When the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, and his deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, stepped foot on U.S. soil in September 1993, the PLO was considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel.
They had been invited by President Bill Clinton, along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the PLO and Israel.
First Israel and the PLO exchanged letters of recognition of each other. Once legitimized, the Sept. 13 ceremony at the hite House Lawn began. The famous handshake between Arafat and Rabin became the iconic image of the ceremony. The MoU they signed became known as the Oslo Accords.
A number of sub-agreements later in Egypt’s Taba, and Wye River in the U.S., the assassination of Rabin by a religious Jewish Israeli and the collapse of the peace efforts have pushed many to say, as former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wrote in a Foreign Affairs article, that “Oslo is Dead.”
Twenty-five years after that famous handshake, the majority of Palestinians, as well as Israelis and international observers, find it hard to see any worthwhile positives in what had been seen at the time as a major breakthrough.
Hassan Asfour, a senior PLO negotiator who is now editor of an opposition website in Cairo, told Arab News that Oslo did make a major breakthrough that should not be ignored. “This was the first time that Jewish Israeli officials were ever willing to stop the religious expansionism that has become the hallmark of Zionism.”
Asfour, who along with Ahmad Krai (Abu Ala’a), was deeply involved in the secret negotiations with Israel’s Uri Savir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, said the breaking of this religious taboo was the main reason for Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995.
“Rabin was killed by a religious Jew because he dared to give up what Jews consider the heart of their country, what they call Judea and Samaria.” Asfour, who since became negotiations minister and minister of NGOs, resigned in 2005 and has publicly opposed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamadeh Faraneh, a member of the Palestine National Council in Jordan, said that many forget the achievements of the Oslo Accords. “Oslo wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the popular Palestinian intifada that forced Rabin to partially respond to the national aspirations of the Palestinian people,” Faraneh tsaid.
“Oslo witnessed the Israeli and American recognition of the Palestinian people, the PLO and the political rights of Palestinians.”
Faraneh also said that the Oslo Accords led to the partial Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and West Bank cities and the return of 300,000 Palestinians, including top PLO officials and their families. The creation of the Palestinian National Authority was an important step toward the creation of an independent state.
Sam Bahour, an American Palestinian businessman who was among the many who decided to return and invest in Palestine, argues that Oslo exposed Israeli and U.S. hypocrisy over their support for peace and Palestinian statehood. He said, however, that it has contributed to damaging the geographic integrity of the occupied Palestinian territories, creating divisions without celebrating pluralism.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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