By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2621

Oslo deal betrayed Palestinians

This article is over 5 years, 7 months old
Issue 2621
PLO leader Yasser Arafat (right) and Israeli prime minister Yitzahk Rabin (left) after  signing the Oslo Accords in 1993—overseen by US president Bill Clinton (centre)
PLO leader Yasser Arafat (right) and Israeli prime minister Yitzahk Rabin (left) after signing the Oslo Accords in 1993—overseen by US president Bill Clinton (centre) (Pic: Vince Musi/The White House)

If you think that Jews and Arabs should live together in Palestine, Labour’s official policy suggests you’re antisemitic.

That’s what we should take from the party’s decision to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism last week.

Jeremy Corbyn suggested it shouldn’t be deemed antisemitic to support a single state in Palestine. Yet the party’s ruling national executive committee rejected that as unacceptable.

It’s a victory for an intense, nasty campaign to vilify anyone who believes there’s an alternative to the “two-state solution” in Palestine.

This idea that there should be separate states for Jews and Arabs is revered as the only legitimate position a respectable, mainstream politician can take.

It is at the heart of the Oslo Accords—the “peace deal” between Israel and Palestinian leaders that was signed 25 years ago this week.

In those 25 years it has been exposed as a sham.

Israel’s grip on Palestine has grown tighter while the prospect of any kind of Palestinian state looks further away than ever.

Support for a one-state solution—a secular state with equal democratic rights for all—has grown as the two-state solution has collapsed.

One state is the only solution that can guarantee the right of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.


It would set right the historic wrong of 1948, when some 80 percent of Palestinian land was taken by the new state of Israel.

Israel and its major allies, the US and Britain, are desperate to destroy it.

For Israel, a single state for both Arabs and Jews would mean giving up its status as an exclusively Jewish state.

It owes its existence to the forced dispossession of Palestinians at the hands of colonial settlers who wanted a Jewish state in all of Palestine.

For the US, a single state would mean losing its most important ally in the Middle East.

Israel receives billions of pounds in financial and military aid from the US each year. In return it has helped to police the Middle East on the US’s behalf.

This is central to how the US holds on to its power in the region. So getting Palestinian leaders to give up the demand for a single state was a big victory for Israel and the US.

It came at a crucial moment.

A mass Palestinian uprising—the First Intifada—beginning in 1987 had shaken Israel. Yet even at the height of the Intifada, leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) were prepared to make major concessions.

They wanted to run a Palestinian state much like other Arab states, many of which had ties to the US and the system that oppressed Palestinians.

The strategy that came out of this—armed struggle combined with negotiations with Arab governments—had led to years of defeats. Yasser Arafat, head of the PLO’s leading group Fatah, gave up the struggle for a return to all of Palestine.

Instead he lowered his sights to a “mini-state” alongside Israel.

So in 1988 Arafat announced that the PLO recognised Israel’s right to exist—effectively giving up its claim to the Palestinian land lost in 1948.

It paved the way for the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

For the Palestinians it was a huge setback. Far from offering a path to the end of occupation, the Oslo Accords extended Israeli control.

Fundamental questions—such as when Israel might withdraw its military or when the Palestinian Authority (PA) might form a proper state—were left unanswered.

Instead there was only a “declaration of principles” for future negotiations.

These allowed Israel to keep almost complete control of “security” inside the occupied territories, and at their borders.

In West Bank areas under total Israeli military control, Israel rapidly built large city-like settlements with the goal of annexing them and their surrounding land.

When the Oslo Accords were signed the settler population in the occupied territories was 110,000. It is now 600,000.

Settlements and outposts are scattered so widely across the West Bank that they would guarantee a permanent Israeli military presence in any future Palestinian mini-state.

On top of this, the occupation has made the Palestinian economy completely dependent on Israel’s. The Oslo Accords make sure it stays that way.

Israel controls imports and exports to the Palestinian territories, and has a monopoly on basic commodities.

It collects taxes on behalf of the PA, which it uses as another weapon in its war on Palestinians.

In July this year the Israeli government voted to take £230 million a year from the PA’s budget.

This is to punish the PA for welfare payments it gives to the families of Palestinians who are locked up in Israeli jails.

Free market policies such as privatisation, easy borrowing, and cheap Labour for Israeli firms, were championed by the US and Israel as a vital part of “state-building”.

But the PA remains completely dependent on foreign aid to function.

A handful of Palestinian businesspeople grew rich while the rest of the population stayed impoverished.

The most disgraceful aspect of this cooperation is the PA’s complicity in the siege of the Gaza Strip.

The unemployment rate in the occupied territories is 27 percent—41 percent among people aged 15-29.

Some 21 percent of the Palestinian population lives below the poverty line of £4.25 a day.

Managing this semi-statehood has transformed the PLO—now the PA—into a tool of the occupation.

Signing the Oslo Accords didn’t just require giving up the resistance, but helping to police it.

The largest chunk of the PA’s budget has consistently gone towards security—police and the like.

“Security coordination” with Israel has seen Palestinian police clamp down on demonstrations and raid refugee camps with the same brutality as the occupying Israeli army.

The most disgraceful aspect of this cooperation is the PA’s complicity in the siege of the Gaza Strip.

In 2006 Hamas, a resistance group that didn’t sign up to the Oslo agreement, won PA elections. Fatah cooperated with Israel and the US to launch a coup against it.

A brief, bloody civil war in 2007 left Hamas in charge in the Gaza Strip, but Fatah in control of the PA in the West Bank.

The PA now helps Israel tighten the screws on Hamas, recently cutting funding for energy and public sector salaries, contributing to a humanitarian crisis.

Now the PA is in crisis. The Palestine Centre for Policy and Survey Research conducts frequent polls in the West Bank and Gaza.

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat

It consistently finds that a huge chunk of the population views the PA as “a burden on the Palestinian people”.

Just under half of people thought this in the most recent survey, while more than 60 percent wanted PA president Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

Some 43 percent wanted the PA to disband altogether.

But the occupation is also a crisis for Israel. It is the defining feature of Israeli politics.

Israel will never allow a Palestinian state. Documents relating to negotiations leaked in 2011 revealed how Israeli negotiators treated the idea that the PA might ever achieve statehood as a joke.

And Palestinian negotiators were prepared to cave in to almost any Israeli demand.

But as Israel’s control extends over the West Bank it faces the problem of what to do about the Palestinians who live there.

If Israel annexed the West Bank—as many of its government ministers want—Palestinians would once more be the majority. It would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel has responded with increasing brutality against the Palestinians, and authoritarianism towards anyone who supports them.

Its recent nation state law—confirming that only Jewish people have the right to self-determination in Israel—is part of its reaction.

But so is its campaign to discredit support for a one-state solution and the right of return for Palestinian refugees as antisemitic.

A single-state solution, giving equal democratic rights to Jews and Arabs would give a way out of those crises—and crucially justice for the Palestinians.

But Israel and the imperialist system it defends stand in the way of that solution.

Winning it would take mass resistance to both by Palestinians and people across the Middle East.

It would also need international solidarity with the Palestinians—the kind that’s under attack in Britain today.

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