Twenty years have passed since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) concluded the Oslo Accords, or the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, signed on the White House lawn in Washington, DC, on September 13, 1993. One reaction at the time was that this was a political breakthrough of immense importance. Israel officially accepted the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and the PLO recognised the right of Israel to exist.
Critical views of the accords soon were voiced. Some focused on how self-government to be established under the leadership of Yasser Arafat would create a Palestinian-administered Israeli occupation with the Palestinian pseudo-state dependent on substantial economic funding from the international community.
Observers focus on two scenarios: a unified democratic state with Jews and Arabs where the Arabs would soon be the majority, or a Jewish state with a growing minority of Palestinians living in a state of apartheid, with unrest and resistance.
At the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, a group of “guardians” of the peace process appeared on the scene: the so-called Quartet, composed of the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the European Union. The Quartet launched the “roadmap for peace” in 2002, calling for an independent Palestinian state living in peace side by side with Israel.
Through the years, a number of stumbling blocks to the peace process have been discussed, such as the steady expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the building of the extensive “separation wall”. A glimmer of hope was experienced when Israel disengaged from all settlements in Gaza in September 2005. Israel stated that the occupation of Gaza had come to an end, even though Gaza is left as the world’s largest open-air prison, upon which the siege was enforced after the Palestinian elections in 2006 saw Hamas returned to power.
President Barack Obama has on several occasions referenced the consequences of the illegal settlements on a viable peace in the region. But both in his second term in office, and during his April 2013 visit to Israel, Obama left them unmentioned. Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide has recently pointed to the separation wall as an obstacle to Palestinian economic development.
Statements that the two-state solution is dead are growing in number. Observers focus on two scenarios: a unified democratic state with Jews and Arabs where the Arabs would soon be the majority, or a Jewish state with a growing minority of Palestinians living in a state of apartheid, with unrest and resistance.
Our point of departure is the internationally agreed-upon position that Israel is responsible for an illegal occupation of Palestine; the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Israel officially states that it has not been occupying but rather administering a territory since 1967 that was not controlled by any other state. This position was clearly denounced by the International Court of Justice in its 2004 advisory statement on the “separation wall” surrounding the West Bank.
Oslo, the capital of peace
The conflict was born in 1947 when the United Nations General Assembly recommended dividing British Mandate Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. In September 1993, a peaceful solution seemed to be achievable. Through secret negotiations in Norway, representatives linked to the Israeli government and the leadership of the PLO reached an agreement that resulted in the Oslo Accords, an agreement on continued dialogue with some timeframes, no agreed end-state and no international mechanisms to oversee a fulfillment.
For Norway, brokering the deal between Israel and the Palestinian leadership became a label of honour. Oslo enforced its image as the capital of peace. For Norwegian politicians, the role of peacebroker and facilitator emerged as a more important export article than energy and fish. Norway was also seen as an important interlocutor when issues beyond conflicts around the globe were on the agenda.
Since 1993, however, some have seen the glory fade as the voices declaring Oslo dead grow in strength. To engage as a peacebroker is a risky business, and one has to be prepared for blame and criticism, and somehow be held accountable for the results.
Twenty years later
An assessment of the accords can be made, based on the historical and political context in which the accords were born, focusing on framing conditions and limitations that could have serious repercussions for the possibility of the accords succeeding. It can also be made by focusing on the actual results that have come out of the accords for the people concerned. Lack of security comes high on the list, for both.
The international community should not request the two unequal partners to reach a solution to a problem created through the UN in 1947.
Among Palestinians, the belief was that national independence and a sovereign state would be the outcome.
Within Israeli political circles, no unified vision was present, apart from managing the occupation in the best possible way. Historical evidence indicates that the Israeli leadership has never been ready to grant the Palestinians a sovereign state. Continued negotiations between two parties so uneven in military, economic and political strength, can in our view never succeed. The international community, with the US and the EU at the head, must take responsibility for the progress and implementation of the accords, paying due respect to the Palestinians’ just demands for a sovereign state within the 1967 borders.
The mutual acceptance between Israel and the PLO in 1993 was unequal. Without a mutual acceptance of each other’s right to live as free people in two sovereign and equal states, no two state-solution is possible. Israeli security concerns should never be more prominent than Palestinian security concerns. The international community should not request the two unequal partners to reach a solution to a problem created through the UN in 1947. Just to dust off the Oslo Accords will not do.
There is still hope for a better future among the Palestinians and the Israelis, even if disillusion is spreading. A mutual acceptance of each other’s right to exist and prosper without labelling is needed. When the parliament in Iceland in 2011 endorsed the recognition of Palestine as a sovereign and independent state within the 1967 borders, it sent a signal to the international community to act, denouncing the occupation and approving the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. The Oslo Accords so far have not achieved that. Forty-six years of occupation should be far too long for the international community and for human security and dignity.
Petter Brauck has a masters degree in Violence, Conflict and Development from SOAS, London. He has published books on Afghanistan and Eritrea and was a resident of Palestine between 2000 and 2003, working as a conflict adviser for the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.