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The price of Oslo, a new documentary from Al-Jazeera's 'Palestine under the microscope' team

January 24, 2014 at 5:58 am

I’ve just watched on Al-Jazeera Arabic with interest, amusement and amazement the first part of a new documentary called “The Price of Oslo” produced by Al-Jazeera Programmes Department as part of its series entitled: “Palestine Under the Microscope”. The second part is supposed to be aired next Thursday. I understand that Al-Jazeera English will be airing an English version of the documentary soon.

In its amazing first part, The Price of Oslo reveals untold facts and uncovers documents never before available to the general public about how the Oslo accords between Israel and the PLO came to be. It provides testimonies volunteered by those who were closely associated with the making of Oslo on the Norwegian, Palestinian and Israeli sides.

A number of those interviewed in the first part of the Price of Oslo attest to the fact that Oslo was the personal project of Yasser Arafat, PLO Chairman and Head of the Fatah Movement at the time, himself. He was the one who initiated the project and insisted upon the Norwegians to help him establish a secret back channel to negotiate a settlement with the Israelis. This followed an endeavour by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to persuade Yasir Arafat, as early as 1974, long before the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Isrel were reached, to seek a negotiated settlement with the Israelis.

What motivated Yasser Arafat to turn his face toward Oslo, the Norwegian capital, was his belief that Norway was the most Zionist and por-Israel country in the Western hemisphere. Some of his associates told him that the Norwegian government at the time was headed by the socialist Labour Party whose politicians believed that Israel was an embodiment of the socialist project.

In the documentary, which was made over a period of more than one year and was shot in Norway as well as in Palestine, Norwegian politicians state that the starting point in the relationship between Norway and Yasser Arafat was he creation in 1978 of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) whose main component was drawn from Norway. A year later the Shah’s regime was toppled in Iran and Israel lost its main oil supplier. The United States stepped in and asked the Norwegians, who had just started producing oil, to replace Iran in becoming Israel’s main oil supplier. The Norwegians were worried that this might lead to a backlash and undermine the security of their troops serving in South Lebanon.

A senior Norwegian enjoy was despatched to meet Arafat and see if he could guarantee that PLO elements would not attack the Norwegian troops in retribution for supplying Israel with oil. The Norwegians were shocked to hear Yasser Arafat agree to provide a conditional guarantee. His condition was that Norway should help him establish a secret channel to negotiate a settlement with Israel.

This was not the end of Arafat’s insistence upon the Norwegians to mediate between him and Israel. He despatched Bassam Abu Sharif with an unequivocal promise that if Norway helped establish the secret channel Arafat would seek to convince the Arabs to end their boycott of Israel.

The first part of ‘The Price of Oslo’ unveils some of what had been hidden from the public and answers some of the questions that remained unanswered for many years about who did what in the making of Oslo. The documentary provide a credible and consistent narrative of how the Palestinian liberation project was derailed under the leadership of Yasser Arafat and some of his close associates who worked hard in order to pave the way for compromising the Palestinian dream of liberation and return.

The documentary shows that Israel was initially abstinent while Yasser Arafat was eagerly pursuing a negotiated settlement with it. Israel agreed to engage Arafat only after he publicly accepted UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which the PLO had refused to accept for many years, and unequivocally renounced terrorism and recognised Israel’s right to exist. Conceding to Israel’s hitherto unacceptable conditions came only after the PLO had been profoundly weakened after a series of misadventures or misfortunes starting with the exodus from Lebanon in 1982, through the eruption of the first Intifada in 1987, which took both the PLO and the Israeli leaderships by surprise and ending with Arafat’s gamble of siding by Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The first part of the ‘Price of Oslo’ is a must for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of the Palestinian cause. As for the realities bequeathed by Oslo, this is what the documentary’s producer Rawan Al-Damin promises to tell us about in the second part of the documentary to be aired on Al-Jazeera Arabic at 14:05 GMT next Thursday.

Dr Azzam Tamimi is the author of Hamas: Unwritten Chapters and Rachid Ghannouchi: A Democrat Within Islamism

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