Bad politics create bad consequences, but because linking the effect with the cause implicates the initiators, the tendency is often to attribute man-made disasters to unrelated circumstances.
It is easier, therefore, to blame the tragic fighting amongst the Palestinians in Gaza on a foolish and selfish struggle for positions, rather than the rotten politics of Oslo, cooked a decade and a half earlier. Indeed, and in many ways, it is a fierce struggle for power, but the roots of even that should be traced further back than the election results that swept Hamas into power at the very high cost for the party which had hitherto secured an unchallenged monopoly on power since Oslo, under the umbrella of perpetual Israeli occupation.
Those who have been describing the current carnage as the second Palestinian catastrophe, or Nakba as commonly known, are absolutely right in expressing their deep pain, but the real second catastrophe was the Oslo Agreement in 1993. In 1947, the tragedy that befell the Palestinians was the result of a combination of international and regional factors that neither the Arab people of Palestine nor the Arab states combined had the means to confront; it was an inevitable injustice fiercely and forcefully imposed. The Oslo agreement, on the other hand, was a self-inflicted disaster by leaders who had for long placed themselves at the top of the “Palestine Liberation Organisation”, leaders who had hitherto shamed and accused of treachery anyone who ever dared contemplate any settlement with the “Zionist enemy” that did not reverse the course of history to the pre-1947 era.
Here, and according to the appalling Oslo arrangement, Israel succeeded for the first time in its history to secure the voluntary, if not enthusiastic, consent of the widely recognised “sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” to legitimise its occupation and to consolidate all its war gains, practically at no cost.
Israel had for years objected very strongly to any trend of recognising or dealing with the “terrorist” PLO. As a result, the PLO was excluded from the Madrid peace process launched in late 1991. It could not have occurred to the Israelis at the time, obviously, that any wholesale concessions such as the ones the PLO representatives easily made in Oslo, would bear more political weight coming from a recognised, rather than a rejected PLO. Probably Israel never thought the PLO would be so conciliatory or generous in selling out an entire cause.
It was Oslo, in fact, which divided the Palestinians. It did indeed take time before the depth of the split assumed such a violent nature, but problems have been building up, and there is always an ignition point.
Oslo was an Israeli opportunity, if not an Israeli device altogether, to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without many — indeed any — changes on the ground. Rather than removing the occupation and liberating those suffering under it for decades, the acclaimed “liberators” opted to slip under it too, and to join those they loudly crowed they were determined to liberate. Under Oslo, the Palestinian Authority and its security forces were meant to act as an extension of the occupation, and to only relieve the occupiers of their burdens.
Palestinian soldiers, rather than Israeli, would deal with any Palestinian disorderly behaviour or unrest. Money would pour in from the so-called international community, the EU in particular, to finance the occupation by proxy, and via the PA. And that required blind eyes on corruption, profiteering or accountability with the certain result of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money going into private “liberator’s” pockets. The whole point was to allow the PA operatives to swim in oceans of individual privileges and all kind of material temptations, and to forget about the “cause”, and they did.
In the meantime, and during the assigned five-year interim period, Israel put on high gear its campaign to create more of the planned facts on the ground: more colonial settlements, more Jewish only bypass roads linking the settlements to Israel, more land confiscation, and more arrangements for cantonising the Palestinians in isolated, truncated enclaves which would never form any reasonable basis for statehood, or even for continued existence in place.
Many Palestinians were opposed to the “Oslo sellout”, but they either opted to patiently keep quiet in the hope that things may improve and that the promise of peace would one day materialise, or raised their voices in protest and were harshly dealt with by the many-faceted Palestinian security forces, for being “enemies of peace” and saboteurs.
The crackdown on the opposition was severe, as there were flagrant violations of human rights. The occupation atrocities had in fact been compounded, with many under it suffering both Israeli and PA oppressive measures. The level of frustration kept rising, with Israel continuing to obliterate Palestinian rights, on the one hand, and the PA sinking deeper in corruption and incompetence, on the other.
Voting Hamas in office in the last general election was a major step towards polarising Palestinian politics, with the gap becoming clearly wide and deep between those who wanted to stay the course of Oslo and enjoy their privileges to the end and the others who came up with redefined terms of reference for a possible peaceful settlement. The split became all the more grave, with the Oslo side gathering external support from the entire so-called “international community” (a misnomer for those who either support Israel or fear it) and the other side, led by Hamas, instantly put under tight economic and diplomatic sanctions had generally enjoyed scant moral support which could barely translate into practical help.
The current clashes in Gaza, not the first, and certainly not the last, once placed in their proper context, should reveal a deeper clash between two contradictory trends, not simply two competing factions. It is not easy to put an end to this clash without agreement on one Palestinian approach to the issue of peace and settlement. The agreement in Mecca has achieved very little in that sense, by appealing only to the need to avoid fighting between brothers for the sake of the “sacred cause”. The goal was reduced to a mere gloss over, but varnish does not long last.
Instead of following up on the modest achievements of Mecca with serious efforts to build Palestinian consensus and reconcile policies, rather than allocate Cabinet seats and shares, ominous attempts to enable the PA presidency and Fateh to wipe out Hamas continued openly, with arms and money pouring in that direction. The one fruit of the Mecca agreement, the national unity government, was rejected by the international community and the financial boycott continued. That government was not given any chance to function, as if, it were, like the election results before, the exact undesirable outcome which needed to be annulled.
Why should anyone holding the can, pouring oil on the fire, scream with surprise that there is fire or that the fire is raging? The raging fire in Gaza is the inevitable outcome of occupation, siege and starvation, of years of humiliation and suffering, of frustration and desperation, of injustice and oppression, of resulting lawlessness and chaos, of absence of leadership, and vicious foreign intervention and senseless incitement. With such ingredients, all planned and premeditated, the Gazans should deserve all the respect in the world for only behaving that badly.
Efforts have been exerted all along to create in Gaza conditions that turn everyone against everyone. It is not Palestinian foolishness and selfishness; it is rather mission accomplished for those who planned this state of affairs for debilitated Gaza.
EI contributor Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This article first appeared in The Jordan Times.