Key Oslo Accords architect says exclusion of religion was ‘a mistake’

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Key Oslo Accords architect says exclusion of religion was ‘a mistake’

US president Bill Clinton, then Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin, and head of the PLO Yasser Arafat at the White House, 1993

A key Israeli architect of the Oslo Accords has said the biggest mistake negotiators made was to exclude religion from the process.

Yair Hirschfeld, who ran a back-channel to the PLO which eventually led to the 1993 Oslo Accords, spoke about his major regret in an interview with Fathom, the quarterly journal of Israel think tank BICOM.

“Religious actors on both sides were not part of the process and they should have been,” he said, explaining that the prevailing wisdom at the time was that it was a national conflict, and should not be allowed to become a religious conflict.

“So we knowingly excluded the religious guys,” he said. “That was a mistake. You need a sufficient majority to go ahead. And the legitimacy for moving ahead lay largely with the religious figures. We could have used different language; there’s no religious language in Oslo. That is one failure that I regret.”

The stark admission reflects the thoughts of Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s former deputy minister of foreign affairs, who argued that treating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict solely as a land dispute helped explain why the peace process failed.

“[Negotiators] decided to take religion out of the equation,” he said, in another Fathom interview. “They wanted a quick fix peace agreement that would deal with certain aspects of the conflict, leaving the existential aspects to be dealt with later.”

However, Melchior argued that “you cannot take God out of the equation,” saying that to do so is “like going down a blind alley with four flat tyres”.

In reference to later peace efforts, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s abortive attempts two years ago, Melchior added: “We should have learned from experience and analysed what went wrong. Why didn’t we succeed? I think everybody will agree that the religious factor was the main thing which blew up the Oslo Accords.”

You can read the Hirschfeld and Melchior Fathom interviews here:



Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: