THINGS FALL APART
Just last summer, the seven-year-old Israeli-Palestinian peace process seemed on the verge of success. Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with President Bill Clinton at Camp David and came close to agreement. But Arafat walked away from a deal at the last moment, and less than three months later the Occupied Territories erupted in violence. Now, after months of bloodshed and with the death toll approaching 400, it has become fashionable to say that the Oslo process (so called for the city where talks first began) is dead. Rumors of its demise, however, have been exaggerated. Its central objective -- transforming the existential Israeli-Palestinian conflict by ending Israel's mutually harmful control over three million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza -- remains as crucial today as it was seven years ago.
It was in Oslo in 1993 that the Israeli government, under then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, first agreed to withdraw from parts of the West Bank and Gaza and opted definitively for territorial partition. With this shift in Israeli policy, Rabin crushed the Israeli right's dream of a Greater Israel. And he signaled his support for a solution to the conflict that envisioned a new state of Palestine arising alongside an Israel finally accepted by the Arabs.
The peacemakers at Oslo foresaw both separation and cooperation for the two states. Partition would occur in stages and be facilitated by confidence-building measures and a gradual easing of Israeli-Palestinian enmity. The two sides would cooperate in such areas as security and trade and defer resolving the most divisive issues, including Jerusalem and refugees. Arafat took the helm in Gaza and the PA was established in 1994, but underlying grievances endured and the spirit of cooperation soon soured, leaving part of the Oslo vision unfulfilled.
Now the ongoing misery in the region has made it clear that partition remains the only feasible option for resolving the conflict. And as Israel's only hope for peace, partition
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