Oslo's failure 30 years on is reason to celebrate

Oslo's failure 30 years on is reason to celebrate
On the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, Lamis Andoni argues that their abject failure to achieve peace was by design, and should be celebrated today as the Palestinian struggle enters a new phase.
7 min read
13 Sep, 2023
The Oslo Accords were signed on 13 September 1993 [Mustafa Ozer/AFP via Getty]

On the 30th anniversary of the signing of the "declaration of principles" between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel (which became known as the Oslo Accords), multiple analyses have focused on the process this launched, and how it performed in its supposed goal to achieve peace in Palestine.

The conclusions and observations shared are rooted in the assumption that the accords aimed at a genuine peace and the establishment of an independent Palestine. However, since the beginning they were the outcome of a huge power imbalance which enabled Israel to impose conditions which would obstruct a just peace, and prevent the Palestinian people from exercising their right to self-determination, even within the most minimal borders.

Instead, the stipulations imposed by the accords aimed to push the Palestinians to surrender, and into eventually accepting a fragmented and reduced geographical entity. This would be demilitarised and Palestinians would lack sovereignty over it. They would never have the right to control the borders of this entity, nor its natural resources, nor its airspace, nor the movement of its people within it - all of this would remain under Israeli control.

"What Oslo represented – an attempt to impose a historic surrender on the Palestinian people - has failed, and we should celebrate its failure"

Even worse, this was presented to the world as "an Israeli concession" to the Palestinians - in exchange for them renouncing Jerusalem, the right of return and the rights of successive Palestinian generations to demand any of their individual or collective rights.

In short, the intended conclusion of this interim stage would be total Palestinian capitulation and the relinquishment of all national and historical rights of the Palestinian people.

This is precisely what the US administration had tried to impose earlier on in the Clinton era, with Ehud Barak's so-called "generous offer" to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The "offer" as the American-Israeli propaganda machine falsely called it, which could be summarised as the points outlined above, was also the end goal envisioned by Oslo. This is because the strategic priorities of the US and Israel, before and after Oslo, have been to bury the "obstacle" of the Palestinian issue and integrate Israel into the region while ensuring its military and security dominance.

There was always a difference between the Palestinian illusion of what Oslo was, and the reality of what US-Israeli conditions would entail. In any case, the process which Oslo unleashed failed to subjugate the Palestinian people, even if it crushed the dreams of those who were under any illusions about it.

This was because there was a gulf between the hopes of Palestinians and the aims of the dominant powers (the US and Israel) that imposed conditions not only on the Oslo Accords, but also on the so-called "peace process" in general, of which the intention was always Palestinian and Arab acquiescence to Israel's victory. 

Here I find it necessary, in order to be fair to the majority of those who saw a glimmer of hope in the Oslo Accords, especially since I was always opposed to them, to stress that many of those engaged in the struggle hoped that by securing their return to Palestine they would then be in a position to change Oslo's limitations and resist the occupation from within Palestine. Many would become martyrs in the years that followed, or continue to serve lengthy sentences in the Zionist jails.

And this is a lesson to all of us which I hope the new generation will heed, because some of those who supported Oslo  - as an interim stage towards realising the Palestinian goal - were patriots. Although, some did alter their position and opposed Oslo after witnessing the expansion of settlements and the US and European proposals which pushed Palestinian liberation further away than it had ever been.

Responsibility fundamentally lies with the Palestinian leadership and the control of a faction which takes as gospel the words of late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat - that 99% of the solution is in the hands of the Americans - and this faction still dominates, especially after the Yasser Arafat era had passed.

"Moreover the US banked on the PA's policies and the permanent pressure applied through their control of its funding to prompt a collapse in the morale of the Palestinian people and their resistance mindset"

This ruling faction denies and ignores the fact that it is the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their resistance, that has thwarted and continues to thwart these plans. This was plain for all to see even before the rise of the Israeli far-right into government.

Today, the US administration is no longer interested in imposing a deal on the Palestinians, but instead in isolating them using an Israeli-Arab normalisation coalition, which will shift the Palestinian cause, from their perspective, into becoming a side issue which will gradually disappear from the collective Arab memory and consciousness.

Another devastating effect of the Oslo accords was that they opened the door to global normalisation with Israel: most states which had cut ties with Tel Aviv after the 1967 war, or who didn't have ties with Israel, hastened to establish them after it was signed.

It shows a dangerous shortsightedness on the part of the PA to have harboured the illusion that Oslo would lead to the end of the occupation. Instead, it reinforced it. 

Despite all this, the US found that the Palestinians' acceptance of Oslo did not lead to a popular normalisation or acceptance of Israel, even after the Wadi Araba Treaty was signed between Jordan and Israel, and even after the brutal suppression of the Palestinian Second Intifada.

However, Washington thought that the era of the intifadas was over, especially in light of the security coordination between the PA and Israel. Moreover, the US banked on the PA's policies and the permanent pressure applied through the control of funding in order to prompt a collapse in the morale of the Palestinian people and their resistance.

Following this, when the US sought the resumption of "peace talks" it was merely as an empty process meant to numb the Palestinian and Arab peoples without leading anywhere. But then Donald Trump came along and shattered the whole performance with his reckless attempt to overtly force a Palestinian capitulation. His "Deal of the Century" was based on his view of Palestinians and Arabs as losers, Israel as the winner, and the idea that the "winner takes all".  

But in his careless and rushed approach, he failed to officially impose his "deal", though he did manage to achieve an unprecedented breakthrough in the Arab Gulf states' relations with Israel - via the Abraham Accords which are still expanding. For instance, last week an Israeli embassy opened in Bahrain.

Today, we have a US administration no longer interested either in Oslo nor in a peace process, but rather in achieving Saudi-Israeli normalisation, which will constitute in its view, a fatal blow to the Palestinians.

Moreover, Palestinian efforts to place conditions on Saudi-Israeli normalisation by calling for the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative which calls for Israel to withdraw from the lands it occupied in 1967, and for the establishment of a Palestinian state, are nothing but a tactic to buy time. Washington has never, and will never, accept that.

Furthermore, Washington is in a hurry and it cannot (or doesn't want to) curb the Israeli far-right, but it has also been watching Israel's failure to end the Palestinian resistance, so it sees the solution in official Saudi-Israeli normalisation which it hopes will silence the Palestinians once and for all - or at least make unheard.

What is important here is that we stop living within the confines and framework of Oslo.

Instead, the solution is returning to the most important stage: national liberation - this is especially the case given the development of a new consciousness amongst emerging resistance groups. We have also seen the simultaneous rise of a new generation that is putting forward a vision of liberation that does not care about the Oslo Accords or American conditions, and believes in Palestinian rights, and in returning to forging alliances with other oppressed groups and nations.

This is the future. What Oslo represented – an attempt to impose a historic surrender on the Palestinian people - has failed, and we should celebrate its failure, and engage in rising up once again.

Lamis Andoni is a Palestinian journalist, writer and academic who launched al-Araby al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition, as its editor in chief.

This is an edited and abridged translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author's employer.