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Oslo twenty years later

As a young Palestinian, I can’t help but reflect on the ‘solutions’ that have passed in my lifetime. 

This year marks twenty years since the Oslo accords. Yet the world has almost seemed to reshape itself this year. Wars and political differences have spun most of the Middle East into what we know and see today: countries and their dignitaries abroad scrambling to find any sort of solution that may ‘stop the bleeding’ from the bullet hole made in the flesh of the Arab people. As a young Palestinian, I can’t help but reflect on the ‘solutions’ that have passed in my lifetime.

I was a young boy when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), signed the Accords, but old enough to remember the celebrations (despite the Israeli occupation) staged in the streets of the Gaza Strip. We were welcoming and trusting as Palestinians, eager to end the occupation. How beautiful to have our own state! Mothers free to let their children play without fear, without the worry that their husbands might not return home that night.

As I watch the international media call for a speedy response to the use of chemical weapons, I cannot help but think that this western world has forgotten about the malaise and Nakba (catastrophe) of the Palestinians caused by Israel. This world has brought us to the cold chopping block that we lie on today. Our Arab brothers, more beholden to the power hungry giants of the world, abandoned us…sold us like property to the highest bidder. The Palestinians were left isolated and alone.

Going back to the late 1980’s and the 1990’s, the Palestinian leadership had little room for manoeuvre to deploy in their political struggle. The Palestinians were left paralyzed after refusing many offers. I can say that personally speaking, I too would’ve refused: having lost all of Palestine, how would you feel if someone came to you to bargain with you for the land they have stolen? You would at least wonder if the word ‘negotiations’ had taken on a new meaning. Or would you perhaps ask yourself if this was just the false front Israel wanted the world to see…this pretence that our neighbours wanted a peaceful passage?

Whatever, we thought, after being abandoned by our brothers, we were tortured, murdered and transferred from Kuwait and other Gulf countries. We were in Tunisia, conditionally, but we were explicitly forbidden to mount any military activities against Israel. We had no exit…except one, Oslo: as Edward Said said, “We had no alternative because we either lost or threw away a lot of others, leaving us only this one”.

And today we find ourselves amidst the turmoil and chaos of the Middle East, more thwarted and further removed from any peace agreement than ever. We have exhausted all the options within the negotiations for peace, and surely this is a waste of time - a ‘Trojan horse’ with which Israel seizes ever more land from the Palestinians, especially around Jerusalem, as they kick us into the streets without any mercy for children, old people or women.  

Twenty years after its signature, the Oslo peace agreement clearly has nothing to do with peace. It has become simply the blueprint for the dehumanization of the children of Palestine. Deep divisions through walls and carefully nurtured racism, have only separated the Arab Palestinians from their Jewish neighbours. The agreement has regulated and legitimized the economic and political abuse that is the ongoing deepening of the occupation of Palestine.

Best known to the world media was Operation Pillar…white phosphorus rained down as civilians ran for cover in the streets. Atrocities committed by the Israelis include Gaza 2008-09, November 2012, and the continuous killing of the Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as the colonization of my people. The road blocks, water and food shortages, ban on medical and building supplies. The wrongful and unlawful siege imposed over the Gaza Strip!

Now, as a Palestinian who lives in the Diaspora, I see things differently. I examine Oslo from the eyes of others, picking over the words and promises…but focusing on the excessive failures of the Palestinian leadership. The Oslo accord was engineered in a decisive historical time in the Middle East. With the first Gulf war under way and a troubled Palestinian leadership, it was clearly the intentions of the Israelis to shut down the first Intifada. The lies and traps became very apparent. We quickly realized to our own despair and great detriment that what had been built on a false intention was in fact false. As a young Palestinian writer and thinker in this time, I am convinced that the Oslo agreement was the second victory of the occupation. As the Palestinian leadership fell into the trap of Oslo, their position deteriorated day by day, leaving future generations of the Palestinians with no road map to their future or any true relationship with Israel. We have been failed by the ones we trusted so greatly. Many Palestinians have told me that they feel that Oslo was a foundation good enough to start a new phase of political struggle. I once thought the same. However it is clearer now, what we have lost by signing Oslo, and what the first Intifada could have given us.  We stopped short of claiming the prize.

What makes matters worse is the great failure of the Palestinian leadership to reform the PLO and PA institutions. They failed to attract skilled Palestinians, not because they cannot, but because they prefer to be corrupt (it is worth mentioning that the EU and its institutions are funding the corruption of the PA and the occupation, simultaneously).

Currently, the security agencies of the Palestinian Authority as well as Hamas’s security militias in the Gaza Strip are agents protecting Israel’s interests in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian leadership (since 1993) is a political prisoner of the Oslo process. The president is controlled by a small office run by a young Israeli officer who decides who can accompany Abbas. In 2008, while traveling through Jordan to Europe, I personally witnessed the PA’s presidential official, Tayeb Abdelrahim arriving at the same time. He took a taxi to cross to Jordan under the order of a 21 year old Israeli soldier. Is it really any shock that Israeli occupation forces invade any Palestinian city at any time without informing Palestinian security? Two weeks ago, Israeli forces invaded a refugee camp in the West Bank, killing three Palestinians. These are refugees, their real homes are in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Safad or Haifa…what is the real purpose of such an invasion? To break their will?

Add to that the huge bureaucratic apparatus that the Oslo Agreement installed to hinder any democratic aspirations. Despite this, twenty years afterwards, the Palestinians are more patriotic…and cling all the more to their land, past and history. It’s all we have left. The only solution is to rethink the dead Oslo Accords and try again - with a process that eliminates the current apartheid regime and paves the way to coexistence and real peace and not a ‘process of peace.’

In 1990, as Edward Said once argued, the Palestinians were divided into four groups. The first was the biggest, which is the silenced and hopeless: mainly the Palestinians in the diaspora. The second were loyal to Arafat and his military apparatus. The third was the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank: suspicious of what the Oslo agreement would bring but at that time, not decided. The last was the marginalized group of intellectuals, educated personalities and some Islamic factions who were opposed to the Oslo Accords.  

Since then, we have narrowed ourselves into two groups. Those who defend Oslo and its products, its corrupt institutions, nepotism, patrimonialism and abuse of power. This group is the PA leadership, their families, faithful and those who benefit from the status quo. The second group represents the majority of the Palestinians: those opposing Oslo and all its products, including the ‘so called’ historic leadership of the Palestinians. Of course, they agree that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, but they oppose those who are in power who claim to represent them and who seem to have little or no desire to meet their demands.

The Oslo accord has failed to address many important issues... what about the Palestinians who live in Israel? They now constitute more than 23% of Israel’s populations. Oslo ignored them and left them as second-class citizens. Laws against dating between the Palestinian and Jewish people led to kidnap and murder. They have no more rights than they did before... Irrefutably we still struggle jointly with the rest of the Palestinian people against occupation and denial of Palestinian rights to life. To exist. Two months ago, all the Palestinians in historic Palestine, especially our younger generation, stood firmly and actively against the Prawer Plan to annex the Naqv desert. It was a landmark protest and strong message to Israel and the PLO alike that what Oslo has ignored, twenty years later will not be ignored by us.

At this time, the Palestinian people still count on the American administration as a third party. Despite all that the west has done and not done, many Palestinian leaders still believe that American money is more important than the needs of the people. It is shameful, but true. 

I don’t know what our grandfather’s generation, or our father’s generation had in mind…but we, the current generation, have more options than any that came before. We have a one-state solution as a viable alternative, with nonviolent resistance or a third intifada as the means. We will not accept anything more than equality: Palestinians and Jewish people seen as human beings with rights. We will accept nothing less.

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; because none but ourselves can free our minds”  Redemption song / Bob Marley

About the author

Abdalhadi Alijla is a Palestinian-Swedish academic and researcher. He is  the executive director of the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies Canada (IMESC). He serves as the regional manager for Gulf countries at Varieties of Democracy Institute, Gothenburg University, Sweden. He has a PhD in Political Studies from Milano University, and MA in Public Policy from Zeppelin University.


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