Whenever negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process falter, the latent question about an alternative to the Oslo Declaration of Principles (DOP) inevitably surfaces. This question is valid and urgent, but there are more precise and basic questions that might be asked. Does a more efficient method for achieving peace, stability and security for Palestinians, Israelis and the whole region exist at this point? Which of the two sides holds the key to such an alternative? And having found one, would that side be will¬ing to change the course of the peace process?
To answer these questions a basic point must first be established: the Oslo accords have provided neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis with the peace and security for which they had hoped.
For both sides to see advantage in peace, the least of their minimum vital demands must be addressed. The Oslo accords, whether in formulation or implementation, fell short of those expectations. Without an honest, unequivocal admission of this failure, the search for alternatives is futile.

Disparity at Work

The Oslo accords are the product of a clear disparity in the balance of power in favor of Israel. Instead of seizing this golden opportunity for achieving a viable, lasting peace with the Palestinians, Israel used its supe¬rior position to advance its own interests at the expense of those of the Palestinians. Hence, the agreement was still-born even before the ink dried on the signatures. For both signatories, it was merely a tactical step, meant to be eventually transcended.
The Palestinians, exhausted and besieged by the Gulf War, both region¬ally and internationally, reached a swift and secret agreement in Oslo to preempt any competition on the part of the other Arab countries partici¬pating in the Washington talks, and to consolidate the traditional position of the Palestinian leadership, which was at risk of being supplanted or removed. In the rush to obtain Israeli recognition for this leadership, the Oslo accords - a purely Palestinian affair - were signed without careful examination of details or consequences. Yet they were touted to the Palestinian public as a "historic achievement."
These shortcomings notwithstanding, Palestinian supporters and den¬igrators of Oslo alike share a strong national consensus on the necessity of acquiring the minimum level of their legitimate rights, Le., an end to the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land occupied in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state there. The Oslo agreement is thus viewed by its Palestinian supporters as the means for providing the impe¬tus to secure these basic rights. Apart from this, the agreement is devoid of any meaning and can become an obstacle which the Palestinians will have to eliminate.
For the Israelis, on the other hand, the aim in Oslo was to exploit Palestinian weakness in order to solve the Palestinian problem and to pave the way for normalizing relations between Israel and other Arab countries, and most importantly, to extract an acknowledgment of legitimacy for the existence of the Jewish state.
Except for the subject of Jerusalem, the Israelis, unlike the Palestinians, lack a general consensus about the nature of an acceptable agenda to end the Palestinian problem. There is a fierce internal conflict in Israel about the interpretation of the equation "land for peace." Some would like to make peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs but to retain all the land, while others are willing to return part of the land for peace.

In the Balance

The basic flaw in the peace process is essentially this lack of an Israeli con¬sensus. The Palestinians embarked on the Oslo process knowing full well what they wanted; the Israelis did not. The only common ground between the two sides at this stage - admittedly, for different reasons - is the need to discard Oslo. The Palestinians want to jump forward because the agree¬ment did not fulfill their aspirations. The Israelis want to jump backward because, for them, the agreement bore its fruits regionally and internation¬ally. As the Israelis enjoy ascendancy in this context, moving backward has become the rule and procrastination the order of the day. Until the Israelis make a decisive move, the future of the Palestinians and of Oslo will remain hanging in the balance.
Israeli delaying tactics and failure to implement the clauses of the accords (due to internal conflicts and government ineptitude) led to a gradual loss of credibility for the Palestinian authorities, in the eyes of a frustrated and despondent people. The situation was further aggravated by an escalation in such Israeli practices as continued settlement activities, land confisca¬tions, closures and arrests. Lack of improvement in the conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories - indeed, their steady deterioration since the agreements were signed, caused the Palestinians to lose faith in the intentions of the Israelis (whose obvious aim was to mold the Palestinian future according to Israeli standards), and also to lose hope that the Oslo accords would ever grant them their legitimate rights.
The Palestinian reaction was violent and took the form of increased mil¬itary and suicide operations, notably inside Israel. The Palestinians can thus demolish Israeli internal security, which the Israelis thought they had safeguarded with the Oslo accords.
With the foundering Palestinian hopes for liberation and independence on the one hand, and the crumbling sense of personal security for Israelis on the other hand, the possibility for achieving peace, security and stabili¬ty through the Oslo accords has also collapsed. To ensure the success of the stalled peace process, and to fulfill the mutual interests of the two sides, it has become incumbent to close the Oslo file and to explore an alternative.
The Palestinians, though they know what they want from the peace process, are not capable of proposing an alternative to Oslo and imposing it on Israel. They lost such a prerogative when they embarked on a negoti¬ating process according to Israeli conditions. They divested themselves of all bargaining tools the moment they consented to a two-stage negotiating process, relegating the discussion of vital matters to a final stage. They sur¬rendered principles in return for an agenda of measures, in the hope that these would ultimately enable them to attain these principles.
Israeli measures to obstruct implementation of the DOP in accordance with the agreed timetable have blocked any progress in the peace process. The Palestinians have become hostages to an agreement in which they can neither advance nor retreat. The only Palestinian alternative, at this point, would be to halt the negotiations about details, currently taking place in Cairo. This is not a complete exit from Oslo, but an attempt to pressure Israel into abiding by the agreement. Going back to Oslo now, after all the changes and developments that have since taken place on the ground, is not certain to rescue the peace process from failure.
The Israeli Government can, however, save the peace process. The alter¬native is in its hands alone, although at the moment it is reluctant to take a decisive step in that direction.

The Meaning of Separation

These have become accepted facts: first, the Oslo accords, though they were controlled by Israel, have not provided the principal expectation from the peace process - personal security for its people. Second, the Palestinians will not relinquish their continued efforts to achieve freedom and independence. Third, and this has been acknowledged by the Israeli Prime Minister, the most effective method of fulfilling the exigencies of both sides is by separating them.
The Palestinians want to secure freedom and independence. The Israelis want to secure personal safety and to avoid turning the Jewish state into a binational one. If separation is the answer (and the Israeli Government is convinced of that: the Prime Minister has formed committees to study methods of implementing it), wherein lies the problem?
In my opinion, it does not lie in the principle of the separation but in its nature. Faced by continued internal pressure from the right and the settlers, and the erosion in its popularity, the Israeli Government has started to waver and procrastinate. Why take a decision when the Palestinians have become so tractable and have lost their leverage?
The separation suggested by the Israeli Government is for security pur¬poses only. This type of incomplete and fragmented separation does not meet Palestinian demands nor does it respond either to Israeli right-wing pressures or the fears of the Israeli public. That is why the present govern¬ment is locked in a crisis which will ultimately lead to its downfall.
The way out of the predicament facing the peace process and the Israeli Government is recognition of the inevitable: that Israel will never obtain peace, security and stability as long as the Palestinian people are not allowed to achieve the minimum level of their legitimate rights. The Israeli Government must at once proceed with separation in the one and only right direction: complete political separation between the two sides, a sep¬aration which necessarily entails the establishment of a Palestinian state. Instead of using negotiations to impede the establishment of a Palestinian state, the aim and task of the negotiations must be to determine the nature and conditions for that step
The alternative to the chronic impasse in the peace process lies in the hands of the Israeli Government. The future of the peace process, and the political future of the government, hinge on the moves it makes. Will it rise up to this historic occasion or, blinded by a narrow political vision, discard the opportunity and relegate it to history?