The Tony Award-winning play “Oslo” depicts the secret, back-channel negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization that led to the Oslo Accord in 1993. A riveting political drama, “Oslo” offers a crash course in diplomacy—the highs, the lows, the pitfalls, the ever-important human factor on which so many critical decisions hinge. Three hours long, it is never dull. At the end, the play acknowledges, without explanation, that an accord which laid out steps to lead, within five years, to an independent Palestinian state and a final settlement of the conflict did not result in peace.
Instead, the West Bank remains under Israeli military occupation and Gaza under a punishing 10-year blockade that has turned it into a hellhole. Peace seems no closer than it did before the Oslo Accord. Since its signing, 300,000 more Jewish settlers have moved to the West Bank, shrinking the land Palestinians hope to build their state on. As one round of peace talks has followed another, the peace process has become little more than a convenient fig leaf for Israel’s ongoing colonization of the area.
Peace seems no closer than it did before the Oslo Accord.
What happened? It is the question one asks after every debacle, whether it is Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election or the squandered opportunities for peace since Oslo.
Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi answered that question when she gave a talk I attended last month and granted an interview. A member of the P.L.O. Executive Committee and for years a spokesman for the Palestinian Delegation to the Mideast peace talks, she addressed the sorry history of the past 24 years, promises to the Palestinians that were postponed and broken and obligations that were ignored and abrogated. A transitional period that was to lead to the devolution of military occupation by the Israelis and to statehood for the Palestinians became instead the evolution of the Israeli occupation into an unaccountable matrix of control, with Israel doling out to the Palestinian Authority some of the tasks of statehood but with Palestinian independence and self-determination stalled indefinitely.
“I must say we can tell you exactly what not to do in peacemaking,” Ms. Ashrawi told me. There were many built-in flaws in the peace process, she noted; foremost among them was that it never addressed the power asymmetry between occupier and occupied. Also, the United States mediated the peace talks that followed the 1993 accord. But instead of being an evenhanded broker that would hold both sides to their commitments, the United States, under the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, actually emboldened Israel’s occupation and encouraged Israeli unilateralism, exceptionalism and impunity. Israel was given a free hand to renegotiate or violate its obligations.
The United States, under the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, actually emboldened Israel’s occupation and encouraged Israeli unilateralism, exceptionalism and impunity.
“We ended up with this lethal equation—the equation where we get all the pressure, the threats and the blackmail, and Israel gets all the rewards, all the positive inducements, advance payments in order to join the peace process as though it’s a favor [to the Palestinians] for Israel to have peace,” Ms. Ashrawi said.
The P.L.O. had staked its policy on a peace settlement and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. When these failed to arrive, it began to lose credibility and support. Enter Hamas and the era of divided government, with the P.L.O. political party Fatah ruling in the West Bank and Hamas ruling in Gaza.
Interviewed just days after Fatah and Hamas announced a reconciliation agreement, an important first step in creating a united government that can represent Palestinians in negotiations with Israel, Ms. Ashrawi was optimistic about it holding, but adamant that after 24 years of failure a new approach to peacemaking was necessary.
“We need a multilateral approach, not a bilateral approach. And when we talk about third-party intervention, it’s not a euphemism for the U.S. It is the need to have the international community involved,” she said.
But the United States opposes efforts to involve other countries in peace-negotiations, just as it opposes efforts to either sanction Israel for its settlement expansion or pressure it to make peace.
Instead, it threatens to cut off direct aid to the Palestinian territories if Palestinians join other U.N. organizations or the International Criminal Court. The U.S. position is that violence from an occupied people is not to be tolerated; their peaceful efforts to create change are not either. It is a feckless, incoherent policy. When it comes to peace between Israel and Palestine, we are the problem, not the solution.