Twenty years ago, then-Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn to publicly declare mutual recognition and to sign the interim memorandum of understanding that had been agreed to in secret talks in Oslo. The Oslo Accords and the various agreements that stemmed from them have become the main reference point between Palestinians and Israelis. But instead of being a precursor to permanent peace, these accords are seen by many Palestinians as the main source of the continuation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
There are 15 problems with the accords, as seen from the Palestinian side:
- Temporary nature. The accords were produced in such a way as to promote a gradual change in the situation. The authors of the agreement wanted to give the leaders time to convince their publics and to build trust. The agreement was expected to last no more than five years. Now, 20 years later, the Palestinian nightmare that the interim agreement would become permanent has been realized. No clause existed in the agreement to deal with this problem.
- Lack of framework. Not only has this temporary agreement become permanent, but its temporary nature allowed its framers to avoid some basic issues that should have set the parameters. Issues such as borders, settlements, refugees, security and Jerusalem were to be solved within this five-year period without a clear reference point by which future negotiators would be bound. The absence of a framework also left vague the status of the areas occupied in 1967, so Palestinians couldn’t and still can’t demand that Israel treat these areas as occupied territories, although the entire world sees them as such.
- Lack of a settlement freeze. While Palestinian negotiators are said to have tried to win a suspension of all Israeli settlement-building during the interim period, they failed to obtain such a commitment and with the interim period extending for two decades without any framework, the Israelis enjoyed a free hand in building wherever and whenever they wanted without any legal accountability. Twice as many settlers are now living in the occupied territories than lived there in 1993.
- Jerusalem. Because of major disagreements over Jerusalem, the parties agreed to postpone discussions on the holy city and its population until the permanent status talks, which were to be concluded within five years. But without a framework and with the talks failing to produce any agreements, the Israelis, who passed its own laws on east Jerusalem, considered its actions de facto applicable and have since succeeded in isolating the city with a 10 meter wall and dozens of checkpoints. Administrative policies leading to the loss of residency by thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites have gone unchecked and Israeli policy toward the holy places, especially the Al Aqsa Mosque, have continued unabated.
- Areas A, B and C. The division of the Palestinian occupied areas into different classifications was, again, meant to be temporary. Since over 60% is considered Area C, over which Israel has both security and administrative control, Palestinian development in these areas was totally stunted. The Israelis have reneged on Area A, to which Palestinians were granted both exclusive security and administrative rights. Continued incursions into the major Palestinian-populated cities have made Palestinian security forces look like Israeli stooges.
- Enforcement mechanisms. One of the biggest loopholes in the Oslo Accords is the absence of any recourse if one party refuses to carry through on a commitment. Even though the memorandum of understanding was signed in Washington, no third party is officially included that could guarantee the effectiveness of the accords or ensure their implementation. No penalty is applied to a party that refuses to enforce any element, leaving the power solely in the hands of the occupiers, who control almost all aspects of Palestinian life and are able to ignore any element of their choosing without any cost.
- Refugees. The Palestinian refugees might be the biggest losers of the Oslo Accords. While the PLO mainly considered itself a movement launched by and for refugees, the agreement only refers to their case as one of the permanent-status issues without any framework or reference points such as UN Resolution 194.
- Economic relations. The Paris Protocol that stemmed from the Oslo Accords is greatly beneficial to the Israeli economy and businesses in Israel. Israel continues to control the entry of goods intended for the Palestinian areas, collecting customs on products earmarked for Palestine. Israeli producers also continue to enjoy a near monopoly on a captive Palestinian market.
- Restrictions on movement. Although the Oslo Accords included provisions for a permanent Palestinian police presence on all border crossings, the Israelis reneged on these deals after the breakout of the second intifada in October 2000 and set up hundreds of checkpoints that continue up to now. And despite commitments to return to the pre-2000 status, the Israelis have not done so, even after the launch of the current talks.
- Water. The scarcity of water and Israel's refusal to allow Palestinians to dig wells in Area C, which is rich in underground water, has led to severe shortages, while Israel provides settlers with plenty of subsidized water.
- Gaza-West Bank safe passage. The movement of people and goods was included in the Oslo Accords, but was never implemented beyond a few days. A late effort by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to revive the agreement was never implemented by the Israelis.
- The wall. There is no mention of the Israeli security wall in the Oslo Accords, but the absence of an agreement on the borders allowed Israel to illegally build the wall deep in Palestinian areas. This barrier was constructed based on Israeli interests to protect settlements and reinforce the expanded borders of Jerusalem. Although the Palestinians sought legal advice about the illegality of the wall from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Israel refused to budge on its location.
- Civil administration. While the Oslo Accords speak about the need to dissolve the Israeli-run civil administration, which controls, among other things, licenses for construction in Area C, this has never happened.
- The Isolation of Gaza. The Oslo Accords state that Gaza and the West Bank are a single entity. International officials have repeatedly said that they support an independent Palestinian state that is viable and contiguous. The unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza isolated the Gaza Strip. Israel made no guarantees in the Oslo Accords about this continuity and in fact destroyed the Gaza's airport and seaport as punishment for violence against its citizens and soldiers. Lack of enforcement of the border agreements and the Gaza-West Bank safe-passage clause added to the isolation of Gaza.
- Communications. The Oslo Accords include a provision that calls for the creation of a joint technical committee to resolve communications issues. This joint committee has rarely met and when it did meet, there was little agreement on issues. The Israelis retained de facto veto power on all telecommunications developments. For example, Israel has refused to allow the development of 3G cellular communications for the national cellular company, Jawwal.
The backbone of governance and life for Palestinians continues to be dictated by the terms of an agreement signed in Oslo that favored Israel and its expansionist intent more than it prepared the ground for Palestinian statehood.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab