The Oslo Accords, which were concluded between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel in 1993, will surely go down in history as the worst agreement between the representatives of a people under occupation and an occupying power.
The main Palestinian negotiator thought that Oslo would be a prelude to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, he found himself establishing an authority that provides cover for Israel’s “five-star occupation” that has continued to impose Judaisation and settlement building across the occupied territories to destroy the dream of a “two-state solution”. The occupation also keeps the functional Palestinian Authority to serve Israel’s objectives rather than the goals of the Palestinian people.
It is the trap which the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said talked about when he stated that the late President Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) “entangled his people in a trap from which there is no escape,” and that he had thrown himself among the Israelis and the Americans (Al-Hayat newspaper, 21/8/1995).
Oslo has had a number of major consequences. For a start, it has damaged the Palestinian national project by ensuring that the PLO leadership made a historic concession by recognising Israel’s “right to exist” and the legitimacy of its occupation of 77 per cent of Palestine. At a stroke, Palestinian land occupied in 1948 was taken out of the conflict and negotiations. Israel did not, in return, recognise the right of the Palestinian people to keep the rest of Palestine, essentially the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Indeed, there is nothing in the Accords to indicate that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are occupied lands; there is no Israeli commitment to withdraw from them; and there is no indication that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination or to establish their independent state, even on a part of Palestine.
The Oslo Accords have pared back the national project to liberate Palestine, and restricted it to the PA that pursues the establishment of a rump state in less than 22 per cent of historic Palestine, but its survival and development are dependent on the will of the Israelis. The Palestinian leadership seems to regard the Israeli occupation as a “charity” which has the goodwill to respond to the demands of the Palestinian people, even though it is colonial, expansionist, aggressive and based on the displacement of the indigenous people. Israel is changing the identity of the land and its people, while stealing its history as well as its future.
When the PA was formed, the occupation state became in effect the unseen presence in the decision-making process of the Palestinian leadership. The authority has gone on to busy itself with administering life under occupation, and not managing the end of the occupation.
This seriously diminished national project excludes Palestinians in the diaspora, who form half of the global Palestinian population; they have no place on the PA leadership’s agenda. Interest in getting them involved has declined, despite their huge potential. What’s more, the PLO itself has become more like a department of the PA than a liberation movement. It sits in the recovery room, to be resuscitated and used when the Palestinian leadership needs to legitimise its actions.
Rare among such agreements and the history of occupations, Oslo did not solve any of the fundamental problems, which were put back to “final issue talks”. The first issues to be solved are normally related to the end of the occupation, independence, the right of self-determination and sovereignty. The catastrophe of the Oslo Accords is that they were preoccupied with the details and minor aspects of self-rule, while keeping major issues untouched. Hence, the status and future of Jerusalem; the future of Palestinian refugees and their legitimate right of return; the future of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories; the right of self-determination; the borders of the Palestinian state; and the exploitation of natural resources, especially water, all remain to be dealt with at some future date. The initial deadlines for this were passed long ago.
At the same time, the Accords forced the Palestinians to stop all forms of armed resistance, solve all of their problems and continue negotiations by peaceful means only. Thus, the Palestinian national project lost all its cards and any means to put pressure on Israel that would make its occupation too costly to maintain. The terms of the agreement did not include the UN and international resolutions as terms of reference; nor was there any binding mechanism put in place to enforce the terms of the agreement. The Palestinians became dependent on Israel and its US sponsor, paying little heed to the Arab proverb, “Whoever lets the wolf graze his sheep has done them wrong.”
As a result, the Israelis have the prerogative of “endless” procrastination and postponement as they manage the so-called peace process, whilst also establishing “facts on the ground” in order to “solve” the core issues for its own benefit.
Oslo paved the way for the largest schism in modern Palestinian history, with a single faction — Fatah — making a fateful unilateral decision to concede most of Palestine and prepare the ground for a peace deal with the occupation. None of these decisions were referred to the Palestinian people, and no agreement was sought from the main national forces, even while there was strong opposition within Fatah itself.
The resistance forces which rejected Oslo formed the Alliance of the Ten Factions, which represented a strong popular and political bloc in the Palestinian arena. The alliance continued along the resistance path, while considering the PA as an obstacle. As for Fatah and the PA, they regarded the Accords as the roadmap for establishing the Palestinian state. Furthermore, they considered armed resistance to be sabotage of the proposed independent state, and thus a hindrance to be neutralised. This they did by suppressing resistance and arresting the groups’ members, and facilitated their own security coordination with Israel against fellow Palestinians.
The subsequent flaws in priorities and the fault lines between pro-peace and pro-resistance movements were established. The 2007 schism — which led to Hamas control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah control of the West Bank — was simply a manifestation of the original schism arising out of the Oslo Accords.
Any agreements forming the bases for establishing a Palestinian state and the withdrawal of the occupying forces, are supposed to include the dismantling of the illegal Israeli settlements and the withdrawal of the settlers. However, the Oslo Accords neither imposed such requirements on the Israelis, nor insisted that settlement building must stop. Israel has continued with its settlement building ever more intensively, and raced to confiscate as much Palestinian land as it can, while confining the Palestinians within “ghettos” and “Bantustans”.
Israel has changed the face of Jerusalem; built the Separation Wall; and increased the number of settlements to around 200. The number of settlers in the West Bank has increased from 280,000 in 1993 to 800,000 in early 2019. The “two-state solution” has lost any real meaning, and the PA has realised that it is itself an Israel tool to silence dissenting Palestinian, Arab and international voices, on the pretext that a peace process is on the move. It also understands that it was used to give Israel cover as it built facts on the ground and swallowed the West Bank acre by acre.
The PA’s structure was established upon a system ensuring that it is “prepared for failure”. It didn’t have the basic requirements necessary to develop and become an independent Palestinian state. The authority in Ramallah has also suffered from the political and sovereign hegemony of the Israeli occupation, which controls the borders and the movement of individuals by land, sea and air, giving it the ability to disrupt the work and daily life of the Palestinians, and to control their resources and infrastructure.
The PA has established its own economic failure by signing the “Paris Protocol” which created a consumer client state full of corruption, and with no vision to escape from the occupation. Almost 80 per cent of the PA’s revenues come either from clearance revenues collected by Israel or foreign aid, while 85 per cent of its imports come from Israel and two-thirds of its exports go to Israel. The imports and exports are governed by the Israelis and the Palestinian per capita income is less than one tenth of Israel’s.
It is a security-fragile authority, where Israel moves around freely in “Palestinian-controlled” areas. Israel occupation forces besiege, storm, arrest, imprison and assassinate at will. They control every aspect of Palestinian life under occupation. Moreover, these forces protect the fully-armed illegal settlers and have around 600 fixed and mobile checkpoints across the West Bank.
Functionally, the PA is an exhausted entity serving Israel through security coordination — which President Mahmud Abbas calls “sacred” — and maintains around 70,000 security personnel who use up a considerable portion of the PA’s budget. It is around seven times the global average of security budgets in other countries.
Finally, the Oslo Accords are a catastrophe for the Palestinian people and their national project. Disconnecting and disengaging from them should be an urgent national priority in order to put the Palestinian house on new foundations for the future.
This article was originally published in Arabic on TRT Arabic “trt.net.tr/arabic” on 25 September 2019.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.