Skip to main content

Oslo Accords 'produced today's apartheid', Palestinians say

Oslo Accords 'produced today's apartheid', Palestinians say 30 years on from deal
5 min read
West Bank
13 September, 2023
Thirty years on from the signing of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians share their thoughts on the agreement's implications on today's political reality.
The Oslo Accords were signed at the White House in 1993 [Getty-archive]

Thirty years ago today, the world witnessed the historical signature of the 'Declaration of Principles' agreement between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the lawn of the White House.

The agreement was better known as the Oslo Accords, after the Norwegian capital where the secret negotiations process concluded. The accords were supposed to be the first step towards a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on a two-state vision, with the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

For Palestinians today, however, the Oslo Accords evoke thoughts and feelings that differ greatly from the atmosphere of optimism meant to have been created at the signature ceremony in Washington three decades ago.

"Deception, what else could I think of?" Um Karam, a 60-year-old resident of the Jenin refugee camp, told The New Arab when asked about the legacy of the Oslo Accords.

"I was born after the 1948 Nakba, and I have been a refugee all my life, without a nationality and without a state to refer to", Um Karam explained.

"When the Oslo Accords happened, we thought that finally there will be a Palestinian state, that we will go back to our homes from which our parents were expelled, and that Palestinians in the diaspora will be able to come back too," said Um Karam.

"Here we are, thirty years on, not only still refugees and occupied, but also targeted by repeated attacks by the same occupier who drove us out from our homes during the Nakba, with a Palestinian Authority who can’t even protect itself, let alone protect us."

Um Karam’s house was raided by Israeli forces during a raid on Jenin in early July, and partially destroyed. She and her family were forced to leave the house during the two-day-long Israeli offensive, which killed ten Palestinians and destroyed most of the refugee camp's infrastructure.

"I personally suffered enough deceptions in my life for trusting promises of peace, and I’m not willing to give young people in the camp false hopes," she said.

"They are well aware of this without me telling them, and this is why so many of them are today taking up arms and engaging in resistance, because it’s the only thing that we can trust today."

The Oslo Accords left the right of return of Palestinian refugees, like residents of the Jenin camp, to be negotiated at the 'Final Status' phase, which was never concluded [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

At the Oslo Accords, it was agreed that the question of Palestinian refugees' right to return, as well as that of Jerusalem, the borders of the future Palestinian state, water resources, and illegal Israel settlements, were to be negotiated in a later phase, known as the 'final status negotiations'.

The final status was to be negotiated at the Camp David talks in 2000. They were never concluded, as Palestinian leader Arafat refused any deal without Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

"Who in the world could name any positive outcome of the Oslo Accords? They were a total regression on all levels," Shawan Jabarin, director of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq told TNA.

"As far as human rights are concerned, the Oslo Accords turned them to political issues, by planning to negotiate over the principle of these rights, rather than on the implementation of them," he explained.

"Take the refugees’ right to return, which is a universal basic human right, it was never mentioned as a right in the accords and was left to be discussed in the final status."

"Some might say that thousands of Palestinians returned to their country as a result of the Oslo Accords, but the political price was unjustified," Jabarin said.

"In 1991, Palestinian human rights groups won an Israel court ruling allowing residency and family reunion in the country for any Palestinian who had entered the country since 1987, which meant thousands of Palestinians," he said.

'The Oslo Accords reduced the number by allowing Israel to decide," he stressed.

"Today, the Oslo Accords are completely buried by the fact that the number of settlers has quadrupled, leaving no place for any future Palestinian state, and the human rights condition is today much worse than it was thirty years ago."

For other Palestinians, the Oslo Accords were never even meant to bring about a Palestinian state in the first place.

"The situation that we live today, where Gaza is besieged and the West Bank turned into a series of isolated Palestinian ghettoes surrounded by Israel settlements, is the direct product of the Oslo Accords," Jamal Jumaa, coordinator of the Palestinian grassroots ‘Stop The Wall’ campaign told TNA.

"In 1994, immediately after signing the accords, Israel began to build Israel-only roads in the West Bank to link settlements together, which is an obvious sign that it never thought to ever leave the West Bank," said Jumaa.

"The Oslo Accords fragmented the West Bank into Areas A, B and C, and the limits of these areas became the limits on which Israel began to build the separation wall in 2002”, explained Jumaa.

"The wall itself served as the basis for the apartheid system that Israel runs today, where Palestinians are trapped in ghetto-like urban areas, forbidden from building outside of these areas, while Israel settlements continue to expand."

In 2020, the Israel government declared its intention to annex Area C, which makes up as much as 61% of the land area of the West Bank. Observers have described Area C as 'already de-facto annexed'.

In 2022, international human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch concluded, in separate reports, that Israel was effectively running an apartheid system over all of historical Palestine.