We must bury the Oslo accords, not praise or recreate them
Thirty years ago this month, representatives of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the first round of the Oslo Accords in Washington. To this day, many take the optimistic view that the Oslo model can be replicated in the future to save the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Unfortunately, this belief ignores both the agreement’s inherent flaws and the current reality on the ground today.
Oslo was doomed from the onset. Its model maintained the asymmetrical relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. For example, rather than explicitly lay out recognition for a future Palestinian state, Oslo divided Palestinian cities into three zones (A,B, and C), while granting the newly formed Palestinian Authority semi-sovereignty in zones A and B.
More importantly, Israel was given full control of Area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank and surrounds key natural resources. In this part of the West Bank, Palestinians are disproportionately denied building permits and access to water, while their Israeli counterparts enjoy full freedom in this regard.
Oslo also failed to address key aspects of the conflict. For example, illegal settlement-building continued, and the occupation remained intact and heavily regulated the movement of Palestinians. The status of Palestinian refugees and of Jerusalem were also neglected, contributing to the demise of future peace initiatives.
Thirty years later, the flawed mechanisms of Oslo have shaped the conflict today. More than 700,000 illegal settlers now reside in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, undermining the contiguity that would be needed for any Palestinian state. Settlers effectively run Israel and are shielded from punishment when they commit terrorism against Palestinians. Just weeks ago, the remaining 89 residents of Ras-al-Tin had to flee the village due to settler violence. The United Nations has documented a total of 591 settler attacks so far in 2023, , already a 39 percent increase from all of 2022, and 477 Palestinians have been displaced.
Moreover, given its creeping de facto annexation of the West Bank and its proposed judicial overhaul, the current Israeli governing coalition is not at all interested in peace with Palestinians, satisfied instead to leave them in perpetual second-class citizenship. Oslo is what made this state of affairs possible.
By the same token, the Palestinian Authority, which was created by Oslo, is a woefully corrupt entity unable to perform the basic functions that any government should. PA leaders jail their own people to protect their unchallenged power. Their security forces do nothing to protect their own people from Israeli settler terrorism — if anything, they ensure the well-being of the aggressors.
The PA also relies entirely on U.S. and Israeli funding and security coordination to remain afloat. In sum, the PA is merely an instrument for preserving the status quo.
It also lacks legitimacy as a governing entity, given that it has avoided holding elections since 2006. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is in the 18th year of his four-year term as president. The PA’s lawless corruption and political ineptitude mean it will never earn the respect of the people it purports to govern and can never help them realize their national interests.
The Oslo process is well and truly dead. The veneration of the accords disserves those affected by their flaws while keeping everyone caught in a loop of senseless optimism. Even so, meditators today reintroduce the same failed processes in hopes of achieving a different outcome. There have been only half-hearted attempts to make things better in the short-term.
To break this trend, negotiators from the U.S., Europe, and the Arab world must abandon old orthodoxies. They should demand Israeli cessation of unliteral actions in the West Bank, then pressure Abbas to name a successor and hold Palestinian elections. This would address the heart of the conflict and take the first credible steps toward peace.
Abdelhalim Abdelrahman is a Palestinian American and a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C.
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