Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Honest Brokers? American and Norwegian Facilitation of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations (1991-93)

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Honest Brokers? American and Norwegian Facilitation of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations (1991-93)

Article excerpt

The official Israel-Palestinian talks in Washington, which commenced in December 1991 in the wake of the Madrid conference, proceeded through ten rounds without arriving at an agreement. As a mediating power, the United States failed to use its considerable influence to bring the two sides together. While the U.S. had been aware of the Oslo channel, the revelation in August 1993 that Israel and the PLO had initialed an agreement negotiated via the secret talks in Norway stunned the U.S. administration.

This article examines the extent to which the respective success and failure of the Oslo and Washington negotiations can be attributed to the mediating powers involved - though the notion of the success of the Oslo channel is queried. The contrasting styles and intentions of the mediators are explored, and the article poses the question of whether Norway implemented a U.S. agenda, and whether a mediator's neutrality can constitute complicity in the nature of an agreement reached between a strong and a weak negotiating party.

The American mediators of the official Israel-Palestinian talks in Washington were as stunned as the rest of the world when it was revealed in August 1993 that Israel and the PLO had secretly negotiated a peace agreement. Although the U.S. had been kept informed of the progress of the Oslo negotiations, it had seriously underestimated the prospects of Oslo succeeding where the official talks were not. The contrast between the stagnant Washington talks, poised to enter their eleventh round, and the success facilitated by Norway, a minor power with little strategic interest in the Middle East, served to highlight America's failure to bring Israel and the Palestinians together. While a convergence of international, regional and domestic forces on both sides had ripened the climate for negotiations, it was only the strict secrecy, careful Norwegian facilitation, and the direct inclusion of the PLO which permitted those forces to culminate in an agreement.

As the end of the Oslo interim period approaches, the hindsight of five years allows for more definite conclusions to be drawn regarding the nature and consequences of the secret negotiations in Norway. The Oslo channel's initial success in leading to an Israel-PLO agreement must be qualified by its commensurate failure to secure a substantive or enduring peace. The success itself was bought at the heavy price of deferring a resolution on the conflict's core issues: the refugee right of return, settlements, sovereignty, and the status of Jerusalem. This is an irony of Oslo; the very factors critical to its initial success have impeded subsequent progress towards peace.(1) Negotiated within a framework set by an imbalance of power, and permeated with the sterile and calculating pragmatism of 'Realpolitik', it was evident from the outset that the accords contained the strong potential to simply embody "war by other means."(2) This article, therefore, seeks to distinguish between the initial success of the Oslo process and its long-term failure, and also between the varying motivations of the individual players.

There is much about the Oslo channel and indeed the public Washington talks that remains unknown or disputed; the researcher must allow for competing narratives, the vicissitudes of participants' memories, and the desire to reconstruct and reinterpret events in a more complementary manner. Nonetheless, a generally consistent picture of both channels has emerged. With the above caveats in mind, this article addresses the ways in which American and Norwegian facilitation shaped the course of the two negotiating tracks. To what extent does each bear responsibility for the outcomes? What would have been the consequences had either acted differently? The focus is upon the contrasts between the U.S. and Norway's motivations and methods and on the interplay between the channels. Although Norway acted with relative autonomy, it was not immune from American influence. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.