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The Oslo swamp after two decades

The ill-fated Oslo Accords, signed 20 years ago, have only made Israel more arrogant and open about its disregard of the Palestinians’ national rights. Illegal settlements and their infrastructure now cover 80 per cent of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with just 12 per cent of historical Palestine.


The occupation has left cities, villages and whole districts disconnected by the Apartheid wall; Jerusalem and its surroundings have been Judaised; the land of the Jordan Valley is being looted. Moreover, Israel is imposing more of its conditions on the Palestinians, including the condition of “recognising its Jewish character” and the power of the Palestinian Authority in its own land is becoming more and more limited. On top of all this, the geographical and political split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip is still in place, which is leading, by means of the Oslo Accords, to the decline of the Palestinian national project.

Israel’s main intention in signing the accords was to get the Palestinian representatives to abandon the armed struggle, which is what happened at the 1996 Palestinian National Council session in Gaza; US President Bill Clinton was present when the PNC voted for all the articles regarding armed struggle to be dropped from the Palestinian National Charter.

Furthermore, the Israelis wanted to limit the Palestinian revolution to specific geographic areas in the West Bank and Gaza, in order to monitor and control it more easily. I recall Yitzhak Rabin’s words in the Knesset shortly after the Oslo Accords were signed, when a fellow member asked him why Israel signed the agreement. His response was that Israel had gathered most of the Palestinians belonging to “terrorist” groups in one geographic area to make it easier to keep an eye on them. When Ehud Barak, who was the Army Chief of Staff at the time, was asked about how to solve disputes between the Palestinians and Israel he said, “We will resolve any contradiction according to the Israeli interpretation of the matter disputed over, because we are stronger.”

Israel wanted to see the Palestinian Authority created for two reasons:

  1. To solve the administrative and daily problems of the Palestinians in the occupied territories far away from Israel and its budget, thus easing the financial burden of the occupation. This way it was able to continue its occupation, but the international community, including the Arab world, would bear the expense of looking after the Palestinians.
  2. To establish Palestinian security institutions obliged to coordinate and cooperate with the occupation authorities, under American supervision, in order to prevent military operations against Israel.

The accords did not make any mention, at Israel’s insistence, of the creation of an independent Palestinian state. They only refer to a “self-administrating” state. The main issues of Jerusalem, the borders, refugees, water, etc., were postponed to what it called “final-status negotiations”. These issues should have been resolved by 1999 but, as Rabin said, “Appointments are not sacred.” Now we are in 2013 and these issues have still not been discussed. This, too, is part of Israel’s strategy to make sure that Oslo did nothing for the Palestinians; another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, told the Madrid Conference in 1991 that “we will prolong negotiations with the Palestinians for 20 years”; that is exactly what has happened.

All along, Israel as the stronger signatory, and the occupying power, has interpreted the terms of Oslo in its favour. When the Israelis re-entered the occupied territories in force in 2002, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced Oslo’s “death”, despite which the PA and its officials continued to declare that they would be sticking to it.

The final status discussions, if they ever take place, will be pointless, for Israel has already made it very clear that Palestinian refugees will never be allowed to return to their homeland; it will never withdraw fully from the territories it occupied in 1967; and Jerusalem is the “united and eternal capital” of Israel. As long as Israel is the top dog, this will be its position.

The Palestinians have made a number of strategic errors since Oslo. For a start, they have failed to read Israeli intentions, not least with regards to the illegal settlement programme. They have also limited the Palestinian struggle to popular resistance and negotiations. This is no way to alter the balance of power in order to convince the Israelis that its occupation must end.

In the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the leadership set up an alternative to the PLO as the representative of the people. This has led to the total neglect of Palestinian institutions across the occupied territories as well as the diaspora. Distanced from the people they claim to represent, this has meant that “leaders” such as Yasser Abed Rabbo could go to meetings with Israelis and unilaterally abandon, for example, the refugees’ right of return; and Ahmed Qurei could agree to link the Palestinian economy inexorably to that of Israel.

Moreover, the current round of negotiations has gone ahead even though the stated Palestinian condition of an end to Israeli settlement activity has not been met and the Judaisation of occupied Jerusalem continues apace.

For 20 years the Palestinians have been negotiating despite their utter foolishness, and delegations from both sides have attended “normalisation” meetings to promote contacts between the occupier and the occupied.

All of this is down to the lack of an honest broker in the search for peace and justice. Counting on the US in this role is pointless because no administration in Washington can ever be anything other than Israel’s main ally. Arab states, meanwhile, have almost totally abandoned any pretence of doing anything about the “Zionist enemy”. They have left the resistance movements to their own devices instead of backing them with material, financial and political support.

Any notion that the Palestinian Authority can lead us to the creation of an independent State of Palestine while it is still under occupation is delusional. In becoming an administrative authority and not a liberation movement the PA’s role is inconsistent with the national cause.

Many supporters of Oslo are positive about it. They point to Israel’s recognition of the Palestinian people, it’s acknowledgement of the PLO, the return of nearly half a million Palestinians to the occupied territories in 1967, the establishment of the PA as a prelude to the establishment of a state, the establishment of state institutions, and the failure of the Israelis to falsify the facts.

In response I say this: Israel’s recognition of the Palestinian people was the result of the armed Palestinian revolution, not of the Oslo Accords. If the First Intifada had been followed through then the establishment of an independent Palestinian state would have been a fact rather than a fanciful theory.

We must be honest and acknowledge that the PA was created to act as a vehicle for limited self-rule as determined by Israel, not to be the government of a state. In the interim, the Israelis have made sure that potential and actual Palestinian leaders strong enough to stand up to them have been assassinated. That is the reality.

This is the swamp that Oslo has put us in. It is possible to escape from this predicament by cancelling Oslo and announcing that the Palestinians are no longer bound by its terms. Israel has always ignored them so why can’t we? The legitimate armed struggle must be reinstated along with other forms of civil disobedience and disruption so that the occupation becomes once more a burden for the Israelis. If this requires the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, so be it. The leadership got us into this swamp; the least they can do is help us to get out of it.

The author is a Palestinian writer. This is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared in Al Quds Al Arabi Newspaper on 18 September, 2013.

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

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