The Trouble with Oslo

Challenge staff

THE OSLO process was never a peace process. It was set up, from the start, as a method of continuing Israeli domination. Here is how it worked:

The Palestinian side recognized Israel and agreed to a gradual approach in phases, during which it would desist from the use of force. Recognition and cessation of hostilities were the only cards the PLO had, and it played them right at the start. Recognition broke a taboo, enabling the Arab states to enter into relations with Israel and relieving the effects of the Arab boycott.

What then did the Palestinians get in return? Answer: the population centers, which Israel wanted to get rid of anyway. All the issues of major import were deferred for later discussion. These included (1) the Palestinian demand for an independent state controlling its land and water resources, roads, electricity, communications, commerce, and security. Capital: Jerusalem. (2) The new state would have to have territorial continuity. This would require the withdrawal of Israel's forces from the Occupied Territories and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements there. (3) There would have to be a solution to the problem of the two million Palestinians living in refugee camps for the last half century.

Here then was Oslo's basic structural flaw: The Palestinian side at once gave all it had to give, while the major issues remained undecided. That left one side totally dependent on the good will of the other. This is why, since the signing in September 1993, we have been calling Oslo a betrayal and a fraud.

The rationale for putting off the major issues was that a period was needed for building trust. That is, Arafat would have to show that he could control the opposition and put a stop to terror, so that Israel could be secure and learn to trust the Palestinians. (Israel did not need to gain Palestinian trust, since the Palestinians had nothing left to give.) The Palestinians had no voice concerning what they were to get and when. If Israel failed to deliver, all they could do was to try to take back what they had already given: they could ask the Arab states to wind back the normalization of relations, and they could resort again to the use of force – thus breaking the requisite trust! In this way, Oslo contained in its very structure the seeds of its own destruction.

There were other basic flaws. (1) The US was the arbiter, claiming this role as sole superpower. But it could not be a fair one: Washington wants a peaceful Middle East, meaning normalized relations between its first-world strategic ally, Israel, and the relatively backward Arab states. (2) Oslo neutralized the European powers, which had a much better record than the US in supporting the Palestinian cause. (3) Oslo replaced the UN Resolutions as the legal basis for settling the conflict.

Because of these fatal structural flaws, the anti-peace process called Oslo has led to an abyss. Seven years after the signing, Israel still has both civil and military control over 61.2% of the West Bank and military control over an additional 20%. It also fully controls about 20% of the Gaza Strip. Thanks to this domination (and the lack of Palestinian leverage), Israel has doubled the number of settlers within this "peace" decade, expanding the settlements accordingly. It has built an elaborate system of Jews-only bypass highways, so the settlers can whiz freely by whenever the army shuts the three million Palestinians into their towns (as it is presently doing). The settlers get all the water they want, while the Palestinians go thirsty in summer. The Paris Protocol (a part of Oslo), with its fifty pages of restrictions on Palestinian imports and exports, has forestalled development. The closure has continued: Palestinians in Gaza have become hungrier than ever. Meanwhile, the PA has done its part by jailing Oslo's critics, such as those who signed the Manifesto of the Twenty. (For the figures in this paragraph, see Amira Hass, Ha'aretz Oct. 18.)

After seven years of sour fruit, the mood on the street has itself turned sour – not only on the Palestinian street, but throughout the Arab world, not only against Oslo, but against the entire American-led attempt to subject the region to the dictates of globalization. By the time they reached Camp David, Barak and Arafat had already missed the train. There was nothing left for Arafat but to catch the caboose. Since then he has been behaving like a reformed collaborator trying to clear his name.

The Israeli peace camp knew about the flaws of Oslo from the beginning. It did not raise a single objection.