6th November 2000
Surveying the wreckage of the Oslo agreement, I am struck by the vast gap in perceptions between our two peoples. We are all in danger of falling into this abyss. What many Israelis see as mindless Palestinian violence contradicting repeated professions of peaceful intent, we see as a long-delayed and justifiable expression of anger against an occupation that has lasted far too long and a peace process that has delivered far too little. Thirty-three years after UN resolution 242 set up the “land for peace” formula, nine years after the Madrid conference launched the search for a final settlement, seven years after the Oslo agreement and the Arafat-Rabin handshake, and a full 18 months after Oslo should have delivered a final end to occupation, the erosion of Palestinian faith in the peace process is now complete.
The reasons for this are evident. In the period 1993-2000, the PLO has been grudgingly handed out parcels of territorially discontinuous areas punctuated by Israeli settlements and lacerated by security zones, military roads and checkpoints. On the ground, the net result of the Oslo process has been full Palestinian control of less than 18 per cent of the West Bank, representing under 5 per cent of Palestine as it was under the British mandate. East Jerusalem, the largest and most vital of Arab cities, has been closed off to the people of the West Bank since 1992. The population of Gaza (one third of the total Palestinian population in the territories) remains severed from their brethren in the West Bank. The ghettoised Gazans are subject to endless Israeli constraints, while 20 per cent of Gaza’s 360 sq kms has been allocated to a few thousand Jews coddled in separate security zones amongst 1m indigenous Arabs.
For most Palestinians, daily life under occupation was easier prior to the Oslo agreement-with greater freedom of movement for work, hospitalisation and education, and easier access between Gaza and the West Bank. But most galling of all has been the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian soil. Between the signing of the Oslo deal in September 1993 and late 2000, the number of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza doubled, rising to around 200,000 in 200 settlements in the former and 6,500 in 16 settlements in the latter. The total number of settlers in Israeli “neighbourhoods” built on Arab lands…