First published on The National
Nineteen years after the Oslo Accords were officially signed on September 13, 1993, it is clearer than ever that the Accords have blocked Palestinian rights of freedom, return and self-determination. The current protests shed light on this disastrous burden for Palestinians.
Protests are spreading rapidly across cities in the West Bank, including general strikes in protest of high prices. At first, protests were orchestrated by Fatah and directed against Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, blaming him for the economic crisis and rising prices. Protests were seen as an opportunity to dispense with Mr Fayyad and divert people’s anger away from the rest of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to demonstrate to donor countries the necessity of financial aid.
But soon thereafter, more voices joined the protests to address a root problem: the Oslo Accords and their economic annex, the Paris Protocol.
President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded a review of the Paris Protocol signed with Israel in 1994. This is a tactic to calm the street, and another excuse to keep negotiating with Israel forever. It is naive to expect that Israel will accept the request, unless it has, as a coloniser, a clear interest.
It seems unlikely Mr Abbas’s declaration will defuse the protests as people have no expectations of their occupiers. If protests continue, expand in number and address the occupation and the Oslo Accords, it will be the time to put forward an alternative vision.
Oslo has had long-lasting and damaging consequences: it led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, with no sovereignty, in Gaza and the West Bank; created an endless process of negotiation and security coordination; solidified complete economic dependency on Israel and donor aid; and divided Palestinian people across cantons within the West Bank and Gaza, and between Palestinians living in historic Palestine and in the diaspora.
Since the Oslo Accords were signed, the PLO, the only legitimate representative of Palestinians, has lost its mandate to the Palestinian Authority. A crucial step forward would be to put the process back in the people’s hands through direct Palestinian National Council elections in which all 11 million Palestinians – Palestinians in the 1948 borders and refugees, as well those in the 1967 Occupied Territories – could vote for leadership that would develop a new strategy for resistance.
This would allow the PLO, led by the National Council, to decide on the Palestinian Authority’s role, and not vice versa. The slogan of dismantling the PA is easy, but it remains unrealistic and unachievable in the near future. What could be changed is the mandate that sets the PA’s role: the Oslo Accords.
Oslo has guaranteed a profitable occupation for Israel. Israel is excused from any responsibility for civil services in the Occupied Territories, while benefiting from Palestinian resources such as land, water, and labour. Security coordination has guaranteed that PA subcontractors “protect” Israelis from any form of Palestinian resistance. But the PA has no ability whatsoever to protect Palestinians from settler terrorist attacks, Israeli military raids or general oppression.
Furthermore, the endless process of negotiations has given Israel a free pass to continue its illegal practices with impunity, while failing to realise even a single achievement for Palestinians.
The Paris Protocol has guaranteed Israel full control of the Palestinian economy, including imports, exports, taxes and prices. The Protocol, combined with incompetent PA policy that has failed to develop local manufacturing and agriculture, has increased dependency on foreign aid.
In most cases, states that have donated to Palestinian institutions and organisations have imposed their own agendas. One method is to link aid to political pressure, such as the US Congress’s decision to cut aid to deter efforts to bring the issue of Palestinian statehood to the United Nations in September 2011.
Other aid has ignored long-term Palestinian goals to challenge Israel’s ethnic-cleansing policy. For example, aid development projects focused on Area A (18 per cent of the West Bank) surrender to Israel’s plans to dominate Area C, which is about 61 per cent of the West Bank.
Dismantling Oslo would suggest structural alternatives for the Palestinian struggle. It wouldn’t be easy, and would mean establishing a different agenda than those in Israel, the international community and much of the Arab world.
This vision must include: unity of Palestinians – whether or not they live within the 1967 Occupied Territories – under the PLO. Old leadership needs to step aside and open a path to a new spirit.
Maintaining law and order and developing a self-dependent economy in the Occupied Territories are essential. We should be inspired by the First Intifada.
Neither donor countries nor Israel will risk “starving us out”. The international community will listen when we are strong, which requires a popular resistance strategy on the ground. Resistance requires morality, efficiency and international support, mainly through the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement against Israel.
As for the two-state solution, a pillar of Oslo, the world will finally realise it is dead when Palestinian leaders stop holding onto it. Then the world will be forced at last to listen to the Palestinian people.