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After 25 years of Oslo, is there any hope for peace?

Palestinians take part in a protest on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords, in Gaza on 16 September 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]
Palestinians take part in a protest on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords, in Gaza on 16 September 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

The 1993 Oslo Accords were only ever a “Declaration of Principles”; a timetable for the peace process which was supposed to be the starting point for reaching a “comprehensive peace agreement” by 1999. The aim was a Palestinian state with the Palestinian Authority running an interim government in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, and eventually in the West Bank.

Most of the Palestinians have rejected Oslo since the very beginning. I remember this when I was just 14 years old and I took part in a massive demonstration in central Gaza protesting against the announcement of the agreement. The Palestinian resistance factions like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others believed that Oslo was intended to extinguish the First Intifada which started in 1987, as well as to concede occupied Palestinian territory and to legalise the Israeli occupation. Palestinians believed that Oslo would not lead to them regaining their rights or to seeing any of the Israelis who massacred hundreds of their fathers and grandfathers being held to account.

“Oslo conceded 78 per cent of the historical land of Palestine to the Zionist Israeli occupation and recognised its right to live in peace on this land,” Fawzi Barhoum, an official Hamas spokesman, told MEMO. “Recognising the Israeli occupation state actually legalised its occupation in the eyes of the international community.”

Salem Badawi, a young greengrocer, was born in the same year as Oslo. He laments the time which was “wasted” in the so-called peace talks. “Oslo was only an Israeli trick to let the time pass in order to get to a stage where all the Palestinians who were uprooted from their homes in occupied Palestine are dead.”

Oslo was a colonial tool which was never going to end Israel’s occupation

According to the prominent human rights activist Samir Zaqqout, Oslo did not achieve the least of Palestinian hopes. “Principally, we, as rights groups, do not recognise the Oslo Accords because the agreement did not take into account the basic principles of international humanitarian law or international conventions related to conflict issues,” the deputy director of Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights explained. “Oslo did not have any guarantees to preserve Palestinian rights, even those recognised by the UN. As such, regardless of the big zero that it has achieved for the Palestinians to-date, we do not see that it will achieve anything for them in the future either. For us [Al-Mezan], Oslo was born dead.”

It is not only the Palestinians who despair of the peace process started with Oslo. Martin Indyk was US President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel and a chief negotiator for President Barack Obama’s unsuccessful peace efforts. He was one of those deeply involved in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. “The peace I worked on for 35 years will not be achieved in our lifetimes,” he told the foreign affairs correspondent for the Washington Post, David Ignatius.

What are the prospects of finding a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if Oslo was put to one side, as many people are calling for?

“Armed resistance is the ideal solution for a violent and savage enemy, which has not stopped killing Palestinians, expropriating their lands and demolishing their homes from before 1948,” insisted Barhoum. “That has all happened before the eyes of the international community, which does nothing to stop it.” Whoever believes that the Israelis have ever wanted peace has been deceived, or is trying to deceive others, he added. “Time has proved that the opposite is true. All Israel has wanted is to buy itself more time for its occupation to expand, and to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”

Post-Oslo: What was written 20 years ago

Meanwhile, Badawi hopes to see a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that does not carry too much of a human cost. “We have lost thousands of innocent Palestinians and I see that this is enough,” he said. “We want any solution that does not have human losses.”

Zaqqout concluded by reiterating that Oslo has had disastrous consequences for the Palestinian cause. “The Palestinian leadership should not be involved in the same failed experience, but form a united front that will adopt different kinds of resistance such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] and the Great March of Return to stand strong against the Israeli occupation.” He also advised the leadership to maintain armed resistance as an optional tool among other tools to be used in the liberation struggle.

As far as Martin Indyk is concerned, though, peace will happen one day. How can he be so confident? “Because there is no other way.”

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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