New York City and Tri-State News: Brecht Forum Panels Address Oslo Accords, Palestinian Realities

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NEW YORK CITY AND TRI-STATE NEWS: Brecht Forum Panels Address Oslo Accords, Palestinian Realities

Jane Adas is a free-lance writer based in the New York metropolitan area.

The Brecht Forum in New York City sponsored three panel discussions on "The Palestine Question." The first, on Jan. 25, addressed "The Oslo Accords: Sowing Peace or Confirming Colonialism?"

Samir Awad, a graduate of Birzeit University in Ramallah and a Ph.D. candidate in comparative politics at Columbia University in New York, provided an historical context for the PLO's acceptance of the Oslo accords. The PLO's original mandate, Awad noted, was for self-determination, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and a democratic secular state in all of Mandate Palestine. In an internal decision taken after the 1967 war, he said, the PLO reduced its political objective to a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza comprising only 22 percent of Mandate Palestine.

The Oslo accords represent yet a further contraction of Palestinian goals. Nevertheless, according to Awad, Yasser Arafat was compelled to agree to them because of three factors. On the international level, the end of the Cold War shifted power to the United States, which sought to impose a solution on the weaker party. In the second Gulf war, although the PLO officially favored an Arab solution, it was perceived as backing Saddam Hussain. The ensuing loss of financial support from the Gulf countries meant that Arafat had to find new patrons. Thus the PLO was willing to accept U.S. demands in order to save itself from financial crisis.

The third and most important factor, Awad said, was an internal one. The first intifada, which erupted in 1987, produced a new local leadership that challenged the authority of the PLO, then based in Tunisia. The 1993 handshake on the White House lawn gave the PLO a new lease on life at the moment when it was becoming irrelevant. Oslo, therefore, was a solution to PLO isolation, Awad argued, not to the Palestinian problem. The result, however, is two distinct sets of interest: the Palestinian Authority's (PA) and the Palestinian people's.

Nadia Hijab, a development consultant and author of Citizens Apart: Palestinians in Israel, examined the texts of the various agreements that are collectively known as the Oslo accords. What is most striking, she said, is what is missing from them.

There are no references to sovereignty, self-determination, or occupation. Even the term "withdrawal" with respect to Jericho and part of Gaza was replaced by "redeployment." The accords ignore all United Nations resolutions other than 242 and 338, she noted, and even the principle of land for peace underpinning those resolutions has not been respected.

The stated aim of the Oslo accords is not to end the occupation, she continued, but to establish the Palestinian Authority. The substance of the Oslo process has been to cement Palestinian responsibility for Israeli security and to ensure Israeli control of resources and economic dominance.

In considering what Palestinians must do next, Hijab said a vision with clear principles is needed. Since Palestinians have three realities, she said, they need three demands--all of which are underpinned by international laws and human rights declarations. Those three realities and demands are "End the Occupation" for Palestinians in the territories, "Equal Rights" for Palestinians within Israel; and "Right of Return" for refugees.

Roger Normand, director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, said that Israel's 34-year history of economic warfare on the Palestinians should be considered a human rights issue. The Palestinian economy from 1948 to 1967 already was deformed, he observed, because of the huge influx of refugees in the West Bank and especially in Gaza, where they constituted 75 percent of the population.

From 1967 until the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993, Normand said, explicit Israeli policy was to deprive the Gaza and West Bank of any local economic growth, prevent the development of any infrastructure, and reorient Palestinian labor and productivity to serve Israel's needs. …