The Oslo Accords, 1991-2000

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  • Attempts to achieve peace between Israel and the PLO
    •  In 1991 face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) took place in secret in Madrid (the Madrid Conference) but failed due to opposition from extremists on both sides.
    • The meeting was nevertheless an important step towards peace.
    • Breakthrough – September 1993 – Following extended talks between the PLO and Israel in neutral Norway, Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, and Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s new Prime Minister, exchanged letters.
    • Arafat reiterated his rejection of terrorism, called for an end to the Intifada and acknowledged ‘the right of Israel to exist in peace and security.’
    • For his part, Rabin recognised the PLO as the legitimate ‘representative of the Palestinian people.’
    • In September 1993 the two men met at the White House in Washington and engaged in a historic handshake, with Bill Clinton playing the role of Jesus.
  • Key Terms –
    • Over the next five years – the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza followed by phased withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.
    • Authority would be transferred to a Palestinian National Authority (PNA) – run at first by the PLO but then democratically elected by Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.
    • Within those five years, negotiations would take place to resolve the problem of Palestinian refugees in other countries, Israeli settlers in Palestine and who controlled Jerusalem.
    • They would resume discussions to achieve a permanent peace treaty at the end of the five year period.

Oslo Accords 1995

In 1995 a second Israeli-Palestinian agreement was signed known as the Oslo II Accord.

  • Oslo Accords of 1993 had been vague about which parts of the West Bank would come under PNA control.  This was not settled by dividing the West Bank into three parts.
    • The details are illustrated in the following map.
  • Area A would be under complete PNA control; it amounted to about 3 % of the West Bank.  No Israelis were allowed to enter this area.  The PNA would be responsible for preventing terrorist attacks on Israel from this area.
  • Area B would be jointly controlled – amounting to be about 25% of the West Bank.  There were no Israeli settlements in this area and the Israeli forces would be gradually withdrawn once security issues had been resolved.
  • Area C was the rest of the West Bank- controlled completely by Israel.  Here there were 110,000 Jewish settlers.  Parts of this area would be gradually transferred to Palestinian control.


  • Moderate Palestinians were disappointed that so much of the West Bank would remain in Israeli hands;
  • Area C also controlled most of the West Bank’s natural resources, and movement between Areas A and B would be difficult.
  • Hardliners on the Israeli side saw Yitzhak Rabin as a traitor and two months after the signing of Oslo II, on November 4th 1995, he was assassinated by extremist Yigal Amir.

The failure of the Oslo Accords

Things began well – Arafat returned from Tunisia and became president in 1996.

The slow process of Israeli withdrawal began;

From Israel’s perspective:

  • Arafat could not or would not stop terrorist attacks on Israel; he did not disarm the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); and was unable to disarm Hamas or Islamic Jihad; so from the Israeli perspective, Arafat did not fulfill his side of the bargain.
  • Israel set up road blocks and prevented contact between Gaza and the West Bank; it also continued building and expanding Jewish settlements in area C;
  • Arafat was the cause of economic deprivation – by failing to distribute aid equitably.

From the Palestinian point of view:

  • Oslo only gave Palestinian complete control over 3% of the West Bank;
  • Movement between Palestinian villages and towns was difficult because of Israeli roadblocks which hampered economic development;
  • The growth of Israeli settlements in Area C meant it would be unlikely that Palestine would ever get full control over the rest of the West Bank.
  • Economic reconstruction stalled because Arafat was reluctant to give outsiders authority.

Benjamin Netanyahu (1st term as Prime Minister)

After Rabin’s assassination, his deputy, Shimon Peres called an election but lost it to the hardliner Netanyahu (leader of the right wing Likud party, founded by Menachem Begin) because a Hamas suicide bombing had just killed 32 Israelis.

Netanyahu demanded evidence of Palestinian good will before he would make any concessions, and meanwhile began settling more Jews in Area C. By 2000 the goodwill that had been generated in 1993 had already evaporated by time Netanyahu ‘retired’ after a wave of personal scandals and corruption scandals in 1999.  (He would later return to politics, winning the 2009, 2013 and 2015 elections.)

Camp David II (1999-2000)

Ehud Barak and Arafat set another timetable for the implementation of Oslo agreements.  He met with Arafat at Camp David in a meeting hosted by US president Bill Clinton. 

  • Barak offered the Palestinians a deal that would have given tehm Gaza and most of the West Bank.
  • And he went further than any previous prime minister of Israel by agreeing to partition Jerusalem.

However, they could not resolve:

  • Who controlled the holy sites of Jerusalem
  • the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.

The talks ended without any significant progress. Many in the west blamed Arafat; but others argued that he was right – how could he accept a deal that did not grant them complete control of east Jerusalem which was Arab and their capital?

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