The Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO were never “peace agreements” in the true sense of the word.
For PLO leader Yasser Arafat, they were merely an opportunity to secure a solid foothold in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip from which he and his organization could pursue their oft-repeated goal of destroying Israel.
While the agreements focused on what territorial control, powers, responsibilities and jurisdiction the Israeli side would give the Palestinians, they also included reciprocal Palestinian commitments.
Instead of insisting that the PLO, the Palestinian Authority and their respective leaders fulfill those commitments, Israel adopted an approach of willful paralysis.
Time after time, the Israeli authorities watched as the PLO/P.A. ignored its commitments, engaged in practices and adopted policies fundamentally contradictory to the agreements. While Israel voiced concern over these breaches, no practical steps were taken on the ground to remedy the situation. Even when Israel responded to the Palestinian violations by temporarily delaying the implementation of the agreements, these moves were short-lived.
Most significantly, instead of demanding and ensuring strict PLO/P.A. compliance with their commitments to combat terror, Israel watched as the PLO/P.A. embraced the so-called “Palestinian factions”—which include internationally designated terror organizations—and actively participated in terror.
In the Oslo Accords, the PLO not only agreed to abandon terror but also made repeated commitments to combat terror. To fulfill this commitment, Israel agreed that the P.A. would have substantial police and security mechanisms. In Area A, under complete P.A. control, the Palestinian security forces could even carry weapons. Despite being given the capabilities to meet their commitment to fight terror, the PLO/P.A. failed to do so.
The PLO is a conglomerate of different Palestinian organizations, the biggest and most dominant of which is Fatah, the party of Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas. But the PLO still includes internationally designated terror groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is the second-largest PLO member, and others.
Given that the PLO’s members are themselves terror organizations, and since Fatah has dominated the P.A. since its creation, it is unsurprising that the P.A. failed to fulfill its commitments to dismantle the terror organizations and combat terror.
Moreover, since the PLO members never abandoned terror, it became politically untenable for the P.A. to actively combat Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
To feign compliance, the P.A. quickly adopted what became known as the “revolving door” policy, whereby terrorists were subjected to token arrests by P.A. security forces and almost immediately released.
Moreover, instead of actively fighting terror, the P.A. cultivated an all-encompassing terror environment. In every aspect of Palestinian life, the PLO/Fatah used the P.A. and its mechanisms to promulgate messages of hate and demonization of Israel and Israelis. Using the school system and Soviet-style media, the PLO/P.A. propaganda machine engaged in wide-scale brainwashing. Instead of disseminating messages of peace, conciliation and recognition of Israel’s very right to exist, the P.A. message was that Israel is an illegitimate state, born out of Western colonialism on stolen Palestinian land.
Alongside incitement of violence and terror, the P.A., heavily reliant on foreign aid, also established an egregious mechanism to support and reward terror: The so-called “pay-for-slay” payments to imprisoned terrorists and families of dead terrorists. While the payments were initially relatively conservative, they grew substantially. They now cost the P.A. between 600 million to a billion shekels ($170 to $270 million) annually.
Despite all this, and while Israel often accused the PLO/P.A. of breaching the Oslo Accords, it did very little in practical terms.
From 1995 to 2000, Israel predominantly refrained from invoking its overriding jurisdiction to combat security threats. Instead of conditioning any progress on implementing Israeli commitments on the PLO first fulfilling its elementary obligations, Israel chose the path of compliance irrespective of Palestinian actions. Since Israel gave the Palestinian leaders effective impunity, the Palestinian leadership had no incentive to stop terror and incitement to terror.
Moreover, with Israel overlooking PLO/P.A. violations of the Oslo Accords, the United States, the United Nations and European witnesses to the Accords also failed to demand enforcement of the Accords’ restrictions.
Israel has also turned a blind eye to the P.A.’s unilateral diplomatic moves. In this regard, it is important to stress that the Oslo Accords contain no Israeli commitment to allow or facilitate the creation of a “State of Palestine” in any form. The Accords were only interim agreements, limited to five years, which left several cardinal subjects—such as Jerusalem, settlements, specified military locations, Palestinian refugees, borders and foreign relations—for so-called “permanent status” discussions.
Nonetheless, over the last 30 years, the PLO/P.A. has devoted considerable attention, effort and funds to persuading the international community to recognize the existence of a “State of Palestine” whose borders with Israel are the June 4, 1967 “borders.” These efforts did not go unrewarded. Even though “Palestine” lacks accepted Montevideo requirements for statehood, many countries recognize a “State of Palestine.” These efforts reached a symbolic peak in 2012, when the U.N. General Assembly voted to grant the non-existent “State of Palestine” special “non-member observer state status.”
This proved disastrous for Israel when the non-existent “State of Palestine” joined the International Criminal Court and started flooding it with sundry complaints.
Since all these activities are funded by the P.A. and Israel provides the P.A. with 65% to 70% of its budget, Israel is effectively financing an international onslaught against itself.
To ensure PLO/P.A. compliance with the Accords, Israel has a wide variety of options. The most obvious is financial.
As part of the Accords, Israel agreed to waive billions of shekels of tax revenues in favor of the P.A. These taxes account for the above-mentioned 65% to 70% of the P.A.’s entire budget. Without these taxes, the P.A. cannot exist and certainly could not engage in its constant violations of the Accords.
But while the Israeli government holds the financial existence of the P.A. in its hands, all Israeli governments have consciously chosen to avoid or limit the use of this leverage.
Having realized that they could shirk all the commitments made in the Oslo Accords and continue to benefit from the free flow of funds from the Israeli government, the Palestinian leadership lost all interest in adhering to the Accords. Israel’s behavior created the perception—and to a great extent, reality—that it was no longer genuinely insistent on the Palestinians ever living up to their commitments. As this process developed, Palestinian non-compliance grew in substance and nature. As a result, the P.A. has now breached almost every one of its Oslo commitments.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that Israel’s approach has failed to achieve the desired effect. The PLO/P.A. enjoyed and continues to enjoy all the benefits of the Oslo Accords, including the substantial financial benefits, without paying any price.
If Israel and the PLO/P.A. choose to maintain the appearance that the relations between them are guided, however loosely, by the Oslo Accords, Israel must reevaluate how it conducts its relations with the PLO/P.A. and fundamentally change its behavior.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.