As Israel and Palestinians continue to struggle with violence nearly a decade after the Oslo peace process, a scholar of Middle Eastern history offered an explanation Wednesday night for why that process failed.
Joel Beinin, professor of history at Stanford University, spoke on the deep-rooted conflict that has marked Israeli-Palestinian relations since the Israeli state's conception. In his lecture, Beinin offered a pro-Palestinian view of the failed Oslo peace process that began in 1993.
"The most fundamental reason for the failure of the Oslo process was that Israel's side never made the psychological shift to see the Palestinians as equals," Beinin said. "Israel just saw the Oslo process as a chance to establish more settlements and to confiscate more land."
Beinin lauded the Oslo Declaration of Principles as Israel's first official recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. However, he said the ambiguity surrounding Israel's evacuation of the Gaza Strip and Jericho trivialized the agreement.
"A five-year negotiating process was initiated by the Declaration of Principles, with no clear outcome," Beinin said. "In fact, all of the most critical issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were deferred to the final status phase of the negotiations."
Beinin said the prevailing Israeli view of the declaration's purpose was that the Palestinian authority would assume responsibility for Israeli security. However, he held that the Palestinians were never given this opportunity because the Israeli army continued to act as though still entrenched in a Palestinian intifadah. The result was the continuation of bloody conflict, which claimed far more Palestinian than Israeli lives.
The turning point in the conflict came when an American Jewish settler dressed in his Israeli army uniform gunned down over 100 Palestinian worshippers in a mosque, Beinin said. The incident led to an escalation of violence, yet spurred no initiative from Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to clamp down on extremist settlers who were opposed to any evacuation of Israeli forces from the West Bank.
"The fact that Rabin was afraid to establish the precedent of dismantling a settlement is what convinced me that this process was going nowhere."
Beinin also discussed the Oslo II Accords of September 1995, which he described as a "Swiss cheese arrangement" of Palestinian territories completely surrounded by areas under Israeli control. He said the accords ultimately failed because Israeli forces continued to expand Jewish settlements into Palestinian territory and refused to halt secret service operations on lands under Palestinian authority.
Although one audience member criticized Beinin for his pro-Palestinian bias, many attendees were impressed with his willingness to contradict the predominantly pro-Israel policies of the United States government.
"In America, people just didn't know what was going on because their information was based on the media, which felt compelled to show only the Israeli point of view," said freshman Andy Kanderian. "I was impressed that [Beinin] could show respect for both sides."
Hiwar, a student organization dedicated to political and social issues in North Africa and the Middle East, sponsored Beinin's lecture.