By Ruth Tenne
Following a recent meeting with Binyamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama clearly expressed his frustration with the failure of the talks between Israel and the Palestinians, stating
“with the breakdown of talks, simmering tension in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, last summer’s conflict in Gaza, and serious questions about overall commitment to a two-state outcome, it’s no secret that we now have a very difficult path forward. As a result, the United States is taking a hard look at our approach to the conflict.”
Obama added that it was ultimately down to the two parties “to address not just Gaza’s immediate humanitarian and reconstruction needs, but also core challenges to Gaza’s future within a two-state context, including reinvigorating Gaza’s connection with the West Bank and re-establishing strong commercial links with Israel and the global economy”.
This inevitably requires a new political approach which should not necessarily be bound by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation(PLO)/Palestinian Authority (PA). Revoking the Oslo accords, according to which Israel should have withdrawn from the West Bank and Gaza by the end of 1998, appears to be vital to any new political solution. As stated by Obama on his visit to Ramallah in 2013, “Palestinians deserve an end to the occupation and the daily indignities that come with it; they deserve to live in an independent, sovereign state where they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity”.
According to the Trans Arab Research Institute (TARI), the declaration of Principles (DOP, also known as Oslo 1) of 19 September 1993 was a result of the need for open channels of negotiation between Israel and the PLO. It says:
“The DOP requires Israel to re-deploy its forces within circumscribed areas within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and allows the Palestinians to set up an “authority” that would implement the provisions of these accords…
“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is thus reduced to one of “negotiations” between two asymmetrical parties instead of being subjected to internationally accepted legal rules, or provisions.
“The DOP attempts to normalise relations between occupiers and occupied, not remove that occupation. The main task of the emerging Palestinian Authority and its strong police force would be to manage the occupation for Israel…’
The Interim Agreement of 28 September 1995) – also known as “Oslo II” – followed two other accords between Israel and the PLO. These are theAgreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area of 4 May 1994 – also known as the Cairo agreement – establishing Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, and the Agreement on the Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities of 29 August 1994, giving the Palestinians control over such sectors of life as education, health and culture. The provisions of Oslo II specify the modes of implementation of the articles of Oslo I.
Oslo II included a map dividing the West Bank into three zones: A, B and C. Area A (3 per cent) would be areas under full Palestinian Authority control; Area B (23 per cent) would be under joint Israeli-Palestinian security control and Palestinian civilian control, and Area C (70 per cent) would be under full Israeli control. The Israeli military government is explicitly recognised as the ultimate source of authority in all the occupied territories and would not be removed. The police and security bodies of the PA were required to coordinate jointly with the security apparatus in Israel, whereby “security” is defined primarily according to Israeli needs.
By virtue of the various maps and provisions of these accords, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PA agreed – in contravention of international law – to accept the existence, permanence and “legitimacy” of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
The territorial divisions created in Oslo II establish the contours of a final settlement that would preclude full removal of the occupation or any territorial contiguity for the emerging Palestinian state.
As TARI points out,
“By clearly asserting Israeli military government control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the PA has accepted both the existence and “legitimacy” of Israeli occupation…
“Arafat and the PA are put in the position of being accountable to Israel and the US (which brokered the deal) instead of their own Palestinian constituents…
“Issues at the core of the Palestinian conflict remain unresolved. Israel refuses to acknowledge itself as an occupying power, refuses to remove illegal Jewish settlements, and insists on retaining all of Jerusalem and wide swathes of land around it as its “eternal capital”. It rejects any blame for the creation of the refugee issue, and refuses to implement UN resolutions calling for their repatriation and compensation.”
Furthermore, the implications of the Oslo accords and their related agreements critically impact on the economic development and independence of a future Palestinian state . Area C, which is assigned to full Israeli control under the Oslo accords, contains most of the territory’s agricultural lands, natural resources and land reserves. “Sustainable economic growth cannot be achieved without a removal of the barriers preventing private sector development, particularly in Area C,” said Mariam Sherman at the World Bank, the Guardian newspaper reports.
According to a World Bank document entitled Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy (September 2014),
“Restrictions on economic activity in Area C of the West Bank have been particularly detrimental to the Palestinian economy. Area C constitutes about 61 per cent of the West Bank territory. According to the Interim Agreement, the gradual transfer should have been completed by 1997. However, it has not been implemented as envisaged in the Interim Agreement and in the meantime access to this area for most kinds of economic activity has been severely limited. Yet, the potential contribution of Area C to the Palestinian economy is large. Area C is richly endowed with natural resources and is contiguous, whereas Areas A and B are smaller territorial islands. The manner in which Area C is currently administered virtually precludes Palestinian businesses from investing there. Mobilising the Area C potential would help a faltering Palestinian economy… Lifting the restrictions on economic activity in Area C could have a large positive impact on Palestinian GDP, public finances and employment prospects. Among other things, access to economic activity in Area C is expected to be a key prerequisite for building a sustainable Palestinian economy. However, the full potential of Area C can be realised only if other restrictions on free movement of goods, labour and capital are removed and the overall business environment in Palestinian territories becomes more attractive… The economic significance of Area C lies in that it is the only contiguous territory in the West Bank, which renders it indispensable to connective infrastructure development across the West Bank, and a relative abundance of natural resources is situated therein. Area C offers large potential for the development of several sectors of the Palestinian economy: agriculture, stone and mineral processing, cosmetics, construction, tourism, and telecommunications.”
The World Bank report further argues that
access to economic activity in Area C could increase the Palestinian GDP by as much as 35 per cent; the majority of this impact would stem from agriculture and Dead Sea minerals processing industries, as well as the multiplier effect… Relatively conservative estimates show that the direct gains, in terms of potential value added in these sectors, would amount to at least USD 2.2 billion.
Taking steps towards full sovereignty
The possibility of repealing the Oslo agreements with Israel was raised back in 2012, amid rising frustration over the lack of progress towards a Palestinian state and growing dissent and protest on the streets. Mustafa Barghouti, a former presidential candidate, said, as reported by the Guardian, that the Palestinian leadership was serious about reviewing the Oslo accords. “The agreement has become a cover for the Israelis’ policy of expanding settlements and creating a system of apartheid on the ground. The PA could take actions short of dismantling itself, such as unilaterally setting its own VAT rate”.
Yet, so far the Palestinian leaders have not taken any steps towards cancelling any part of the Oslo accords. Although the financial, and possibly the political and social costs, may be quite difficult to sustain , especially, at the initial stages of such action, Palestine is now recognised as a legitimate state by UN and the international law. That means that it should have access to financial and economic bodies such as the World Bank and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to which it is entitled to apply for financial and economic help in case the US decides to withdraw its own aid.
Furthermore, Article VI/2 of the Cairo agreement appears to be invalid as it refers to Palestine as an” authority” rather than a legitimate UN Observer State, as it is now. It states that
“in accordance with the Declaration of Principles, the Palestinian Authority will not have powers and responsibilities in the sphere of foreign relations, which sphere includes the establishment abroad of embassies, consulates or other types of foreign missions and posts… the appointment of or admission of diplomatic and consular staff and the exercise of diplomatic functions.”
Clearly, the above-stated lines of the Oslo agreements (along with other parts of the agreements) are null and void as Palestine has acquired the status of a recognised state and is officially represented by embassies, consulates and missions in almost all UN member states, many of which are also represented in Palestine (Ramallah or Gaza City). Thus, in its new official state status Palestine could apply officially for the World Bank aid, including the International Development Association and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Democracy, legitimacy and a modern constitution
At the same time, the Palestinian state has to take the necessary steps towards being internationally recognised as a sovereign state that meets the basic requirements of a modern democracy. In an article written in April 2014, soon after President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international conventions, I made the point that
“being a state party to UN conventions and treaties would solidify the international stand of the state of Palestine by putting it on the world map. But this has to be preceded by enshrining the democratic principles of the UN conventions in a modern constitution, or bill of rights, to serve as the basis of a globally recognised modern Palestinian state. That would help Palestine to pursue claims against Israel in international courts. However, the main task, in this respect, is to bring Hamas under the umbrella of the PLO and make it a party to the signed conventions under an elected unity government.”
I went on to say that “the PLO will need to re-establish its legitimacy by holding long overdue parliamentary election in the West Bank and Gaza”. Pursuing those vital steps would enable the PLO to re-establish its validity and credibility as a legitimate body which has the power to withdraw from the Oslo accords, to which it was a party, while consolidating the foundation of sovereign Palestinian state, and freeing itself of all previous arrangements and commitments undertaken under the Oslo accords.
One of the major steps that must be taken to dismantle the Oslo agreements and their protocols is to withdraw from the Israeli-PA joint security arrangements as stated in Annex 1, Article 3 of the Protocol Concerning Redeployment and Security Arrangements. That states that “A Joint Coordination and Cooperation Committee for Mutual Security Purposes is hereby established (hereinafter ‘the JSC’). It will deal with all security matters of mutual concern regarding this agreement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”.
Withdrawal from the JSC will demonstrate to the world that in terms of international laws Palestine is a legitimate UN (observer) state and is no longer bound by the Oslo agreement and its subsequent protocols – which refer to the West Bank and Gaza as territorial entities under the occupation of the state of Israel .
Following the recent re-election of Netanyahu and his proclaimed opposition to the two-state solution, it is quite evident that the Palestinian leaders have to take a clear look at past agreements with the state of Israel.
Israel has abandoned the Oslo Declaration of Principles (DOP) which stipulated a “transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338″, and has no regard for the arrangements, treaties and protocols that followed the DOP .
The Palestinians must therefore:
1. Prepare the ground for a staged withdrawal from the Oslo agreements, with the aim of totally repealing the agreements and their arrangements and protocols .
2. Consolidate the foundations of a soveriegn Palestinian state and open the way for Palestine to be placed on the global arena by holding democratic election in both Gaza and the West Bank.
3. Elect a unity government that will represent both Fatah and Hamas, under the umbrella of the PLO, based on a modern constitution and the democratic principles that are enshrined in international law and the UN Charter and other conventions (many of which have already been signed by President Abbas who also signed the Rome Statute, which forms the basis of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
4. Take advantage of UN recognition of the Palestinian state by applying to international financial bodies for economic grants, funding and loans which would help develop Palestine along the lines of the Marshall Plan that had restored Germany post-World War II. The Arab League, or individual Arab/Muslim countries, ought to consider acting as guarantors for applications made by the newly-created Palestinian state whose steps towards solidifying its democratic foundations may help its requests for economic and financial aid for a major redevelopment plan and projects .
Along with the above-stated pro-active stages towards establishing a Palestinian state free from the Oslo agreements, further steps should be taken to intensify the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.This could be effectively achieved by applying BDS rigorously throughout Arab and Muslim states as well as Palestine; focusing on strategic planning and policies which involve cooperation between various human rights bodies; taking direct action in the form of rallying global financial centres, thus shaking up the shares value and market domination of companies which help Israel to consolidate its grip on the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza; intensifying sanctions and judicial intervention by the lobbying such bodies as European Union and filing lawsuits to the ICC or the International Court of Justice against Israel’s continued violation of international law.
BDS and other forms of grassroots opposition to Israel’s violation of international law have a part to play. Nevertheless, the Palestinian leaders should take the initiative and resort to proactive actions by gradually withdrawing from the Oslo agreements while at the same time consolidating the democratic and economic foundations of the Palestinian state .
That appears to be the only way forward to achieving full sovereignty for the legitimate state of Palestine.
This article was originally published by Redress