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Oslo's Smokescreen, Twenty Years On

Tuesday, 17 September 2013 15:39 Shawan Jabarin
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The following Op-ed was published on 13 September in The Huffington Post

Oslo-handshakeResidents of the West Bank village of Khirbet al-Hadidiyya, in the northern Jordan Valley, are not connected to a water network. They are located in the Israeli-controlled 62 percent of the West Bank known as Area C, where access to running water is subject to the unaccommodating will of the Israeli authorities. In order to meet their basic needs, residents have no choice but to purchase tankered water from private vendors at five times the cost.

The fragmentation of the West Bank into Areas A, B and C is a direct result of the now 20-year-old Oslo Accords, paraded worldwide as a means to ending the decades-old military occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and bestowing peace upon Palestinians and Israelis. In 2013, 15 years after Oslo's intended expiry date, it could not be clearer that this so-called 'peace process' was, in fact, a smokescreen, intended to hide the perpetuation of Israel's then 26-year-old occupation. The year 2013 begins a new round of negotiations, but it is also the 46th anniversary of the occupation. The question remains as to whether this latest phase of the 'peace process' will allow the Palestinian people to exercise their sovereign rights.

The continuation of Israel's settlement policy and the intensification of the pillage of Palestinian natural resources, both unequivocal violations of international law, have been exercised under Oslo's mantel of legitimacy. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian representatives have acquiesced to breaches of the original text of the agreement, while refusing to renounce it, even after its five-year interim deadline. Since the rules agreed upon in the Accords in 1993 have been repeatedly breached and reworked in practice, Israel has been able to abuse this precarious situation by continuing its violations of international law with impunity.

Oslo's most fundamental weakness is the absence of international law from its text. An international community committed to the rule of international law should have a vested interest in ensuring that negotiations, at the very least, take into account international norms. However, not once were the notions of self-determination, national sovereignty, territorial integrity or human rights -- cornerstones of the international legal system -- meaningfully provided for in the Accords.

In the twenty years since Oslo, Palestinians have been barred from exercising their sovereign rights, while having their economic, social and political development stymied. Israel has harnessed Palestinian natural resources for its near exclusive benefit. Around 50 percent of Palestinian land in the West Bank has been dispossessed by Israel, much of it for settlements. Approximately 75 percent of the produce yielded from Israeli-operated stone quarries in the West Bank is transferred for use in Israel itself. Israel continues to engage in the pillage of natural resources from the Dead Sea and the de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley.

Oslo is not only a foundation for Israel's internationally wrongful acts, but Israel's very blueprint for a final status agreement, which consists of land swapsIsrael's de facto annexation of West Bank territory and continued control over the Jordan Valley. It was by no accident that international law was absent from Oslo. This absence, in practice, laid the groundwork for Israel to eliminate the possibility of a territorially contiguous independent Palestinian State by isolating Gaza, severing East Jerusalem from the remainder of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and re-drawing the 1949 Green Line through the construction of the Annexation Wall.

Israel appropriates 90 percent of the West Bank's water sources, which are managed by the Israeli military authorities and the largely state-owned company Mekorot. The Palestinian Authority, entrusted by the Oslo Accords with providing water services to Palestinians in Areas A and B, has severely limited control over water infrastructure in Area C, where most pipes cross.

Not only is the division of the West Bank between Areas A, B and C a smokescreen for Israel's transfer of responsibility to a disarmed authority with highly-limited control, but it has allowed Israel to continue to unlawfully exploit the vast majority of the water for the benefit of Israel proper and the Israeli settlements, their industry and agriculture. What's more, The Joint Water Committee, established by Oslo, led to Israel extracting Palestinian approval for settlement waterlines in exchange for a limited number of Palestinian projects. Meanwhile, routine demolitions by the Israeli authorities of humanitarian aid projects in Area C, including those of the European Union and its Member States, have resulted in the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities and prevented international humanitarian assistance agencies from providing for the population's basic needs.

Since Oslo, Palestinian water quotas have significantly decreased. Restrictions on access to water are part of the unbearable living conditions that have resulted in a considerable displacement of the Palestinian population from areas such as the Jordan Valley, which Israel has developed for settlement and agricultural production, subsequently exported to Europe. Prior to 1967, between 200,000 and 320,000 Palestinians are estimated to have lived in the Jordan Valley; 46 years later, the number has dropped to about 56,000.

Left unchecked, the current set of negotiations is bound to repeat Oslo's mistakes. The Palestine Liberation Organisation representatives must guarantee that international law is the basis for negotiations.

The international community must take heed of the perils of another Oslo scenario that would allow Israel to continue to exploit and dispossess the Palestinian people. In the current round of negotiations, international law must be a non-negotiable standard, both for its political legitimacy amongst the parties and in line with the vested interests, and obligations under the internal law of third states and international actors, to ensure the integrity of the international legal order.

From water-deprived Palestinian communities, many of which are barred from construction, to the growth of settlements, Oslo's impact leads to one logical conclusion: failure to base negotiations on respect for international law will lead to a meaningless, unjust and short-lived peace.