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Oslo returns

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?  With the agreement to meet in Washington in the coming weeks, both Israel and the Palestinians are returning to the Oslo Accords, whether either side wants to admit it or not.

Since we’ve had several versions of the Oslo Accords what shall we call the agreement that Israelis and Palestinians are at least thinking about talking about?  Oslo Redux?

Think about what’s on the table and what isn’t.   The most Israel is willing to let go of and the most Palestinians can hope for is a negotiated autonomy for Palestinians in (parts of) Jerusalem and (parts of) the West Bank.  Gaza remains in limbo, cornered by Israel and Egypt. 

The same Oslo rules apply as in the original accords. For Palestinians – no military, no control of borders, no independent foreign policy, no movement without being surrounded by Israeli settlers and security infrastructure. For Israel – permanent occupation/control of (all of) Jerusalem and (all of) the West Bank, with the major settlements intact and the matrix of control that guarantees security for those settlements made permanent. As well, Israel obtains a final end to Palestinian claims on what was Palestine and what happened to Palestinians in the creation of Israel.

Now think about the players on the Israeli side. Prime Minister Netanyahu is in the lead on the Israeli side – as he was when the he effectively ended the Oslo process when he became Prime Minister after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.  Word today is that Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel, will be the lead moderator in the coming talks in Washington.  Remember him as the Oslo Accords were set in place, as they unfolded and were finished off? 

As the Times reports, experts on the Middle East peace process agree that Indyk is the man for the job.  After all, he’s been around, is well connected and is acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinians. In short, Indyk is perfectly suited for Oslo’s return.

I ran into Indyk a few years ago in Oslo, Norway at a conference on the 15th anniversary of the Oslo Accords.  In fact, I shared the stage with him on a panel about the future of Israel/Palestine.  Before our panel, I heard Indyk recall how close a peace deal had been during the first years of the Oslo period.  It was all about closing the deal.  Justice wasn’t on the table.

Off stage, Indyk was quite the diplomat, speaking in soft tones and assuming we shared the same perspective as Americans and as Jews.  On stage his manner shifted.  When I talked about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the formation of Israel, Indyk groaned audibly.  He could hardly believe what he heard.  Sharing a stage with me was a like a nightmare he wanted desperately to awaken from.

The only speakers at the conference who were more disappointing than Indyk were two Norwegian diplomats who played important roles in the Oslo process.  They couldn’t have been more naïve about what they had gotten themselves into in the first place or about why the accords had failed.  American diplomats are correctly criticized for their combination of naiveté and power.  The Norwegians have little power.  They have plenty of naiveté.

In the last few days, I keep thinking of George Santayana’s admonition: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  But, then, in our Oslo return, we not only know Oslo’s history, we’re living it.  The same political players are about to tweak it.

Oslo Redux.  Is this any way to create a viable and just future for Jews and Palestinians in Israel/Palestine?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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7 Responses

  1. Justpassingby
    July 22, 2013, 12:23 pm

    So the bribed PA and their masters and occupier Israel is having ” talks” . Complete circus!

  2. W.Jones
    July 22, 2013, 1:32 pm

    Good title.

    The Palestinian Authority said it wasn’t going to return to negotiations unless settlement building stopped, asking – What’s there to negotiate about when we are being dispossessed by the stronger force? Now it looks like the PA changed its mind because of Kerry’s substance-less “diplomacy.”

  3. just
    July 22, 2013, 4:11 pm

    It’s completely nuts. The President should know better, but he’s caved/surrendered/been squashed like a bug in a most despicable way Or maybe he doesn’t give a hoot. I truly believe that the Palestinians should march straight to the UN and submit their applications, etc. There is no point to this ‘process’ with the ‘same old, same old’ folks and agenda. I believe that you are correct:

    “It was all about closing the deal. Justice wasn’t on the table.”

    It never has been.

    History will judge these folks harshly. I know I am right now.

  4. southernobserver
    July 22, 2013, 9:45 pm

    Well, on the evidence available many of us believe very strongly that the deal reached at Oslo was much worse than nothing, that it has accelerated the ongoing war against the Palestinians, because they stopped fighting back, and reduced Istratines costs of enforcement.

  5. American
    July 22, 2013, 11:50 pm

    here’s the full text of the Oslo Accords

    here are the main Isr violations of the agreement…there are others such as Isr violation of water price and usage and others financial agreement violations.

    Israel’s Violations of the Oslo Agreements:

    1) Israel Has Failed to End its Occupation

    The Oslo Agreements provide that Palestinians would have their freedom by May 1999. To date, Israel’s military occupation not only continues, but intensifies. The Declaration of Principles provides that the interim period is not to exceed five years (Article 1), from May 4, 1994. This is confirmed in Article 4 of the Wye River Memorandum. The interim period commenced with Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho on May 1994. By May 1999, the interim period was to have ended and Palestinians were to be given their freedom. To date, Israel has failed to end its military occupation.

    2) After missing this deadline, Israel renegotiated a new deadline with the PLO. Under Article 1 of the Sharm El-Sheikh Memorandum, the Palestinians were to be given their freedom on September 13, 2000. By September 13, 2000, the Palestinians were still living under military occupation and continue to do so.

    3) Israel Continues to Build and Expand Its Illegal Colonies

    The Fourth Geneva Convention, ratified by Israel in June 1951 and which was not superceded by the Oslo Agreements, prohibits Israel from establishing colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention states “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The Oslo Agreements reaffirm this position. Article 31 of the Interim Agreement provides that “the two parties view the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period.” Article 31 also provides that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”

    Despite these articles and in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has since 1993:

    4) Doubled the number of settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There are now approximately 400,000

    5) Increased the number of illegal housing units in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (excluding Occupied East Jerusalem) by 62%

    6) Confiscated more than 60,000 acres of Palestinian land for colony construction and related by-pass roads, uprooted 220,000 trees and demolished 690 homes in the West Bank alone

    7) Removed from official government maps the Green Line separating Israel from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, thereby failing to recognize the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a “single territorial unit”. (See official Touring Map of Israel issued by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism).

    8) Fails to Withdraw from Palestinian Territories

    Under the Oslo Agreements, Israel’s occupation forces were to have withdrawn from substantially all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by July, 1997 – more than four and a half years ago. The process of withdrawal was to be carried out in three phases, beginning in October 1996 and ending in July 1997 and would have transferred approximately 88 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control. Israel delayed each and every phase of the withdrawal. The Palestinian Authority has only full jurisdiction over 17.2 percent of the West Bank.

    9) Israel Fails to Release Political Prisoners

    Throughout Israel’s 35-year occupation of the Palestinian Territories, Israel imprisoned and detained thousands of Palestinians. Israel’s rate was so widespread that Palestinians suffered from one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world.

    The Oslo Agreements contain a number of provisions regarding the release of political prisoners.

    Article 20 of the Gaza Strip and Jericho Agreement required Israel to release over 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners. Article 16 of the Interim Agreement provided for further releases of Palestinian prisoners in three phases, the last of which was to occur during permanent status negotiations. Finally, Article 3 of the Sharm El-Sheikh Memorandum provided for the release of 350 political prisoners in September and October of 1999 and in December 1999 and January 2000. Despite these agreements, as of December 2000, approximately 1,350 Palestinians remained in Israeli custody, in violation of the Oslo Agreements.[5]

    10) Israel Fails to Open the Northern Safe Passage Route between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and Closes the Southern Safe Passage Route

    Under the Interim Agreement (Annex I, Article 10) and the Sharm El-Sheikh Memorandum (Article 5), Israel was required to open both a northern and a southern safe passage route to connect the West Bank to the Gaza Strip for the movement of persons, vehicles and goods. The southern safe passage route was closed on October 8, 2000. The northern safe passage route was never opened.

    12) Israel Fails to Co-operate on Security Matters

    The Interim Agreement requires Israel and the Palestinian Authority to cooperate on security matters. (Annex I, Article 3). Since October 2000, Israel unilaterally decided not to cooperate with the PA on security matters. Repeated calls by the PA to resume security cooperation have been ignored by Israel.

    13) Israel Uses Lethal Force

    The Interim Agreement provides clear rules of engagement for Israeli soldiers:

    [T]he use of firearms…shall not be allowed, except as a last resort after all attempts at controlling the act or the incident, such as warning the perpetrator or shooting in the air, have failed or are ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result in the circumstances. Use of firearms should be aimed at deterring or apprehending, and not killing the perpetrator. The use of firearms shall cease once the danger is past. (Interim Agreement, Annex I, Article XI (3)(c)).

    Despite this provision, Israeli soldiers have deliberately aimed at killing Palestinian protestors and have not used live fire as a last resort. After conducting an inquiry into the Israel’s practices during the current uprising, Physicians for Human Rights (USA) concluded that the “IDF soldiers are not firing only in life-threatening situations and they are firing at heads and thighs in order to injure and kill, not to avoid loss of life and injury.”[6] Furthermore, even non-violent demonstrations (including those that do not involve stone-throwing), have met with violent responses by Israeli occupation forces. [7]

    14) Israel Denies Palestinians Freedom of Movement

    The Interim Agreement compels both sides to “respect[] and preserv[e] without obstacles, normal and smooth movement of people, vehicles and goods within the West Bank, and between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” (Interim Agreement, Annex I, Article 1 .

    In contravention of these obligations, Israel has repeatedly imposed severe restrictions on the movement of persons, vehicles and goods through the establishment of more than 120 checkpoints in the West Bank alone, (dividing the West Bank into 64 cantons) and through Israel’s destruction of Palestinian roads and bridges.

    15) Israel Fails to Prosecute Israeli Settlers for Crimes Committed Against Palestinians

    Under the Interim Agreement, Israel is required to prosecute Israelis for crimes committed against Palestinians (Annex I, Articles 2 and 3). Since the signing of the Interim Agreement, there have been hundreds of attacks against Palestinians and Palestinian property. Since October 2000 alone, 44 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers, and there have been hundreds of attacks on Palestinian property. Israel has not prosecuted ANY of these settlers for their crimes.

    Doesnt matter what Israel agrees to they will always violate any agreement. They will provoke and manufacture violence as an excuse and they will lie. There has never been a single Isr government that kept their word on anything.
    The concept of honor, giving your word, living up to agreements is not part of Isr culture or character. Isr wll do this until someone puts an end to it.

    When you gonna learn Palestine?…….Get out of the Stockholm syndrome…… to the ICC.

    • Citizen
      July 23, 2013, 4:04 am

      @ American
      Thanks for sharing, some write up!
      Now I’m depressed.

  6. mcohen
    July 25, 2013, 6:33 am

    Marc H. Ellis on July 22, 2013 says

    “Oslo Redux.  Is this any way to create a viable and just future for Jews and Palestinians in Israel/Palestine?”

    I sincerely hope that you will still be able to make this statement in 2 years from now.

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