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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:

Melchior http://fathomjournal.org/doing-god-or-the-importance-of-religious-peacemaking-an-interview-with-rabbi-michael-melchior/

Hirschfeld: http://fathomjournal.org/learning-the-lessons-of-the-oslo-peace-process-james-sorene-interviews-yair-hirschfeld/