FRI 18 - 1 - 2019
Sep 12, 2018
The Daily Star
Oslo’s bid for peace in Mideast fades, 25 years on
Mike Smith| Agence France Presse
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: A handshake on the White House lawn sealing the first of the landmark Oslo accords inspired hope that Israeli-Palestinian peace could finally be achieved, but 25 years later, those dreams have faded. The Sept. 13 anniversary of the 1993 accord, symbolized by the handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, will not be celebrated by most Israelis or Palestinians, many of whom see unfulfilled promises or a process that was flawed from the start.
But for those who regard an Israeli and Palestinian state existing side by side as the only viable solution, salvaging the peace process and the achievements of the Oslo accords – a second followed in 1995 – is more urgent than ever.
“It was a defining moment for many of us,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a Palestinian student in Jordan at the time and now a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.
“There was a lot of hope – maybe naive hope, but certainly a lot of hope,” he said.
Omari, who served as an adviser to Palestinian negotiators in later talks, has no illusions about the current state of the peace process.
“On the long-term, there is no solution except the two-state solution,” he told AFP.
“In the short-term, there is absolutely no chance that it’s going to happen.”
His view is widely shared, with Omari and others pointing to what they see as Israel’s drift to the political right, a weakened Palestinian leadership and U.S. President Donald Trump’s moves.
Trump has pledged to reach the “ultimate deal” – peace between Israel and Palestine – but has declined to commit to a two-state solution, for years the focus of international diplomacy.
He has also sided with Israel on core issues in the conflict, such as recognizing the disputed occupied city of Jerusalem as its capital, without publicly asking for any concessions in return.
Palestinian officials said Monday that they had been informed the White House was closing their mission in Washington over a bid to have Israel prosecuted for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.
Such moves have delighted Israeli right-wing politicians, who oppose a Palestinian state and argue the Oslo accords only led to another Palestinian intifada and more violence.
But the Palestinians, who have cut off contact with Trump’s White House, say Israel failed to abide by the accords – notably by allowing hundreds of thousands more settlers in the West Bank, which it has occupied since 1967.
The Palestinian leadership, however, remains deeply divided between 83-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and the movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and refuses to recognize Israel.
Benny Morris, a renowned Israeli historian, faults Israel’s drift to the right, but believes the Palestinians are not prepared to fully accept a two-state solution.
“I think something has to happen in the leaderships of the two people,” he said.
The Oslo accord of 1993 stated that “it is time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict” and “strive to live in peaceful coexistence.” While it did not specifically mention the creation of a Palestinian state, it led to mechanisms for self-governance, including the Palestinian Authority, which has endured.
As part of the agreements, the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized Israel, while Israel recognized the PLO as the Palestinians’ legitimate representative.
That in itself was a major achievement at the time, following decades of enmity.
In 1994, then Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, PLO Chairman Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
But in 1995, Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli right-wing extremist in 1995 and the five-year transitional period under Oslo that was supposed to lead to a permanent settlement expired with no deal in place.
A second Palestinian intifada erupted in 2000, and since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, it has fought three wars with Israel. Israeli settlement building has multiplied in the occupied West Bank – on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Some 600,000 Israeli settlers now live there and in occupied East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also now heads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
Key members of his coalition want to see most of the occupied West Bank become part of Israel despite warnings that it would lead to an “apartheid” arrangement with the Palestinians there.
Morris, who has spent much of his life documenting the conflict, still believes the two-state solution is the only way forward, but admitted he is pessimistic.
“I really don’t know,” he said.
“I used to think it would be achieved. Now I’m not very optimistic about it ever happening.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 11, 2018, on page 9.
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