On September 13, 1993, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn, flanked by a smug-looking US President Bill Clinton. They had just signed an agreement that would be hailed as a historic peace deal putting an end to the decades-old “conflict” between Palestinians and Israelis.
Around the world, people celebrated the deal, which came to be known as the Oslo Accords. It was perceived as a great feat of diplomacy. A year later, Arafat and Rabin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Many Palestinians were also hopeful that they would finally get a sovereign state, even if it were on less than 22 percent of their original homeland. Indeed, that was the promise of the Oslo Accords – a phased process towards Palestinian statehood.
Thirty years later, the Palestinians are as far away from statehood as they have ever been. They have lost even more land to illegal Israeli settlements and are forced to live in ever shrinking bantustans across colonised Palestine. By now, it is clear that Oslo was meant only to help Israel consolidate its occupation and colonisation of Palestine.
Worse still, what the Palestinians did get out of the Oslo Accords was a rather pernicious form of Palestinian authoritarianism in the territories occupied in 1967.
One of the terms of the agreement was that the exiled leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would be allowed to return only to the territories Israel occupied in 1967 – the West Bank and Gaza – and would be permitted to create an interim government known as the Palestinian Authority (PA) for a period of five years.
The PA, which was made up of members of Arafat’s party, Fatah, assumed responsibility for the affairs of the Palestinian people while the Israeli military occupation remained in place. With the backing of the international community and the Israeli regime, Arafat pursued governance based on patronage and corruption that had little tolerance for internal dissent.
Arafat’s successor, President Mahmoud Abbas, continued down the same path. Today, at the age of 87, he is not only one of the world’s oldest leaders but is also more than 14 years past his legal mandate despite ever dwindling support for his rule among Palestinians.
Since coming to power, Abbas has made numerous disingenuous calls for elections, the last of which was in January 2021. That year, the polls were ultimately cancelled after the PA accused the Israeli regime of refusing to allow Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem to participate.
These regular false promises of elections temporarily satisfy the international community’s appetite for what it calls “democratisation” of PA institutions. But the reality is that the system is so deeply rigged – in large part thanks to the Oslo Accords – that elections would inevitably result in either a continuation of the existing power structures or a new authoritarian leader coming to power.