The Colombia Peace Deal and the Oslo Accords: Same, Same but Different

Each year, the illustrious Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to an individual who has played a significant role in the promotion and implementation of peace between nations. The 2016 prize was awarded to Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, for his efforts to bring an end to Colombia’s deadly conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

This year’s award takes me back to 1994, when the prize was jointly awarded to Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres for their “efforts to create peace in the Middle East”.

While I do not intend to compare the personal experiences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Colombian conflict, I do find it interesting that two completely different countries followed similar trajectories in their search for peace.

Comparing the Colombian and Israeli peace processes

1) Violence as a catalyst

In the lead-up to peace negotiations, both Israel and Colombia were plagued by a similar, unfortunate set of circumstances.

Since the mid-1960s, Colombia has been embroiled in a conflict fought between the government, and insurgent, terror groups such as The FARC. The conflict has been marked by hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, abductions and displacements.

Israel has similarly experienced decades of violence and conflict with variety of Palestinian entities and terror organizations, which has also led to the death of thousands of individuals.

The circumstances facing both governments led to their decision to engage in peace negotiations.

2) Negotiating with Terrorists

It seems like a primary rule in politics is not to negotiate with terrorists. Yet, the dire circumstances facing both states led the Israeli and Colombian governments to throw this to the wind open a dialogue with their enemies.  

Colombia’s peace negotiations, which began in 2012, took place between delegations of Colombia’s government and the FARC rebel group.

Israel’s Oslo Peace negotiations which began in 1993, were attended by representatives of the Israeli government and the Palestinian entity.

The major difference here is that the Oslo Peace Accords changed the status of the Palestinian ruling entity from a terror organization to a formal political one that came to be known as the Palestinian Authority.

3) No Peace

The decision to negotiate resulted in a peace agreement in both the Colombian and Israeli cases. However, the agreements that were signed were never actualized.

The Oslo Accords were a series of agreements, aimed to reach lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The initial, Interim Agreements were signed, but the final status agreement was never reached.

The Colombian Peace process resulted in a peace agreement which was announced in August of 2016, but was rejected on October 2nd, by a referendum. The agreement included a return of arms by the FARC to the United Nations, in return for amnesty and reduced sentences for its members.

A major difference that stands out to me in the ultimate failure of the peace plans is in the entities responsible. In the Israeli case, the failure of the peace plan can be attributed to the actors on both sides.

The Israelis are blamed for not halting settlement building completely, while the Palestinians are blamed for a continuation of terror attacks. The ultimate failure here can be blamed on the governments themselves. However, the Colombian case is different. The people of Colombia were asked to vote in a referendum to determine whether the peace deal would be implemented. With an astoundingly close margin of less than 0.5%, the people decided against the monumental deal.  

4) Nobel Peace Prize

Despite the failure of both peace agreements, the efforts made to achieve peace were not ignored, resulting in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to both the Israeli and Colombian leaders.

There is however a clear difference between the 2016 and 1994 awards.

The 2016 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded only to the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos for his effort to bring an end to the Colombian Civil War and not to the leaders of the FARC.

In 1994, the Nobel Peace Prize was jointly won by Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres for their efforts to find a solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

It comes as no surprise that the highly political nature of the Nobel Peace Prize leads to controversy, but it is interesting to note the inconsistency in awards between two similar situations.

Both cases teach important lessons for future peace prospects. Negotiating with terrorists has the potential to lead to positive outcomes and conserve the state’s greater good. Referendums are a seemingly democratic form of ratifying agreements, however they also rely on voter turnout. Hurricane Matthew hurt voter turnout on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, where voters were more in favor of the peace deal, thus not necessarily reflecting the voice.

I do not think that it is possible to compare the experiences of the people of Colombia to those of the people of Israel. Each conflict is certainly unique in its own right. However, I am fascinated by the comparison of the trajectories that the two nation states have followed in their striving for peace.