Amidst the press and media brouhaha in July about the “amazing success” (now all but forgotten) of John Kerry in “restarting” the longest-lasting and the least productive “peace process” known to man, it was easy to overlook the fact that two decades have passed since that fateful set of agreements were signed by Rabin, Arafat and Peres, leading them to the Nobel Peace Prize lectern, and Premier Rabin also to his death at the hand of an extremist Jewish assassin.
Had twenty years really passed? And what have we to show for it?
Well, not a lot, if you are a Palestinian. The agreements which, at best, could lead to a small Bantustan, the parts of which would be connected by tunnels and bridges, have led to a very large network of tiny mini-stans, connected not by roads but by the internet, in the main.
The Palestinian Authority, as Arafat once mused, was allowed only the killing of mosquitoes in its limited reign, now has the unenviable task of securing, not their own population, but the Israelis instead. They do not control much – certainly not the roads, airspace, territorial waters, water resources, electricity, ports and airports, or even their own border crossings. They have not got their own currency, and so cannot employ any financial machinery in the PA areas, let alone any serious attempt at rebuilding the Palestinian economy, which, before 1967, was the richer part of the Jordanian economy, and self-sufficient.
That the policemen controlling the Palestinian population are themselves Palestinians is certainly not impressive enough to stop Israeli snatch-and-kill squads from periodically entering the PA territories to carry out extra-judicial assassinations, or to stop Israel from bombing Gaza and its inhabitants on a constant basis.
To cross from one part of the West Bank to another may take not just many long hours, but sometimes days. Israel controls the whole of Palestine, as it did before the Accords were signed, but now it is able to seal off areas much more easily than before. Of course, Israel has never carried out the series of withdrawals which were intended, by those liberals who believed in the Accords, supposedly to lead to a two-state solution, itself never mentioned in the Accords.
It is safe to say we are as far away from such a solution as we always were, if not further. Palestine is a patchwork of local communities, separated by a Jews-only system of roads, roadblocks, and the army of occupation – the so-called IDF. There is no Palestinian state and nor is there likely to be one in the near future.
The PLO was allowed back from Tunis, yes – but only for the task of securitising the Israeli population. The armed struggle is ended, for all intents and purposes. Not a single settlement was vacated in the West Bank, and the ones in the Gaza Strip were abandoned in order to make the whole of the Strip more open for Israeli airstrikes and naval attacks as well as Israeli tanks. Well, it does not amount to much, does it?
What was achieved is more significant, if you are on the Israeli side of the apartheid fence. Israel, which had to fork out billions every year in order to securitize the continuation of its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, has managed to outsource the cost, as a result of the Oslo Accords. This cost is now born by the US and EU, instead.
Not just the cost has been avoided, but also the headache of running the 46-year-old occupation amongst a hostile Palestinian population. The daily policing of the territories before 1993 caused a deep rift in Israeli society, where many men serving in the territories have found it increasingly difficult to live with their role of brutal occupiers. That crucial social and political rift was healed in 1993 – the peaceniks of the left have joined the admiration of Sharon prevalent in all parts of Israeli society, and come to see the racist right-wingers in the settlements and elsewhere as a fact of life, and an integral part of their society.
Israel since 1967 has had a huge commercial boom due to the captive market of occupied Palestine where it made sure no industry of any kind was established. Israel became a mini-empire, with its modernised economy based on exploiting cheap labour from the territories (and later from other parts of the world) and on the double-headed industrial base – the huge and lucrative military-industrial complex, and the diamond-processing industry, as well as high-tech start-ups.
Released from the need to manage the occupation, and from the cost-implications of such managements, Israel could concentrate on making sure Palestine can never rise from its ashes under the PA. While this process started in 1967, it was greatly accelerated after 1993.
The main achievement of Israel is its ability to act illegally with impunity, never fearing that the international community might take issue with its infringements of human rights, of the Geneva Convention rules, and UN resolutions, not to mention the International Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court.
With the massive umbrella of US and EU political and financial support, Israel could at last work on enlarging the settlements, so as to make a Palestinian state all but impossible.
Ever since 1993, this massive building and repopulation effort, in clear contravention of international law, has brought about a tripling of the Israeli population living in the 22 percent of Palestine destined to become a Palestinian state as a result of a fulsome reading of the Oslo Accords – certainly a reading promoted by the US and the EU.
The settlements also meant additional “security roads”, land confiscations, control of crucial water resources, and the addition of hundreds of military check-points, making daily life for millions of Palestinians rather impossible.
A hard-hitting approach was adopted towards the Christian Palestinians, driving many to immigrate to North America, South America and Europe, as they felt abandoned by Christians elsewhere, in their plight under the occupation.
In 2003, just over a decade after signatures were exchanged on the lawn of the White House, Sharon started the great effort still ongoing to totally cut off Palestinians from the rest of the world, as well as from much of their land, by building the apartheid wall, destined to become almost a thousand kilometres long, and visible from space.
While Sharon spent almost a decade in a vegetative state in a Jerusalem hospital, the Oslo Accords did no better – they have vegetated into a system of strictures and limitations on every legal activity in Palestine, leaving Israel scot-free to flout all international laws it chose at any point in time. Under the guise of “peace talks” which quickly became “talks about talks”, Israel and its allies continue to flout the Oslo Accords themselves, making sure the life in Palestine became increasingly insufferable.
Israel, one of the smallest countries on the planet, has become one of the strongest powers extant; it is the fifth or sixth largest arms-exporter in the world, exporting death and destruction, as well as its branded security solutions, methods and equipment, far and wide.
If anyone thought that this impressive expansion in its destructive capacity would lead Israeli society (that is, its Jewish majority) to a better social contract and a more open and liberal society, the summer of 2011 came with its widely-spread social protest and proved the opposite.
The occupation has not just de-humanised the Palestinians, but has also been enormously destructive for Jewish (and Arab) workers inside the Green Line boundaries. The only winners are the settlers, the tycoons, and the arms industry. Inequality in Israel soared to become the highest in the world – another first Israel may have done better without.
But of course there are deeper fault-lines still. Ever since Oslo and the rapid disappearance of Palestine, accelerated in 1993, Israel is leading away from its supposed solution of a Jewish state.
While I myself am not at all supportive of such a racist concept, which will keep Zionism alive, most Israelis are totally invested in this concept, and believe there is no other arrangement they could wish for or accept. Of course, the failure to carry out the Oslo Agreements, and to withdraw from the 22 percent of Palestine occupied in 1967, meant that the ideal of a Jewish state is further away than ever, creating further tension in the region, as most people are coming to realise that the two state solution is not only a mask of lies by Israel and its allies, but is also deeply-flawed, dividing the small country of Palestine unnecessarily and in an unjust manner, while preserving intact the racist ideology and practices at the heart of Zionism.
The law of unintended consequences has come to demonstrate, once again, how some ideologies are so extreme as to achieve a reversal of their own intentions. More and more people, on both sides of the apartheid wall realise that their future lies in a common, democratic entity in the whole of Palestine.
It seems that the heritage of this flawed project – the Oslo Accords – will bring about the end of the racist state that has set it in motion. The question is, how many will have to die, how many lives will be destroyed, how much of Palestine will be devastated, before the end of occupation comes to pass?
Prof. Haim Bresheeth teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.