Today, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approves new settlements in the West Bank, and Chairman Mahmoud Abbas succeeds in his pursuit for recognition at the United Nations, Israelis and Palestinians seem further apart than ever before.
Yet twenty years ago this month, Palestinians and Israelis managed to come together in secret talks that concluded with the Oslo Accords the following September. The Oslo peace process marked a dramatic shift in Arab-Israeli relations. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to exchange land, in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, for peace, while Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat agreed to formally recognize the state of Israel and to renounce terrorism.
Ron Pundak served as chief negotiator for Israel throughout the Oslo peace process. He says that when talks began in December 1992, Israelis and Palestinians "never thought it would take so long, or that the hurdles would be so huge."
Oslo was a watershed moment for both sides, Dr. Pundak says. "After more than 100 years of conflict between two national movements, the Zionist movement and the Palestinian movement, which looked at the other side as nothing, and worked on a zero-sum game, Oslo created, for the first time, a mutual recognition of two political movements, saying to each other, 'We recognize the other.'"
Today, Dr. Pundak says that Israelis and Palestinians believe that a two-state solution, as described in the Oslo Accords, is the best course for both nations, but a lack of trust prevents both sides from reaching that conclusion together.
"So, from my point of view," Dr. Pundak explains, "the only sort of vehicle…out of this situation currently should be the third party… I would like to see a much more involved American administration leading us, eventually, to start negotiating thoroughly on [a] final status."
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