Shalom, Salaam, peace: Twenty-five years ago, these words reverberated in the White House lawn and were flashed across the front pages of newspapers worldwide, as the adversaries became partners of peace to sign what was then hailed as the peace deal of the century.
On September 13, 1993, President Bill Clinton facilitated a handshake between Israel’s then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat after they placed their signatures on an agreement which was reached after painstaking secret talks facilitated by Norway. Peace at last in the Middle East, thought the peace-loving people, heaving a sigh of relief.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall enter the Kingdom of God: The land that witnessed Jesus Christ proclaim these words would no longer see bloodshed, peace zealots thought and wondered whether the time had come to beat swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruninghooks and whether the era had dawned when a nation would not lift up sword against another nation.
Alas! A quarter century later, the Oslo deal exists largely on paper. Even before the white paper on which the agreement was typed turned yellow, the agreement suffered blow after blow. Within years, the much hailed Oslo deal was dumped in the dustbin of history by hardliners opposed to peace; by the arms dealers who profit from wars, by the Zionists who dream of setting up an exclusively Jewish state in the whole of Palestine by expelling all the non-Jews; and by the American neoconservatives who are hand-in-glove with the Zionist lobby.
Jurists may insist that Pacta sunt servanda or agreements must be kept, but who cares when hardline and peace-allergic Israeli regimes are given protection by the world’s mightiest nation, the United States of America. Encouraged by the continuous US support, the Zionist nation commits war crimes and walks free among the civilised nations. Washington’s mollycoddling of Israel undermines the US Constitution which is nourished by the founders’ ideals of justice, peace and morality. The US action is tantamount to aiding and abetting Goliath to oppress a helpless people crying for freedom and condemned to statelessness.
If Israel had adhered to the Oslo deal in spirit and letter, a Palestinian state would have been set up in five years. In 1979, that is 14 years before the Oslo deal was signed, Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David agreement, in terms of which, Israel was expected to take measures to end its occupation of Palestine. If Israel had not observed the Camp David agreement in the breach, a Palestinian state would have long become a reality, US President Jimmy Carter who facilitated the Camp David talks, later observed in his book, ‘Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid’.
In terms of the Oslo deal, which gave the Nobel Peace Prize to Rabin, Shimon Peres who was the then Israeli foreign Minister, and Arafat, the occupied West Bank was to be divided into Zones A,B and C. Israel was to pull out completely from the Gaza Strip and the Zone A. The security of the Zone B was to be the joint responsibility of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to be set up, while Israel would be in charge of the security of the Zone C until a final agreement was reached. In terms of the Oslo deal, the thorny issues such as the final status of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees’ right to return, the Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian lands, and the borders of the two states were to be discussed within five years. The arrangement gave Israel 80 percent of the control in the West Bank, while the Palestinian got a glorified local authority called the Palestinian Authority.
The Oslo deal was conceived at a time when the Palestinians were at a point of despair. They were battered in whichever country they had found refuge –in Jordan, they were butchered and in Lebanon, they were massacred. By 1987 Palestinian youths were sick and tired of being labelled as terrorists for launching a freedom struggle, just as many liberation movements had done during the fight against European colonialism. They began an uprising – called Intifada in Arabic – in December 1987. It lasted until the 1991 Madrid Conference, which, for the first time, brought a Palestinian delegation stuffed into a Jordanian delegation face to face with an Israeli delegation. The Intifada -- during which 1,500 Palestinians, including some 300 children, died -- spurred the Oslo-mediated secret talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, while adding pressure on world powers to intensify diplomatic efforts to find a solution.
During this crucial period, Arafat and the PLO denounced terrorism and recognised Israel’s right to exist, key conditions Israel and the US had placed for direct talks.
Rabin was a willing partner for peace and wanted to give peace a chance. Arafat appeared pragm
atic and agreed to a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, as had been recognised by the United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.
But the peace haters scuttled the deal. Four months after the deal, a Zionist extremist massacred worshippers at the Hebron mosque which houses the grave of Abraham, the father of both the Arabs and the Jews. Despite this blow, the peace process led to the September 28, 1995 Taba agreement, also known as Oslo II Accord. Months later, the peace process suffered its biggest blow. On November 4, 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish hardliner.
His death only increased the resolve of the peace lovers to push the peace process forward. President Clinton made hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sit with Arafat and sign the Wye River Agreement in 1998. Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush set up the Middle East Peace Quartet comprising the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN to salvage the peace process. In the meantime, Arafat died in November 2004, allegedly after he was exposed to radioactive polonium poisoning.
President Barack Obama made valiant efforts to beat the odds and revive the peace process. But Israel’s intransigence and the shrewdness of placing more conditions and pushing the goal post further each time the Palestinians reach it prevented any resurrection of the peace process.
In the present US President Donald Trump, Israeli hardliners have found a willing peace killer. Trump has undone decades of hard work that went into the peace process. In May this year, he recognised Jerusalem as the undisputed capital of Israel in violation of international law and last month he stopped US humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian refugees. Till Trump is ousted, the peace process will remain comatose.