The Oslo Accords are the agreements between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which created a Palestinian National Authority and were meant to serve as a framework for future agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The accords were considered to constitute an interim agreement between the two parties that was the first substantial step in a process to facilitate an Israeli military withdrawal from territory that would constitute a new Palestinian state. The accords were signed on September 13, 1993 in the presence of U.S. President Bill Clinton, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The agreements were a follow-up to the political process that had been initiated by the 1991 Madrid peace conference where Israeli representatives met with delegates from its immediate Arab neighbors with the prospect of drafting eventual agreements on a mutual end to hostility and mutual recognition. The conference was born out of a rapid set of international developments, mainly revolving around the collapse of the Soviet Union and the assertion of the United States as the single dominant political power in the world. In 1990 and 1991, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the American-led coalition that pushed Iraq out of that country created a new status quo in the Middle East. The Palestinian Liberation Organization's decision to support Saddam Hussein in the conflict led to its international isolation. Simultaneously, Hussein's ability to attack Israel despite its strategic occupation of territory made it more willing to negotiate that territory as part of a peace deal that would reinvigorate a psychological sense of security for the country. Also, the first Palestinian intifada had strengthened the Palestinian Liberation Organization's position toward Israel, providing a conduit for political gestures that could quell Palestinian unrest.
Secret negotiations facilitated by Norway in 1991 led to several understandings and practical agreements between Israeli leaders and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The two sides mutually recognized each other's right to exist. The agreement divided the West Bank into three zones where various combinations of jurisdiction would take effect. Eight major cities in the West Bank, plus the Gaza Strip, excluding its Jewish settlements, fell under direct control of the new Palestinian Authority. These areas constituted Area A. Area C included all Israeli settlements and large swathes of land which the army was reluctant to give up, providing a security buffer for the towns. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would be under full control of the area. Area B is where the Palestinian Authority would have jurisdiction, but the Israeli army would enforce security. The IDF maintained responsibility for external security for the disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip. Understandings reached included the eventual goal of the creation of a Palestinian state. The process allowed major issues like the status of Jerusalem, fate of Palestinian refugees, borders and security arrangements to be discussed later.
The agreements have been heavily criticized by many prominent scholars and politicians. Their popularity has varied throughout the years depending on the political climate and the rise of tension between Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinian intellectual Edward Said cut off his political ties to Palestinian groups that endorsed the plan and became a vocal critic of Yasser Arafat. He saw the accords as a surrender of sorts to Israel, where Israel retained heavy control over Palestinians' lives with official Palestinian complacency.
Many Israeli figures, mainly on the right wing of Israeli politics, have criticized the agreements as short-sighted and delusional. They argue that a Palestinian state would constitute a threat to Israel and that no peace between the two countries would hold for long.
Other critics of the accords include practically anyone opposed to the principle of a two-state solution. Many advocate a single state or some arrangement where a "bi-national" state would recognize its dual Jewish and Arab Palestinian identities. The support for either alternative has received more attention since relations between Israel and the United States began to deteriorate in 2009 over the peace process. Also, the political and territorial divide between Hamas and Fatah, plus their prolonged reconciliation process which as of July 2011 had not been concluded, fuels the argument that not only are the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be treated as separate territories, but that the Palestinian Authority cannot enforce a peace agreement in the contexts of the compromises of the Oslo Accords.
Former American policy adviser Aaron David Miller has critiqued the peace process and called it a "false religion," claiming it has become a dogma of American politics to facilitate a peace process and profess a peace can be achieved while having little to support the idea that such a notion can prove itself to be true.