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Where To Look When The Very Idea Of Peace Is Gone?

The signing of the Oslo Accords 30 years ago was followed by a failure that set back the very idea of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. A look back at this historic episode and the lessons we can learn from it today.

Low-angle shot of a man walking through a field carrying two Palestinian flags, with smoke in the background

Is there room for a reinvented peace process between Israelis and Palestinians?

Pierre Haski


PARIS — Thirty years ago to the day, I was standing in Jerusalem's Old City, near the Jaffa Gate. Two young Palestinians were putting up a poster of Yasser Arafat when an Israeli guard appeared.

Everyone froze in fear, thinking a confrontation was about to happen. But the soldiers went on their way without a care in the world for the young Palestinians. Arafat's face appeared on a wall in Jerusalem.

A few hours later, thousands of miles away, on the White House lawn, the famous handshake took place between the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, overseen by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

They had just signed the Oslo Accords, which they hoped would put an end to a century of conflict — just like the scene of détente I had witnessed in Jerusalem.

A simple principle

The Oslo Accords were based on a simple principle: mutual recognition, Palestinian autonomy for five years, with the most complex issues — the permanent borders of the two future states, the fate of refugees and the status of Jerusalem — to be settled at the end of this period.

But it didn't work, and the Middle East is still paying the price to this day.

As a correspondent for the French daily Libération in Jerusalem at the time, I can testify to the fact that a majority of both sides believed that the time for peace had arrived. So many obstacles were underestimated.

Yossi Beilin, one of the Israeli negotiators, admits that the core mistake was undoubtedly to leave the difficult issues to the end, when at the beginning it might have been possible to make bolder leaps. Yet once the shock effect had worn off, the opposition to this historic compromise was reawakened.

A double terrorist attack

This opposition occurred on both sides. On the Palestinian side, the Islamists of Hamas embarked on a bloody terrorist campaign, ruining confidence in the peace process. On the Israeli side, an extreme religious right wanted to kill an agreement providing for the return of the occupied territories.

In 1994, there was the Hebron massacre committed by a Jewish settler that killed 29 Muslim worshipers; then on November 4, 1995, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a young Jewish religious fanatic. This double terrorist attack destroyed a process already undermined by a lack of trust.

How to find the path to a peace that cannot be found?

The failure of Oslo has set back the very idea of peace between Israelis and Palestinians for years. The colonization of the territories continued, as did the rampant violence.

A new formula

Paradoxically, the arrival in power of an ideological right-wing — led by Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies, linked to those who had sabotaged the Oslo Accords — has put the spotlight back on the Palestinian question. Yet it arrives now with a transformed equation, since the two-state option has become impossible.

In the midst of the bitter political battle taking place in Israel, one part of the population is wondering how to find the path to a peace that cannot be found, while the other part is dreaming of apocalypse and annexation.

Is there room for a reinvented process, and actors for such a scenario? The memory of September 13, 1993 remains, proving one thing: conflict is not inevitable.

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Photograph of Police and emergency services working at the site of a shooting in Jerusalem that saw two gunmen kill three people at a bus station in the Israeli capital.

Police and emergency services are working at the site of a shooting in Jerusalem that saw two gunmen kill three people at a bus station in the Israeli capital.

Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

👋 ନମସ୍କାର*

Welcome to Thursday, where Hamas claims responsibility for a shooting that killed three people in Jerusalem just hours after Israel extended a ceasefire in Gaza, Henry Kissinger dies at age 100, and Singapore gets some company at the top of the world’s most expensive cities. Meanwhile, Turin-based daily La Stampa’s correspondent at the Israel-Gaza border describes conditions amid the fragile ceasefire.

[*Namaskār - Odia, India]

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