On This Day

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Vince Musi/The White House
Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands as President Clinton looks on during the Oslo Accords signing ceremony, Sept. 13, 1993.

On This Day: Israelis and Palestinians Sign Oslo Accords

September 13, 2010 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Sept. 13, 1993, the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed an agreement granting limited autonomy to Palestine and establishing the procedures for future peace talks.

Agreement Provides Basis for Peace Process

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Negotiated in secret in Oslo, Norway, the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, better known as the Oslo Accords, was the first direct agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The agreement “forced both sides to come to terms with each other's existence,” explains PBS’ Frontline. Israel recognized the PLO, which until 1991 it had deemed a terrorist organization, as the representative of the Palestinian people in peace negotiations. The PLO “recognized Israel's right to exist while also renouncing the use of terrorism and its long-held call for Israel's destruction,” says Frontline.

The agreement laid out goals for the peace process, most notably the withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which would come under the control of a Palestinian government for a five-year interim phase.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat appeared at a signing ceremony with President Bill Clinton at the White House, shaking hands on the front lawn.

Two hands that had written the battle orders for so many young men, two fists that had been raised in anger at one another so many times in the past, locked together for a fleeting moment of reconciliation,” wrote Thomas Friedman  in The New York Times. “But much difficult work, many more compromises, will now have to be performed by these same two men to make it a lasting moment.”

Background: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Debate over ownership of the West Bank region has raged since World War I and the disintegration of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

During the war, the British government promised to help build a “Jewish national home” in the former Ottoman territory of Palestine. The idea appealed to many Jewish groups, who faced growing anti-Semitism in Europe and felt a strong sense of historic and religious entitlement to the city of Jerusalem.

Granted colonial authority over the territory by the League of Nations, Britain attempted in 1921 to carve it into two zones: a Jewish area, and a “Palestinian Mandate” located in the West Bank. But Jewish immigrants began spreading into the West Bank region, and bloody street clashes occurred as many Palestinians, fearful of losing their chance for self-rule, reacted with anger.

After decades of escalating conflict and failed attempts to secure peace by limiting Jewish land purchases, the British government handed the whole problem over to the United Nations.

The UN partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab areas, and established Bethlehem and Jerusalem as international zones in 1947, allowing for the creation of the modern state of Israel the following year.

But war broke out again, and by 1949, Israel had won control over most of the former territory of Palestine, with Jordan seizing the West Bank and Egypt taking the Gaza Strip.

Israel continued its expansion in 1967, waging the Six-Day War that ended with Israel’s capture of the remaining Arab territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Citing security concerns, an Israeli military government established harsh measures throughout the former Arab territories, including curfews and tight controls governing Palestinians.

In response, the Palestine Liberation Organization formed outside of Israel’s borders, with Yasser Arafat at its head. In 1987, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza launched the “intifada,” a revolt against the Israeli government marked by escalating incidents of anti-Israeli terrorism and riots in the occupied territories.

In recent years, the Palestine Liberation Organization has gained increasing acceptance as a powerful political force and an important strategic partner in any effort to resolve conflict in the Middle East. The United States has continued its efforts to serve as a mediator in Israel’s ongoing Middle East conflicts.

Later Developments: Rabin assassinated; the Middle East “road map”

Rabin’s decision to sign the agreement with Arafat in 1995 was wildly unpopular among Israeli citizens. A little more than a month after signing, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish religious fanatic who opposed his efforts to seek peace through compromise. But Rabin’s death actually furthered that cause, and by 1996, much of the Palestinian territories were under self-rule.

But many of Rabin’s successors were decidedly against compromise with the Palestinians and conflicts have continued to flare in the West Bank. In 2002, the Israelis re-occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and began building a wall between what they declared was their territory and the remaining Palestinian lands.

In 2003, international efforts to encourage peace in the region resumed with the drafting of a “Roadmap to Peace,” and in 2005, Israel once again began to disengage from the West Bank.

Reference: A guide to the disputed territories

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