30 years later, it’s time to bury the Oslo Accords

Ahmad Ibsais

The Nation  /  October 4, 2023

Far from ensuring peace, Oslo cemented Israeli occupation and disenfranchised Palestinians. We desperately need to move past it.

This past September marked 30 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the 1993 agreement between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the occupying Israeli state. The accords were supposed to herald a new era of peace by sending both sides down the road towards the mainstream goal of the “two-state solution.”

The terms of the agreement called on the PLO to set aside its legal right to armed resistance against occupying Israel. In exchange, Israel agreed to cease Jewish settlement activity and create the Palestinian Authority (PA), an entity that would nominally allow Palestinians a measure of self-governance in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel would no longer have to contend with a potential Palestinian uprising, and Palestinians could move past decades of brutalization, ethnic cleansing, enforced colonialism, and genocides of entire villages on their way to a fully-fledged (though severely reduced) sovereign state.

Or so the story went.

Three decades on, it is plainly obvious that Oslo has done little to no good for Palestinians. Rather than deliver us any kind of liberation, it created entities that have helped entrench the occupation, divided our resistance to Israel, and allowed the world to turn a blind eye to our struggle. Oslo gave Israel the nod to brutalize Palestinians without the watchful eye of international bodies, because it was supposed to set up a functioning government in the form of the PA. But where is the PA ? What has it done besides prevent any democratic election in Palestine since 2006? And while countries like Saudi Arabia are quick to discuss treaties with a nation they have never been at war with, the conditions of Palestinians fall off the radar time and time again.

Israel is likely much more satisfied with how things turned out. Oslo deepened its domination of Palestine under the guise of a peace process, and preserved the mummified corpse of the two-state solution long past its sell-by date, giving the international community cover to maintain the status quo.

Rather than stopping settlement growth as intended, Oslo enabled Israel to vastly expand its illegal settlement enterprise. There were around 250,000 settlers living illegally in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem when Oslo was signed in 1993. Today there are over 700,000, with hundreds of new settlements eating away at any remaining land on which a viable Palestinian state could exist. Settlement growth continued even during Covid-19, and at the height of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, settlers came from Ukraine and annexed Palestinian land. On what viable land remains, illegal settlers, backed by occupying Israeli soldiers, burn our trees, kill our livestock, and redirect our water so that any seedling of hope is squashed. Of course, our will for freedom is stronger than any colonial project.

Israel has one of the most advanced and powerful militaries in the world, funded in part by US tax dollars, while Palestinians have no army nor any centralized government working towards liberation. Instead, we have the Oslo framework.

Oslo divided Palestine into three zones (A, B, and C), and gave limited sovereignty to the PA, a body that has never truly served the interests of the Palestinian people. Ultimate power remains firmly in Israel’s hands. The West Bank remains under military occupation, while Gaza continues to suffer under an illegal air, land, and sea blockade.

Israel has also exploited the fragmented territorial jurisdiction under Oslo to impose separate and unequal legal systems for Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Settlers enjoy access to civilian law, due process, and the full protection of civil rights. Palestinians live under Israeli military law, which allows indefinite detention without charge or trial. We have no freedom of movement or assembly, no control of our water or electricity, and no right to privacy under the hyper-surveillance of the police state, while settlers rampage through our communities with impunity, protected by Israeli soldiers committing acts of terrorism. Just recently, for instance, the village of Ras al-Tin was ethnically cleansed, with its remaining villages forced to flee due to settler violence.

This patchwork governance has essentially turned the West Bank into a series of isolated islands surrounded by checkpoints, permit regimes, and the separation wall. A drive from my mother’s city of Al-Bireh to Jerusalem should take about 20 minutes, but the checkpoints often make the trip take two to three times as long, and there is the constant possibility that she can be turned away at any time merely for being Palestinian. Oslo changed none of this.

Far from delivering justice, Oslo provided cover for Israel’s abuses as the mirage of a peace process shielded its actions from international accountability. It left thousands of stateless refugees with no hope of ever returning to the homes stolen from them. If Palestinians are lucky enough to make it past checkpoints, to wake up with their homes still their own, and to have their land not burned, they each face a different reality depending on where they live. For Palestinians living in Bethlehem, they work alongside the Apartheid Wall, a constant reminder of the segregation and ethnic cleansing they face because they were born on the “wrong” side.

Thirty years after Oslo, Palestinians are still watching the murder of our people on the evening news, and mothers are watching their children die. Witness the deadly ongoing Israeli assault on Jenin—a city that has played a central role in reclaiming the Palestinian right to resist occupation. Just this week, Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians during a violent invasion on the Jenin refugee camp. This follows a similar raid in July that left 11 Palestinians dead and over 100 injured. Nothing shows the hollowness of Oslo’s promise as much as this.

While the Oslo Accords promised peace, they delivered only entrenched oppression. Was Oslo’s goal accomplished when Shireen Abu-Akleh was murdered? Or when guns and tanks are pointed at us as we drive between cities? Or when Palestinian children are left to waste caged in military detention? Or when only 20 percent of historic Palestine remains?

The past 30 years have shown that Israel had no intention of allowing a viable Palestinian state. Instead, it used Oslo as cover to consolidate its grip on a state built on the land, lives, and blood of the Palestinian people.

I will not forget my first home or the people I came from. While many of my generation have grown up physically disconnected from the land, we are steadfast in our fight for Palestine’s freedom. It is our home, and we will never abandon it. Palestinian children will one day be able to close their eyes and see freedom in every direction, instead of being blinded by tears as they mourn their martyred friends. They will open their eyes and see the future they have built—one not clouded in checkpoints, ethnic cleansing, and catastrophe.

But for that to happen, the international community must finally bury Oslo’s bankrupt model. What is needed now is the moral courage to stand unequivocally on the side of Palestinian rights and self-determination. Only this path holds any hope of a just resolution after 30 wasted years. Palestinians have waited long enough for the liberation we deserve.

Ahmad Ibsais is a first-generation Palestinian American and a law student who writes the newsletter State of Siege