September 13, 2018, marks 25 years since the first of the Oslo Accords was signed by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn amid great fanfare. Many Palestinians hoped that they would finally be free of Israel’s then-quarter-century-old military rule and have a state of their own.
Having taken part for two years in the Madrid and Washington Palestinian-Israeli negotiations preceding the Oslo accords, and having seen the obduracy of the Shamir and Rabin governments about allowing the Palestinians anything resembling self-determination, independence, and statehood, I had few hopes for Oslo. Sadly, my pessimism proved all too well-founded.
Under Oslo, Palestinians saw their freedom, their land, and their dreams for an independent state shrink, while Israel deepened its control over their lives. More than 100 Israeli settlements and some 600,000 settlers are now spread throughout occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Oslo established a Palestinian Authority, which was supposed to be an interim self-governing entity on the way to independence in five years. But Israel blocked that goal through its systematic colonization of the West Bank, and the PA has de facto become an instrument of Israel’s occupation.
This anniversary follows soon after Israel’s Knesset passed the “Jewish nation-state bill,” which formally enshrines in Israel’s quasi-constitutional basic laws the superior rights that Jewish Israelis enjoy over Palestinian citizens of the state. And it comes the very same week that Trump announced he would close the PLO’s diplomatic office in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, release of the Trump administration’s “deal” for the region is supposedly impending. The nation-state law, the Trump plan, and the closure of the PLO office signal the end of the Oslo era—and the beginning of a new and still more dangerous stage.
The Trump plan is based on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stale “economic peace” plan. The idea that Palestinians will relinquish their demands for freedom in exchange for Israel’s lifting some of its suffocating restrictions on the Palestinian economy is an obvious nonstarter, produced by people who think that the dignity of others is for sale. That shouldn’t be a surprise, given that it is being drafted by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has close longstanding familial ties with Netanyahu and Israel’s settler movement, as does Jason Greenblatt, the plan’s other main author, and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel.
Of late the Trump administration has also been campaigning to strip Palestinian refugees of their legal right to return to lands that they were expelled from by Israel. Demonstrating the heartlessness towards refugees that has become its trademark, the administration has also been undermining the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, the UN body responsible for the well-being of Palestinian refugees.