Hanan Ashrawi and Yossi Beilin on what happened after the Oslo accords handshake – podcast


When Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn in September 1993, it was the beginning of a peace process, not a final agreement. In the second part of Inside the Oslo Accords, a special podcast series from The Conversation Weekly, we explore what happened in the years after the handshake.

We hear the perspectives of two insiders to the negotiations: Palestinian political and civil society leader, Hanan Ashrawi, and Israeli former deputy foreign minister, Yossi Beilin.

The series is hosted by James Rodgers, reader in international journalism and Amnon Aran, professor of international politics, both at City, University of London in the UK.

In the early 1990s, Hanan Ashrawi was the official spokesperson of a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation to the Middle East peace process, taking part in talks between Israel and Arab states initiated by the Americans in Madrid. She tells The Conversation that the declaration of principles negotiated in secret in Oslo came as a surprise to her and other Palestinians taking part in the Madrid talks – and was met with deep scepticism.

I saw it before the signing on the White House lawn, and I was very upset. And I said, ‘Can we renegotiate this?’ This has all the elements of what not to do when you’re negotiating, particularly in this power asymmetry when occupier and occupied are negotiating, and you make everything subject to approval of the powerful party of the occupier.

The Palestinian negotiators at Oslo were two people from the Palestine Liberation Organization living in exile in Tunis. “They were not prepared,” says Ashrawi. “They saw in this a way out and the signing of the agreement meant they’re going home and beginning the process of statehood.” She believes this, combined with a negotiation skills deficit, contributed to the Palestinians signing a “seriously flawed agreement”.

US Secretary of State, James Baker, (left) meets with Palestinian leaders including Hanan Ashrawi (far right) in 1991.
Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo

Yossi Beilin was deputy foreign minister in the government of Israeli Labor prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and one of the key participants during the secret negotiations in Oslo. He says the signing of the accords was met with widespread support and hope in Israel. “In the beginning, people came with flowers to the soldiers. People really wanted to believe that we made peace with the Palestinians,” he says. However, that made it even more difficult when the violence continued, believes Beilin.

People said ‘How come? They had peace and now what is it? Another war?’ And it was difficult to tell them: ‘You know what? Oslo was an interim agreement in which we only refer to the issues that we should talk about towards peace’.

In November 1995, Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist opposed to the peace process. In the subsequent elections the following year, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was opposed to the Oslo accords, was elected prime minister for the first time. Beilin says Rabin’s assassination had an “unbelievable” impact on the peace process: “In many ways, the assassination was a big success for the murderer. He wanted to stop it, and he did stop it.”

Listen and subscribe to The Conversation Weekly for the full episode and the rest of the series, which includes an interview with the Norwegian former deputy foregin minister, Jan Egeland.

This episode was produced by Mend Mariwany with assistance from Katie Flood. Gemma Ware is the executive producer of The Conversation Weekly. Eloise Stevens does our sound design, and our theme music is by Neeta Sarl.

You can find us on X, formerly known as Twitter, @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email.

Newsclips in this episode from AP Archive, BBC News and NBC News.

Listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, download it directly via our RSS feed or find out other ways to listen.

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