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Oslo Accord architect Ron Pundak dies at 59

Ron Pundak, one of the architects of the Oslo Accord, died Friday at the age of 59.

In 1993, Pundak, an expert on Middle East history, was working under Yossi Beilin, who was then the Israeli deputy foreign minister. At the time, Israel was holding formal negotiations in Washington with a Palestinian team, but the talks were heading nowhere and the promise of the Rabin government seemed to be fading away.

Along with Yair Hirschfeld, Pundak initiated a secret back channel between Israeli and PLO officials (contact with PLO members was still illegal when Rabin took office), first in London and then in Oslo. When the sides began to make progress, he informed Beilin, and later, then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was brought in the loop. Peres eventually informed Rabin of the talks and the prime minister gave his blessing. The first Oslo Accord was signed on the White House lawn by Peres and then-chief Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas in late 1993.

In 1995, Pundak took part in negotiations that led to the Beilin-Abu Mazen paper (full document, PDF), which outlined a future Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with agreed-upon land swaps. Prime Minister Rabin was murdered several days after the completion of the paper and never got to endorse it. Peres and Barak later rejected it, missing the greatest opportunity to have an official Israeli commitment to the two-state solution.

Ron Pundak in 2011 (Photo by Yossi Gurvitz)

Ron Pundak in 2011 (Photo by Yossi Gurvitz)

In later years Pundak was a member of several peace forums and think tanks. He took part in the informal negotiations which led to the Geneva Initiative.

In an interview to “Just Vision” several years back, Pundak spoke about what went wrong in Oslo. His analysis is rather unique, putting an emphasis on political and strategic problems on the Israeli side that existed despite the Rabin-Peres government’s full commitment to the process. One can almost sense regret in the interview, especially when Pundak speaks of how stingy the Israeli side was during the later stages of the negotiations:

I think both sides entered into the implementation period not in good faith– both sides. Both because the trust was not built and because there was an effort to put things off until the second round of dialogue. But having said this, I don’t think this is enough to make the situation deteriorate as quickly and as terribly as it did. And here I think that we, the Israelis, committed too many mistakes on the way. I believe all the mistakes were rooted in the fact that the day after Oslo, meaning from the 14th of September 1993, Israel itself wasn’t clear where it wanted to go in its relations with the Palestinians; it wasn’t clear whether Israel was at all ready to commit itself to a real fair solution, based on the only ingredients a real, fair solution should contain: an independent, viable, Palestinian sovereign state, side by side with Israel, on equal footing, based more or less on the ’67 borders. I think that until the last days of negotiation in Camp David, still, Israel didn’t accept this formula.

I don’t say that Israel didn’t want peace; on the contrary, I think Israel wanted peace as much and probably more that the Palestinians– I’m speaking about the leadership. But I think the Palestinians were more ready for the compromised solution and were in full comprehension of what it takes to make it happen and we were not. Because of this, we allowed many terrible things to happen on the ground, such as enlarging and building more settlements, confiscating land, sending the wrong message to the Palestinians regarding what the final status would entail.

We were stingy on the issue of prisoners, the economy, and almost everything– not because we wanted to sabotage the process, but because from our point of view, all this might have led to a Palestinian state, which we did not dare to say out-loud– for example, partition of Jerusalem, which is a must for any agreement.24 If we continue to say during negotiations that Jerusalem will always be under Israeli control, we are pushing aside Palestinian legitimate activities and sending the wrong message in regards to what we want to have. So to sum it up in a nut-shell, I think we screwed it up.

All this without describing one inch of the legitimate criticism I have of the Palestinians: that they were slow, that they were terrible in not fighting terrorism seriously, that they were double talking and that Arafat is a terrible manager and doesn’t really care about his own people, etc. And that his methods of negotiations were childish. But I say in spite of all my criticism against the Palestinians, and I have kilometers of criticism, still in the big picture, I think we screwed it up.

What went wrong? Learning from the mistakes of Oslo
The Israeli negotiator who thinks the two-state solution is still possible
An agreement on indefinite occupation: Oslo celebrates 19 years
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    1. Ken Kelso

      Pundak did terrible damage to Israel’s security which remains until today. Indirectly responsible for thousands of Jewish deaths, this Oslo criminal Pundak never had to meet his true punishment – jail time.

      Reply to Comment
      • Wil Sanders

        Dear Ken,

        5 comments; looks like you couldn’t come to a coherent comment. Try to spend some time in getting your mind and facts together before you express your evil eruptions on a public medium. Oh, Ken…and please please hold a mirror. Independent of nationality or religion, thousands of people died on both sides of legitimate and illegal borders. Why don’t you mention other victims, UN resolutions, never convicted mass murder Sharon, initiatives from your neighboring – and other countries to come to a (finally, pffff… ) peace agreement. Oh, and by the way: Arafat died a long 10 years ago; it was in all papers, worldwide.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Ken Kelso

      I understand that Kerry is not accepting his death and still believes we can revive him.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ken Kelso

      Time for Israel to bury those accords with him

      The Left who created the abortive Oslo refuses to apologize for the vast graveyard of murdered Jews for which they are responsible.

      Remember when Peres, Beilin and Pundak tried to say Arafat was not responsible for starting the 2000 terror war.

      Can these appeasers Read.

      Suha Arafat: The 2000 Intifada Was Premeditated, Planned by Arafat
      DECEMBER 26, 2012

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ken Kelso

      This is probably the best article i’v read on Yasser Terrorfat on his 74 stages strategy which the Oslo fools like Beilin Pundak and Peres turned a blind eye to.

      Arafat’s Grand Strategy
      Efraim Karsh
      Middle East Quarterly
      Spring 200

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ken Kelso

      Pundak believed in turning a blind eye to Fatah racists

      In 2003, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction shot and killed a Palestinian named George Khoury as he was jogging in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood.

      Arafat, in a clear racist gesture, stated that this was a case of mistaken identity – because their victim turned out to be an Arab instead of a Jew.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Lee Diamond

      IF “Ken Kelso” is Jewish, he’s an embarrassment to the Jewish people.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Above all he’s an embarrassment to himself. He brings biased sources or no sources for his claims. Even what he claims Arafat said turns out to be what Suha says in 2012 he said.

        Reply to Comment
        • Tzutzik

          “Even what he claims Arafat said turns out to be what Suha says in 2012 he said.”

          And Suha would just lie about the Intifada? Is what she said so implausible that we should disregard it?

          Of course NOT! She just confirms what any sane person already knows. Arafat orchestrated the Intifada because he did not want to sign a peace deal with Israel. Only people who want to hide their head in the sand deny this.

          Reply to Comment
    7. Ken Kelso

      Lee the only embarrassment are left wing Jews like Beilin, Pundak, Zehava Gal-On who try to appease Arab murderers.

      Arafat’s Stockholm speech in 1996 to Arab diplomats
      “The Impending Total Collapse of Israel,” Stockholm, Sweden.
      Arafat said that the PLO plans “to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian State. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion; Jews won’t want to live among us Arabs.”
      Arafat said: “I have no use for Jews..they are and remain Jews! We now need all the help we can get from you in our battle for a united Palestine under total Arab-Muslim domination!”

      Reply to Comment