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How we created 'the world's only prison where prisoners must provide for themselves'

A surprisingly candid op-ed from a high-level Israeli official explains the role the Oslo Accords played in allowing Israel to maintain the occupation.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 (photo: Vince Musi / The White House)

Dov Weisglass, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s righthand man, recently had another very candid moment. After Before the disengagement from Gaza, Weisglass gave a famous interview to Haaretz in which he was honest about the rationale behind the move: the desire to fill the diplomatic vacuum and secure Israeli control of the West Bank forever.

Last week he went back to Oslo. Weisglass published an interesting op-ed in Ynet in which he explained the value of the 1993 Accords from a right-wing perspective. The agreement, he wrote, allowed Israel to maintain control over the West Bank without bearing responsibility for the Palestinians living there.

Responding to attacks on Shimon Peres by several of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s aides, Weisglass writes:

Today, as a result of the Oslo Accords, the PA, not Israel, is responsible for the daily life of some 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Remember, aides: Before “Oslo” Israel was responsible for the daily life of the Palestinians, in accordance with international law. Israel built the infrastructure, supplied electricity and water, and sustained health services, education, transportation, public order, policing and the courts. Israel also paid the salaries of thousands of Palestinian civil administration employees.

Where would we be today if the Netanyahu government, which is having difficulties securing the social wellbeing of most of Israel’s citizens, would also have to care for millions of Palestinians as well? It would have been a disaster.

A Palestinian once told me that the Oslo deal was “a brilliant Israeli arrangement.” How so? I asked him. “It created the only prison in the world where the prisoners have to provide for themselves, without the management’s participation.” Israel has the authority of the sovereign in the territories – without the obligations. This situation is a direct result of the Oslo Accords.

It should be noted that the Palestinians provide themselves with American and European money, and they also guard themselves. Yet more important than all the above is the role the Palestinian Authority is playing by providing the necessary “adversary” Israel deals with on a public and diplomatic level.

Weisglass rightly points out the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu could have annulled Oslo on his first term in office, while the Palestinian Authority was still “searching for its way.” Yet he chose not to. What Netanyahu instinctively understood was that Oslo serves the agenda of the right – it creates the illusion of an independent Palestinian regime while maintaining the occupation.

In the last few years, there has been another important development in the way Israel uses Oslo to serve its needs. Under Oslo, the West Bank was temporarily divided into three areas (titled A, B and C). Area C, consisting of 60 percent of the West Bank, is kept under Israel’s full administrative and military control. Naturally, the fate of Area C wasn’t decided in the agreement itself. Yet today, Israeli authorities treat Area C as if it has been annexed to Israel: they prevent Palestinian construction in those areas, expand existing settlements, use natural resources in those areas, and in some cases, even try to push the Palestinian population to areas A and B.

A good example of this practice is taking place in the Susya region, in the South Hebron Hills; you can read more about it here. And here is an excellent infographic on the division of land under the Oslo agreement.

In short, by turning what was supposed to be an intermediate agreement (Oslo was set to expire in 1999) into a permanent situation, Israel was able to secure at least another two decades of Jewish colonization in the West Bank – a period which might have been just long enough to prevent for good the creation of a Palestinian state. I don’t share the view – now common in some leftist circles – that Oslo was intentionally designed to lead to the current state of apartheid, but looking back, one cannot imagine reaching the impasse we are now in without the diplomatic coverage and the legal infrastructure Israel established with the Oslo process.

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    1. Laurent Szyster

      Whenever Arabs fuck up – and God knows they often do – they always somehow find a way to blame somebody else’s “conspiracy”.

      In this instance the repeated failure of the Palestinian leadership to compromise and negociate a final resolution of the conflict is “explained” as a cunning Israeli masterplan.

      If ever the Palestinians get a 23rd poor, overpopulated and disfunctional arab state, be sure that they will still blame the Jews for it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yossi Engel

        Thanks, Laurent. Very well put! I couldn’t have said it any better.

        Reply to Comment
      • Andrew

        Laurent, I’m not sure if you noticed, but Dov Weisglas is not an Arab.

        Reply to Comment
      • Andrew

        Minor correction: Weisglass actually gave the interview on the Gaza disengagement to Ha’aretz *before* the disengagement took place.

        ‘Weisglass does not deny that the main achievement of the Gaza plan is the freezing of the peace process in a “legitimate manner”… “what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did.”’


        Reply to Comment
        • Thanks – Corrected.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Long before Oslo, in 1984, Chomsky wrote: “The ‘peace process,’ as was evident at the time and should be transparent in retrospect, was designed in such a way as to remove the major Arab military force, Egypt, from the conflict, so that Israel would then be free, with a huge and rapidly-expanding U.S. subsidy, to intensify settlement and repression in the conquered territories and to attack its northern neighbor – exactly as it did, at once and unremittingly since.”

      Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      I don’t know whether the Oslo process was Good For the Jews, but there’s no doubt about the horrible terrorism and bloodshed that it directly caused. There’s a tendency in hindsight to look at the political field, who’s up and who’s down, and to forget about all the people who were killed and maimed.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Count up the people who were killed and maimed, Aaron. It’s just one more example of the way Oslo worked against the Palestinians, who were the overwhelming majority of the victims.

        Why is it that dead Palestinians are invisible to Zionists, who can only see dead Jews?

        Reply to Comment
    4. Laurie

      Euhm please stop confusing “Jews”, which is a religious group found in most countries in the world and “Israelis”, which is a nationality that isn’t entirely and homogeneously religious. By calling Israelis “Jews” you’re in essence trying to extent the due pity of the Holocaust on the Israel nationals, who are decedents of the survivors, no doubt, but have nothing to do with them whatsoever. Stop trying to ride the wave of “jewish persecution” because even though a lot of nations have hostile feelings towards Israel, the nation is a lot stronger militarily and economically than all of them put together, very much unlike the 1930 situation where the jews were much weaker than the European community.


      an objective jew!

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        Israel, for better or for worse, and whether you like it or not, is considered by almost everyone in the world as “the Jewish State”. Almost half of all world Jewry lives there so it is a pretty fair representative of the body of world Jewry, especially considerting the rest are dispersed widely around the globe so there is no other “representative” group of Jews.
        The Jews are a people AND a religion, so even if a Jew is not religiously observant, he or she is still a full-fledged Jew.
        Saying that a decendent of a Holocaust survivor has nothing to do with the Holocaust is a rather perverse idea….we are all products of what past generations have experienced. This is what Obama doesn’t understand…he was led to believe that Israeli Jews, particularly those with Leftist political views are like liberal American Jews and nothing can be further from the truth. American Jewry is largely assimilated and has much weaker links between the generations than Israelis do, plus the large majority of Israelis have served in the military and have confronted Arab hostility there or in civilian life. Thus, the Arab/Israeli conflict is not viewed as some theoretical game in which unrealistic “progressive” theories and ideas are to be tested, but rather as a conflict that is a matter of survival.

        Reply to Comment
      • Elie

        Laurie, I totally agree with you, it’s good to see some people more objective

        XYZ, your bullshits don’t help us !

        Reply to Comment
    5. XYZ

      Weisglas and Sharon were lying when, during the build up to the destruction of Gush Katif, they were claiming that they were “giving up Gaza in order to strengthen Israeli control of Judea/Samaria”….just like Begin claimed he was giving up Sinai in order to strengthen Israeli control of Judea/Samaria and Gaza”. Salami tactics. Sharon and Weisglas said this lie in order to get the settlers and their leaders and political representatives to go along with his plan and it worked beautifully. Right after he destroyed Gush Katif, Sharon then claimed he “changed his mind” and was going to withdraw to the security wall and knock down all the settlements outside of that and expell another 90,000 Jews.

      Weisglas can claim that Oslo was “good”, he was well protected and didn’t ride on buses that were blowing up left and right….but what do these politicians care about the population? Don’t forget that Shimon Peres has stated that Ben Gurion viewed Lenin as the “ideal prototype leader”….cold, hard, ruthless, no sentiments, willing to sacrifice millions of (other) people for their goals. Weisglas, Sharon, Rabin, Peres…they all absorbed that perverted philosophy which is, in other words, the people exist to serve the state instead of the state existing to serve the people.

      Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      Once again, we see the Palestinians portrayed as pathetic, passive weaklings. It is important to remember, Arafat agreed to Oslo and its terms. You know Arafat, the one all the “progressives” were telling is is “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestine”, the “brave, intelligent leader of the Palestinian revolution”, or as perennial Israel basher and Palestinian-apologizer Henry Siegman said at the time of the Camp David meetings with Barak “both men are patriots who love their people and will reach an agreement out of a desire to do what is best”.
      Why did Arafat, that wily terrorist leader let himself get outmaneuvered by the Israelis, pray tell?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Aaron the FT is right that the horrors of 2000-6 should not be forgotten. It is not, however, foregone that these would have ocurred if Oslo had been implemented expeditiously; I think Rabin was right that some violence would have had to be absorbed–and know what that means.

      Bibi I froze Oslo which, I think enhanced group formation among later suicide bombers, both through loss of expectations and contraction of revenue (when Bibi I stopped tax transfers). This is not an apology for them but, rather, a social consequence, must as a medical consequnce.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        A timeline of Palestinian suicide bombings demonstrates your position as nonsense.

        Reply to Comment
      • Aaron the Fascist Troll

        Greg, I wasn’t talking about 2000-2006. I was talking more about c. 1993-1996, when the bloodshed and terror were *direct* consequences of the Oslo process. You could blame the later violence on other, more proximate causes.

        Reply to Comment
    8. The US, EU, IMF, UN and undoubtedly other letter combination I know not have subsidized the PA. The Israelis will, perhaps sooner than later, find these sources drying out. I do not think it planned, but the PA has become something of a well working bantu agency. Full legal apartheid is inevitable. Perhaps not with the settlements, but the State has been complicit in their expansion for decades. The State wants full apartheid; but they will have to pay the bill. As to Palestinian lived lives–well, they rarely seem to matter.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        This is an empty line of argument. The foreign funding will dry up. The PA may collapse. And still there would be no path from there to what you argue as inevitable. The IDF is never going to collect garbage on the streets of Nablus from the homes of Israeli citizens.

        Reply to Comment
    9. Catherine

      The only reason the rerrorist and slaughter Sharon empted Gaza of Israelis was so he could create this prison and freely kill and test the new illigal weapons that Israel has created. A very cunning plan. But the world saw throug it.

      Reply to Comment