconciliation was based on an historic compromise. That is, the principle of partition and mutual acceptance were officially acknowledged as the basis for the settlement of the long and bitter conflict.[3]

The Jewish-Palestinian issue has always been a mainstay of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The Oslo Accords are not a novel idea in and of themselves. While mainstream Zionism was willing to settle for even a small portion of the historic “Land of Israel” (Palestine)—allocated for the Jewish national homeland in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and later proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 and again by the United Nations in 1947—absolute rejection was the only message voiced by the Arab denial of Jewish legitimacy. This rejection was later enshrined in the 1968 Palestine National Charter of the PLO. The Palestinians, who insisted on a unitary state over the whole of the portion of Palestine west of the Jordan River, rejected the idea of two states. They insisted on all-or-nothing and, until the Oslo accords, they remained with nothing.

Israeli repudiation of the PLO’s legitimacy since the organization’s founding in 1964 was attributed to its terrorist activities and the decades-long obstinacy in recognizing Israel and its right to exist. Israel’s denunciation of the Palestinians’ national rights was summed-up by Golda Meir’s 1974 remark that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian People”.[4]

In the ostensible acceptance of the principle of partition of land and mutual legitimacy, the two sides attempted to find a practical solution to the problem of sharing the cramped living space between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

On that day in September 1993, many believed mutual denial had made way for mutual recognition and that by implementing practical negotiations, an end to the conflict may be achieved.

What made it possible for the Israeli government and the PLO to sign the Oslo Accord? Finding the answers to this question calls for looking beyond the diplomacy that generated the formulas accepted by the parties, and examining the changing regional and global setting in which the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict has evolved.

Four major catalysts led to the Oslo Accords. Three were regional or global: the Intifada, the fall of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War. The fourth was an Israeli domestic change: Labor’s victory in the June 1992 elections.

1. The Fall of the Soviet Union and the End of the Cold War

The Arab-Israeli conflict is a regional conflict. Nevertheless, since the 1950’s, the echoes of the Cold War reverberated in the Middle East. A close tie was forged between the nationalistic Arabs (led by Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt) and the Soviet block. This relationship included strategic, economic, diplomatic and ideological ties, which resulted in a dramatic change in the balance of power following Israel’s War of Independence.[5]

Above all, the Arabs knew that even if they were to suffer a total defeat in a military confrontation (e.g. 1956, 1967, 1973) the power in the region would be balanced once again.[6] Furthermore, extensive financial assistance and diplomatic support in the UN was usually guaranteed. After 1967, the United States served as a diplomatic aegis for Israel (which had become an “American strategic asset”), similar to the support given to the Arabs by their Soviet champions.

An agreement had to be compatible not only with the regional players (i.e., Palestinians and Israelis), but also with the Superpowers. In the reality of the Cold War, the plausible prospect for such an occurrence was slim.[7]

The first sign of the significance of the post-Cold War shift in the Middle East came during Assad’s visit to Moscow in 1987, when Mikhail Gorbachev told the Syrian leader that he should dismiss the idea of “strategic parity” with Israel and instead seek to resolve the conflict peacefully.[8] The absence of the Soviets from the strategic arena left Israel with a strategic advantage it had never known before. No longer could the Arabs receive Soviet assistance by merely calling the Kremlin on the phone. This invariably affected all the relevant sides involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict and allowed them to seek a non-belligerent means of resolving the conflict.

Another important change, which encouraged the Palestinians to enter negotiations was the opening of the gates of immigration to Israel (Aliyah) for some one million Soviet Jews. This greatly affected the demographic reality in Israel.[9]

In November of 1988, the Palestine National Council in Algiers declared an independent state, designated PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat as president; accepted Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338; endorsed the principle of two states in Palestine, one Palestinian and one Israeli; and disavowed terrorism. In Geneva the following month, Arafat reaffirmed, in even more explicit terms, these strategic and seemingly revolutionary changes in the PLO’s position regarding Israel.[10]

The consequence of a Palestinian State became much less ominous with Soviet armament and support no longer relevant. This is one of the major reasons that policy makers whose strategic and security-oriented priorities navigated their decision-making (such as Rabin) changed their approach to rapprochement and eventually negotiations with the PLO.[11]

2. The Intifada
An additional major catalyst of the transformation in the Middle East political scene began in December 1987, with the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in Gaza and the West Bank. The eruption of the Palestinian uprising heralded a new era in the politics of the Palestinian national movement. The Intifada (Arabic for “uprising”), which took not only Israel by surprise, but even more so, the PLO-Tunis cadre[12], demonstrated that the Palestinians living in the Territories were not prepared to stay under Israeli rule indefinitely. This heightened international recognition that a lasting Middle East peace would require not only a resolution of the territorial and political disputes between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but, just as importantly, a satisfactory settlement of the Palestinian issue. At the focal point of this issue lies the future status of the West Bank and Gaza.

Interestingly, the immediate effect that this socially unified and politically effective popular uprising had on Israel and the rest of the world had largely dissipated by 1992. The Intifada no longer drew the kind of international attention and sympathy that had in many ways been was its greatest initial accomplishment. “The motivations, capabilities, and costs associated with sustaining active Palestinian defiance of Israeli rule had deteriorated considerably as the Intifada had evolved.”[13] To a large extent, this was a corollary of the Gulf War, as detailed herewith.

Regardless of the erosion in the Intifada’s momentum, it is possible to conclude that the underlying political message it had sent to Israel and the international community concerning the centrality of the Palestinian issue to a Middle East peace settlement had not fallen on deaf ears. The significance of the Intifada can be best reflected when looking at Israel’s view of this popular uprising. The former head of Shin-Bet Karmi Gilon’s expressions of how Israel assessed the effects of the Intifada can highlight this:

In 1994 the I.D.F. still held over 100 platoons in the territories and its main efforts were directed towards the territories…the Reservists constantly complained… and this was the environment that accompanied the decision-making of the Government.[14]

3. The Gulf War

The aftermath of the Gulf War bore consequences that had a bearing on the gamut of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The results of the Allied Coalition’s campaign generated pressures for a new initiative to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and enhanced the chances for the success of such an initiative.

From an Arab perspective, the war represented, quite vividly, the most devastating blow to Arab unity in recent times.[15]Several Arab states, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, shared the view that Iraq’s invasion of, and conquest illegal annexation of Kuwait, presented a threat to regional stability. The threat was of sufficient magnitude to warrant a massive political, economic and military response. Many of these Arab states made some military contribution to the coalition opposing Iraq. However, seven Arab League members, including the PLO and Jordan, opposed sending foreign military forces to the area and urged for an “Arab solution” to the matter, in the words of King Hussein, without outside interference.[16]

As for the Palestinians, the Gulf War had far-reaching implications. Arafat’s flamboyant support of Saddam Hussein was one of the worst political gambits the PLO chairman had ever made.[17] Consequently, traditional financial and political support for the PLO from its Gulf States purveyors dried up soon after. The expulsion of 300,000 Palestinians from Kuwait marked the end of remittances to the West Bank and Gaza that Israeli officials calculated at no less than $400 million per annum. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait ended their funding of the PLO, cutting the organization’s annual budget virtually in half, to somewhere between $100-120 million. Subsequently, the PLO had to close many of its offices and substantially minimize its activities. Most critically, financial support of the Territories dropped from $120 million in 1989, to approximately $45 million in 1991 and 1992.[18] The PLO was clearly in dire straits, unable to curb its looming and imminent collapse.

It is reasonable that at the time, when Arafat shuttled between Baghdad and Tunis to demonstrate his stalwart support of Saddam Hussein, he must have believed that this was an historic opportunity, when a new version of the great Saladin (as indeed Saddam Hussein often presented himself) had arisen like a mythical phoenix from the sands of the desert. Yet the outcome of the Gulf War was quite different from what Arafat had expected. Consequently, Arafat and his organization’s political clout were greatly undermined. “The PLO was rendered weak and almost irrelevant until it was saved by the peace process”.[19] That is, the results of the Gulf War left Arafat with only one viable alternative: politically downtrodden and yearning for a lifeline, he had to resort to a compromise with Israel, under Washington’s patronage.

Surprisingly enough to both the PLO and the US, it was Israeli individuals—empowered by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and acting as secret emissaries—who decided to deviate from Israel’s consistent stance on the PLO and initiated talks with its representatives in Oslo, Norway. These steps were taken without prior consultation with or even notifying the U.S. administration.[20]

Simultaneously, the Gulf War served as a major catalyst for Israel to pursue the prospect of a conclusion to the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On the one hand, it drastically weakened Israel’s most ominous foe—Iraq, curtailing its non-conventional capability for the time being. It demonstrated that the United States, Israel’s patron and the world’s only post-Cold War Superpower, could intervene in the Middle East to protect its vital interests. Rabin’s public statements after the war revealed his belief that the combination of these factors had increased Israel’s relative strength. Speaking at Tel Aviv University’s Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Rabin said:

I am convinced our deterrence capability has increased as a result of the crisis in the Gulf, if only indirectly and because the United States demonstrated its readiness to act resolutely. I am not saying that Washington will automatically do the same for Israel; nor has Israel ever asked the United States to do so. But the fact that this time the United States stood firm and was ready to become involved against an aggression in the Middle East adds somewhat to Israel’s overall deterrence. It discourages initiation of war in the region, though I do not know for how long. (Speech delivered at Tel Aviv University, May 1991.[21])

On the other hand, the Iraqi Scuds that landed in Israel eroded the long-held perception that ‘strategic depth’ was essential to the defense of Israel and implied that the occupation of territories acquired in the 1967 War was much less crucial than before.[22] This enabled the advent of a compromise between Israel and the Palestinians, embodied by the Oslo Accords, which regrettably proved to be only an ostensible path to peace and coexistence.

Hence, the simultaneous convergence of the aforementioned myriad of factors in the post-Cold War and 1991 Gulf War period, allegedly brought about an evolution in the Palestinian position: a shift from zealous unbending ideology to political pragmatism and willingness to compromise.

4. Change of the guard in Israel
The June 1992 elections in Israel proved to be a benchmark event, and Labor’s victory was to have far-reaching ramifications on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While there were calls from fringe far-Left activists to recognize the PLO and establish a Palestinian state in the Territories ever since the Six-day War of 1967, the Israeli mainstream political and public stance invariably negated any dealings with the PLO. Most Israelis expressed ardent aversion of the possibility of a Palestinian state.

The Labor government’s rapprochement with the PLO-Tunis (concocted in Oslo) was a revolutionary turn of events. It was a 180-degree departure from a traditional policy, exercised by both Labor and Likud governments, of official opposition to any recognition or negotiation with the PLO- legally proscribed in Israel as a terrorist organization. Until 1993, contact with the PLO was a punishable violation of the law.

In the Knesset debate following the signing of the Declaration of Principles with the PLO, the late Prime Minister Rabin said that “the risks were taken into account and they do not entail a danger to the security and existence of Israel”.[23] He went on to say that Israel was heading towards “days without worry and nights without fear” as there was a chance of seeing “an end to the mourning that visited our homes, an end to wars”.[24] Shortly thereafter, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres declared that “we are approaching a stage at which it will transpire that there is no future for terror and it will vanish.”[25]

B. Arab/Palestinian Perspective

What made it possible for Yasser Arafat to declare his recognition of Israel as a legitimate sovereign state and to purportedly disavow terrorism? This same Yasser Arafat had previously proclaimed that there would be neither recognition of, nor peace or negotiations with, Israel (1968 Arab League Summit Conference in Khartoum), and that the independence of the State of Palestine could be achieved only through force. Arafat’s about-face rests on four main factors.

1. The strengthening and legitimatization of the Arab State and the rule of Government
Paradoxically, one of the main reasons for the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the past had been the lack of stability of Arab states and of their leaders. Due to this lack of stability, the conflict was often used by Arab leaders to obtain legitimacy among their people.[26]

The lack of legitimacy was mainly due to the fact that most of the rulers were placed in authority by the “colonial powers” at the end of the First World War—the fruit of their nexus with the Western powers.[27] Historian Bernard Lewis summed it up in the 1960’s by saying that the allegiance to the state was “tacit, even surreptitious”, while Arab unity was “the sole publicly acceptable objective of statesmen and ideologists alike”.[28] This meant that states were without sufficient legitimacy.[29]

Raison d’etat, once an alien and illegitimate doctrine, eventually came to replace Pan-Arabism. The two main events that caused the downfall of Pan-Arabism were the war of 1967 and the 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Prior to 1967, the conflict between Arabs and Israelis seemed frozen around the contents of the 1949 General Armistice Agreement. Following the Six-Day war, the continued existence of the State of Israel was much less in doubt. Rather, the boundaries of that state became the more relevant question. A consensus of the elements of a settlement to that effect was embodied in the Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22nd 1967, which called for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war in exchange for peace. This call was reaffirmed following the 1973 war, in the Security Council Resolution 338. With all its ambiguities and conflicting interpretations, this formula of land for peace has been the cornerstone of all subsequent Arab-Israeli peace efforts.[30]

The efforts to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict intensified following the October 1973 Yom Kippur war, culminating on March 26th 1979, in the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Of all the Arab states, Egypt is the largest and the most politically legitimate within its boundaries. This fact enabled Egypt to give Pan-Arabism concrete power (under Nasser), and then when it tired of it, to turn inward (under Sadaat). What Sadaat’s diplomacy was to show to the Arab world was that Arab states could have different and independent interests.[31] In other words, Sadaat put the last nail in the coffin of Pan-Arabism: each state or people was now to look out for itself.

It was the Palestinians who launched the first post-1967 attack against Pan-Arabism. Given their predicament, their economic and political dependence on wealthy Arab states and their lack of a territorial base, theirs had to be a different kind of attack. There was no doubt that those who rallied around Yasser Arafat in the aftermath of the Six-Day War had given up on Pan-Arabism. The duel that raged between the Palestinians and Nasserites from early 1968 until Nasser’s death in 1970 was essentially a fight over the independent rights of Palestinian nationalism.

If the Arab states could not protect themselves against Israel, let alone do something for the Palestinians, then the latter were to conduct their own independent politics.[32] (Today, any attempt made by the Arab league to present one mutual interest that serves all Arab States is artificial. The only Pan-Arabist leader in the Arab world today is Saddam Hussein and his leadership is far from acceptable not only in the international community, but perhaps even more so in the Arab world itself.)

While it had previously been heresy among in the Arab world to speak of an independent Palestinian State—after all, Palestine was supposed to be part of a larger Arab entity—the Palestinians came to realize that their cause required the normality of statehood.[33]

2. The Fundamentalist movement

The enormous vacuum generated by the political demise of Pan-Arabism following the 1967 War was partially filled by radical Islamic ideology, better known as Islamic Fundamentalism. That movement demonstrated its impact in several attempts to overthrow secular regimes by all possible means, including violence.

Islamic fundamentalism was prominent mainly on the regional level and presented an enormous threat to the reigning elites of Arab states. The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and the developments in Algeria and Sudan convinced many Arab leaders that the threat posed to their regimes by fundamentalism was greater than the threat presented by Israel. Additionally, under the condition of peaceful dual-existence, Arab leaders could rely on Israeli cooperation (behind the scenes) in their attempt to solve the problems presented by radicalism. More importantly, the end of a state of war with Israel could in theory enable secular Arab rulers more resources, power and political maneuverability (including military capability) to deal with radical elements. The ability of Egypt and Jordan to contend with the Islamic threat with substantial success was to a large extent due to the fact that the regime could ensure calm military fronts on the borders with Israel.[34]

With all of this in mind and in light of Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s influence among Palestinians—especially after the first Intifada—it was believed that Arafat would prefer a peace agreement with Israel, rather than prolonging the resolution of the conflict ad infinitum.

3. The Time Factor

One of the major factors that brought about the beginning of the Oslo process is the time factor. This was, and still is, very significant to the entire Arab world, and even more so to the Palestinians. Contrary to the beliefs of many Peace Now activists in Israel, a quick glance at the last one hundred years of conflict between Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, demonstrates that time is not on the side of the Arabs. For example, the substantial rewards to the Arabs/Palestinians in the form of the Peel Commission (1937) and to a lesser extent, the UN resolution in 1947, were both dismissed by the Arabs. The Arab insistence on “all or nothing” resulted in “nothing”. The 1967 and 1973 wars convinced the Arabs/Palestinians that the fact of Israel’s existence was not questionable at present. The Palestinians decided that if “all” was not possible at this stage, then at least they should salvage something before it is too late.[35]

4. Ripeness to accept the “Other Side”

The high price of war contributed to the shift of the main relevant players in the region in favor of a solution that excluded war.[36] It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when each side in the conflict began to accept the reality of the other’s existence. The 1967 War undoubtedly had a great influence on the acceptance of Israel as a fait accompli. However, the above factors obviously contributed their share.

A number of studies attempted to analyze the extent of the Palestinian people’s acceptance of Israel’s existence and their ripeness to live with this existence in peace. Some studies suggested change of attitude in terms of this ripeness,[37] largely attributed to the Palestinians’ prolonged suffering, a reassessment of internal power relations between Palestinians and Israel, the loss of faith in the Arab states and a desperate need for self-determination.[38]

Other studies concluded that “an absolute majority is opposed to an accommodation with the Jewish state”. However, they also found that there is no one cohesive “Arab way” of viewing Israel.[39]

As for the Israeli people, some hold the view that the political assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Israeli Jew attests not only to the deep internal political rift in Israel at that time, but also to the general lack of ripeness to accept the Oslo Accords.

Clearly, the ripeness of a people is the most considerable prerequisite needed in order to achieve a successful resolution.[40] There remained uncertainties surrounding the question of whether the general Palestinian population had internalized the acceptance of not only Israel’s existence, but more importantly its right to exist. These uncertainties quickly diminished with the outbreak of the so-called “Al-Aqsa Intifada” in September 2000, which constituted a “final rebuttal” to those who still held the position that Israel’s existence was indeed unchallenged by the other side.

Basic Palestinian animosity towards Israel is, inter alia, the product of the decades long Palestinian plight. However, the current deleterious and insidious incitement in the Palestinian media, textbooks and the general indoctrination endorsed by the Palestinian Authority, has solidified the legitimacy of Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism in mainstream Palestinian society. Sadly, the prevalent outlook on Israel, Zionism and Jews would require more than a cessation of the PA’s incitement policies in order for Israel to be accepted by the general populace. Such an acceptance would require a drastic change of thought, to be mainly exemplified by sustained education for peace and tolerance.

C. The Israeli Perspective

While the PLO views negotiations as a vessel for state building, the interest of Israel in this process, and of Israel alone, can be defined almost exclusively in terms of security.[41] The achievement of peace has always been a desirable, albeit elusive goal of all the governments of Israel. However, only in the past few years have Israel’s governing policy makers come to view this goal as a strategic need, which benefits the country’s defense needs.

The following influencing factors will demonstrate the truism of the statement made by the late Moshe Dayan when, shortly before being appointed Foreign Minister in Begin’s 1977 government, he declared: “Small nations (such as Israel) do not have a foreign policy—they only have a defense policy”.[42]

1. The threat of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza

The establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is a realistic possibility, believed by many to be inevitable. This possibility poses a number of security threats to Israel, on various levels:

A. The Potential Military Dangers of a Palestinian State – The control of the West Bank and Gaza areas by Israel serves as a defensive asset, which may deter Arab foes from considering launching an attack. Its steep topography and few access routes present a natural obstacle course—a terrain in which Israel could defend itself from a large force of enemy armor in a potential eastern front.[43]

In hostile hands, the West Bank and Gaza could constitute a major military threat to Israel, due to the high ground and close proximity to vital Israeli cities and industrial zones. In its pre-1967 borders, Israel was only 14-20 km wide at the narrow waistline of the coastal plain. Eighty percent of Israel’s industrial capacity and two thirds of its population inhabit this narrow coastal strip, from Haifa to Ashkelon. The Gaza Strip is not mountainous and covers only 360 square kilometers. Nevertheless, it is in close proximity to several major Israeli cities and ports: Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beer-Sheva and Tel-Aviv. The 5,500 square kilometer area of the West Bank is largely mountainous and, if controlled by a hostile foreign force as a springboard, could put Israel in a state of military vulnerability.[44] In light of the ratio of conventional forces, should an Arab coalition be assembled on Israel’s eastern front, the force ratio between Israel and that Arab coalition could tip heavily in the direction of the latter.[45]

The establishment of a Palestinian state raises a number of very serious questions. What would the Palestinian state look like? What kind of terrorist threats could it project on Israel? Would it promote terror, as does the Palestinian Authority today, or would it be willing and able to prevent it? These questions are intertwined, as are the answers. Clearly, the current Al-Aqsa “Intifada”, which has been raging since September 2000, is a foreboding omen vis-?-vis the conduct of the current Palestinian leadership and the threats constituted by an armed Palestinian State.

A Palestinian state committed to peace would have the ability to curb attacks on Israel from within and therefore would not present a direct threat to Israel. However, a rogue state (e.g. Libya, Iran, or Iraq) promoting anti-Israeli actions or lacking the ability to control belligerent activities within its borders (e.g. Lebanon), would present a clear and serious problem.[46]

B. The Potential Strategic Threat

i) The “Right of Return” and its Implications
The essence of the Right of Return is the permission for 2 to 3 million or more (depending on who is counting) Arab refugees of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and/or their descendants, to return to their original places of residence in that portion of mandatory Palestine that became the State of Israel (pre-1967 borders).

This is an issue that Israel and the Palestinians agreed to solve by May 1999 (according to the DOP and the Interim Agreement). However, the Israeli Right, apart from its principle objection to contacts with the PLO, believed that this issue would prove to be an insurmountable obstacle for a final settlement agreement. For example, former MK and Minister Benny Begin consistently and relentlessly underscored that the “right of return” was the most cardinal issue (and was dubbed by the media as a paranoid extremist).[47] The “right of return”, should it be implemented in accordance with the Palestinians’ position, will alter the fundamental essence of the Jewish State. Hence, it poses a threat to the existence of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.[48] What is overlooked by many is the fact that such a return of refugees into Israel would actually stand in total contrast to UN Resolution 181 (29 Nov. 1947), which called for the establishment of two states in Palestine: An Arab and a Jewish state. This resolution was accepted by the Jews, but rejected by the Arabs, who immediately launched a war against the Jewish population in mandatory Palestine.

Arafat’s call for the return of Palestinian refugees into pre-1967 Israel is clearly guided by the vision of an independent Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza and an Israel that, by absorbing the returning refugees, would within 20-30 years become a demographically bi-national state, no longer having a Jewish majority. As a democratic society this would bring about an end to Israel as the Jewish national home.[49] Ehud Barak alluded to this Palestinian view as being the main cause for the failure of the 2000-1 Camp David and Taba talks.

ii) Israel’s Arabs and the Palestinian State

One of every five Israeli citizens is Arab.[50] The ongoing political process, along with such a large minority, has far-reaching ramifications for Israel. Over the last decade, especially during and after the first Intifada, a growing separatist trend has grown up among Israeli Arabs.[51] The establishment of a Palestinian state raises additional fears of a domestic deterioration in the relations between Arabs and Jews, as in 1947-8.

If a Palestinian state poses fears of internal problems within Israel, it poses far greater problems for Jordan, which has a 75% Palestinian majority. The very establishment a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza could rekindle a surge of subversive activities among Jordan’s Palestinian population (as happened in September 1970), which would invariably prove destabilizing in the least. Proponents of a Palestinian state often argue that moderate Jordanians could pacify and rein-in a PLO-lead state. However, a quick glance at the demographic figures reveals an ominous trend in the opposite direction: a potential for chaos in Jordan, which clearly negates Israel’s strategic interests.

iii) A Palestinian state and Islamic Fundamentalism

Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in the West Bank and Gaza communities.[52] A fledgling Palestinian state bereft of financial resources would find it difficult to turn down offers of aid from extremist Arab/Muslim regimes or groups, in return for political, religious and military activities that would correspond with their Islamist interests.[53] These prospects could eventually evolve into the kind of subversion that would generate greater regional instability.

2. A Shift in Thought
In his first book “On War”, Karl von Clausewitz stated that:

The first, the supreme, and most far-reaching act of judgement that a statesman and commander have to make is to establish…the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.[54]

The Zionist movement has known many trials and tribulations since its establishment. Some of the challenges that confronted the Jews in Theodor Herzl’s era still exist today. However, times have changed and so have the threats. Therefore, the “judgements that a statesman and commander must make” also must change accordingly.

One way of illustrating some of the relatively recent changes vis-?-vis military threats is to compare the words and thoughts of Shimon Peres as Defense Minister in 1975 and as Foreign Minister in 1993—in the heyday of the Oslo process.

Table 1 below lists the security threats to Israel, as seen by Shimon Peres in 1975 and in 1993. As seen here, the main security threat in 1975 was the extreme disproportion in forces between Israel and its neighbors.[55] These included military forces, natural resources and manpower. By comparison, in 1993 Peres believed the main security threats to be the possession and potential development and acquirement of unconventional weapons by Israel’s enemies.[56] In addition, during his first incumbency, Peres believed that terrorism – supported and promulgated mainly by the Soviets – constituted a major threat.[57] Comparatively, in 1993 Peres stated that Israel would be confronted with interior terrorism backed by extremist ideology, and that this is a strategic threat.[58]

According to Defense Minister Shimon Peres – Oct. 12-17, 1975 According to Foreign Minister and soon-to-be Defense Minister Shimon Peres – 1993

1. The extreme disproportion in forces and potential between Israel and its neighbors.
2. The radicals, including the various terror organizations supported by Soviet Russia and aided from time to time by China. They propose to liquidate Israel and are supported by Syria, Iraq, South Yemen, Libya and partly, by Algeria.

* Internal terrorist activity.
* Missile attacks.
* Technological threat.
* Unconventional weaponry.
* Nuclear weapons.
* Extremist ideologies (Iranian terrorism and Fundamentalists).

* Based on the books Military Aspects of the Israeli-Arab Conflict, and The New Middle East.

Table 2 compares the considerations for the defense policy as viewed in 1975 and in 1993 by Shimon Peres. It can be clearly seen that one of the main differences in Peres’ view of the ways of dealing with Israel’s security threats is one of emphasis. In 1975, the emphasis was on self-reliance, whereas in 1993, it was on regional security. This change of thought represents a sharp detour from conventional Israeli security thought until that time.

The future Middle Eastern security framework, in Peres’ view, should be structured around two types of mutual obligations: nation-to-nation (bilateral and multilateral), and nation-to-region:

The direct nation-to-nation arrangements will serve in and of themselves as a deterrent to aggression. The duties charged by the regional security system will help enforce peace because only a regional framework will allow dismantling of power structures, work towards disarmament, and control trigger-happy fingers.[59]

Israel’s Defence Policy and the Elements Affecting the Structure of the Military, According to Peres, 1975 Change in Traditional Thought, According to Peres, 1993
1. “We must ensure the existence of the only Jewish State on earth as a democracy, able to defend itself mainly by its own efforts.” 1. “Regional security: national political organizations can no longer fulfill the purpose for which they were established. That is, to furnish the fundamental need of the nation, which is security.”
2. “We base our defense on quality of the highest degree in manpower, in scientific, technological and industrial effort, and on the ability to utilize the existing resources, or create compensating ones, by human endeavor. This is important due to the extreme disproportion in human and material resource.” 2. “The traditional concept of national defense, which depends mainly on military and weapons systems, to the modern concept, which is of necessity based on political accords, and embraces international security and economic considerations.”
3. “Our basic military posture is of a defensive nature. It is only the geo-political and quantitative data that compel us to behave otherwise when the situation necessitates it. Use of offensive if necessary.” 3. “The scale has tipped in the direction of economics, rather than military might. Armies might conquer physical entities (quantitative) but they cannot conquer qualitative ones.”
4. “The basic self-reliance of our military effort. Israel cannot rely on guarantees or foreign troops.” 4. “There is no foolproof means of national defense other than a wide-ranging regional arrangement. National security hinges on this regional security. Eventually, we will need global defense.”
5. “Our army is built on the assumption that, in spite of its size, it can maneuver and generate firepower to match that of each and every army confronting it.” 5. “Peace is the means for security.”
“In the future, geography will be of less importance to Israel. Rather, Intelligence will be of importance”.
6. “The Middle East is at a crossroads. The question confronting us is, how far may we pursue the openings for a settlement, and how intensively should we prepare to meet the risk of war?” 6. “We must reach a full peace in the entire Middle East before Iran reaches nuclear capabilities which is the biggest threat against Israel”.
7. “The forces must be highly trained and combined with local defense units which include settlers living along the borders and older people in the towns. This strategy must face the test of time and supply.” 7. “Missile attacks make the 30-50 km ‘strategic depth’ irrelevant.”
8. “The risk of war will remain as long as there is a military strength at the disposal of the Arab countries.” 8. “Our ultimate goal is the creation of a regional community”.
* Based on the books Military Aspects of the Israeli-Arab Conflict, and on The New Middle East, as well as on an interview given by Mr. Peres to Dan Margalit on Israel’s 48th Independence day, 06/05/1996.

In 1975 Peres believed that Israel must rely on its own forces and refrain from any dependence on foreign forces and guarantees. The mere fact that outside intervention is a matter of time—days at the very least—while the rapid changes in the course of war may only take hours, made it imperative for Israel to rely on independent capabilities to wage war.[60] By comparison, in 1993, Peres believed that the regional and eventual global defense organization was imperative. He stated that the Middle East should be modeled after the European Community, in both economic and security matters (e.g., NATO and OSCE). He stated that an independent supervising body must be established, to serve as an “early warning” against surprise attacks, and added that routine surveillance with regular reports to the superpowers could enhance the early warning.[61]

Simultaneously, Peres was not oblivious to the advantages of peace and undoubtedly preferred to strive for peace rather than prepare for war. This is evident from reading Peres’ explanation of the ‘crossroads’ at which the Middle East was in 1975. That crossroad confronted Israel with the question of “How far may we pursue the openings for settlement and how intensively should we prepare to meet the risk of war”.[62] In other words, Peres clearly desired a state of peace but did not necessarily see it as an imperative strategic component. In contrast, by 1993 Peres definitely viewed peace as a strategic need for national security.[63] In an interview with news correspondent Dan Margalit on Israel’s 48th Independence Day (6 May 1996), Peres stated that the main threat against Israel and the whole free world is Iran. He believed that in order to deal with this threat, full peace must be established in the Middle East, before Iran reaches nuclear capabilities.[64]

The late Prime Minister Rabin had also made the strategic decision for peace. His decision was primarily based on security considerations.[65]He believed the time was right and that any significant procrastination could generate severe consequences.[66]

Rabin felt that the international and regional changes offered a short-term window of opportunity to resolve the core of the conflict with Israel’s Arab neighbours.[67] He felt that the time was ripe for peace and, much like Peres, thought this peace must be reached before Arab countries acquired nuclear capability:

. . . A number of countries in our region have recently stepped up their efforts to develop and produce nuclear arms…The possibility that nuclear weapons will be introduced in the Middle East in the coming years is a very grave and negative development from Israel’s standpoint…This situation requires us to give further thought to the urgent need to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and live in peace with our Arab neighbors. (Inaugural Speech in the Knesset: July 13,1992)[68]

Additionally, Rabin felt that it was time to face the issue of Islamic fundamentalism, which encouraged, inspired and spawned regional terror (well before September 11, 2001):

. . . Just as the State of Israel was the first to perceive the Iraqi nuclear threat, so today we stand in the line of fire against the danger of fundamentalist Islam. (Speech in the Knesset, December 1992) [69]

Rabin’s position was that the proposed peace should be reached with the PLO, before Hamas and Islamic Jihad became too powerful.[70] These statements reflect the fact that Rabin and Peres saw eye-to-eye with regards to the strategic need for peace.

Taken to extremes, these viewpoints can be interpreted as follows: In 1975 Israel needed security in order to obtain peace, whereas in 1993 Israel strove for peace in order to attain security. This reflects a drastic shift of thought, from the maximalist to the minimalist position. The latter asserts that practically no portion of any territory offers such strategic advantages that it should be an integral part of the Jewish State at the expense of peace. This conviction holds that a formal peace agreement—augmented by international guarantees, demilitarization and special surveillance mechanisms—provides greater security than formal annexation of the Territories or portions thereof. [71]

3. Labor (Rabin) vs. Likud (Shamir)
All of the above mentioned events and perceptions were present in October 1991 when Palestinians and Israel convened for peace talks in Madrid. The most relevant occurrence that had not existed by October 1991, and without which it would have been impossible to reach an agreement with Yasser Arafat, was the change of Israeli governments that took place almost a year later (23rd June 1992). This event marks the watershed of the Israeli engagement with the Palestinian issue.
Historically, the traditional foreign policies of the rival Labor and Likud parties have some striking similarities. Both parties deeply opposed Palestinian nationalism, not to mention the utter objection both parties had in terms of the possibility of dialogue with Yasser Arafat. The infamous statement regarding the supposed non-existence of a Palestinian people came not from the Likud, but from ex-Labor party chairperson and Prime Minister, Golda Meir.[72] Yet the differences between the Likud and Labor are quite significant, both in the realm of ideology and in the realm of practical policy.

The Labor party traditionally had a pro-Hashemite orientation. After the Six-Day War, Labor adopted what has been dubbed as the “Jordanian option”. It emphasized that there is no room for a Palestinian State west of the Jordan River. The aim of the policy was to reach a settlement with King Hussein, based on territorial compromise.[73] The last attempt along that venue was the 1987 proposed “London Agreement”, which was initiated and brokered by Shimon Peres, then Foreign Minister in the national unity government, and eventually foiled by then Prime Minister Shamir.

The Likud’s ideology was based on the belief in a “Greater Israel”: Judea and Samaria are an integral part of the land of Israel. The Likud staunchly rejected the notion that Jordan has a claim to sovereignty over this area. More vigorously, the Likud denied any claim of Palestinian nationhood in the disputed area. All that the Likud would agree to offer the Palestinians was full civilian autonomy, as called for by the 1978 Camp David Agreements. Hence, the main difference between the Likud and Labor parties is in their attitude toward the principle of partition (especially vis-?-vis Judea and Samaria).[74] One of the staunchest and most avid advocates of the Likud’s Greater Israel ideology was Yitzhak Shamir. He did not believe that the Greater Israel ideal was merely a good political slogan or an effective tactic for future negotiations with Palestinians. Rather, he truly believed in Greater Israel and conducted his foreign policy accordingly and consistently.

At the 1991 Madrid conference, Israel was represented by PM Shamir, who was given the same opportunity to strike a deal with the Palestinians as Yitzhak Rabin two years later. However, Shamir was not willing to accept a “land for peace” package, not to mention his absolute refusal to recognize Arafat as a legitimate partner for peace. Shamir insisted that the root cause of the conflict was not territory, but the Arab refusal to recognize the basic legitimacy of the State of Israel and its moral right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. Hence, he was not prepared to trade territory for peace, but would only offer peace for peace. (Ambassador Zalman Shoval described the logic of “land for Peace” as tantamount to “paying money for love.”[75]) Shamir’s government held five rounds of bilateral talks in Washington, following the conference in Madrid. Throughout these talks, Israel continued to rule out giving land for peace.

During the fourth round of talks, at the end of February 1992, the two sides tabled incompatible plans for the interim period of self-government. The Palestinian blueprint was for a Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority, PISGA. Israel’s counter proposal was for “interior self-government arrangements”. Israel’s proposal applied only to people, not to territory.[76] Concurrently, in what can only be dubbed as a subversive act against an incumbent government, Labor emissaries secretly approached the PLO. The Palestinians were assured that they could receive a more generous offer from a Labor government in Israel, if they would only wait until after the upcoming June elections.[77] In consequence, as the date of elections in Israel drew nearer, the more difficult it became to reach an agreement and bridge the differences between the two sides. In the meantime, the Israeli government continued its settlement drive in Judea and Samaria.

In June 1992 elections were held, with the Peace Process being one of the focal issues. The Rabin-led Labor party promised to achieve a settlement with the Palestinians within nine months, whereas the Shamir-led Likud party promised to continue expansion of Jewish settlements and set no timeframe on striking a deal with the Palestinians. One could speculate that had Labor lost these elections, the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza could have been determined subject to the Madrid-format negotiations and in congruence with the on-the-ground demographic reality in the Territories.

In defeat, Shamir remained unapologetic about his ideological commitment to the Land of Israel, as he had been whilst in power. In an interview to the Israeli newspaper Maariv only three days after his electoral defeat, he stated that the centerpiece of his party’s ideology is the Land of Israel and that on this there could be no compromise. “Moderation”, he explained, “should relate to the tactics but not to the goal. That is how I acted as Prime Minister. In my political activity I know how to display the tactics of moderation, but without conceding anything on the goal—the integrity of the Land of Israel.”[78]

Shamir disclosed that his secret agenda for the peace talks had been to expand Jewish settlement and to complete the demographic revolution in the Land of Israel, without which there was the danger that autonomy could be turned into a Palestinian state. “I would have carried on autonomy talks for ten years,” he said, “and meanwhile we would have reached half a million people in Judea and Samaria.” When reminded that, judging by the results of the recent election, there was no majority for a Greater Land of Israel, Shamir retorted bluntly: “I didn’t believe there was a majority in favor of a Greater Land of Israel. But it can be attained over time. This must be the historic direction. If we drop this basis, there would be nothing to prevent the development of a Palestinian state”.[79]

Rabin, much like his older predecessor, was a product of the last half-century of his people’s history. His direct involvement in the conflict played a decisive role in shaping his views, first as a soldier and then as a diplomat and politician.[80]

Originally, Rabin believed he could achieve an agreement within the Madrid format. He stood firmly behind the approach of not negotiating with the Tunis-based PLO, as did the general public in Israel until then (polls showed an overwhelming objection to dealing with the PLO). Aware of—and perhaps deterred by—the complexity of the negotiations with the Palestinians and the challenge in trying to bring the two sides to sign an agreement, Rabin opted to pursue the Syrian track first, in accordance with his pre-election promise to achieve a peace within nine months. By early-mid 1993, Rabin concluded that Assad was not ready to make the necessary decisions. In any event the Labor party, in its 1992 platform had included an article negating and contravening any negotiations with the PLO, or other terror groups, just as the Israeli statute law outlawed such contacts.

Once the Syrian track proved futile, Rabin scrapped the long-held view of the PLO, convinced that there was no alternative and that Israel’s vital security interests would best be served by taking the route of Oslo.[81] Indeed, both Yitzhaks were hawks, but whereas Rabin was only a security hawk, Shamir was an ideological hawk as well. According to researcher A. Shlaim, the Israel-PLO deal compromised the ideology of Greater Israel, though it was not intended to compromise Israel’s security, but rather to enhance it.[82]

This point in time marks the defining moment when one begins to see a policy of folly. The Israeli government consciously decided on negotiating with a long-time terrorist organization representing, not the Palestinian leadership in the Territories, which was more concerned with the issues facing the resident population, but the Palestinian Diaspora (i.e., the refugees, and the concommitant issue of the “Right of Return”).

Proponents of Oslo argue that, although the PLO is not an ideal partner, “Israel cannot chose its enemies and that peace is made between enemies.” In fact, the Labor government did “choose” its partner for negotiations: by elevating the Tunis-PLO from its pariah status and legitimatising it politically—forsaking the Madrid players—Israel chose the PLO rather than the resident Palestinian people. The PLO itself was never elected to represent the Palestinians prior to its importation from Tunis into the Territories in 1993. Nor did the 1995 elections in the Territories and Jerusalem conform to modern democratic standards. Furthermore, no elections have been held or scheduled to take place ever since.

In the final account, Arafat and the Tunis cadre—a vestige of the Palestinians’ past—were a hollow vessel for the Palestinian cause. Apart from launching numerous “successful” attacks on Israelis and Jews around the world, they had brought the Palestinian people no closer to national self-determination. The only viable solution for the conflict with Israel, as far as the PLO was concerned, was to “turn back the clock” and regain all that was perceived to have been lost. Arafat, as opposed to the local leaders in the Territories and their future successors, was not concerned with the trials and tribulations of the population. As an icon and a persona inextricably bound to the ethos of the Palestinian issue, he is committed to perpetuate the Palestinian plight as a personal political vessel. In short, he is obsessed with the past and not yet willing to ponder the prospects for the future.
The Israeli government in 1993 was either oblivious to all this, or had ignored it and chosen to gamble. Fate was not a factor in this decision.


The two main threats to Israel’s security today are the development and use of non-conventional weapons by its foes and terrorism. In discussing the Oslo process, the latter is the focal point of analysis.

A. Deterrence

The first Israeli policymaker to define terrorism as a strategic threat was the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in a cabinet meeting held in the wake of the attack at the Beit-Lid intersection in January 1995, where over 20 IDF soldiers were killed.[83] In fact, in the mid-80’s, Benjamin Netanyahu, then a diplomat, dubbed terrorism as a strategic threat not only to Israel but also to the entire free world.[84] Rabin branded terrorism as a strategic peril because it threatened the political strategy adopted by the Israeli government—namely peace via the Oslo accords.

Since the 1960’s, Israel has attempted to foster the image of a state neither capable of nor prepared to sustain serious blows to its security interests, and willing to resort to arms whenever jeopardised.[85] However, the reputation for striking back when hit, which is essential for maintaining deterrent power, has been eroded by the self-imposed restraint that Israel first adopted during the Gulf War, and in the years of the Oslo process, up to the present.[86]

In 1992-3, Israel, led by the Labor government, chose a different route in dealing with the PLO: the route of appeasement. Unfortunately, this ostensibly effective new approach did not correspond with reality. Not only was terrorism not purged, it was not even minimized. The great loss of life grimly attests to that: In the 30 months after the signing of the DOP, more Israelis were killed in terror attacks (213) than in the preceding decade (203 from January 1983 to September 1993).

In the final account, the Oslo process—which stood to provide Israel with enhanced security—had in effect lessened the everyday security of its citizens. The long-term effects of this have brought many to label terrorism—conducted in a protracted manner—as a strategic threat.[88]
The last eight years have also seen several large-scale attacks and/or clashes with PA forces, which brought about toothless Israeli warnings. This culminated in Ehud Barak’s “ultimatums” following the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in the wake if the 2000 Camp David debacle. These Israeli “warnings of reprisal” did not hold water, being undermined by rigorous negotiations in which the then incumbent Prime Minister and Defense Minister made far-reaching concessions—only to be reciprocated by more Palestinian terrorism.

B. Early Warning

The crippling of Israel’s deterrence acutely boosted the importance of early warning of an impending threat. However, since the withdrawal from the areas handed over to the PA, the ability to use the sources previously at the Israeli intelligence’s disposal—particularly Humint—has become more and more limited.[89] The Palestinian Authority has excellent sources that could assist Israel in maintaining its early warning capabilities—the only missing variable is the Palestinians’ willingness (or lack thereof) to do so.[90]

On the whole, Israel’s capability to foresee low-level attacks has waned, entailing an arduous and expensive long-term effort to compensate for this via other alternatives.


On the 13th of September 1993, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accord. The need for an agreement was indeed great, yet the objective conditions making such an agreement successful were lacking. The Palestinian disillusionment with Pan-Arabism, the toll of the conflict on both Israelis and Palestinians, and the unique historical events of such a magnitude that rarely coincide in decades, came to be within 5 years (1987-1992), namely: the Intifada, the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War. These events, simultaneously and independently, had an enormous catalytic effect on the advent of the Oslo Accords. Following the Gulf War, the PLO’s power was severely weakened as a result of its unflinching support of Saddam Hussein. The Gulf War had the most damaging effect on the Palestinian cause and the Oslo Accords constituted a lifeline for the politically maimed PLO.

Furthermore, the Israeli strategic decision to make a political settlement with the PLO was formulated by a very specific political outlook and security rationale advocated by the Labor party and its main key figures. This rationale stipulated that the danger to Israel from the existence of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is overshadowed by the substantially greater threat to Israel’s security in a perpetuated situation of no-agreement and continued control over the Territories.

Finally and most importantly, the change of guard in Israel’s government in 1992 was the most notable factor facilitating the agreement between the PLO and Israel. Israel’s Labor government opted to recognize and legitimatize the PLO as a political entity and partner. This was a decision that no prior Israeli government was willing to make and no American government was, up to that time, inclined to promote.

The case of Oslo clearly spells out failure in bringing security for Israel and a solution to the Palestinian question. The colossal failure of this crucial and highly risky experiment can be attributed to two main reasons: Arafat’s rule of the PLO and a lack of ripeness.

As for the PLO and Arafat, Moshe Arens clearly stipulated the problem they constitute:

…How did this foolishness come about? In 1993, Arafat, in far-away Tunis, seemed almost down and out when the Labor government—by the recognition it granted him at Oslo—picked him off the floor, dusted him off and legitimized him…As long as Arafat continues to be Israel’s partner, the Palestinian “diaspora” will be part and parcel of the negotiations, making an agreement impossible. Israel would be better off without Arafat in the picture.[91]

Clearly, Israel’s government in 1993 failed to learn the lessons of the 1982 Lebanon war. The cardinal mistake made by Israel in the context of the Lebanon war—one often underscored by scholars and experts on Israeli foreign policy—was Israel’s involvement in internal Lebanese inter-faction politics, culminating in its attempt to facilitate the establishment of a “friendly” Maronite-Christian regime. This interference in the internal affairs of another country, which attempted to “rearrange the chips” proved disastrous. Similarly, by engaging with the PLO willingly, meddling in Palestinian politics, bringing Arafat and his cadre into the Territories and “crowning” their regime as a fait accompli to the Palestinian people, Israel practiced sheer negligence, which proved disastrous for the security of its people.

Successful conflict resolution must be based on a basic ripeness and willingness of the parties to reach an agreement and to do the utmost to that end. The constant and incessant terrorism against Israelis, fostered by institutionalized incitement in the written and electronic media—and more disturbingly, in the educational system—of the PA proves that such ripeness is lacking. As for the Israeli public, although this ripeness for a settlement is present, it is contestable whether this is still true when the price entailed by such a compromise is relinquishing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, the exchange of territories in pre-1967 Israel and the blatant demand for the fulfillment of the “Right of Return”. What is not contestable is the fact that the people of Israel are not willing to pay such a price while terrorism remains rampant.

Is Oslo then the tragic result of an imminent process that could not have been circumvented? Is it fate or folly?

The fact of the matter is that all of Israel’s governments prior to 1993 were blatantly opposed to dealing with the PLO—a terrorist organization ostracized by the Israeli and American publics and administrations.[92] In 1980, President Ronald Reagan made the clear distinction between the PLO and the Palestinian people:

The PLO is ostensibly supposed to represent the Palestinians, yet it does not represent anyone, except those who founded it as a means of organized aggression against Israel…I think that the PLO has indeed proven itself to be a terrorist organization. I have said time and again that I make the distinction between the PLO and the Palestinians. No one has ever elected the PLO. [93]

The widely held perception that negotiation with the PLO was counterproductive was not acceptable to the Israeli government led by Rabin and Peres.

The question of a viable alternative course of action is naturally left for speculation. What is clear is that at the time Israel launched its exchanges with the PLO in Oslo, an existing process was already well underway: the Madrid Conference route of direct bilateral and multilateral talks between Israel and the Arab world. Cynics may argue that the hurdles along that route would have led to nothing, yet that claim cannot be ascertained since Oslo did not allow for the Madrid option to exhaust itself.

While the Rabin-Peres Labor government sowed the seeds of the maelstrom, it cannot be held as the sole scapegoat. All of the governments that followed (three in number) have adopted and/or implemented these accords to some degree or another, despite the unprecedented toll inflicted on the people of Israel by terrorism throughout the years of the Oslo process.

To the detriment of Israel and its people, the debacle that is Oslo was not fate, but rather a tragic folly that could have been avoided.

IV. What Next?

The lack of an immediate remedy to Israel’s predicament does not necessarily imply that Israel must hastily and unwisely adopt a bad solution. By choosing the option of continuing negotiations with Arafat (if indeed such an option exists), Israel will in effect become engaged the proverbial Sisyphian act of pushing the rock up the mountain.

In his epic work “The Eternal Peace”, the renowned philosopher Emanuel Kant wrote of the sine qua non foundations necessary for the establishment of real and sustainable peace: “The first precondition for making peace is that the regime (ius civitas) of every state must be of a republican nature.”[94] (Kant’s notion of “republican” adopts the principles of Montesqueu’s model: separation of powers, representatives elected by the people, etc.)

The above applies to the present case: unfortunately, only when the Palestinian people adopt and practice democracy will true peace be realistically possible.

There is however room for optimism in the long run. Hopefully, democracy, liberalism, and basic human freedoms will be more ubiquitous in the Arab world, as we presently witness cross-cultural exchanges of information and views, the reality of which is facilitated by modern technological tools such as the Internet, satellite communications, etc. Until such an occasion presents itself, Israel must continue to be considerably stronger and tenacious than its neighbors for any interim agreements to be sustainable.

Today, within Israel’s’ unity government, there are different and often even contrasting views as to what the final resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict should be. There are those who argue that negotiations are necessary even as the fighting goes on. This view was originally expressed during the “Tunnel events” of 1996, when Arafat’s Palestinian Authority blatantly breached the Oslo Accords, ordering its militias to initiate armed attacks on Israeli soldiers. Shimon Peres argues “when there is talking, there is no shooting”.[95] On the other hand, the advocates of a “cease-fire first” and an end to violence as a precondition for the renewal of negotiations allude to the insistence of U.S. President Roosevelt and PM Churchill during World War II, who insisted on the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis Powers before negotiations could begin.

A sweeping demand by Israel for an “unconditional cease-fire” at the least, before any “final status” negotiations with the Palestinians commence, is imperative in the battle against PLO terrorism.

Even if it is not made public knowledge, Sharon’s government must have a clear, consistent and uniform policy. Previous governments and Prime Ministers did not deliver the promised “Peace ad Security” and subsequently were replaced in elections. Sharon will achieve his goal or at least enhance the probability of doing so, if he sends Arafat into permanent political exile. In order to achieve this objective, Sharon should adopt an Israeli version of the PLO’s “Plan of Stages”. During the implementation of this plan, Israel should continue its ongoing preemptive military counter-terrorist actions, retain tactical control of PA areas when necessary and not hand over any land prior to a complete halt of the violence, and then only within the framework of renewed negotiations.

Israel’s “Plan of Stages” should consist of four primary phases:

Phase One: Inculcate in the Israeli public the recognition that Arafat is not the correct address for peace making. To a large extent, this phase has been achieved today as a consequence of Arafat’s own actions. A large majority of Israelis now believe that Arafat is not a valid partner and that any negotiations with him are counterproductive and/or futile.

Phase Two: Reach international understanding that peace cannot be achieved with Arafat as the partner. This objective is far from being within arms reach, however it is closer than it ever been since September 1993 and the PLO’s political rehabilitation. Once this phase has been completed, the world will be more receptive to the following phase.

Phase Three: Foster the prospect of a local grassroots Palestinian leadership parallel to the present one. This will not be a simple task, since the channels that existed for conversing with local leaders before the Oslo Accords does not exist today. However, in time, after Arafat and his cronies have made their formal exit from the Middle Eastern stage, a new generation of Palestinian figures may arise, who will not be bound by the residues of the past and the constraints stemming from them. Instead this new leadership will be dedicated to finding solutions for the future and bettering the conditions of the Palestinian people.

Phase Four: Once a local Palestinian leadership has been established, the starting point must be the implementation of previously signed agreements. Or in other words, to agree on what has already been agreed upon and implement it as a confidence building measure. These measures would include civilian autonomy for the Palestinians, a limited police force, neutralization of military threats to Israel, etc. This should serve as the litmus paper indication for the prospect of long-term, more permanent arrangements in the future.


The atrocious attacks of September 11th 2001 brought terrorism home to America. The attack on the WTC and the number of victims were a large-scale depiction of what Israel has been enduring for several decades: deadly terror attacks spawned by unbridled hate, denigration and negation of the State of Israel.

Terrorism in all of its forms is an illegitimate weapon, regardless of its ostensible causes. The murder of innocent civilians should be invariably condemned. Terrorism is terrorism and should not be deemed “acceptable” in one constellation or context, while being considered a Casus Bellum in another. The free world must battle this scourge with unflinching resolve and with “Zero tolerance” for Terrorism. Only a tenacious and persistent campaign in the name of freedom, against this barbaric strand of violence—before these extremist elements acquire weapons of mass destruction—can provide the world with a chance to ensure a safe future for posterity.


1. Tuchman, Barbara W., The March of Folly, London, Abacus Books, 1997, p. 4.
2. Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, p.16.
3. Shlaim, A. “The Oslo Accord”, Journal of Palestine Studies XXIII, no.3, p.26.
4. Ibid.
5. Flamhaft Z., Israel on the Road to Peace: Accepting the Unacceptable, Colorado, Westview Press, 1996, p.65.
6. Makovsky, D., Making Peace with the PLO, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Westview Press, Colorado, 1996, p.107.
7. Avineri, Shlomo, Haaretz, 16.2.96
8. Makovsky, D., Making Peace with the PLO, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Westview Press, Colorado, 1996, p.107.
9. Avineri, Shlomo, Haaretz, 16.2.96.
10. Atherton Jr., A.L., “The shifting sands of Middle East peace”, Foreign Policy, No. 86, 1992, p.118.
11. Avineri, Shlomo, Haaretz, 16.2.96.
12. Ya’ari, Ehud & Schiff, Ze’ev, Intifada, Tel-Aviv, Shoken Publishing, 1988, p.9.
13. Alin, E. “Dynamics of the Palestinian Uprising”, Comparative politics 26(4), July 1994, p.495.
14. Personal interview with Karmi Gilon, 28.4.1996.
15. Avineri, Shlomo, Haaretz, 16.2.96
16. Atherton Jr., A.L. “The shifting sands of Middle East peace”, Foreign Policy, No.86, 1992. p.119.
17. Avineri, Shlomo, Haaretz, 16.2.96
18. Makovsky, D., Making Peace with the PLO, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Colorado, Westview Press, 1996, p.108.
19. Ibid, p.109.
20. Personal interview with Zalman Shoval, 26.3.2001
21. As cited in Makovsky’s Making Peace with the PLO, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Colorado, Westview Press, 1996, p.108.
22. Avineri, Shlomo, Haaretz, 16.2.96.
23. “Divrei haKnesset”, Knesset debates, translated from the Hebrew version, 21 September, 1993.
24. Ibid.
25. “Divrei haKnesset”, Knesset debates, translated from the Hebrew version, 21 October, 1993.
26. Personal interview with Dr. Eli Pude, 23.2.1996
27. Ibid.
28. Lewis, Bernard, The Middle East and the West, New York, Harper and Row, 1964, p.94
29. Ajami, Fouad, “The End of Pan Arabism”, Foreign Affairs, Vol II, Winter 1978, p.356.
30. Atherton Jr., A.L. “The shifting sands of Middle East peace”, Foreign Policy, No. 86, 1992. p.116.
31. Ajami, Fouad, “The End of Pan Arabism”, Foreign Affairs, Winter 1978, Vol II, p.360.
32. Ibid.
33. Ibid, p.371
34. Interview with Dr. Eli Pude
35. Ibid.
36. Personal interview with Shlomo Gazit, 26.5.1996
37. Hilal, K. “Are the Arabs ready for peace with Israel”, Foreign Affairs 1(1): pp.19-28, 1994.
38. Roy, S. “Changing political attitudes among Gaza refugees”Journal of Palestinian Studies, 19(1), 1989, p.81.
39. Tessler, M. & J. Sanad, “Will the Arab public accept peace with Israel? Evidence from surveys in three Arab societies” in Karsh, E & G. Mahler (Eds.), Israel at the Crossroads, London, British Academic Press, 1994 , p.70.
40. Craig, G. & George, A. Force of Statecraft, 2nd Ed., New York, Oxford University Press, 1990, pp.163-178.
41. Alpher, J. “Israel’s security concerns in the peace process”, International Affairs, 70(2):229-241, 1994, p.229.
42. Klieman, A., Israel and the World After 40 Years, Pergamon-Brassey’s International Defense Publications Inc., 1989.
43. Widlanski, M (Ed.), “Can Israel Survive a Palestinian State?”, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Jerusalem, 1990, p.10.
44. Levran, A., “The military dangers of a Palestinian state”, Global Affairs 4(4):133-151, 1989.
45. Ibid.
46. Widlanski, M (Ed.), “Can Israel Survive a Palestinian State?”, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Jerusalem, 1990, pp.26-64.
47. Personal interview with Benjamin Ze’ev Begin, April 1999
48. Tal, Y., National Security: The Few Against the Many, (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv, Dvir Publishing House, 1996, p.230.
49. Ehud Barak in press conference, August 2001
50. Widlanski, M (Ed): Can Israel Survive a Palestinian State? Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Jerusalem, 1990, p.66.
51. Ibid, p.71.
52. Ibid, p.86.
53. Interview with Karmi Gilon.
54. Clausewitz, C., On War, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984, p.88-89.
55. International Symposium on Military Aspects of the Israel-Arab Conflict, Jerusalem, University Publishing Project, 1975, p.4.
56. Peres, S., The New Middle East, New York, Henry Holt, 1993, p.85.
57. International Symposium on Military Aspects of the Israel-Arab Conflict, Jerusalem, University Publishing Project, 1975, p.6.
58. Peres, S., The New Middle East, New York, Henry Holt, 1993, p.20.
59. Peres, S., The New Middle East, New York, Henry Holt, 1993, pp.67-69.
60. International Symposium on Military Aspects of the Israel-Arab Conflict, Jerusalem, University Publishing Project, 1975, p.6.
61. Peres, S., The New Middle East, New York, Henry Holt, 1993, p.63.
62. International Symposium on Military Aspects of the Israel-Arab Conflict, Jerusalem, University Publishing Project, 1975, p.4.
63. Interview with Karmi Gilon.
64. Channel 1, Israeli Television, 6.5.96.
65. Interview with Karmi Gilon.
66. As cited in Makovsky, D., Making Peace with the PLO, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Colorado, Westview Press, 1996, p.108.
67. Personal interview with Dr. Ron Pundak, 16.6.1996
68. As cited in Makovsky, D., Making Peace with the PLO, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Colorado, Westview Press, 1996, p.112.
69. Ibid, p.113
70. Personal interview with Dr. Dore Gold, 24.3.2001
71. Cohen, S., Israel’s Defensible Borders: A Geopolitical Map, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Jerusalem Post Press, Paper #20, 1983, p.67.
72. Shlaim, A., “Prelude to the accord: Likud, Labor, and the Palestinians”, Journal of Palestinian Studies, XXIII, no.2, 1994, p.7.
73. Ibid, p. 8
74. Ibid, p. 9
75. Interview with Zalman Shoval.
76. Flamhaft, Z., Israel on the Road to Peace, Westview Press, Colorado, 1996, p.85.
77. Interview with Zalman Shoval.
78. Shlaim, A, “Prelude to the accord: Likud, Labor, and the Palestinians”. Journal of Palestinian Studies, XXIII, no.2, 1994, pp.9-10.
79. Ibid.
80. Makovsky, D.: Making Peace with the PLO. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Westview Press, Colorado, 1996, p.117.
81. Interview with Dr. Ron Pundak.
82. Shlaim, A. “Prelude to the accord: Likud, Labor, and the Palestinians”. Journal of Palestinian Studies, XXIII, no.2, 1994, p.18.
83. Haaretz, 30 January 1995.
84. Netanyahu, Benjamin, Terrorism- how the West can win, The Jonathan Institute, 1986.
85. Kober, A., Deterrence, early warnings and strategic decision: The Israel security conception in the wake of the Gulf War, Contemporary Security Policy, 15(3):228-250, 1994, p.229.
86. Inbar, E., Strategic Consequences of the Gulf War for Israel, The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, October 1993, p.43.
87. Data attained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website (, IDF Spokesman and Peace Watch.
88. Personal interview with Zvi Zamir, 21.5.96
89. Ibid.
90. Interview with Karmi Gilon.
91. Personal interview with Moshe Arens, 12.3.2001
92. Gilboa, E., American Public Opinion toward Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv, Ministry of Defense Publishing, 1993, pp. 151-174.
93. Quoted in the New York Times, 7 Nov. 1980, as cited in Gilboa’s American Public Opinion toward Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv, Ministry of Defense Publishing, 1993, p. 174.
94. Kant, E., The Eternal Peace, Jerusalem, Magnes Press, 1976 (Hebrew version), pp.34-38.
95. Interviewed on Channel 2, September 1996

Periodicals, Journals etc.

1. Ajami, Fouad, “The End of Pan-Arabism”, Foreign Affairs, Winter 1978, Vol. II
2. Alin, E., “Dynamics of the Palestinian Uprising”, Comparative Politics 26(4), July 1994.
3. Alpher, J., “Israel’s security concerns in the peace process”, International Affairs 70(2):229-241, 1994.
4. Atherton, A.L. Jr., “The shifting sands of Middle East peace”, Foreign Policy No. 86, 1992.
5. Aviner, Shlomo, Ha’aretz, 16 February 1996.
6. Cohen, S., Israel’s Defensible Borders: A Geopolitical Map, Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Paper #20, Jerusalem Post Press, 1983.
7. Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, The State of Israel – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1993.
8. “Divrei HaKnesset”, Knesset Debates (translated from the Hebrew version), 21 September 1993.
9. “Divrei HaKnesset”, Knesset Debates (translated from the Hebrew version), 21 October 1993.
10. Hilal, K., “Are the Arabs ready for peace with Israel”, Foreign Affairs 1(1): pp.19-28, 1994.
11. Inbar, E., Strategic Consequences of the Gulf War for Israel, The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, October 1993.
12. International Symposium on Military Aspects of the Israeli-Arab Conflict, Jerusalem, University Publishing Project, 1975
13. Klieman, A., Israel and the World after 40 Years, Pergamon-Brassey’s International Defense Publications Inc., 1989.
14. Kober, A., “Deterrence, Early Warning and Strategic Decision: The Israeli Security Conception in the wake of the Gulf War”, Contemporary Security Policy 15(3):228-250, 1994.
15. Levran, A., “The Military dangers of a Palestinian State”, Global Affairs 4(4):133-151, 1989.
16. Roy, S., “Changing political attitudes among Gaza refugees”, Journal of Palestinian Studies 19(1), 1989.
17. Shlaim, A., “Prelude to the accord: Likud, Labor and the Palestinians”, Journal of Palestinian Studies, XXIII, No.2, 1994.
18. Shlaim, A., “The Oslo Accord”, Journal of Palestinian Studies, XXIII, No.3, 1994.
19. Widlanski, M. (Ed.), “Can Israel survive a Palestinian State?”, Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies, Jerusalem, 1990.


1. Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984.
2. Craig, G. & George, A. Force of Statecraft, 2nd Ed., New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.
3. Flamhaft, Z., Israel on the Road to Peace: Accepting the Unacceptable, Colorado, Westview Press, 1996.
4. Gilboa, E., American Public Opinion toward Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv, Ministry of Defense Publishing. 1993.
5. Kant, E., The Eternal Peace, Jerusalem, Magnes Press, 1976 (Hebrew).
6. Lewis, Bernard, The Middle East and the West, New York, Harper & Row, 1964.
7. Makovsky, David, Making Peawith the PLO, The Washington Institute for
8. Near East Policy, Colorado, Westview Press, 1996.
9. Netanyahu, Benjamin (Ed.), Terrorism- how the West can win, The Jonathan
10. Institute , 1986.
11. Peres, Shimon, The New Middle East, New York, Henry Holt, 1993.
12. Tal, Y., National Security: The Few Against the Many (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv, Dvir Publishing House, 1996.
13. Tessler, M. & J. Sanad, “Will the Arab public accept peace with Israel? Evidence from surveys in three Arab societies” in Karsh, E & Mahler, G. (Eds.), Israel at the Crossroads, London, British Academic Press, 1994.
14. Tuchman, Barbara W., The March of Folly, London, Abacus Books, 1997.
15 Ya’ari, E. & Schiff, Z., Intifada (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv, Shoken Publishing,1988.

Personal Interviews

1. Moshe Arens, 12 March 2001.
2. Benny Begin, 20 April 1999.
3. Shlomo Gazit, 26 May 1996.
4. Karmi Gilon, 28 April 1996.
5. Dr. Dore Gold, 24 March 2001.
6. Dr. Eli Pude (of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem- Middle East Studies department), 23 February 1996.
7. Dr. Ron Pundak, 16 June 1996.
8. Zalman Shoval, 26 March 2001.
9. Zvi Zamir, 21 May 1996.

Other sources

1. Ehud Barak in a press conference, Channel 1 coverage, August 2001
2. Yitzhak Rabin quoted in Ha’aretz newspaper, 30 January 1995
3. Shimon Peres, interviewed on Channel 1, Israeli Television, 6 May 1996
4. Shimon Peres, interviewed on Channel 2 IsraelTelevision, 17 September 1996.
5. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website(
6. IDF Spokesman.
7. Peace Watch