Dr Mohammad Makram Balawi
Every time the anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Israeli occupation – officially known as the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, on 13 September, 1993 – is mentioned, the historical and political context in which the agreement was signed is ignored. It took place during a time when the world was transitioning into a unipolar order and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Saddam invaded Kuwait, which led to a very deep schism among Arab states, which the PLO saw as a justification for signing the agreement.
The PLO derived a significant portion of its support and strength from Arab countries, the leftist forces and the Soviet Union’s leadership. After its collapse, PLO leaders felt exposed and without a support base. This coincided with the first Palestinian uprising and Yasser Arafat, the leader of the organisation, believed that the PLO could be sidelined and wanted to remain on the political scene at any cost.
Arafat marketed the Oslo Accords among the Palestinian people and in the Arab world as a transitional phase on the path towards the dream of a Palestinian state, to be established on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital. However, Israel, along with Western powers and their allies, saw the agreement as an opportunity to achieve long-term historical gains due to the weakness of the PLO and its lack of support. It was part of the Zionist policy based on buying time to achieve strategic gains and gradually implement plans to avoid a major shock and strong backlash. For decades, Israel has consistently followed this policy since the occupation of the remaining Palestinian Territories in 1967. It did not immediately seize Palestinian lands or implement large-scale ethnic cleansing of the population.
Israel saw the Oslo Accords, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and recognition of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, as a legal cover for all its practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, without granting anything substantial to the Palestinian people. The most significant legacy of the agreement was the cessation of resistance, dividing the Palestinian people, creating internal rifts and shifting the conflict into the Palestinian household.
The Palestinian Authority leaders and architects of the Oslo project embraced this internal conflict. They monopolised Palestinian legitimacy and considered armed resistance, which had popular acceptance, as resistance beyond Palestinian decision-making. They believed that, without it, they could have pursued the establishment of the envisioned state.
Some justifications are made for the PLO’s signing of the agreement by citing international circumstances, difficulties and external pressures. However, these justifications are misplaced and contradict the idea and concept of resistance. Resistance is not a commercial transaction but a sacrifice with no limits to achieve national rights. Arafat and the PLO could have shown more patience, searched for alternatives and made further sacrifices. Instead, they did the opposite when they collided with the international realities, leading to the collapse of the resistance discourse that had existed since the 1960s and its dissipation through the signing of the agreement.
– Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]
After the Second Intifada in 2000, Arafat realised that there would be no final stage and that the Israelis would not grant him anything. He understood that negotiations on final status issues were just a waste of time, in order to facilitate the passage of the Zionist project. In addition, the idea of handing over the West Bank – “Judea and Samaria” in Zionist parlance – to the Palestinian Authority was naive and impossible. Over the years, everyone realised that this kind of thinking was superficial. Israel was willing to sacrifice Tel Aviv without sacrificing the West Bank.
The main objective of the Oslo Accords was to buy time for the expansion of the Zionist project in Palestinian Territories under the cover of Palestinian legitimacy, and that is exactly what happened. The settlement activities did not stop; the number of Israeli illegal settlers in the West Bank multiplied 7 times since 1993; while there were only 110.000 settlers, now they are about 750.000 living in 158 Israeli illegal Jews-only settlements, and about another 15.000-20.000 settlers in 200 settler points. Of course, some of these so-called settlements are actually cities in merely scattered villages.
The goal was to eliminate any possibility of a Palestinian state. The strategy was to gradually annex the West Bank, submerge it in a settlement plan and transform Palestinian areas into isolated and fragmented islands, geographically disconnected and discontinuous. This aimed to eliminate any opportunity for the implementation of the two-state solution, international legal resolutions and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
This goal of the Oslo Accords and the plan behind it was not a secret. The current Israeli Prime Minister has stated this clearly, many times. In a 1978 debate, Benjamin Netanyahu (back then, Benjamen Nathan) clearly stated that there would be no horizon for any Palestinian state in any part of Palestine. Meanwhile, the current Israeli Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, refers to Palestinians in the West Bank as “Arabs of Judea and Samaria” and denies the existence of the Palestinians and the West Bank, in the first place. As for the Zionist project, Palestinians are seen as residents on Israeli land, not citizens or landowners, and there is no such thing as the Palestinian people.
Leaders of the Palestinian Authority today insist on the path of Oslo Accords, although it has no political horizon. This has made many people believe that they are to benefit from this situation and protect their personal interests. They continue to promote the illusion that it is possible to achieve a Palestinian state by accepting Israeli and American conditions.
Unfortunately, the option available to the Palestinian Resistance today is not direct liberation but, rather, obstructing the Zionist settlement project, halting its expansion, preventing the confiscation of Palestinian lands and countering attempts at ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population. They may have a chance, if they succeed in ensuring the engagement of the Palestinian people in all its factions, in the Resistance, while capitalising on current international developments. The convergence of these factors provides the Palestinian people with an opportunity to confront the Zionist project, attain their rights and compel the world to respond to their demands.