The Oslo Process was one of the finest moments for U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. While the negotiations that embarked in early 1993 were mostly an Israeli-Palestinian initiative, the conclusion of the various Oslo agreements and other regional breakthroughs on peace that were made, would have been impossible without the leadership of the Clinton administration.
After we concluded, the Oslo Documents of Principles secretly, the then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres flew to California to share the agreements with Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and peace coordinator Dennis Ross. They received the news of the breakthrough with astonishment and after carefully reading the documents; they told Peres that this is an important historical breakthrough that will be endorsed by the United States. They even suggested it to be signed at the White House in the presence of President Clinton. This recognition by the United States gave the agreements its necessary international character and upon which the whole international community recognized it with great admiration. The Israeli leadership gained much respect from its main ally, and the PLO was thereafter officially recognized by the United States as the representative of the Palestinian people.
Bill Clinton presided over the historic signing and handshake on Sept. 13, and committed to Arafat, Rabin, and Peres, America's full support on the peace journey that awaited them. The Clinton administration saw in the breakthrough with the Palestinians an opportunity for engaging in new regional relationships, cooperation, and stability. Throughout the period, President Clinton proved to be a true man of peace, and a great connoisseur of Middle Eastern complexities. His great communication skills were put to use in his dialogues with Rabin, Arafat and later with other regional leaders -- he succeeded in gaining the trust of the most paranoid leaders of the world.
The administration's concept for a more peaceful Middle East linked together the diplomatic, economic, and security facets of the region. Diplomatically the Americans overlooked the negotiations on the implementation of the Accords. The process was filled with obstacles of Palestinian-Israeli suspicion, hostility, and a lack of experience with peacemaking. Denis Ross and his peace team were to be found at every important crossroads of the prolonged negotiations for the creation of the Palestinian authority, first in the Gaza strip, under the chairmanship of Arafat, and later in all Palestinian cities of the West Bank. Whenever necessary Bill Clinton was on the line from Washington to convince the regional leaders to walk the extra mile
On the economic front, soon after the singing of the Oslo Document of principles, the U.S. administration convened in Washington, and established an international donor mechanism to assist the Palestinians in the creation of their autonomous institutions. They spared no effort to convince Europeans, Japanese, and Gulf leaders to assist the Palestinian economy, understanding that besides newly gained freedoms, future Palestinian destiny depended most on the development of their economy.
On security, the Americans worked both overtly and covertly, to encourage Israeli-Palestinian cooperation against terror, a very daunting task given Arafat's hesitancy to combat the extremist factions among the Palestinians -- such as Hamas. In parallel, President Clinton strengthened the security ties with Israel, and ensured its qualitative and technological edge.
All three facets -- diplomacy, security and economics -- were part of a broader American strategy to pacify and stabilize the Middle East. This happened with the encouragement of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, witnessed by Clinton in July of 1994, which included the revival of the Egyptian-Israeli peace relations and the return of the ambassadors to Cairo and Tel-Aviv -- the most important facet being the regional economic efforts, as expressed in the Middle East/North Africa Conference in Casablanca, which brought together political and business leaders from all over the Middle East, United States, and the rest of the world. It was clear then that regional economic cooperation and development are the keys to stability. Some of America's best economic brains were involved, such as the Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers, who worked with us on the creation of a first regional Middle-Eastern bank. A similar regional attitude Clinton provided to the Middle East, at the 1996 Sharm El Sheikh Conference, which for the first time, most Arab leaders convened with then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres to denounce Middle Eastern terrorism, and to collaborate on its prevention.
The assassination of Yitzchak Rabin sent shockwaves into the Oval Office, and all Israelis remember Clinton's visit to his friend's funeral, where he encouraged the country in its moment of grief, to continue the peace legacy. In May of 1996, an anti-Oslo Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, came to power and uprooted the Oslo process, with no small help from Yasser Arafat.
There is much to be learned from the Clinton years for the current peace process -- peace making in the Middle East is impossible without American intervention. America must stand on the side of Israel when it comes to its security, and on the side of the Palestinians, when it comes to its nation-building process, with the creation of an independent Palestinian state. However, there remain two important differences to take into consideration. Firstly, in the current peace process, led by president Obama and Secretary Kerry, there is a much greater need for active American mediation on the contents of negotiations in all core permanent status issues, including by advancing mediation proposals. Secondly, given the growing importance of the young generation in the Middle East, the current peace process has to be far more inclusive then the previous one. It must bring into consideration the interests and rights of the young generation, but also invite them to participate in the peace making process, by expressing their views to their leaders. The young of the Middle East, as we witnessed in recent years are the compass of Arabs and Israeli societies. As Oslo has proven, peace has to be by the people and for the people.
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