By Ghassan Khatib
The Oslo negotiations, which were conducted secretly in Norway in parallel to the official negotiations in Washington, led to the first ever agreement between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. Yet Oslo cannot be analyzed as an agreement but rather must be seen as a process that includes five agreements, their implementation and the complex relations and new realities created.
At the time, the majority of Palestinians perceived the Declaration of Principles (DOP), which was signed in Washington in 1993, positively. This was first and foremost because it involved recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and promised the return of the PLO leadership to the occupied Palestinian territories to establish the first Palestinian authority.
Second, the DOP was perceived by the Palestinian as a transitional stage toward ending the occupation. It stipulated three phases of Israeli army redeployment from all occupied territory except Jerusalem and the settlements, which were to be negotiated together with the refugee issue after three years. Palestinians also saw the fact that Israel recognized Jerusalem and refugees as negotiable issues as an achievement.
But the overwhelming public support for Oslo and the Palestinian leadership that negotiated and signed the agreement did not last long. Soon public opinion polls and other indicators began to show a downward curve in the enthusiasm for both. There were many obvious reasons.
A process that was supposed to be about ending the occupation could not even hide the signs showing that, on the contrary, the occupation was being consolidated. The Israeli insistence on continuing to confiscate Palestinian land and expanding illegal Jewish settlements, under both Labor and Likud-led governments, doubling the number of settlers in the occupied territories, left the Palestinian public and leadership with strong and growing doubts about Oslo.
Meanwhile, the failure of the process to curb the practices of the occupation came in parallel to a poor record of governance by the Palestinian Authority. And along with its poor governance, the way Oslo left the Palestinian leadership economically, administratively and structurally dependent on Israel had a huge effect on domestic politics. These two factors had a particularly negative impact on the support for those who were responsible for the process.
This provided an opportunity that was grasped by the main opposition group, Hamas, who intensified its military attacks against Israelis and its political attacks against the Palestinian leadership. The final outcome was a terminal decline in support for the Oslo process and the leadership behind it. This ultimately led to the radicalization of the public and a shift in the balance of power that culminated in the victory of Hamas in the 2006 elections.
It is true that in the course of the implementation of the Oslo agreement, Israel managed to have its cake and eat it at the same time: it reaped the dividends of peace–improving its international image, normalizing relations with the region to some extent and improve its security–while not rolling back its occupation. It might also be true that Israel managed to co-opt the Palestinian leadership and make it completely dependent on Israel. But this Israeli strategy has backfired since it has only led to the empowerment of Hamas and the discrediting of any moderate Palestinian leadership.
-Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning. He holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham. (Originally published in Bitterlemons – www.bitterlemons.org – September 15, 2008)