Twenty years have passed since the signing of the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo Accords. Lauded as the first step to a lasting peace, they in fact left Israel with control over 60 per cent of the West Bank. Palestinians have defined Oslo ever since as a dark and regrettable moment in their history.
For many here, this anniversary makes the current round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), now entering their third month, all the more galling.
‘The Palestinians have no hope for a positive outcome,’ says Mousa Abu Maria, co-founder of the Palestine Solidarity Project in the West Bank city of Beit Ommar. ‘The US have encouraged this latest round of talks to de-legitimize the EU’s decision to boycott Israeli settlement products.’
In Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem, those who I spoke to last August all felt that the talks will not bring change on the ground.
It seems that Israel agrees. The government’s actions have been overtly hostile, even if its words are of peace. Two days before the negotiations began, Israeli authorities gave the green light to the construction of 1,200 new settlement homes in the West Bank. The use of live ammunition against Palestinians by the Israel Defense Forces has increased, resulting in the deaths of four civilians during the last week of August. It begs the question whether Israeli officials are actively working to provoke the Palestinian Authority (PA) into abandoning the negotiations.
Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israeli forces agreed to withdraw gradually from the occupied West Bank and Gaza before handing full control over to a newly established PA within five years. Instead, Israel remains in possession of the majority of the land in the West Bank, where it has built illegal Israeli settlements and ‘military zones’, evicting whole villages, demolishing homes and intimidating local populations in the process.
For Palestinian officials, entering into new peace talks shows the world they are serious about achieving self-determination through a two-state solution. Israel’s relentless settlement building makes them fearful that time – and land – is running out.
But for most of the Palestinian population, the legacy of the Oslo Accords shows there will never be a just peace process while Israel holds all the cards. The majority also feel the PA does not represent them, making the peace process inherently undemocratic.
In the words of Noam Chomsky, ‘Of course, everybody says they’re for peace… The question is: “What kind of peace?”’