In September 1993 the world celebrated what it thought was the beginning of the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Oslo Accords was supposed to lead to a “comprehensive peace agreement” by 1999, and eventually, a Palestinian state, with the then newly-founded Palestinian Authority (PA) serving as an interim self-government.
Twenty-five years after Oslo, the PA remains in power, and a fair and just peace agreement for the Palestinians remains far out of reach. The dream of an independent Palestinian state even further.
Mondoweiss spoke with two young Palestinians, from the so-called “Oslo generation,” as they looked back at the fateful day 25 years ago that has shaped their lives in more ways than could have been imagined.
‘The people had no say’
“What does Oslo mean to me? For me, Oslo means that the Palestinian people did not get to decide their fate as a whole.”
The words of Yasmin Abu Shakdim, a 22-year-old Sociology student from the city of Hebron, are expressive of a sentiment held by many Palestinian youth.
The Oslo Accords signified, as Abu Shakdim put it, “a decision made by a few members of the Palestinian elite” that did not represent the desires of the Palestinian people.
“The whole idea of Oslo is giving the elite Palestinians the power to control a few areas in the West Bank,” she said, “it was created to have shared benefits between the Israelis and a few Palestinians. A few Palestinians got positions of power, and Israel consolidated its control over us.”
Meras al-Azza, a 25-year-old Palestinian refugee living in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, expressed similar sentiments to Mondoweiss as he sat in his family’s modest courtyard.
“They sold out the Palestinian people,” he said matter of factly, when asked what he thought of the Accords. “Oslo was a great deal for Israel, and Israel alone.”
“Oslo signified the Palestinians giving up the rights to all the lands of pre-1948 Palestine to Israel. That’s two-thirds of our historic lands,” al-Azza, a third generation refugee, said.
One of the biggest faults of Oslo for both al-Azza and Abu Shakdim was the premise on which the Accords were signed.
“Oslo did not change anything except for the worse,” Abu Shakdim told Mondoweiss.
“The negotiators, the few that they were, they did not negotiate on the basis that Israel is an occupier or colonizer,” she continued. “They negotiated as if it was just there and we have to accept it, that Israel is a reality that we cannot change. It normalized the occupation in every way.”
“It was only Fatah that went to the negotiations, and they did not represent all the people,” al-Azza said. “It was shameful for the Palestinians to take this deal.”
“They gave up all of our land against the will of the Palestinian people.”
Under the Oslo Accords, the West Bank and East Jerusalem remained occupied, swaths of land — more than 60% of the West Bank — were transferred into full Israeli control as “Area C”, and within a few years, the Second Intifada broke out, and Gaza was put under Israeli land, air, and sea blockade.
Today, the 26-foot-tall separation wall continues to be built, and military watchtowers continue to spring up across the territory.
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlement activity has continued unhampered, with the number of settlers increasing from 110,000 on the eve of the Accords in 1993 to an estimated 550-600,000 settlers living in the occupied territory today.
Both al-Azza and Abu Shakdim criticized the decision makers of Oslo, many of whom, remain in power today.
“Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) had started to rise to the center of power in Fatah around the time of Oslo, and he was one of the major decision makers in the negotiations,” al-Azza said.
“As a result of Oslo, we were given these leaders controlling us, leaders that we did not choose,” Abu Shakdim said. “They didn’t ask the Palestinian people if we should negotiate or not, or what points should we negotiate on.”
She continued: “The Palestinian people had no rights in those accords, but they are still deciding our fate today. Legally, these accords should be null and void.”
‘We have two occupations’
Over the past few years, resentment among Palestinians, particularly youth, towards the PA has grown significantly.
What was supposed to be a temporary government according to the Oslo Accords, has developed into despotic regime, focused more on quashing dissent and policing free speech than achieving liberation and statehood.
The government has become increasingly authoritarian, putting forward controversial decrees like the Cyber Crimes Law, which calls for the imprisonment of anyone found posting things online that disturb “social harmony.”
Earlier this summer, PA forces violently suppressed youth-led protests that criticized the government’s policies in Gaza and its security coordination with Israel.
“We have two occupations, the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian Authority,” al-Azza said. “Anyone that tries to resist or get involved in politics will be arrested by either the PA or by Israeli security forces as part of their coordination. This is a result of Oslo.”
“The PA has not really given Palestinians any authority,” Abu Shakdim said. “we just have these other people controlling things for us.”
“Oslo created a whole new level in Palestinian society — that is a new elite, the people in power — that is benefiting from the existence of Israel,” she continued.
In their conversations with Mondoweiss, both al-Azza and Abu Shakdim pointed to the current form of the PA as one of the worst outcomes of Oslo.
One of the arguments they made, was that as a result of Oslo and the PA, the Palestinian people have been subconsciously forced into a dependency on the government in every aspect of life, making it nearly impossible for people to rise up against the regime.
“Before Oslo, it was popular to do everything you can to go out and fight and resist,” Abu Shakdim said, as she discussed the PA’s role in creating a culture of complacency amongst the population.
“As young people, when we discuss these things we always mention how we are so sick of our leaders and so sick of our Palestinian decision makers,” she said. “But we also know the Authority is responsible for the survival of so many Palestinian families.”
“So many people, young and old, are employed by this Authority. In ministries, as security forces, etc. So do we expect them to go against the government?” she asked.
“The way I see it, is that this PA is planting their seeds. They are basically paying people to not revolt against them. So everything stays the way they planned it from 25 years ago.”
Al-Azza says he has been offered on multiple occasions to work with the PA, but has refused.
“I refuse to have any part in the PA. People that are in the PA now only care about protecting the position they hold, and have stopped caring about Palestinian liberation,” he said.
“The PA is part of this control over peoples minds. By giving us this fake government, and making us feel like we had power, Oslo made many Palestinians forget about their morals and their beliefs about the Palestinian cause,” al-Azza continued.
“People used to care about the land and the resistance before Oslo,” he said, as he recounted stories told to him by his father, a former political prisoner in Israel.
“Now, everyone is worried about their next paycheck, how they can put food on the table, how they can educate or provide healthcare for their kids.”
An impossible future
When posed with the question “What do you envision for the future?” both al-Azza and Abu Shakdim couldn’t help but laugh.
They have been asked this question, or some variation of it, countless times before. Yet when faced with it again, they remained unhopeful.
“What I see, with the current situation that we’re living in, there is no future,” al-Azza said.
“For 25 years, the Israelis, with the help of the PA, have made people feel that they have lost their rights and their traditions that they used to live for once upon a time. In my point of view, I see there is no future if we continue on the past we have been on for the past quarter century.”
Abu Shakdim’s sentiments echoed those of al-Azza. “As young people, even if we want to set our own path, or create new opportunities, we are blocked at every turn, controlled by the Israeli occupation,” she said.
“How can we take charge of our own lives when Israel continues to control all of our resources?”
For Abu Shakdim, a Two-State solution is totally out of the question.
“How can two states be possible if one state is controlling the authority of the other state?” she asked.
“I don’t know if it’s realistic but what I hope to happen, what I think the best solution is, is a One-State solution. A single, democratic, secular state for all people who do not support zionism and Jewish supremacy, or the supremacy of any one group over another.”
For al-Azza, before any solution or so-called peace negotiations are put into place, there is hard work that needs to be done within his generation, and the new generation of Palestinian children.
“If I want to make a new plan for the future, we have to work with the new generation to instill in them their culture and traditions, and a desire for liberation, for freedom, and for returning to their lands of 1948,” he said.
“If I were to put forward a strategy, I say we should help build and shape a new generation of Palestinians that think the way people did before Oslo: That we are a people that want freedom. Nothing less.”