What are the Oslo accords?

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Over 20 years after they were first signed, the accords remain the basis of relations between Israeli and Palestinian officials in West Bank

Peres (C) signs the Israel-PLO Oslo accords (AFP)
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Wednesday 28 September 2016 8:42 UTC
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Former Israeli president Shimon Peres, who died on Wednesday aged 93, was the last survivor of the three men awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the Oslo accords.

The agreements, signed in the early 1990s, were meant to create a "lasting and comprehensive peace settlement" between Israelis and Palestinians and were hailed across the world. 

What were the historical agreements and did they ultimately fail?

Historic achievement

The accords, signed in Washington in 1993 and Taba, Egypt, in 1995, were the first peace treaties ever signed between Israel and the Palestinian leadership.

They are named after the Norwegian capital where the two sides launched eight months of secret negotiations, in which Peres played a key role.

The first agreement led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority the following year with limited powers of self-rule, initially only in parts of the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank town of Jericho.

It foresaw further phased pullbacks by the Israeli army and was meant to lead to an independent Palestinian state.

The 1995 agreement divided the West Bank into three zones known as Areas A, B and C. 

Area C - some 60 percent of the West Bank - was meant to be "gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction" but remains under full Israeli military and civil control to this day.

Crucially, many key issues - including the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the right of return for Palestinian refugees - were not agreed upon, with the two sides saying they would be subject to later negotiations.

An iconic handshake

To confirm the agreement, US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, along with then foreign minister Peres, met on the White House lawn.

In the most iconic moment, a smiling Arafat extended his hand to Rabin who, after a brief hesitation, accepted it.

The sight of the two longtime adversaries shaking hands was hailed across the world as a major breakthrough in a conflict that at that point had already lasted nearly 50 years.

The following year, Rabin, Peres and Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East."

Accepting the award, Peres said "armies of occupation are a thing of the past."

The legacy

Just two years after the iconic handshake and a few months after the second Oslo agreement was signed, a Jewish militant opposed to the agreements shot Rabin twice in the back as he was leaving a pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv.

He died in hospital several hours later along with, many Israelis would argue, the Oslo accords.

Peres took over, but within a year lost an election to Benjamin Netanyahu - Israel's current prime minister and an outspoken opponent of the agreements.

Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, Palestinian attacks, including bus bombings, and political hardening on both sides meant the promise of the agreements was never realised. Arafat died in 2004.

More than 20 years on, the agreements, which were not meant to last more than five years, are still the basis of relations between Israel and Palestinian officials in the West Bank.

The phrase "Oslo" is still widely used by both Israelis and Palestinians but there is little optimism its goals will become reality.

A poll last month revealed that only 51 percent of Palestinians and 53 percent of Israeli Jews still support a two-state solution. 

Peres, speaking earlier this year, said he still believed in peace but said the two sides see the "obstacles" differently.

"In the eyes of the Palestinians clearly the settlements are the great obstacle. In the eyes of Israelis, terror is clearly the greatest obstacle."