Twenty Years after Oslo, Palestinians and Israelis still at an Impasse

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The months of September and October are filled with historic significance for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. In particular three major events — the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, the 1973 War, and the 31st anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre — occupy the minds of the region’s observers. As each side reflects on those anniversaries, each draws different conclusions, which then have a bearing on the ongoing peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Some in Israel believe that the Oslo process demonstrated the lack of a trusted Palestinian peace partner, despite Tel Aviv’s willingness to craft a meaningful diplomatic solution. Twenty years since Oslo, says Arutz Sheva’s Efraim Inbar, Israelis have now learned that “The Oslo process – started between Israel and the Palestinians 20 years ago – clearly failed to bring a resolution to the conflict, and did not result in a peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The nearly 1,500 Israeli casualties and many more thousands of wounded during this period by Palestinian terrorist and rocket attacks testify to this failure....Israeli society paid dearly for the Oslo experiment. It can honestly say, ‘We tried to make peace with the Palestinians,’ which is a prerequisite for treating future armed conflict as a ‘no-choice (Ein Breira) war.’”

For the Palestinians, and others in the region, the anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accords and recent news that the Palestinian economy continues to reel from the Israeli occupation, are reminders of the difficult reality they have to face every day: “On the anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the international aid agency Oxfam says life for millions of Palestinians is worse now than it was 20 years ago. It’s hard to imagine that two decades after the Palestinians and Israelis signed the agreement in Oslo, the conflict is not only unresolved but the situation, at least economically, has gotten worse. Then again, if one knows Israel, then perhaps it is not too hard to imagine....On the anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the international aid agency Oxfam says life for millions of Palestinians is worse now than it was 20 years ago. It’s hard to imagine that two decades after the Palestinians and Israelis signed the agreement in Oslo, the conflict is not only unresolved but the situation, at least economically, has gotten worse.”

Those different impressions have not made the ongoing peace negotiations any easier, especially given the recent headlines. Various editorials from the different Arab newspapers highlight the difficult circumstances under which the peace process has to take root, especially considering the ongoing discriminatory policies of the Israeli government. For example, the Saudi Gazette, editorializes about the ‘occupation’ of the Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem by the Israeli curriculum requirements: “Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem is not just physical. There is also something called annexation of the mind and it starts during the formative school years. Introducing the Israeli curriculum into selected schools for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem is a blatant violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws. By imposing its educational curriculum on schools in Occupied East Jerusalem, the future capital of Palestine, Israel shows that it has no intention of ending its 46-year-old occupation, but rather seeks to consolidate the illegal annexation of Palestinian land.”

The Oman Tribune, on the other hand, reports on recent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, warning that: “Thursday’s clash in which four Palestinians were wounded by Israeli security forces should indicate to the international community how Israeli atrocities against a subjugated people are continuing....Even as mediators, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leading the negotiations, attempt to get the stalled peace process going again, Israel continues to take unilateral actions that pose further risk to these attempts. Actions like the one on Thursday will only serve to inflame passions in the Palestinian community, and place hurdles before international mediators.”

Of course, the issue of East Jerusalem is a constant thorn in the sides of the Palestinians living there and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories. The issue for some, however, is not just the Israeli government’s actions, but the inactivity of the Arabs: “the Arab Palestinian people in occupied Jerusalem have to face daily aggression carefully designed by the colonial Israeli Zionist rule to dislodge them from their homes by all possible means. Sometimes, using money, a great deal of it, to purchase Palestinian properties (regardless how little) and most of the times using bulldozers to bring down Palestinian homes....New Jewish colonial cities are now surrounding occupied Jerusalem, built by Israel and its supporters around the world, but not a single residential block has ever been built to accommodate Palestinian Arab Jerusalemites by any Arab or Muslim entity!”

Meanwhile, as Arutz Sheva’s Gil Ronen reports, for those who are opposed to the peace process, recent leaks that the head of the Israeli negotiating team was willing to cede control of the Jordan Valley, is further proof that the process should come to a halt as soon as possible: “Sources close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are once again expressing concern that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the Israeli negotiating team with the Palestinian Authority (PA), is undermining the prime minister's positions in the talks....According to the report, Livni - who heads the left-wing Hatnua political party - is willing to pull out the IDF from the Jordan Valley which guards Israel's long eastern border, and let an international force take its place. Netanyahu vigorously opposes this, citing the region's crucial strategic importance....If a Palestinian state were to be established in all or the majority of Judea and Samaria, experts say such an arrangement would leave central Israel as narrow as 8 miles at some points, placing approximately 70% of Israel's population within firing-range of deadly mortars and rocket fire, and without the ‘strategic depth’ to successfully defend against invasion.”

The context in which these discussions take place becomes even more complex as memories of past conflicts and massacres are recalled into the national consciousness and discourse. Reflecting on the lessons of the 1973 war, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yoaz Hendel wants to shake the Israelis out of a state of self-flagellation, as he puts it: “Militarily, despite the national memory and the exaggerated tendency for self-flagellation, Israel won the Yom Kippur War....Psychologically, on the other hand, we lost a slow and creeping defeat for the past 40 years. It is not the occupation from 1967 that is destructive, but the fervent skepticism which grew within us in 1973. Post-Yom Kippur War Israel is a country with doubts, a country in which the question is holier than the answer....We have developed in all fields, we're just stuck with the psychology. We have overcome the war, but not the price of its self-examination.”

Finally, and equally important, there are those Palestinian voices that are loath to forget the tragic events that took place over 30 years ago in Sabra and Shatila: “Member of Hamas's political bureau Ezzat Al-Resheq said on Sunday that the Sabra and Shatila massacre would remain a curse hunting its perpetrators until they get their comeuppance. Resheq stated on his Facebook page on the 31st anniversary of the massacre that the Palestinian generations would never forgive the crimes of the Israeli occupation and its allies, stressing that the blood of the Palestinian people would be a fire burning everyone involved in shedding it. Resheq also criticized the Palestinian Authority's persistent peace negotiation with the Israeli occupation despite 20 years of failure, affirming that its resumption is only a desperate attempt to try and impose new defeatist solutions on the Palestinian people.”

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