Oslo Negotiations

In 1992 and 1993, representatives from Israel and the PLO met secretly in Oslo to discuss the possibilities of Palestinian self-rule and Israeli security.

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The following article examines the secret negotiations that occurred in Oslo between the PLO and the Israelis in 1992 and 1993. These negotiations led to the formulation of an agreement regarding the possibility of peace. The agreement, deemed “The Declaration of Principles,” was signed in Washington in September 1993. The article is reprinted with permission from A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Times published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Although unofficial discourse between Israelis and PLO members had been taking place since the 1970s, those contacts intensified only after 1992, when the Rabin government decided to eliminate all further legal constraints against them. No meetings occurred on Israeli soil. Both sides preferred other, neutral venues. One of those was Stockholm. Another was Oslo. There the Institute for Applied Social Science, a respected think tank devoted to the resolution of international disputes, functioned under the unofficial imprimatur of the Norwegian foreign ministry.
       
In the spring of 1992, the institute’s director, Terje Rod Larson, who had developed extensive PLO contacts in the course of field studies in the Gaza Strip, sought out Dr. Yossi Beilin, a protégé and close advisor of Shimon Peres. Larsen informed Beilin that key PLO members had confided to him their fatigue with the Intifada, and their willingness to explore the accommodation Arafat had mooted [Israel’s right to exist in peace and security] as far back as the winter of 1988. Beilin was interested.

After Labor’s electoral victory of June 1992, Peres appointed Beilin his deputy in the foreign ministry. Larsen’s wife, Mona Juul, by then was administrative assistant to Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst and accordingly in a position to offer Beilin the services of the Norwegian government. In turn, sensing that the bilateral discussions in Washington had reached a dead end, Beilin brought the proposal to Peres.

oslo negotiationsThe foreign minister did not veto it. Yet he cautioned Beilin to avoid “official” Israeli involvement. Operating under this guideline, Beilin selected two “unofficial” representatives, Professor Yair Hirschfeld and Dr. Ron Pundak of Haifa University. Hereupon Arafat selected as his principal negotiator “Abu Ala’a” (Ahmed Suleiman Khoury), the PLO “minister of finance” who had long functioned virtually as the chairman’s alter ego.

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Howard M. Sachar is the author of numerous books, including A History of Israel, A History of the Jews in America, Farewell Espana, Israel and Europe, and A History of Jews in the Modern World. He is also the editor of the 39-volume The Rise of Israel: A Documentary History. He serves as Professor of Modern History at George Washington University.

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