20 years after Oslo: why did it fail?


Published on 15 September 2013


 Written by Michel (Mikado) Warschawski, Alternative Information Center (AIC)



Oslo Accords signing ceremony on 13 September 1993/Photo: Vince Musi, White House

When the PLO signed the Declaration of Principles (DOP, based on the understandings reached at Oslo), the Alternative Information Center was close to a split. Though no one considered it a good agreement, several members of the AIC – I was one of them – thought it was a compromise that reflected the best option on the ground, and that one couldn’t oppose a decision taken by the PLO leadership. Moreover, we assumed that popular mobilisation could result in improvement of the (bad) agreement and its terms.


A central weakness of the DOP  was the lack of clear commitment concerning the final status. On the other hand, its tight and precise timetable seemed to provide a guarantee that there will be a forward-moving dynamic, with no possibility of moving backwards. When Yitzhak Rabin began to buy time, announcing that “there are no holy dates,” even the optimists amongst us started to worry. Even in the symbolic aspects, the bad will of the Israeli leadership became increasingly visible: the Palestinian flag remained illegal as did the PLO (the official partner of the agreement) and its member constituents.

Were the ones who considered Oslo an Israeli maneuver aimed at maintaining the colonial occupation while dividing control over the population on security as well as on daily issues (health, education etc) with the PLO, right?

The overall assumption of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, as well as the “pro-Oslo” camp in the PLO and the international solidarity movement, was that the global context of decolonisation meant a necessary end of Israel’s colonial occupation of Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza and the Syrian Golan. The assumption of those opposed to Oslo, however, was that the American military offensive against Iraq, the defeat of Saddam Hussein and the support of Yasser Arafat for the losing camp meant Washington could impose capitulation on the Palestinians.

One can endlessly argue about the relative gains and losses implied in the Oslo compromise. This argument, however, has become meaningless:  before a Palestinian state was established in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, the global context radically changed. The Soviet Union collapsed and we witnessed a  victory of the neo-conservatives and their new global war strategy of re-colonising the world, particularly the Middle East.

The time of de-colonisation was over.


Post factum, at least, the anti-Oslo group was correct: twenty years after the DOP, no independent and sovereign Palestinian state has been achieved, even if Palestine was recognized as such in UNESCO and received the status of a non-state member in the UN General Assembly, and even if the international community addresses Mahmud Abbas as “Mister President”.

The historical turning point of the year 2000 marks the end of Oslo. It marks the re-conquest of the Palestinian territories led by Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, part of the global neo-conservative war of re-colonisation, and the end of dynamics toward an independent Palestinian state. The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are self administering and self financing (with the help of the international community) their not-so-well being. They even have their own armed police force, trained to repress any attempt to confront Israeli colonial occupation. In hindsight, at least, Oslo was an excellent move for Israeli colonialism.



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