Palestine remains occupied, 25 years after Oslo

Paris – Sealed with a handshake beamed across the world, the September 13, 1993 Oslo Accords were the first agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians and promised to end decades of deadly conflict.

The deal’s architects – Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and Israel’s premier Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Shimon Peres – won the Nobel Peace Prize for “their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.”

The all-smiles image of Arafat shaking hands with Rabin was a moment of hope, but 25 years after that bright day in Washington, relations between the two sides have soured and the deal – which envisaged eventual Palestinian autonomy – is deadlocked.

Here is a look back at the landmark Oslo Accords.

In 1991, with a bloody Palestinian intifada uprising against Israeli regime occupation having raged for four years, Washington and Moscow call a meeting in October in Madrid.

For the first time Israelis and Palestinians sat around one table together, although via a Jordanian delegation as the Israeli regime refused the direct participation of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The meeting opened the path to Oslo: bilateral and multilateral negotiations followed in various countries although there is no real progress until 1993.

In January 1993, the Israeli regime removed a major obstacle to further negotiations by lifting a 1986 ban forbidding Israeli contact with the PLO.

At the same time Norway offered to host fresh talks, guaranteeing utmost secrecy away from the media spotlight.

Oslo, which espouses mediation of international conflicts, leaned on its long-running contact with Arafat and close links between its ruling Labour Party and that of Israel.

From January to August the feuding sides held at least 14 under-the-radar meetings in the Norwegian capital.

The first public sign of a breakthrough came on August 29 when the regime announced a groundbreaking agreement allowing limited Palestinian autonomy in parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, occupied by Israel.

On September 10 that year, Israel for the first time officially recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.

These are the pillars of the Oslo Accords.

The “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements”, set to last five years, also stated that the Israeli regime and PLO will agree to work to end their conflict.

According to the text, both sides would “recognise their mutual legitimate and political rights, and strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement”.

The deal was signed by its chief negotiators, Peres and PLO official Mahmoud Abbas, in Washington on September 13.

But the heroes of the day were Arafat and Rabin: at an official ceremony on the White House lawn the same day – with US president Bill Clinton and some 3,000 invited guests watching – the old foes stand side-by-side, Arafat put out his hand, Rabin hesitated then did the same.

The handshake was hailed by many as a vital breakthrough in a conflict that had already lasted nearly a half-century, but there was also criticism from Palestinian and Israeli quarters and some Arab countries.

In May 1994 the transitional Palestinian autonomy began.

Two months later Arafat returned to the Occupied Territories after 27 years in exile. He formed the Palestinian National Authority, to oversee the road to aspired Palestinian statehood.

In September the following year a new intermediary accord, known as Oslo II, was signed, on the extension of the autonomy in the West Bank.

But on November 4, 1995, a right-wing Jewish extremist opposed to the accords assassinated Rabin. It was seen as blow to the deal.

Arafat progressively became the bete noire of the Israelis, who blamed him for a second Palestinian uprising in 2000.

The last direct – but ultimately fruitless – negotiations sponsored by the US took place in 2013.

Twenty-five years on the Oslo Accords are deadlocked: the West Bank remains occupied while the Gaza Strip is under Israeli blockade.


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