REMNANTS OF THE PLO AT OSLO
MER - WASHINGTON - 24 Sept:
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,
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.
A N I P U L A T I N G A R A F A T
Behind the scenes
at Oslo-Recognizing the need for mutual recognition
By Joel Singer*
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
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
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
* Joel Singer is the former head of the Foreign Ministry's legal
department and one of the framers of the Oslo accords.