This month marks the 30th anniversary of the historic signing of the Oslo I Accord in Washington between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, after the two sides recognized each other and following secret talks in Oslo, Norway. While, so far, there has been little mention of the significance and relevance of the occasion by Palestinian and Arab analysts, Israeli media and Jewish think tanks in Israel and abroad have released tens of articles and research papers looking into what the accords have meant for Israel, in particular, with little mention of the Palestinians.
Almost all Israeli and Jewish Zionist analysts have described the accords as a “mistake” or even a “calamity” that allowed “a terrorist organization” to control parts of the West Bank, undermining Israel’s security and that of its people. They lambasted Yasser Arafat, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, noting that more than 1,500 Israelis have been murdered by “Palestinian terrorists” since 1993 — conveniently, they forget to mention the number of Palestinian civilians who have been killed, injured or maimed by Israel since then. Nor do they talk about the number of illegal Jewish settlements built on stolen Palestinian lands since the Oslo Accords were signed.
When you have the upper hand, with boots on the ground, it is easy to blame the Palestinians for the failed Oslo Accords. But this is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. Yes, the Palestinian leadership carries a good measure of responsibility for missing opportunities and for making bad decisions at crucial junctures. But that is not why the accords stumbled.
One can feel free to distribute blame all around: the US administrations, the EU, the international community, some Arab countries and, yes, the Palestinian leadership itself.
Good intentions do not make peace and, like all negotiated treaties, they bring out more critics than cheerleaders
But let us agree that the Oslo Accords, both one and two, were flawed in so many ways. The technical details and the annexes that few bothered to read and the poor political will on both sides contributed to the creation of the biggest political hoax of modern times.
Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres may have had good intentions of finally bringing peace to the troubled Holy Land; of imagining and working for a grand Middle East with prosperity and progress for all those involved. But good intentions do not make peace and, like all negotiated treaties, they bring out more critics than cheerleaders.
Rabin, the warrior turned peacemaker, was assassinated by a Jewish extremist two years after the White House ceremony. From there on, it was downhill for the nascent peace process. Peres lost the crucial 1996 election to a rising right-wing star in Israeli politics, Benjamin Netanyahu. It was then that Oslo ended. But most were in denial.
The cruel and hard-hitting fact is that the Zionist project, whether under a secular or a right-wing Israeli government, has always been and will always be this: A land grab of West Bank territory and the choking of any genuine and rightful claim to a Palestinian state. Whether on geopolitical, national security or biblical grounds, the Israelis will always find an excuse to deny Palestinians a state of their own in historical Palestine.
One could take a quick look at how the Oslo Accords spiraled downhill. Both sides waste no opportunity to blame the other. It was always a case of mistrust and suspicion. There was the Second Intifada, the siege of Arafat, the re-occupation of the West Bank, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Hezbollah factor, the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the PA’s loss of direction, the missed chance at Camp David, the settlements and the changing geopolitical winds.
The Americans, who had absolute control over the ailing peace process, failed to resuscitate it several times
As Netanyahu solidified his power base, he openly said there was no Palestinian peace partner. But his politics were clear. He had denounced the Oslo Accords, rejected the two-state solution and paralyzed the peace process. Bibi was now in control. The Americans, who had absolute control over the ailing peace process, failed to resuscitate it several times. They stood by as Israeli governments opened the floodgates of settlement building. This had become a zero-sum game.
Netanyahu, who now heads the most far-right Israeli government in the state’s history, is only a figurehead of a new and evolving Israel. The once-secular state is being hijacked by ultranationalist and ultrareligious extremists who do not see a place for the Palestinians in historical Palestine.
How Israel, at 75, will handle this cataclysmic challenge remains to be seen. But that has little to do with the future of the Palestinians. Oslo is dead. This is something that the Palestinian leadership has refused to admit, but it must. The new reality is complex: An internal fight within Israel for the soul of the state. The international community is divided on how to perceive the new Israel, which is now depicted as an apartheid state. Furthermore, the Palestinians are not doing much better. They face a thorny succession saga that could determine the fate of the PA, which has become an agent for the normalization of Israeli encroachment on Palestinian lands. And the vultures are waiting for the prey to fall: Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others with conflicting agendas.
And now we have the normalization process between Israel and Arab states. The Abraham Accords breached the once-sterling dam of Arab boycott. Geopolitical trends undermine the Palestinians and their cause. The Oslo Accords are in the past. It is a horse-trading affair where the Palestinian leadership hopes to get something in return, even on paper.
Was the Oslo process a fatal mistake? The Israelis will say yes. But for the Palestinian leadership, it was a path to oblivion. It was their choice then — a historic opportunity not to be missed. It turned out to be a stigma and a curse. Thirty years on, the Oslo Accords were more about bringing two opposites together; two evolving entities unlikely to ever meet.