The Judgment of History on Oslo

02/06/2015 12:56 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

However low Netanyahu's relationship with the White House sinks -- and as Barak Ravid, the Haaretz writer, tweeted, and as two Israeli diplomats retweeted, the Israeli premier always manages to take it even lower -- it is as certain as night follows day that both sides will be back after the Israeli election, exhuming the remains of the peace process.

If Isaac Herzog, the Labor Party leader, becomes the next prime minister, there will be an orchestrated rush of optimism, accompanied by a raft of economic threats to propel the Palestinian leadership, like a flock of geese, back into the negotiating pen. They will then be expected to sit there obediently for another five years, if Herzog has his way. If it's another dose of Netanyahu, the prevailing wind will be weaker, but it will eventually manifest itself.

Before any of this happens, it is worth hearing a veteran negotiator give her verdict on Oslo, the chimera on which the last 25 years of "process" has been based. Hanan Ashrawi is equally critical of Fatah and Hamas, whom she jointly accuses of trying to "divvy up" the spoils of the PLO. Neither is really interested in elections, she says, and yet without them the PLO is, in her words, a tired institution. The veteran PLO negotiator and academic tears into Fatah for failing to turn up in Gaza and take over the ministries of government, and she lacerates Hamas for refusing to relinquish security control over the enclave.

She was part of Yasser Arafat's negotiating team in Madrid after the peace conference there, working in parallel with a second team in Washington. Neither she nor her fellow negotiators knew of the existence of a third team in Oslo. This was a secret third track, known only to the most senior Palestinians and Israelis, that undercut the red lines drawn by Ashrawi and Faisal Husseini. Arafat decided to trade the Madrid/Washington group for the one gain he got out of Oslo: Israeli recognition of the PLO (not, of course, of Palestine). It proved to be a strategic error that Arafat himself realized, toward the end of his life, that he had made.

What does this have to do with the growing mood of desperation in Jerusalem today? Everything, Ashrawi told me:

One of the fatal flaws of the Declaration of Principles [DOP, aka the Oslo Accords] is that they left the Jerusalemites at the mercy of Israel, and then the international community allowed Israel to treat the Jerusalemites as residents of the city and totally control their lives, their lands, and their resources. From day one Israel treated Jerusalem as if it were annexed de facto, even before they annexed it illegally, and started a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing, totally transforming the character, history and culture of the city. Siege and division is a microcosm of what Israel did to the West Bank, where you besiege it, control entrances and exits, and then fragment it internally. They planted settlements and settlers inside Jerusalem, then surrounded it with three rings, a triple siege: the settlements (which it started early), the military checkpoints and the apartheid wall. This made Jerusalem inaccessible to any Palestinian who does not have a Jerusalem ID. It means Israel totally extracted Jerusalem from the heart of Palestine, territorially, demographically, in terms of access, in terms of culture, in terms of institutions. Jerusalem's hospitals and schools were there to serve all Palestine.

Of course, Israel said it would do no such thing. Shimon Perez, as Foreign Minister, wrote a letter to his Norwegian counterpart, Johan Holst, in October 1993, promising to protect the PLO's institutions in Jerusalem. Perez wrote:

All the Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem, including the economic, social, educational and cultural, and the holy Christian and Muslim places, are performing an essential task for the Palestinian population. Needless to say, we will not hamper their activity; on the contrary, the fulfillment of this important mission is to be encouraged.

After attempts by both Netanyahu, in his first term as Prime Minister, and then Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert to shut it down, Orient House, the former headquarters of the PLO, was closed down by Ariel Sharon during the Second Intifada. Ashrawi comments:

When we entered negotiations, we had American commitments and assurances that Orient House will not be touched, that they would not enter, that they would not look at our papers. Not only did they enter it and confiscate our papers; they closed it down.

Ashrawi sees Oslo not as the victim of 25 years of stalled negotiations but as one of its causes:

I would never have signed the DOP relinquishing power over Jerusalem. I have a Jerusalem ID. My daughters had Jerusalem IDs before they confiscated them. We call ourselves the Madrid/Washington group. We are not the Oslo group; we had a totally different approach. We didn't postpone the real issues. We discussed human rights, Jerusalem, statehood, borders. We demanded control over the population register and the land register. Israel is in control of both, so how can you ever be free? They control who are their citizens and who owns the land. So no wonder Jerusalemites feel abandoned, vulnerable and targeted -- because Israel has systematically targeted them.

So when we see a leaderless Palestinian community in Jerusalem, we should not be surprised. Nor should we be surprised that violence begets violence. If Jerusalem is cut off today, Oslo put off the decisions that would have secured it as the capital of two states. Oslo put off all the hard decisions on the core issues -- Jerusalem, right of return, borders -- that are no closer to being solved today than they were then. In fact, there are 600,000 more reasons (that's the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem) that they are harder to solve today than they were 25 years ago. In the meantime Netanyahu holds the Palestinian leadership responsible for what goes on in a city over which Israel has made every effort to ensure that they have no control. Ashrawi's words are the judgment of history.