Ahmed Abu Artema
During the secret Oslo negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), lawyer Joel Singer was sent by the Israeli government to ask the Palestinian negotiators 100 questions.
One of the questions he asked was whether the Palestinians would agree to Israeli settlers remaining in their lands. The answer was “Yes”.
“I wasn’t surprised to get 100 answers to my 100 questions. But I was shocked not to get a single Palestinian question in return,” Singer is reported to have said.
After he finished his interrogation of the Palestinian officials, Singer reportedly told then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres: “Mr Foreign Minister, if we don’t make an immediate deal with these people, we are complete idiots.”
This short anecdote illustrates well what the Oslo Accords signed on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, were really about.
This was a deal made by unequal adversaries, with one exploiting the weakness of the other in order to impose its demands.
The Oslo Accords effectively put an end to the PLO’s struggle for the liberation of Palestine and facilitated the occupation by making it less costly for the Israeli state. The establishing of the Palestinian Authority relieved Israel of the burden of providing for the needs of the Palestinian people. It also set up a Palestinian-run security body which took up policing the Palestinians, making it easier for Israel to control them and suppress the popular struggle.
The status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees were left out of the negotiations, allowing Israel to strengthen its grip on illegally occupied Palestinian land.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, and Israeli FM Shimon Peres pose with their medals and diplomas, after receiving the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo’s City Hall for their role in the Oslo peace accords of 1993 [AP]
But the ground for the disaster that the Oslo Accords proved to be was prepared 15 years earlier when Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat signed the Camp David agreement with the Israeli occupation President Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978.
That day marks the beginning of the long process of normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states. It was the day, Arab leaders put behind revolutionary ideas and the taboo of negotiations with the Israelis and opted for pragmatism and self-interest.
This left the PLO no choice but to pursue the same path. In this sense, Oslo was born in Camp David and it was Arab states like Egypt that helped it mature. They also kept it alive after it was signed. In May 1994, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat met in Cairo to negotiate an agreement on Gaza and Jericho, part of the Oslo process.
When Arafat tried to resist at the signing ceremony, al-Sadat’s successor, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, reportedly leaned over and shouted in his face “Sign, you dog!”
It is this type of attitude that a number of Arab states have maintained towards the Palestinians and their leaders over the past few decades.
Looking back on the negotiations in Oslo and Camp David, one can see that all of Israel’s demands were met and it remains the clear winner of both “peace” initiatives.Today, the Israeli state is still on a steady course of normalisation of relations with various Arab states, while solidifying its grip on Palestinian territories. It continues the entrenchment of its occupation at the lowest possible cost with the help of the Palestinian Authority, which maintains its security cooperation with the Israeli and US authorities.
Israel is also able to expand its settlements on Palestinian land with impunity. As of last year, the number of settlers in the occupied West Bank had reached 400,000, their settlements occupying 42 percent of its territory; by comparison in the early 1990s they were around 100,000.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government continues to pass laws which discriminate against non-Jews, most recently, issuing the Nation-State Law which effectively proclaimed the Israeli state as a Jewish one.
However, the worst impact of Camp David and the Oslo Accords has been the division and despair that they have sown among the Palestinians. Today, the Palestinian people seem to have lost their national compass – the relationship with the occupiers is no longer one of a political struggle for freedom and self-determination.
There is also a growing gap between the people and their political leadership. The Palestinian political elite can no longer speak in the name of struggle, nor in the name of Palestinian statehood. It is now driven solely by self-interest and self-enrichment and it struggles to preserve the status quo in order to ensure its political survival.
And while the Palestinian political elite is busy with its internal squabbles for power, Israel is creating new realities on the ground. With the recent bulldozing of Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian Bedouin village, it has solidified its plan to cut off the West Bank from Jerusalem completely.As hopes of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders fading away, it is time for the Palestinians to accept the reality that there can only be one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. At this moment a new approach is needed: a peaceful struggle that focuses on rights, just like the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.
In Gaza, there have already been attempts to expand the popular, nonviolent struggle on a national level through the Great Return March, but the political divisions within the Palestinian political elite harmed it.
The hostility between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas prevented the Palestinians from extending the march to the West Bank. Ramallah neither granted these peaceful marches a political cover in international forums, nor used its international standing to seek justice for killings of civilians perpetrated by Israeli soldiers. Instead, the Palestinian Authority tightened its sanctions on the Gaza Strip which worsened the humanitarian situation there.
The Great March of Return was an opportunity to establish a new agenda for the national struggle capable of uplifting the Palestinian population and enabling it to resist the consequences of the Oslo Accords. It was these internal political divisions that spoiled this opportunity and transformed into yet another point of political disagreement.
It is time to put behind these differences aside and focus on the struggle ahead. Our only enemy is the racist regime in Israel and we have to struggle against it until we arrive at our “South African moment” and have all people of Palestine within a single state enjoy equality, justice and dignity.