Palestinian rejection of Oslo deal a chance to start new peace process

By dismissing 1993 accord, Mahmoud Abbas could override agreement favouring Israel

 Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas: has called for a review of all agreements reached by the PLO and Israel. Photograph: Alaa Badarneh

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas: has called for a review of all agreements reached by the PLO and Israel. Photograph: Alaa Badarneh

 

Decisions taken by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) could reverse commitments made in more than 26 years of failed negotiations with the Israelis, beginning with the 1991 Madrid international conference.

These negotiations culminated in the signing on the White House lawn of the Oslo Accord in September 1993. Under the accord, Palestinians thought they would achieve self-determination in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, which were occupied by Israel in 1967.

Abbas has declared the moribund Oslo deal dead; the council ruled that Palestinian obligations under Oslo “no longer stand”. If Abbas and the council are serious, Palestinian recognition of Israel, granted ahead of the signing of the accord, has been withdrawn and Palestinians are no longer bound by it and a range of commitments made under Oslo, a deal that always favoured Israel.

Before the signing ceremony, the PLO was compelled to recognise Israel’s right to exist in peace and security in exchange for Israeli recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. There was no equivalence.

Nevertheless, the PLO and the international community celebrated the Oslo process as the route to a “two-state solution”, the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, PLO chairman and president Yasser Arafat and Abbas believed progress toward statehood was irreversible. They were proved wrong.

Israeli settlements

Negotiations stalled, the 1999 deadline for the end of the Oslo process passed, and Israel constructed settlements on land Palestinians demanded for their state. In 1993, there were 260,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; now there are more than 600,000, according to Israeli peace group B’Tselem.

Today, Israel has full control of 62 per cent of the West Bank and all of East Jerusalem. Palestinians have limited autonomy in urban enclaves in the West Bank. Gaza – evacuated in 2005 by Israeli settlers and soldiers – is controlled by Israel from land, sea and air.

Revoking Oslo has been painful for Abbas. He was godfather of the accord, a vague document that did not lay down a timetable for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory or mandate a halt to Israeli settlement. Abbas was partly responsible for the accord’s weaknesses as he chose the PLO negotiators, Ahmad Qurei of Fatah and Hassan Asfour from the People’s (Communist) party. Neither was fluent in English or had a background in international law. The Israeli team possessed both assets, which they used to Israel’s advantage.

Violence renounced

While Arafat kept a return to armed struggle as a means to exert pressure on Israel to deliver on its commitments, Abbas, who became president in 2005, renounced violence and continues to do so.

Although the PLO council called for a halt to Palestinian security co-ordination with Israel, Abbas is unlikely to comply. While he will not dismantle the Palestinian Authority, an interim body created by Oslo, he could call for its recognition as the government of a Palestinian state within the 1967 ceasefire lines. He has called for a review of all agreements reached by the PLO and Israel to determine their relevancy.

When he visits Brussels at the end of this month, he could ask the EU to assume the major role in a new peace process based on UN resolutions 242 and 338, calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory.

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