From Oslo to Multilateralism: The Way Forward

Media Briefs
December 31, 2021

Oslo and the Failure of the Political Process

The signing of the Oslo Interim Accords was an attempt by the Palestinian leadership to take a shortcut towards achieving independence through a sovereign State with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Algeria in 1988. The Oslo Accords and their subsequent protocols stipulated the establishment of Palestinian self-governance for a five-year interim period, where the third year would see negotiations between the two parties to reach an agreement on “permanent status” issues, including Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, water, and bilateral relations.

These accords’ gradual approach to implementation led to disruptions in all phases due to Israeli-imposed obstacles. This was exacerbated after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Netanyahu’s rise to power in May 1996. Therefore, every step of implementation of these accords faced tremendous obstacles that could only be overcome through successive confrontations and rebellions by Palestinians, such as the Buraq Tunnel Uprising in September 1996 and the confrontations that preceded the Hebron Agreement and Wye River negotiations.

At the end of the five-year interim period, the Oslo Accords should have led to two results: (i) the repositioning of Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including evacuating most of these areas, except for locations related to final status issues and certain military sites; (ii) The successful conclusion of negotiations between the two parties regarding permanent status issues.

However, the aforementioned obstacles hindered the Israeli withdrawal from more than 60% of West Bank areas (known as Areas “C”). Israel’s failure to implement the Oslo Accords also led to the disruption of permanent status negotiations, which only practically began after Likud party’s loss in the elections and return of the Labor Party to power under the leadership of Ehud Barak in 1999. It is also worth noting that the Barak government completely halted the redeployment process under the pretext of merging the last “pulses”[1] of implementing the interim agreement with the final status negotiations.

The Camp David talks, which began five years after the interim period, were the first serious round of permanent status negotiations that blatantly brought to the surface the weaknesses of Oslo’s negotiating formula. In addition to the ambiguity of the reference guide, lack of a time limit, and non-specification of the final goal, U.S. mediation failed to singlehandedly reach a solution that brings closer the contradictory positions of the two parties. From one side, the Palestinian position insisted that Israel should completely withdraw from the 4 June 1967 borders (including East Jerusalem), while the Israelis aimed to maintain their control over Jerusalem and large areas of the West Bank. Moreover, the U.S. mediation showed a significant bias towards the Israeli position that was based on the geographic understanding of security.

After the failure of the Camp David talks, another shortcoming of the Oslo Accords came to light, namely that there was no specification of what would happen at the end of the interim period if a permanent status agreement was not reached. Therefore, the only option was to automatically extend the interim period, which meant the perpetuation of the Israeli occupation indefinitely.

The eruption of the Second Intifada in September 2000 was the expected result of this intractable situation. This led to two contradictory outcomes: First, Israel turned away from all its obligations under the interim agreement and invaded Palestinian self-governance areas with military forces, while eliminating Palestinian presence at the crossings, destroying the civil and security organizations of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and reinstating the rule of the Israeli Civil Administration (which had been dissolved under the Oslo Accords). The second was the enhancement of international support for the two-state solution, as seen through the endorsement of the Road Map and in the adoption of the Security Council, by its resolution 1515, the Arab Peace Initiative, (which was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 at the Beirut Summit).

This shift in the international position created the atmosphere for resuming the permanent status negotiations, in which its first round at the Aqaba Summit (2003) witnessed open US support for PM Ariel Sharon’s attempt to undermine the Road Map through his 14 reservations. Therefore, the international consensus on the two-state solution lacked the necessary mechanisms, parameters, and timeframes to turn this solution into reality. Negotiations once again had ambiguous references that were subjectively controlled by the US. This led to other failures during the Annapolis Peace Conference and subsequent negotiations under the Olmert government.

The Multilateral Path and Complacency of the International Community

In light of Israeli intransigence and the impotence of the international community to decrease the intractability of the political process due to American monopoly, the Palestinian leadership chose the multilateral path by resorting to international law to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine. It also sought to end the legal and political immunity enjoyed by Israel for several decades, as well as breaking the U.S. monopoly over the political/negotiation process and calling upon the international community to seriously engage in it. Therefore, the State of Palestine acceded to the United Nations and its organizations, agencies, and international conventions, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. However, the Palestinian leadership still kept the door open for the final and decisive bilateral negotiations endorsed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. However, these talks (during the spring of 2014) failed due to Israeli intransigence, leading to a complete stalemate in the political process and the de facto perpetuation of the occupation. Israel, the occupying Power, used this to gain time and change facts on the ground through its settler-colonial expansion, Judaization of Jerusalem, paving the way for the annexation of the Jordan Valley, undermining the two-state solution, and imposing the “Greater Israel” colonial project over the land of historic Palestine.

These Israeli violations found fertile soil in light of the international community’s silence vis-à-vis Palestinian legitimate demands. For example, the international community did not take heed of the Palestinian leadership’s requests from them to find a multilateral formula to solve the question of Palestine and implement the relevant and binding UN resolutions that have clear references and timeframes. In fact, we witnessed the persistence of many influential countries to avoid taking any concrete steps to protect the two-state solution despite their verbal commitment to it. Many countries refrained from recognizing the State of Palestine and failed to take serious measures to punish Israel for its international violations or pressure it to stop its crimes (despite their verbal recognition of these violations). Meanwhile, substantial pressure was and is being exerted on the Palestinian leadership and people through different means, for the aim of pushing the occupied people to surrender to the Occupation. This made Israel firmly convinced of its impunity, leading to successive Israeli governments that openly refused all negotiations with the Palestinian political leadership and rejected the establishment the existence of the State of Palestine.

The President’s UNGA Speech in 2021: The Way Forward

The core of the President’s speech was to put the world in front of the reality that the current situation is unsustainable and that our people can no longer tolerate more under Israel’s occupation. This puts us in front of crossroads: either to work hard under international sponsorship to implement international resolutions that call upon Israel to withdraw to the 4 June 1967 borders and resolve all other permanent status issues - this option is preferred by the Palestinian leadership, or to slip into dangerous eruptions that can undermine regional stability and security and would put the world before an unknown fate.

This is not a threat but a call for the international community to beware of the upcoming risks and dangers if the current situation continues without a political horizon, and to prevent a future eruption. The Palestinian people and leadership have run out of all options and means to forge a political path that would protect their right to freedom and self-determination. Even the attempts to contain the conflict through the so-called confidence-building measures, which were viewed favourably by the Palestinian leadership, ended with a few marginal facilitations that were highly insignificant and unsatisfactory.

Since Israel refuses to recognize the Palestinian presence and our right to independence, why should a unilateral Palestinian recognition of Israel continue? And while Israel openly disregards its obligations set forth in signed agreements (without any international reaction), why should the Palestinian side be asked to adhere to these agreements and be punished for sharing their thoughts of refraining to comply with them?

The people of Palestine have several options in the upcoming period. However, to preserve the chances for peace, the Palestinian leadership have been keen over the years to exercise all efforts to avoid resorting to these options. Therefore, the President’s speech is considered a final call. This is because the continuation of the current situation will inevitably lead to an all-out explosion that would return the cycle of violence to the region if international parties do not intervene to make Israel realize that its occupation and apartheid regime will have a heavy price. These parties should also compel Israel to abide by international law, end its occupation, and enable the Palestinian people to practice their right to self-determination.

The suitable formula would be an international conference based on United Nations resolutions and collectively endorsed by global parties under the sponsorship of the Quartet. This will enable the implementation of international law in accordance with binding mechanisms and specific timeframes. This is the only approach that can lead to overcoming the gaps and deficiencies that previously led to the failure of the political process.

[1]A “pulse” is every step of Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian National Authority Areas (Palestinian deployment).

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