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By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.

Perhaps hundreds, if not thousands of studies have been carried out on the subject of the Oslo Accords. Here, I will attempt to present a brief critical analysis of the agreement, from the standpoint of several specific points:

1. In Oslo Accords, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized Israel’s right to exist, and the legitimacy of its 1948 occupation of Palestinian land. This effectively meant that 78% of historic Palestine was not for negotiations, which now became limited only to the West Bank (WB) and the Gaza Strip (GS).

2. Israel recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Yet at the same time, Israel failed to recognize the Palestinian people’s right to its lands in the WB and GS. To date, there is no pledge by Israel to withdraw from either the WB or the GS.

3. The agreement does not refer to the WB or the GS as being occupied territories. This encourages a belief that they are disputed lands, which is what the Israeli side wanted to establish throughout the outgoing period, and subsequently perpetuate its settlements there and make the case for land swaps.

4. The PLO pledged to halt armed resistance, and refrain from engaging in Intifadahs or any form of “violence.” The PLO completely adhered to the peace process, and redacted all items and clauses calling for the liberation of Palestine or the elimination of Israel from the Palestinian National Charter. It was on the basis of this Charter that the PLO was founded in 1964, a time when the WB or the GS had not yet fallen under occupation. In 1996, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) convened to repeal or amend 26 articles out of 33 of the PLO charter. The PNC upheld these amendments in another meeting in 1998, doing away with all the founding principles of the PLO.

5. When the PLO pledged to abandon all forms of armed resistance, and limit its struggle to peaceful methods, it effectively outlawed and criminalized armed resistance in the regions under its control. Subsequently, the PLO put itself in a position where it had to pursue and prosecute anyone in violation of its political line in these regions. This has made it appear as though it has undertaken the implementation of

[Israel’s] dirty work of cracking down on the resistance and resistance fighters, be they Islamists, leftists or even Fatah members. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority (PA), pursuant to the Oslo Accords, is required to halt resistance activities. This explains how dirty tasks were transferred from the Israeli side to the Palestinian side. In the process, Israeli occupation, one of the ugliest forms of occupation in history, has been whitewashed, as its oppression tactics have been delegated to other agents.

6. The implementation of the Oslo Accords has been left to the two sides to agree upon. In other words, only a small number of formalities related to the establishment of the PA were agreed on, in addition to some arrangements concerning the latter’s administration of certain parts of the WB and GS. But when it comes to the implementation of other essential clauses of the agreement, there is no international mechanism in place that is binding to the Israeli side, or an international authority that can compel the latter to implement the agreement. Therefore, any arrangements or agreements to be signed later would only reflect Israel’s desires and could only happen with its consent. This has created a real problem, as all agreements or arrangements were subject to Israeli whims, and Israel’s level of satisfaction with the performance of the PA.

7. The agreement did not mention the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, or the establishment of an independent state, even on a part of Palestine.

8. The agreement did not contain any reference to the PLO’s role in border control, or any reference to the legal jurisdiction of the PA over settlers in the WB and GS. In addition, the PA was prohibited from procuring any kind of weapons without Israeli permission. Consequently, there are severe Israeli security restrictions on the PA, as well as economic restrictions. Indeed, 70% of the PA’s exports and 85% of its imports are channeled through Israel, which can halt these exports and imports at any time. Israel can also suspend the transfer of tax revenue to the PA, and destroy its infrastructure, institutions, and factories, and disrupt transportation as punitive measures or to put pressure on the PA. In addition, Israel retained the right to control the movement of individuals, and even the head of the PA himself cannot enter or leave except with Israeli permission.

9. Equally catastrophic is the fact that in any peace settlement between two sides, especially between a colonial entity and the representatives of the occupied people, all core issues are resolved first, and then secondary issues are addressed. In the Palestinian case, however, secondary issues were resolved first, but not the core issues, such as the status of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders and water rights. No time limit was agreed for resolving these issues, which means that their fate, in turn, has been linked to what Israel decides.

10. Following the Oslo Accords, the PA turned into an ad hoc entity that serves to fulfill Israeli conditions, and whose stability and development is not linked to the desires and aspirations of the Palestinian people. Hence, should the PA fail to comply with Israel’s criteria and requests, it can put political, economic, military and security pressure on the PA, and paralyze its work.

11. The PLO leadership accepted the Oslo Accords without consulting the Palestinian people, or its decision-making institutions. Even the approval of the PLO Executive Committee came about through a slim majority, while some of its members resigned to protest the agreement. The PLO leadership sought the approval of the PNC in 1996, i.e., three years after the Oslo Accords were signed.

Four hundred new members were added to the previous 450 PNC members, without going through the legal channels in place, to ensure a legal quorum to amend the Charter, according to Israeli and American conditions. Here, we must also note that no consultation or referendum of the Palestinian people was held, whether at home or in the Diaspora, regarding the agreement.

Furthermore, there was broad dissent among members and leaders of Fatah itself, including Faruq Qaddumi, Khalid Hassan, Muhammad Jihad, to name but a few.

Many people speak about the Palestinian schism and the existing polarity between Hamas and Fatah today. Yet we can say that Oslo Accords had perpetuated Palestinian division 13 years before the antagonism between Fatah and Hamas started, and which had come to light in the aftermath of the Palestinian elections in 2006.

Indeed, everyone remembers how the ten factions opposed to Oslo formed in late 1993, subsequently creating a real rift among the Palestinian people, not only because of the stances taken by the Islamist factions like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also the leftist, nationalist and progressive groups that joined the ten factions opposed to the agreement.

Serious divisions and differences over the administration of the national Palestinian project ensued, because of the PLO’s and Fatah’s monopoly over the decision-making process, and the fact that they did not consult the Palestinian people and other Islamist and nationalist factions. Therefore, when speaking about intra-Palestinian divisions, one must return to the roots of the problem. For example, the late Edward Said, one of the most prominent Palestinian intellectuals, had said that by signing the Oslo Accords ‘Arafat had lured his people into a trap that has no escape and that he had thrown himself to the Americans and the Israelis.

Hisham Sharabi, another renowned Palestinian scholar, said that when the Palestinian leadership signed Oslo Accords, it was not aware of what was happening around it, how decisions are made or how self-determination is achieved. He also said that the PA has zero capabilities to confront Israel.

12. Finally, this agreement left the door wide open to Arab and Islamic countries and other countries that supported the Palestinian issue to establish relations with Israel. This allowed the latter to make several infiltrations in the region, and to besiege and attack Islamist and nationalist factions opposed to the Zionist project where they are present.

In summary, we are faced with an agreement that carries the seeds of its own failure within it.  The Oslo Accords create an ad-hoc entity whose very survival and development is contingent upon the occupation, and where the prospects for Palestinian statehood are, unfortunately, dependent upon Israel’s consent.

We are faced with an agreement that is committed to nonviolent action, and which prohibits any resistance activities. We are faced with an agreement that gives Israel the right to stall indefinitely, and the right to build settlements and bring in settlers and alter the facts on the ground. We are before an agreement that has failed to develop the PA into an independent Palestinian state, while providing cover for Israeli settlement and expansion.

So far, the number of settlements has reached 177, in addition to 220 settlement outposts, while the number of settlers grew from about 180 thousand in 1993 to around 500 thousand in 2011. This is not to mention Israel’s relentless efforts for the Judaization of Jerusalem and the construction of the Separation Wall, etc. The areas that were supposed to be part of the promised Palestinian state are now full of breaches and gaps, much like Swiss cheese. In practice, the two-state solution has lost all its justifications.


* Summary of a paper presented at the workshop entitled “Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return: Between the Oslo Agreement and the Recognition of a Palestinian State, a Political and Legal Review,” organized by the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), Palestinian Return Community (Wajeb) and Thabit Organization for the Right of Return, in Beirut on 12/09/2011.

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Working Paper || Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh: “The Oslo Accords .. A Critical Political Assessment” Word  (3 pages, 44 KB )

The original Arabic article appeared on Thabit Organization For The Right Of Return Website ( on 24/9/2012  

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 9/10/2012