The Oslo Accords: A critique

The Oslo Accords have failed by every measure, simply because they ignored the existence of Palestinians as a people.

The Oslo Accords have led to an apartheid-type state in Gaza and the West Bank, writes Eid [AFP]

In order to understand the Oslo Accords and the extreme damage they have wreaked upon the Palestinian cause, one needs a historical contextualisation of the so-called “peace process”.

The Oslo Accords were claimed to be the first step towards self-determination and an independent state. But it is clear now, 20 years after the famous handshake on the White House lawn, that no state in the short run will be established – because of the mere fact that Oslo ignored the existence of the Palestinian people as a people. In other words, these accords have offered Zionism what it has always been striving for. Golda Meir’s infamous statement that “there are no Palestinians” is a case in point here.

And yet, to claim that “Oslo” was a great opportunity and a “break-through”, and that the so-called “peace process” was on track until the Palestinians blew it, is a deliberate ideological distortion of reality, claimed in order to prepare Palestinians for yet more concessions.

Real comprehensive peace was not created in Oslo; rather, what was created was a US-Israeli plan to resolve the “conflict” after the destruction of Iraq and the collapse of the Soviet Union and their attempt to construct a “new Middle East” – to use Condoleezza Rice’s words – a Middle East characterised by US-Israeli hegemony and supported by despotic Arab regimes.

Israeli raid kills Palestinians in West Bank

The Oslo Accords were born dead because they did not guarantee the minimum national and political rights of the three components of the Palestinian people living in the diaspora, Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza.

As long as there are refugees,  detainees, blockades, settlements, “legal torture” of prisoners, dispossession, assassinations and occupation, comprehensive peace cannot be achieved. It is an illusion in the minds of those who signed the Oslo Accords.

Further subjugation of Palestinians

These accords have led to the creation of a limited “administrative autonomy” in the Gaza Strip and some parts of the West Bank. The local population was given “the right” to form an authority that they could call “national”. It has now become obvious that, despite the famous handshakes on the White House lawn and the optimistic talk of the “New Middle East”, these accords have not guaranteed the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state, the return of the refugees, the demolishment of the growing Jewish colonies, compensation for Palestinians who have lost homes or property, the release of all political prisoners, or the opening of all checkpoints.

Nor did all the handshakes, kisses and friendly press conferences stop Israel from launching one of the bloodiest assaults in its history. In the Gaza War of 2009, Israeli forces killed more than 1,400 people, including 438 children, 120 women, 95 elderly people, 16 medics, five journalists, five foreign women, and destroyed more than 40,000 institutions and houses, leaving many families homeless. And to add insult to injury, Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2012 led to the killing of more than 150 civilians and injuring thousands more. That, of course, was not mentioned as an objective of the Oslo Accords, but nothing, either, was mentioned that would prevent such bloodletting from taking place.

This is the political reality that Palestinian officials who signed the agreement do not want to to be reminded of. In fact, what has been created in parts of Gaza and the West Bank is a very strange entity – an apartheid-type Bantustan endorsed by the international community.

I would argue that Gaza (2009, 2012) is the mirror image of Oslo. One ought to remember within this context that 75-80 percent of Gazans are refugees whose right of return is guaranteed under international law, a right that has been totally ignored by Oslo. In fact, what the accords have created in Gaza, and the West Bank for that matter, is two different worlds, both of which have been led by undemocratic institutions, many security apparatuses, military courts, corruption, mismanagement, inefficiency and nepotism – to mention but a few (neo)colonial qualities.

Israel as an apartheid state

By winning the 1948, 1956 and 1967 wars, and by getting international, Arab and Palestinian recognition, Israel – as an apartheid settler-colonial state – has hoped to move onto a new stage; a stage that requires the formation of a “new consciousness” among colonised Palestinians. Herein lies the danger of Oslo – the creation of a new paradigm through which the consciousness of the supposed enemy – the “Other” – is washed out and replaced with a one-dimensional mentality, through the construction of a fiction – two states for two peoples – the goal of which is unattainable.

Put differently, to aim at creating the two-state Palestinian is to aim to create a false consciousness led by assimilated intelligentsia, some of whom have a revolutionary past record. Singing the slogans of “the two-state solution”, “two states for two peoples”, “return to the 1967 borders”, or even “a long-term truce” as proposed by Hamas – is intended to guarantee the subordination and conformity of the Palestinians. Gone is the right of return of six million refugees and their compensation, and the rights of the indigenous population of 1948 Palestine, now second-class citizens of Israel.

This goal, however, never sees the antithesis it creates as a result of displacement, exploitation, and oppression. It ignores the revolutionary consciousness that has been formulated throughout the different phases of the Palestinian struggle.

Repeating the racist two-state mantra, carrying the Palestinian flag, singing the national anthem and recognising Israel, regardless of the rights of two-thirds of the Palestinian people, are what Oslo is all about and nothing else.

Nor does it take into account the legacy of civil and political resistance that has become a trademark of the Palestinian struggle. Hence, the necessity of the formulation of alternative Palestinian politics. To be conscious of the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, and of the huge class gap that the Oslo Accords have created, has definitely been the beginning of de-Osloisation represented in the issuance of the 2005 call for boycott, divestments and sanctions – a call that has been endorsed by almost all Palestinian civil society, and the rise of calls for a secular, democratic state in historic Palestine, a single state for all of its citizens regardless of religious or ethnic background.

The Gaza Strip, however, is seen by the PA as one of three building blocks of an independent state, although it is geographically separated from the second, the West Bank. The third block, Jerusalem, is under total Israeli control. None of the Palestinians in the occupied territories believe that the “semi-autonomous” zones in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – that is, those that fall under Category A – can lay the foundation for an independent state. What Oslo has led to is, in fact, a new South African-style apartheid.

The tribal chiefs of the South African Bantustans used to believe that they were the heads of independent states. Luckily, the African National Congress, despite its many compromises with the National Party, had never accepted the idea of separation and Bantustans. The official Palestinian leadership on the other hand, at the end of the millennium, boasted of having laid the foundation for a Bantustan, claiming it to be an independent state in the making. For Zionism’s continued presence in Palestine, the “Other” must be assimilated and enslaved without becoming conscious of the enslavement. Hence the granting of “semi-autonomous” rule over the most crowded Palestinian cities, and hence the logic driving the Oslo Accords.

Repeating the racist two-state mantra, carrying the Palestinian flag, singing the national anthem and recognising Israel, regardless of the rights of two-thirds of the Palestinian people, are what Oslo is all about – and nothing else.

Haidar Eid is a policy adviser at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.