Thirty years after the Oslo Accords: facing a reality of apartheid

Mustafa Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  September 13, 2023

After 30 years of Oslo, the only remaining alternative to apartheid is one democratic state with equal national and civil rights, including the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people.

The Oslo Accords were signed 30 years ago between Israel and the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The aim was to achieve a so-called historic compromise between the Zionist Jewish and the Palestinian national movements. The supposed aim of the international community was the establishment of a “two-state solution” that would guarantee peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis. 

After years of displacement and struggle, Palestinians expected that the Oslo Accords would bring an end to the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, which have been occupied since 1967, and the creation of an independent Palestinian sovereign state.

The Palestinians leading the Oslo negotiations thought they were impressing the world with their eagerness to compromise by making a massive concession in accepting the establishment of a Palestinian state on only 22% of historic Palestine. This is half of what the United Nations gave Palestinians in the UN General Assembly Partition Plan of 1947.Onderkant formulier

After thirty years, it became evident that the “dream” of establishing a Palestinian state through the Oslo agreement was merely a nightmare with continued Israeli military occupation. It has become evident that the Oslo Accords did no more than consolidate the Israeli occupation, as the Accords did not include the discontinuation of Jewish settlement activities in the occupied territories.

The U.S. administration and the rest of the international community continued to issue statements about how settlements are obstacles to peace but failed to exercise pressure on Israel to stop the growth of Jewish settler colonialism, leading to the loss of the possibility of a “two-state solution,” and with it, the potential for real peace.   

The number of Jewish settlers, considered illegal according to international law, grew from 121,000 to more than 700,000. Moreover, settlers have become a decisive political force in the Israeli Knesset, with no less than 14 members out of 120. They also became a decisive force in the current Netanyahu government. Among them is Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Minister of National Security. Another is Bezalel Smotrich, the Minister of Finance and de facto civil governor of the West Bank. The main agenda of both is to fill the West Bank with settlements and settlers, so that Palestinians, as Smotrich said, will lose any hope of having a state of their own. 

By hindering all forms of negotiations with Palestinians and pushing the rapid expansion of settlements, successive Israeli governments under Netanyahu gradually killed the possibility of a two-state solution. Their response to the demographic presence of Palestinians, who are equal to or slightly outnumber the Jewish Israeli population in the land of historic Palestine, was the creation of an apartheid state and reality, in which Palestinians are not given equal rights to Jewish Israelis.

According to the former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, “Israel is enforcing an apartheid system against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.” He added in a recent interview with The Associated Press: “In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems that is an Apartheid State.”

I have been warning about Israel’s creation of Apartheid in Palestine since 1998. In 2006, former American President Jimmy Carter wrote his book “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid” for which he was viciously attacked by the pro-Israel lobby. Highly respected human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and Amnesty International concluded in various reports that Israel has enforced on Palestinians a system of apartheid.

According to the Amnesty International report, published in 2019, “Israel is imposing a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians across all areas under its control to benefit Jewish Israelis. This amounts to Apartheid in international law.” The Israeli government might have managed to kill the two-state solution, but it created the reality of apartheid for both peoples in the process. The responsibility is not only of the extreme right-wing Israeli governments but also of those who drafted the Oslo agreement and refrained from confronting and stopping the illegal Jewish settlements. Responsibility for the current situation of apartheid also falls on the United States and many European governments, who lacked the courage to impose sanctions on Israel to prevent settlement expansion, which is harmful to the future of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Accepting a life of subjugation to apartheid is not an option for Palestinians. The only remaining alternative to living in an apartheid state (the reality is that Palestinians and Israelis already live in one state — controlled by Israel) is one democratic state with equal national and civil rights, including the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people. 

What sounds impossible is sometimes easier than the difficult, as the famous musician Daniel Barenboim used to say. No one has the right to deny Palestinians the dream of freedom and equality, especially when it is the only alternative to a life of oppression under occupation and apartheid. 

Mustafa Barghouti is a physician and an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council; he is also the leader of the Palestinian National Initiative