(An abbreviated version of this Op-Ed was published in The Algemeiner on Feb. 29, 2016)
The Palestinian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Riyad al-Maliki, said during a press conference in Tokyo on Feb. 15, 2016, that he will never directly negotiate with Israel. Maliki’s comments—largely ignored by major U.S. news media—violate the terms of the 1993 Oslo peace accords under which the Palestinian Authority (PA) was created and funded.
In a Sept. 9, 1993 letter from then-Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) head Yasser Arafat to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the former promised: “The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process and to the peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved by negotiation.”
As part of the 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo II), PLO and Israeli representatives reaffirmed their desire “to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process.”
As historian Efraim Karsh has noted, Oslo threw the moribund PLO a lifeline. In the years preceding, Arafat’s PLO had retreated from Lebanon and, scattered across the Middle East, was living as a U.S.-listed terror group with its headquarters in Tunis. Infighting had increased and the PLO chairman had alienated key Arab allies and donors by supporting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s invasion of another Arab country, Kuwait (“Arafat’s Grand Strategy,” Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2004).
Oslo brought the PLO in from the cold: giving it a base for limited self-rule in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza Strip, much needed international donor funds and the chance to establish a state through bilateral negotiations—provided it renounced terrorism, incitement to violence and recognized Israel, among other conditions.
Arafat’s right-hand man during the Oslo negotiations was his successor, current PLO chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas—Maliki’s boss. If Abbas disapproved of his foreign minister’s remarks, he has yet to repudiate them.
In Tokyo, Maliki went back on his government’s commitments, unequivocally stating, “We will never go back and sit again in a direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”
Former Israeli ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker—now at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank, has written:
“…This official announcement by the Palestinian foreign minister ending, to intents and purposes, any continuation of a negotiated peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, should logically be treated by leaders of the U.S., the E.U., the U.N. and by other major international elements as a resounding and shocking volte-face by the Palestinians. It should be considered to be a clear violation of all Palestinian commitments so far, and possibly as a fundamental breach of the Oslo accords, by frustrating any possible return to negotiations (“Have the Palestinians Renounced the Peace Process?” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Feb. 18, 2016).”
Yet, major U.S. news media failed to devote so much as a single sentence to Maliki despite his reneging on Olso commitments that then-U.S. President Bill Clinton celebrated at their signing as a “great occasion of history and hope.”
Rather than being an isolated remark, Maliki’s renouncing Oslo confirms a pattern by PA officials. As CAMERA has noted, in a Sept. 30, 2015 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Abbas said the PA was no longer bound by the accords (“Abbas in U.N. Wonderland; Media Miss Cheshire Cat,” Oct. 2, 2015).
Historian Efraim Karsh has pointed out that as early as May 10, 1994, Arafat told South African Muslim leaders that the Oslo accords “fell into the same category as the Treaty of Hudaibiya that was signed by the Prophet Muhammed with the people of Mecca in 628, only to be reneged on a couple of years later when the situation titled in Muhammad’s favor.” Arafat’s words were recorded by a member of the Jewish community who had infiltrated the meeting posing as a Muslim—provoking demands from Israeli officials that he repudiate them. Arafat never did. Instead, he reiterated the Hudaibiya comparison on several occasions, including in Aug. 21, 1995 remarks at al-Azhar University in Gaza (Arafat’s War, Grove Press, 2003, pgs. 60-61).
The authority itself has never acted as if bound by the accords; PA officials routinely praise and incite anti-Jewish violence, Arafat was shown to have links to terror groups like Fatah’s Tanzim faction that was behind some of the worst terror attacks of the second intifada (2000-2005), and PA leadership rejected Israeli and U.S. proposals for a two-state solution in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis conference. Further contravening Oslo’s promises, Abbas rejected U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2014 offer to restart negotiations.
That Maliki’s sentiments are not unique should make them all the more newsworthy, “trending” as it were. Speaking at the 1993 Oslo signing ceremony, President Clinton remarked, “Every peace has its enemies, those who still prefer the easy habits of hatred to the hard labors of reconciliation.” The late Middle East analyst Barry Rubin noted that Arafat had to be talked out of bringing his gun to that ceremony (Yasser Arafat, Oxford Press, 2003, pg. 138). The PA foreign minister may not carry a gun, but he reinforces Palestinian repudiation of the “peace process.” The news media, their Oslo hoopla long gone, do not notice.
The writer is Media Assistant in the Washington, D.C. office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America