Spirit of Oslo lives on in US’ pro-Israel strategy
Exactly 25 years ago on Thursday, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Israeli government signed the Oslo Accords. The agreement was the outcome of talks involving senior Israeli and PLO officials that had started years earlier. The signing ceremony revived hope that peace was finally at hand, as the agreement envisaged the phased withdrawal of the Israeli military from the Occupied Territories. However, two-and-a-half decades later, the Israeli occupation and illegal Jewish colonies are more entrenched than ever — the coveted peace is but a mirage.
Oslo was achieved through US-styled negotiations known as the “peace process,” which operated largely outside the framework of international law. It has proven to be a splendid failure.
Talks that began in Madrid in 1991, followed by the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, the Paris Protocol in 1994, Hebron Protocol in 1997, Wye River in 1998, Camp David in 2000, and other agreements and understandings, only led to the cementing of the Israeli occupation, a tripling of the number of illegal Jewish settlers and vast expansion of the illegal Israeli settlement network in the Occupied Territories.
The peace process was launched in secrecy in Oslo, Norway, in the early 1990s. When news of the agreement was made public, leading to the famous handshake at the White House between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat in September 1993, many Palestinians were skeptical.
So why did the Palestinian leadership go along with what was clearly a damaging political program? History is of the essence, and successive US administrations were always at the core of this history.
In 1987, a popular Palestinian uprising — The First Intifada — renewed regional and international focus on the PLO, which at the time was exiled in Tunisia, five years after it was forced to leave its positions in Lebanon under US and Israeli pressure.
On Nov. 12, 1988, the PLO’s Palestine National Council convened in Algiers to approve a political strategy based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, the habitual US condition for engaging the Palestinian leadership. Based on new priorities, Arafat announced an independent Palestinian state from exile, one that was to be established in the Occupied Territories, with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also meant that the PLO had shifted the struggle to achieving statehood through a negotiated settlement via an international peace conference on the basis of the aforementioned UN resolutions.
The PLO then worked on two different fronts: On one hand it labored to achieve international recognition of the newly-declared state, while on the other it coveted American validation. What the Palestinian leadership failed to understand and, sadly, is still unable to fathom to this day, is that its own strategy was already calculated into a grand American scheme to pacify the PLO and weaken, and eventually completely destroy, Palestinian resistance.
Throughout endless years of talks, the US and Israel have jointly conspired to ensure Israeli dominance. They used the peace process to buy time to achieve their objectives to the last
This is precisely what took place. Less than a decade after the signing of Oslo, in March-April 2002, Israeli army tanks crossed into areas of the West Bank governed by Palestinians, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. Israel was clearly not serious about achieving a just resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians, and by extension the Arabs, through a negotiated agreement. Its leaders spoke of painful compromises yet continued to impose the same painful reality on the Palestinian people.
Throughout endless years of talks, the US and Israel have jointly conspired to ensure Israeli dominance. They used the peace process to buy time to achieve their objectives to the last.
The “process” is now complete.
With nearly a quarter-century of “security coordination,” the Palestinian Authority — an offspring of Oslo — has become an essential tool for Israel, through which the Israeli military directly or otherwise controls the lives of Palestinians, especially in areas A and B of the occupied West Bank. These regions, which make up 40 percent of the total size of the West Bank, are, in theory, autonomous; ruled through “security coordination” between the Israeli army and Palestinian police. Area C, which constitutes the rest of the West Bank, is under total Israeli control.
Today, the PA exists to merely facilitate the status quo preferred by Israel. It has not changed reality for Palestinians in any positive way — there is still no statehood, no sovereignty, no rights and no freedoms of any kind.
Billions of dollars have been invested to keep the PA leadership content. The funds, provided mostly by the US, European and a few Arab countries, have allowed the PA to operate with a degree of pseudo-sovereignty; just enough to keep perpetuating the myth that peace and a Palestinian state are imminent. Meanwhile, illegal Jewish colonies throughout the West Bank continue to grow unhindered, funded, often directly, by Washington.
The Donald Trump administration, however, is laboring to surpass Oslo as it is promoting something else entirely: The so-called “Deal of the Century.” But Oslo will not go away. It remains a problem because the intellectual foundation that led to its conception is still firmly in place; where only Israel matters and the aspirations of the Palestinian people are still inconsequential.
Late Palestinian Prof. Edward Said was not prophesying when he warned of the disastrous future consequences of Oslo as it was being signed. “Labor and Likud leaders alike made no secret of the fact that Oslo was designed to segregate the Palestinians in noncontiguous, economically unviable enclaves, surrounded by Israeli-controlled borders, with settlements and settlement roads punctuating and essentially violating the territories’ integrity,” he wrote in The Nation.
The colonization of Palestine was, for the first time, accelerating with the consent of the Palestinian leadership. The PLO was turned into a local body with the inception of the PA in 1994. The “Palestinian revolution” turned into an agonizing process of “state building,” but without a state or even contiguous territories. Palestinians who rejected the horrific outcomes of Oslo were often abused and deemed extremists.
Meanwhile, successive US administrations continued to fund and defend Israel, unconcerned about its self-tailored job title as the “honest peace broker.” Even when the Trump administration cut off all US funds to the Palestinian Refugee Agency, UNRWA, and scrapped the $200 million in humanitarian aid to the PA, the US still released $61 million to the PA to maintain its “security cooperation” with Israel. Israel’s “security” is just too sacred a bond to be broken.
This is why Oslo remains dangerous. It is not the agreement itself that matters, but the mindset behind it: The political and diplomatic discourse that is wholly manufactured to serve Israel exclusively.
The US is currently following a blueprint of a strategy in which it advances Israel’s “victory,” while imposing conditions of surrender on defeated Palestinians. Despite its more diplomatic and legal language, that was also the essence of Oslo.
Trump, to the satisfaction of Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, may think that he has single-handedly destroyed the Oslo Accords or whatever remained of them. However, judging by his words and actions, Trump has indicated that the spirit of Oslo remains alive: The bribes, the bullying and the fighting for that coveted and final Israeli victory.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud