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Date: Fri, 25 Sep 98 08:39:38 CDT
From: MiD-EasT RealitieS <MERList@usa.net>
Subject: Manipulating Arafat - Oslo Remembered
Article: 43873
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.15227.19980926181529@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Manupulating Arafat: Behind the scenes at Oslo-Recognizing the need for mutual recognition

By Joel Singer, Ha'aretz,
18 September 1998

MER Introduction

The Oslo trap was sprung on the Palestinians, but even the Israeli trappers weren't quite sure just where it was all going. After the Gulf-War, the Americans and the Arab client regimes desperately needed something to deflect the attention of the Arab street. Iraq was destroyed. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were occupied. The Intifada still smoldered. The PLO was on the ropes, Arafat desperate. And thus Madrid was born, which lead, however indirectly, to Oslo. If ever there was a purposefully confusing and obtuse political agreement, it was the one hastily crafted and then hastily signed, before it could unravel through its own contradictions, in Oslo.

The following article was published in Israel's leading newspaper, Haaretz, on 18 September, written by the legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry at the time of Oslo. Make sure to read between the lines and to remember that Joel Singer is surely not telling all there is to tell, however insightful this article is at this moment.

Behind the scenes at Oslo-Recognizing the need for mutual recognition

In 1993, Shimon Peres summoned me to examine a draft of a Declaration of Principles for autonomy in the territories, which had been framed in Oslo with representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). At our first meeting, on June 3, 1993, Peres explained that according to his plan, the PLO leadership would move from Tunis to Gaza. He believed that the agreement should be signed in Washington by Israel's official delegation and a Palestinian delegation made up of residents of the territories who were not members of the PLO - without anyone knowing that the document had been drawn up in direct negotiations with Israel. The draft that would be agreed upon in Oslo would be presented as an American proposal, and Israel and the PLO would instruct its delegations to accept it in full.

At this meeting, I suggested to Peres and Yossi Beilin that in addition to the Declaration of Principles, a mutual recognition agreement between Israel and the PLO should be signed. I believed that in light of what was happening in Oslo, it was in Israel's interests to present a series of demands to the PLO, such as a commitment to revise the Palestinian Charter, the cessation of terror and an end to the Intifada. If the PLO consented to these conditions, it would be possible to sign a mutual recognition agreement even before the signing of the Declaration of Principles.

The idea that it would be possible to present the Declaration of Principles as a proposal by a third party seemed untenable. Sooner or later it would emerge that the declaration had been framed during direct Israel - PLO contacts. I also believed that the PLO was keen to win Israeli recognition as a legitimate negotiating partner, and would be willing to pay a high price for this. Israel should take this opportunity immediately, while it held the upper hand. I felt that there were commitments that only the PLO could make - for example, a commitment to cease terrorist activities outside the territories. Finally, I wanted to lay the foundations for a situation in which all the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, especially the final status agreement, would be signed by an organization representing all Palestinians, not just the residents of the territories.


Moreover, recognition of the PLO meant, in addition to recognition of the organization based in Tunis, Israeli recognition of the existence of a Palestinian people. For 30 years, Israel tried to dictate to the Palestinians who their representatives would be. Yitzhak Rabin and Peres came to understand that if Israel did not talk to the PLO, there would be no agreement, and they were interested in an agreement. My suggestion that contacts with the PLO be formally established in a mutual recognition agreement was aimed at realizing their goal, but they were opposed to it at first for various reasons, and the PLO was not enthusiastic about the idea, either.

Peres immediately rejected the idea of a mutual recognition agreement with the PLO. I got the impression that he was concerned that my additional demands at such a sensitive juncture in the negotiations would pose too high a hurdle for the PLO, and the entire Oslo process was likely to collapse. I asked him reconsider the proposal after I had presented my ideas in writing. Peres agreed. Before our next meeting, I wrote out by hand in my Jerusalem hotel room a document in Hebrew, entitled A Proposal for an Agreement between Israel and the PLO, dated June 5, 1993. This proposal laid out all the elements that ultimately became part of the letters of mutual recognition, but there were additional elements that were sifted out as the process continued. Five years ago, this was a far-reaching proposal, as the following account will indicate.

Before I submitted the document to Peres, I showed it to Yossi Beilin. Beilin accepted the contents of the document, but suggested that the title be corrected to An agreement between Israel and the Representatives of the Palestinians rather than between Israel and the PLO. Peres, who read the document in my presence, immediately announced that after having read it, his opposition to my proposal had only increased.

Several days later, Rabin and Peres asked me to fly to Oslo to meet with representatives of the PLO, to find out what they thought. I prepared dozens of questions, including several about a possible agreement between the parties. As I had not been authorized to do so, I did not yet mention the possibility of mutual recognition.

At the meeting in Oslo on June 14, 1993, I tried to find out how Abu Ala and his colleagues felt regarding an agreement between Israel and the PLO on cooperation against threats from third parties such as Hamas (We'll ask in Tunis); a call for an end to the Intifada (We'll ask in Tunis; we can declare our recognition of Israel, an end to terror and our recognition of UN Resolution 242); and the cancellation of the Palestinian Charter (This was already done when the Palestinian National Council recognized 242).

Encouraged by these replies, I asked Peres to allow me to bring up the matter of a mutual recognition agreement with Rabin. Peres agreed. At that time, Rabin, Peres, Beilin and I were meeting frequently to discuss the negotiations on the Declaration of Principles that were being conducted in Oslo. On June 27, 1993, as we were heading for the door after the end of the meeting, Peres said to Rabin: Joel has an idea for an additional agreement with the PLO. I am opposed to it, but I have told him that he can bring it up with you.

After hearing the proposal, Rabin said, It's too early. I assumed that he did not want to overburden public opinion with more than it could deal with - the Declaration of Principles that was taking shape in Oslo and the matter of recognizing the PLO all at once. I gathered my courage and asked: Could I check out the idea in Oslo as if it were my own personal idea? Rabin agreed.

That same night, I met with the PLO representatives in Oslo again. Among other things, they reported to me Yasser Arafat's lukewarm response to my question about an agreement between Israel and the PLO (The idea of the additional agreement is acceptable, but the PLO is prepared to cancel the Palestinian Charter only in the constitution of the Palestinian State). I took the opportunity to lay out my personal ideas for them. For the first time, I used the term mutual recognition. I gave them a document in English that included nine commitments on the part of the PLO. They would sign an agreement whereby, in return for Israeli recognition, the PLO would recognize Israel's right to exist; declare an end to terror in the territories, in Israel and abroad; declare an end to the Intifada and undertake to revise the Palestinian Charter.

The PLO representatives noted my suggestions and I could see that they were very interested, but in subsequent meetings we concentrated on completing the framing of the Declaration of Principles. We met to discuss this issue on July 11 and 12. The PLO representatives pressed their demands further, and insisted that the Declaration of Principles explicitly state that the PLO would take over governing Gaza after Israeli withdrawal. I reminded them about the suggestion for a mutual recognition agreement, and said that they must decide one of two things. Either we sign a Declaration of Principles without mutual recognition, in which case the PLO would have no role in the agreement, or they accept the idea of mutual recognition as a first step and stand by their commitments, in which case we could give the PLO a role in the declaration.


At that moment, the penny dropped for Abu Ala and his colleagues, and from then on the option of a mutual recognition agreement became the only option. Indeed, at the next meeting, on July 25 and 26, Abu Ala reported that the PLO leadership was interested in a mutual recognition agreement. During this session, which was punctuated by many crises, Uri Savir agreed to decrease the number of commitments demanded of the PLO from nine to seven, and from then on we called the mutual recognition agreement The Seven Point Agreement.

A short time later, Rabin came to the conclusion that the mutual recognition agreement was essential for Israel (particularly because of the Palestinian commitment to put a stop to terror abroad, as well). At our meeting on August 11, he authorized us to begin to work on the mutual recognition agreement on an official basis. At the next session in Oslo, eight days later, Abu Ala announced that the PLO had accepted the Seven Point Agreement, but when we read over the six-page draft agreement they proposed, we were shocked. They had circumvented their commitments with a great deal of verbiage and made them contingent upon impossible conditions. For example, the commitments would take effect only after the establishment of the Palestinian state. On the spot, I rejected their proposal.

After the Declaration of Principles was initialed on August 20, Abu Ala gave me a new draft of the agreement that was shorter and clearer, but framed in a bilateral way: Israel and the PLO agree to put an end to terror, etc. I rejected this proposal as well, and demanded that the agreement be short, clear, and immediately and unilaterally valid. Abu Ala suggested that I draw up the draft of the agreement. On August 26, I completed the draft, and Peres and Rabin approved it. At the time, Rabin and Arafat supported the mutual recognition agreement, but Peres was still undecided. It was agreed that a final decision would be reached on the following day.

That same day, Rabin sent Peres and me to meet Warren Christopher in California and report to him on the agreement that had been reached with the PLO. Christopher was accompanied by Dennis Ross. Peres asked whether the United States would agree to present the agreed-upon draft of the declaration as an American agreement. Christopher refused, at which point Peres understood that the mutual recognition agreement with the PLO was the only feasible option.

As we were discussing the possibility that the Declaration of Principles be signed in Washington, the question arose as to whether, under American law, PLO representatives could meet with the president of the United States at the signing ceremony. Ross ruled that if I put a slight amendment into the draft and the Palestinians agreed, the PLO's signature on the agreement could also serve as a basis for lifting the American restriction on meetings with representatives of the organization. That same day, I flew to Oslo, where I was joined by Uri Savir, and we began negotiations with Abu Ala on the mutual recognition agreement. In contrast to the negotiations on the Declaration of Principles, where an attempt was made to reach compromises, this time we conducted tough negotiations. We presented the draft, which had been approved by the United States, as a Take it or leave it proposition. The PLO finally accepted the draft with only minor changes.

It was most difficult for them to come to terms with two things. They were concerned that they might not be able to put an end to the Intifada, so they asked to take this out of Arafat's letter to Rabin and put it instead into the letter from Arafat to the Norwegian foreign minister. Hardest of all for them was the demand that they revise the Palestinian Charter. They requested that we make do with Arafat's declaration to Rabin that the Charter no longer applied. However, we insisted that in Arafat's letter to Rabin there must be an immediately valid declaration that the Charter no longer applied, as well as a commitment to bring about the formal amendment of the Charter in the Palestinian National Council. Finally, they accepted our demand, and the framing of the final version of the mutual recognition was completed in Paris on September 9, 1993. The way was open for the historic handshake between Rabin and Arafat in Washington four days later.