In theory, the end of Oslo should be a welcome development. In practice, there is little to celebrate.
There is something unsettling about the way the 25-year anniversary since the signing of the Oslo Accords is being marked — neither eulogy nor longing, and without anyone having any clue what lies ahead. There is one thing that is different this year, however. With the exception of Jason Greenblatt, nobody is paying lip service to the illusion of a peace process any more.
In theory, that should be a welcome development. The Oslo process and the legacy it left on the ground has done far more harm than good. By creating the façade of autonomy and the Palestinian Authority, which arguably has grown into little more than a sub-contractor of the Israeli army, the occupation is far more sustainable for Israel today than it was a quarter century ago.
By leaving in its wake decades of peace processes that went nowhere, Oslo also helped Israel stave off international pressure to either end the occupation or grant Palestinians equal rights. In that regard, Oslo provided international legitimacy for the entire second half of Israel’s 51-year military dictatorship over the Palestinians.
In practice, however, there is little to celebrate. The Trump White House’s Mideast policy has been commandeered by John Bolton, who is rapidly working through a checklist designed to dismantle the very idea of Palestine, and even the Palestinian people. (Bolton has long advocated handing large portions of the West Bank to Jordan — allowing Israel to retain whatever pieces it pleases — and the entire Gaza Strip to Egypt.)
Trump is not attempting to create a framework for a negotiated settlement like the previous five administrations did. Trump and his team are trying to lay the groundwork for an imposed resolution to the conflict — one that meets every one of Israel’s demands and undermines and negates nearly every Palestinian position.
In recent months the White House declared that it “took Jerusalem off the table” by recognizing it as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there. It is attempting to neutralize the entire question of Palestinian refugees by defining them out of existence. Washington is attempting to extort complete compliance and obedience out of the Palestinian leadership by cutting almost all funding for the Palestinian government and UN-provided basic social services. And the Bolton team’s latest move, threatening sanctions against the ICC and closing the Palestinian mission in Washington, is aimed at neutering any remaining leverage and avenues for justice Palestine has in the international arena.
In theory, dismantling the legacy of Oslo — both from the mindset of policymakers and the structural institutions it left on the ground — could be a good thing. In practice, we are replacing an imperfect, failed plan for peace with an approach akin to Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall: that Israel can only make peace with the Arabs after defeating them so brutally and definitively that they lose each and every remaining shard of hope.
In Israel we have grown used to that type of rhetoric from the highest echelons of government. A few years ago, Education Minister Naftali Bennett declared: “A Palestinian state is their hope … If we stop their hope, the motivation for terrorism will drop.” A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong.”
That is not a new sentiment, of course; it is the very underpinning of the Israeli right’s worldview, dating back to its ideological forefather, Jabotinsky. What is new, is that not only does Israel now have in the Trump administration the diplomatic cover to begin realizing that strategy, it has the world’s sole superpower actually implementing it on Israel’s behalf.
It is easy to blame Trump or Bolton for the steps they have taken over the past year. But they are not acting alone. It is both houses of Congress that laid the legislative groundwork for each and every one of these measures. Nearly every policy shift — from moving the embassy, to closing the PLO mission, to defunding large parts of the PA and UNRWA, to threatening the ICC — was legislated by Congress over decades.
That is important to remember because it demonstrates just how deep in the American political system change must reach if we are ever going to see the United States truly acting to achieve justice and basic rights for the Palestinians people. Ironically, by turning unconditional support for Israel into a partisan issue in the U.S., Trump and Netanyahu have begun planting the seeds for exactly that type of change.