BATNAs as a Cause of the Oslo Accords' Failure

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 ???).

The other problem with Oslo, and again I think it was inherent-the problem was that they could not come to an agreement about the final outcome. In other words they didn't come to a firm agreement not only about the final status issues, which were the critical issues, but even the concept of a two-state solution. It was generally understood that that's at the end of the process but there was no commitment to it, and because of that lack of commitment, two things happened, in my analysis. First, the leaders maintained reserve options. In the case of Rabin, the reserve option was: if it doesn't work, to re-institute control and in the case of Arafat: if it doesn't work, the reserve option was to re-institute the armed struggle. These weren't just psychological options; these were options on the ground. In other words Arafat didn't dismantle, he continued to build weapons beyond what the Oslo Agreement permitted, and he maintained the viability of an arms struggle of sorts. Rabin certainly maintained the possibility of reinstating control and we now are in the situation where these reserve options have become the dominant things but they maintained these reserve options because they didn't make that final commitment. 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.