Growing up Palestinian after the Oslo

Farah Najjar

Al-Jazeera  /  September 13, 2023

On the 30th anniversary of the accords, Al-Jazeera spoke to young Palestinians about how their lives have panned out.

Thirty years after the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords, officially recognizing Israel, the Palestinian people appear to be no closer to an independent state, and the occupation of their land looks even more entrenched.

Palestinians under the age of 30 have only known life under the US-brokered deal, which left them with a provisional, self-governing authority – the Palestinian Authority (PA).

But the supposedly interim government has failed to address major concerns about territory, illegal Jewish settlements, the status of Jerusalem – the eastern half of which remains occupied by Israel – as well as Palestinian refugees and the right of return.

On the 30th anniversary of the signing of the accords, Al-Jazeera spoke to seven Palestinians to get their thoughts on the deal, and whether they think their life would have been different without it.

Ola Anebtawi, 32, Nablus, occupied West Bank

Growing up, the topic of the Oslo Accords would always come up because of its controversial nature. I always felt lost and I didn’t understand how to form my own opinion.

But with time, I saw how it was translated on the ground and realized it was a major setback for our country and for our leadership.

When, as a Palestinian, you become aware of the cause, you start thinking, “How can I play a role – in whatever capacity – in resisting the occupation?”

But Oslo prevented us from reaching our mission as a people. It failed to unite us and to bring back the entirety of the land that was taken, and to facilitate the return of refugees.

By saying, “I recognize Israel as a state”, you’re normalizing. Today, we’re blaming the UAE for doing it, but we were the first people who recognized Israel as a state with defined borders.

It was a huge mistake.

The accords have also impacted our lives economically and socially, and restricted our freedom of movement because of the [illegal] settlements.

It’s truly hurtful. When you don’t have freedom, you have nothing. They robbed us of this.

Bahaa, 26, occupied East Jerusalem

Oslo was a complete disaster. It divided Palestinian areas into three sections: A, B, and C, and gave the occupation the power and legitimacy to control and administer these areas.

It intertwined the Palestinian and Israeli economies, making us dependent on it for survival.

The accords also had a massive impact on the youth in Jerusalem as it basically gave Israel complete control over the eastern part of the city.

We see this demonstrated in different ways on the ground – most recently in our education policies and the war waged against it.

We also see how it has created an obstacle and divide between us and Palestinians in the West Bank, and elsewhere [in historical Palestine].

Tasami Ramadan, 25, Nablus, occupied West Bank

When I think of the Oslo Accords, I think of two words: hope and disappointment.

At the beginning, the accords were a chance for Palestinians to establish their own independent state and free themselves from occupation. But the reality on the ground turned this hope into disappointment.

The state that we were promised was never delivered. In fact, all of the promises that are in the agreement were never implemented. It was an unjust and unfair agreement.

If the accords never existed, I believe we would have had a stronger sense of Palestinian unity.

Oslo really helped bring out divisions among Palestinian factions. The effects of these internal disputes has had a massive impact on Palestinian unity and we’re suffering from the consequences to this very day.

These accords have also greatly diminished the importance of resistance and forced people to lose faith in the power of resistance. If it weren’t for these accords, I think we would have had stronger and more organized resistance groups, and the idea of resistance would have been a main unifying factor.

The accords have also shut the door on any other avenues that could have helped end the occupation. It basically said: “We signed this agreement, and nothing else can be done.”

 Hossam, 30, occupied East Jerusalem

What we see happening on a daily basis – from assaults and violations on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, and the effort to divide and destroy it – are all products of the Oslo Accords.

These accords have only brought tragedy and heartbreak upon the Palestinian people.

The agreement excluded Jerusalem from being given a final status and historical Palestine remains under occupation. In my opinion, it has got to be denounced.

This agreement fragmented the Palestinian people and separated them through the [separation] wall and settlements. I believe that liberation will never come through agreements signed with the occupation.

Saif Aqel, 30, Ramallah, occupied West Bank

I think signing the Oslo Accords was a historic mistake.

Even with my current understanding of the regional and international circumstances that prompted the Palestine Liberation Organization at the time, I think it was a mistake.

Instead of keeping the PA as a temporary body within its specified time frame of five years, these agreements have become a permanent reference for the relationship between the Palestinians and the occupation.

Even 30 years after signing them, the accords have become a benchmark for the PA when putting forward proposals and demands, instead of them being the bare minimum. The evidence for this is that the Palestinian leadership is still demanding that Israel abide by the signed accords.

Meanwhile, successive Israeli governments have backtracked on the agreements and their responsibilities as an occupying power towards the Palestinian people. They went ahead and created a new reality for dealing with the Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

This cannot lead to a peaceful solution based on so-called negotiation with the occupation.

Jehan, 33, Hebron, occupied West Bank

The Oslo Accords are not peace accords, they are accords containing our defeat.

There can never be peace with the presence of a brutal occupation that controls Palestinian lands.

The accords essentially fragmented and divided Palestine. It gave us a form of self-determination, but the overarching power remains in the hand of Israel. There is coercive Israeli sovereignty that has control over all Palestinian land, and this is what we’re witnessing on the ground.

In areas including Hebron, Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah, and others – which are supposedly under the Palestinian Authority’s control – we see near-daily incursions and killings carried out by Israeli forces, yet there is zero interference by the PA to stop this.

The accords also denied refugees the right of return and left many integral topics unresolved, such as the status of Jerusalem and the settlement expansion project. How can peace be achieved by postponing such issues?

In my opinion, what was taken by force can only be returned by force and by the resistance.

Abubaker Qurt, 33, Ramallah, occupied West Bank

The Oslo Accords have set a dangerous precedent in our history, not only because it gave up Palestinian land to the occupation, but also because it acquired a legal character in the form of an international agreement.

This legitimizes the compromising of rights of an entire population.

The Palestinian leadership was hasty and was taken by the idea of establishing a state at any cost and in whatever form.

Instead, it found itself shackled to severe political, security and economic restrictions that put it in direct conflict with the idea of liberation.

If the accords were never signed, I would have existed in a normal state that occupied people live in – one where I am engaged in a revolution, not in false dreams offered to an occupied people in exchange for their silence.

Even the idea of a two-state solution has become a fantasy because the settlements ate up so much land on which a Palestinian state could be built.

Ghazi Al-Majdalawi, 26, occupied Gaza Strip

Before Oslo, the Israeli occupation was ruling all of our affairs and our lives. Despite this, people were able to express their constant rejection of it [the occupation], but after our transition to autonomous authority, the Palestinian Authority became a protector of the occupation’s presence.

One of the worst outcomes of the accords was that 78 percent of Palestine was given up in exchange for false promises such as establishing an airport, a seaport, an autonomous authority, and stopping settlement activity.

A few years later, the airport in Gaza was completely destroyed, the port was not completed, and settlements continue to eat away at the West Bank to this day.

Because of Oslo, my generation is deprived of visiting the West Bank, the 1948 territories [Israel], Jerusalem, and the rest of the Palestinian territories because of the borders that were demarcated in the agreement.

Today, if I decide to travel, I am forced to go and endure the hardship of travel and inspection through the Rafah border crossing, which is run by Egypt and is infamous for the difficulty of moving through it.

Now, we do not even govern 10 percent of Palestine. Gaza has no future, even after decades. Today we live in a prison and an area full of cement blocks with never-ending crises including poverty, unemployment, a siege, power outages, and on top of that we have endless Israeli assaults.

Farah Najjar is an online news and features writer with Al-Jazeera English