Fed up with Oslo

According to the Palestinian perspective, the Oslo-based peace process has come to an end and a new mechanism must be created.

Palestinian women outside wall 521 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian women outside wall 521
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
From the point of view of the Palestinians, the Oslo Accords are dead. There has been no official announcement by the PLO, which was the organization that signed them, and no Palestinian spokesperson has ever declared so in public.
But every spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority, activists for the ruling party Fatah, and its partners from the smaller political movements, as well as leftist members of the opposition, and of course, the leaders of Hamas and its supporters – all are acting as if the Oslo Accords are no longer relevant. That is why they are demanding that the agreement be replaced with a new one that will have the same international status as the Oslo Accords.
According to this view, in order to reach a new agreement, they will have to embark on a new campaign against Israel – but not a violent confrontation, replete with terror. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announces at every possible opportunity that the Palestinians will not resort to violence. He’s talking about a completely different struggle; first and foremost a political confrontation, accompanied by financial and legal tussles with Israel, and the battle for world opinion.
The consequences of the Gilad Schalit prisoner release deal are among the factors that spurred Abbas and his advisers in Ramallah to intensify their political struggle. The deal significantly strengthened the political power and prestige of Hamas, and as a result the PA in Ramallah came to realize that the leadership of the PLO has to show the Palestinian public that it, too, knows how to handle the Israeli government.
One of the recent expressions of this tough new policy was provided by Dr. Muhammad Ashtiya, a member of Fatah’s central committee, in an interview with the East Jerusalem newspaper, “Al-Quds,” October 23, in which he claimed that “it was Israel who killed the Paris Agreement” (the financial part of the Oslo Accords). And at a recent conference in Ramallah, at the Bisan Center for Research (Bisan is the Arabic name for the Israeli town Beit Shean), participants also strongly attacked the accords. The main speaker at the event was Nabil Shaath, a prominent figure in the Palestinian leadership, who is a member of Fatah’s central committee and a former minister in the Palestinian government.
Shaath, considered a moderate, said the Palestinians should immediately announce a full boycott of all Israeli products sold in the Palestinian territories. This would be a far-reaching move, since until now the PA has only banned items produced in the settlements, stressing that this was not a complete boycott of Israeli goods. He and other speakers at the conference said clearly: The Palestinian Authority must declare an “economic war” within its borders, and support the worldwide boycott of Israel and its products.
All speakers at the conference spoke with contempt of the 1993 Oslo agreement, as well as the financial addenda deriving from the Paris agreement in 1994, which, they claim, enables Israel to profit from the occupation and agreed that there’s no point to modifying the Oslo and Paris agreements. “These agreements have to be replaced since there is no way of developing the Palestinian territories while the occupation is still in force,” said Abd al-Rahim of the Popular Front.
What are the Palestinian complaints against the Oslo and Paris agreements? Why do they think that they are obsolete?
Their first contention is the Oslo Accords were meant only to be a temporary arrangement for five years. After five years, in 1999, they were to be replaced by a permanent agreement. This never happened. And now, 17 years later, it is apparent to the Palestinians that maintaining the accords causes them great harm.
The most important damage is the loss of territory. In Oslo, the sides set up a process whereby, gradually, more and more territory would be transferred to the PA. But that process ground to a halt. Israel, indeed, withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip, but it continued to control over 60 percent of the West Bank (Area C, which includes all the settlements, the Jordan Rift Valley and the Judean Desert). In other words, the temporary arrangement whereby Israel ruled over these areas became a permanent arrangement. From the Palestinian perspective – and apparently also from the point of view of most Israelis, and certainly of the settlers – Area C has in fact became annexed Israeli territory.
A conspicuous phenomenon on the ground is the number of Jewish Israelis who have moved to live on the West Bank. If, at the beginning of the peace process, around the time of the Madrid Conference in 1991, there were 100,000 settlers in Judea and Samaria, now that number has reached upwards of 300,000 (the vast majority living in settlement blocs, mostly adjacent to Jerusalem and along the 1967 border). According to the Palestinians, Jews living in East Jerusalem across the 1967 lines are also considered settlers. And that is how they have reached the dramatic conclusion that more than half a million Jews – almost 10 percent of Israeli Jews – are living on the West Bank.
The building of fences and walls that block free movement between the territories and Israel is another significant development since the signing of the Oslo Accords. When the agreements were signed in 1993-1994, there were about 150,000 workers in Israel from the West Bank and Gaza. There was complete free movement for people, business and services between the territories.
In the wake of waves of brutal Palestinian terror and the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, the reality changed, and there has been a total clampdown on people entering Gaza, except for humanitarian cases, and Gaza has been completely cut off from the West Bank. Fences and walls were built between the West Bank and Israel. Today, there are only 25,000 West Bankers working in Israel. A similar number works in the settlements. This displeases the Palestinian leadership, but it is unable counter the phenomenon since a worker in the settlements earns at least twice the amount that a worker in the Palestinian territories earns.
Another change is that East Jerusalem is, for all intents and purposes, completely separated from the West Bank. The east part of the city, with 300,000 Palestinian residents, had long been the political, commercial, cultural and service center for the wide Palestinian public from Ramallah in the north to the Hebron Hills in the south. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the area used to come to the city to study, work and visit the business centers, the banks, the hospitals, the foreign consulates, and, of course, to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque and in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. All that is over.
From the day the security barrier was erected and Palestinians from outside the city needed Israeli permits to enter, East Jerusalem stopped being the center of Palestinian life. Hundreds of doctors, engineers, lawyers and other professionals left because their clients from the West Bank couldn’t reach them. Palestinians complain that East Jerusalem has become a city of simple laborers working for Jews in the western part of the city.
The Palestinian Ministry of Finance, weighing in on the political campaign against Israel, recently published a study attesting to enormous damage to the Palestinian economy caused by the Oslo Accords. According to the research, the damage in one year alone, 2010, was close to $7 billion. The researchers estimated, for example, how much the Palestinians lost from the blockade on Gaza, which, they claim, destroyed the Strip’s economy. They attempted to gauge the damage caused to Palestinian agriculture because Israel controls water supplies to the West Bank. The calculations also included the losses that result from the fact that Palestinians do not have access to the natural resources in their territory, such as the Dead Sea, a quarter of which is in the West Bank.
The study looked at the damage caused by restrictions on movement. For example, because Palestinians are not allowed to travel from Ramallah to Hebron via Jerusalem, they are forced to travel on winding roads, detouring from Ramallah via the Judean Desert, and then back up to Bethlehem. A trip that could have taken half an hour turns into an hour and a half. The study calculated the cost of the wear and tear on their vehicles, as well as how much time is lost, and noted that the license and insurance rates are pushing up the price of maintaining a vehicle.
I found an Israeli answer to this research. In response to an article of mine on the Calcalist Internet site, a talkbacker claimed that Palestinians have caused a lot more damage to Israelis. Almost all security expenses are directly linked to the threat of Palestinian terrorism. Consequently, the cost of building barriers, the cost of security arrangements in every Israeli institution and commercial center – all originate in Palestinian terror. Therefore, according to this source, the damage caused to Israel by the Palestinians is much greater than the damage Israel causes the Palestinians.
Another aspect of the Palestinian campaign has recently been directed at one person. This time Palestinian spokespeople in all the media have unleashed personal attacks on Quartet envoy, former UK prime minister, Tony Blair. The Palestinians are demanding that he be replaced, because, in their eyes, he has adopted a pro-Israel stance.
The Palestinian Authority appears to be very confident that they will succeed. Abbas appears to believe that the Arab Spring is working in his favor. In his many appearances he has been speaking about how the democratization of Arab states will affirm the will of the people – and, naturally, the Arab masses support the Palestinians and are more hostile to Israel than the ruling elites. He told the Council of Europe on October 6: “You support the Arab Spring, which is demanding freedom and democracy, and it is up to you to also support the Palestinian Spring, which is asking for freedom and an end to the occupation. Don’t leave us alone!” His address won thunderous applause from the European delegates.
From his perspective, the Oslo-based peace process has come to an end. A new mechanism must be created.