The current campaign by the US to reproduce the Oslo euphoria is painfully off-key, relates Khalid Amayreh
When Israel and the PLO signed the ill-fated Oslo Agreement in 1993, many people, save the "pessimists" and "extremists", thought that peace was finally around the corner and that a new politically stable and economically prosperous Middle East was in the offing.
Shimon Peres, one of the Oslo Agreement's main godfathers, prognosticated then that Gaza would become the Singapore of the Middle East. Others, in their wild imagination and naïvety, predicted that the West Bank would become a new Silicon Valley, a sort of a Mecca for foreign investors.
The ensuing euphoria prompted the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to declare Palestinian towns "liberated, liberated, liberated," with Peres telling the world in every TV interview that Israel had virtually ended its occupation of the "Palestinian territories" and that 99 per cent of Palestinians were living under the rule and control of the Palestinian Authority. Peres neglected to tell the world that the PA itself was under Israeli occupation and that the PA leader couldn't leave his headquarters in Ramallah and Gaza without an Israeli permit.
Along with the false euphoria, grand names and grand titles characterised that episode, with substance always conspicuously absent or in a very short supply.
Thus we had a Palestinian president, Palestinian government, state security court, and even Palestinian armed forces, when in fact there was very little substance if any to all these big names and titles.
Nearly all of this came to naught as Israel continued to devour more and more Palestinian land and as Jewish settlement expansion further narrowed Palestinian horizons, making the creation of a real Palestinian state very difficult if not outright impossible.
And with the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, and the election of Ariel Sharon twice as prime minister of Israel, the entire Oslo Agreement became virtually anachronistic if not irrelevant, if only because Israeli policies and actions rendered it so.
Of course, Gaza didn't become the Singapore of the Middle East. Instead, it has become a virtual concentration camp. This is while the West Bank continues to languish under sinister military occupation, with the construction of the separation wall and as many as 700 Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints, manned by sadistic and trigger-happy Israeli soldiers, turning Palestinian daily life into an enduring hell.
Now, 14 years later, it seems that we are about to witness Oslo-2 as the US, Israel and other players, such as the new quartet peace envoy, former British prime minister, Tony Blair, are trying to reproduce Oslo-1 with the same public relations, same euphoria and the same lies.
Indeed, it might be safe to conclude that the putative Oslo-2 agreement being contemplated, even if doesn't bear the Norwegian appellation, is going to be a poor cousin of the first Oslo Agreement.
For example, the old agreement, at least theoretically, was based on UN resolutions 242 and 338 and the land-for-peace formula, whereas the new proposed agreement is likely to be based mainly on America's good will and guarantees.
And like the old agreement, the new one, as elucidated this week by Blair, promises economic prosperity for Palestinians, but says very little about the core issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict such as the fate of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and, indeed, ending the Israeli occupation which began in 1967.
And it seems that almost every one is going with the flow, at least for the time being.
For its part, the PA, beset by its war with Hamas, is bracing itself for grand plans, encompassing every aspect of Palestinian life, from "liberating Gaza from Hamas" to "cleansing the West Bank of Jewish settlements." This week, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whose government lacks constitutional legitimacy, relies mainly on force and fait accompli, and depends on Western backing and Israeli acceptance, presented his government's platform for the next few months.
The platform includes a lot of nicely written promises, like building a robust economy, reestablishing the rule of law and enhancing the quality of life for ordinary Palestinians. However, it is clear that Fayyad is making the same mistake that Arafat did during the so-called Oslo-era; namely, ignoring and overlooking the umbilical cord of the Israeli occupation, which controls all economic development for the Palestinians. After all, how can national achievements be made in the absence of independence, sovereignty and freedom of movement ?
For its part, the American administration is also giving the impression of déjà-vu. In the early 1990s, when the US wanted to mobilise as many Arab states as possible for the war of liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's army, the US administration convened the Madrid Peace Conference, the Oslo Agreement's predecessor, in order to placate Arab public opinion and convince the Arab world that the US was serious about resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Now, the US is ostensibly trying to do it again, by cajoling and if necessary bullying its Arab allies into joining Israel in a part- international part-regional conference to discuss the proverbial peace process, as if that moribund process needed any more discussion after all these years of peace initiatives and negotiations and agreements. The renewed American attention, however, is hardly altruistic and may well be related to and motivated by possible plans to attack Iran's nuclear installations on Israel's behalf.
So, is the US trying to sell the Arabs another deception? Another Oslo agreement, in preparation for a new war on another Muslim country, this time Iran?
Of course, an eternally opportunistic Israel will undoubtedly seek to emerge the sole if not main winner in any prospective conflagration in the region.
This is why Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who wouldn't even agree to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas until he dismantles the "infrastructure of terror", is now having chummy chats with Abbas and even voicing willingness to discuss final-status issues, giving a false impression of flexibility and a propensity to make peace.
But in reality Israel is only posturing and its steps are no more than PR tactics. Last week, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan, Ahmed Abul-Gheit and Abdul-Ilah Al-Khatib, visited Israel and met Israeli leaders from Olmert to opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu. The latter advocates limited autonomy for the Palestinians, a euphemism for continued apartheid.
As usual in such circumstances, Israel sought to fully utilise the visit in order to give the impression of harmony and agreement between the two sides. To the uninitiated, the scene of Tzipi Livni and Peres amicably holding hands with the two Arab foreign ministers would give the impression of complete concordance.
Seeking to encourage Israel to accept the Arab Peace Initiative, the Jordanian foreign minister told Israeli officials that Arab states were sincere about peace and were ready to normalise relations with Israel if the latter withdrew from all the territories occupied in 1967 and accepted a dignified settlement of the Palestinian refugee plight pursuant to UN Resolution 194.
Israeli leaders heard but didn't listen. In fact, instead of relating seriously to the Arab initiative, Olmert told the two ministers: "I hope next time you will bring some more Arab ministers with you."
The snide, if not insulting, remarks actually encapsulated what the Israelis want, namely full normalisation with the Arab states, especially the oil-rich region, without making any serious move toward ending the 40-year- old Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
In addition, the Jewish state hopes that by cajoling Arab states, especially the Saudis, into normalising relations, Israel would be able to bully the PA into accepting a deformed, incomplete and truncated state on the West Bank, without Jerusalem, without the right of return and with the bulk of Jewish colonies remaining intact or annexed to Israel.
Needless to say, the Israeli prime minister seems convinced that the current PA leadership's obsession with "statehood" overrides its demands for total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank. This week, the London-based Arabic newspaper reported that Olmert and Abbas were holding secret talks on a permanent settlement. Israeli and Palestinian officials have neither confirmed nor denied the report. However, with the Abbas- Fayyad regime in Ramallah almost completely dependent on Israel, it is amply clear that the secret negotiations are not being conducted between two equal partners but between a parsimonious occupier that owns or controls nearly all the assets and a vanquished supplicant that has to beg for everything from the occupier.
Hence, it is safe to conclude that any agreements or compromises reached or imposed outside the umbrella of UN resolutions, including any prospective outcome of the proposed American-backed regional conference, slated to take place in the autumn, will ultimately meet the same fate and same failure that the Oslo Agreement met.
The reason is clear. Israel rejects any peace settlement based on human rights and international law and insists on giving Palestinians only "gestures" and "good-will measures", but not rights.
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© 2007 Khalid Amayreh
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