The photo became world famous – a photo suggesting what could have been: an historic moment.
What a sight – on 13 September 1993 – when then Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin with then President of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Agreement with US President Bill Clinton.
Clinton said: “Today with all our hearts and all our souls we bid them shalom, salaam, peace.”
This laid a foundation for Palestinian self-rule, although numerous difficult point remained to be worked out between the eternal enemies; at last peace had a hope.
Rabin said: “We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today, in a loud and clear voice: ‘enough of blood and tears, enough.’”
Arafat said: “Thank you, thank you, thank you”
The two men making these promises on behalf of their peoples were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Arafat was hailed as a hero in Gaza after 27 years in exile – at least be a part of the Palestinians.
Rabin wasn’t welcomed back by all Israelis either – not by the ones who opposed his compromises with the Palestinians. Two years after Oslo, a Jewish extremist assassinated him.
While most wanted peace, others weren’t ready to make concessions – ordinary people as well as in the various levels of government. The process lurched from one failure to another, obstacles in the way left over from Oslo: settlements in occupied land and the status of Jerusalem.
Permanent tension built up. In 2000, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a visit to a holy site of Islam and it provided the trigger for the Second Intifada uprising. The First had been before Oslo.
Violence bred violence, and hope seeped away. The Israelis began building what critics called a wall of shame, meant to separate Palestinians from Jewish settlers in their midst – illegally under international law. The Palestinians were also divided deeper into their factions – which tore at each other, nearly obliterating their goal, till a symbolic victory was won at the UN late in 2012.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said: “The international community now stands before the last chance to save the two-state solution”
An overwhelming majority of UN members supported observer nation status for Palestine – a step forward.
But it has not changed much. The Oslo Accords which offered hope for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians delivered little.