I recently watched Oslo, a made for TV drama about the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, now showing on HBO MAX. The film, based on the 2017 Tony Award-winning play by J.T. Rogers (who adapted his script), tells the story of a Norwegian couple who bypass the traditional diplomatic process and open up secret backchannels for discussions between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (then exiled in Tunis). The talks, carried out without government approval, result in the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.
If you’re into diplomatic intrigue, Oslo is gripping TV, but the drama lacks context. But really, how much do we expect from our entertainment in terms of authenticity, factualness, nuances, and implications?
You can watch the trailer below.
Then fit the story into our timeline for context.
PALESTINE-ISRAEL TIMELINE: 1990 – 1996
Early 1990s: Hamas emerges as a viable political alternative to the local Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
1990: When a splinter group within the PLO tries to mount a raid into Israel in summer 1990, the US breaks off negotiations with the PLO.
Having recognized Israel’s right to exist without receiving any concessions in return, Yasir Arafat decides to associate the PLO with the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein soon states that Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories is a necessary precondition for Iraq’s evacuation of Kuwait.
October 8, 1990: In the bloodiest day of the intifada, Israeli police respond to a Palestinian demonstration by killing 20 people and wounding many others. Called the incident of the Temple Mount, the Palestinians were protesting plans by an Israeli fringe group to construct a Jewish temple on the site of Jerusalem’s holiest Islamic shrines.
April 6, 1991: Iraq officially accepts Desert Shield cease-fire terms. The invasion of Kuwait and the war that follows create a refugee problem of tragic proportions. Prior to the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait is home to a relatively prosperous Palestinian community numbering around 400,000. By war’s end, 350,000 Palestinians have fled Kuwait. Some refugees return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but the majority remain in Jordan. Several thousand are once again forced into UN-sponsored refugee camps. Jordanians fear that their country is becoming a surrogate Palestinian homeland.
1991: Following the Gulf War, the PLO enters a period of political and economic disarray. In the Gaza Strip, the PLO claim to political primacy comes under renewed challenge from Hamas. PLO leaders look to negotiations with Israel as a way of retaining their dominance.
October 30, 1991: An international peace conference jointly sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union opens in Madrid bringing Israelis and Palestinians to a new level of contact. Neighboring Arab states that have not yet recognized Israel’s right to exist – Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – are also included. The Madrid Conference focuses attention on Palestinians who live and work in the occupied territories. The aging PLO leadership appears politically stale and out of touch with the realities of life in the territories.
December 1991-Spring 1993: Arab and Israeli delegations meet several times in Moscow and Washington. The sticking point concerns Israeli settlement policy in the occupied territories. Now the US administration adopts a firm stance against continued settlement activity. President Bush links US financial aid to Israel to Israel’s willingness to curb settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
February 1992: The US announces that it won’t approve a $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel unless Israel agrees to a freeze on the construction of all settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Shamir is defiant, but Israel badly needs the US loan guarantee.
June 1992: In elections, the Israeli public rejects Shamir’s ideological hard line and gives Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party an overwhelming victory. Rabin is willing to support measures designed to restore good relations with the US. He announces a partial freeze on settlement construction.
1992: Rabin makes his first state visit to the US and President Bush announces the authorization of a $10 billion loan guarantee without Israel supporting a complete freeze on settlements.
1993-1995: Rabin ends the freeze on settlement construction and Israel confiscates 20,000 acres of Palestinian owned land on the West Bank.
1993: Concern for Hamas’ militancy prompts Rabin to consider negotiations with Yasir Arafat (and vice versa).
Winter and Spring 1993: Israeli and PLO officials meet in a series of clandestine meetings near Oslo, Norway. The meetings are outside of normal diplomatic channels.
Late summer 1993: Arab and Israeli delegates meet in Washington for the eleventh round of the peace talks begun in Madrid two years earlier. Disclosure of a secret agreement between representatives of the Israeli government and the PLO takes the world by surprise.
The two part agreement (Oslo I) provides for mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO and lays the foundation for Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Neither of the two 1993 documents makes explicit mention of a Palestinian state — Israel simply agrees to negotiate.
According to a schedule set forth at the time, the interim negotiations will conclude in 1998 with a permanent agreement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. (The schedule will not be met. Discussion on a number of crucial issues will also be postponed.)
Arab leaders cautiously endorse the proposal. The US President Clinton agrees to reestablish formal contacts with the PLO.
September 13, 1993: Israeli and PLO leaders assemble at the White House for the signing of the autonomy agreement. Overall momentum toward a negotiated settlement is maintained for two years following the signing ceremony.
After 1993: The economic situation in the occupied territories deteriorates, further alienating the Palestinian community from the peace accords.
1994: Israel and the PLO sign two agreements dealing with economic relations and the transfer of administrative authority from Israel to the Palestinians in Gaza and Jericho. The establishment of a self-governing Palestinian authority is crucial. Both sides understand that Arafat and the PLO will constitute the leadership. This means allowing the PLO and Arafat to return to Palestine.
July 1994: Yasir Arafat establishes residence in Gaza and begins to put in place the rudiments of an administrative and security structure.
1994-1995: A series of Hamas supported suicide bombings are directed at Israeli civilians in the larger cities. Dozens of Israelis are killed. The objective of the bombings is to sabotage the peace negotiations by turning the Israeli public against Rabin and the Labor government. The Israeli response to the bombings is to pressure Arafat to undertake more rigorous security measures in the areas under Palestinian Authority (PA) control. In complying with Israeli demands and conducting raids against Hamas organizations, Arafat undermines his credibility and turns Palestinians against his administration.
February 1994: Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler activist, turns an automatic weapon on a large gathering of Palestinians praying in the Mosque of Abraham near the West Bank city of Hebron, killing 29 before he himself is killed.
July 1994: Yasir Arafat establishes residence in Gaza and begins to put in place the rudiments of an administrative and security structure. He endeavors to monopolize the decision-making process in the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Fall 1994: Israel and Jordan sign a treaty of peace and mutual recognition.
1995: Israeli opposition to the Oslo process is increasingly framed in religious terms. A group of rabbis issues a decree instructing soldiers to resist orders to evacuate army bases in the West Bank. Orthodox and nationalist organizations vilify Prime Minister Rabin.
September 1995: The Interim Agreement (Oslo II) is signed. It spells out in detail the stages of Israeli military redeployment in the West Bank, the process by which power will be transferred to the Palestinian civil authority and several other matters. Clauses on redeployments and the limitations imposed on Palestinian authority draw substantial criticism. The West Bank is divided into three zones and it is clear that the Palestinian Authority will have very limited power.
November 4, 1995: Prime Minister Rabin is assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli student, as he leaves a large peace rally in Tel Aviv. The assassination of Rabin leads to the suspension of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
November 1995-May 1996: Hamas carries out another round of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israeli public opinion shifts away from support for the peace process. The Israeli government seals off the occupied territories, placing many West Bank towns under curfew and causing increased economic distress within the Palestinian community. More and more Palestinians turn away from Arafat.
1996: A Palestinian Council, comprised of 88 representatives, is elected. Arafat’s supporters win a comfortable majority. Arafat is elected head of the PA and proceeds to ignore the new council and set up an authoritarian regime with an elaborate hierarchy of security forces. As many as 7 different security services, numbering upwards of 40,000 men, are deployed on behalf of the regime.
May 1996: Israelis go to the polls and choose Benjamin Netanyahu as their new prime minister. Netanyahu has campaigned on a pledge to “slow down” the peace process. What he wants to do is end the process as defined by the Oslo Accords. He adopts hardline policies toward the occupied territories, refuses to acknowledge any connection between land and peace, assures Israelis that they can have security and settlements at the same time that they have peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians. He inaugurates a new round of provocative settlement activities that seem to invite Palestinian retaliation.
Late 1990s: Israeli Arabs number nearly 1 million, roughly 20% of Israel’s population.
PALESTINE-ISRAEL TIMELINE: 1997 – 2012
Early 1990s: Hamas emerges as a viable political alternative to the local Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Late 1990s: Palestinian economic conditions are worse than at any time during the Israeli occupation. By 1997, as many as 5,000 Israeli housing units are under construction in the West Bank. Increasing numbers of Palestinians become disillusioned with the peace process and with Arafat’s one-man rule. Hamas is the main beneficiary. Hamas rejects the entire Oslo peace process.
Summer 1997: Hamas sponsors another suicide bombing. Israel seals off the occupied territories more tightly and demands that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA) increase their efforts to arrest Hamas activists. The continued deterioration of Palestinian-Israeli relations raises the possibility of a major armed confrontation.
1998: Some 350,000 Israelis reside in areas taken in the June War: 180,000 in annexed East Jerusalem, 164,000 in the West Bank, and 5,500 in the Gaza Strip. A large settlement on confiscated Arab land in East Jerusalem is projected to eventually house 30,000 Israelis in violation of the Oslo Accords.
Autumn 1998: Netanyahu and Arafat meet at the Wye River estate in Maryland. They sign a set of agreements known as the Wye Accords, elaborating on the original Oslo agreement in which Israel had accepted the principle of exchanging land for peace; the PLO renounces the use of terrorism.
In violation of the Wye Accords signed just a month before, Netanyahu seeks to appease his critics on the Religious Right by announcing that Israel will suspend its scheduled withdrawal from an additional 13% of the West Bank.
May 17, 1999: Israel holds elections pitting Netanyahu and his Likud bloc against Labor’s Ehud Barak, a former army chief of staff. Barak wins in a landslide and endorses the resumption of peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
May 2000: The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon turns into a hasty retreat in the face of Hizbollah attacks.
July 2000: A 2 week summit conference, Camp David II, is convened by US President Bill Clinton. The summit ends in an impasse but, for the first time, final status issues are subject to negotiation. These include sovereignty over East Jerusalem, the future of Jewish settlements, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The deadlock over how to share or divide Jerusalem is especially troublesome. No written offers are put on the table.
December 2000: Barak resigns and calls for a special election, hoping to receive a popular mandate for pressing forward with peace initiatives. The election campaign takes place against the backdrop of a new Palestinian uprising and harsh Israeli reprisals. The uprisings are firmly rooted in the failures of the Oslo peace process, and the violence, known as the second intifada, places the issue of security at the top of the electoral agenda. Popular participation is not as widespread as in the first intifada and there is no coordinated leadership. The driving force of the second intifada consists of loosely organized groups of young men affiliated with either one of the militant Islamic groups (Hamas and Islamic Jihad) or with Yasir Arafat’s al-Fatah. The second intifada is also much more militarized than the first.
December 2000: President Clinton tries to salvage the peace process. He proposes a peace plan that envisions the Palestinians getting between 94% and 96% of the West Bank for a future Palestinian state.
January 2001: In meetings held in the Egyptian resort town of Taba, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators tentatively agree on a more detailed peace framework based on the Clinton parameters. The Taba talks are too late, though, and effectively mark the end of the Oslo peace process.
February 2001: Ariel Sharon wins election as Israel’s fifth prime minister in 6 years.
Early 2002: An attempt by Saudi Arabia to rescue the peace process receives the unanimous support of the Arab League meeting in Beirut.
2002: As the second intifada continues, Israel escalates its military operations and forcibly reoccupies all the territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that it had earlier turned over to the Palestinian Authority. Also, Israel imposes an internal closure of the West Bank, prohibiting Palestinians from leaving their communities and effectively shutting down all forms of internal commerce. The result is economic disaster for the occupied territories. The massive Israeli military intervention leads to new waves of suicide bombings.
2002: Arafat is confined to his shattered Ramallah compound by Israeli forces. It becomes clear that no one else has the authority to negotiate in his place.
2000-2003: The second intifada claims the lives of 2,400 Palestinians and 780 Israelis.
April 2003: The US, the European Union, Russia, and the UN lay out a road map for ending the conflict.
December 2003: Seeking a comprehensive agreement, Israeli and Palestinian politicians launch their own peace effort, the Geneva Accord.
2004: Sharon announces that Israelis will unilaterally separate from Palestinians. The policy comes to be known as “disengagement.” Sharon pushes the plan through the Knesset.
2004: The International Court of Justice rules the West Bank physical barrier built by Israel a grave violation of international law.
2004: Arafat suffers from a mysterious illness that causes his death. Mahmoud Abbas (Arafat’s successor as leader of the secular al-Fatah party) becomes president of the PA. An opponent of the second intifada, he calls for a return to negotiations. Seeking to steady the Palestinian political situation, he initiates discussion on integrating Hamas into the constitutional structures developed under the Oslo accords.
August 2005: Sharon successfully completes the planned evacuation of settlers from Gaza. He is willing to uproot 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza because a Jewish state in all of mandate Palestine can’t be reconciled with demographic projections of an approaching Arab majority in that area. Acting alone, Sharon can arrange for the removal of fewer settlements than would be required in a negotiated settlement.
By supporting Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan, US President Bush is widely seen to be accepting Israel’s right to impose a solution. Thus, the pulling of settlements out of Gaza provides political cover for securing Israeli control over West Bank settlements.
August 2005-December 2006: Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank increase from 376 to 534.
November 2005: Sharon quits the Likud Party in frustration and transforms Israeli politics by forming a new party, called Kadima or “Forward.” Netanyahu succeeds Sharon as head of Likud.
January 2006: Hamas establishes itself as a strong political force, winning 76 seats to al-Fatah’s 43 in the 132-seat legislative chamber. The US and Israel refuse to recognize or deal with the new government.
January 2006: Sharon suffers a stroke ending his political career. Ehud Olmert steps in as acting prime minister.
March 2006: Elections confirm Olmert as prime minister after Kadima campaigns on a platform of fulfilling Sharon’s disengagement plan.
March 2006: Hamas assumes power with Abbas retaining the presidency. The US (along with the European Union and other Western countries) leads an international boycott against the new government. Israel withholds transfer of millions of dollars in taxation revenues collected on behalf of the PA, further undermining Hamas’ ability to govern. The aim is to force Hamas to honor previous Palestinian peace commitments, recognize Israel’s right of existence, and renounce violence. Al-Fatah and Hamas fail to reach consensus on how to build power-sharing institutions or political platforms to relieve international pressure. Instead, they continue to fight over power. Hamas expands the strength of its own military units, better known as its executive force. The Hamas/al-Fatah confrontation is most pronounced in Gaza.
2006: Growing lawlessness in Gaza results in dozens of deaths and prompts the UN to withdraw its aid workers.
June 2006: A militant group of Gazans tunnels under the border with Israel and captures an Israeli soldier. Israel responds to the abduction with armed incursions into Gaza that leave hundreds dead. Israel also embarks on the arrest of dozens of Hamas officials, including government ministers.
July 2006: Thousands of rocket attacks are launched by Hizbollah from territory that Israel unilaterally withdrew from in 2000. Rockets are also fired from across the border in Gaza which had been evacuated in 2005. The July war shakes Olmert’s credibility.
June 2007: Concerned that forces loyal to President Abbas are preparing to overthrow it, Hamas swiftly and brutally seizes all the main al-Fatah bases in Gaza. Abbas accuses Hamas of staging a coup, dismisses the Hamas led government, and creates an emergency government to rule the West Bank separately. Abbas weakens his own position in the process.
Second half of 2007: The Israeli blockade on Gaza tightens, dramatically increasing the stark poverty and unemployment rates there. Israel’s goal is still to weaken Hamas credibility among Palestinians and force it from power. But sanctions hurt ordinary Gazans the most. Hamas continues to improve its military position in Gaza, establishing control over rival clans and militias. Tunnels under the border with Egypt are improved. A semiofficial smuggling system emerges and contributes to the manufacturing of rockets. Israel buttresses its economic blockade.
End of 2007: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issues a warning to Israelis that unless the opportunity of a 2-state solution is grasped soon, changing demographics could force Israel to become an apartheid-like state.
2008: Prospects for a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians look bleak. There is increasing worry that a 2-state solution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict is vanishing.
January 2008: Hamas moves to relieve the pressure of the blockade by knocking down the barriers at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. For 11 days, hundreds of thousands of Gazans pour through the breached walls to go shopping. The Egyptian government permits the short-term movement of people and goods across the border. Once the border is resealed with Hamas’ help, President Mubarak reinvigorates his efforts as an intermediary with Israel. The breaching of the barrier bolsters Hamas’ legitimacy and its ability to act in the immediate term.
June 2008: Egypt successfully helps negotiate a ceasefire beween Israel and Hamas. Hamas accepts responsibility for preventing militant groups from launching rockets into Israel. In return, Israel pledges to allow increased imports into Gaza.
September 2008: A scandal-ridden Olmert steps down as prime minister.
November 26, 2012: The remains of Yasir Arafat, the longtime Palestinian leader, are exhumed as part of an inquiry into whether he was poisoned; results could come within three months.
November 29, 2012: The United Nations General Assembly votes by a more than two-thirds majority to recognize the state of Palestine.
What’s Happening Now?
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict made headlines again in May 2021, as Israel and Hamas engaged in a bloody 11-day war. Following a tense confrontation between Israeli police and Palestinian protestors at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem. Over the next 11 days, Israel carried out air strikes aimed at Hamas military infrastructure and Hamas fired rockets into Israel – at least 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed.
On May 21, the fighting stopped when a ceasefire mediated by the Egyptian government took effect.
Those of you who like visuals will want to take a look at a recent New York Times piece titled Gaza’s Deadly Night: How Israeli Airstrikes Killed 44 People (June 24, 2021). You can watch the video here.