An agreement on indefinite occupation: Oslo celebrates 19 years

Regardless of the intentions of the people signing it, there is no denying what the Oslo Accords and the Paris Protocol have become: providers of the legal framework and international legitimacy for the oppression of millions. 

An agreement on indefinite occupation: Oslo celebrates 19 years
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. president Bill Clinton, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat at the signing of the Oslo Accord (photo: Vince Musi / The White House)

Today, 19 years ago, hours before the Oslo agreement was signed in Washington, I set foot for the first time in Gaza. Our unit was sent for a week of foot patrols and flying checkpoints. Our commanders, who had been to the West Bank and Gaza in the past, were shocked to see the PLO flags that marked the signing of the agreement hanging in the streets. Until that day, flying a Palestinian flag was forbidden. It was a sign – an important one – that the occupation was ending.

The night before our deployment was tense – we had many leftists in our ranks, and at least one considered refusing to serve in the occupied territories. He was met with fierce pressure and threats from our commanders; but no argument had as strong an effect as the feeling that the entire occupation was about to end anyway. It made sense for us to help bring this temporary situation to an end, many in our ranks rationalized.

A couple of years later, I was back in Gaza. This time, my unit was in charge of the busy road between Khan Yunis and Gaza City. At a moment’s notice, we could cut the Strip in two. We often did. The pretext for our deployment there was the existence of – how surprising – a settlement. Unlike in the days before the Israeli withdrawal from Gazan cities under Oslo, Palestinians couldn’t enter Israel anymore, so the effect of the entire agreement on the local population was essentially a siege. So much for peace.

The same cycle of hope and disillusionment happened to me a year later in Hebron, after my unit transferred control over parts of the city to the Palestinian Authority. Since then, things have gotten much worse for the local population. Settlements in and around the city have expanded, and the IDF’s Civil Administration began pushing the Palestinians in the areas under Israeli control, especially south of the Hebron, into the cities, and declaring their lands natural reserves, archaeological sites or military training zones. Israel didn’t evacuate one settlement under this peace treaty. Instead, it began evacuating Palestinians.

A favourite intellectual exercise in progressive circles is the argument over the intentions behind the Oslo process. Some say it was an Israeli-American plot to deepen Israeli control of the Palestinian Territories; others view it as a noble effort gone wrong. Personally, I believe in the good intentions of Rabin, less so of Peres. It’s also clear that the pro-Israel bias of the Americans allowed Jerusalem to avoid the removal of the settlements, which meant that the agreement was bound to fail from the start. Not for the first time, peace fell victim to the “special relationship.” But regardless of the things Oslo was meant to be, it’s clear – and way more important – what it has become: the primary legal tool serving the occupation.

The agreement over the division of the land – handing the large urban areas to the Palestinians, the rural villages to Palestinian “administrative control,” and the rest to Israel – is now being treated by Israel as the de-facto annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank, also known as Area C. (The situation of the Palestinians in areas A and B is not much better: they need Israel’s approval to travel outside the West Bank and sometimes even within it, and they suffer from what has become the tiny tyranny of the Palestinian Authority.)

In Area C, Israel is building new settlements, universities and cultural centers; excavating natural resources and using them on the Israeli market; and displacing thousands of Palestinians living there – a massive human and civil rights violation that is condemned by the international community but at the same time accepted and even enabled by the insistence on keeping the Oslo Accords as the main diplomatic and legal framework on the ground. All those nice diplomats working so hard to save Oslo and the peace process are really saving the occupation.

The financial agreement which accompanied Oslo – the Paris Protocol – is keeping the Palestinian economy as a captive market for Israeli decision-makers and capitalists. Israel is collecting taxes for the Palestinians – and using them for diplomatic leverage. Under the Paris Protocol, the Palestinians are not allowed to have a central bank or use their own currency. In short, it is an agreement that was designed to make sure that regardless of other developments, the Palestinian economy will remain occupied.

It is no surprising then that Israel is doing whatever it can to prevent the Palestinians from walking away from Oslo or the Paris Protocol. The Palestinian Authority is exactly where Israel wants it – too weak and dependent on Israel and foreign donors to present a serious challenge to the occupier, but strong enough to oppress its own people (and it is treated by Israel with the same contempt all occupiers have for their collaborators). This is the reason for the financial aid Israel recently transferred to the Palestinians at the first sign of unrest. 250 million NIS is a tiny sum compared to the diplomatic meltdown and the financial costs that would accompany a move to the old model of direct occupation.

As Oslo – signed as an interim accord for six years – enters its twentieth year, it’s becoming clear that the only thing that the Palestinians got from the agreement was the right to raise their flag, given to them on day one. Today, Oslo is the occupation. The sooner we get rid of it, the better.

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