By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
The current leaders of the West Bank Palestinians are physically, politically and financially taken hostages by the Oslo agreements that they negotiated, signed and promoted. Oslo City was the venue of the secret Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace agreement.’ Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat signed the agreement’s ‘Declaration of Principles’ on the lawns of the White House, hosted by US President Clinton on Sep 13, 1993. Arafat who sold Oslo to his people as ‘the peace of the brave’ was jailed in his Ramallah headquarters and he allegedly was executed by his Israeli Oslo partners after fulfilling his role in recognizing the State of Israel.
The Palestinian Oslo negotiators promised their people that Oslo was a plan to create an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza while some senior PLO members rejected the agreements and many Palestinian intellectuals and foreign observers concluded that Oslo would lead the Palestinians to nowhere. Edward Said, Palestine’s most prominent intellectual, criticized the agreement because it had not addressed the refugees and Jerusalem questions. Edward Said was ridiculed by members of the Oslo team and his books were banned in the West Bank and Gaza by orders from Arafat as a retaliation measure.
It was a common knowledge that Israel had absolutely no intention of conceding Jerusalem or the Palestinian refugee right of return, but the two issues were shelved by Oslo agreements until the so-called “final status talks” which was nothing but a fig leaf to surrender to Israel the most important issues. The UN Resolution 194 of December 11, 1948 affirmed the right of Palestinian refugees who had fled or had been expelled during the war to return to their homes. Resolution 194, a direct application of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was adopted by the United Nations unanimously in 1948. After signing Oslo agreements, the US Administration under President Clinton that was the main sponsor of Oslo argued at the UN, that past UN resolutions on Palestine were “obsolete and anachronistic” after the signing of Oslo.
The American journalist Tomas Friedman who is known for his pro-Israel writings described Arafat’s letter to Rabin recognizing Israel as a humiliation for Arafat and the PLO and an Israeli decisive victory over the Palestinian national movement. He wrote that the letter was “not a statement of recognition. It is a letter of surrender, a type-written white flag in which the PLO chairman renounced every political position on Israel he has held since the PLO’s foundation in 1964.” Arafat’s letter to Rabin promised to assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance with Oslo agreements; prevent violations and discipline violators; and declared inoperative all the articles in the Palestinian Covenant which denied Israel’s right to exist.
The Israeli journalist Danny Rubenstein predicted at the time of Oslo signing and the establishment of the Palestine Authority (PA) that the “autonomy” which the Israelis accepted for the Palestinians was the autonomy “of a POW camp, where the prisoners are autonomous to cook their meals without interference and to organize cultural events.”
On August 8, 1995, the Financial Times was dismayed that the unfair pattern of water seizure by Israel had not been changed years after Oslo agreements: “Nothing symbolizes the inequality of water consumption more than the fresh green lawns, irrigated flower beds, blooming gardens and swimming pools of Jewish settlements in the West Bank”, while nearby Palestinian villages were denied the right to drill wells. Professor Noam Chomsky, a sympathizer with the Palestinians was not happy by the turn of events few months after Oslo signing. He wrote, : “The Israeli government [under Rabin] had plans to extend the integration of great Jerusalem virtually to Jericho, with vast construction projects, plans for tourist sites along the northern shore of the Dead sea, some 700 million dollars of investment in new roads to connect settlements with Israel.”
After giving Oslo team the benefit of the doubt, the Palestinian leader, Haidar Abdel-Shafi concluded that Oslo agreements and the PA would fail the Palestinian national cause. For those who do not know, Haidar Abdel-Shafi was the head of the Palestinian negotiating team in Washington that was boycotted by Israel for insisting on having a commitment by Israel to withdraw from East Jerusalem and dismantling the settlements as part of any acceptable interim agreements. Israel chose to negotiate with Oslo team which agreed to Israel’s demand to leave Jerusalem, the refugees and the settlements issues until the “final status talk” of the negotiations.
The Oslo agreements partitioned the occupied lands into zones where the Palestinian Authority is allowed to have different administrative and security powers. Besides the towns and malls and highways built on Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Jerusalem for Jews only, there are many other visible failures of Oslo agreements. Oslo gave Israel the power to divide the Palestinians into groups with different gradation of legal statuses and different security regimes depending on where they live. There are the Israeli Palestinians, Jerusalem Palestinians, Palestinians who reside between the apartheid wall and the green line, Palestinians in zone A or B or C, Gaza Strip Palestinians, the 1948 refugees, the 1967 refugees and the Palestinians who came with Arafat from Tunisia.
The Oslo team in the West Bank still believes the Palestinian issue is a border dispute between two states, but the facts on the ground suggest the Palestinians’ struggle today is an existential. The Israelis including the left have adopted the theology of the rabbis that calls for Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians to be based on “Jewish history”, Jewish ethnicity and Jewish religion. The Israelis perceive the settlements, especially in Jerusalem, as an integral part of their national heritage closely tied to the Jews “glorious past.” Some Israelis liken the Palestinians to the biblical Philistines or Amalek, a nation that, in the Torah, “God’s Commands” the Israelites to “expunge!!” Rabbi Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba settlement wrote in 2009: “We must cleanse the country of Arabs and resettle them where they came from, if necessary by paying.” Due to the military training indoctrination and religious beliefs, the attitude of the Israeli young generation toward the Palestinians is more radical than their parents.
The news from Israel suggests the right-wing government is popular and if a new parliamentary election takes place today, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party will be a winner. As long as the majority of the Israeli people support the ethno-security regime and do not pay the cost of occupation, the status quo in the occupied lands will continue. Due to its success in ruling the West Bank Palestinian population through the proxy of the Palestinian Authority that is financed by the donor countries and the siege of Gaza, Israel does not feel a need for making any concession to the Palestinians as long as the Oslo team controls the Palestinian population. The Israelis believe they can manage the conflict until the Palestinians are ready to settle the conflict on Israel’s own terms.
The Israeli architect of Oslo, Yossi Beilin, wrote a letter dated April 4, 2012 to his Palestinian Oslo partner, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the president of the Palestinian Authority. The letter stated that the Oslo agreements were based on “the Beilin-Abu Mazen talks” and described the agreements as “a process that promised to lead to a partition of the land in a few years [not the withdrawal from the occupied lands] ……and a fitting symbolic and economic resolution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees [not according to the UN resolution 194].” Beilin reminded Abbas that the PA was an interim phase of the agreement and "One simply cannot continue with an interim agreement for more than 20 years." Beilin’s letter suggests that if the PA is not dissolved after two decades of signing the Oslo agreements the territory administered by the PA will become the de facto Palestinian state.
The Oslo team has failed to deliver on its promises to establish an independent Palestinian state. Under Oslo team leadership, the vast majority of the Palestinians in the occupied lands are poor, living on donors’ handouts, fearing the confiscation of their land, subjected to ethnic cleansing, family separation and home demolition. They experience daily humiliation creeping for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to them by the Israelis. The Palestinians are living under military rule in disconnected enclaves, surrounded by sprawling massive Jewish settlements, Jewish only roads, and the separation wall; or they are living in the besieged Gaza and millions are left homeless without citizenship in refugee camps.
Due to their failed policies, the Oslo team has disqualified themselves politically and legally from leading their people. Time has come to declare the Oslo “peace process” is over and allow a new leadership that thinks differently to step in. The new team should reject imposing Jewish hegemonic conceptions on the millions of Palestinians as individuals or groups. They should demand equality within the framework of one state over all historical Palestine.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.