How we created ‘the world’s only prison where prisoners must provide for themselves’

A surprisingly candid op-ed from a high-level Israeli official explains the role the Oslo Accords played in allowing Israel to maintain the occupation.

How we created 'the world's only prison where prisoners must provide for themselves'
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 (photo: Vince Musi / The White House)

Dov Weisglass, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s righthand man, recently had another very candid moment. After Before the disengagement from Gaza, Weisglass gave a famous interview to Haaretz in which he was honest about the rationale behind the move: the desire to fill the diplomatic vacuum and secure Israeli control of the West Bank forever.

Last week he went back to Oslo. Weisglass published an interesting op-ed in Ynet in which he explained the value of the 1993 Accords from a right-wing perspective. The agreement, he wrote, allowed Israel to maintain control over the West Bank without bearing responsibility for the Palestinians living there.

Responding to attacks on Shimon Peres by several of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s aides, Weisglass writes:

Today, as a result of the Oslo Accords, the PA, not Israel, is responsible for the daily life of some 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Remember, aides: Before “Oslo” Israel was responsible for the daily life of the Palestinians, in accordance with international law. Israel built the infrastructure, supplied electricity and water, and sustained health services, education, transportation, public order, policing and the courts. Israel also paid the salaries of thousands of Palestinian civil administration employees.

Where would we be today if the Netanyahu government, which is having difficulties securing the social wellbeing of most of Israel’s citizens, would also have to care for millions of Palestinians as well? It would have been a disaster.

A Palestinian once told me that the Oslo deal was “a brilliant Israeli arrangement.” How so? I asked him. “It created the only prison in the world where the prisoners have to provide for themselves, without the management’s participation.” Israel has the authority of the sovereign in the territories – without the obligations. This situation is a direct result of the Oslo Accords.

It should be noted that the Palestinians provide themselves with American and European money, and they also guard themselves. Yet more important than all the above is the role the Palestinian Authority is playing by providing the necessary “adversary” Israel deals with on a public and diplomatic level.

Weisglass rightly points out the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu could have annulled Oslo on his first term in office, while the Palestinian Authority was still “searching for its way.” Yet he chose not to. What Netanyahu instinctively understood was that Oslo serves the agenda of the right – it creates the illusion of an independent Palestinian regime while maintaining the occupation.

In the last few years, there has been another important development in the way Israel uses Oslo to serve its needs. Under Oslo, the West Bank was temporarily divided into three areas (titled A, B and C). Area C, consisting of 60 percent of the West Bank, is kept under Israel’s full administrative and military control. Naturally, the fate of Area C wasn’t decided in the agreement itself. Yet today, Israeli authorities treat Area C as if it has been annexed to Israel: they prevent Palestinian construction in those areas, expand existing settlements, use natural resources in those areas, and in some cases, even try to push the Palestinian population to areas A and B.

A good example of this practice is taking place in the Susya region, in the South Hebron Hills; you can read more about it here. And here is an excellent infographic on the division of land under the Oslo agreement.

In short, by turning what was supposed to be an intermediate agreement (Oslo was set to expire in 1999) into a permanent situation, Israel was able to secure at least another two decades of Jewish colonization in the West Bank – a period which might have been just long enough to prevent for good the creation of a Palestinian state. I don’t share the view – now common in some leftist circles – that Oslo was intentionally designed to lead to the current state of apartheid, but looking back, one cannot imagine reaching the impasse we are now in without the diplomatic coverage and the legal infrastructure Israel established with the Oslo process.