Uri Savir, chief peace negotiator of Oslo Accords, dies at 69

Career diplomat led talks with the Palestinians while serving as Foreign Ministry director, later was a Knesset member and focused on peacemaking at the grassroots level

Shimon Peres with Uri Savir (Hanania Hermon / GPO)
Shimon Peres with Uri Savir (Hanania Hermon / GPO)

Uri Savir, a former peace negotiator, diplomat and lawmaker, died Friday at age 69.

An associate of former prime minister Shimon Peres, Savir was appointed director-general of the Foreign Ministry in 1993. In that role, he served as Israel’s chief negotiator during the Oslo process, which set out to achieve a final status peace agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

He was also a member of the Israeli delegation in talks with Jordan, which yielded the 1994 peace agreement, as well as the head of the negotiating team in talks with Syria from 1995 to 1996.

Savir detailed his experiences during the Oslo negotiations in his 1998 book, “The Process: 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East.”

However, the process eventually collapsed at the Camp David summit in 2001, by which time Savir was no longer involved in the government peacemaking efforts. Several subsequent rounds of negotiations also failed to produce an agreement.

Speaking to The Associated Press in 2015, Savir said not enough had been done from the bottom-up to create a culture of peace.

Uri Savir. (YouTube screenshot)

“The political leadership did not involve our constituencies enough in the peacemaking,” he said.

Savir, who was born in Jerusalem in 1953, earlier served as Israel’s consul-general in New York from 1988 to 1992 and held several other posts at the Foreign Ministry.

Additionally, he served a brief stint in the Knesset between 1999-2001 as a lawmaker for the short-lived Center Party.

Outside of diplomacy and politics, Savir set his sights on creating the grassroots cooperation that he believed was lacking in the process during the ’90s, helping launch the Peres Center for Peace. In 2011, he founded YaLa, a movement that brings together and creates dialogue between young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa, helping them to build advocacy and activist skills.

“It’s much more important for Arab and Israelis to study together than for me to sit 500 hours with Yasser Arafat. This is what I believe today. I didn’t understand it 20 years ago,” Savir told AP in 2015.

Members of the Yala Young Leaders group, an Internet-based peace movement of Middle Eastern and North African youth, at the group’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 2, 2015 (AP/Dan Balilty)

Despite the failure of several rounds of talks between Israel and Palestinians since Oslo, Savir remained unyielding in his belief in a peaceful resolution and two-state solution.

“I believe that ultimately there will be a two-state solution. I believe that a majority wants peaceful coexistence,” he said in 2015.

File: Palestinian National Council President Yasser Arafat, right, and Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Uri Savir, meet on the Gaza border Gaza on Feb. 18, 1996. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

When the White House led an economic workshop in Bahrain during former US president Donald Trump’s Middle East peace push, Savir was uncertain about their efforts.

“Unless there is real political promise, which I don’t see right now, moving seriously toward a two-state solution, I don’t think the economic front will be promising,” he told CNN in 2018, though acknowledging it was a step in the right direction.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, center, waits for a traffic light to change on New York’s Fifth Avenue on Monday, September 28, 1992 in New York. Peres walked with aide Uri Savir, glasses, and a security detail from the Plaza Hotel uptown to the Park East Synagogue on East 67th street on the first day of Rosh-Hashana, the Jewish New Year. (AP Photo/David Karp)

Israeli politicians on Saturday expressed their condolences over Savir’s passing.

“Today we have lost an important diplomat, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter. “He was a person that dedicated his life to Israeli foreign policy and strived for an alternative Middle East. He did this with complete faith and great talent. His contribution to the State of Israel is enormous and can be felt until today.”

Labor MK Emilie Moatti tweeted: “I wish to share in the grief of the Savir family with the death of their loved one, a member of the peace camp, one of the bravest of them, the diplomat and former MK Uri Savir.”

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