OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Former Mideast envoy agrees that Oslo doesn’t bar settlements

You can’t have one set of rules for one party and a different set of rules for the other.

A new neighborhood under construction in Ma’ale Hever, Judea and Samaria, on Dec. 28, 2022. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
A new neighborhood under construction in Ma’ale Hever, Judea and Samaria, on Dec. 28, 2022. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
Stephen M. Flatow. Credit: Courtesy.
Stephen M. Flatow
Stephen M. Flatow is president of the Religious Zionists of America. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995, and author of A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror. (The RZA is not affiliated with any American or Israeli political party.)

Did you know that there is not one word in the Oslo Accords that prohibit Jewish construction in the territories? And that even some of the most vehement opponents of Israeli settlements acknowledge that fact?

Former U.S. Mideast envoy Aaron David Miller, writing in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, argued that some of the main reasons for the failure of the Oslo peace process were “Israeli settlement expansion” and “settlement construction.”

As a U.S. State Department envoy or adviser on the Arab-Israeli conflict for some 25 years, Miller is intimately acquainted with the Oslo agreements. So, I wrote him recently to ask where, exactly, it says in them that Israel is prohibited from undertaking what he calls “settlement expansion” or “settlement construction.”

I will not quote his response since it was private correspondence, but it is a fair summary of his position to say that he acknowledges there is no such prohibition in the accords. It is simply Miller’s view that even though construction is not mentioned in the agreements, both Palestinian Arab terrorism and Israeli construction are what doomed the “Oslo process.”

That argument is debatable, to say the least. First, because it could be understood as implying a moral equivalence between murder and housing construction. One may disagree with construction in this or that territory. But to suggest that building a house, anywhere, is comparable to the taking of innocent human lives is just plain wrong.

The second problem with the view of Miller and other critics of Israeli policy is that their position is inconsistent. They denounce Israel for building homes in the Israeli-controlled part of Judea and Samaria, but they never denounce the Palestinian Authority for building homes in the P.A.-controlled portion of those territories.

You can’t have one set of rules for one party and a different set of rules for the other. If Israeli construction is an obstacle to peace, then so is Palestinian Arab construction. But Israel’s critics refuse to acknowledge this logic.

The third reason I believe Miller to be mistaken is that the issues of terrorism and construction are treated completely differently by the Oslo accords—and both Israel and the P.A. signed those accords.

According to Oslo, terrorism is the enemy of peace and must be fought tooth and nail. The accords explicitly require the P.A. to combat terrorists, and a Palestinian security force was established for that precise purpose. The United States trained and armed that force. It began with 10,000 men. Today, it stands at 60,000, yet the P.A. still refuses to use it to arrest or disarm terrorists. 

The P.A. has never even outlawed Hamas or other terrorist groups. And the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine—two unrepentant terrorist groups—have never been expelled from the P.A., or from its parent body, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO.

Oslo obligates the P.A. to undertake additional anti-terrorist steps, such as honoring Israel’s requests for the extradition of terrorists and halting pro-terrorist incitement.

Yet the P.A. has not honored even one of Israel’s dozens of extradition requests. And pro-terrorist incitement continues to flood its media, schools and summer camps. Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a champion of the Oslo agreements, has said that the P.A.’s indoctrination of Palestinian Arab children is akin to “child abuse.”

Construction, on the other hand, is not prohibited by Oslo; it’s not even mentioned in the accords. Hence my correspondence with Miller, who is now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. I appreciate his candor on this important issue.

What really doomed the Oslo process is that the Palestinian Arab leadership was never sincerely committed to peace, and the United States never insisted that the P.A. keep the commitments it undertook when it signed the accords.

The basic assumption of the agreements was that the Palestinian Arabs had sincerely given up terrorism and anti-Israel hatred and were ready to live in peace with a Jewish state. That was false.

And when the P.A. began violating its commitments, the United States failed to hold it accountable. More than $10 billion in U.S. aid has flowed to the P.A.’s coffers over the years. The United States has continued to arm and train its security forces. And successive U.S. administrations have continued to provide the P.A. with diplomatic support and continued to press for creation of a Palestinian state.

So, if you want to know why the “Oslo process” failed, you need to look elsewhere than extraneous issues such as housing construction. Instead, look at what is actually written in the documents and which of those written commitments have actually been fulfilled.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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