Globe, the Geneva Graduate Institute Review
18 September 2023

The Oslo Accords: False Hopes for Peace

Marking the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, Emeritus Professor, Riccardo Bocco discusses the ways in which hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace were dashed and considers the role played by the international community in failing to support the peace process.

Thirty years ago in 1993, Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed what are known as the Oslo Accords in Washington, based on secret negotiations held in Norway. The aim of the Accords was to draw up a peace treaty which, five years later, would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied since 1967 (West Bank and Gaza). Inaugurated under the aegis of "land for peace", the Accords allowed for the creation of a Palestinian Authority (PA) with its own security services and the right to administer the urban areas (20% of the future state) and to share administration of part of the rural areas (20%), with the remainder of territories (60%) being under Israeli control.

By 1998, the hopes raised by the Accords had evaporated. Acting as political godfather, the United States had adopted an incremental approach: the establishment of a roadmap without the intention of intervening in the event of accidents, all while ignoring the asymmetrical power relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. After Rabin's assassination and the installation of the first Netanyahu government, land confiscation and settlement activity in the West Bank resumed, reaching an all-time high under Ehud Barak. Terrorist attacks on both sides and repression by the Israeli army, but also by Palestinian security forces cracking down on their own citizens, cast doubt on the peace project.

With the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, armed confrontation resumed. On the Palestinian side, the death of Arafat, the victory of Hamas in the legislative elections of 2006 and the seizure of power in Gaza in 2007 marked the end of national unity. The corruption of the PA, now representing only itself, bears a heavy responsibility. The only positive aspect: in November 2012, the UN recognized the Palestinian Territories as a permanent observer state. On the Israeli side, the "dehumanisation" of the Palestinians has intensified through several wars in Gaza (from 2008 to 2021) and strategies of forced displacement of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, where orthodox Jewish settlers, ultranationalists and supremacists have become the majority.

Should we speak of a shared Israeli-Palestinian failure? Certainly. However, it is much more than that. Above all, it's a defeat for the international community, led by North America and Europe, who failed to support the process by ensuring the application of international law. From 1967 to the present day, it is not the denunciations of violations of international law that have been lacking: it is the political decisions that should have followed to curb Zionist hubris...

The Graduate Institute Review