ON SEPTEMBER 13, 1993, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization signed the Oslo Accords on the lawn of the White House. Following some nudging from U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chair Yasser Arafat shook hands, thrilling the 3,000 assembled potentates.
The New York Times marked the occasion with a banner A1 headline, and the accompanying story by Thomas Friedman described Oslo as an “agreement between Jews and Palestinians to end their conflict” — “a triumph of hope over history.” The Times devoted its whole front page to the accord; another article referred to it as a “Day of Glory.” The Washington Post’s lead story was headlined “Ritual End To Decades Of Conflict.” Within a year Rabin, Arafat, and then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Meanwhile, critics of the agreement, formally called a “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements,” were completely drowned out in the euphoria.
The late Edward Said, the most articulate champion of the Palestinian cause in the United States, immediately called Oslo “an instrument of Palestinian surrender.” Said quoted Israeli novelist Amos Oz as saying it was “the second-biggest victory in the history of Zionism,” after the establishment of Israel in 1948. Few would herald Said in the moment, but his criticisms have been more than borne out.
Oslo merely required Israel to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and pull back troops from parts of the occupied territories that Israel was happy to cede to soon-to-be formed Palestinian security forces. Managing civil affairs in densely populated Palestinian cities that Israel had no interest in keeping was a headache anyway.
Negotiations on everything important — “Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors” — were left to a “five year transitional period,” with no incentives for Israel to concede anything, including statehood, to the Palestinians. This “interim stage” purportedly leading to Palestinian self-government, Said wrote, “may be the final one.”
Who was right? Who was wrong? The answer is obvious from the silence this week of Oslo’s proponents — on the 25th anniversary of the accord. There are no op-eds from former State Department officials congratulating themselves on their hard work and diligence. Bill Clinton has not taken to Twitter to reminisce about that hallowed day.
They all realize, of course, that it would be ridiculous if they did. Today there is no Palestinian state, no peace — and no sign there ever will be either. Since Oslo, about 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, several thousand of them women and children, and more than 1,500 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. The West Bank and Gaza have been politically severed from each other, even as the number of Israeli settlers has grown from about 250,000 in 1993 to 600,000 today. And the Israeli government and populace have grown more and more extreme, to the point that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who once was seen as occupying the far-right of the political spectrum, now is part of the sensible center.
Worst of all from the perspective of Palestinians, 25 years after Oslo they do not have legitimate political representation. Said predicted in 1993 that the PLO would “become Israel’s enforcer, an unhappy prospect for most Palestinians.” This is exactly what has come to pass: The Palestinian Authority, set up after Oslo as the supposedly interim self-governing body for Palestinians, is largely a corrupt agent of the Israeli government.
This is no surprise to Palestinians. “It’s not that the PA has turned into a monster, I think it was born a monster,” Yara Hawari, a young activist and a policy fellow at the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, told The Intercept this summer. “I don’t think it was ever going to be anything else just because of the way that it was set up: What it was supposed to do was maintain and manage the situation and assist it.”
“It’s classic Fanon if you think about it,” Hawari said. “It’s like, Let’s create this class of people that are going to maintain the security of the oppressed or the natives, so that we don’t have to do it.”