In 1992, the government of Norway offered to act as an intermediary between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in an effort to bring lasting peace to the region. They were hoping to follow up on the Madrid Conference from the previous year, which had not produced any concrete results. A series of increasingly high-level secret meetings were held both in Oslo and in London. At the conclusion of those meetings, a Declaration of Principles was prepared, which came to be known as the Oslo Accords.
In September of 1993, Israeli and Palestinian leaders met in Washington. At a ceremony hosted by President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat officially signed the agreements. Clinton held a celebration on the White House lawn for what he called “a brave gamble for peace,” where he forced—actually standing with his thumb pressed into the prime minister’s back—Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat over a blank sheet of paper that represented the Declaration of Principles, or Oslo Accords. The paper lay on the same table over which President Jimmy Carter had presided, as Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed the earlier peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979.
President Clinton later described it as one of “the highest moments” of his presidency as the two “shook hands for the first time in front of a billion people on television, it was an unbelievable day.” One of Clinton’s greatest hopes was to go down in history as the man who finally resolved the Arab–Israeli conflict in the Middle East. In order to do this, he used his tremendous aptitude at image transformation to turn the terrorist and murderer Yasser Arafat into a diplomat. Arafat became the most-welcomed foreign leader to the White House during the Clinton years. It also seems likely that Arafat received some coaching from Clinton and his advisers on what to say, how to speak, and what to do to help in this metamorphosis.
The Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Rabin, Arafat, and Israel’s foreign minister (later prime minister and president) Shimon Peres. But the hope of peace again proved to be empty. The late Jewish actor and spokesman Theodore Bikel said: “Arafat turned out to be no partner for peace…he had never intended to be such a partner in the first place. Oslo and the handshake gave him the cachet of peacemaker; it also gave him half of a Nobel Peace Prize, which, if he had had any sense of shame, he would have returned. In truth, for him Oslo was nothing more than an opportunity to obfuscate and spin wheels.”
For all of the concessions Israel made, the PLO and Yasser Arafat took no steps toward peace. Instead, they continued to incite attacks against Israel and to pay terrorists (or their families) an annual salary for killing innocent Jewish people. Israel lost far more than it gained from the Oslo Accords.