Ron Pundak is the former director general of the Peres Center for Peace in Israel. He played a vital role in establishing the secret meetings held in 1993 that eventually bore the Oslo Accords.
The roots of what is known as the collapse of the Oslo process were planted by its three leaders: Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. All three sought peace, but from the very start each one also played a part in the failure of the accords to achieve their intended aim -- a two-state solution.
Arafat did not make the transition, in terms of mentality and leadership, to the era of diplomacy and statesmanship. He proceeded from there to make a variety of comments that maintained his practice of doublespeak, in a manner that served as "proof" for opponents of the process that the Palestinians were not a reliable partner and had not relinquished their aim to annihilate Israel. All this was compounded by Arafat’s approach of turning a blind eye to some of the terrorist activities of Oslo’s opponents that soon began carrying out attacks against Israel. Although Arafat did issue orders to fight the opposition, these were often vague, thus facilitating a soft policy against Islamic terror.
Arafat created a reality in which terrorists had the maneuverability to perpetrate an increasing number of attacks. These attacks were then attributed by most Israelis to "all Palestinians," regardless of whether they supported or opposed the peace process, thereby catalyzing growing mistrust as well as Israel’s hardline security policy of indiscriminately attacking both the suspect population and the innocent, peace-seeking Palestinians. The policy of Israel comprised curfews, closures, checkpoints and collective punishment, which compounded the vicious cycle of action-reaction.
On the Israeli side, Peres and Rabin made a big mistake in not communicating to the Israeli and Palestinian publics, immediately upon signing the Oslo agreement, the fact that this new stage manifested a dramatic transformation of Israeli policy aiming eventually at bringing about the unequivocal solution of two states for two peoples on the basis of the 1967 borders, conditional of course on successful implementation of the interim agreement and satisfactory future security arrangements.
Moreover, the Israeli official apparatuses were not directed to adjust the new approach towards the Palestinians in any real sense, and therefore the various relevant actors within the IDF, police and government ministries did not transform their psychological attitude and practical approach to the new realities on the ground. In practice, Rabin and Peres intentionally left the vision and the intended course of negotiations vague, while simultaneously issuing clarifications that totally excluded a two-state solution. In so doing they generated a roaring dissonance as well as serious practical problems.
The absence of any strategy resulted in an inferior agreement, and in superfluous Israeli "achievements" that were imposed on the Palestinians with the overall aim of denying them the attributes of an emergent state.
Simultaneously, Israel also continued building and expanding the settlement "enterprise." This was interpreted by many Palestinians as a hint that Israel will never withdraw from these areas. Furthermore, on the ground, the humiliating treatment of all Palestinians as potential and suspected enemies continued. Mistreatment of Palestinians at checkpoints persisted, although most did not constitute a threat to Israel.
But in spite of the unbridgeable gap between Netanyahu, who is stuck in anachronistic positions, and Abu Mazen, who presents very pragmatic positions, peace is still possible. The two constituencies are fed up with the current situation and the majorities on both sides will support any agreement that their leaders will bring.
But this time the Americans must establish a dominant presence in the negotiations. The U.S. role is to create a mechanism that will bring about the conditions that allow both sides to advance without conceding their fundamental principles. Thus the Americans should present the vision and principles of a permanent agreement through a U.N. Security Council resolution, which is binding under international law, that in practice will replace Resolution 242. This resolution will eventually serve as a new compass for the entire Israeli-Palestinian peace process, even if the current Israeli government will announce that it does not accept it.
In parallel, the U.S. should lead a process of negotiations leading to an interim agreement which will bring about a Palestinian state within interim borders, and place a clear timeline for negotiating a permanent agreement, which will probably be negotiated by a different prime minister.