We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.
Rabin further referred to different areas of the West Bank that Israel would insist on keeping, including regions that no Palestinian negotiator could give up.
Because of these differences, the Oslo accords were originally labeled an interim agreement “for a transitional period not exceeding five years,” meant to lay the foundations for “a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).” Yet, even though the final objective intentionally remained vague, the agreement itself listed detailed timetables for the implementation of interim phases, including, most remarkably, an Israeli withdrawal from the cities of Gaza and Jericho in three months. Already in this sensitive initial phase, cracks appeared. “No dates are sacred,” said Rabin in December 1993, as the deadline for withdrawal was being postponed.
Nevertheless, despite the evident differences between both sides and the difficulties that were clear from the beginning, two-state-solution supporters believed the dynamics of the process would generate their own power, which would force the parties to take brave steps and reach an ultimate resolution. Whatever actual force these developments could have set in motion, the effort suffered a fatal blow on November 4, 1995, when an opponent of the agreement killed the prime minister.
SIX MONTHS later, Israel conducted elections between two candidates for prime minister—Shimon Peres, perceived as a progenitor of the Oslo plan, and Benjamin Netanyahu, a fierce opponent of the process throughout his time as head of the parliamentary opposition. Netanyahu won narrowly.
His election marked a new era in Israel’s attitude toward the negotiations. Prior to Rabin’s assassination, one could reasonably argue that the main motivation of the government was to conclude an agreement. But Netanyahu did everything possible to safeguard the negotiations as a framework while concurrently evading their declared objective. All of his successors as prime minister followed this pattern.
Netanyahu himself testified to this scheme and his way of handling it in a private conversation in 2001, when he was out of office. Unaware that he was being recorded, he bragged about the manipulative tactics he had used in his first tenure as prime minister to undermine the Oslo accords. He explained that he had insisted the Clinton administration provide him with a written commitment that Israel alone would be able to determine the borders of the “defined military sites” that would remain under its control. He went on to say that by defining the entire Jordan Valley as a military location, he “actually stopped the Oslo Accord.” He was right. Without this large area, the Palestinians wouldn’t have a viable state.
Indeed, under Netanyahu’s first tenure as prime minister, which ended in 1999, little progress was made in implementing the agreed-upon phases or moving toward a final-status agreement. When the five years allocated for the transitional period passed, no Palestinian state seemed near.
During his first term, Netanyahu came under attack from both sides. Those opposed to dividing the land were furious that he didn’t spurn the peace process overtly. Supporters of the accords, meanwhile, protested against his foot-dragging in implementing the agreement’s provisions. All condemned Netanyahu’s indecision. But these critics failed to perceive that Israel’s new status quo approach was actually a choice—and, indeed, a policy.
No one publicly embraced this decision, and yet it seemed to generate its own momentum as various players quietly understood that it served their purposes. A report published by the International Crisis Group, tellingly titled “The Emperor Has No Clothes: Palestinians and the End of the Peace Process,” lists benefits to the various partners in the so-called peace process, including the entities known collectively as the “quartet” (the UN, United States, European Union and Russia). The Europeans, said the report, wanted influence in the Middle East, and by funding the Palestinian Authority (PA) they found they could get a seat at some prestigious diplomatic tables. Russia and the UN harbored similar desires for diplomatic advancement.
Meanwhile, Washington knew its support for the ongoing peace process, however much it may be a sham, allowed it to maintain good relations with Arab countries even as it nurtured its “special relationship” with Israel. Thus, the United States saw in the status quo an opportunity to preserve its influence in the Middle East by maintaining a delicate balance in its ties with most major regional players. But this approach is far removed from the evenhanded policy championed by President Dwight Eisenhower in the early years of Israel’s existence. Israel today shows immense confidence in the financial aid and large diplomatic umbrella it gets from America, as reflected in Netanyahu’s oft-quoted comment:
I know what America is. America is something that can be easily moved. Moved to the right [direction]. . . . They won’t get in our way. They won’t get in our way. . . . So let’s say they say something. So they said it! They said it! 80 percent of the Americans support us.