The Oslo agreement was built upon all of the Palestinian political, social and economic resources. It is now twenty-one years old and has not succeeded in achieving even the minimum that was expected of it, except for the establishment of a corrupt and incompetent Palestinian Authority that is unable to manage the most basic portfolios. Oslo has given us only division and shame, causing many honest Arabs and Muslims to lose much of their faith in our central cause.
When the acknowledgement letters were exchanged between the PLO and Israel it was considered by the latter to be a Trojan horse which the occupation brought into the Arab world in order to achieve peacefully what it could not achieve militarily over the years of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Oslo changed it into a Palestinian-Israeli conflict with an Arab audience.
It also created a narrow horizon for ending the conflict through the accord in line with the provisions of the Memorandum of Agreement. To do this it established a national authority, a Palestinian entity that enjoys a degree of autonomy although it is less than a state. This is how it was described by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the time, when he put Oslo to the Knesset for approval on 6 October 1995, after the signing of the Paris Protocol and the Cairo agreement regarding “Gaza and Jericho first”, and the transfer of powers from Israel to the Palestinian National Authority.
Rabin announced that the aim of this agreement was to stop the transformation of Israel into a bi-national state, through the establishment of an entity that is less than a state next to the Zionist state. He stressed that there would be no return to the 1967 borders; Jerusalem would be united by and for Israel; settlements would be annexed; and secure borders for Israel in the Jordan Valley would be guaranteed.
Despite the assassination of Rabin a month after that session, and the rise of the extreme right, headed by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who objected to Oslo, the right-wing was not in a hurry to cancel it. In fact, Netanyahu himself continued the negotiations process with the Palestinians and, two years later, signed the Hebron agreement while stating three points for the completion of the Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, which were identified as areas (A) that are under full Palestinian control; the rest of the West Bank areas remained under Israeli security and civil administration.
Even though the right-wing announced its rejection of the agreement, Israel was keen on keeping the flame of Oslo alive, along with the hope of reaching a true peace deal, so that the cancellation of the accord would not lead to the end of negotiations on other matters. Nor would there be a return to an international conference for peace with international guarantees.
Over the past twenty years, Oslo has provided Israel with international legitimacy that enabled it to continue building and expanding its settlements throughout the years of negotiations. It also got international legitimacy and American support, along with Arab silence, for the reoccupation of West Bank cities during the aggressive Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, and the besieging of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat under the pretext of fighting terrorism. During all of these changes and developments, between rounds of negotiations and the George W Bush road map, Israel has not thought for one moment to cancel the Oslo agreement. Why should it? Oslo has given it a safety net by speaking of its continuous “willingness” to reach a settlement with the Palestinians while doubling its conditions and making them even stricter.
The number of settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem has gone up from nearly 60,000 before the Oslo agreement to 100,000 after signing the accord and 600,000 by 2012. Various failures in the negotiations by successive Israeli prime ministers, from Ehud Barak at Camp David, Ariel Sharon withdrawing from Gaza, and talks in Annapolis led by Ehud Olmert, all caused a shift to the right in Israeli politics. Right-wing religious parties such as Shas, United Torah Judaism and NRP have gained support at the expense of the Israeli left. Calls were made for coalition governments not to rely on Arab support in the Knesset so that the experience of the Rabin regime would not be repeated.
After twenty-one years, the Oslo agreement continues to serve Israeli interests, mainly in security with the full support and coordination of the Palestinian Authority. There is nothing left from the agreement except this issue, which has transformed the PA into an agent that pledges to protect the safety of the occupation and stops any third Palestinian uprising.
Thank you Oslo. Thank you for the years of humiliation and shame which have reduced Palestinian ambitions to a small portion of our historic homeland while we must forget about Jerusalem and the return of the refugees, let alone what is left of our dignity.
Translated from Felesteen, newspaper, 14 September, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.