Palestinians' rifts remain over Oslo Accord

Nabil Shaath, political adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
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Updated 15 September 2020

Palestinians' rifts remain over Oslo Accord

  • Renewal of political life needed, says expert

GAZA CITY: Palestinian opinion was divided in 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accord, which was aimed at ending the conflict with Israel. 

It was signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, under US auspices, on Sept. 13. Supporters of the agreement saw it as a gateway to establishing Palestinian statehood and ending the occupation, while those opposing it saw it as a free concession.

This division remains almost three decades after the landmark moment, but is more intense than ever as the Palestinians have yet to achieve their dream of an independent state and the occupation is intact. 

The accord’s supporters maintain a peaceful approach to obtaining their rights, even though they are harshly criticised by those who have not proved that their stance is the better one.

The political advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Shaath, has been one of the leading Palestinian negotiators for many years. 

He affirmed the Palestinian leadership’s adherence to peace as a way to establish an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Many achievements had been made, according to Shaath. “We returned with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the diaspora to Palestine, and we established institutions and a state economy, even if we are still under occupation,” he told Arab News.

Shaath understood those who criticized the peace option, due to the long years of negotiations, but said that the defect lay with successive Israeli governments that had worked to destroy the Oslo agreement. The most extreme, aggressive and hostile administration to peace was the current one headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he added.

The accord included a declaration of principles on arrangements for a Palestinian self-transitional government. The aim of the negotiations at the time was to form an autonomous transitional Palestinian authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for a period not exceeding five years, after which it would lead to a final settlement.

Oslo guaranteed the return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the diaspora, and the building of state institutions, but it did not lead to the establishment of an independent state that was supposed to be announced in 1999.

The Al-Aqsa Intifada broke out a few months later and the situation ended with internal Palestinian rifts.

Hamas, which opposed Oslo from the first disclosure of the negotiations that led to it and refused to participate in the first legislative elections that took place in 1996, still opposes the agreement despite participating in the second legislative elections that took place in 2006 and forming the government at the time.

The conflict over the Oslo gains became a gateway to the internal division that the Palestinians suffer from to this day. But Hamas does not see a contradiction between its political participation and its continued opposition to a political settlement with Israel.

The spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, Hazem Qasem, told Arab News that the Oslo agreement had inserted “our cause and our people into a labyrinth of political absurdity, and dragged on it the scourge of annexes of agreements from which our people only reaped more handcuffs and concessions.”

Qasem said the agreement was responsible for the continuous retreat of the Palestinian cause in exchange for the expansion of the “Zionist project” through settlement expansion and “shackling” Palestinians with security and economic agreements.

He added that Hamas had demonstrated the correctness of its position in rejecting the peace option, and that only resistance was capable of extracting rights for Palestinians.

Hamas, with its participation in legislative elections, had succeeded in providing an umbrella and protection for the “resistance in Gaza.”

The leader of Islamic Jihad, Ahmed Al-Mudallal, said that Oslo was the beginning of the “deviation and division” that the Palestinian people were enduring.

“To those who have made us believe that we are moving from occupation to independence: Here we are moving toward more occupation, displacement, killing, arrest, Judaization, settlement, starvation and siege,” Al-Mudallal told Arab News.

Political science professor Ibrahim Abrash believed that everything on the ground said the Oslo Accord was over. Israel had played a key role in drafting the terms of the agreement and, on the ground, it practiced “everything that contradicted” the political settlement process and the principle of land for peace.

“All Palestinians have reached a dead end, whether Hamas or Fatah,” he told Arab News. “We need a renewal of political life and, without that, the dream of liberation and the state will not see the light.”


Ashrawi urges American Arabs to unify for Palestine

Updated 28 September 2020

Ashrawi urges American Arabs to unify for Palestine

  • Hanan Ashrawi: Arabs are not identical and we are not monolithic. We have to celebrate our diversity
  • Ashrawi: What we have to do is to mobilize to make our space in the public discourse

Hanan Ashrawi, a Ramallah-based member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee and popular English language voice for the Palestinian cause in the US, urged American Arabs to “mobilize” and set aside their differences to strengthen the voice of the Palestinian diaspora.

During a Zoom discussion Saturday with American Arab leaders, hosted by ArabAmerica.com, Ashrawi said the US Arab community faced many of the same “very difficult conditions and obstacles” that Palestinians face around the world.

But, Ashrawi said, if they could bridge their differences and unite around common principles of justice, they could become an important voice as advocates for the Palestinian cause.

She argued it was especially important as US society becomes more polarized, but argued that Palestinians and Arabs needed to respect each other in order to unify.

“You cannot antagonize others. You can’t intimidate others. You cannot insult others. You have to work with them to find common ground,” Ashrawi urged.

“Even when you challenge. I challenge a lot. I am known to be very blunt. I don’t mince words. But at the same time I don’t insult. I don’t bring other people down. What you need to do is to be able to challenge in a way that shows you respect yourself so that others will respect you. This is extremely difficult.”

Asked about how to bridge the divisions that segment Palestinians in the US and abroad, Ashrawi urged all sides to embrace their differences, saying: “Arabs are not identical and we are not monolithic. We have to celebrate our diversity.

“We are all under attack,” she said. “In the US, you are seeing the rise of identity politics … You cannot be neutral in the face of such racism … and such distortions. You must embrace your Arab identity and be proud of it. What we have to do is to mobilize to make our space in the public discourse.”

Ashrawi criticized the Arab League, calling it “a disaster” in confronting Israel’s atrocities and oppression. She acknowledged Palestinians could do a better job of communicating, but said that they were working under oppressive conditions and without major funding or backing.

“It’s difficult because what we do, we do voluntarily and there is no funding,” Ashrawi said.

“We have a problem, if you want me to be very frank with you. We have a problem with many in the leadership think that they know it all.”

Ashrawi also said that rivalries prevented there from being a clear and powerful strategic message.

“They don’t think anyone else has the ability to present the cause. We don’t have the funds. We don’t have the institutions … we try desperately to face a real assault,” Ashrawi said.

She assed it was important for Palestinians and Arabs in the US to engage in the political system as a unified voice.

“You need to speak out. You need to stand up and speak out. You need to challenge. You need to make the facts known, to get people to unlearn what they have learned because for a long time Israel was dictating the agenda,” she said.

“Work within a group. Work collectively; organize, use the system. Work with other people because it is an intersectional issue. You can work with women. You can work with African Americans. You can work with youth. You can work with indigenous people. You can work with others who feel marginalized, excluded and oppressed. The mentality of oppression is the same everywhere.”

She stressed: “You have natural allies in the state. You have to work together … Within the system you can influence political decisions. Hold your representatives accountable.”

Ashrawi defended the Palestine National Authority, adding they “do not make political decisions” unlike the PLO.

“It is unfair to say failure, failure, failure … they did many things. They built many institutions,” she said.

“You have to place it in context. The Palestinian leadership is working under extremely adverse conditions and circumstances. They have no powers. They have no rights like everyone else. Israel controls everything, the lands, the resources, the water, our lives.”

Ashrawi added that while Palestinians continued to push for action from the International Criminal Court, Israel and the US continued to obstruct that legal process.

“They are punishing the individuals who are in charge of the global judicial and accountability system,” Ashrawi said. “This is unconscionable.”