Precisely a quarter of a century ago, on September 13, 1993, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat stood on either side of US President Bill Clinton in front of the White House and shook hands, marking after the signing of the Oslo I Accord. For many, that moment was one that brimmed with hope that a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians could be within reach.
Crucial aspects of the accords included Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and Israel’s recognition of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
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The partition of the West Bank into areas A, B and C, each with a different level of autonomy, and the declaration of Israel’s intention to eventually withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip were other unprecedented developments.
Palestinians and Israelis born that year can only relive that moment through the euphoria or skepticism that had been felt by their parents at the time. They were just two years old by one of his own people, seven when the peace process broke down at Camp David, and they transitioned from elementary school to middle school as the over-four-years-long Second Intifada – named by some as the Oslo War or Arafat’s War – raged.
The Jerusalem Post spoke with several “Oslo babies,” who today are young adults aged 25 years, to learn how they view the Oslo Accords and the reality they paved as they joined the world.
Shaked Cohen-Dor, from Jerusalem, feels the optimism toward the peace process is fading as the years go by.
“There was faith that the Oslo Accords would bring peace and somehow we lost that hope,” he says. He also observes that later there had been hope that unilateral steps, such as the 2005 , could bring security and advance the peace process, but “it even made the situation worse.”
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“Today we are stuck in the status quo,” he laments. Cohen-Dor cites the famous Abba Eban quote that the “Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” and opines that a two-state solution is not reachable with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the helm. “Fact is, that Abu Mazen [Abbas] isn’t prepared to accept two states with Israel as a Jewish state,” he says.
He believes a Palestinian leader reminiscent of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat is needed for peace to be made. “I think there is still a majority here in Israel for a solution but only if we see there is a true partner,” he says.
While he does not expect any courageous steps from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he believes that with a different leader on the other side, he could work to bring peace. “We have seen him speaking the language of peace before,” he notes. Cohen-Dor says he believes that in the right environment, Netanyahu would do so again.
Asaf Abramovich, from moshav Bnei Dror, is unequivocally supportive of the Oslo Accords.
“It was a step toward peace, toward an arrangement according to which we can live together, which is not the situation currently. It brought about their recognition of us and ours of them,” he tells the Post.
Today, however, he feels the attitudes of both peoples have changed. “Today we can’t say if [Oslo] is good or not good because we don’t see any process,” he says. But while he does not think Israel is on the path to peace today, he has faith that it will get back on track in the future. “Both sides at the end of the day want to live in peace and dignity – we want our children not to have to go to the army. People want peace.”
For that to be achieved, he said he believes the Israeli government must change its approach. “The government must say what needs to be done and start working on it.”
Tamer Sai’d Nassar, of Ramallah, views the Accords as “a great achievement for the Palestinians.”
“Before the Oslo Accords, Palestinians were living under Israeli military control. Israel was in charge of everything in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Thanks to Oslo, we now have our own president and government and police,” he tells the Post. “I heard a lot about the hard time people had dealing with the Israeli military government. Palestinians needed permission from Israel in everything related to their day-to-day affairs. I don’t believe any Palestinian wants to return to the days before the Oslo Accords.”
“True, we are still under occupation, but at least we have our own government and ministers and police and flag, and this is very important,” he continues. “The Oslo Accords will eventually bring us an independent state. I’m hopeful because I’m convinced we will never go back to the days before Oslo, when Israel was controlling our lives and making things very difficult for us. I also hope that the Palestinian Authority will reform and become a better government, and bring us democracy and transparency. I know many people are against Oslo, but we need to look at the positive side, and see that our lives have improved since 1993.”
Noa Ben-David of Tel Aviv is also optimistic, expressing hope that a peace deal will be reached in the coming years.
She sees Oslo has having been a good start to a process which was killed with the assassination of Rabin. While Ben-David does not believe peace to be possible under the current Israeli coalition, she does see potential leaders who could steer the country to peace.
“I think at the end of the day, there are human beings on both sides and nobody is satisfied with the current situation, nobody wants this to continue. Maybe it sounds naive, but I believe this story has a good ending. It has to… Otherwise, we won’t be here.”
Huda Jaber Sa’adeh, from Beit Hanina in Jerusalem, however sees the Oslo Accords as an utter failure.
“My parents keep talking about life before the Oslo Accords,” she tells the Post. “They say it was then much better than today. There were almost no checkpoints and people could travel freely to Israel and anywhere they wanted, even to Gaza. They say life was less complicated than it is today. After the Oslo Accords, they say, the lives of the Palestinians have become more difficult. Today, Palestinians need a permit to enter Israel and it’s not easy to travel around the West Bank with all the checkpoints. We live 10 minutes away from Ramallah, but sometimes it takes us about one hour to enter or exit the city because of the Kalandiya checkpoint.”
In east Jerusalem too, he says life become more difficult since the signing of the Oslo Accords. “We see more building for Jews, while Palestinians in the city are having their houses demolished by the Jerusalem Municipality for being built without a permit,” he says. “The Palestinian Authority does not and can’t help the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Israel doesn’t want to help us too. Many Palestinians in Jerusalem don’t like the Palestinian Authority and see it as a corrupt government. The Oslo Accords have done nothing for the Palestinians in Jerusalem.”
Asaf Eisenstadter, from Kfar Saba, meanwhile, puts the Oslo Accords into gray territory. “It is very hard to say today. The Oslo Accords determined a reality, without which things could have been very different. It is very hard to know which direction things would have gone without the accords,” he says.
On the one hand, he says, it was important to establish a Palestinian government, to recognize their right to self-determination and to begin a process of separation and peace.
“On the other hand, the negotiations started in secret and without national agreement, which is not good,” he continues. “And it was done with representatives of a terror organization [PLO] from abroad,” he adds, suggesting that more involvement of local Palestinian leaders may have been more successful.
He also says that one cannot ignore that the Oslo Accords led to many terrorist attacks.
Nonetheless, Eisenstadter believes peace may still be within reach: “Many other conflicts have been solved. Germany and Europe were in a mad war some 70 years ago and now everything there is open, so you never know.”
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