Scrapping Oslo

Peace accords are dead on the vine -- but what are the alternatives?

A front page article in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv from 14 September discloses that Foreign Minister Lieberman has decided to re-evaluate the nineteen-year-old Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. According to Lieberman: “There is no sense in keeping Abu Mazen’s rotten regime on artificial breathing.”

So the Foreign Minister ordered the Foreign Ministry management to examine an alternate model for relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority against the background of the problems in reaching a permanent settlement.

Lieberman harshly attacked the PA Chairman. “There is a basic mistake in dealing with Abu Mazen and his regime. The Palestinians blame Israel for everything just like all the corrupt regimes in the Arab world do all the time. Abu Mazen is not adapted to impose order in the PA. He and his regime are living on borrowed time. He lost all his credit with the Palestinian people.”

Is Foreign Minister Lieberman’s proposal to find an alternate model for relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority feasible? There is no question that something is indeed rotten in the Palestinian Authority. It stopped adhering to the principle of bilateral negotiations three years ago. Instead of engaging in bilateral negotiations with Israel as it did in the 1990s, the PA adopted a unilateral track to achieving statehood recognition through the UN. Since embarking on their UN initiative, the PA has closed the door on bilateral negotiations. The PA’s hostility to Israel takes other more explicit forms, such as gross incitement against Israel in their media. The school books and maps in the Palestinian Authority education system erase Israel’s existence and replace it with the state of Palestine. The Palestinian Authority routinely names summer camps and city squares after terrorist murderers.

Oslo was supposed to be a vehicle for negotiating two states for two peoples. But today the Palestinian Authority’s underlying policy is the elimination of Israel. Their refusal to back down on their demand for the Palestinian refugee right of return, for example, is prime evidence of their deeply imbedded hostility to the existence of the Jewish state. They even refuse to recognize that Israel is the Jewish State.

One also needs to bear in mind that while the Israeli government may want to change its relationship with the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Authority surely seeks to maintain the status quo. The European Union, the Quartet, the US, the Arab world, provide the Palestinian Authority with huge transfusions of financial and political support. FM Lieberman may call this support "artificial breathing" for a sick body. But this is the reality with the PA. It may be sick but it refuses to die – or change.

Nonetheless, there are three options related to changing Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians – the status quo ante, the Jordanian option, and the Eight State Solution.

The status quo ante is the situation that existed before Oslo in 1993. The civil administration oversaw administration of the needs of life for the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. Of course Gaza is out of the picture since the Hamas terror gang took over the territory there. So if there is a return to the status quo before 1993, the civil administration will only be occupied with the West Bank Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority would be abolished and Palestinian statehood or any self-determination at all would be an old story, not a realistic prospect by any means. Israel lived with this status quo from 1967 to 1993 – 26 years. The process was interrupted in the late 1980s by the first intifada.

However, it's more than likely the EU, US and Quartet among others would raise strong objections to Israel abolishing the PA. In the world at large and in particular with the US, EU and Quartet, the belief in Palestinian self-determination and so on is deeply imbedded. So it stands to reason that Israel would encounter heavy international weather if it decides to terminate the PA and return to business as usual before 1993. This also raises the question whether FM Lieberman’s desire to change Israel’s relationship with the PA will also encounter heavy international weather. Changing anything related to the immovable PA is easier said than done.

The Jordanian Option – In a 7 September interview in Haaretz Benny Morris reflects: “Because it is still more logical than a settlement between us and the Palestinians based on partitioning the land. The logic of a large Palestinian state is still more valid than any partition settlement, and I am in favor of this. I think that anyone who speaks about a solution of two states for two peoples is throwing sand in the public’s eyes. Justice and logic say that the Palestinians need a country next to Israel, but dividing the land designated for them will not satisfy them. Therefore you need to add into the equation the territory east of the Jordan to give the Palestinians space. The West Bank, also without Jewish settlers, is a small place for them. Jordan Palestine is an idea for a permanent settlement that will stand the test of time, even if in our time it cannot be achieved.”

Another interesting prospect is the "Eight State Solution." In his online introduction to this proposal Dr. Mordechai Kedar writes: “The Eight State Solution is a viable alternative, based on the sociology of the clans and tribes in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, which can bring lasting stability and therefore peace to the region and security for Israel.

“Due to tribal rifts and local patriotism there will never be a successful unity government among the Arab population centers in Gaza, Judea and Samaria. The failed Two State Solution is rapidly heading to the dustbin of history where it belongs. Like the PLO in the past, the PA today does not represent the true ambitions of the majority of peaceful Arabs who just want a better future for their children in traditional, local frameworks.

"Successful Arab leadership must be local and firmly rooted with a traditional and homogenous sociological foundation. Israel and the world should recognize and support local leadership in Arab population centers that desire lasting peaceful relations as independent city-states. This is the concept of the Eight State Solution.

The eight city-states would comprise the areas of Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Jericho, Tul-Karm, Kalkilya, the Arab part of Hebron and the Gaza strip. Local residents would become citizens of these eight independent countries.”

Dr. Kedar’s proposal for an eight state solution is very idealistic, but it has the merit of being based in Palestinian Arab sociology. Shifting Palestinian rule from the hands of the PA to tribal and family elements at ground level Palestinian life will be a severe challenge. But this proposal also eliminates the PA and focuses the needs of Palestinian society in the heart of Palestinian society.

For his part, FM Lieberman seems to be interested in replacing Oslo with a long term interim agreement. In the past Lieberman crystallized such a plan for an interim settlement, whereby cooperation between Israel and the PA would be increased in the economic field and also the security field. Lieberman’s plan sought to strengthen the Palestinian economy through economic incentives and increased freedom of movement in Judea and Samaria. This in place of a permanent agreement and establishment of an independent state.

But is it feasible? Desirable yes. The Palestinian Authority does not behave as it did in the early days of Oslo. It has in fact betrayed Oslo, and the principles on which Oslo is based have been extinguished. So changing relations with the PA has merit on many planes. Unfortunately, the PA is a white elephant these days, propped up financially and politically by powerful governments worldwide. It is not going to be so easy to change anything there. Fateful decisions need to be made in the Israeli government regarding what to do with the PA now. FM Lieberman’s re-evaluation of Oslo is a start. But these things are easier said than done.

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