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Twenty-five years down the line, it is time to cancel the Oslo Accords

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords, Palestinians attend a national conference in Gaza city on 13 September 2018 [Dawoud Abo Alkas/Apaimages]
To mark the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords, Palestinians attend a national conference in Gaza city on 13 September 2018 [Dawoud Abo Alkas/Apaimages]

Activities are generally judged by their outcomes, and it is clear to us that 25 years after the Oslo Accords, the outcomes have been catastrophic: peace is much further away than ever before and we’ve moved closer to the establishment of Greater Israel than the embodiment of a Palestinian State. The question is, would things have been worse if we hadn’t signed the accords?

I do not think so; not at all. There is nothing worse than what we’ve reached 25 years down the line from Oslo.

Justifications for agreeing to the accords include the claim that the Palestinians were in a difficult position at the time. They had sided with Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War and they had to pay the price, especially in light of the collapse of Arab solidarity and the socialist camp, with America dominating the world.

Would it have been possible to have a state by now if action on the ground had been better? No, although how things were done made Oslo on the ground much worse than what was signed. There is a difference between the Declaration of Principles and the agreements that followed, which were worse.

Post-Oslo: What was written 20 years ago

Oslo was a trap. It cannot be rebelled against after falling in; you have to get out of it altogether. The deal was a transitional agreement and a historic mistake made by the Palestinian leadership and the only way forward is to abandon it completely. It is time to cancel the Oslo Accords.

Things could have been less bad had the leadership insisted on ending Israeli settlements and releasing prisoners, especially since Oslo was signed while the popular intifada had not yet ended. However, the essence of the agreement could not have been avoided unless the Palestinians decided to go completely out of this path or not enter it at all.

Saeb Erekat wrote this week that the main mistake in Oslo was in not insisting on mutual recognition, a state for a state. In response, I’d say that it was not possible because Israel was not ready to recognise a Palestinian state for the simple reason that there was no compelling reason to do so. Israel won’t do this willingly as it knows the implications of the establishment of a State of Palestine, which would mean the end of the Zionist scheme to take all of historic Palestine. Had Oslo included the mutual recognition of states, things would have been so different. Palestinians should have insisted on this, even it meant the collapse of the political process.

The leadership was too quick to sign the Oslo Accords, thinking it would gain the fruits of the Intifada before they could ripen. It all ended with the leaders trying to save themselves from a strong US wind blowing through the region.

An American blow to the peace process on the anniversary of Oslo

Collating results before they are ready has been a common Palestinian mistake, from the signing of Oslo until today, in the belief that gaining something is better than nothing. This compounds the common error of wasting what can be achieved in the hope of achieving the desired end result; the all or nothing approach.

A Palestinian state is a right and is not negotiable; it was declared in 1988 and recognised by the world in 2012, but its embodiment has not been easy. Nobody should be saying that the main task is to turn the Palestinian Authority into a state. We still need to put an end to the commitments imposed on us since Oslo and struggle to end the Israeli occupation. It is not, as some leaders think, simply a case of dissolving the Palestinian Legislative Council and delegating the Central Council with the PLC’s powers and those of the National Council.

We must keep the cause alive and remain steadfast, secure in the belief that the people of Palestine will stay on their land. Furthermore, that in doing so they will continue to foil all hostile schemes designed to end the Palestinian cause until we are successful in all national objectives.

Nothing can justify the recognition of Israel and its alleged right to exist in return for Israel’s recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) but not any Palestinian national rights. Such recognition negates the Palestinian narrative in favour of the Zionist version.

The Palestinian leadership 25 years ago deemed it more important to gain recognition of its own role than to gain recognition of national rights. This mistake is still evident and we can see it in the policies of the current PA leadership and with Hamas, which believes that recognition of itself is more important than anything else.

Furthermore, nothing can justify condemnation of Palestinian resistance or asking for it to stop before it achieves its goals without requiring a similar commitment to end armed aggression by Israel.

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Nor can we justify the separation of the Palestinian cause from the land and the people, nor the separation of Jerusalem from the West Bank and its divisions into Areas A, B and C in blatant disregard for the ominous Oslo Declaration of Principles. It is also hard to justify the post-Oslo Paris Economic Protocol, under which the Palestinian economy is dependent upon Israel.

In fact, nothing can justify the continued commitment to all of this by the Palestinians given the end of the “transitional” period set out some 20 years ago. Some of these commitments are now worse than they used to be and go beyond security coordination which was part of a political process; now we see that Israel’s security is the main reference point and the Palestinian Authority security services exist solely to be in its service.

The Oslo agreement was a victory for Israel’s right wing, even though it was not in government at the time, because the Israeli left was subservient to it, and took the vision for the transitional state and autonomy from the right. What former Prime Minister Menachem Begin offered Egypt’s then President Anwar Sadat was better autonomy than what was agreed in Oslo, as the Palestinians became responsible for the Palestinian Authority and Israel was relieved of the financial, political and moral burdens of providing for the people living under its occupation.

Iconic handshake between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli President Shimon Peres during the Oslo accords [Council on Foreign Relations/YouTube]

Iconic handshake between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli President Shimon Peres during the Oslo accords [Council on Foreign Relations/YouTube]

Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by the far right for signing Oslo, said that, “There are no sacred dates… the agreement, like Swiss cheese, has many entrance and exit points.” When he was asked the day after he signed the accords what he intended to give the Palestinians in the final agreement, he answered: “Fifty per cent of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” When told that this would not satisfy the Palestinians nor establish a state for them, he replied, “[Then] let each side keep what it has.”

Benjamin Netanyahu first became Prime Minister in 1996, followed by Ehud Barak; both were opponents of Oslo, and continued to destroy the agreement through the expansion of settlements. In 1993 there were 282,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories; there are now around 800,000 in the West Bank and Jerusalem. These right-wing prime ministers did not implement Oslo’s third stage through which Israel’s occupation forces were supposed to redeploy in Area C; instead, they reoccupied the West Bank after the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000, and eliminated any differences between the Oslo-designated Areas A, B and C.

Israel has killed Oslo, behaving as if it does not exist and that it has no obligations arising from the accords. It has not announced its abandonment because it insists on the Palestinians implementing their side of the deal. The reality is that Israel should be held responsible for the crimes it has committed, and the Palestinians should be acting as if Oslo is already dead and buried, not simply make idle threats about pulling out of the deal.

We may not be able to end Oslo in one fell swoop, but we must be convinced that it is necessary to do so, and that this is long overdue. What’s important is to perceive that this is a process with a start date and end date; it is not open-ended.

The Oslo curse

There is also a threat to suspend recognition of Israel without defining what that means and what it entails. There isn’t even mutual recognition under which we could withdraw an ambassador and consider that to be the suspension of Palestinian recognition. What is needed is the withdrawal of recognition, not just its suspension.

There are other things that the Palestinians can and should do, such as the activation of our membership of the International Court of Justice, especially with regard to the legal opinion of the Hague Tribunal, and dealing seriously with the Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court. The leadership can also adopt the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and demand that Israel be prosecuted for violating the conditions of its own membership by its approval of the “Jewish Nation State Law” and its ongoing colonisation of the West Bank.

Israel is doing all it can to block the establishment of a Palestinian state, without which whatever international legitimacy it has is not complete. The foundation of Israel, remember, was based upon UN Resolution 181, the “Partition Plan”, which stipulated the establishment of an Arab State and a Jewish State in Palestine. Why isn’t the Palestinian leadership insisting on the implementation of that resolution?

The Palestinian leadership can also seek full recognition by the UN, with a full member state’s position in the General Assembly.

Moreover, individual Palestinians can file claims for the land and personal property that they have lost since the Nakba of 1948, a total of around 1.2 million acres. This would be a fitting response to the current efforts to liquidate the refugee issue by stopping US donations to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and redefining who is and is not a refugee.

Gazan's gather outside the UN offices in Gaza to protest US cuts to UNRWA's funding, on January 28, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

Palestinians gather outside the UN offices in Gaza to protest US cuts to UNRWA’s funding, on 28 January 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

The Palestinian Authority’s security coordination with the Israeli occupation authorities can be stopped. If the PA cuts the number of its security agencies and personnel, the budget allocated to them can be diverted to more essential public services for the benefit of all of the people.

All of this calls for a comprehensive new vision that will give rise to a national strategy and genuine political will to give priority to ending the internal division and restoring Palestinian unity, without which this heavy burden cannot be handled. This move should replace the sanctions imposed on Gaza by the PA, which has threatened to impose even more on the besieged enclave if Hamas does not end its control there. The PA remains committed to Oslo and is controlled by the President and powerful people in Fatah; it wants to control all of the Gaza Strip. Instead of the delusion and fear of establishing a state in Gaza, which would allow the territory to be separated from the West Bank, there needs to be a new pluralistic, participatory and professional Palestinian Authority that can be an instrument of a unified PLO.

Oslo was doomed to failure because it did not recognise, even minimally, the rights of the victims of occupation and ethnic cleansing who made major concessions to the occupiers without getting anything in return. The least we can do is act on the assumption that Oslo no longer exists as an agreement. It has been killed by successive Israeli governments, which must take responsibility for their crime and annul it formally.

Translated from Arab48, 11 September 2018

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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