An Economist article (“The Oslo accords were always doomed to fail”, Sept. 12) grossly misleads readers over the objectives of the Oslo Accords, as well on the question of Israeli support over the years for two-states.
It begins thusly:
They were never meant to live to adolescence, let alone adulthood. The Oslo accords, the peace agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians in 1993, were meant to fade away. After five years both would settle into sovereign states within fixed borders
This is categorically untrue, as the Oslo Accords not did not call for a sovereign Palestinian state. As Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, made clear in a piece for the Atlantic marking the 25th anniversary of Oslo, the Accords “did not provide for a Palestinian state.” He also re-emphasized that the two-state solution is “a concept that is nowhere mentioned in the Oslo Accords.”
The Economist article continues:
Amid the optimism of the early 1990s, it perhaps seemed logical that a few brave men could chart a path to peace, and that their governments would follow it in good faith. But a genuine peace agreement needs wider support from both publics.
Such support did not exist in the 1990s, nor does it today—not with a far-right government ruling a bitterly divided Israel, nor with a superannuated Mr Abbas in charge of a feckless pa that does not control big chunks of Palestine.
This is extremely misleading.
First, the question of Israeli support for two states in the 90s needs to be understood by first stressing that neither of the two prime ministers through most of the post-Oslo 90s, Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu, advocated for a two-state solution. The first sitting prime minister to explicitly advocate for the creation of a Palestinian state in the post-Oslo years was Shimon Peres, during his brief stint as premier following Rabin’s assassination. Ehud Barak, who became prime minister in 1999, also sought and negotiated for a two-state solution.
So, while most Israelis in the 1990s supported the Oslo process (in the sense that was leading to greater Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank), the idea that the process would culminate in a two-state solution was not as common during that decade as it would later become.
However, even given that fact, as the table below by the Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) shows, Jewish-Israeli support for two-states was already at 47% in 1994. It fell a bit in subsequent years before reaching 51% in 1997 and 52% in 1999.
Moreover, the Economist piece egregiously misleads in another way, by omitting data showing that, after the 90s, there were many years in which there was overwhelming Israeli support for two-states.
Polling by IDI, which has been tracking support for two-states since the beginning of Oslo, shows that, although Jewish-Israeli support is now at its lowest level since polling began, at 34%, the strongest support was in the period from 2002 – counter-intuitively, given that this was during the peak of the PA leadership–led 2nd Intifada – through 2012 (which includes the first three years of Netanyahu’s second stint as prime minister).
Support only fell below 50% after 2015.
|Total (Jewish) Support|
(Polling also shows that support among Arab citizens of Israel has been consistently much higher than that of Jewish citizens – averaging over 80% until 2018.)
But, arguably the most dishonest claim in the Economist piece is the following:
Israelis and Palestinians have spent decades arguing over what went wrong. If only their leaders-Binyamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas-had accepted one of the deals put forward in later negotiations.
This is patently untrue – a rewriting of history to suit the desired narrative.
Ehud Barak did, in 2000 and 2001, agree to a two-state deal that would have created, for the first time in history, a sovereign Palestinian state. The state of Palestine would have included almost all of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem. Ehud Olmert, in 2008, similarly agreed to a two-state deal that would have given Palestinians even more territory.
Both offers were rejected by Palestinian leaders.
To the degree that the Oslo Accords were “doomed”, as the Economist puts it, they weren’t doomed by a lack of support by Israelis or a flawed process, but by the bad faith and bad decisions of Palestinian leaders.