It is quite common for political commentators these days to reference the ‘dead’ Oslo Accords, if not the ‘dead’ Peace Process altogether.
But there is more to Oslo than mounds of papers, signatures and technical details. Oslo represented something else entirely: it was a US-led strategy to end the “Arab-Israeli conflict” in favour of Israel and at the expense of Palestinians. That mindset is stronger today than it was 25 years ago.
The late Palestinian professor Edward Said warned of the disastrous future consequences of the Oslo Accords as it was being signed on September 13, 1993. He was dismissed by mainstream media and pundits as radical and was classified as one of the other ‘enemies of peace’ on ‘both sides’. But he, like many other Palestinians, was right.
“Labour and Likud leaders alike made no secret of the fact that Oslo was designed to segregate the Palestinians in non-contiguous, economically unviable enclaves, surrounded by Israeli-controlled borders, with settlements [colonies] and settlement [colony] roads punctuating and essentially violating the territories’ integrity,” he wrote in the Nation.
Talks that began in Madrid in 1991, followed by the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Paris Protocol in 1994, the Hebron Protocol in 1997, Wye River in 1998, Camp David in 2000, and other ‘agreements’ and ‘understandings’, have only led to the cementing of the Israeli occupation, a tripling of the number of illegal Jewish colonists and vast expansion of the illegal colony network in the Occupied Territories.
The peace process was launched in secrecy in Oslo, Norway, in the early 1990s. When news of the agreement was made public, leading to the famous handshake at the White House between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat many Palestinians were sceptical.
So why did the Palestinian leadership go along with what was clearly a damaging political programme? In 1987, a popular Palestinian uprising — The First Intifada — renewed regional and international focus on the PLO, which at the time was exiled in Tunisia, five years after it was forced to leave its positions in Lebanon under US and Israeli pressure.
On November 12, 1988, the PLO’s Palestine National Council convened in Algiers to approve a political strategy based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, the habitual US condition for engaging the Palestinian leadership. Based on new priorities, Arafat announced an independent Palestinian state from exile, one that was to be established in the Occupied Territories, with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also meant that the PLO had shifted the struggle to achieving statehood through a negotiated settlement via an international peace conference, on the basis of the aforementioned UN resolutions.
The PLO then worked on two different fronts: on one hand, it laboured to achieve international recognition of the newly-declared state while on the other, it coveted American validation. What the Palestinian leadership failed to understand and, sadly, is still unable to fathom to date, is that its own strategy was already calculated into a grand American scheme to pacify the PLO and weaken, and eventually completely destroy Palestinian resistance.
This is precisely what took place. Less than a decade after the signing of Oslo, in March-April 2002, Israeli army tanks crossed into Palestinian-governed areas of the West Bank, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. Israel was clearly not serious about achieving a just resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians and, by extension, the Arabs, through a negotiated agreement. Its leaders spoke of painful compromises yet continued to impose the same painful reality on the Palestinian people. Throughout endless years of talks, the US and Israel have jointly conspired to ensure Israeli dominance, using the peace process to buy time to achieve their objectives to the last.
The “process” is now complete.
With nearly a quarter-century of “security coordination,” the Palestinian National Authority — an offspring of Oslo — has become an essential tool for Israel through which the Israeli military directly, or otherwise, controls the lives of Palestinians, especially in areas A and B of the occupied West Bank. These regions, which make up 40 per cent of the total size of the West Bank, are, in theory, autonomous — ruled through “security coordination” between the Israeli army and Palestinian police. Area C, which constitutes the rest of the West Bank, is under total Israeli control.
Today, the PNA exists merely to facilitate the status quo preferred by Israel. It has not changed the reality for Palestinians in any positive way — there is still no statehood, no sovereignty, no rights and no freedoms of any kind.
Billions of dollars have been invested to keep the PNA leadership content. Meanwhile, illegal Jewish colonies throughout the West Bank continue to grow unhindered, funded, often directly, by Washington.
The Donald Trump administration, however, is labouring to surpass Oslo as it is promoting something else entirely: the so-called “Deal of the Century.”
However, even when the Trump administration cut off all US funds to the Palestinian Refugee Agency, UNRWA, and scrapped the $200 million in humanitarian aid to the PNA, the US still released $61 million to the PNA to maintain its “security cooperation” with Israel. Israel’s “security” is just too sacred a bond to be broken.
But Oslo will not simply vanish. It remains a problem because the intellectual foundation that led to its conception is still firmly in place — only Israel matters and the aspirations of the Palestinian people are still inconsequential.
For this very reason, Oslo remains dangerous. It is not the agreement itself that matters, but the mindset behind it: the political and diplomatic discourse that is manufactured to serve Israel exclusively.
The US is currently following a blueprint of a strategy in which it advances Israel’s “victory,” while imposing conditions of surrender on defeated Palestinians. Despite its ‘diplomatic’ and legal language, that was also the essence of Oslo.
Trump, to the satisfaction of Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, may think that he has single-handedly destroyed the Oslo Accords or whatever remained of them. However, judging by his words and actions, Trump has demonstrated that the spirit of Oslo remains alive: the bribes, the bullying and the fighting for that coveted and final Israeli victory.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a PhD in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Centre for Global and International Studies, UCSB.