Missed op­por­tu­nity is legacy of Oslo ac­cords

25 years later, prom­ise for Mideast peace is un­ful­filled

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD 2 -

JERICHO, West Bank — When the Oslo peace ac­cords were signed a quar­ter-cen­tury ago, res­i­dents of Jericho cel­e­brated. Their dusty, 11,000-year-old desert city was given au­ton­omy be­fore any­where else on the West Bank. Pales­tini­ans saw it as a foothold for what they trusted would be­come their own new state.

But noth­ing has turned out as they ex­pected.

A shiny new casino, opened with great fan­fare in 1998 to en­tice Is­raeli gam­blers, has been empty since 2000, when they were barred from en­ter­ing the city. The two-decade-old pub­lic hospi­tal fi­nally just got an el­e­va­tor thanks to a do­na­tion from Ja­pan. Per­haps the best-known in­sti­tu­tion of self­gov­ern­ment in town is the jail, widely feared as a dun­geon for po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers.

The bril­liant Pales­tinian fu­ture con­jured by Oslo has in­stead be­come a bit­ter trap.

The Oslo ac­cords, first un­veiled on the White House lawn with a hand­shake be­tween Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on Sept. 13, 1993, cul­mi­nated in mu­tual recog­ni­tion be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion, which Is­rael had long banned as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, and the first for­mal agree­ments in a phased ef­fort to re­solve the cen­tury-old con­flict.

They called for a com­pre­hen­sive peace agree­ment by 1999, which was widely ex­pected to lead to state­hood for the Pales­tini­ans, and for Is­rael, re­al­iza­tion of the long-held goal of land for peace.

Today, how­ever, the Oslo process is mori­bund, hav­ing pro­duced nei­ther a peace agree­ment nor a Pales­tinian state.

About its only last­ing sub­stan­tive achieve­ment is the Pales­tinian Author­ity, es­tab­lished as an in­terim self-gov­ern­ment but still go­ing two decades af­ter its ex­pi­ra­tion date. The author­ity has made strides in pro­vid­ing ba­sic ser­vices and cre­ated jobs for roughly a quar­ter of the work­force, but it has grown in­creas­ingly au­to­cratic and has been plagued by ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion.

Oslo made the Pales­tini­ans re­spon­si­ble for polic­ing them­selves in the West Bank, which has led to vast im­prove­ments in Is­raeli se­cu­rity from ter­ror­ism in re­cent years at lit­tle cost to Is­rael. It gave the author­ity re­spon­si­bil­ity for pro­vid­ing ser­vices like san­i­ta­tion and hospi­tals that would oth­er­wise cost Is­rael, as the oc­cu­py­ing power, hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. And it has al­lowed Is­rael to post­pone, seem­ingly in­def­i­nitely, a broader with­drawal from the West Bank.

If Oslo has failed the Pales­tini­ans, part of that fail­ure is self­in­flicted. An in­crease in ter­ror­ist at­tacks af­ter Oslo’s sign­ing, fol­lowed by the deadly Sec­ond In­tifada that erupted in 2000, soured many Is­raelis on peace­mak­ing and even­tu­ally led Is­rael to side­line the process.

Pales­tini­ans have been left in a de­press­ing limbo: Even as their lead­er­ship has con­sis­tently failed to es­tab­lish a co­her­ent, united front for in­de­pen­dence, the author­ity’s bu­reau­crats have be­come steadily more ef­fec­tive at ad­min­is­ter­ing, and con­trol­ling, the lives of West Bank res­i­dents.

State­less still, the Pales­tinian peo­ple are in deep trou­ble, their prospects as dim as ever. The body politic is di­vided, per­haps ir­re­vo­ca­bly, be­tween the Pales­tinian Author­ity, led by Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Abbas and his Fatah fac­tion, on the West Bank, and the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group Ha­mas — which op­posed Oslo and seeks the erad­i­ca­tion of Is­rael — in the Gaza Strip. Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts keep fail­ing.

In Is­rael, the peace camp that backed Oslo has with­ered from waves of vi­o­lence. The dom­i­nant right wing de­bates whether merely to man­age the oc­cu­pa­tion in per­pe­tu­ity or to de­clare vic­tory and an­nex much of the West Bank.

The num­ber of Is­raeli set­tlers there, in what much of the world con­sid­ers a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law, has more than tripled, to about 400,000. An ad­di­tional 200,000 live in Is­raeli-an­nexed East Jerusalem, which the Pales­tini­ans claim as their fu­ture cap­i­tal.

De­spite the lead­er­ship’s fail­ures, many Pales­tini­ans still ac­cept the author­ity as the least-bad op­tion — although, given its longevity, it is the only re­al­ity many of them know.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton looked on as Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin (left) and Pales­tinian leader Yasser Arafat shook hands dur­ing the sign­ing of the Oslo peace ac­cords on Sept. 13, 1993, in Wash­ing­ton.

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