The 13th of September will mark 20 years since the White House lawn signing ceremony between Yasser Arafat and Yitzak Rabin, flanked by former US President Bill Clinton. The signing of Declaration of Principles initiated the related series of agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization known as the Oslo accords – named after the city where it was secretly negotiated.
Right away, late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said denounced the agreement, although he had long been a supporter of a two-state solution. “So first of all let us call the agreement by its real name: an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles,” he wrote in Al-Hayat a month later.
Reports Thursday suggested that the Palestinian Authority’s unelected negotiators are preparing to travel to Washington DC for talks with Israel next week, after US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed a “significant step forward” a week earlier.
Since then, many of the western journalists who camp out in Jerusalem have been abuzz with talk about a revival of the “peace process.” Various contradictory statement from usually anonymous officials in the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority have been bounced around. We’ve been here so many times before.
All process, no peace
And so the peace process merry-go-round continues.
It has been clear for 20 years that the whole thing is a sham. The process is defective by design. It has not “failed” to bring peace.
It has always been designed as a sort of perpetual motion machine. The spectacle of the process ensures that the glare of the wilfully-gullible media is turned away from the real problems of Israeli occupation on to America’s supposedly serious efforts to bring “peace”.
In reality, as Edward Said saw long ago, the Oslo process has not been about peace but about pacification. Surrender and defeat for the Palestinian national movement.
In that same article, Said described the real reason Israel and the US were behind the agreement: “as Israeli ‘dove’ [and novelist] Amos Oz reportedly put it during a BBC interview (September 14, 1993), ‘This is the second biggest victory in the history of Zionism.'”
Oz was right. The biggest victory was the Zionist destruction of Palestine in 1948, the establishment of the state of Israel on top of the ashes of blown-up homes and mass graves. This is known in Arabic as the Nakba – the Catastrophe. The Palestinian refugees have never been permitted to return since.
The Oslo accords were the second biggest victory for the Zionist movement, because they marked the neutralisation of the PLO, the Palestinian national resistance movement. Since then, the PLO has ended its struggle against Israeli occupation and apartheid and has been diverted into a bantustan-style, powerless project of puppet governance: the Palestinian Authority.
The PLO now exists on paper only. At the recent BDS National Committee’s conference on boycotts, one activist said that the only PLO department left by now was the negotiations department. It was an accurate comment, but it has long been thus.
The peace process sham is a convenient way to distract people from the ever-degenerating situation on the ground for Palestinians. What have been the fruits of the “peace process” and negotiations with Israel?
Since 1993, the total population of the settlers in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem has risen from 280,000 to more than half a million today. Figures from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem show that the evacuation of settlers from Gaza in 2005 made no difference to the overall total, as many of them were re-housed in the Jews-only settlements of the West Bank.
One Hebrew press report last year claimed that these figures are a significant under-estimate. The pro-Likud daily tabloid Yisrael Hayom claimed that in fact 722,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank (including east Jerusalem).
While it’s possible this was an exaggerated claim, there is no denying the seriousness of the situation. Also at the BNC’s conference in June, a local activist from Qalqillia stated that the situation in that region is so bad, that Israeli settlers there actually outnumber Palestinians. The indigenous people are slowing being forced out. This is a gradual ethnic cleansing by force of attrition.
Meanwhile, Israel is pressing ahead with the Prawer Plan, which aims at removing between 30,000 and 50,000 Palestinian Bedouins from the Naqab desert in the south of historic Palestine.
Although these Palestinians are ostensibly citizens of current-day Israel, the state wants to bulldoze their villages to make way for new developments for Jewish Israelis.
The distraction of the peace process merry-go-round makes it easier for the media to continue to ignore and downplay the dire human rights situation for Palestinians all over historic Palestine.
Asa Winstanley is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, and an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.