How the Oslo Accords Have Been Born on Life Support

London- Sarah Tamimi

As this piece is being written, the reported number of Palestinians killed by Israeli raids has exceeded the 8000 margin and is continuously rising. The Israeli raids on Gaza resumed on the 7th of October after Hamas’s military brigades launched an attack on Israeli territory, taking several Israeli civilians and hostages and killing Israeli Army soldiers in conflict. 

The choice of word “resumed” in the previous paragraph is intentional; it highlights what many international, and particularly Western media outlets have overlooked. It correctly underscores the ongoing nature of the war and does indicate that this particular attack on Gaza may have been retaliatory but has most definitely not started post-October 7th; instead has been ongoing for over seven decades.

However, the surgical removal of the attack from its broader Palestinian context has oddly opened up the floor for Western media outlets to interrogate rather than interview their pro-Palestine guests. This interrogation often begins with the catchphrase of this year’s war on Gaza (a trap phrase): Do you condemn Hamas’s actions on the 7th of October?

The interviews are usually stirred by the anchor to the direction suggesting that “terror” brings nothing but “justifiable” destruction to the Palestinians. However, the usage of it by Western anchors appears to forget, or gloss over the fact that Israel’s diplomacy has been put to the test by Palestinians 30 years ago through Oslo and has failed miserably. 

the surgical removal of the 7th of October attack from its broader Palestinian context has oddly opened up the floor for Western media outlets to interrogate rather than interview their pro-Palestine guests

Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot has responded to Western Journalists’ interrogations by highlighting the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to negotiations and nonviolence for the past 30 years, including the recognition of Israel. He also pointed out the core issue that is overlooked in the insistence of the international community for condemnations by highlighting the consistent Israeli obstruction of political and legal avenues in the face of Palestinians for the past few decades.

What the international community seems to miss or intentionally sweep under the rug is that as the Palestinian Liberation Movement (PLO) embraced the track of diplomacy and negotiations, Israel has insisted on pursuing its oppressive agenda through Oslo, which, in reality, came to be little more than a mere mirage of peace.

While the international community initially praised the Oslo Accords as a “Framework of Peace” upon their signing in 1993, some legal experts have criticized and warned against them, referring to the Accords as a “declaration of dependence.” 

Thirty years after Oslo, it is evident that Palestinian thinker/scholar Edward Said has been right in describing the Accords as “more flawed and for most Palestinian people more unfavorably weighted than many had first supposed”. Today’s events are largely the consequence of an empty agreement that has done nothing more than recognize the PLO as a Palestinian Authority with no real power.

Oslo in a Nutshell 

The Oslo Accords contemplated a five-year process of confidence-building measures followed by further negotiations on outstanding issues, which happened to be the most critical to Palestinians: the Right to Return, the illegal settlements, and Jerusalem.

According to Jewish historian and academic at Oxford University Avi Shlaim, the timeline of that process would have ideally included the holding of elections in the West Bank and Gaza within 9 months to determine the government in charge of handling the affairs of the country excluding foreign affairs and defense. 

Within two years, the Palestinians and Israelis would have been in the process of determining the final status of territories before a permanent settlement would come into force by the end of the five-year period.

the audience generally hailing the Accords has given “little attention to the inequitable terms under which the Palestinian community has been forced to live”.

According to Shlaim, “Despite all its limitations and ambiguities, the Declaration of Principles for Palestinian self-government ( Oslo Accords) in Gaza and the West Bank marked a major breakthrough in the century-old conflict” between the two parties. However, others like Palestinian lawyer and human rights activist, Raja Shehadeh, have seen that the audience generally hailing the Accords has given “little attention to the inequitable terms under which the Palestinian community has been forced to live”.

The Right to Return vs the Land of No Return: 

The right to return for the Palestinians who were forcibly transferred in 1948 has been core to the general community, ever since the formation of the state of Israel on the corps of their rights at the time. According to the zionist argument, there is no right to reparation generally in law, since Palestinians are not nationals of 1948 Israel, therefore, the argument goes, they have no right to return to a place “they do not belong to”.

 International law, however, has been clear on the irrelevance of such claims through the Articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which not only asserts reparation but also guarantees the right of people to “enter their own countries”. 

While Israeli scholars claim that Palestinians are not nationals of 1948’s lands, the ICCPR has never exclusively used the word “nationals”.This though has not been established in the Oslo Accords, rather has been pushed to future negotiations that have never happened. 

In 2023, The Right of Return is still denied by Israel even with the presence of several international decisions, including the UN General Assembly resolution 194, which was adopted after the 148 massacres in 1948 and ensured the preeminence of refugees to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors.

In 2023, The Right of Return is still denied by Israel even with the presence of several international decisions

 In 2018, Israel went even further in establishing the no-return when its Knesset passed the Jewish Nation-State Law which claims that self-determination is exclusive to the Jewish people. 

This, therefore, has completely disregarded and defied the 1960 right of Palestinians to self-determine enshrined in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514. It is also known as the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. 

In the past two years, Israel has even moved forward to vote for legislation that strips citizens of  Palestinian origin of their Israeli nationalities if they are convicted of the vaguely defined expression, “terror offenses”. All the laws and legislations discussed above are only a fraction of Israeli steps to strip more than five million Palestinians of their Right of Return.

Settlements Are Here to Settle 

Illegal settlements have also been disregarded under the Oslo agreement since there was no explicit mention of their final status. Instead, the Oslo Accords brushed the settlement’s fate under the rug by stating that their status shall be discussed in final negotiations, which again have never taken place. 

Even though some may believe that the downfall of Oslo began in the meetings and negotiations taking place after the signing of the Declaration of Principles, a closer reading of the original Accords along with its minutes proves otherwise as will be portrayed in the article. 

The mainstream line of thought believed that the Accords’ secret negotiations taking place without the knowledge of the Israeli Army had led the latter to take a tough stance in their role in the negotiations in Taba in 1995. 

The main debate in Taba revolved around the transfer of power to the Palestinian Authority. While the PLO hurried to end the occupation and maintain the transfer of control, the Israeli Army wanted a gradual and limited transfer of power. The latter’s stance was not new, rather it has been underlined in the Oslo Accords’ original stipulation on Settlements. 

The agreement signed by the Israelis and Palestinians in Cairo in 1994 has signaled the Israeli Army’s win in achieving the limited transfer. 

As both parties moved to phase two of the Oslo Accords later that year, to discuss the other remaining issues such as settlements and refugees, the collapse of the agreement began with the refusal of negotiations by the Israeli public and the Likud party’s rise to power. 

The Declaration of Principles has been perceived as officially dead after it was originally placed on life support ever since its birth with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the rise of Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The complication in further negotiations may have been seen by many political observers as the reason behind the Accord’s demise. The legal understanding of the Declaration of Principles proves otherwise. 

For instance, Israel has cunningly established, in Article IV of the Accords, that the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority will constitute the West Bank and Gaza, which does in theory include settlements. However, the Accords have excluded in a separate article what they called “issues which will be discussed in permanent negotiations”. Settlements were among those issues.

The following exclusion meant that the Palestinians would not exercise jurisdiction over the lands whose sovereignty, according to Article 42 of the Hague Regulations, lies in their hands through their elected representatives. With this disregard, the agreement has further eroded the unity of the Palestinian territories and pursued the segregation it had been establishing prior to Oslo on settlements.

Since Oslo, the number of Israeli settlers (whose presence is illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention in international law) has more than quadrupled with settlements reaching 300 in the West Bank

Even though Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided to freeze the settlement building post Oslo Accords, his assassination and the rise of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, changed Israeli policy drastically. Yet, this shift has not been due to the change in government but to the weakness of an agreement that has been celebrated by the world as an achievement.

Oslo has not only separated the settlements administration from its territorial location within the West Bank but it has also maintained that they and their people will remain under Israeli control.

For instance, while Article VII(V) establishes that the Israeli civil administration will be dissolved and the military government will be withdrawn, the agreed minutes on the other hand, go on to indicate that the withdrawal will not prevent Israel from exercising its powers on areas not transferred to the council established by the PLO.

The Western media disregards a significant historical context through which Israeli diplomacy has been put to the test and failed audaciously. 

Raja Shehadeh, warned that such exemption will not allow the Palestinian council to introduce “legislation that can alter the rights acquired by the Israeli settlers” or the land-use schemes that have been in force by Israel.

A government’s government 

In its main text and minutes, the Oslo Accords have moulded the Palestinian representation into what we see today. It has created an authority living on the life support of the funding of the West and the UN agencies. Nothing more than a semi-independent cultural and internal decision-maker and aggregator of Israeli agendas on the security level. 

Such dependence is evident with the constant Israeli usage of taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and passes back to it on a monthly basis as a bargaining chip. Yet on multiple occasions, the occupation authority has refused to hand over the money. In 2021 for instance, it has deducted 16 million dollars on a monthly basis based on allegations that the cash is being spent on the families of Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli prisons. 

Gaza suffers from a more dire dependence on international donations that accounts for the support of 63 percent of its people. The reason behind Gaza’s dire situation links back to the Israeli system of blockade, which creates catastrophic repercussions in every Israeli war on the besieged and densely-populated city. 

As Western media hurries and scurries to pull condemnations from every pro-Palestine guest, instilling a subconscious false image of the barbarity of the Palestinian people in the mind of the viewer, it disregards a significant historical context through which Israeli diplomacy has been put to the test and failed audaciously. 

The insistent interest shown by the Palestinian liberation movement to find a solution to the situation as opposed to the disingenuous and bad-faith negotiations of the Israeli counterpart may have indeed had its effect on the ability to trust the latter on any future roundtable. 

With that being said, the question Western media outlets need to pose to the pro-Israeli side should be: Why did you not respect Oslo when you had the chance to spare all these lives on either side?

Sarah Tamimi is a journalist by trade and a researcher in international law by practice. Tamimi has an MA in international law from SOAS University of London.

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