Wye River Accords Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In a summit conference convened by U.S. president Bill Clinton, the Israeli government agreed to a gradual expansion of Palestinian control over the West Bank in exchange for the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to combat terrorist organizations.

Summary of Event

The Wye Reservation Conference of 1998 was one of the more hopeful events within the frustrating on-and-off negotiations toward a peaceful settlement to the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict. The main goal of the conference was to search for a peaceful agreement concerning sovereignty and control over the Palestinian portions of the territories occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967. The negotiators at the conference recognized that any settlement would have to take into account U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which had called for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel’s right to exist. For a model, they looked to the Camp David conference of 1978, when Egypt had agreed to diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for the return of Egyptian control over the Sinai Peninsula. Camp David Peace Accords (1978) Peace negotiations;Wye River Accords Wye River Accords (1998) Israeli-Palestinian conflict[Israeli Palestinian conflict] [kw]Wye River Accords (Oct. 15-23, 1998) [kw]Accords, Wye River (Oct. 15-23, 1998) Peace negotiations;Wye River Accords Wye River Accords (1998) Israeli-Palestinian conflict[Israeli Palestinian conflict] [g]North America;Oct. 15-23, 1998: Wye River Accords[10160] [g]United States;Oct. 15-23, 1998: Wye River Accords[10160] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 15-23, 1998: Wye River Accords[10160] Netanyahu, Benjamin Arafat, Yasir Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;Wye River Accords Albright, Madeleine Ross, Dennis Tenet, George Hussein I

By the early 1990’s, moderates within Yasir Arafat’s organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), were prepared to seek a negotiated settlement, having concluded that a military victory was unattainable. This realization made it possible for Israeli and Palestinian diplomats meeting secretly in Norway to achieve a breakthrough: the Oslo Accords of 1993, Oslo Accords (1993) in which the Palestinians agreed to accept Israel’s existence in exchange for negotiations toward the gradual establishment of Palestinian self-government in most (but not all) of the West Bank and Gaza. In 1996, Yasir Arafat was easily elected first president of the Palestinian National Authority Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Palestinian militants, led by the organization Hamas, Hamas rejected the Oslo process, initiating a new wave of suicide bombing against Israelis. Conservative Israelis also denounced the Oslo agreement, and a fanatical Zionist assassinated the moderate prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin, Yitzhak

Palestinian suicide attacks helped Israel’s conservative political coalition, the Likud, to prevail in the elections of 1996. The new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had previously denounced the Oslo Accords, unenthusiastically agreed to a “land for peace” formula. Accusing Arafat of responsibility for terrorist attacks, he also announced a policy of “reciprocity,” in which Israel would not continue to negotiate with Arafat unless the terrorist attacks ceased. By early 1997, the PNA had acquired either full control or partial control over only 12 percent of the West Bank. American officials, fearing an end to the Oslo process, began using economic leverage to pressure the two parties to hold a summit, with hopes of further implementing the Oslo peace process.

On September 28, 1998, in a three-way meeting with U.S. president Bill Clinton in Washington, D.C., Netanyahu and Arafat finally agreed to a U.S.-brokered summit. The chosen location was in eastern Maryland at the Wye River Plantation, which was part of the Aspen Institute Conference Centers. The talks began with a ceremonial meeting at the White House on October 15. President Clinton repeated the refrain that Washington “could bring the parties together,” and that it was for the parties themselves to make the “hard decisions.” Negotiations began slowly, and a terrorist attack against Israeli civilians in Beersheba on October 19 almost derailed the conference.

In addition to Clinton, American participants at the conference included Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); and a special envoy, Dennis Ross. Although Clinton was known to have criticized Netanyahu for not recognizing the humanity of the Palestinians, during the negotiations he emphasized Israel’s security interests. On October 21, when the negotiations appeared to be deadlocked, Jordan’s King Hussein I made an unscheduled visit and encouraged the parties to agree to painful compromises. Just as the agreements appeared secure, Netanyahu threatened to refuse to sign any document unless Clinton ordered the release of the Jewish-American spy Jonathan Pollard. In the end, Netanyahu grudgingly withdrew the demand in exchange for Clinton’s pledge to review the case.

On October 23, 1998, after nine days of intense negotiations, Netanyahu and Arafat signed the Wye River Memorandum in the presence of President Clinton and King Hussein. Under the very complicated terms of the agreement, Israel pledged to withdraw its troops from an additional 13.1 percent of the West Bank within three months, although the Israelis would retain control of security matters within most of the area. The memorandum further stipulated that this withdrawal would be followed by a joint Israeli-Palestinian control over an additional 14 percent of the West Bank, which would give the PNA either full or total control over approximately 40 percent of the Palestinian lands occupied since 1967.

The memorandum contained several other provisions. Both sides agreed to a resumption of final-status talks, with decisions about Gaza and East Jerusalem to be postponed until that time. The Palestinians pledged to step up their efforts to combat terrorism. The CIA was assigned a role in monitoring border checkpoints. Netanyahu agreed to schedule the release of a total of 750 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons for political crimes. He also agreed to open a safe-passage route for Palestinians traveling from the West Bank to Gaza, but he refused to freeze the buildings of new settlements within the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians particularly resented the requirement that militants on their side were to be disarmed, while nothing was said about the disarmament of radicals among the Israeli settlers.

Significance

Following the accords, it soon became painfully obvious that the two sides disagreed about what had been decided in the Wye River Memorandum. On October 24, Arafat said to reporters that a Palestinian state was “coming very soon.” In contrast, Netanyahu said on the television news interview program Meet the Press that while he did not completely reject the idea of Palestinian statehood at the end of the final negotiations, such a status must include “limitation on certain sovereign powers.” Returning to Israel, Netanyahu was greeted by large demonstrations of angry settlers. He pledged that the government would continue to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and later that month he approved the construction of 1,025 new housing units.

On November 17, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, approved the agreements made at Wye River by a 75-19 margin. Three days later, the Israeli government released 250 Palestinian prisoners and implemented the first stage of redeployment from the West Bank. Because of conservative opposition to the Wye River Memorandum, however, Netanyahu’s ruling coalition was breaking apart. After a prominent member of the cabinet resigned on December 16, Netanyahu was forced to schedule elections for the spring of 1999.

On December 16, the National Council of the PLO formally removed references to the destruction of Israel from its charter. Arafat, however, refused to pledge not to make a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, and he repeated his demands for a freeze over new settlements in disputed territories. Violence and discontent continued to grow in the West Bank and Gaza. Netanyahu denounced Arafat for not doing enough to combat terrorism, using this as a justification for not releasing more prisoners. On December 20, the Knesset voted to suspend further implementation of the Wye River Memorandum. The future prospects of the Oslo process appeared very uncertain. Peace negotiations;Wye River Accords Wye River Accords (1998) Israeli-Palestinian conflict[Israeli Palestinian conflict]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abraham, S. Daniel. Peace Is Possible: Conversations with Arab and Israeli Leaders from 1998 to the Present. New York: Newmarket Press, 2006. Firsthand account by a businessman who made more than sixty trips to the Middle East from 1988 to 2002 and had many conversations with the major Arab and Israeli leaders.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Albright, Madeleine, and Bill Woodward. Madam Secretary. New York: Miramax Books, 2003. Best-selling insider’s account of U.S. foreign policy during a period of violence and turbulence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Congressional Quarterly. The Middle East. 9th ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2000. A readable, interesting, and balanced introductory guide to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fisk, Robert. The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. An experienced journalist’s massive account of conflicts in the region, written from an extreme anti-Western and anti-Israeli point of view.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gowers, Andrew, and Tony Walker. Arafat: The Biography. London: Virgin Press, 2005. Balanced account of Arafat’s career based on interviews with Arafat and others. Especially good on the tragic failure of the Oslo peace process.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Netanyahu, Benjamin. Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations. New York: Warner Books, 2000. Expresses the Zionist vision and perceptions of a conservative but realistic nationalist who reluctantly agreed to modest concessions as prime minister.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Quandt, William B. Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Widely acknowledged as one of the most scholarly, comprehensive, and dispassionate accounts of the attempts of each president since Lyndon B. Johnson to achieve a peace settlement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ross, Dennis. The Missing Peace: Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004. Insider’s account of the Oslo peace process, critical of Arafat and emphasizes the importance of compromise, realism, and truth-telling.

Camp David Accords

Sadat and Begin Receive the Nobel Peace Prize

Palestinian Intifada Begins

Rabin Is Assassinated

Barak Takes Charge in Israel

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