The Shift: Oslo at 30

Mondoweiss,

(Cartoon: Carlos Latuff)(CARTOON: CARLOS LATUFF)

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, agreements that were supposedly going to establish a framework for peace in the region.

After Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands to applause President Clinton told the assembled crowd that, “The sound we heard today, once again, as in ancient Jericho, was of trumpets toppling walls, the walls of anger and suspicion between Israeli and Palestinian, between Arab and Jew. This time, praise God, the trumpets herald not the destruction of that city but its new beginning.”

Much of the mainstream media were enraptured by the deal and few bothered to point that the Palestinians had been sold out yet again. The United States and Israel had decided that they were entitled to about 22% of their own country, half of what the UN gave Palestinians as part of 1947’s partition plan. Eventually the PLO came around on this vision.


Readers of the London Review of Books would have encountered a dissenting voice as the magazine published a vital and prescient essay on the topic by the late Edward Said:

“Now that some of the euphoria has lifted, it is possible to re-examine the Israeli-PLO agreement with the required common sense,” he wrote. “What emerges from such scrutiny is a deal that is more flawed and, for most of the Palestinian people, more unfavourably weighted than many had first supposed. The fashion-show vulgarities of the White House ceremony, the degrading spectacle of Yasser Arafat thanking everyone for the suspension of most of his people’s rights, and the fatuous solemnity of Bill Clinton’s performance, like a 20th-century Roman emperor shepherding two vassal kings through rituals of reconciliation and obeisance: all these only temporarily obscure the truly astonishing proportions of the Palestinian capitulation.”

“So first of all let us call the agreement by its real name: an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles,” he continued. “What makes it worse is that for at least the past fifteen years the PLO could have negotiated a better arrangement than this modified Allon Plan, one not requiring so many unilateral concessions to Israel. For reasons best known to the leadership it refused all previous overtures..The gains of the intifada were squandered, and today advocates of the new document say: ‘We had no alternative.’ The correct way of phrasing that is: ‘We had no alternative because we either lost or threw away a lot of others, leaving us only this one.’”

On our site Palestinian National Initiative leader Dr. Mustafa Barghouth breaks down the consequences that Said saw right away:

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 Israeli settlement activities in the occupied territories...

The number of Israeli settlers, considered illegal according to international law, grew from 121,000 to more than 700,000. Moreover, Israeli 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. 

As time went on more and more establishment voices began to admit that Oslo was a disaster. Its perception as a failure is now the mainstream consensus. “On September 13th the accords turn 30,” declares The Economist. “Their lasting achievements have been to create a limited Palestinian government loathed by most Palestinians, and to bring about a measure of mutual recognition between the two sides. The promise of peace is unfulfilled.”

These developments have apparently not altered the stance of Dennis Ross, who was Middle East Advisor to Bill Clinton and later a special assistant to Barack Obama. A Washington Post op-ed he co-authored with David Makovsky claims that the “vision” of Oslo can still be “revived.”

Ross and Makovsky concede that Oslo has “become a dirty word,” but insist that critics were never able to put forward an “alternative approach.” People who were calling for an end to the illegal occupation at the time? They’re not worth addressing in this narrative.

The authors blame Oslo’s failures on “extremists whose actions discredited the moderates.” Here they equate figures like Smotrich with Palestinians who oppose Israel’s “nationalist aspirations.”

Why would Israel be upset about the deal, they wonder? It succeeded in squashing a good deal of Palestinian resistance and benefited the country financially: “Do they believe that Palestinians would have simply been quiescent for ensuing decades without a peace process? Moreover, Israel’s high-tech-driven prosperity — the World Bank noted that Israel’s per-capita gross domestic product in 2021 eclipsed that of Germany — had its origins in Oslo; on the hopes of peace, foreign investment surged and the economy grew significantly at a 7.1 percent clip. And with Israel open to the world, Oslo provided the springboard to mid-1990s diplomatic breakthroughs with Turkey and Jordan, as well as early openings with the Gulf region and North Africa.”

What’s the diagnosis here? You can probably guess. A two-state solution (whatever that means nowadays) and normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“Breakthrough is not a given. It will require reconciling U.S. and Saudi positions,” they write. “It will require Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevail upon rejectionists such as Smotrich who have ruled out any gestures to the Palestinians as part of a Saudi deal. And it will require the Palestinians to not only embrace any agreed upon steps to improve their condition, but also to carry out reforms and act on security issues…While surely difficult, Biden’s efforts are creating momentum to give peace negotiations new life. On the 30th anniversary of Oslo’s signing, we must all hope he prevails.”

So there it is. The deal that further entrenched Israeli apartheid, land theft, and occupation must be resuscitated for the benefit of Khashoggi’s killers.

Let’s end this section by turning to a 2005 piece from Aaron David Miller, who was Deputy on the Middle East peace team in 1993. “Perhaps no other American diplomat has had such a close-up view of the various U.S. efforts at reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement,” says Haaretz.

“With the best of motives and intentions, we listened to and followed Israel’s lead without critically examining what that would mean for our own interests, for those on the Arab side and for the overall success of the negotiations,” explained Miller. “The ‘no surprises’ policy, under which we had to run everything by Israel first, stripped our policy of the independence and flexibility required for serious peacemaking. If we couldn’t put proposals on the table without checking with the Israelis first, and refused to push back when they said no, how effective could our mediation be? Far too often, particularly when it came to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, our departure point was not what was needed to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides but what would pass with only one — Israel.”

“This critique should not diminish then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s boldness at Camp David or Yasser Arafat’s failure to negotiate seriously there,” he continued. “But the primary issue was neither Barak’s generosity nor Arafat’s perfidy; instead, the emphasis should have been on assessing, coldly and objectively, what it would take to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. If we knew the gaps were too large (and we suspected they were), we should have resisted Barak’s pressure to go for a make-or-break summit and then blame the Palestinians when it failed. What we ended up doing was advocating Israel’s positions before, during and after the summit.”

You gotta cut through some nonsense about benign U.S. objectives here, but Miller’s honesty is worth thinking about when confronted with rhetoric of the Ross variety.

Civil rights complaint launched against University of Illinois

Palestine Legal has filed civil rights complaint against the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) over alleged discriminatory treatment of Palestinian students.

Nora Barrows-Friedman first reported the details at Electronic Intifada.

The complaint claims that seven students (six Palestinian-Americans and one Jewish American) tried to join an informational Zoom event detailing a study abroad program in Israel. UIC staff denied the students with Arab names entry into the meeting, but admitted the Jewish student. They were allowed to participate when they rejoined using pseudonyms.

Barrows-Friedman obtained emails showing that staff monitored registration information and cross-referenced it against a list of students who had criticized the study abroad program on Instagram:

The emails show that the university staff members sought to strategize about the situation with at least one person from outside the university – Daniel Wehrenfennig, the director of CIEL, a California-based nonprofit that arranges student trips to various “conflict” regions around the world.

Kyle Rausch, the executive director of UIC’s study abroad office, wrote an email to Wehrenfennig on 19 January 2023 introducing him to two university colleagues: Vered Arbel, the instructor who was to lead the Israel trip, and Irina Krymova, who worked with Rausch in the study abroad program and was helping coordinate the trip.

“Unfortunately, a social media post promoting the program has received negative comments from supporters of the BDS movement,” Rausch wrote, “and we are pretty sure that these protestors are likely to join the info. session on Monday.”

“I planned to attend the information session to voice my concerns about how a study abroad program in Israel discriminates against me as a Palestinian student,” said Jenin Alharithi, one of the students originally barred from the Zoom. “Instead of listening to our concerns about Israel’s discrimination and racism against Palestinians, UIC staff blocked us from entering the meeting, leaving us feeling humiliated and unsafe. UIC has a responsibility to ensure all students can speak freely about our experiences of discrimination—that includes Palestinian students speaking up about how the Israeli government denies our basic rights and freedoms.” 

“It’s clear UIC faculty and staff intentionally discriminated against Palestinian students, censoring their speech and threatening them with legal action for exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Palestine Legal senior staff attorney Zoha Khalili. “There is simply no justification for UIC’s disparate treatment of Palestinian students, who had every right to voice their concerns about UIC’s Israel study abroad program. By excluding one group from educational opportunities—Palestinians—UIC’s actions plainly violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”  

Odds & Ends

🇸🇦 On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks the New York Times decided to run an essay calling on the United States to provide “security guarantees” to Saudi Arabia. Media critic Adam Johnson points out that the piece’s author, Hussein Ibish, works for Arab Gulf States Institute. The group firm’s corporate sponsors include the weapons manufacturer Raytheon, Saudi-owned petroleum and gas company Aramco Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck (registered as foreign agent of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and General Electric, a company with billions tied up in the country.

⚖️ The Foundation for Middle East Peace is launching a microsite tracking Palestine-related lawfare.

🇹🇼 ‘U.S. to Shift Millions in Military Aid From Egypt to Taiwan.’

🇮🇷 A couple Iran sanction bills passed the House easily. The Fight CRIME Act passed 403-8. Nos: Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Summer Lee (D-PA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Presley (D-MA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). The MAHSA Act: 410-3. Nos: Omar, Bush, and Massie.

🇮🇷 A lot of great Oslo coverage at the site:

‘It was set up to fail us’: Palestinians reflect on 30 years of the Oslo Accords

‘Oslo lives. Death to Oslo.’

‘Understanding Oslo is crucial for moving forward’

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

‘We didn’t need hindsight to see Oslo as a failure’

🇮🇱 Alice Rothchild in the Seattle Times:

In 2018, the Knesset enacted the Nation State Bill, which enshrined Jewish supremacy in Israel, stated that only Jews have the right to national self-determination and that Jewish rights and aspirations take precedence. To Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who make up 20% of the Israeli population, the message was clear: Their national identity trumped their citizenship and they were officially second class. 

I saw that in Umm al-Fahm, Lod and east Jerusalem, where the Israeli government has an active program of Judaization, moving Jewish settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods; starving Palestinian areas of funding for schools, water, electricity and housing permits; and teaching a Zionist curriculum in schools where Palestinian history is erased. Jewish settler aggression is soaring.

🇺🇸 ‘Will GOP oppose Biden’s pick for Israel ambassador over his involvement in Iran deal?’

🥞 ‘Democratic megadonor Haim Saban calls Bernie Sanders a ‘self-hating Jew’ over criticisms of Israel’

🏫 ‘Israel supporters angry over CUNY hiring Marc Lamont Hill’

✉️ Barak Ravid in Axios: ‘Scoop: Senate Dems call on Blinken to stop Israel visa waiver’:

A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Friday asking him not to move forward with admitting Israel into the Visa Waiver Program, claiming the country will not fully meet the criteria for admission by the Sept. 30 deadline, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: The U.S. and Israel in mid-July signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) setting the conditions for Israel’s entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows a country’s citizens to travel to the U.S. for 90 days without first obtaining a visa. The MOU was a big step forward for Israel’s bid.

The letter was initiated by Sen. Chris Van Hollen. Signed by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Tina Smith (D-MN).

🧑‍🎓 A new ADL study says anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine events are up across U.S. campuses. They claim “many” of these can be characterized as antisemitic, but it’s the ADL.

Stay safe out there,

Michael

    Michael Arria

    Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss. His work has appeared in In These Times, The Appeal, and Truthout. He is the author of Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelarria.

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