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Middle East

Twenty years ago, a step toward Mideast peace?

With all eyes on Syria, attention has shifted away from the other major flashpoint in the Middle East - the peace talks between Palestine and Israel. Twenty years after the Oslo Accords, that peace is still elusive.

Mahdi Abdul-Hadi, who turns 70 next year, was at the signing of the Oslo Accords, He was standing nearby on the lawn of the White House in Washington DC as chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the accords.

Hadi is director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs and he remembers the day well - he was trying to coax one of the Palestinian's lead negotiators out of his hotel room in Washington to attend the signing of the accords. But his colleague Dr Heder Abdel Shafi would not budge - he refused to attend.

"He and others refused to come to the signing, they felt betrayed, that they were never consulted and they felt naked," he said.

Hadi decided to go, he was there when the famous photograph was taken with Arafat and Rabin, with US President Bill Clinton standing between them, his hands gesturing as he presided over the occasion.

"We wanted to emphasise the goodwill to the Palestinians by going - that there was going to be a two-state solution."

When asked what the accords had done, he said "change is the big word, nothing is the same. Oslo was an opportunity, but it was unfortunate that is was never implemented."

Today, he said, "the two-state solution is not there any more as intensively, there is a move toward a one state solution - a sort of apartheid. There are no peace talks, just management of the conflict - for now there is just management of the conflict, containment of the conflict under the umbrella of peace talks."

How it all began

f President Bill Clinton (R) With Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (L), Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak And Jordan's King Hussein (Photo By The White House/Getty Images)

The Oslo accords were seen as a breakthrough - however 20 years on peace is still elusive

An agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was reached on August 20, 1993 in Norway's capital Oslo. Most of the negotiations had happened in secret in a hotel in Paris. The accords were an attempt to set up a framework that would lead to the resolution of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was the first face-to-face agreement between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

The accord set the groundwork for the creation of a Palestinian interim self-government, the Palestinian National Authority, which would be responsible for administering the territory under its control. The accords also called for the withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Initially the Palestinians and Israelis could not agree on the wording of the Letters of Mutual Recognition, which constituted an agreement in which the PLO would acknowledge the state of Israel and pledge to reject violence, and Israel would recognize the PLO as the official Palestinian authority, allowing Arafat to return to the West Bank.

The agreement was scheduled to last for a five-year interim period and in that time a permanent agreement would be negotiated by May 1996 to deal with Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements, security and borders. This didn't happen.

Newsworthy day

Columnist Shmuel Rosner, now 45, remembers the day well; he was a fresh-faced 25-year old news editor and he says the memory left a bitter taste in his mouth. "We had reporters all over Washington, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza covering all angles of this story. I remember the night well, at the editorial desk of Hadashot, which has long since folded, the emotional columns loaded onto the carefully designed pages."

“I also remember the discussion at the office of the chief editor, Yoel Esteron. It was clear that there would be a celebratory headline, but above it would also appear a kicker, which would ultimately spark disagreement within the newspaper and anger some readers - it read something like 'Arafat has not denounced terror.'"

He said it was obvious looking back that the accords had not been an success, but he said it could have been the beginning of something. "We don't know what was going to happen, but it's hard to say in the Middle East environment if there will be a solution in my lifetime."

Where are we now?

A Bedouin camp is seen near the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim (Photo credit should read AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Little progress has been made

This month US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in London on how to move ahead with the recently resumed peace talks between Israel and Palestine, while at a debate this week in Jerusalem two young politicians were divided on how peace should proceed.

Member of Israel's right Likud Government, and deputy transport minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said she believed the only solution was a single-state solution. However, her views are not shared by her government.

"I was a student in Tel Aviv during my high school years, when buses used to explode every second day - during the Oslo Accord talks I was terrified of getting on a bus," she said, describing the1,400 Israeli civilians who died during that time as "peace victims."

"The Oslo agreements were based on false assumptions, afterwards it was the worst terror time for Israel. I think today everything the Israeli leadership is trying to do is in a certain way trying to fix the problems the Oslo Accords caused," she said.

Meanwhile Labor Party member and deputy knesset speaker Hilik Bar said a two-state solution was the only way forward.

"The Oslo Accord was bad and good for the conflict - it was bad in the sense that we almost had peace - the atmosphere was that we were going to have peace with the Palestinians, and then it sank. It contributed to the mistrust and added to the idea that peace cannot happen. On the other hand it was very good, because it made us all understand and acknowledge that there are Palestinians living inside of Israel and that they need to have their own solution."

view of the Israeli 'separation barrier, or wall in the Shuafat Refugee Camp EPA/JIM HOLLANDER

The settlements issue is still the main stumbling block

Columnist Shmuel Rosner said there is no consensus on the important questions on whether the accord had failed, whether it had pointed the way for future generations even though it did not bring immediate peace, or if it was a clever fraud.

Dan Goldenblatt, Israeli co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, said Israel had sought to isolate itself, to transform itself into "a Switzerland or Singapore of the Middle East."

He said Mahmoud Abbas's declaration that a Palestinian state should be free from Jewish soldiers and civilians should be treated with skepticism and argued that further defining the borders would only mean less freedom of movement for the two states.

What is needed now, he said, was an innovative approach - like the repatriation of Palestinian refugees into Israel itself in exchange for leaving some of the Jewish settlements intact - however he said any agreement should come with a complete halt to the construction of further Jewish settlements.

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