Uri Savir, a former lawmaker, director general of the Foreign Ministry and one of the architects of the Oslo Accords, died on Saturday at the age of 69.
During his stint at the Foreign Ministry, Savir was involved in the agreements with the Palestinians in their early clandestine stages in Norway, through negotiations to establish an interim deal, until their signing. He also led the Israeli delegation during these meetings. Savir was also involved in efforts to negotiate a peace agreement with Syria, leading the Israeli delegation for those talks as well.
Savir was born in Jerusalem in 1953. His father, Leo Savir, was one of the founders of Israel's foreign service. Uri Savir started his political career at the Foreign Ministry, and was appointed as a communications advisor by then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 1984. He served alongside Peres for some 30 years, and in the 1980s he was involved in organizing the prime minister's historic visit to Morocco.
After a term as the consul in New York, Savir was appointed director general of the Foreign Ministry in 1993, with Peres serving as Foreign Minister, during Yitzhak Rabin's second term as prime minister.
In 1999, Savir was elected to the Knesset as part of the short-lived Center Party. He left the faction in 2001, and founded the New Way party with former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin and Yitzhak Rabin’s daughter, Dalia Rabin. He subsequently left political life completely.
Between 1996 and 1999 he served as the director of the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, which he had helped found. In 2011, he established an organization meant to foster young leaders. He also published books and articles, some of them in Haaretz.
In an interview he gave in 2013 to Makor Rishon, a newspaper associated with religious Zionism, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Oslo Accords, he said, "I think that the title 'architect of the Oslo Accords' is somewhat exaggerated. I was at most a plumber. I got an opportunity to conduct negotiations under clear guidelines laid down by the prime minister and foreign minister.”
- Can God solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
- Rabin’s man in Oslo analyzes what went wrong – and right – with the 1993 accords
- HBO’s ‘Oslo’ offers some hope, but Mideast peace still feels like a distant dream
Savir did not accept the notion that these accords failed, saying that “Oslo did not fail or succeed. There was a breakthrough, an opportunity, but it was wasted, since Israel came to their implementation with a prime minister and party who objected to the process. A government can’t implement a policy it opposes,” he said.
Regarding the governments headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he would abide by the accords he had inherited, even though he considered them “a disaster,” Savir wondered: “What chance did it have when things were managed by someone with that approach? And yet, Oslo improved our standing in the world, it engendered a breakthrough in Israel’s high-tech, and most importantly, it caused Israel’s right wing to recognize the need for two states for two peoples.”
His criticism of the Oslo Accords revolved around the fact that they served mainly the “elites.” He said that the Israeli and Palestinian people were totally uninvolved. “Rabin and Arafat got along fairly well. I and Abu Alaa got along very well, but what was there between the peoples? Nothing. They weren’t partners to the accords and gained nothing; only the affluent did. There was a technology boom; northern Tel Aviv flourished and Israel’s peripheral areas declined. In Gaza, Palestinian leaders returning from Tunisia returned to their upscale apartment towers but refugee camps remained mired in garbage. Oslo was a peace agreement that was socially irrelevant.”
Savir considered himself "a minority even within the left": “I continue to believe in Oslo and work around the clock in order to further its principles. I visit Ramallah once a week and I meet with some of the Palestinian leaders. I’m not napping on the job; the left is napping on the job. The left doesn’t get up in the morning asking if there is any chance that the peace process might work. The social protest movement did not carry a banner for peace. The center and left have abandoned the understanding that without a peace agreement, this country has no chance in the long run.”
Savir leaves behind his wife Aliza; their daughter, the author Maya Savir; and grandchildren.