20 years on, historic Oslo accords seen as false dawn


RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — Twenty years after the historic Oslo accords, seen then as the cornerstone of an imminent peace settlement, Israelis and Palestinians had to be dragged back to the negotiating table following conflicts and political deadlock. With Palestinian officials admitting the latest U.S.-brokered talks are “doomed to failure” and Israel stepping up settlement construction, analysts see outside pressure as the only way to reach an agreement. “Both sides will have to … restrain the extremists. The enemies of peace are within both camps,” Yossi Beilin, a mastermind of the Oslo accords, wrote in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. Pro-settlement ministers in Israel’s ruling coalition, including Housing Minister Uri Ariel, oppose any withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territory and even the creation of a state for the Palestinians. Success in the talks is “so dependent on the players,” agreed Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, speaking to journalists this week. “I thought when Oslo started that it had a strong opportunity for success.” “There were two leaders who were dedicated to make it work,” he said of then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who sealed the accords with a handshake on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993. But given the current climate, “it should not be just bilateral negotiations and just bilateral agreements because the balance of power (firmly in Israel’s favor) makes it impossible to implement,” Shaath said. “There has to be international involvement … and there has to be a commitment … to monitor implementation and take steps needed if any party violates tacit agreements.” Settlement building, to which the Palestinians had long demanded a halt before negotiating, was stepped up with Israel’s announcement before talks on Aug. 14 of more than 2,000 new settler homes, infuriating Palestinian negotiators. The last round of talks in 2010 broke down within weeks over the settlements issue. “The presence of a third party is vital in a situation where the two sides themselves are not initiating anything,” Beilin said. “When the leaders of the two sides believe that the status quo is tolerable, there is the need for a third party to wake them up to reality.” Palestinians complain that Israel has deliberately kept the United States, which brought the two sides back to the table after months of persuasion by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, away from any meetings since August. Ahead of the Oslo anniversary, observers can reflect on its achievements, such as the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA). But the goals of ending the decades-old conflict and paving the way for Palestinian statehood appear as distant as ever. Beilin said the PA, dominated by the Palestine Liberation Organisation and headed by Arafat’s successor as Palestinian president, Mahmud Abbas, was crucial for the success of any dialogue. “Israel has a definite Palestinian entity that it can address … Today Israel and the Palestinians coordinate operations in all spheres … especially the security field. This is the major change that the Oslo accords have brought about,” he wrote. But “the fact that, 20 years after the signing of the Oslo accords, we are standing in front of scaffolding instead of a finished structure is disappointing,” he said. He warned that should the current talks fail, “the Palestinians might decide to dismantle the PA” altogether.