20 Years Into Oslo

07.09.13

Israeli Raids Give the Lie to Oslo’s Alphabet Soup

The Oslo Accords were struck in 1993; these in turn led to the Oslo II Accords/Taba Agreement two years later. Among many, many (many) other things, the latter stipulated that the West Bank be divided into three separate areas: A, B, and C (with a complicated exception made for Hebron).

Area A corresponds roughly to six major Palestinian population centers, wherein the Palestinian Authority was granted “full responsibility for internal security and public order, as well as full responsibility for civil affairs.” The notion was that through continued negotiations, Area A would be expanded and eventually include all/the vast majority of the West Bank when a final deal was struck (which was supposed to happen within five years, but who’s counting).

I bring this up because—yeah, not so much. Two decades later, not only are we farther than ever from a final deal, but even Area A doesn’t belong to the Palestinians in any meaningful sense. Exihibit A: On Monday, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that “Israeli forces raided villages across the West Bank before dawn,” including locations that are clearly located in Area A:

Witnesses told Ma’an that military jeeps stormed Tulkarem and detained 25-year-old Hasib al-Ali. The soldiers also assaulted al-Ali's younger brother Dhirgham causing serious bruises, the witnesses added.

Separately, troops raided Qaffin village north of Tulkarem and detained 21-year-old Abdullah Asaad Aqil. During the raid, soldiers assaulted 31-year-old Nabil Abu Tahoun, a former prisoner.

An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed 13 arrests overall.

She said the other Palestinians were detained in the Nablus, Qalqiliya and Ramallah areas. Two Palestinians were also detained in al-Khader, near Bethlehem, she said.

Of course, the Israeli government and military would argue that these raids were a matter of Israel’s own security, and thus fall under Article XII of the Taba Agreement (“Israel shall continue to carry... responsibility for overall security of Israelis and Settlements…and will have all the powers to take the steps necessary to meet this responsibility”)—but therein lies the problem.

A single glance at any given map demonstrates how entirely untenable the whole “Areas A, B, and C” arrangement is. Nothing Palestinian is contiguous, everything follows saw-toothed lines seemingly drawn at random, and possibly more to the point: Whenever Israel decides it feels threatened, it can go wherever it wants, guns blazing, and grab people out of their homes. Can, and does.

Can, and does, and always has done—and yet cannot seem to understand (publicly, at least) why this makes Palestinians, not Israelis, the weaker party. Cannot seem to understand that telling Palestinians that they’re responsible for their own street cleaning and yet may not do anything to stop the constant invasions of a foreign army—oh and while we’re at it, we’ll periodically hold hostage the tax revenues with which you pay to get those streets cleaned—might make it more difficult for the Palestinian people to trust the idea of a negotiated peace, more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to sell their people on the idea in the first place, and ultimately, more difficult to keep Israelis safe.

Twenty years ago, a small group of Israelis and Palestinians negotiated a beginning to an end of decades of bloodshed, and after years of studying the Accords, I believe they did so in good faith. The document they produced was flawed, though, and weighted heavily in favor of Israel’s own immediate demands—and the flawed document in turn produced a more deeply flawed process. Before long, and given all the violence on all sides, it became very easy for official Israel to exploit those flaws for its own purposes and essentially turn Oslo against itself. The fact that Oslo allows the military to conduct raids is Israel’s excuse for conducting raids that make Oslo’s end-goal more and more unlikely.

Yesterday I suggested we play Swap The Nouns, and of course, that works here as well: What if the security forces doing the raiding were Palestinian, the city Tel Aviv?

But as John Kerry works doggedly to get the sides back to some kind of negotiation process, I think we need to look closely at the original Accords (and the ensuing decades) and ask a different question: What did we do wrong 20 years ago, and is there anything we can do differently now?

Because street cleaning is nice. But security from invading armies is probably more important.