Where have $23 billion spent on Oslo “peace process” gone?

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Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat at the 13 September 1993 signing of the Oslo agreement, on the White House lawn.

(Vince Musi / Clinton Presidential Library)

“Palestinians are far worse off today than they were in 1993 using any economic or political criterion.”

That’s the startling but incontrovertible conclusion reached by Alaa Tartir and Jeremy Wildeman in a new policy brief from Al-Shabaka on the devastating effects of neoliberal – radical free-market – economic policies and failed aid strategies in Palestine since the Oslo accords were signed 20 years ago this month.

Tartir and Wildeman note that:

Since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles, the donor community has invested more than $23 billion into “peace and development” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), making it one of the highest per capita recipients of non-military aid in the world. However, aid has not brought peace, development, or security for the Palestinian people, let alone justice.

And yet, after all this:

According to the income-based definition of poverty, 50 percent of Palestinians lived in poverty in 2009 and 2010, 38 percent in the West Bank and 70 percent in Gaza. The World Food Programme has found that 50 percent of Palestinian households suffer from food insecurity. Unemployment has been stuck at around 30 percent since 2009, with 47 percent unemployed in Gaza in 2010 and 20 percent in the West Bank. The unemployment rate for Palestinian youth under 30 is particularly alarming at 43 percent. The income and opportunities inequality gap continues to widen not only between the West Bank and Gaza, but also within the West Bank.

There is, especially in Ramallah, a visible upper class that indulges in ostentatious and conspicuous consumption while the vast majority of Palestinians sink deeper into misery.

Oxfam detailed just how bad the situation has become for millions of Palestinians in a release marking “20 Facts: 20 Years Since The Oslo Accords.”

“Forced marriage”

This poverty is not incidental to the “peace process,” but built into it. The economic agreements – strait-jackets – that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed after 1993 “basically legalized the forced marriage of the two economies since 1967,” as one Israeli negotiator put it.

This has always been a marriage of unequals, with Israel using its overwhelming power to control, exploit and penetrate the Palestinian economy, while placing insuperable obstacles in the way of Palestinian economic development.

Aided and abetted

All this was underpinned by ideological and financial backing from the “international community.”

At the beginning of the Oslo process, the World Bank laid out an economic plan for the Palestinians titled An Investment in Peace and its prescriptions are still being followed to this day even if repackaged under new branding such as “Fayyadism”:

An Investment in Peace is a neoliberal policy plan which parallels other programs developed by international financial institutions for the developing world in the 1990s. Based on elements of the conventional wisdom of the Washington and Post-Washington Consensus, it ignored the fact that the Palestinian territories were under a longstanding military occupation, which gave neoliberalism in the OPT its own particularity and flavor. The philosophical rationale for the World Bank plan was to improve Palestinians’ standard of living and encourage them to participate in the peace process by cashing in on peace dividends. This rationale remains the same today: invest more money to make Palestinians feel better economically to make it easier for them to compromise politically.

That’s the key: a feeling, or illusion, of prosperity was always meant to buy Palestinians off, a sort of “peace dividend” instead of actual peace based on justice including the restoration of their basic rights.

Yet Palestinians got neither their rights, nor any peace dividend.

Role for international solidarity movement

Twenty years after Oslo, what can be done to change this grim reality?

Tartir and Wildeman have some concrete suggestions including that aid “must support Palestinian self-determination and help the Palestinians resist the colonial project. It must not subsidize Israel’s occupation.”

Donors, moreover, “need to align themselves with the demands of Palestinian national movements such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).”

This is similar to a proposal Dalia Association founder Nora Lester Murad made in an article last year.

These are sound ideas but it is unlikely they will never be adopted from the top.

This suggests that the Palestine solidarity movement will need to broaden its targets to pressure “aid” agencies first to do no harm, and then possibly to actually do some good.

More readings on Oslo

There have been several other interesting interventions coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the Oslo accords, which created the Palestinian Authority and set in motion the endless “peace process.”

Palestinian intellectual Haidar Eid, writing from Gaza for Al Jazeera English, offers a stinging critique of the legacy and logic of Oslo that is still alive in the quest for a “two-state solution”:

to aim at creating the two-state Palestinian is to aim to create a false consciousness led by assimilated intelligentsia, some of whom have a revolutionary past record. Singing the slogans of “the two-state solution,” “two states for two peoples,” “return to the 1967 borders,” or even “a long-term truce” as proposed by Hamas – is intended to guarantee the subordination and conformity of the Palestinians. Gone is the right of return of six million refugees and their compensation, and the rights of the indigenous population of 1948 Palestine, now second-class citizens of Israel.

“De-Osloization”

Yet Eid sees hopeful signs of in the revival of a Palestinian struggle outside the ideological and political confines of the legacy national movement whose leaders signed the Oslo agreements:

To be conscious of the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, and of the huge class gap that the Oslo Accords have created, has definitely been the beginning of de-Osloization represented in the issuance of the 2005 call for boycott, divestments and sanctions – a call that has been endorsed by almost all Palestinian civil society, and the rise of calls for a secular, democratic state in historic Palestine, a single state for all of its citizens regardless of religious or ethnic background.

The roots of betrayal

Many commentators, like Eid, in the tradition of Edward Said, see Oslo as a betrayal of and disastrous deviation from the struggle for Palestinian rights.

It has become common to see the PLO’s agreement to Oslo’s highly unfavorable terms as being forced by the organization’s historic weakness after its expulsion from Lebanon in 1982 and then its financial isolation by Gulf Arab regimes angered by Yasser Arafat’s embrace of Saddam Hussein following Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

But in another Al-Shabaka brief, Osamah Khalil casts fascinating new light on what led up to Oslo. Drawing on declassified US diplomatic documents, Khalil argues:

that the roots of Oslo can be traced to the aftermath of the 1973 October War. [Khalil] demonstrates that the PLO’s willingness to make considerable concessions occurred before entering negotiations or being recognized by the United States. Nor did these concessions occur when the organization was at its nadir, but rather after its most notable diplomatic achievements, securing United Nations and Arab League recognition as “the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

Read Khalil’s full analysis on Al-Shabaka.

How occupation was dressed up as peace

Finally, I shared some of my own reflections on Oslo in an interview with Eric Ruder of Socialist Worker:

I have to give the Israelis credit here, because they never said this [Oslo] would end in a Palestinian state. They never said they would remove settlements. They never said they would stop building settlements. So in a sense, the Israelis were the only ones who were clear about what they wouldn’t do – and they were good to their word.

They kept building settlements, they kept taking land, and it was everyone else either deceiving themselves or trying to deceive others by suggesting that the “peace process” would bring “sovereignty” or “independence.” The Israelis were never saying that. And so there had to be a lot of self-deception and a lot of deception by others.

That effort at deception continues, as long as the defunct “peace process” and talk of a “two-state solution” are kept on life support.