Since the signing of the September 1993 Oslo I agreement, the Israel-Palestine ‘peace process’ has been punctuated by a series of dramatic developments. The purpose of this article is to assess their significance. I will first examine the September 1995 Oslo II agreement, the definitive document for the interim period until a final settlement is reached. I will then consider the likely outcome of the ‘peace process.’ I will finally suggest that, contrary to widespread belief, the recent victory of Benjamin Netanyahu will not substantively affect the process set in motion at Oslo. To clarify the issues at stake, I will refer to two illuminating critiques of Oslo I, Edward Said’s Peace and its Discontents and Meron Benvenisti’s Intimate Enemies.footnote1

The essence of the September 1993 Oslo agreement, according to Edward Said, was that it gave ‘official Palestinian consent to continued occupation.’ Indeed, the plo agreed to serve as ‘Israel’s enforcer.’footnote2 ‘The occupation continued’ after Oslo i, Meron Benvenisti similarly observes, ‘albeit by remote control, and with the consent of the Palestinian people, represented by their “sole representative”, the plo.’footnote3 A close reading of the September 1995 Oslo ii agreement only reinforces these judgements.footnote4

Until Oslo, the international consensus supported a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, and the right of Palestinians to form an independent state within the evacuated areas. The plo accepted these terms. Israel and the us rejected them. Oslo ii states that ‘Neither Party shall be deemed, by virtue of having entered into this Agreement, to have renounced or waived any of its existing rights, claims, or positions.’footnote5 Seemingly balanced, this provision actually signals a most crucial concession by the Palestinians. In effect, the plo grants a legitimacy to Israel’s pretence of possessing ‘existing rights’ in the West Bank and Gaza, and to Israel’s rejectionist ‘claims, or positions,’ including those denying Palestinians the right to sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza, which need not be ‘renounced or waived.’ The broadly affirmed title of the Palestinians to the occupied territories is now put on a par with the broadly denied title of Israel to them. ‘The West Bank and Gaza,’ writes Said, ‘have now become “disputed territories.” Thus with Palestinian assistance Israel has been awarded at least an equal claim to them.’footnote6 Once beyond dispute, Israel’s withdrawal will now be subject to the give-and-take of ‘permanent status negotiations.’ With Palestinians on one side, and Israel and the United States on the other, little imagination is needed to predict who will give and who will take.

On all crucial issues—Jerusalem, water, reparations, sovereignty, security, land—Palestinians, according to Said, ‘have in effect gained nothing.’footnote7 The actual picture is, if anything, even bleaker than Said suggests.

Jerusalem: Amid an analysis of Jerusalem as the nexus of Israel’s conquest strategy (‘an ever-expanding Jerusalem [is] the core of a web extending into the West Bank and Gaza’), Said presciently observes that ‘in the history of colonial invasion. . .maps are instruments of conquest.’footnote8 Turning to Oslo ii, we find that, although the text leaves Jerusalem’s fate for the permanent status negotiations,footnote9 to judge by the map appended to the accord, Jerusalem is already a closed issue. The official map for Oslo ii implicitly places Jerusalem within Israel. Said also laments that the plo agreed to ‘cooperate with a military occupation before that occupation had ended, and before even the government of Israel had admitted that it was in effect a government of military occupation.’footnote10 Indeed, the so-called Green Line demarcating pre-June 1967 Israel from the occupied West Bank has been effaced on the official Oslo ii map. The area between the Mediterranean and Jordan now constitutes a unitary entity. Seamlessly incorporating the West Bank, Israel has ceased to be, in the new cartographic reality, an occupying power. On the other hand, the textual claim that Oslo ii preserves the ‘integrity’ of the West Bank and Gaza as a ‘single territorial unit’footnote11 is mockingly belied by the map’s yellow and brown blotches denoting relative degrees of Palestinian control awash in a sea of white denoting total Israeli sovereignty. In sum, the official map for Oslo ii ratifies an extreme version of the Labour Party’s Allon plan and gives the lie to the tentative language of the agreement itself.footnote12

Water: Although Palestinians will be granted an increment to meet ‘immediate needs. . .for domestic use,’ the overarching principle on water allocation for the interim period is ‘maintenance of existing quantities of utilization,’ that is, ‘average annual quantities. . .shall constitute the basis and guidelines.’footnote13 Turning to Schedule 10 (‘Data Concerning Aquifers’), we learn that these ‘average annual quantities’ give Israelis approximately 80 per cent and Palestinians 20 per cent of West Bank water.footnote14 Prospects after the interim period seem even dimmer. Although Israel does ‘recognize Palestinian water rights in the West Bank,’ these rights do not include the ‘ownership of water,’ which will be subject to the permanent status negotiations.footnote15 Indeed, Israel already claims legal title to most of the West Bank water on the basis of ‘historic usage.’footnote16 That is, having stolen Palestinian water for nearly three decades, Israelis now proclaim it is theirs. Proudhon, at any rate, would not have been surprised.

Reparations: Juxtaposing the cases of Germany and Iraq, Said repeatedly deplores the absence of any provision for Israel to pay reparations: ‘the plo leadership signed an agreement with Israel in effect saying that Israelis were absolutely without responsibility for all the crimes they committed.’footnote17 Indeed, Oslo ii explicitly imposes on the newly-elected Palestinian Council ‘all liabilities and obligations arising with regard to acts or omissions’ which occurred in the course of Israel’s rule. ‘Israel will cease to bear any financial responsibility regarding such acts or omissions and the Council will bear all financial responsibility.’ In what may be called the chutzpah clause, the Palestinian administration must ‘immediately reimburse Israel the full amount’ of any award that ‘is made against Israel by any court or tribunal’ for its past crimes. To be sure, Israel will provide ‘legal assistance’ to the Council should a Palestinian sue the latter for losses incurred during the Israeli occupation.footnote18 Washing its hands of all responsibility for nearly three decades of rapacious rule, Israel—Said rues—‘crowed’ while ‘an ill-equipped, understaffed, woefully incompetent Palestine National Authority struggled unsuccessfully to keep hospitals open and supplied, pay teachers’ salaries, pick up garbage, and so on,’ and ‘dumped’ Gaza ‘in Arafat’s lap. . .even though it had made the place impossible to sustain.’footnote19 As we shall see, South Africa’s apartheid regime displayed rather more magnanimity after its comparable withdrawal from and institution of ‘self-rule’ in areas of black settlement. Indeed, even after conceding the Bantustans independence, South Africa continued to cover much more than half their budgets through grants.