On the 27th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Principles – the Oslo Accords – in Washington, D.C., Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network emphasizes that the fight to bring a decisive end to the path of Oslo is perhaps more critical than ever. The agreement signed on the White House lawn and the famous handshake of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat was falsely billed as a promise of peace and hope for Palestinians, denied both for decades upon decades, but was in reality a program for continued and intensified colonization and the suppression of the Palestinian liberation struggle. The entire project of Oslo was always intended to intensify the repression, division and fragmentation of the Palestinian people, while imposing a Palestinian “security” framework over the Palestinian people struggling for their rights, for return and liberation.
27 Years of Oslo Devastation
For 27 years, the devastation wrought by Oslo has included the dismemberment of the Palestinian national liberation movement, its unions and its institutions; the degradation of Palestinian refugees in the camps and in diaspora and exile and repeated attempts to confiscate their voice and decision; the creation of a Palestinian Authority subjected to U.S., European and Israeli demands while imprisoning and repressing the Palestinian resistance; massive expansion of colonial settlements and land theft throughout the occupied West Bank of Palestine; the subjugation of the Palestinian economy to the Israeli occupation. The number of illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian West Bank has quadrupled since the signing of the Oslo accords, while war after war have been waged against the undefeated and resisting Palestinian people in besieged Gaza.
Thousands of Palestinian lives have been stolen on the path to Oslo, while the political frameworks of the Palestinian struggle have been distorted, hijacked and compromised. While Palestinians inside occupied Palestine ’48 continue to affirm their identity and existence and organize for liberation, the official Palestinian leadership of the P.A. instead “recognized” Israel, the creation of the Nakba and a Zionist settler colonial project on 78% of Palestine.
Palestinian Refugees: Right of Return under Attack
Palestinian refugees in the camps and everywhere in exile in diaspora continue to hold their keys to return and their home villages in Palestine despite over 72 years of exile, while the PA-dominated official Palestinian leadership dismantled the unions and collective structures designed to represent the Palestinian refugees – as well as those representing women, workers, students, artists and many other sectors of Palestinian society. Palestinian refugees’ right of return was treated by the advocates of Oslo as a subject for “negotiation” rather than an unconditional right.
Rather than providing a path to self-determination or sovereignty, Palestinians are left perhaps less sovereign than ever before, despite the existence of the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, the Authority perhaps best resembles the so-called “Palestinian entity” warned about on multiple occasions by the Palestinian revolutionaries that shaped the modern Palestinian liberation movement.
In 1972, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine published the “Tasks of the New Stage,” addressing the potential threat of fake “Palestinian statehood:”
“Connected intimately with all this is another political battle confronting the resistance movement, and which is a more serious problem now than it was before September, that is the “Palestinian State.”
The new situation and the weak state of the resistance have created conditions which are congenial to thoughts about a solution to the cause of the Palestinian people. Such a solution will erect a Palestinian political structure to put an end – historically speaking – to the whole Palestine problem and all that it created and continues to create in the way of difficulties for imperialism and its interests…. the American interest in this problem is the result…of fear that “extreme elements” may exploit the feelings of the Palestinian people with regard to the search for a homeland.
American policy acknowledged, then, the Palestinian people, not in order to solve their problem, but to abort their cause. It chose this time precisely not only because some of the traditional Palestinian leadership has begun to move openly towards suspect solutions… All these then constitute links in the chain of liquidating the Palestinian cause. This is to be carried out by creating a suspect entity to be dominated at the same time by Israel, reaction and imperialism. It is intended to form an instrument for enforcing foreign exploitative domination over the Arab area.”
Cutting off the Road to Freedom
The path to Oslo, a road pushed by the big Palestinian capitalists and their allies and agents in the Palestinian leadership, came to cut off the road of the Palestinian people’s struggle: the great Intifada, taking place inside occupied Palestine. Palestinians were organizing their communities, restructuring their economy and struggling for freedom. The Intifada was not restricted to the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza; indeed, the Intifada had even broken the siege on the camps in Lebanon. However, the large capitalists saw an opportunity to close the deal they had long sought with the United States and its client Zionist project in Palestine in an attempt to provide a space for banking, capital and mutual profit, confiscating the accomplishments of the people.
Oslo in the International and Arab context
Of course, the international context cannot be left aside. 1993 and the years that preceded it, of the path of negotiations from Madrid, to Oslo, to Washington D.C., were also the years of the dismantlement and destruction of the Eastern bloc and the Soviet Union and triumphal proclamations of the “end of history” and eternal capitalist victory and U.S. hegemony over the world.
In the Arab context, first the Iran-Iraq war and then the first Gulf War deepened and intensified imperialist attacks in the region and highlighted the role of reactionary Arab regimes operating in league with the United States to devastate Iran and then devastate and sanction Iraq. The sanctions project that continues to be used throughout the region – and the world – to clamp down on any meaningful resistance to imperialism was developed and sharpened in this period. While the Palestinian Intifada represented another path, the lopsided balance of international power pushed harder than ever for accommodation with and concessions to imperialism, Zionism and reaction.
The creation of the Palestinian Authority represented not an accomplishment of the Palestinian national liberation struggle but instead, its betrayal, compromising the fundamental vision of Palestinian return and the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea that had remained its guiding light from its inception. And, hand in hand with the Camp David regime in Egypt, the P.A. and the path of Oslo – from Madrid in 1991 and beyond – opened the doors wide open for normalization with the Israeli occupation, even as it continued and intensified its crimes.
In 1992, Israeli companies began operating in Cuba; Vietnam established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993, not to mention the Jordanian regime’s Wadi Araba agreement of 1994. With the PLO’s “recognition of Israel” in hand, normalization with the settler colonial project not only appeared permissible but encouraged, despite its effects of further besieging the Palestinian people.
Oslo: A failure for Palestinians, a success for Zionism and imperialism
27 years later, the failure of Oslo is widely recognized. While Oslo has been a failure for the Palestinian people, it has been in many ways a smashing success for the Israeli state, the Zionist movement and its U.S. imperialist sponsor, as well as their allies in the Arab reactionary regimes, in Europe and elsewhere. The so-called “deal of the century” is part and parcel of the path of Oslo, the constant squeezing and repression of the Palestinian people and confiscation of Palestinian rights with the narrowest of window dressing of officialdom to disguise it.
The United Arab Emirates claimed to “benefit” Palestinians with their normalization agreement, despite the unified rejection of Palestinian people, the Palestinian resistance and even Palestinian officials. Bahrain, which previously hosted a widely rejected economic normalization conference, did not even bother to make such a claim. Of course, it must be noted that the ruling elites of these Gulf states do not represent their people, and that Bahrain in particular has a rich history of resistance, anti-imperialist struggle and struggle for Palestine – all of which have been brutally repressed by the very reactionary regime engaging in the normalization project.
Confronting normalization today
The road to confront normalization must begin with cutting off entirely the path of Oslo and the path of official Palestinian “recognition” of the settler-colonial Zionist project inside occupied Palestine, the Israeli state. In order to overcome “division” in the Palestinian movement and reassert the Palestinian project of self-determination, sovereignty, return and liberation from the river to the sea, the entire path of Oslo and all of the illusions that have accompanied it, of accommodation with imperialism and Zionism and enshrinement of capitalism, must be firmly and fundamentally rejected.
Like the Palestinian people as a whole and especially Palestinian refugees, Palestinian prisoners have been betrayed and left behind by the path of Oslo. Once promoted as a road to the liberation of Palestinian prisoners, the Oslo accords instead enabled the use of Palestinian prisoners as bargaining chips in an attempt to extract even more concessions from Palestinian officials.
Palestinian Prisoners: Betrayed by Oslo
Dozens of pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners remain in Israeli jails, as occupation forces refused to recognize Palestinian prisoners from 1948 occupied Palestine and repeatedly rescinded agreements for their release. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority attempted to convert the prisoners’ struggle and the prisoners’ movement – a national leadership of the Palestinian people – into a file for a ministry, a social concern, and a matter for “final status negotiations” along with the fundamentals of the Palestinian people: the liberation of Jerusalem and refugees’ return to their homes and lands.
Of course, this was not the only outcome of Oslo for the Palestinian prisoners. At the heart of these agreements, and uninterrupted despite declarations and promises, is the Palestinian Authority’s “security coordination” with the Israeli occupation. This “security coordination” has undermined the resilience and social solidarity of the Palestinian movement, chased after and repressed the Palestinian resistance and established a “revolving door” of imprisonment and political detention between P.A. and Israeli prisons. It has firmly established the P.A. as a security subcontractor of the Israeli occupation, trained by the United States with European and British support.
The Case of Ahmad Sa’adat
Perhaps no case so notoriously represents the dangerous role of security coordination as that of Ahmad Sa’adat, the imprisoned General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Following the assassination of notoriously right-wing, racist Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi – a response to the assassination of PFLP General Secretary Abu Ali Mustafa by a U.S.-made, Israeli-fired helicopter missile – Sa’adat and his comrades were seized by Palestinian Authority forces in 2002 and held in Arafat’s Muqata’ (presidential palace), then under siege by Israeli forces. They were subjected to hasty military trials and imprisoned in the P.A.’s Jericho prison, held under U.S. and British guards (some of whom had also served as guards over Irish Republican prisoners in the north of Ireland).
Held as political prisoners in Jericho for four years, they were then held captive for the Israeli attack in 2006 that demolished much of the prison, seized Sa’adat and his comrades and killed two Palestinian guards; the U.S. and British guards had earlier moved aside to make way for the Israeli military. This attack came after elections for the Palestine Legislative Council, established as part of the P.A. under Oslo, found victories for candidates and blocs that supported the resistance and pledged to release political prisoners, a form of sovereignty and self-determination not permitted. Today, Sa’adat and his comrades remain in Israeli prisons, continuing their struggle for liberation. While the Palestinian people rejected collaboration, Oslo meant that collaboration became a guiding mandate of the very existence of the P.A.
Oslo and International Political and Economic Repression
The political repression of Palestinians outside Palestine is also intimately linked to Oslo; U.S. President Bill Clinton issued the executive order listing Palestinian and Lebanese resistance organizations that rejected Oslo as “terrorists” in January 1995, noting that they “threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace process.” This was shortly followed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which created the “material support” legislation used to persecute Palestinians in the U.S. This was only strengthened by the USA PATRIOT Act and post-September 11 repressive legislation and used in the persecution of Palestinian political prisoners like the Holy Land Foundation Five.
Those “terror lists,” designations and legislation have been marketed around the world after 2001 by the U.S. and adopted in various forms by Canada, the European Union, the U.K. and elsewhere. Of course, Palestinians were never free from persecution by imperialist powers, but the post-Oslo “anti-terror” legislation further institutionalized that persecution while specifically criminalizing and classifying as “terrorist” the rejection of the Oslo project.
In addition, the economic aspects of Oslo must also not be ignored; this agreement was accompanied by corollaries, such as the Paris Protocol, that bound the occupied Palestinian economy ever more tightly to Israeli colonization and control. Palestinians inside occupied Palestine have been forcibly tethered to the Israeli market, with heavy restrictions on independent economic development. At the same time, coercive and hegemonic aid projects were used to replace development, only to then come with ever-enlarging “conditions”, such as the EU’s latest “conditional funding” imposition on Palestinian NGOs, thereby controlling and subjugating Palestinian political expression and development. While the vast majority of Palestinians have suffered massively under Oslo, a thin layer of agents of the P.A. – and thus occupation and imperialism – have benefited as the “Oslo class or Oslo sector.”
End Oslo: Forward to Liberation!
The Palestinian people continue to resist colonization, occupation and oppression in all forms, and continue to stand on the front lines against imperialism, despite the devastating effects and the heavy weight of the Oslo project. On the 27th anniversary of the Oslo project, it remains the overarching framework for imperialist and Zionist division and control of Palestine and reactionary Arab regimes’ roadway to normalization. In order to march forward to the freedom of Palestinian prisoners, the return of Palestinian refugees and the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea, the Oslo project must be decisively overthrown and rejected.
This is a key task of the Palestinian liberation movement today, but the Palestinian people are not alone in this project. Everywhere around the world, it is critical to escalate the boycott campaign against Israeli products, cultural institutions, academic institutions and complicit corporations, and fight back against the recognition and normalization of a racist settler-colonial project in occupied Palestine. The boycott of Israel is antithetical to the Oslo process.
Further, this framework has been driven by imperialism. Resisting imperialism, including its sanctions on nations in the region that reject normalization, is essential to standing with Palestine and its people.
The Palestinian prisoners, Palestinian refugees, the Palestinian popular classes – all are excluded in the framework of Oslo. On the contrary, these are the forces that have led and continue to lead the Palestinian liberation movement and that guide our organizing and struggle for the liberation of Palestine. We invite all to join us in the Days of Action for Palestinian Return and Refugee Rights on 18-26 September, and to struggle to confront normalization with activism and organizing for liberation.