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memri
September 17, 2018 No.
167

Abbas's Book 'Through Secret Channels: The Road To Oslo': The Signing Of The Oslo Accords Was Delayed Until The PLO Was Named The Official Signatory For The Palestinian Side

Introduction

The story of the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993 was reported in many Western and Israeli news outlets. According to these reports (and as also noted in my article "The Story Behind the Handshake"[1]), the signing was delayed because Arafat refused to sign the agreement as drafted in Oslo – which identified the Palestinian signatory as "the Palestinian team within the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation" – and demanded that the Palestinian signatory be explicitly identified as "the Palestinian Liberation Organization" (PLO). Yitzhak Rabin's intent, when the agreement was concluded in Oslo, was apparently to avoid naming the PLO in the Accords. He accepted the reality that the Palestinian delegation to the talks was directed by Arafat, but he intended to sign the agreement with this delegation and not with the PLO. The language of the agreement – which was initialed on August 20, 1993 – reflected this. 

However, on September 9, the Israeli government and the PLO exchanged letters of recognition (see Appendix). Once mutual recognition was established, the PLO demanded to be the signatory, while the Israeli government refused this demand. On September 13, the day of the signing itself, the Palestinian delegation stepped up its pressure, and there were frantic multilateral negotiations over the PLO's demand, until the Israeli side finally succumbed at the very last moment before the signing.

The name of the Palestinian signatory was amended in the two places it appeared in the agreement: in the first and the last pages. The last page was retyped by the White House minutes before the start of the signing ceremony. The first page was amended by hand, by crossing out the words "the Palestinian team" and inserting "the PLO" in their stead.

Abbas's book Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo, which recounts the story of the Oslo Accords, including a detailed account of the critical hours before the signing, contains a photo of the document with the phrase "Palestinian team" crossed out by hand and replaced by "PLO." However, in the copy of the Oslo Agreement in the Israeli State Archives, the original first page with the handwritten amendments is missing, and in its stead is a typed page with the correction – thus creating the false impression that from the outset the PLO had been the intended signatory. Apparently, those involved in the Oslo agreement replaced the original page with a typed version in order to eliminate the evidence of their last-minute capitulation. 'Abbas, proud of the PLO's achievement in strong-arming Rabin and the Israeli government, presents the amended first page in its original form.

The following is the section from the English translation of 'Abbas's book recounting the events of September 13, 1993, the day of the signing of the Oslo Accords.[2]


The cover of the Arabic version of 'Abbas's book (Mahmoud 'Abbas, The Road to Oslo – The Agreement Signatory Reveals the True Secrets of the Story of the Negotiations, Beirut: Sharikat al-Matbu'at lil-Tawzi' wal-Nashr, 1994)

Arafat Hours Before The Signing: If The Agreement Isn't Amended, We Will Not Sign It

"The American Administration announced that the signing [of the Oslo Accords] would take place on Monday, September 13, and that Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would sign the accord for Israel. But, as usual, we, the Palestinians, did not decide who on our side would sign it. Our Foreign Minister, Farouq al-Qaddoumi, should have been the one to sign, but because he opposed the accord he refused to do so. Meanwhile, Arafat wanted to attend the ceremony, which of course required Rabin to be present too. As a result, intense contacts took place during the forty-eight hours that preceded the signing ceremony. The two men were eventually invited to attend, while I was asked to sign in the name of the PLO. I had some reservations about going, but many people made efforts to remove them. That was how some hours later I was on the royal Moroccan jet that carried our delegation to Washington on Sunday, 12 September 1993. The next forty-eight hours we spent in Washington were filled with much activity: meetings, contacts and official functions. Let us look at some of the events of the day.

"When the Declaration of Principles was initialed in Oslo on 20 August 1993 there was no mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel, and as a result the preamble stated that the agreement was between the Government of the State of Israel and the Palestinian team in the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to the Middle East Peace Conference representing the Palestinian people. This was natural since the negotiations in Washington had begun and had proceeded in this manner. But after the letters of mutual recognition had been signed the preamble was supposed to be changed so that the 'Palestinian Liberation Organization' would be substituted for 'Palestinian' team. PLO was also to be substituted for 'Palestinian' in other parts of the document. We arrived in Washington thinking that the amendment would be automatically without question or negotiation. The Palestinian delegation in Washington had not taken any steps to make the amendment on the grounds that we should tackle the matter ourselves with the Israelis, Americans and Norwegians. We then sensed that the Israelis were not prepared to make any change in the document on the pretext that time was short and that no amendments could now be made as it was now the White House ready for signing. Hayel al-Fahoum, a member of the Palestinian delegation in Washington and director of the West European Section at the PLO Political Department, recorded the final hours before the signing ceremony in these words:

"At 6 a.m. on Monday, 13 September 1993, one of the members of the Israeli delegation called me and introduced himself as Shimon Peres's aide. He asked to speak to Abu Mazen to arrange a meeting between him and Peres at 6 p.m. on the same day. Meanwhile, from his suite at the hotel Arafat woke Ahmad Tibi and asked him to contact Peres in order to make the appropriate change in the preamble. Ahmad Tibi came back with an answer that was half negative and half positive. Rabin had agreed to mention the PLO as a signatory to the accord at the end of the document. Tibi informed the PLO leadership of this, and Arafat said it was not enough and told him: 'We will not sign the accord because it does not mention the name of the Palestine Liberation Organization.' He then asked Tibi to contact Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Haim Ramon who was in Tel Aviv. At about 8 a.m. Hassan Asfour, Muhammad Abu Koush and Ahmad Tibi were sent to contact the Israeli delegation, but the three returned empty-handed. During the meeting Tibi threatened Shimon Peres that the Palestinian delegation and Yasser Arafat would not arrive at the White House, since Arafat had instructed all delegation members not to leave the hotel for the White House until the preamble was amended. At 8.45 a.m. all the Palestinian delegation members met at Arafat's suite to discuss the matter. At 9 a.m. Arafat received James Baker [the former US Secretary of State] and informed him of the latest development. Baker then asked: 'When is the accord to be signed?' Abu Ammar [Arafat] replied: At eleven o'clock.' Baker then said: 'The Israelis will agree to the amendment at 10.58.' It was nearly 9.35 when Hanan Ashrawi interjected: It is getting late. The Palestinian delegation members can barely make it to the White House to take their seats for the signing ceremony' (Hanan Ashrawi and Nabil Shaath had earlier made intensive contact with Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller and Edward Djerejian [of the US State Department] to make the amendment, but the response had been negative.) Arafat then told the delegation members to proceed to the White House. He stayed at the hotel with Abu Mazen, and I stayed with then. In a final attempt Arafat sent Ahmad Tibi to the Israeli delegation's headquarters to inform it that, if the preamble was not amended to incorporate the name of the Palestine Liberation Organization, there would be no signing. At 10 a.m. Abu Mazen asked: 'What will we do if the amendment is not made?' Arafat replied: 'We will not sign the accord.' At 10.10 the telephone rang. Ahmad Tibi was on the line. He informed Arafat that Peres had agreed to substitute the words 'Palestine Liberation Organization' for the 'Palestinian team in the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation'. Arafat agreed the amendment.

"At 10.15 we began moving to the White House. The procession arrived at 10.30, and Arafat and Abu Mazen were escorted into an inner hall in the White House. President Clinton, Rabin, Peres and their aides were there. Accompanied by the US chief of protocol, I went to the place where the signing ceremony was to take place and sat near the rostrum on which the table for signing was placed. I asked to see the American legal adviser or the protocol official to take a last look at the texts of the document that was soon to be signed. The American adviser began describing the signing procedure, but I insisted on seeing the texts of the accord to ascertain that the agreed amendment had been made. When I examined the document I discovered that no amendment had been made to it. Rather, I discovered that the last line was as follows:

"For the Government of Israel:     For the Palestinian Delegation:

"There was no mention of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the whole text. I hastened to inform the American legal adviser that I had strict instructions not to present the accord to Abu Mazen if the required amendments had not been made. I asked him to go and see Peres, who was in the White House, and check with him. The American legal adviser then rushed into the White House to consult with Peres. I proceeded to the first row of guests and asked Hanan Ashrawi to accompany me to solve the problem. The American adviser returned, and I told him to relate the response in the presence of Hanan Ashrawi. He said that Peres had confirmed his agreement to the amendment and that during the signing Abu Mazen could cross out the words Palestinian Delegation and replace them with Palestine Liberation Organization by hand. Hanan then said that Abu Mazen should sign the document before Peres so that amendment would be seen to be agreed and legally fixed. But the American legal adviser said protocol required that Peres sign first. Hanan then told me to insist on the position and returned to her place. I then asked the American adviser if the last page could be retyped in its new form. Indeed, he quickly had four copies of the amendment typed in the White House and returned with the Israeli legal adviser Joel Singer. The new pages were added to the other pages of the accord but I asked that the final unamended lines be crossed out in all copies, which was done. As for the first page, the preamble was amended by hand and the expression 'P.L.O' was substituted for 'Palestinian'. The Israeli adviser, Joel Singer, and I initialed the document.

"At 11.10 a.m., after a ten-minute delay, the signing ceremony began, after which everything went smoothly."


The first page of the agreement, with the handwritten amendment, as presented in 'Abbas's book in Arabic (p. 349)

Appendix: Israel-PLO Letters Of Mutual Recognition[3]

 

September 9, 1993

Yitzhak Rabin
Prime Minister of Israel

Mr. Prime Minister,

The signing of the Declaration of Principles marks a new era in the history of the Middle East. In firm conviction thereof, I would like to confirm the following PLO commitments:

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

The PLO considers that the signing of the Declaration of Principles constitutes a historic event, inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability. Accordingly, the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.

In view of the promise of a new era and the signing of the Declaration of Principles and based on Palestinian acceptance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel's right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid. Consequently, the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant.

Sincerely,

Yasser Arafat Chairman
The Palestine Liberation Organization

 

--------------------------------------------

September 9, 1993

Yasser Arafat Chairman
The Palestine Liberation Organization

Mr. Chairman,

In response to your letter of September 9, 1993, I wish to confirm to you that, in light of the PLO commitments included in your letter, the Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.

Sincerely,

Yitzhak Rabin
Prime Minister of Israel

 

 

*Yigal Carmon is President and Founder of MEMRI.

 

[1] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 134, The Story Behind The Handshake, September 13, 2017.

[2] Mahmoud 'Abbas, Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo– Senior PLO Leader Abu Mazen's Revealing Story of the Negotiations with Israel (Reading, UK: Garnet, 1995), 209-213.

[3] Mfa.gov.il, September 10, 1993.