Through grim eyes, Palestinians reflect at 29 years of the Oslo accords

Through grim eyes, Palestinians reflect at 29 years of the Oslo accords
On the 29th anniversary of their signature, Palestinians remember the Oslo accords with overwhelming criticism.
5 min read
West Bank
14 September, 2022
The Oslo accords were signed on 13 September 1993 following months of secret negotiations. [Getty]

Palestinians looked back at the signing of the Oslo Accords 29 years ago on Tuesday amidst overwhelming criticism of its legacy.

The Oslo accords were signed on 13 September 1993 in the White House by the then-chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization -PLO, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The signature ceremony followed months of secret negotiations in a winter resort near the Norwegian capital, after which the accords came to be known.

The accords, officially dubbed "The Declaration of Principles", were intended to be a guiding framework for a negotiation process that had just started.

Although never mentioned explicitly in the accords, Palestinians always considered the aim of the negotiation process the creation of a Palestinian state.

Almost three decades on that goal seems more distant as Israeli settlements continue to grow on Palestinian land, and the negotiations have stalled for years.

In a statement released, on Tuesday, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine - DFLP considered that the Oslo accords "have drawn the Palestinian people into a dark tunnel, which negative consequences continue to unfold."

The leftist DFLP, a main component of the PLO which supported Yasser Arafat's efforts to begin negotiations with Israel since the 1970s, unlike most Palestinian factions at the time, described the Oslo accords on Tuesday as "a major sin".

"The Oslo accords were presented as a peace agreement while the occupation continues to sit on Palestinian soil," said the DFLP statement.

"This allowed the Israeli occupation to pursue its colonisation project by spreading settlements all over the West Bank, reaching near a million Israeli settlers,"  the statement continued.

For its part, the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas called to "abolish the Oslo accords and disengage from all its economic and security annexes", in a reference to the subsequent "Paris Economic Protocol" and the "Taba Agreement".

Both Oslo annexes, signed in the late 1990s, established what has been described by critics as a Palestinian economic dependence on Israel, as well as the Palestinian Authority's obligation to coordinate security matters with Israeli forces.

Hamas, which was founded in 1987, only six years before the signing of the Oslo accords, grew in popularity in the following decade, partly due to its stiff opposition to the accords. An Israeli opposition manifested at the time through bomb attacks inside Israel, killing dozens of Israelis.

"We renew our rejection of any agreements, independently from their origin, that do not recognise our people's legitimate rights, mainly it's right to resist in self-defence and to liberate its land from which it has been driven out," Hamas' statement added.

Reflecting on the Oslo accords 'security coordination' obligations, the former leading member of Fatah, Muin Taher, pointed out in a press statement on Tuesday that "Israel's demands of security coordination have no limits, it wants something similar to the South Lebanon Army."

"The Palestinian Authority cannot go too far in security coordination as Israel wishes, or it will lose all support by Palestinians," he remarked. "If the Palestinian Authority fails to play the role that Israel wants, Israel will isolate the PA's pockets and appoint its people to run each one of them."

Taher is a renowned figure, mainly for his military leadership during the PLO's years in Lebanon. Although a critic of the Oslo accords, Taher is a lifelong member of Fatah, the party of Yasser Arafat and current Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who led the negotiations team at Oslo and currently runs the Palestinian Authority.

In a popular cafe in Ramallah, The New Arab enquired a group of young Palestinians about their reflections on the Oslo accords.

"I think the Oslo accords are a failure because they were supposed to get us, the Palestinian people freedom, and they didn't," Nader Hanna, an NGO worker, told The New Arab.

"Instead, the accords created another Arab authoritarian police-state that doesn't respect human rights, in addition to the Israeli occupation," he added.

"I think that the two-state solution could have worked, and personally I could have accepted it, so my problem with Oslo was not the political principle behind it, but rather the way it was negotiated," a young Palestinian lawyer who asked not to be named, told The New Arab.

"The biggest mistake was not to include a clear clause on the illegality of settlements and to accept Israel's control on borders and internal movement," she said. "I believe that the Oslo era was over long ago since there have been no direct negotiations since the first war on Gaza in 2008, we need to move on."

"I, on the contrary, am opposed to the very principle of the Oslo accords because no leader has any right to give up 78% of historical Palestine in the name of all of us," Hala Yaacoub, a recent graduate from Birzeit University, told The New Arab.

"Peace talks are supposed to be between equal parties, and it was not the case at Oslo because we are a colonised people negotiating with a much more powerful coloniser, it was unfair from the start," she stressed.

In September 2021, Israeli Prime Minister Neftali Benett declared that he will not resume peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, and rather will focus on economic and security collaboration through lower levels.

In January, Benett's successor, Yair Lapid, said that he will not resume negotiations with the Palestinian leadership either.

In July, US president Joe Biden said, following meetings with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, that the two-state solution was "not likely in the near term".