Saeb Erekat – The Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
At the end of August 1993, I accompanied Farouk Kaddoumi, The PLO’s foreign minister, to a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Beirut.
At that time, I worked on the “Washington Track” which resulted from the Madrid Peace Conference. I was part of an amazing team including Hanan Ashrawi, Ghassan Khatib, Rashid Khalidi, the late Faysal Husseini and Haidar Abdel Shafi. That day, Abu Lutof, as we call Mr Kaddoumi, told me about an “Oslo track”.
It was difficult for me to believe that parallel to our efforts, there was another, more advanced track with the Israelis. As I travelled to Washington for our last meeting of the Washington track, Akram Haniyeh, President Arafat’s close adviser, showed me a copy of the Declaration of Principles.
Israel’s culture of impunity killed the Oslo concept by tripling the number of settlers, stripping the Palestinian government of its attributes, and implementing various other contravening policies in breach of the agreement.
Oslo was supposed to be an interim phase of five years to coordinate Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967, leading to a final status agreement.Two points immediately caught my attention: It was the first time that an Israeli government recognised the Palestinian people, and the first time that an Israeli government had agreed to a solution which included the implementation of UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338, emphasising the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war and calling upon Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied in the June 1967 war.
Commitments were made to assure us of the sincerity of the agreement, such as maintaining the status quo of the territory and keeping Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, such as the Orient House, open.
A few years later, however, sparked by the brutal assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, all agreements were violated.
In the early nineties, the majority of Palestinians were hopeful that in a few years, a final status agreement would be achieved.
The first years saw the return of 250,000 Palestinians from exile and the beginning of institution-building for our new state. President Arafat led the process with strong determination and reminded us that our struggle would not end until the Palestinian flag was raised in our capital’s Old City.
Twenty-three years later, we are witnessing the opposite. Israel’s culture of impunity killed the Oslo concept by tripling the number of settlers, stripping the Palestinian government of its attributes, and implementing various other contravening policies in breach of the agreement.
Rather than two states, Israel seeks “one-state/two-systems”.
What Israel seeks is apartheid.
Israel killed Oslo while signing new economic agreements with the international community and expanding its trade worldwide.
In order to end the occupation, the international community must ban settlement products, divest from the occupation, and recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 border.
Our position is international law. Fulfilling the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people is an international responsibility.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated in 2004 that the right to self-determination of Palestine is a responsibility for each state. This responsibility is not only about ending the occupation but reaching a comprehensive final status agreement.
Millions still live in the diaspora, including hundreds of Palestinian refugees displaced once more or killed in Syria and Iraq, vivid reminders of the urgency to end Israel’s culture of impunity.
The road to peace can only be paved with justice.