Is Oslo dying? Is it already dead? Was it defective from birth, and therefore predestined to whither in infancy? Or is it only suffering from a passing ill¬ness that it will surely overcome?
Whatever the answer, Oslo is in deep trouble.
Yasser Arafat defined the Oslo document as "the best possible agreement in the worst possible circumstances," and he was right. The weakness of the PLO after the Gulf War was exploited to the full by the Israeli negotia¬tors, especially in the final phase of the negotiations in Oslo, when Rabin's men effectively took over from the Peres-Beilin outfit.
In spite of this, many of us greeted the agreement enthusiastically. As we saw it, the decisive historical step was the mutual recognition of the Israeli and Palestinian nations after 110 years of mutual denial. Compared to this revolutionary breakthrough, everything else was of secondary importance.
The birth defects of the Oslo DOP were, of course, obvious even then, and we did not refrain from pointing them out. We hoped, however, that the dynamics of peace would take over, and with goodwill on both sides the faults of the agreement would be overcome.
This, quite simply, has not happened. The goodwill has evaporated, the defects have come to the fore.
Most of the defects of the agreement can be traced to one central point: the absence of basic agreement about the final aim of the process.
While it is axiomatic for the Palestinians that the interim period must lead to the establishment of the State of Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem, the Israeli government asserts that the question of the final aim is completely open.
This view clashes with the words of Article I: "It is understood that... the negotiations on the permanent status will lead to the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338."
Resolution 242 is not a meaningless mantra, but a binding document based on "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" and demanding "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent (1967) conflict." In the context of Oslo, this clearly means the termination of Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza. As neither Egypt nor Jordan demands these territories back, it follows that they must be turned over (after the interim period) to the Palestinian people - and this is indeed the essence of Oslo, as understood by objective observers.
However, the Israeli government consistently denies this basic assump¬tion in word and deed, insisting that "all options are open." Since the sign¬ing, it becomes more and more clear that the real aim of the Rabin govern¬ment is the partition of the West Bank and Gaza between Israel and Palestinian enclaves (this is called "territorial compromise"), leading to the annexation by Israel of the following areas: Greater Jerusalem (up to Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah), the Jordan Valley, the enlarged Etzion bloc, the enlarged Ariel bloc, the Katif bloc and more.
This is now openly propagated by Meretz leader and Environment Minister Yossi Sarid, who fancies himself as the unofficial spokesman for Mr. Rabin. (Earlier on Mr. Sarid, who has been appointed by Mr. Rabin as a member of the Israeli negotiating team, coined the phrase: "We must twist the arm of Arafat, but without breaking it.")
This plan explains the continued half-secret settlement activity which has only lately come under scrutiny. If one puts the map of the new (or "enlarged" old) settlements, roads, bridges and tunnels on top of the old map, the form of the planned old "partition" clearly emerges. After the partition of 1947 and 1949, this would reduce the Palestinian part of Palestine to a mere shadow.

Elections: a Central Issue

The controversy over the settlements is a function of this basic disagree¬ment. According to the DOP, this was to be one of the subjects to be dis¬cussed in the "permanent status" negotiations, which are supposed to start "not later than" May 1996. The agreed solutions were to be implemented three years later. Until then, all existing settlements were to remain in place, under the protection of the Israeli army.
This is nearly impossible to reconcile with the central provisions of the agreement, under which the Israeli army was to leave the "populated areas" of the West Bank not later than July 1994 (on the eve of the Palestinian elections). Scores of tiny Israeli settlements are - on pur¬pose - so located as to make the withdrawal of the occupation forces from Palestinian roads, towns and villages impossible.
The solution would have been a unilateral Israeli decision to dismantle immediately at least all these exposed settlements, such as Netzarim and Kfar Darom near Gaza, the Jewish enclaves in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, etc. This, Mr. Rabin most emphatically refuses to do, for reasons of his own (whether psychological or political), and there the matter, and indeed the whole peace process, rests now.
As the withdrawal is hitched in the agreement to the general elections for the self-government council, these were simply prevented by the Israeli government from taking place. Yet the elections are the very essence of the whole agreement. Nearly all other provisions revolve around this central act.
"Direct, free and general political elections will be held for the Council (i.e., the "elected council" of the "Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority" mentioned in Article I) under agreed supervision and interna¬tional observation, while the Palestinian police will ensure public order ... An agreement will be concluded ... with the goal of holding the elections not later than nine months after the entry into force of the Declaration of Principles."
It follows that the elections should have taken place "not later than" July 13, 1994. But on that date, negotiations on "the exact mode and conditions of the elections" had not even started. They have not started in real earnest even now.
Election day is the second major date in the agreement (the first being the date fixed for the transfer of authority in Gaza and Jericho). By causing a major delay, the Israeli government has avoided the implementation of many of its obligations under this agreement, and not only the "redeploy¬ment" of the Israeli army.


Next to the settlement issue, Jerusalem is the second big land-mine on the road to peace. Article V of the DOP says: "Permanent status negotiations will commence as soon as possible, but not later than the beginning of the third year of the interim period ... these negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders ... "
The Israeli government pretends that the words "as soon as possible" just do not appear. It has repeatedly asserted that even the raising of the Jerusalem issue by the Palestinians at this time is a denial of the agreement. As the wording clearly shows, this is completely false. The Palestinians are perfectly entitled to raise this issue at any time. (However, the Israeli gov¬ernment is not obliged to agree to the start of negotiations on this issue before May 1996.)
Any agreement to negotiate on any issue automatically includes the obligation to negotiate "in good faith." This is an internationally accepted principle, which is also embedded in Israeli law (Article XIII of the Law of Contracts). This obligation is in sharp contrast to the frequently repeated statement of the Israeli government that there is nothing to negotiate since "Jerusalem will remain the eternal capital of Israel, under sole Israeli sov¬ereignty." "In good faith" presupposes a process of give and take and an eventual compromise. If the Israeli government has no intention to honor this obligation, why did it agree to this Article?
Furthermore, the obligation to negotiate "in good faith" includes, as a matter of course, the obligation to freeze the situation on the ground. If one side can change the situation in such a way as to preclude any future com¬promise at all, then obviously, the obligation to negotiate makes no sense. But the Israeli authorities, both governmental and municipal, are proceed¬ing at full speed to change the situation in Jerusalem irreversibly by expro¬priating land, destroying houses, building new Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, etc.
The same, of course, is true for the obligation to negotiate on settlements.
This includes a self-evident undertaking not to build or expand settlements during the interim period.

Closure - a Blatant Violation

According to Article IV of the DOP, "The two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be pre¬served during the interim period." This is a major principle, giving the self-¬government a solid territorial basis (and constituting a major departure from Camp David-style "autonomy"). This principle is broken daily by the Israeli Government and its military and civilian arms, who treat the West Bank (outside of Jericho) as if the occupation there is continuing unchanged. The endless delays in the implementation of the "safe pas¬sage" between Gaza and Jericho are just one blatant example.
Another example is the insistence of the Israeli Government on its con¬tinuing ownership of so-called "government land" in the West Bank. This land, actually the land reserves of the population for its expanding needs, should be turned over to the Palestinian authorities in the wake of "early empowerment."
The most blatant violation of this article is the so-called "closure" imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Apart from its devastat¬ing economic consequences, this closure cuts Gaza off from the West Bank, and both from Arab Jerusalem, which harbors nearly all the important eco¬nomic, medical, political and cultural facilities and institutions of the Palestinian people. It seems that the closure, allegedly imposed for securi¬ty reasons only, serves mainly as a corridor to the solution envisioned by Mr. Rabin: the archipelago of enclaves.


Not all the measures necessary for the creation of an atmosphere con¬ducive to Israeli-Palestinian peace are spelled out in the Oslo or Cairo agreements, but follow from the preamble of the DOP.
The preamble of the Oslo agreement defines its aim as follows: "To put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict, recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights, and strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a just, lasting and comprehen¬sive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process."
There is a basic contradiction between an agreement aimed at a historic reconciliation and a dictate based on the prevailing balance of power. One example: historic reconciliation means that both Israelis and Palestinians draw a line under 112 years of conflict, with all their concomitant acts of war, bloodshed and even atrocities, committed by both sides. Fighters of both sides, whether in uniform or not, who did whatever they did in order to serve their people - according to their own conviction - must be included in this general reconciliation.
However, the government of Israel sticks to the terminology of the occu¬pation and goes on pretending that many Palestinians are "criminals," It refuses to release in particular those "with Jewish blood on their hands." The same rule is not applied, of course, to soldiers and settlers who have Palestinian blood on their hands (some 1,500 men, women and children have been killed in the Intifada alone), the vast majority of whom have not even been brought to justice. Yet today, about 6,000 prisoners, men, women and even children, remain in prison, creating frustration, disillu¬sionment and hatred. The same goes for many hundreds of houses in the West Bank that have been sealed by the military authorities as a form of collective punishment.

The Prevailing Mood

The stage for many of the violations has been set by the famous statement of Mr. Rabin, "No dates are sacred." This constitutes a blanket declaration of intent not to honor the agreement, which has, since then, been amply supported.
In any treaty, as in any commercial agreement, dates are indeed sacred, being an essential part of every undertaking. (As a friend said to me, "Try to tell your banker the date on your promissory note is not sacred!")
On the other hand, the Israeli Government insists that Arafat has violat¬ed the agreement, because he has not yet fulfilled his undertaking in the letter preceding the Washington handshake: "to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant." Yet this undertaking has no time limit. Therefore, no date - whether sacred or not - applies in this case.
This has its reason. The Israeli Government had no desire to compel Arafat to convene a meeting of the PNC for this purpose, before a solid majority for the Oslo agreement has come into being. Until now, the very opposite has happened: the climate of frustration and despair strengthens the hand of the Palestinian opponents. Also, and perhaps more important¬ly, Mr. Rabin does not allow hundreds of Palestinian leaders, such as George Habash and Naif Hawatmeh, to come to Gaza, where such a meet¬ing must take place. It will be well-nigh impossible to get them out again after the meeting.
As for the Israeli contention that Mr. Arafat is breaking the agreement by not putting an end to terrorism by Hamas, Jihad and other opposition groups, even in Israeli military circles there is no agreement about what the Palestinian National Authority could or should do. However, there can be no doubt about a basic fact: the effectiveness of any measures to prevent such violence depends on the prevailing mood of the general Palestinian public.
As long as many Palestinians believe that Israel has no intention at all to implement the agreement in letter and spirit, but rather intends to contin¬ue the occupation in a different form, violence may be expected to flourish. There is not much that Mr. Arafat, confined to Gaza, his arms "twisted" by Mr. Rabin, can do about it.