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Mediterranean Quarterly 14.1 (2003) 67-84

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The Death of the Oslo Accords:
Israeli Security Options in the Post-Arafat Era

Anthony N. Celso


I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.

—George W. Bush, 24 June 2002

On 24 June 2002, the Bush administration separated Palestine Liberation Authority (PLA) leader Yasir Arafat from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Prompted by the involvement of Arafat's al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in terrorist operations against Israeli civilians, Bush's disengagement from the PLA ends a nine-year effort (starting with the historic Oslo Accord) to sanctify and consolidate Arafat's rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Bush's call for new Palestinian leaders amounts to a radical departure from the status quo ante that had hinged upon the centrality of Arafat as interlocutor for the Palestinian people. The decision to confine Arafat to, at best, a ceremonial role has engendered much controversy. The new American direction has been criticized heavily in Europe as a covert policy of support for Israel's efforts to liquidate the PLA and crush the Palestinian nationalist movement. 1

The hope generated by the Oslo Accords and the political capital spent to preserve its ideological and political trajectory have been replaced by cynicism, suicide bombings, and despair. How did Oslo collapse so rapidly and what are the security implications for Israel of this event?

This essay addresses these issues in three parts. First, it examines the [End Page 67] Oslo Accord and the events that have led to its rapid demise. Second, it argues that the Bush administration policy vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be best explained within the context of the "war against terror" and that this antiterror campaign has contributed to delinking the peace process from the PLA leadership. Third, it examines Israel's internal and external security dilemmas and what strategic options it might pursue in a post-Arafat environment.

The essay concludes by endorsing a unilateral Israeli evacuation from the West Bank and Gaza after the construction of a border security fence. Such a policy represents the least bad alternative in a security environment increasingly dominated by Islamic extremism and suicide bombings.

The Promise of Oslo and the Disappointment of Camp David:
The Rise and Fall of the PLA

Under the Clinton administration's auspices, the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) ended their thirty years of belligerency and on 13 September 1993 signed a mutual recognition pact. The agreement between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and Arafat, long-time antagonists and mortal enemies, was widely hailed in Western diplomatic circles as a triumph of reason over destructive hatred, and the accord was seen as promising a new era of peace.

The origins of this mutual recognition pact (frequently referred to as the Oslo Accord) date back to the Madrid Peace Conference of October 1991. The Madrid Conference, initiated by the first Bush administration as a quid pro quo for Arab support during the Persian Gulf War, sought a comprehensive framework for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict by bringing all the relevant parties together in a single forum. 2 George Bush senior had hoped that international pressure and the presence of the Russians, the Americans, and the Europeans could induce Israel, the Palestinians, and the front-line Arab states to settle their differences on a broad range of contentious issues.

While the Madrid Conference failed to achieve a breakthrough in the [End Page 68] Israel-Palestinian conflict, it did become a catalyst for clandestine discussions between Israeli and PLO representatives. Brokered by the Norwegian government, these negotiations were facilitated by the intensity of the Palestinian uprising or first intifada (1987 to 1993) in the occupied territories and the inability of the Israelis to impose a military solution.

The 1993 election victory of Yitzhak Rabin's Labor Party and Rabin's promise to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East within the first six months of his administration provided a further impetus...


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