Autonomy, not Sovereignty: Oslo Accords and Statehood
Autonomy, not Sovereignty: Oslo Accords and Statehood

Although the “two-state solution” has become accepted as the basis of the peace process between Israel and Arab Palestinians, that wasn’t the original plan.

There is nothing in the Oslo Agreements about a “Palestinian state.” PM Yitzhak Rabin in his speech in Knesset (Oct 5, 1995) made this clear when, seeking approval for the ”Interim Agreement”  he said that he envisioned an independent, autonomous “Palestinian entity, not a state.”  Neither he, nor Shimon Peres (at least initially), both of whom were intimately involved in writing the Oslo Agreements, saw the Agreements as the foundation for a sovereign Palestinian state.

The idea of a “sovereign Palestinian state” was first presented in the Road Map (2003) to which PM Ariel Sharon agreed: “Israeli leadership issues unequivocal statement affirming its commitment to the two-state vision of an independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state.”

The subtle but all-important insertion of a single word changed the course of the Oslo Agreement and the “peace process.” The bandwagon was on a roll.  

A year later, Sharon announced his “Disengagement” plan from Gaza and Northern Shomron (Samaria), and in 2005 he implemented it, destroying 25 thriving Jewish communities. His successor, PM Ehud Olmert pledged to complete the process of withdrawal from Judea and Samaria.

The Oslo Agreements may have set the course for Palestinian autonomy and eventually a form of statehood, but Sharon overturned the gradual process into a policy of unilateral withdrawal from Yesha.   

Although the Oslo Agreements suggest “Palestinian autonomy,” “an entity, not a state,” these concepts were deliberately kept vague until Sharon made them explicit and official.  

Sharon overturned the gradual process into a policy of unilateral withdrawal from Yesha.
According to the Interim Agreement, however, the Government of Israel (GOI) agreed to redeploy in “the West Bank” in two stages; first, from Areas A and B, which comprise nearly all Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza; and second, from portions of Area C, in which all Jewish communities (“settlements”) are located and, most importantly, is vital for Israel’s security.

Article 11, #3/3 of the Agreement was specific: “Area C means areas of the West Bank outside of Areas A and B which will be … gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction…” implying that the Palestinian Authority would extend its control over Area C, except for security areas (e.g. along the 1949 Armistice Lines and the Jordan Valley) and Jewish communities, which would be determined later as part of a final status agreement.  These communities and their infrastructure (roads, etc) comprise less than 10% of Area C.

Israel alone would determine the timing and scope of its redeployment and would exercise powers and responsibilities which were not transferred, such as security and foreign affairs, not only in Area C, but in A and B as well. Palestinians were given autonomy, not sovereignty.

Regardless of what Rabin and Peres had in mind, the Interim Agreement is still the only international agreement defining the PA’s and GOI’s commitments. Unfortunately, that agreement does not condition an Israeli withdrawal, or redeployment on Palestinians fulfilling their commitments – e.g. ending hostilities, incitement, and support for terrorism.

The framers of Agreement hoped that by giving Palestinians autonomy while retaining exclusive control over redeployment and security, and retaining sovereignty, Israel could restrict Palestinian violence and eventually modify behavior. They believed that if the Palestinians would not take effective security control in Area A -- to prevent attacks against Israelis and Israel -- Israel would not give them more authority over additional areas in Area C.   

Significantly, neither the Declaration of Principles (Oslo 1), signed by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Abbas, and Sec of State Warren Christopher, nor the Interim Agreement, signed by Rabin, Arafat and President Clinton, mention the area as Judea and Samaria, its original and authentic name. By referring to the area only as “the West Bank,” the term used by Jordan during its occupation, the GOI signaled its abandonment of legal and historical claims to the area.

Unwittingly, Rabin and Peres painted Israel into a corner. This flaw was exacerbated by subsequent agreements, like the ” Road Map,” which touted a “two-state” model, undercutting the Oslo Agreements and encouraging Arab and Palestinian leaders to reject any recognition of Israel’s right to exist, continue incitement and terrorism, and move unilaterally towards recognition of sovereign statehood.

Although Abbas’ demand for statehood is an abrogation of the Oslo Agreements, thus releasing Israel from its contractual obligations, the GOI seems unwilling to take a more realistic view of its alternatives.   

A revaluation of Israeli policy is imperative. Israel’s ambiguity about the status of Judea and Samaria and the Oslo Agreements has led to confusion and has eroded its diplomatic position. There is no logical or legal reason why Israel is obligated to commitments in the Oslo Agreements and the Road Map while the Palestinian side violates its undertakings.

This offers a golden opportunity to preserve the structure of the Oslo Agreements and benefit Israelis and Arab Palestinians.

Several years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a Commission headed by the late High Court Justice Edmund Levy and judicial and legal experts, to evaluate issues concerning Area C in Judea and Samaria. The Commission issued a report with specific recommendations that would enhance the Oslo Agreements and advance our national interests.  Inexplicably, the Prime Minister has refused to allow this report to be discussed by the government. 

The report can be read here.

I would like to thank Joel Singer, architect of the Oslo Agreements, for his assistance.