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Are the Palestinians heading towards a new Oslo?

January 24, 2014 at 5:32 am

Two decades after the Oslo Accords, and many violations of its terms and much delusion, the Palestinian Authority established as a result of the agreement appears to be facing a tough decision regarding negotiations. In fact, it looks as if the PA is leaning towards signing “Oslo 2” as per US Secretary of State John Kerry’s plan.

The leadership of the PA is sticking to the Oslo rules, which have created many problems for the Palestinians and their cause. It is not insisting on its condition for the talks with Israel including an end to all settlement activity and Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem – or on using international resolutions as the basis for discussions. To make matters worse, it is making the same mistake of keeping the negotiations behind closed doors. This puts the fate of the Palestinians into the hands of a few individuals with no consultation or other democratic processes with the people who have paid a heavy price for Israel’s occupation.

Is the PA hiding something? Why won’t it be honest with the people and tell them the truth about what is going on? Why won’t it reconsider its experiences with negotiations and subject its decisions to considerations of political feasibility as well as gains and losses?

Before plunging into negotiations again, the leadership needs to ask itself some big questions about the Palestinian situation before and after Oslo. For example, has the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza weakened or has it become more established? Has the number of illegal settlements and settlers increased or decreased? Have the occupation army and settlers in the occupied territories become more or less safe? As for the Palestinians, are those living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip more free and secure or less so? Are they better able to continue their struggle, or have they become more restricted and less able? Are the Palestinians’ conditions inside and outside the occupied territories better or worse? Is the condition of the PLO and other Palestinian groups better than before? Is the Palestinian national identity more established or is it being dismantled and destroyed? Is the position of the Palestinian cause a priority and stronger in the Arab world and internationally since the establishment of the PA, or is it being eroded?

Finally, are the Palestinians more or less able to influence Israeli public opinions and point out the contradictions and anomalies of their country’s occupation? Are they any nearer achieving their goals as set out in international resolutions or as far away as ever?

Of course, these questions have nothing to do with the rejection or acceptance of negotiations in principle; this is how the issue should be contextualised and dealt with accordingly. Why have negotiations and the establishment of a national authority if they lead to the dismantlement of the Palestinian national movement before achieving independence? If the Palestinian cause is dissipated in this way, who will have won the struggle: the Israelis or the Palestinians?

It is easy to generalise, but look at the words of Saeb Erekat, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee, and the chief Palestinian negotiator, who noted “nine reasons that drove the Palestinian leadership to resume negotiations… first, we got handwritten confirmation that the reference for the peace process is the establishment of two states on the 1967 borders, in addition to agreed upon land exchanges. Second, the agenda includes all the issues of the final-status (Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, water, security and prisoners). Third, the rejection of all interim and transitional solutions. Fourth, a 6-9 month timetable has been set for the negotiations. Fifth, the release of the prisoners arrested before the end of 1994. Sixth, the US administration has confirmed that it considers the settlements to be illegal and that it will work on reducing settlement activity as much as possible. Seventh, the issuance of (punitive) resolutions from the EU regarding Israeli settlements. Eighth, the unanimous support of the Arab countries to resume negotiations.

The ninth reason is the support of countries worldwide to resume negations… many countries have promised us that if Israel refuses to achieve the two-state solution on 1967 borders within the 6-9 month time frame, the countries will recognise a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. It will also support our inclusion in international organisations, conventions and treaties, and will deal with the settlements in accordance with international law and on the basis of considering them illegal.” (Al-Ayyam, 5 September).

It is quite clear that there is nothing tangible about what has been said, as Israel still insists on its own conditions as well as its own vision for an agreement with the Palestinians. The first of Erekat’s points isn’t even an Israeli promise; it is merely talk of giving the Palestinians the right to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This manipulates the part about land exchanges, which were approved by the Palestinian leadership in the past with Arab cover in the form of the “Follow-up Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative”, which expressed its acceptance to Kerry in Washington earlier this year. As for the other statements, they were merely procedural issues and have no negotiation importance, as they are neither binding nor do they have political significance. This is evidenced by Israel’s continued settlement activities. The only tangible matter is that of the prisoners, who Israel should have released long ago.

As such, there is nothing that proves that Israel will give up its approach of imposing a fait accompli, as there has been neither a change in the balance of power nor are the Israelis more inclined to reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Moreover, there is nothing in the international situation that suggests there is any more pressure being put on Israel than usual, whereas the Palestinian and Arab situation is not at all suitable for a new deal that is fairer to the Palestinians and more just for their rights.

It is likely that the Palestinian leadership’s prime concern now is to strengthen its political entity in the West Bank and Gaza, even at the expense of the Palestinian cause and the unity of its people. The PA’s continued existence as a governing authority instead of a national liberation movement depends on it accepting to be part of the negotiation process rather than considering other options. It is also dependent on donor countries and suffers from a lack of popular participation, legitimacy and an institutional framework.

The leaks regarding negotiations suggest that at this point, the focus is on the issues of borders, security arrangements and the improvement of the Palestinian economic situation in the occupied territories. Although the refugees’ issue and the status of Jerusalem have been tabled it is worth noting that the Palestinian Authority accepted Clinton’s proposals at Taba in 2001 for a consensual solution for the refugees, in accordance with the “Arab Initiative”, and the formation of an international administration for Jerusalem.

It has become apparent that Israel has drawn its own idea of the borders based on the status quo which includes the large settlement blocs and the land enclosed by the apartheid wall. The only item for negotiation as far as the Israelis are concerned is which land will be exchanged for the parts of the West Bank which they have already colonised. While Israel aspires to annex larger areas, the Palestinian leadership is talking about smaller areas; whatever is agreed, the land annexed by Israel will include the settlements and water resources.

It can be and is argued, of course, that any area that Israel withdraws from or that is exchanged is originally Palestinian land in any case, so Israel can be said to be withdrawing from “my land, to my land” (in the words of Mahmoud Darwish).

As for the security arrangements and Israel’s insistence on the its military presence in the highlands of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, the Palestinian Authority does not object to the presence of third party peacekeepers (from the United Nations, for example). As for the economic recovery projects and the improvement of living conditions, it depends on the support of donor countries, including the support of the oil-rich Gulf States.

What is most interesting about these negotiations is related to Jordan’s participation in the issues of the refugees, Jerusalem and the borders. Let it be said that from a Palestinian or Arab perspective there is no problem with the concept of a “confederation” or a “federation”. The issue, though, is with the definition of this in Israeli terms, as we are aware of Israel’s efforts to skirt around the Palestinians’ right to determine their own fate. There is also another aspect that is no less interesting, which relates to giving this agreement an Arab dimension in “Oslo2”, as well as declaring the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the normalisation of relations with Israel.

Of course, there is a promise from the Palestinian leadership that any new agreement will be put to a referendum in order for the Palestinians (in the West Bank and Gaza only) to decide what they want. This will require a political consensus first and foremost as well as some consideration of the views of the Palestinian Diaspora. Nevertheless, the frustration being felt by many citizens at the absence of a leadership which keeps their hopes of success alive may drive them to say yes to anything put in front of them. Some Palestinians have recently risked their lives on the open sea trying to find refuge elsewhere so anything is possible. The PA cannot ignore this just to keep itself in power.

The author is a Palestinian writer. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared in Al Hayat Newspaper on 17 September, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.