For the first time in 19 years the Palestine Liberation Organisation/Palestinian Authority has raised publicly the possibility of revoking the Oslo accords with Israel. Several press reports have quoted senior PLO officials, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Nabil Shaath, among them as saying that the annulment of the agreement was now on the table for Palestinian discussion. The explanation given for this sudden turn-around is that Israel’s policies have practically ruined all chances of a two-state solution to the conflict.
According to Abed Rabbo, who was quoted in the London based Al Quds Al Arabi, the decision is not just about revoking the accords, but equally to find a better alternative policy. He clarified further that the PLO was not seeking to dissolve the PA and its institutions, or create a political vacuum in the territories. It was, on the contrary, seeking to strengthen the existing institutions and enable them to exercise control over their land.
Given all the Israeli shenanigans of the last two decades, it has taken the PLO an incredibly long time to admit the futility of Oslo. Without formalising it on paper, Israel abrogated the accords long ago. Though largely weighted in their favour, every Israeli prime minister since Yitzhak Rabin has sought to alter the agreements signed by his predecessor. Thus the policies which they adopted have, accumulatively, led to today’s wretched dead end.
More than any other, Benjamin Netanyahu was, from the very beginning, extremely hostile to the accords. Days after they were signed in 1993, he told a rally that they were based on an “enormous lie”. Then, when he became prime minister for the first time in 1996, he promised his settler supporters that he would interpret the accords in such a way that would put an end to “the galloping forward to the ’67 borders”. In this regard, he has been uncharacteristically true to his word, for the likelihood of a Palestinian State built on the June 1967 borders is as remote as ever.
While the West Bank remains under Israel’s permanent military occupation, the Gaza Strip is subject to a comprehensive blockade. In the case of the former, Israel presently maintains 48 military bases to protect the 500,000 settlers ensconced behind a wall, whose apartheid features are made more apparent by a network of by-pass roads, tunnels and bridges for use by Jews only.
Clearly, if Israel was really committed to the Oslo process and a two-state solution, it would not invest billions of dollars every year to expand the settlements whose number has doubled since 1993. The same applies to its Western benefactors who lavish it with aid and yet claim commitment to a “two-state solution”.
On paper, the Oslo accords were supposed to launch a transitional period that would end in May 1999 with a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. After 19 years, Israel not only succeeded in making this transitional period permanent, but also gave it a distinctly grotesque apartheid character. All that remains for the expectant Palestinian state is 42 per cent of the West Bank; and even that is liable to further expropriation.
When the PLO/PA returned to Palestine in 1994, the promise was to transform the territories into the Singapore of the Middle East. Many Palestinians were led to believe that there was actually light at the end of the tunnel. They were spurred on with the glamour of offices and titles, none of which were ever functional outside the narrow confines drawn up by the Israeli occupation.
In the circumstances, the PLO/PA failed to deliver on its promise of economic prosperity, and because of its security ties with Israel, the occupier, lost both the will and the means to resist the malignant occupation.
There were three overriding components to the Oslo accords; political, economic and security. While the PA in Ramallah obtained token political benefits from the process, Israel revelled in the economic rewards. Tel Aviv maintains dominant control of the border crossings, water sources, land and commerce; 85 per cent of the PA’s trade is with Israel. As for the PA itself, its role has been confined to security cooperation with Israel and the administration of civic services for the population, with financial aid provided by international donors.
It was not a coincidence, therefore, that the current civil unrest in the occupied West Bank erupted on the 19th anniversary of the Oslo accords and their abject failure. All the high expectations of 1993 have now evaporated into thin air. Although high prices and late or non-existent salaries were the immediate cause of the protests, there is no doubt that they were also a rejection of the Oslo project. Hence protesters raised the slogan, “Freedom where are you… The practice of the PA stands between us and you.”
Throughout its 19-year history, the Oslo agreement was pronounced dead on many occasions, only to be revived for the benefit of the Israeli occupation. Yet the Ramallah authority never did proclaim its demise. This may well be its latest and final opportunity to break loose from its imbalanced strictures. Can it be done? Yes, but only if the PA reconciles with its people and includes them in the decision making process.