Why the Palestinian leadership cannot get out of the Oslo Accords

No one is betting on the implementation of the decision announced by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stop adhering to the agreements concluded with Israel.
Saturday 03/08/2019
Impasse. A Palestinian man sits on top of the rubble of his house at the site of buildings demolished by Israel in the West Bank in the area of Sur Baher in East Jerusalem, July 24. (AFP)
Impasse. A Palestinian man sits on top of the rubble of his house at the site of buildings demolished by Israel in the West Bank in the area of Sur Baher in East Jerusalem, July 24. (AFP)

No one is betting on the implementation of the decision announced by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stop observing agreements concluded with Israel, some of which are more than 25 years old.

There are several reasons such a bet is a losing proposition or is, at the least, unrealistic.

First, this is not the first time a decision of this kind has been made; this is perhaps the third time. Four years ago, the Palestinian Central Council had taken a similar decision and reaffirmed it during a meeting last year.

During that meeting, it was decided to limit the relations of the Palestinian Authority (PA) with Israel and the council threatened to withdraw its recognition of the state of Israel, stop security cooperation with it and end the PA’s economic dependency on Israel as specified in the Paris Agreement (annexed to the 1993 Oslo Agreement).

Second, Abbas has repeatedly stated that the PA has other options in its relations with Israel. He has said the PA could be dissolved, which would put Israel in the position of an occupying power. On more than one occasion, he threatened to simply “go home,” meaning to resign.

Some Palestinian leaders have waved the card of reverting to the option of a single-state solution. Their intent was more to threaten Israel than to advocate for a real option. What those leaders meant was that they would abandon the project of having a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in favour of fighting for another project based on demanding rights on the entire land of Palestine.

Third, it is clear from the nature of the decision that the whole thing is about searching for mechanisms to stop the agreements. The council decided to form a committee for this purpose, which indicates that this decision was not really meant to be implemented. It was meant just to be finger waving at Israel or as a sort of pre-emptively clearing the council and the PA of their accountability to the Palestinian people and covering for their dismal failure and impotence to respond to Israel’s multiple violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Fourth, there are two points that must be well understood before anything else. The first is that the PA is the product of the 1993 Oslo Accords, a framework set up under international and regional patronage. It is, therefore, very unlikely that the PA would abandon the very cornerstone of its existence and its legitimacy or that it would choose to dissolve itself, an option ruled out years ago because it would serve the policy pursued by Israel.

The second point is that 25 years of applying the measures in the Oslo agreement and 50 years of Israeli occupation have made it difficult to imagine how to get rid of the dependency ties between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

This is not just about security coordination or Israel’s control of border crossings and of imports and exports to and from Palestinian territories. The entire infrastructure for electricity, water, energy and basic needs in the PA areas is connected to Israel. What the Oslo agreement led to create a Palestinian Authority under Israeli occupation.

Fifth, it is impossible to imagine having the Palestinian leadership get out of this situation except by working without the prevailing equations. This option is risky — and even perhaps suicidal — for the PA given the conditions for its creation and its survival.

The PA is either unable or politically unwilling to take that chance, especially that there are no international or Arab conditions to back it up, not counting internal Palestinian divisions and, above all, the Palestinian leadership did not prepare itself or its people for such a decisive moment.

These considerations beg the question: Why hasn’t the PA acted in the direction of ending all agreement connections with Israel despite the clear sterility, unfairness and humiliation involved in the Oslo agreement for two decades and despite Israel’s obvious evasion of implementing the provisions dictated by that agreement?

It certainly cannot be for lack of reasons or occasions for taking such a step. Israel has trampled the results of the second Camp David negotiations (2000), quashed the second intifada, isolated and laid siege to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, reoccupied the West Bank cities, erected a separation wall and increased its settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leadership is acting as if it has realised this only now, unfortunately, and not because of what Israel has been doing for years in the occupied territories but because of its disillusionment with the United States, the “honest sponsor” and “neutral mediator” of the peace process.

This friend of the Palestinians recognised Jerusalem as the unified capital of the state of Israel and transferred its embassy to it, dropped the issue of Palestinian refugees from its agenda arguing it had become outdated, stopped its funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, gave Israel the right to build illegally in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, began promoting a regional settlement deal that would remove the Palestinian cause from the agenda and simply ignored the Palestinian leadership.

This leader of the free world is trying to mislead the rest of the world into thinking that, in light of the turbulent conditions of the Middle East, the Palestinians no longer have a role to play or can no longer influence war or peace in the region.