Hasan El-Hasan: Can Palestinians Trust Oslo Architects?

By Dr. Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

Is the architect of Oslo trying to get the Palestinians another deal? Abbas and his comrades sold Oslo to the Palestinians for slogans, and today they are selling their unholy alliance with Israel for a few Israeli sheqalims and some dollars. They surrendered what was left of Palestine in Oslo, and today they are selling the Palestinian cause all together. The Oslo story has to be retold everyday because its architects who betrayed the Palestinians in Oslo are at it again. They are collaborating with no other than the Israeli butchers against a common enemy, the Palestinian resistance.

After Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, the bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks shifted to Washington D.C. The Washington negotiations on the Palestinian issue were held between non-PLO Palestinian delegation from the West Bank headed by Dr. Haider Abdul-Shafi and delegation from Israel headed by Eli Rubinstein. No significant progress was made in eleven meetings from Dec. 1991 through August 1993 even after the Likud coalition government lost to Labor ending its monopoly of ruling Israel since 1977.  Labor won on a platform of negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians, and its leader Yitzhak Rabin assumed the office as prime minister.

The ascendance of Labor to power did not mean yielding to the demands of the Palestinian negotiating team in Washington to have Israel commit itself to complete withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Neither Likud nor Labor would compromise on having all Jerusalem under Israeli rule, and none would dismantle the settlements as the Palestinians demanded. Rabin’s government was committed to have peace with the Palestinians but on its own terms that were not acceptable by Abdul-Shafi negotiators in Washington. The Palestinian negotiators even had to boycott the Washington talks when Rabin deported 415 Islamic activists to Lebanon in December 1992. They returned to the talks in April 1993 when the Israelis had been negotiating secretly with the PLO in Oslo. The foreign ministry in Rabin’s government had an agenda to get the best outcome from the peace talks by negotiating with another Palestinian team from the ranks of the PLO who were less intransigent in opposing the Israeli demands.

With the talks in Washington reaching dead end, Beilin, with Peres approval, decided to have unofficial secret talks with the PLO. They wanted to gauge and probe the PLO view and exploit its weakness, and the PLO leaders were eager to have more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. According to the historian Avi Shalim, the Israeli director of military intelligence suggested in 1992 that “Arafat’s dire situation, and possible imminent collapse made him the most convenient interlocutor for Israel”. The first meeting was held on January 20, 1993 between Professors Yair Hirschfeld and Ron Pundak on behalf of Israel and Abu Al’a Qurai, Maher al-Kurd and Hasan Asfoor from the PLO in Tunis.

In late February, 1993, Shimon Peres was able to bring Rabin on board and sanction the Oslo backchannel by convincing him that direct negotiations with the exiled PLO leadership would serve the interests of Israel. In his book “Battling for Peace” Shimon Peres suggested that the incentives of allowing Arafat to return to Gaza from his exile and speak for the Palestinians would induce him to accept Israeli demands and speed up the conclusion of the negotiations.

It was the rise of the popularity of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians that encouraged the Israelis to rescue Arafat from obscurity. Rabin took over the rein of government in the middle of the first Palestinian uprising. Members from Hamas were accused of inciting violence and killing Jewish settlers and policemen allegedly to discourage the Israelis from settling in “their lands”. In response, Rabin ordered hundreds of Hamas activists to be rounded and dumped in the buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon where they decided to remain for many months living in tents under severe weather conditions to evoke international sympathy and embarrass the Israeli government and the Arab negotiators.

Unlike the delegates to the Oslo talks who had not been traumatized by the Israelis, most members of the Washington team had been jailed or deported by Israel in the past. Andrew Buchanan wrote that the negotiators in Washington under the leadership of Haidar Abdel-Shafi insisted on including East Jerusalem as part of the interim agreement and dismantling all settlements; they asked for a commitment by Israel to withdraw from all the territory occupied in the 1967 war, and “continued to bring the subject of human rights violation”. The Oslo team, on the other hand, was more receptive to the Israeli demands and conditions of postponing the talk on East Jerusalem and the settlements, prolonging the process and providing ambiguous promises. To insure that Israel would accept only the Oslo negotiations, Arafat asked the Washington team to stand firm in demanding the inclusion of Jerusalem in the interim agreement while instructing the Oslo negotiators to accept Israel’s demand to exclude it.

Joseph Masaad argued in Al-Ahram Weekly that the framers of the Oslo agreement created a process that serves Israel’s expansionist policies and empowered privileged Palestinians whose personal fortunes were tied to it. Thus even after the Oslo process proved to be a disaster to the Palestinian people, and the Israelis used it to achieve what it was intended for, the Palestinian Authority elites continue to cling to it as a sacred institution because they are its only Palestinian beneficiaries.

Once the Oslo process began, the Washington talks faded away and Abdel-Shafi and his team were surprised by the loss of all their months of negotiations as the PLO of Tunisia signed on a different and fatally flawed Oslo agreement on behalf of the Palestinians who had been living under occupation. Abdel-Shafi was quoted saying that he had heard of the Oslo negotiations for the first time while listening to the news on a hotel radio while preparing for his next meeting with the Israelis.

Israel chose to negotiate with the exiled leaders to exploit their weak position in the Arab world due to Yassir Arafat support of Saddam Hussein in the invasion of Kuwait and his weak position in Palestine after the immergence of new Palestinian leaders, living and suffering under the occupation. What frightened Israel most was the growing strength of the religious Palestinian groups, namely “Hamas” and “Islamic Jihad” that had been challenging the PLO leadership living in Tunis. Robert Fisk wrote “if it was not for the Islamic strength in Palestine, the Israelis would have had little interest in recognizing the PLO”. The PLO had been evicted from Jordan by King Hussein then exiled to Tunis from Lebanon and most of its troops had been dispersed among camps in many Arab countries. They were weakened financially when the contributions to the Palestinians from the Gulf States dried-up after their backing of Saddam Hussein invasion of Kuwait.

Mazin Qumsiyeh concluded that the recognition given by Israel to Arafat, rather than the new Palestinian leadership, was used as the price to “extract concessions on key issues”. To get the best deal, the Israelis chose to negotiate with the PLO leaders, who were eager to return to Palestine and establish themselves in what the Israelis call the “disputed territory”, rather than with the inside Palestinians who insisted on a commitment to unconditional end of occupation and “immediate and substantive withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank”.

The inside Palestinian negotiators had to be loyal to the PLO, the only Palestinian organization that had been recognized by the sponsors of the Madrid peace talks, in order to gain legitimacy, but they had plans and conditions of their own. The PLO leaders recognized Israel without addressing its status in the West Bank as an occupier, thus treating the West Bank and Gaza only as a disputed land with shared sovereignty rather than occupied. In return, Israel only concession was recognizing the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

The Oslo Accords was signed by the prime minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO chief Yasser Arafat in a Washington ceremony hosted by US President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1993. Israel took the credit for agreeing to have peace and at the same time continued the occupation with the consent of the PLO on behalf of the Palestinians.

The DOP agreement states that permanent status issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements and borders are to be excluded from the interim arrangements and that the outcome of the permanent status talks should not be prejudged or preempted by the interim arrangements. Until the permanent agreement is reached, the Israeli government retains sole responsibility for foreign affairs, defense and borders, and most important, the agreement does not restrain Israeli settlement activities. To seal the fate of their people, the Oslo architects agreed on behalf of the Palestinians to give Israel the right to collect and control their taxes, thus giving Israel, their oppressor, the power of the purse, the Palestinian purse.

There is good reason for the Palestinians to ask one more question. Are the architects of Oslo trying to sell the national cause for sheqalims and dollars? There is a popular Arab proverb that says: “the believer will not be bitten from the same burrow twice”.

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