How Middle East peace
process was killed
H.D.S. Greenway, 5/3/2002
BOOKS ARE being written about what went wrong with the Oslo peace
process in the Middle East, and there will be as many theories as
there are authors. But one of the most persistent myths is that
Yasser Arafat turned down the most generous offer any Israeli leader
had ever made and decided to return to armed struggle.
It is true
that Arafat didn't accept Israel's offer at Camp David, but the
Palestinians didn't stop negotiating. The fact is that negotiations
went on at the Red Sea resort of Taba after Camp David, bringing
the two positions even closer, even after riots had broken out following
Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. That round of negotiations
ended when Israel's Ehud Barak closed them down in order to begin
his election campaign. When Oslo's archenemy, Sharon, came to power,
at Camp David was indeed the most generous offer Israel had ever
made, but it was not an offer of a viable Palestinian state. The
Palestine on offer was chopped up into sectors with no access to
each other - separated by Israeli settlements, settlement roads,
and Israeli-controlled areas. The same was true of East Jerusalem,
where Israelis have been trying to force Palestinians to leave.
It was if the Palestinian state were to get the spots while the
rest of the leopard would remain in Israeli hands. And during the
Oslo years Jewish settlements doubled.
was for President Clinton and Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak
to insist that this was an all-or-nothing deal that had to be signed
before either of their terms were up. It would have been better
to end negotiations by saying that everything agreed upon up to
then was settled and the areas of disagreement put off until later.
As it was, the burst of Palestinian anger that developed after Sharon's
famous Temple Mount visit was encouraged by many of the younger
Palestinian leaders frustrated not only with Oslo but with Arafat
himself. And Arafat chose not to stop it when he still could.
But long before
those tantalizingly close Taba negotiations were ended, the Oslo
process was in trouble. What the Israelis most wanted was security.
What the Palestinians most wanted was an end to the occupation and
their own state. And although there was progress on both fronts,
it was not enough, so both sides felt betrayed.
only precondition was that Yasser Arafat promise to give up armed
struggle. Arafat pledged to do so, and in a historic shift, renounced
Palestinian claims over Israel proper and agreed to a two-state
solution. And for a while, Israelis today agree, Arafat kept his
promise and began locking up terrorists. Security had seldom been
however, it was a sign-now-and-we'll-negotiate-later arrangement,
while what Palestinians thought they were getting was the same deal
Egypt's Anwar Sadat got - a wrapping up of the settlements and an
end to the occupation with all deliberate speed.
What the Israelis,
the Americans, and even Arafat didn't perceive was that delays and
foot-dragging over timetables for implementing the agreement and
the never-ending Jewish settlement expansion would prove fatal.
Dividing up occupied territories into different A zones and B zones
of Palestinian control just meant more checkpoints, more humiliations,
and more disruption to the economy. Too many Palestinians got poorer
instead of richer, more harrassed instead of less, adding to the
growing disillusionment. Arafat didn't help matters by running a
corrupt and undemocratic administration that turned off even more
Palestinians to the peace process.
The lack of
swift progress meant that the lid on violence began to lift. There
were approximately 36 bombings during the Oslo years. Arafat may
have permitted some of them, but, as President Clinton said, there
was never ''just one source of violence'' in the occupied territories.
Arafat could never deliver every armed faction once popular opinion
in the occupied territories began to turn against Oslo. Arafat needed
swift progress toward a Palestinian state, which he never got. And
the Israelis never got the security they needed.
was murdered by an Israeli who objected to the peace process, the
foot-dragging got worse. The dovish Labor Party lost to the hawkish
Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu, who despised the Oslo process but
could not run on a platform against peace. So he put as many impediments
to Oslo as he could once in office.
Oslo years, starting in 1993, too few Palestinians thought the process
was working for them, and they saw Israeli betrayal in every delay,
while Israelis never got the security they had a right to expect.
When Ariel Sharon came to power he began dismantling the Palestinian
Authority piece by piece, thus reducing Arafat's ability to maintain
order, all the while calling upon Arafat to do more.
Palestinians will argue forever over who was to blame for the Oslo
failure, but former senator George Mitchell's commission found enough
fault to go around. Mitchell spoke recently of the lack of ''economic
growth and job creation'' in the occupied territories as one of
the major factors and of the ''high correlation'' between violence
and a declining economy throughout history.
violence, however, got hard-liners Netanyahu and Sharon elected
and discredited the Israeli peace camp. As for the Israelis, the
shortsightedness of Sharon's policies in the occupied territories
is not just that ''each death creates a new demand for revenge,''
as Mitchell said, but that the levels of West Bank destruction will
create the perfect conditions for future economic decline leading
to more violence.
down the Palestinian house, Sharon has guaranteed that more fire
will spread next door to his, and maybe to the Arab states that
recognize Israel as well.
Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.
This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 5/3/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.