By: Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
25 years have passed since the Oslo Accords were signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in September 1993. These years, to a large extent, were “lean years” for the Palestinian national struggle and its institutional structure, and for the Palestine issue status.
In this article, six significant lessons from the “Oslo Experience” are discussed:
First: National Consensus on the Critical Decisions and Tracks Related to the Palestine Issue is a Must
The Oslo Accords was the basis of the biggest schism in the modern and contemporary Palestinian history. The Fatah movement bore the “sin” of solely taking a fateful decision, which not only concerns the Palestinian people but also all the Arabs and Muslims. From its leadership position, this movement made a historic concession on most of the land of Palestine (i.e., the 1948 Occupied Palestine, which constitutes 77% of the total land) and recognized the “State of Israel.” It even agreed with Israel on unguaranteed and controversial mechanisms in its attempt to establish a full sovereign Palestinian state in West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS).
However, the rejection of this agreement was wide and unprecedented in the Palestinian national history. Major factions in the PLO, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), joined hands with Hamas, Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ), al-Sa‘iqah, PFLP-GC, and others, to form what became known as the Alliance of Palestinian Forces that rejects the agreement. Several prominent Fatah figures, who represent a considerable part of Fatah members, also rejected it. Nevertheless, Fatah, assisted by marginal and small factions, maintained its position. That division was wider and had a larger impact than any other previous divisions that took place, such as those between the Husseinis and Nashashibis, or when the PLO was established, or when the Ten-Point Program was launched, or when the Rejection Front was formed, or when the Palestinian National Salvation Front was formed….
The Oslo Accords established schism between the peace process and the resistance tracks. Pro-Fatah members saw the resistance as an obstacle to the establishment of the long-awaited Palestinian state, whereas pro-resistance members saw the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its security forces as an obstacle to their struggle and liberation project.
This agreement entrenched the crisis of the Palestinian national project, and the conflict of tracks, priorities, programs, and work methods. The ensued price paid by the national movement in the following years was very high, including dispersing efforts, losing opportunities, weakening internal ranks, and increasing Israel’s ability to pressure, maneuver and make gains. The ensuing Palestinian schism, especially that between Fatah and Hamas, is not but one of the manifestations and “consequences” of the Oslo Accords.
Second: Major Key Issues are Resolved in Advance and Implementation Details are Left for Negotiations
In all forms of ending the occupation or mandate, key issues are resolved when the agreement is signed, and details are left for negotiations. Hence, the issues of withdrawal, sovereignty and self-determination are resolved first (issues concerning the land, people and the people’s fate on their land).
As for Oslo, the “catastrophe” was that some details were resolved and the key issues were postponed. So the limited Palestinian self-rule that would grow under the hegemony of the occupation was agreed upon, without even any binding criteria or regulations requested by the Palestinians. Consequently, the key issues became vulnerable including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, right to self-determination, state borders, state sovereignty, natural resources.
At the same time, the pledge of Fatah and PLO to stop armed resistance and commit to peaceful means, dealt a blow to the Palestinian national struggle. In addition, the United Nations’ authority and resolutions became unbinding to the negotiators.
Thus, the “Palestinian Future” became subject to Israel’s whims and under its “mercy.” Consequently, Israel changed the peace settlement to become “endless process,” which emboldened its will and dictates, and empowered its building of facts on the ground.
The Palestinian side committed a great sin when it trusted dealing with Israel as if it were a “charity,” rather than an “enemy” that recognizes only the actual balance of power.
Third: Institutional Building: The Fragility of the PA and Its Institutions
The PA, founded by the PLO and Fatah, established a structure and system, which lacks the minimum conditions to meet the requirements of an independent state.
On the one hand, it established a structure that the occupation controls from land, sea and air. It neither controls its borders, exports, imports or any of its monetary transfers.
On the other hand, Israel can paralyze this structure whenever it wants, and it can also (and already has repeatedly done) destroy its economic projects and infrastructures, including educational and service institutions, power stations and even police headquarters.
Thirdly, in this system, the president, ministers, prominent figures, the directors of its institutions, all need the permission of an Israeli “sergeant” for their movement in the PA territories, and at any moment they may be arrested or their movement may be restricted.
Fourthly, within this system a failed economic structure was established, where the Paris Protocol adds additional catastrophic “details.” It is an economy that 80% of its revenues come from either Israeli-controlled clearance revenues or from foreign western donors, whereas two thirds of its imports come from Israel and more than 83% of exports goes to it!!
Fifthly, the Palestinian economy became more concerned with “economic well-being” under occupation rather than establishing an independent or resistant economy. Systems of interests and “corruption” formed whose survival depends on continuing occupation rather than its end.
Sixthly, the PA budget is depleted by the cadre of the security forces, whose proportion to the whole PA system is the highest in the world. It is seven-fold higher than the international standard of the security forces ratio to the population. Their core role is to coordinate with the Israeli forces and appease their demands.
Hence, at the end, we found ourselves in front of a deformed structure that has no prospects of becoming a state or of fulfilling its aspirations in a “two-state solution.”
Fourth: No to Dwarfing the Palestinian National Project
The Oslo Accords were the bases of a significant deterioration of the Palestinian National Project. They converted it from a project that wants to liberate all Palestine into a self-ruling authority that “looks forward to” establishing an independent Palestinian state in WB and GS, yet it is subject to the Israeli will, considerations and requirements. The self-rule became a “life-sentence” case that serves Israeli objectives more than Palestinian ones. That’s how Fatah leadership (Arafat) made its people fall into “an inescapable trap” as Edward Said, the renowned Palestinian writer, described it.
The PLO was dwarfed, its institutions weakened to the extent that it became “a department” among PA departments. It was put in the ICU and resuscitated only to provide the necessary seals of approval to legalize the political conduct of the PLO and Fatah leaderships.
Under the Oslo Accords the intra-Palestinian conflict was “legalized,” and striking Palestinian resistance movement was also “legalized.”
Within the Accords’ environment, Palestinians abroad were neglected and lost. They, who represent half of the Palestinian people, have high potentials and capabilities that were not taken advantage of.
When the Palestinian leadership and its authority got settled under occupation, Israel became the “absent present” in the Palestinian decision-making process and an active factor in its considerations. The Authority can not work on the ground, its government can not function and meet, its legislative council convene, its Presidential, parliamentary or even municipal elections be held…unless Israel approves. Consequently, any party that wants to manage the lives of people under occupation must take its consent.
Fifth: No to Judaization and Settlement Building
The Oslo Accords provided the cover for the continuation of occupation of Palestine, settlement building and Judaization. The PA is not only unable to resist that, it conducts security coordination with the Israeli occupation to strike the resistance movement.
Judaization projects in WB expanded considerably, where the number of settlers increased from 280 thousand, when Oslo was signed in 1993, to more than 800 thousand in 2018. Israel kept around 60% of WB under its full security and administrative control (Area C), 22% under joint Israeli-Palestinian security control (Area B), and 12% are isolated areas behind the Separation Wall. The Judaization of Jerusalem and separating it from the Palestinian environment intensified, settlements expanded exponentially where tens of thousands were built, hundreds of kilometers of bypass roads were paved and hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints remained.
The WB occupation became the “cheapest” colonization in the world, and a “five-star” one, as some Israel officials have put it.
The PLO and Fatah committed a great sin when they signed an agreement that does not stop settlement building during negotiations, and the Israelis exploited that in a grotesque way to change the face of Jerusalem and the rest of WB, while the endless negotiations continue, and so does the endless Judaization under the auspices of “Oslo.”
Sixth: No to Israeli Political Penetration and Normalization
The Oslo Accords were the beginning of the legalization of Israel and its occupation, and for many Arab, Muslim and international countries a prelude to develop diplomatic relations with Israel. These countries look for their interests, where having relations with Israel would appease the “American Master.” Israel expanded its political and economic relations to improve its economy and “national” security net; whereas the Palestinian ability to pressure the Israeli side decreased, whether concerning the “peace process” benefits or in regaining any of the Palestinian rights.
At the same time, the Palestinian resistance has become besieged and a “burden” to the leaderships of the PA, PLO and the Arab countries. Some even consider it “terrorism.”
The above six lessons show the “disastrous” impact of the Oslo Accords in the eyes of the Palestinian national movement, and the high detrimental prices paid by the Palestinian national authority.
Lastly, the core of the national project must be always linked to Palestinian fundamentals, the foremost of which is the liberation of Palestine from its river to its sea, and building institutions on effective bases that would include all national actors, and may expand to include Arabs, Muslims and freedom fighters in the liberation project.