Secrecy and the Oslo Accords

Herb Kelman 

Professor Emeritus, Program on Negotiation, Harvard University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

There are a number of problems with Oslo. It cannot be evaluated as a track II process. It was a track I process, or at least the outcome was an official political agreement and there is the anomaly, and I wrote about this long before Oslo failed, that there was a contradiction in the sense that in order for an agreement to emerge, the process had to be secret. If it had been public it would have been shot down long before it got to the point of agreement. But because it was secret there wasn't the opportunity to build the constituencies for it and that was an inherent problem to which there was no solution. There would have been no Oslo if it hadn't been secret, there wouldn't have been any agreement. So you couldn't solve that problem. It should have been taken into account, and there should have been explicit efforts to build these constituencies afterward and not enough of that was done.


The other cost of the reserve option is that they didn't, in a way they couldn't, but they didn't even when they could have, educate their publics.

It was difficult to educate their publics to a solution, to the reason and the value and the cost of a solution, which they weren't willing to state, publicly. Rabin wasn't prepared to say we are committed to a two-state solution and tell his public here is what that means, here is the price we have to pay, e.g. settlements, and it's worth it, it's good for us and them, it's good for peace. He wasn't ready to fully do that. Arafat had no problem with saying a two-state solution but he wasn't prepared to say that this means the end of the conflict, this means very serious compromises on the issue of the right of return. He wasn't prepared to say those things. They didn't really educate their publics properly and bring them along. It was a consequence of the fact that what was the obvious implication of Oslo was left implicit rather than explicit. But, again, they weren't ready to make it explicit so the choice was do you have an agreement with all of these flaws or do you have no agreement? My own feeling is that I wish they had been more aware of the limitations and done more to correct for them in the post-Oslo process but I am still glad that they came up with the Oslo Agreement and I still think that it represents a fundamental breakthrough.