A month had passed since that handshake between Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Isaac Rabin, Israeli Prime Minister. The American president, Bill Clinton, right behind, welcomed them in his arms in the gardens of the White House. “Now that some of the euphoria has dissipated, it is possible to reexamine the agreement,” said one of the most prominent Palestinians of recent decades, the writer Edward Said. “First, let’s call it by its real name: an instrument of Palestinian surrender; the Palestinian Versailles,” he claimed. Said compared the historic agreement to the World War I peace treaty and the abusive terms with Germany, the losing side.
Not everyone liked it in Israel either and it even cost its prime minister his life. Isaac Rabin was participating in an event under the motto ‘yes to peace, no to violence’ shortly after the signing of the second part of the Oslo accords in September 1995. “I was a man of arms for 27 years. While there was no chance for peace, multiple wars broke out. Today I am convinced of the opportunity we have to achieve peace.” It would be his last speech. As he went down the stairs, he was shot dead by an extreme rightist.
Weeks before, a 19-year-old Israeli showed off before the cameras with the license plate of Rabin’s attacked Cadillac: “We have gone for his car and we will also go for him.” It was Itamar Ben-Gvir, the ultranationalist now turned Minister of National Security in the most extreme right-wing Government in the history of the country. A promotion that represents the perfect example of Oslo’s failure. Today in Israel those who wanted to burn the Oslo Accords are in power.
What exactly do the 1993 Oslo Accords say? “The time has come to put an end to decades of confrontations and conflicts, to recognize their legitimate mutual political rights, to seek to live in a regime of peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security, and to reach a just peace solution, lasting and comprehensive and historic reconciliation through an agreed political process,” the first sentence read. What was hidden behind that was that the PLO recognized for the first time the existence of Israel and Israel recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people – until then it was not only considered a terrorist organization, but a law prohibited any contact with the group-.
The basis of the agreement focused on the creation of “a provisional Palestinian autonomous government” for the West Bank and Gaza during a transition period “of no more than five years”, which was to lead to “a permanent solution” based on resolution 242 of the UN Security Council, which demanded the withdrawal “of Israeli forces from territories they occupied during the recent conflict [guerra de 1967]” and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Palestinian Authority, created thanks to the Oslo Accords, was the first step on the road. Or so some believed.
“Institutionalize the occupation”
Jan Egeland, current secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, was then Norway’s deputy foreign minister and acted as an intermediary between the parties in the secret negotiations that led to the final agreement. “The alternative to the 1993 agreement was an endless, hopeless conflict. For the first time, Israel was willing to negotiate a lasting solution with the Palestinians and the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist,” he recalls to elDiario.es. “It was a great advance that had not been achieved until then. That this did not end in lasting peace is something for which both parties, and we in the international community, must take responsibility. Especially Israel, as a stronger party and an occupier, should have done more to reach a true peace agreement. Without a doubt, we as facilitators underestimated the forces of those who opposed peace,” he adds.
“From the first day we were at the forefront of criticism,” Raji Sourani, director and founder of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, recalled in a telephone conversation from Gaza. Sourani created the center in 1995, but he has been a human rights activist for more than 40 years since he was imprisoned for three years by Israel in 1979. There he learned Hebrew and studied Israel’s military decrees and the Geneva Conventions: “It didn’t say “Not a single word about the end of the occupation, no mention of international humanitarian law, nor was there any trace of the dismantling of illegal settlements…” Due to the conviction and speed of that infinite list, it seems that Sourani has been chewing it for 30 years. He still hurts like a fresh wound.
“It meant institutionalizing the occupation and, meanwhile, the Palestinians recognized the Israeli state without even defining its borders. That is why we have no control over our sovereignty and we have this strange model of autonomy in a very small part of the occupied territory,” he explains.
Jørgen Jensehaugen, senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO) and specialized in the conflict, remembers that the agreements were signed during an intifada and reflected “what was perhaps the best possible agreement at the time,” he assures elDiario.es. . Jensehaugen divides the agreements into two fundamental parts: “One is the mutual recognition of the parties” and the other, “more important”, was a timetable towards a permanent solution.
“It was scheduled for a five-year negotiation process as a first step, but the process collapsed. However, the first part of the recognition remained. The result of all this was that all the problematic issues of Oslo are still present on the ground. The question of Jerusalem was not addressed and Israel took the city; settlements were not addressed and continued to grow; The issue of refugees was not addressed and they continue in exile and suffering in refugee camps,” details the expert.
“Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, which was initially the positive part of the agreement, is paralyzed and has become undemocratic. President Mahmoud Abbas has been in power for too long. What we see, ultimately, is the result of a failed process,” he adds. The last presidential elections of the Palestinian Authority were held in 2005 and the legislative elections were held in 2006.
Sourani believes that the two-state solution that seemed to be envisioned in Oslo “was only the dream of the Palestinian side and, in part, of the international community.” “But de facto and de jure Israel had a process underway to construct a new form of apartheid,” he adds. “Those of us who live on the ground and know Israel never had any illusion that this would lead to self-determination.”
Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian historian, agrees with Sourani. “The Oslo Accords are the result of totally different intentions on the part of the three parties. Palestinian leaders thought it was a step toward self-determination. They were completely wrong. The US saw it as a means of stabilizing and freezing the situation and maintaining the status quo. Washington never intended to force Israel to end the process of colonizing it. And for Israel they were a way to continue colonizing and controlling the occupied territories,” he said in a recent interview with elDiario.es. “Oslo has been a great success, in other words, if you believe in colonization, ethnic cleansing and land grabs,” he claimed.
From the Palestinian State to “apartheid”
The PRIO researcher points out that “since 1993 all of Israel’s actions have gone against the two-state solution” which, according to him, is now impossible to achieve. “It’s irreversible,” he says. “The paradox is that the Palestinians and the international community are trapped in a solution that is no longer possible and the tragic thing is that there is no alternative on the table. Furthermore, it is not that the alternatives become easier as the two-state solution becomes impossible. On the contrary, the alternatives are even more difficult,” he warns.
“When diplomats argue, they insist on two states, but when you talk to them on the ground, they admit that that reality is no longer present,” he says. “About three years ago, the diplomatic community and the human rights community agreed in their assessment, that is, they criticized things like the expansion of settlements or the demolition of Palestinian houses, but they agreed on the objective of the two states. Now, suddenly the human rights community is saying that the two-state solution is dead and that we are in an apartheid system. But the international community is not at that point yet,” he maintains.
Egeland believes that a new agreement is not only possible, but “essential.” “Every time I travel to the occupied Palestinian territories I wonder how the situation can get even worse for the people who live there. It cannot continue like this and a new major effort is required,” he says. “There is no alternative to a new US-led negotiation based on the principles of mutual security, human rights and an end to the occupation. Settlements are perhaps the greatest threat to any solution. The US must put much more pressure on Israel to fulfill its obligations. No other party has this capacity,” he concludes.