Seeking a Successor to the Israel-PLO Oslo Declaration

March 20, 1994|By GEOFFREY ARONSON

Dr. Baruch Goldstein killed some 30 Palestinian worshipers in the West Bank town of Hebron three weeks ago. He also buried the already troubled Oslo agreement signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat last year.

Just as the secret Israel-PLO negotiations in Oslo leading to the now-defunct declaration of principles grew out of the stalemated Madrid talks, the challenge now facing Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat, as well as the United States, is to fashion a workable successor to Oslo.

No progress toward this objective was made during Mr. Rabin's visit to Washington last week.

Initially planned as a celebration of the Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement and a follow-up to President Clinton's January meeting with Syrian President Hafez el Assad, the visit stalled on the question of how to craft a diplomatic response to the massacre in Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Mr. Rabin insisted that the Oslo declaration must not be altered. "We signed the declaration of principles," he explained. "It is written very clearly that the issues that have to be settled once we negotiate a permanent solution will not be deal with now; and it is written very clearly, as examples of these kinds of issues -- Jerusalem, settlements, borders, refugees and others."

While the killings in Hebron have called into question the revelance of Mr. Rabin's interpretation, it would not be fair to blame the current crisis on the massacre.

Oslo, and the declaration that emerged from it, rested upon a number of assumptions that had come to be seen as all but unworkable in the months and weeks before the Hebron massacre.

The most evident failure has been the inability of the parties to keep to the timetable established for the conclusion of an interim agreement by December. The agreement would have governed the five-year period before the final status of the territories occupied by Israel in the June 1967 war is to be resolved.

When this December date passed, Mr. Rabin announced that no dates were "sacred." The easy dismissal of this key element of the agreement, symbolic of the real and abiding differences between Israel and the PLO that had prevented an accord on the details of the five-year interim period, only contributed to growing public disaffection with the agreement itself.

Public confidence, both Israeli and Palestinian, has been further undermined by the repudiation of another basic assumption of Oslo -- that the agreement would inaugurate the start of a series of confidence-building measures that would facilitate reconciliation.

In fact, the opposite has occurred. Israelis see more of their sons serving military duty in the territory today than at any time in recent years.

For Palestinians living in the territories, the agreement has only produced a worsening of their already perilous economic and security situation. The months since the September agreement have witnessed greater economic insecurity, increased restrictions on access to Israel and the jobs it provides, and growing anarchy in the streets and alleys of Gaza and the West Bank.

Almost none of the millions that were promised with such great enthusiasm in October at an international donors conference sponsored by the United States have been put to work in the territories. Israel has not relaxed its military grip and where it has, the vacuum has been filled by warring gangs of free-lancing young Palestinians. Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization, who were hailed by Palestinians in a brief moment of enthusiasm after the September agreement, are today routinely derided as incapable of managing even the circumscribed authority awarded to them by the Oslo declaration.

As the talks dragged on into February and the prospect of an April redeployment by the Israeli army in Gaza and Jericho faded, the interim-period concept essential to

the Oslo accord came under increasing attack.

Palestinians naturally have always preferred a "jump" to final status negotiations where, they assume, their powers and authority in the territories will be broadened. But many Israelis had also concluded that the interim period was unworkable. Not only would it fail to build confidence between them and Palestinians, but its probable failure would endanger the prospect of a historic rapprochement between the two peoples.

But the fatal flaw to the Oslo accord was brutally but effectively exposed by the actions of Baruch Goldstein in Hebron in the early hours of Feb. 25. Oslo was based upon the premise that the interests of 2 million Palestinians and 300,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories (including 170,000 in East Jerusalem) could be reconciled and that a future could be constructed in which each community's vital interests could be accommodated.

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