Tuesday, 24 September 2013

20/9 ABC LATELINE Nothing to celebrate after twenty years of Oslo Accords

Nothing to celebrate after twenty years of Oslo Accords

20/09/2013 Two decades after Israel and the Palestinians signed the historic olso peace accords, there's little optimism the two sides can successfully negotiate a two-state solution.

Nothing to celebrate after twenty years of Oslo Accords

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 20/09/2013
Reporter: Norman Hermant
Two decades after Israel and the Palestinians signed the historic olso peace accords, there's little optimism the two sides can successfully negotiate a two-state solution.


EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: With much of the world's attention focused on Syria's civil war, a Middle East milestone has passed quietly.

20 years ago Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo Peace Accords at the White House. It seemed at the time as if the long-sought two-state solution and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel was within reach. Two decades on, the Oslo Accords are in tatters. Low-level talks between Israel and the Palestinians have resumed but on both sides there is little optimism.

ABC correspondent Norman Hermant reports from Jerusalem.

NORMAN HERMANT, REPORTER: This was supposed to be the beginning of the end: a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians on the road to resolution. A handshake to seal the peace accords reached in Oslo. In the years since, the Israeli prime minister who signed on was assassinated. Palestinians revolted. Israel endured wave after wave of terrifying bombings and now a wall dividing Palestinians and Israelis is a blunt reminder of how far the dreams of Oslo have faded. 20 years ago, Yossi Beilin was leading Israel's negotiators. What no-one foresaw, he says, is how desperately elements on both sides wanted the deal to die.

YOSSI BEILIN, FMR ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: We did not take into account enough the strength of adamant minorities who were ready to do whatever possible - to kill the prime minister, to kill innocent people - only in order to prevent a permanent agreement.

NORMAN HERMANT: Oslo, as it's simply known, did not go quietly. Israel pulled out of the Palestinian Gaza Strip in 2005 and, on nearly 40 per cent of the West Bank, Palestinian authority rule has the look of sovereignty. But it's deceptive. The Palestinian leadership is now split with Hamas ruling Gaza and in the West Bank, Israeli settlement construction has rolled on nearly unchecked. Long-time Palestinian negotiator Ghassan Khatib says as the national hopes of ending the Israeli occupation and achieving independence wither, the government's credibility sinks lower and lower.

GHASSAN KHATIB, FMR PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: After 20 years of peacemaking attempts, settlements have doubled, the distance to these legitimate objectives seems to be even longer, farther, that's why the Palestinian leadership seems to be less and less convincing to its people and consequently less and less legitimate.

NORMAN HERMANT: And you don't have to look hard to find Palestinians who believe Oslo has actually been a step back.

AMNEH ALOMARI, PALESTINIAN UNI. STUDENT: We don't see anything good in this thing so as Palestinians we don't see that Oslo agreement is a good thing. It's becoming worse, actually.

NORMAN HERMANT: It's so bad, says this Palestinian journalist, that after years of failed road maps, plans and rounds of dead-end meetings, few readers even want to know.

ABD EL-RAOUF ARNAOUT, AL AYYAM NEWSPAPER: It's becoming boring. That's why if you go to the street or if you talk to the people and tell them that both sides have met today they tell you, "So what?"

NORMAN HERMANT: The Oslo Accords were supposed to put Israel and the Palestinians on the pathway to resolving the most bitter divisions between them: who will control the holy sites of Jerusalem and will this city again be divided and will Palestinians who left or fled Israel be allowed to return? 20 years on, the gaps on those issues remain as wide as ever.

After nearly three years and plenty of prodding from the US, talks between Israel and the Palestinians have started again. Optimists are thin on the ground and many, like Dani Dayan, long-time stalwart of the Israeli settler movement, believe the ultimate objective of negotiations has to change.

DANI DAYAN, YESHA SETTLER COUNCIL: Oslo and the offsprings of Oslo prevent us from taking more innovative thinking. They freeze our thinking in the conventional pattern of two-state formula and that will not happen.

NORMAN HERMANT: That's one thing many Israelis and Palestinians agree on. With every new settlement in the West Bank, the prospects for a two-state solution grow dimmer.

GHASSAN KHATIB: We are moving in a de facto way as a result of the Israeli practices and lack of progress towards two states, we are drifting towards one-state reality.

NORMAN HERMANT: In fact, some Israelis say the best way forward for the Palestinians now may be to call the Israeli hard liners' bluff, give up the dream of statehood and send Israel a simple message.

YOSSI BEILIN: We only want one thing, one person, one vote. That's it. That's it. We are going to be the loyal citizens of Israel if you wish to absorb us and it will be very difficult for the world to say, "No, no, no, no. You don't deserve it."

NORMAN HERMANT: But in one shared Israeli state where Palestinians are full citizens, Jews could soon become a minority, counter to the very core of Zionism. For a democratic Jewish Israel to live, an independent Palestinian state may have to live too. 

Norman Hermant, Lateline.

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