Killing off a dead Oslo

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Akiva Eldar recently wrote a piece in the Israeli daily Haaretz, in which Eldar pushes for the end of the Oslo Accords and all of the false hope that comes with them. The Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 (Oslo 2 was signed in 1995) and a permanent final status agreement was to be agreed upon by 1999. But then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist and the far right of the Israeli political spectrum took control with the election of Benyamin Netanyahu (for the first time) and the Oslo Accords were killed. Netanyahu admitted as much, taking credit for deceiving the United States and destroying the Oslo Accords.

Yet Oslo just won’t go away. The West Bank is still divided into Areas A, B, and C, the Palestinian Authority is still pushing for an independent Palestine and Israel is still colonizing its way across the entirety of the West Bank. Eldar argues that it is time to ‘put the Oslo Accords out of their misery.’ Rather, it is time for Palestine, Israel and the United States to stop living in the fantasy of a world where Oslo continues to be relevant. The Oslo Accords have already been killed. It is time for leaders to move on to the acceptance stage of the grieving process.

The United States is certainly still in the denial stage.

Stephen Walt writes that the continued presence of Dennis Ross is a clear sign that the US is still pushing for something that is no longer viable. As Eldar points out and Walt highlights, Ross has been nothing but an abject failure when it comes to Middle East peace. He has watched over the stagnation of negotiations and the continuation of Israeli colonization over the course of four presidencies lasting nearly two decades. As Walt puts it:

In what other line of work could someone fail consistently for two decades and still have a job? If you were a baseball manager and your team didn’t make the playoffs for two decades running, you’d have been canned long ago. If you were a CEO and you lost money for twenty straight years, the Board of Directors or the shareholders would have hired a replacement long ago. If you were a dean or a university president and faculty quality, student achievement and the size of the endowment kept declining on your watch, it’s a safe bet you’d be told that your services were no longer required.

But when it comes to U.S. Middle East policy, there is hardly any accountability.

It is time for the United States to move forward. It is time for rational and impartial minds to realize that the two state solution and the Oslo Accords that were ostensibly designed to lead there are dead and gone. Dennis Ross, in other words, should start looking for a new job. I have previously called the Oslo Accords both antiquated and defunct and have discussed the need for a one state solution – either binational or as a secular democracy. Chris Whitman has argued that Palestinians should be pushing for the dissolution of the PA (a creation of Oslo) and equal rights under a secular democracy (I disagree with parts of Chris’ argument, but agree with the basic premise).

It is not hard to see how far gone a two-state solution is. Not only will Israel refuse to necessary concessions such as the division of Jerusalem or complete Palestinian sovereignty (ie no Israeli military presence) in all of the Palestinian territories (particularly the Jordan Valley), but a two state agreement would completely ignore the rights of the Palestinian refugee population and officially destroy the right of return. Moreover, should Dennis Ross and other advocates of the deceased Oslo Accords succeed in convincing the Israeli government that two state negotiations should begin with 1967 borders with agreed land swaps (unlikely under the current Israeli leadership), it is unlikely that even the most liberal of land swaps would be acceptable for the Palestinians or possible for the Israelis.

Earlier this year, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) published several possibilities for land swap agreements. The first option saw a 1:1 territory exchange of nearly 300 square kilometers, with Israel keeping about 80% of the settlers, leaving 59,782 settlers to either accept Palestinians citizenship or to relocate. Option two exchanged 267 km squared, with Israel retaining 73.3% of settlers, leaving 79,805 settlers in Palestinian territory. Finally the third option exchanged 230 km squared, with Israel keeping 68.5% of settlers, leaving 94,226 settlers in Palestinian territory. This does not even include the settlers in East Jerusalem – another 192,000 settlers who would need to be evacuated – because, according to the report, “Israel does not refer to such residents as settlers.”

So would Israel be able to forcibly evacuate the minimum of 251,782 settlers from East Jerusalem and the settlements included in the land swaps? Let’s simplify this; forget East Jerusalem. Would Israel be able to evacuate the 59,782 settlers proposed in option one? Consider that in 2005 when Israel left the Gaza strip, it forced around 8,500 settlers out of Gaza costing the Israeli government around US$ 1.245 billion (each family was given around US$ 200k – US$ 300k plus other benefits). In other words, including compensation and administrative costs, Israel spend around US$146,470 per person. At that rate, evacuation of the West Bank settlements under the most Israeli friendly plan, Israel would need to spend US$8.748 billion (US$28.878 billion if the plan were to include the settlers in East Jerusalem).

Now keep in mind that the West Bank (Judea and Samaria for Israelis) holds far more religious and historical value than the Gaza strip and one can easily predict that removal of the West Bank settlers would be more difficult than those in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis protested the disengagement plan for Gaza, Israelis resurrected imagery from the Holocaust to compare the Israeli government to Nazis and committed acts of violence against Palestinians across Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. It is hard to believe that should the Israeli government evacuate a quarter million settlers from some of the most emotionally and religiously charged areas (Jerusalem and Khalil, or Hebron, for example) or settlements and outposts (Yitzhar or Givat Ronen, for example) will not produce greater (and longer lasting) violence among the believers of a Greater Israel.

And so we move back to Dennis Ross, the reliance on the deceased Oslo Accords and the possibility of a two state solution. Eldar and Walt are correct to mock Ross. Ross has used the Oslo Accords as a pretext for baseless negotiations that mask Israeli settlement construction for years. The United States, Israel and Palestine must find a way to move away from this hopeless track of failed negotiations and dependence on an agreement that should have been pronounced dead and gone more than a decade ago. Inevitably, any one state solution, secular democracy or binational, will have massive problems with identification, coexistence and equality. But blindly pursuing an impossibility based on the Oslo Accords is hardly a better alternative.

This post originally appeared on Notes from a Medinah

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