Israelis and Palestinians lament the deadlock

There was hope that resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was imminent when the first Oslo Accord was signed in 1993. But the promise of a two-state solution any time soon has been all but dashed. By Tessa Fox

By Tessa Fox

In September 1993, people across Israel and Palestinian territories celebrated in newly gained hope that they would have a permanent peace agreement within five years.

"We were dreaming, we were fighting," said Munther Amira, a Palestinian activist now in his 40s. "We wanted peace and to have our own state like any other nation, to have our determination. We thought Oslo would do all these things for us."

Oslo, shorthand for the Oslo Accord, brokered by Norway and signed between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) on 13 September 1993, established a framework intended to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The agreement created an interim Palestinian government, the Palestinian National Authority (PA) and also initiated the withdrawal of Israel Defence Forces (IDF) from Gaza and Jericho in the West Bank.

Oslo was only set to last five years, during which a permanent solution was meant to be negotiated that took into consideration Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the issue of Jerusalem as well as final borders and security arrangements.

"We thought, that's it, we're going to have peace. We celebrated Oslo when we were young, we started planning for our future, that we would have peace on this land and we would have the two-state solution," Amira said.

Working at the time as a senior government official in Israel's prime minister's office, Emanuel Shahaf, also felt hope reverberating across Israel. "People felt the vision that things were going to change, that they were finally getting somewhere," said Shahaf.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump chat as White House senior advisor Jared Kushner is seen in between them, during their meeting at the King David hotel in Jerusalem on 22 May 2017 (source: Reuters/Courtesy of Government Press Office/Kobi Gideon)
Two's company: U.S. Middle East policy under Donald Trump has been openly partisan ever since he came to office. Diplomatic overtures towards the Palestinians have been few and far between, while accommodating Israelʹs interests has been high on the agenda. At the end of 2017, the U.S. Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a development calculated to ride rough-shod over Palestinian sensibilities and existing diplomatic considerations. Cancelling all aid to the Palestinian aid agency UNRWA in August is just the latest controversial and highly damaging move by the Trump administration

Peace process a road to nowhere

Twenty-five years have since passed, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no closer to being resolved. The Palestinian generation of today now sees signing Oslo as a mistake.

Ahmed Abu Mofeed, a 23-year-old sociology student at Birzeit University in the West Bank reflects his peersʹ disappointment. "It's allegedly called a peace agreement, but I would like to describe it as an agreement to give up hope and our long history of resilience," said Abu Mofeed.

Even current Palestinian leaders find it difficult to see what good came of the accords. PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi puts it down to a variety of reasons, including the lack of monitoring and accountability for Israel within the agreement.

"In itself it is a fatally flawed agreement," said Ashrawi.

Shahaf believes the Oslo agreement was too vague and lacking in direction for to lead to anything concrete, but contends it was still a positive start. "It was proved for the first time that it was possible to come to an agreement, to sit down and have a roundtable discussion and say we're going to do this ... and to work out [a] very complex deal," Shahaf said.No leverage with Israel

Ashrawi sees the lack of political will by the international community to hold Israel to the peace process as having been a recipe for Oslo's failure. "Obviously there was ill will from the beginning on the part of Israel, and they wanted to … maintain their control," Ashrawi said. "[They did this by] establishing a system of autonomy under the occupation," she said, referring to the Palestinian Authority (PA), "while the occupation expanded to exercise sovereignty."

Activist Amira also believes Israel never intended to allow a Palestinian state. "From the beginning they didn't want peace. They want security, which means they ... don't want us as neighbours even," Amira said.

There were, however, at least four Israeli prime ministers — Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barack and Ehud Olmert — since the signing of the Oslo Accords who were sincere about a two-state solution, said Emmanuel Navon, a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.

"They made very generous offers that included a Palestinian state on nearly all of the territory claimed by the Palestinians and included dismantling most of the settlements," Navon said. "If there had of been a Palestinian leadership on the other side willing to take the offer, they would have a peace agreement by now."

Illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank (photo: Getty Images/C. McGrath)
Conquest by degrees: Israel has used its control of Area C to build settlements, which are illegal under international law. The presence of some 325,500 Jewish settlers means that the Palestinians who reside within Area C are now in the minority – estimates of Palestinian occupation vary between 180,000 and 300,000 – an effective obstacle to any future Palestinian state

What chance a Palestinian state?

Two years after the initial agreement, Oslo II was signed, separating the West Bank into three parts: Area A, under the Palestinian Authority; Area B, under joint Palestinian and Israeli control; and Area C, under full Israeli control. Oslo II was the last progression of the initial accords.

Now, Area C is 60 percent of the West Bank, while Area A is only 18 percent. Israel uses its control of Area C to build settlements, which are illegal under international law. Between 180,000 and 300,000 Palestinians reside within Area C. They are outnumbered by 325,500 Jewish settlers obstructing the possibility of a future Palestinian state.

Ashrawi finds it difficult to talk about. "It is a right I don't want to abandon, because we have the right to sovereignty, freedom, dignity and self-determination," she said. "[But] Israel is destroying that right and dismantling it systematically ... and wants to instil Greater Israel all over historical Palestine."

A recent study by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) shows that 56 percent of Palestinians believe a two-state solution is no longer viable due to settlement expansion.

"Everything the Israeli occupation does makes us lose hope in finding a solution," said 22-year-old Rabah Khalil, a student of business administration at Birzeit University.

"The deal of the century" lacks credibility

As the world waits for the U.S. to deliver the "deal of the century" touted by President Donald Trump as a definitive solution to the conflict, the Palestinian leadership has come to reject Washington as a mediator in the process in the wake of the U.S. declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Ashrawi mentioned they are looking for an alternative mediator and that future negotiations should have clear objectives and a binding timeframe.

Palestinian legislator, activist and scholar Hanan Ashrawi (photo: Hanan Ashrawi)
The nub of the matter: "if Israel is destroying the two-state solution, how can the international community with its whole legal system and system of accountability engage and intervene in order to end Israeli impunity and Israeli violations?" asks long-time Palestinian legislator and activist Hanan Ashrawi

"Very clearly American bias has moved in to become an American partnership [with Israel], and they are colluding with the occupation," Ashrawi said. "You cannot have a people under occupation negotiate with their occupiers without … balancing the playing fields."

Shahaf doesn't feel there is going to be "any deal, agreement, no talks, no nothing."

"There are going to be unilateral Israeli steps, which are supported by the U.S. government [to take over the rest of the West Bank]," Shahaf envisioned.

Ashrawi said the PA and PLO approach was based on creating accountability for Israel and trying to empower Palestinians globally. "The question is: if Israel is destroying the two-state solution, how can the international community with its whole legal system and system of accountability engage and intervene in order to end Israeli impunity and Israeli violations?"

Khalil also believes the main solution is for the international community to intervene: "We think the international community should take the responsibility to fight for our cause based on human rights and international rights."

Tessa Fox

© Deutsche Welle 2018