The “Oslo Process” refers to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process begun in September 1993 which established a framework for resolving the conflict.
In August 1993, it was revealed that secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway between high-level Israelis and Palestinians had led to the first Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The talks, initiated months earlier under the auspices of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, had begun informally with low level Israeli and Palestinian diplomats and academics. But with growing success in the drafting of an agreement, the talks were upgraded and soon were conducted by high-level Israeli and Palestinian officials. On August 20, a draft of a “Declaration of Principles” (DOP) was initialed.
On September 9, Israel and the PLO exchanged letters of mutual recognition to precede the official signing of an agreement. In his letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yithak Rabin, PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat recognized Israel’s right to exist “in peace and security.” Arafat renounced “the use of terrorism and other acts of violence.” Arafat also pledged to revoke articles in the Palestinian National Covenant which deny Israel's right to exist. In a response to Arafat’s letter, Rabin confirmed that “in light of the PLO commitments included in your letter, the Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.”
On September 13, 1993, the Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP) was signed by Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat in the presence of U.S. President Bill Clinton on the White House lawn amidst tremendous fanfare.
The DOP, the first in a series of what are known as the Oslo Accords, consisted of a carefully constructed two-phased timetable. The first phase, or the “interim period,” was to last five years, during which time Israel would incrementally withdraw from Palestinian population centers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while transferring administrative power to a soon-to-be-elected Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority would be responsible for combating terrorism and coordinating security with Israel. The second phase was the “permanent status” or “final status” negotiations, to resolve “remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest.” A final status agreement would mark the official peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The rationale behind the two-phased plan was to save the most difficult issues for last. While the drafters of the DOP did not believe these issues would be easy resolved, it was hoped that after building confidence and cooperation through the interim period, Israel and the Palestinians would be better able to tackle the most complex and divisive issues in the conflict.
Over the next six years a series of further interim agreements were signed, most significantly the September 1995 Oslo II Agreement and the October 1998 Wye River Accord. Following the implementation of these agreements, by September 2000, over 85 percent of the Gaza Strip and 39.7 percent of the West Bank were under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Ninety-nine percent of the Palestinian population resided under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction.
Public opinion polls showed that the negotiations were supported by the majority of Israelis. A very vocal minority, however, stood vehemently opposed to the agreements and the Government’s policies. In November 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli anti-Oslo activist.
Throughout the interim period, Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others, conducted scores of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets. Over the years, Israelis grew increasingly disenchanted with the Palestinian Authority who did little-to-nothing to control terrorist organizations, and continued to spread anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda.
While the Oslo timeline never came to fruition, the lasting legacy of Oslo remains the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and direct negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinians.