Are the Oslo Accords on Life Support?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

November 3, 2018

Despite recent events aimed at reviving the peace process, life remains unstable and dangerous for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Voices on both sides have spoken of scrapping the Oslo Accords, and there is growing talk of another intifada. Meanwhile, the Palestinian political landscape remains as fractious as ever, a feature only worsened by Israel’s attempts to broker a peace deal with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad while sidestepping the Palestinian Authority altogether.

Palestinians, as this Press TV report shows, are becoming increasingly frustrated with the mounting violence in Gaza and are turning to “lawfare” as a means of pushing back against perceived Israeli impunity: “A senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has strongly condemned an Israeli airstrike near the eastern border of the Gaza Strip, which left three Palestinian children dead, describing it as an ‘ongoing war crime’…. The minors were killed for allegedly attempting to sabotage the border fence between the blockaded coastal enclave and Israeli-occupied territories, and being involved in placing an improvised explosive device adjacent to it…. The high-ranking PLO official then appealed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ‘assume a principled and just stand and press ahead with an official speedy investigation into Israel’s egregious violations and flagrant war crimes being committed against the Palestinians’.”

Also, in what many observers consider a dramatic departure from the status quo, the Palestinian news agency Al Wafa reports that just last week “The Palestinian Central Council (PCC), which met in Ramallah over two days, decided on Monday to end all commitments in the agreements the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has signed with Israel, suspend recognition of Israel until it recognizes the State of Palestine, end security coordination and end the Paris Economic Protocols…. The PCC also expressed support for President Abbas’ opposition to the US administration’s so-called deal of the Century, accusing the US of siding with the Israeli occupation and of being ‘part of the problem and not part of the solution’. It also held Hamas responsible for failing to implement the agreements it had signed with Fatah over the years.”

Such actions have raised the possibility that we may see even more violence in the coming weeks and months, which, as this Al Ahram editorial points out, is being actively discussed in the region: “several Israeli politicians and analysts have been warning of the outbreak of another uprising, or Intifada, that will shake the basis of the entire so-called peace process that started 25 years ago with the signing of the Oslo Accords. The Israeli government must set election priorities aside and embark on a serious peace process based on recognizing that occupation of land by force cannot last forever. More than 70 years of wars and violence against Palestinians did not produce the results Israel wanted. The steadfastness of the Palestinian people, and their deep belonging to their land, despite all odds, should provide enough lessons. Otherwise, Israel is brewing a new Intifada that should not come as a surprise to anyone.”

On the other hand, Egypt has been working behind the scenes with Hamas to negotiate a ceasefire in Gaza. And judging from various news reports, Hamas may not be the only Palestinian political organization with whom Israel has been negotiating. According to the Iranian news agency Press TV: “The Palestinian Islamic Jihad resistance movement says it has agreed with Egyptian mediators to stop firing rockets from the Gaza Strip into the Israeli-occupied territories and restore calm in the besieged coastal enclave…. Earlier, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, al-Quds Brigades, said it had fired dozens of rockets from Gaza into communities in the southern sector of the occupied territories in retaliation for Israel’s killing and injuring a number of Palestinian protesters on Friday…. In response, Israeli fighter jets carried out intensive airstrikes on military facilities, training posts and buildings, which belonged to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, all over the Gaza Strip.”

News of the agreement comes after several op-eds criticized or questioned Hamas’s tactics vis-à-vis Israel. In an op-ed for Jordan Times, Walid Sadi observes that under Hamas’ rule, “the Gaza siege if anything is increasing rather than decreasing, the hardships on the people are mounting not receding, and the Gazan economy is in tatters, not improving. All this military effort does not appear to bring the Palestinians any closer to their national aspiration for statehood, albeit it is extracting from Israel a modest price by denying it tranquility and peace along its southern border. If the answer to all these legitimate questions is in the negative, this makes the weekly military pressures on Israel not really cost effective from a military or political point of view unless Hamas knows something that is not known or appreciated by all Palestinians. If that is indeed the case, Hamas must come out in the open and explain its tactics better if not its strategy.”

On the other hand, the Netanyahu government has been criticized by some in the Israeli press for being indecisive in its handling of the ongoing instability in Gaza. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yonatan Yavin, for example, notes that the Israeli government needs to begin taking meaningful action against the leadership of Hamas, rather than just protestors: “Netanyahu and Lieberman have been threatening to strike Hamas with ‘the hardest blow’ imaginable for the past few weeks. However, ‘the hardest blow’ would be dropping an atomic bomb, and between that and what we have seen from IDF so far, there is still a wide range of military options which have not been exercised…. The problem is that Lieberman, Netanyahu and the Security Cabinet has so far refrained from striking Hamas even with the easiest of blows. Although the snipers on the border fence might shoot dead some teenagers, but the leaders of Hamas? They safely drink their tea with salvia.”

Still, last week’s visit of Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu to Oman and the apparent willingness of Muscat to mediate peace talks between Israel and Palestine is seen by some as a sign of progress. A recent editorial by The National, in fact, urges all concerned parties to “seize” the opportunity since “the region is in dire need of movement towards a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict…. Regardless of how we have reached this point, this is a moment to be seized as an opportunity to secure a peace deal. That requires honesty from all sides but above all, it requires the rights of Palestinians to be respected and placed at the forefront of any negotiations. If the Israelis are willing to show courage and respect the Palestinians’ right to statehood, as well as their status as citizens with the same protection as Israelis, this could be the time for all parties concerned to negotiate a peace settlement that is beneficial to all.”

However, many, including Arab News’s Mohammed Alsulami, remain skeptical of the “ultimate deal,” worried that it may be nothing more than window dressing, rather than a good-faith effort to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people: “Without a shadow of a doubt, a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the root of all differences in the region — deserves every bit of our attention and all efforts possible to make it happen. However, self-centered ambitions and rivalries for regional prominence have dominated the peace process from the very beginning. Almost all countries, as well as different factions, have been using the Palestinian card to serve their ideological and political projects. Actually, they do not want to end this conflict, protecting their trump card that they have been using for decades.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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