Wye River Signing Ceremony, October 23, 1998
What was the Wye River Memorandum in 1998?
US President Bill Clinton held a Middle East summit conference at the Wye River Plantation, in Maryland during mid-October 1998. The Israeli delegation was headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat headed the Palestinian group.As a result of the negotiations, the Wye River Memorandum was signed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat on October 23, 1998 in a ceremony that was also attended by King Hussein of Jordan.
The Wye River Memorandum was intended to clarify mutual responsibilities of the parties in the details of implementation of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (“Oslo II”) of September 28, 1995. However, the Wye agreement is so riddled with ambiguities that some of its critics have compared it to Swiss cheese. The most prominent concerns center on the very issues that motivated the negotiations at Wye Plantation in the first place:
- The size and timing of the implementation of the sub-phases of Israeli redeployment of forces, specifically the so-called “second deployment” and “third deployment” as specified in the Oslo II agreement, contingent on Palestinian compliance with their commitment in Oslo II and earlier agreements
- The potential Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood in May of 1999, when the interim period specified in the Declaration of Principles expires.
The Israelis were particularly concerned with ongoing violations of the earlier treaties by the Palestinians:
- Failure to complete the process of amending the Palestinian National Covenant
- Continuing hostile incitement
- Failure to carry out a variety of security measures, including registration of weapons, confiscation of illegal weapons, arrest of suspected terrorists, and reduction of the size of the Palestinian “police force”
During the Wye River negotiations, the United States made a number of secret deals with the Israelis and Palestinians to help secure their agreement on the final memorandum:
- The US agreed to overlook Israeli plans to build at Har Homa if the Israelis did not oppose continuing American delay in moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in violation of the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1995
- Israel also agreed to restrict building in West Bank settlements (i.e. only accommodate “natural growth”) in return for a pledge to defer the planned declaration of a Palestinian State beyond May 4, 1999
- The United States provided funding to both parties: $1 billion to cover Israel’s costs of redeploying from the West Bank and instituting new or additional security measures; $300 million to the Palestinians for “economic infrastructure”>
Since it was considered unlikely that there would ever be full agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on all the issues, the Wye Memorandum introduced a third party – the US Central Intelligence Agency – to act as a kind of monitor and arbiter on security issues and the anticipated contradictions between Israeli and Palestinian interpretations of compliance.
The Wye agreement included a specific timeline for implementation, with the obligations of the Israeli and Palestinian sides to be implemented in a phased approach. Most of the Palestinian obligations were never implemented. Delays in implementation, as Israel protested Palestinian non-compliance with halts in redeployment of forces, led to a new timetable at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference in 1999.