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What is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

“Oslo” is an ongoing American-mediated effort to broker a peace treaty between the two populations.

Thousands Of Israeli youths dance through the streets of Arab East Jerusalem.
Brian Hendler/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Sometimes called “Oslo” after the 1993 Oslo Accords that kicked it off, the peace process is an ongoing American-mediated effort to broker a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians. The goal is a “final status agreement,” which would establish a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in exchange for Palestinians agreeing to permanently end attacks on Israeli targets — a formula often called “land for peace.”

Many people believed the peace process to be over in January 2001. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had just rejected his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak’s peace offer (there’s huge disagreement as to just what that offer entailed). Moreover, renewed talks failed to generate an agreement, and worsening violence during the second intifada violence made another round of talks seem impossible.

Despite the 2001 failure, the general Oslo “land for peace” framework remains the dominant American and international approach to resolving the conflict. The Bush administration pushed its own update on Oslo, called the ”road map,” and the Obama administration made the peace process a significant foreign policy priority. The Trump administration has not formally abandoned this formula, but has yet to take any significant actions to advance it.

Any successful peace initiative would need to resolve the four core issues that have plagued the peace process: West Bank borders/settlements, Israeli security, Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem. So far there’s been little success, and there are three major hurdles to any agreement.

First, Israel continues to expand West Bank settlements, which Palestinians see as a de facto campaign to erase the Palestinian state outright. Second, the Palestinians remain politically divided between Fatah and Hamas, and thus are unable to negotiate jointly. And even if it worked, Israel still has shown zero indication that it would negotiate with a government that includes Hamas.

Third, and finally, it’s not actually clear how to get talks started. The current right-wing Israeli government is skeptical of concessions to the Palestinians. The Palestinians, having essentially decided that Israel isn’t serious about peace, have launched a campaign for statehood in international institutions aimed at pressuring Israel into peace — which might well backfire by convincing Israelis the Palestinians are done with the US-led peace process.

To restart talks, the US needs to somehow get the two sides to start taking each other’s commitment to peace a little more seriously. It’s not at all clear how it could do that, or even if the Trump administration wants to.