Oslo Accords


The Oslo Agreement, also known as the Oslo Accords, is an agreement signed between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on September 13, 1993, meant to effectively bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to its end by means of territorial concessions and facilitating the creation of the Palestinian Authority. It marked for the first time that the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) formally recognized one another, and publicly committed to negotiate a solution to their decades-long conflict based on territorial compromise. The Oslo Accords were not a peace treaty. Instead, they established interim governance arrangements and a framework to facilitate negotiations for a final treaty, which would be concluded by the end of 1998.

Oslo transferred control of the major Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from the Israeli military to a newly-created Palestinian Authority, an interim structure to oversee administration and security in those areas. The hope was that limited Palestinian self-government and incremental Israeli withdrawal would boost mutual trust that would empower leaders on both sides to negotiate final-status agreements on the thorniest issues — including Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements, borders and security. The accords did not stipulate, but implied, the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. That two-state vision required Israel to abandon its negation of Palestinian claims to national sovereignty, and Palestinians accept that such claims would be limited to only a small part of the entire territory of historic Palestine for which the PLO had been fighting, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the remainder.

Why was the Accord signed?

The Palestinian mass uprising, known as the Intifada that began in 1987 failed in its goal of ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but nonetheless proved to be a game-changer. Images of teenagers throwing stones at tanks won international sympathy for the Palestinian cause and deepened many Israelis’ disquiet about the continued occupation. It also prompted PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to shift his movement’s strategy in November 1988, from seeking to reverse the creation of Israel in 1948 with its attendant displacement of the Palestinians, to seeking Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

President George H. W. Bush responded, in partnership with the former Soviet Union, by promoting new peace efforts between Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. But the substantive talks between Israeli and PLO officials were conducted in secret in Oslo, Norway’s capital, and by August, 1993 the two sides had agreed on a “Declaration of Principles.”

On Sept. 9, 1993, Arafat sent Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a letter in which he stated that the PLO renounced armed resistance, vowed to amend the Palestine National Charter to remove its call for the destruction of Israel and pledged to uphold U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which created a framework allowing for Palestinian statehood in exchange for Israeli security.

Rabin responded by recognizing the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and promising to negotiate peace with its leadership. Four days later, the two leaders met on the White House lawn for a ceremonial signing of the Oslo Accords.

Mutual Recognition of Sides:

Only after Israel’s acceptance of the PLO as negotiation partner could serious negotiations start. In their Letters of Mutual Recognition of 9 September 1993, days before the signing of the Oslo I Accord, each party agreed to accept the other as a negotiation partner. The PLO recognized the State of Israel. Israel recognized the PLO as “the representative of the Palestinian people”; no more, no less.

Accords’ Essence

The accords were divided into two: The first chapter, dubbed Oslo-A, detailed a declaration of principles on Interim Palestinian self-government; while the second chapter – Oslo-B – was finalized in 1995 and included an expansion of the Palestinian Authority’s territories, mutual security engagements and the regulation of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Israeli government voted in favour of the agreement 61 to 50.

Oslo-A stated that Israel would withdraw from parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank in favour of autonomous Palestinian rule. The agreement also called for democratic elections to be held for the Palestinian Legislative Council; and had both sides agree to a five-year interim period meant to give the Palestinians time to establish their government; postponing negotiations on the core issues of a permanent agreement, the likes of the status of Jerusalem and the question of refugees, to year three of the interim rule. It was also agreed that once a permanent agreement is struck, it would be implemented within five years.

The Palestinians were to be given self-government in phases and pending a permanent agreement, Gaza strip and the West Bank were to be divided into three zones:

  • Area A – Which would be under the Palestinian Authority’s full control and include all Palestinian cities and surrounding areas with no civilian Israeli presence.
  • Area B – Which would be under the Palestinian Authority’s civil control and Israel’s security control and Include areas of dense Palestinian population with no civilian Israeli presence.
  • Area C – Which would be under full Israeli control, except over Palestinian civilians. This area includes all West Bank settlements and their immediate vicinity as well as strategic areas dubbed “security zones.” 

On May 4, 1994, the first phase of the Oslo Accords was implemented, as Israel and the PA signed the Cairo Agreement, giving the Palestinians control over Gaza and Jericho. The agreement was widely considered a test case to the PLO’s ability and willingness to relinquish and fight terror, as well as to its ability to rule over civilian population. As part of the agreement, Israel also released 5,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Oslo-B, was finalized in September of 1995 in Taba, Egypt. According to the agreement, the PA was to receive additional territories, Israel withdrew from densely populated areas in the West Bank, mutual security engagements were agreed upon and the PLO pledged to have Palestinian National covenant clauses which deny Israel’s right to exist annulled.

In January of 1997, Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached an agreement specifically pertaining to the West Bank city of Hebron, which was considered an exception to the Oslo rule due to the large Jewish community living in it. According to the Hebron Redeployment Protocol, the city’s security would be divided into two, with Israel controlling the Jewish part of the city and the PA its Palestinian part. Both sides also agreed to have an international monitoring force oversee the proper implementation of the agreement.

July of 2000 would see Israel and the Palestinian Authority attempt to negotiate the permanent agreement at Camp David, Maryland. The move essentially failed and the al-Aqsa Intifada soon ensued.

The Oslo Accords are considered to have had a significant effect on the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. Their nature remains controversial.


WHY THE ACORD FAILED- There was no single moment when the Oslo Accords can be said to have broken down. Instead, they saw a steady process of decline as both sides accused one another of failing to implement key aspects of the agreements.

A 1994 massacre by an Israeli settler in Hebron fuelled Palestinian anger, and then, in 1995, a right-wing Israeli gunman assassinated Rabin at a peace rally. The following year, after a series of Hamas bomb attacks on civilian targets had fuelled outrage in Israel, Rabin’s successor Shimon Peres was beaten at the polls by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who had led opposition to Oslo.

Netanyahu was ousted in 1999 by Ehud Barak, but by then mutual distrust and hostility ran deep, and President Bill Clinton’s effort to broker a final-status agreement at Camp David in 2000 ended in failure. The peace process was now eclipsed by an increasingly violent second intifada that inflicted heavy casualties on both sides, and which shifted the international diplomatic tide against the Palestinians. The following year, Israel elected another Likud leader, Ariel Sharon, who vowed to end the Oslo Accords.

Although Sharon withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, he avoided a return to final-status negotiations. Sporadic attempts to restart talks over the past decade have produced no further progress towards a final-status agreement. Instead, the Oslo Accords’ interim arrangements have become a new status quo.

Factors often cited for the failure to conclude the Oslo process include:

  • Imbalance of power between the two sides
  • Failure of the United States to serve as a tough but impartial mediator
  • Growing influence of opponents of compromise — settlers on the Israeli side, Hamas on the Palestinian side
  • The gulf between the maximum Israel has been willing to offer and the minimum that Palestinians are willing to accept.