[Published 29 December 2011]
Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk may have been a little premature when he stated on 20 September:
"It’s over: the “peace process”, the “road map”, the “Oslo agreement”; the whole fandango is history. Personally, I think “Palestine” is a fantasy state, impossible to create now that the Israelis have stolen so much of the Arabs’ land for their colonial projects."
Fisk - in attributing this simplistic reason for signing Oslo’s death certificate - totally ignored the two offers made by Israel in 2001 and 2008 to cede its claims under the Mandate for Palestine and the United Nations Charter in more than 90% of the land won from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War.
The real reasons for Oslo’s demise are far deeper and more complex - revealing unbridgeable gaps between Israel and the PLO in reaching any agreement with regard to the following issues after failed on and off negotiations extending over the last 19 years:
1.Israel’s demands that
(i) Israel be recognized as the Jewish State
(ii) Any Palestinian State be demilitarized
(iii)The final borders determined between it and a Palestinian State be secure and recognized boundaries as stipulated by United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338
2.The PLO’s demands that
(i) Israel cede its claims in 100% of the territory won from Jordan in the 1967 War - with possibly equivalent land swaps to negate the removal of Jews from their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
(ii) Israel agree to accept millions of Palestinian Arabs - and their descendants - who became refugees as a result of the 1948 War
Fisk’s prediction has however been given added weight with the news this week that Hamas has agreed to join the PLO.
If this was to actually occur Israel’s Prime Minister made his government’s position very clear when Israel Radio reportedly quoted him as saying that if Hamas joins the Palestinian government, he would refuse to conduct peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Little comfort can be taken from the news that the Palestinian Authority might now be prepared to resume the long stalled peace negotiations with Israel if it released 100 prisoners. The parties can talk till the cows come in. But after 19 fruitless years - can sufficient pressure be put on both sides to come to an agreement on all their outstanding demands?
The Oslo Accords - and the Palestinian Authority - were born amid great enthusiasm in 1993.
The Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee - Francis Sejersted - expressed the following hopes of the Committee when awarding the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzchak Rabin:
"In the committee’s view, the so-called Oslo Accords concluded last year between Israel and the PLO meant that developments in the Middle East had taken a new turning. What was revolutionary about them was the de facto mutual recognition by the two parties. Not least by virtue of that recognition, the accords opened up a possible way out of the vicious circle of violence breeding violence, and towards peaceful co-existence."
The Nobel Committee’s optimism was misplaced.
Yasser Arafat had signed a side letter dated 9 September 1993 - nine days prior to signing the Declaration of Principles in which he assured Yitzchak Rabin:
"The signing of the Declaration of Principles marks a new era… I would like to confirm the following PLO commitments: The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The PLO commits itself…to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations…the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators…the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid. Consequently, the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant."
In breach of those commitments:
1. The PLO Covenant still remains unchanged and unrevised in 2011.
2. The PLO has rejected the idea of Israel being entitled to secure and recognized borders as required under Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338
3. The PLO has unilaterally sought to gain statehood - not through negotiations - but by seeking recognition and admission to the United Nations and UNESCO.
4. The PLO is demanding pre-conditions for resuming the stalled negotiations with Israel.
Indeed one would be unable to find any improvement in the relationship between Israel and the PLO in 2011 to that which existed in 1994 when Mr Serjested declared:
"The situation is still full of tension, marked by violence, killings, and insecurity, and stability is still far to seek"
The PLO has been given its opportunity for the last 19 years to create a second Arab state in former Palestine - in addition to Jordan - but quite frankly has missed the boat.
Martin Sherman has summed up the current situation in these terms:
"For almost two decades after the Oslo Accords—despite massive financial aid and political support—they have produced nothing but a deeply divided entity, crippled by corruption and cronyism.
The result is a dysfunctional polity unable to conduct even the semblance of timely elections, and a puny economy, comprising a minuscule private sector and a bloated public one, totally unsustainable without massive infusions of foreign funds."
Sherman’s prescription to abandon Oslo and the two-state solution predicated by the Bush Roadmap is described by him as follows :
"Since the geography is immutable, the focus must be on the demography.
It is thus no more than “elementary” that the long-term preservation of the Jewish state must involve the relocation of the non-Israeli Arabs between the river and the sea. Any other option is self-deluded wishful thinking—or at least the burden of proof to show otherwise is on the proponents of such an option, especially in view of the post-Oslo/post-disengagement experiences."
I beg to differ.
Restoring the status quo at 4 June 1967 - as far as can now be done in direct negotiations between Israel and Jordan (and possibly Egypt) and within the framework of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and their existing peace treaties - will involve no-one - Arab or Jew - having to leave his current home unless he voluntarily wishes to do so.
This is not self-deluded wishful thinking - but It will need some pressure by the Quartet - America, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - to be placed on Jordan and Egypt to sit down and negotiate with Israel if they refuse to do so voluntarily.
The alternative - continued tension, violence, insecurity, killings and instability - cannot be allowed to deteriorate into an inevitable slide into open warfare.
To hope for anything else as we usher in 2012 is pure folly.