ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT: 'Peacemaking Is a Risky Business': Norway's Role in the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1993-96

By Rosmer, Tilde | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT: 'Peacemaking Is a Risky Business': Norway's Role in the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1993-96


Rosmer, Tilde, The Middle East Journal


'Peacemaking Is a Risky Business': Norway's Role in the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1993-96, by Hilde Henriksen Waage. Oslo: Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), 2005. vi + 246 pages. Bibl. to p. 257. n.p.

In a recent interview, King Harald of Norway was asked how best to describe Norwegian identity in 2005. He answered: "We are known as the country that awards the Nobel Peace Prize."1 Historian Hilde Henriksen Waage's new book, 'Peacemaking is a Risky Business' raises questions about the validity of Norway's reputation as a promoter of peace by challenging its popular image as a "bridge-builder" between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

While 'Peacemaking' analyzes Norway's role in the Oslo process between 1993 and 1996, its most compelling chapters concern the secret Oslo back channel that lead to the Declaration of Principles (DoP) signed in 1993. According to Waage, the Norwegian actors developed from facilitators into mediators and eventually into formulators of the DoP. During the night of August 17-18, 1993, Johan J0rgen Hoist, Norway's Foreign Minster, agreed to act as the mouthpiece of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, transmitting his threat that "Israel might yet go for a quick deal with Syria instead of concluding the accord with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization]" (p. 133). This forced PLO Chairman Yasir 'Arafat and his team to negotiate the future of the Palestinian people over the phone in broken English.

Throughout the book, Waage stresses the asymmetric power relations between Israel and the Palestinians, concurring with Edward Said that Israel's "red lines" were respected by Norway (p. 114). According to Waage, Norway's approach to its third-party role was founded on the assumption that, as the weaker party to the conflict, the Palestinians would have to concede to Israeli demands (p. 127). As a result of this approach, the most significant political issues were deemed beyond the scope of negotiations: The status of Jerusalem, the rights of Palestinian refugees, and the prospect of Palestinian statehood were not to be discussed until later.

Waage demonstrates that 'Arafat chose Norway to mediate between the Palestinians and Israel because of- not in spite of - its close relations with Israel. She argues that 'Arafat calculated correctly that Israel would only enter negotiations with a sympathetic third party (p. 41). In retrospect, however, it is clear that Norway was not the best mediator for the Palestinians. Although the Oslo process helped 'Arafat and the PLO to attain recognition as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinians, Waage emphasizes that the Norwegians "negotiated peace on Israel's premises" (pp. 119, 139, 233). Moreover, Norway was unable to apply pressure on Israel (p. 122). In the absence of pressure, Israel continued to build settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), doubling its settler population between 1994 and 2000.2

For all its naivety, Norway's commitment to and engagement in the peace process is never doubted by Waage. …

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