Twenty years ago today, the Oslo Accords took the world by surprise. Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sealed the historical agreement with a handshake that was broadcast to the world.
The Oslo I Accords was the result of fourteen secret meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. These meetings culminated in an agreement that envisaged a ten-month timetable leading up to elections for a Palestinian government to rule over the Palestinian Territories for five years, during which both sides would negotiate a permanent settlement. According to the agreement, Israel would withdraw all troops from the Palestinian Territories by the end of the next year.
The Oslo II Accords divided the occupied territories into three regions: Area A, Area B, and Area C. The Palestinian Authority (PA) took control over the majority of these areas; however, Israel retained complete military and administrative control over the largest territory, Area C, which made up 61 percent of the West Bank.
On the 13 September anniversary of the Oslo Accords, memories of the once promising deal have generated an outpouring of frustration, dismay, and disappointment at the shortcomings that followed it.
Many Palestinians initially celebrated the Accords as a promise of eventual Palestinian statehood, but such dreams were derailed as the agreed-upon "self-rule" became a murky semblance of sovereignty, and progression toward an independent Palestinian state seemed to stall indefinitely.
As a result of the Oslo Accords' failure to achieve Palestinian sovereignty, many denounced the role of the PLO in negotiations. “Before Oslo, Palestinians more or less felt that they were represented,” Palestinian journalist and activist Maath Musleh told Ahram Online. “Now, that does not exist either.”
With regard to the Accords, Musleh explains that the "Zionist regime" wanted to "cut their spending on the occupied people, as international law requires of them, and they wanted to put the Israeli militants in a safer position without loosening their military grip on the population in the West Bank and Gaza. And that's exactly what happened."
Yet, the Oslo Accords’ main failures were in their inability to resolve outstanding issues that have thwarted the peace process ever since: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and borders.
“The Oslo Accords are nothing more than a failure to the Palestinian community,” Palestinian blogger Mariam Ibrahim told Ahram Online. “Since Oslo, more Palestinian land has been stolen by the ongoing Israeli annexation of Palestinian land and the multiplication of illegal, Jewish settlements.”
“Oslo has left Palestine like a piece of Swiss cheese, and the continued negotiations after Oslo have been never ending… Palestinians are sick of fruitless negotiations,” Ibrahim says. Oslo has transformed into an anti-peace chant in Palestinian rallies, she explains, because it set the precedent for twenty years of failed peace talks.
The latest round of peace talks began in August after a three-year stall in negotiations. The unresolved issue of Israeli settlements was the first topic of conversation, with Israel's recently-announced plans to build 3,100 new settler homes in the Occupied Territories.
The issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails was also high on the agenda. Palestinian prisoner Sawer Issaway's highly-publicised eight-month hunger strike drew considerable attention to this issue. At this point, Israel has agreed to the release of 26 prisoners previously convicted of carrying out deadly attacks against Israeli citizens.
Jerusalem – a holy city for Muslims, Christians and Jews – was not addressed in the most recent discussions. Although Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, the Israeli state does not want to abandon East Jerusalem or West Bank settlements.
Musleh believes recent US-led negotiations will fail because “they are not based on justice… The US continuously says that its aim is to end the ‘conflict’ and get the Palestinians to end their demands. The aim is not to give people their rights. So no negotiations within the current parameters will ever succeed."
On the twentieth anniversary of the Accords, many Palestinians have taken the opportunity to draw attention to the continued failures of the peace process. Organisers of a Facebook page “Down with Oslo” have called for the Oslo Accords to be dissolved, arranging protests in Palestine, Jordan, Canada, Lebanon and Sweden. Another group is currently planning an “Electronic Day against all Negotiations,” speaking out against the concessions offered by the Accords.