A born-dead accord

In the 25 years after the "historic" Oslo accord was signed under the aegis of the U.S., Israel systematically undermined its stated goal of a full-fledged Palestinian state. Now the Trump administration is making blatant attempts to dismantle the two-state solution.

Published : Sep 26, 2018 12:30 IST

September 13, 1993:  Watched by U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzakh Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat shake hands, at the White House in Washington, D.C., after signing the Oslo accord.

September 13, 1993: Watched by U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzakh Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat shake hands, at the White House in Washington, D.C., after signing the Oslo accord.

SEPTEMBER 13 this year marked the 25th  anniversary of the signing of the “historic” Oslo Peace accord between Israel and Palestine. A supplementary accord, Oslo II, was signed in 1995 dividing the West Bank into three contiguous regions. The signing ceremony of the Oslo accord in 1993 took place in the White House in Washington. For the first time, the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, shook hands under the benign gaze of United States President Bill Clinton. It was the first public handshake by an Israeli and a Palestinian leader. The accords were named after the Norwegian capital Oslo, where most of the secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) took place under U.S. supervision. Arafat had been trying to use the good offices of the Norwegian government to establish back channel talks with the Israelis since 1979 but was rebuffed by successive Israeli governments. It was only after the massive Palestinian “intifada” (uprising) against the Israeli occupation broke out in 1987 that there was some rethink in Israeli government circles on the issue.

Arafat’s tactical blunder

Arafat and the PLO had accepted United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, which offered Israel recognition as a state provided it withdrew to the boundaries that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israel war. The resolutions had also permitted Israel to temporarily hold on to some of the so-called “strategic outposts” it had occupied in the West Bank. By the time the secret negotiations in Oslo swung into high gear, Arafat had alienated many of his allies in the region, including some of the key Gulf monarchies. In the first Gulf War, Arafat and the Palestinians, in general, had sympathised with Iraq in its standoff against the U.S. The Gulf kingdoms, including Kuwait, were among the biggest financial backers of the Palestinian cause. The Soviet Union, one of the biggest backers of the Palestinian cause, had collapsed. Egypt and Jordan had done separate peace deals with Israel. Arafat then made the tactical blunder of letting Israel postpone discussions in Oslo on the emotive issues of Jerusalem, the right of return for millions of Palestinians, and the future of the West Bank settlements, to a later date. In international fora, the PLO demanded the immediate implementation of all these demands while Arafat's emissaries in Oslo put them on the back burner.

Under the Oslo accords, Israel recognised Palestine as a state in lieu of the PLO’s recognition of Israel. Until then, the PLO had refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Jewish state built on Palestinians’ homeland. Israel had banned the PLO as a terrorist organisation and refused to have any contact with it. After the agreement, world leaders rushed to judgment, hailing it as a landmark agreement that would finally allow the long-suffering Palestinian people to have a state of their own. Rabin and Arafat were feted as heroic statesmen, and were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with another Israeli leader, Shimon Peres.

Unravelling of the accord

Palestinians had made many concessions while signing the U.S.-brokered accord. The West Bank was already pock-marked with illegal Israeli settlements and Gaza was even at that time a glorified open-air prison. “The land for peace” concept, under which the Oslo accords were ostensibly signed, turned to be a mirage within a few years. The accords led to the creation of the interim Palestinian Authority (P.A.), with headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The stated goal of the accords was the creation of a full-fledged Palestinian state after the signing of a comprehensive peace accord by 1999. But from day one, Israel went about systematically undermining the agreement. Yitzhak Rabin, no dove himself, was assassinated by a Zionist fanatic in 1995. Arafat died in 2004 under mysterious circumstances after Israelis restricted him to his quarters in Ramallah. The Israeli Army bombed and surrounded his headquarters.

Many believe that the unravelling of the Oslo accords started after a Jewish extremist massacred 29 Palestinians in Hebron in the West Bank in 1994. Benjamin Netanyahu, a young Likud Party leader, was one of the main ring leaders of the Zionist backlash against Rabin and his ruling Labour Party. Netanyahu was caught on tape boasting in 2001 that he was single-handedly responsible for torpedoing the Oslo accords. The Israeli settlements in the West Bank began expanding even before the ink on the accords became dry. Today, more than a hundred Israeli settlements are spread on the West Bank and Palestinian East Jerusalem. Palestinian population centres have been systematically cut off by the Israeli occupation. An “apartheid wall” built by Israel snakes through Palestinian villages. The best land and the scarce water resources have to a great extent been appropriated by the Israeli settlers to the detriment of Palestinians living on the land.

The P.A., instead of evolving into an administration running an independent state, has now been reduced to being an instrument for use by Israel and the U.S., in order to keep Palestinians perpetually in subjugation. Under the Oslo accords, the P.A. had committed to cooperating with Israel in fighting terrorism. The P.A. confines itself to the role of providing basic health and education services besides policing the West Bank. Israel remains responsible for its external security and Israeli forces have the right to enter the West Bank as they please. Sixty per cent of the West Bank is anyway under the direct control of the Israeli security services. The Palestinian security apparatus was set up with the help of the U.S. Since the P.A. took over, there have been fewer attacks on Israel from the West Bank. U.S. and Israeli security officials coordinate closely with the security services under the P.A.

'Slap of the century'

A recent opinion survey revealed that seven out of 10 Palestinians want the P.A. to end security cooperation with Israel. According to another new survey, more than half of the Palestinians living in the West Bank are unhappy with the P.A., and view it as a burden on the people. For that matter, the P.A. President, Mahmoud Abbas, in January declared the Oslo process “dead”, blaming the Israelis for its death. “The deal of the century is the slap of the century,” he said, lambasting the Trump administration's attempts to arm-twist the P.A. into accepting its latest peace proposals meant to replace the Oslo accords. Trump had boasted that the proposal he had to offer to end the long-running Israel-Palestinian conflicts was “the deal of the century”.

The Oslo accords, according to Haidar Eid, a Palestinian academic, “were born dead because they did not guarantee the minimum national and political rights of the three components of the Palestinian people, living in the diaspora, Israel and the West Bank and Gaza”. He added that as long as there “are refugees, detainees, blockades, settlements, legalised torture of prisoners, dispossession, assassination and occupation, comprehensive peace cannot be achieved”. 

Many Palestinians believe that the Oslo accords have led to the introduction of apartheid-like laws in the occupied territories and Israel. Palestinians are openly discriminated against in their own land. The proclamation earlier this year of Israel as a Jewish state is an illustration. Jews will now have more rights than their non-Jewish fellow citizens in the state of Israel. 

The Hamas, which refused to accept the Oslo accords, is left in tenuous control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas and a few other Palestinian organisations had warned that the two-state solution advocated by the accord would deprive the Palestinian people of the sacrosanct “right of return”. 

Hamas won the first free elections conducted in the occupied territories in 2006. Israelis, as well as the dominant sections of the PLO, never reconciled to the verdict of the Palestinian electorate. Israel and its patrons deemed the Hamas as a terrorist organisation and pushed it into Gaza. Since it took control of Gaza, Israel has launched three full-scale wars on the impoverished enclave. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed and the infrastructure of the enclave has been destroyed. Despite the misery heaped on them and the continued indifference of the international community, the people of Gaza are unrelenting. Eighty per cent of the people of Gaza are refugees who have been refused the right of return to their homeland under the accords.

Trump’s blatant attempts

The Donald Trump administration has coincidentally chosen the year that marks the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords to abandon all pretences of being a neutral arbiter in the Israeli-Arab dispute. It has further tightened the screws on the beleaguered Palestinians, many of them living in refugee camps. None of the major Arab states is protesting against the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle the “two-state solution” completely. In fact, Washington seems to have the tacit support of key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration, while preparing to offer the Palestinians a deal they dare not refuse, has ordered the closure of the PLO office in Washington and cut off all humanitarian funding for the P.A. This move, coupled with the nation-state law passed by the Israeli Knesset, could mean that the U.S. has now officially given up on the Oslo accord and the internationally sanctioned peace process. The nation-state law, passed in July, relegates Palestinians to the status of second-class citizens. Palestinians constitute 20 per cent of the population in Israel proper. The newly passed law states that the state of Israel “is unique to the Jewish people” and directs the government to promote Jewish settlements in the whole “Eretz Yisrael” (Greater Israel), extending from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing the whole of the West Bank and beyond.

According to reports, the so-called Trump peace plan is based on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “economic peace” plan, whereby Palestinians are expected to give up their fundamental political rights in exchange for the lifting of the many the draconian economic restrictions that are in place in the occupied territories. The plan was drafted under the supervision of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Kushner and his family are avowed Zionists and are close to Netanyahu and Israel’s right-wing settler movement. The Trump administration has endorsed all of Israel’s extreme positions on the Palestine issue. Washington has now decreed that the status of Jerusalem is non-negotiable, that the refugees will no longer have the right to return, and that the illegal Israeli settlements on occupied territory are there to stay. The Trump administration has also parroted the Israeli government’s stand that there is no question of Palestinians being given full statehood and has reiterated that Israel will continue to retain full security control over the occupied territories.

Senior Palestinian officials have said that the so-called “deal of the century” being offered by the Trump administration “is dead on arrival”. The P.A. has reiterated its decision on not talking to the Trump administration after the U.S. embassy was shifted to Jerusalem. It was the P.A.’s decision to refer Israeli attacks on innocent civilians in Gaza and the West Bank and its construction of illegal settlements to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that had infuriated the Trump administration. The U.S. National Security Adviser, John Bolton, went to the extent of threatening the ICC with sanctions for daring to hear war crimes-related cases involving either the U.S. or its close allies like Israel. The ICC is also planning to hear war crimes cases relating to alleged atrocities committed by the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Saeed Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, has said that his people will not be bullied into making another peace deal by the U.S. “We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to U.S. threats and bullying, and that we will continue our legitimate struggle for freedom, justice and independence, including by all legal and political means, possible,” Erekat said after the U.S. decision to suspend all aid to Palestinians and close down the P.A. office in Washington.

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