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Opinion: At 29, should Oslo be heading for overdue early retirement?

Noelle Mafarjeh – The Oslo Accords were signed 29 years ago today, on 13 September 1993 in Washington DC. Amongst the many problematic legacies of the arguably obsolete accords, one enduring feature is the so-called security coordination first established in 1995 between Israel and the Palestinian Council.

The 1995 Oslo Interim Agreement called for the establishment of a Palestinian police force that would “act systematically against all expressions of violence and terror.” Subsequent versions of the agreement further entrenched this position, prioritizing Israel’s security and requiring increasing commitment on the part of the PA to repress Palestinian resistance to occupation.

Palestinians are mostly firmly opposed to security coordination, with steady poll numbers indicating around two-thirds of the public oppose it and an even higher 70% wish to cancel Oslo altogether. Critics of the security coordination say PA security forces are “effectively a subcontractor of Israel’s military occupation”, and even the PLO Central Council’s called in 2015 and 2018 to both suspend recognition of Israel as well as stop security coordination until Israel recognizes a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The picture is very different in Israel, of course, where thinktanks, political and military circles all agree that security coordination is a necessity to West Bank stability and therefore Israeli security. Writing for the Israel Policy Forum in December 2021, Neri Zilber says: “The prospect of the PA’s collapse, or even simply the continued erosion of its control, would undoubtedly bring the Palestinian issue back to the international forefront—for arguably all the wrong reasons.”

Fast-forward nine months, and Israel’s worries are ever-increasing in this regard. While Israel has turned to Gulf countries in the past to ask them to increase financial aid to the PA in order to tamper discontent with, amongst other burdens, an increasingly difficult economic situation, last week Israel asked Qatar to directly intervene and request Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas step up PA security forces’ activities in the West Bank.

The escalation in the West Bank, where the Israeli military has been conducting nightly as well as daytime raids on villages and cities from north to south, and where a record number of Palestinians have been both arrested or shot and killed in 2022, has raised concern in the United States as well. US assistant secretary of state for near Eastern affairs, Barbara Leaf, visited Israel and the PA last week; however, while Israel’s Shin Bet met with Leaf, Abbas snubbed her visit and sent delegates to meet her instead.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of Palestinians are turning to armed resistance against Israel’s nightly raids, particularly in Nablus and Jenin but also other, usually quieter areas of the West Bank. Even Ramallah has seen exchanges of gunfire lately. Israeli military arrest operations, which usually involve entering a location, capturing a target, and quickly retreating, are increasingly involving the deployment of large numbers of forces backed by drones as well as drawn-out gunfire battles, with increasing numbers of casualties amongst Palestinian fighters and uninvolved bystanders.

While the PA is still indisputably maintaining its side of the coordination bargain, with Palestinian security forces retreating ahead of Israeli advances at the prompt of a simple phone call, the proliferation of weapons particularly in the northern West Bank seems to indicate the PA is not as readily confiscating firearms as it has done in the past. The Israeli military establishment, as reported in the Hebrew press, is currently expending a great amount of resources and intelligence in assessing the PA’s intentions.

Amos Harel and Yaniv Kubovich write in Haaretz this morning: “Defense officials concede that for Israel there is no real substitute for the PA security forces in the West Bank. According to these officials, there are two main possibilities: Help the PA forces take back responsibility for security in the cities of the northern West Bank, or stay on the sidelines and watch the PA collapse, which could mean that Israel would have to enter the resulting vacuum.”

This is a situation that the Oslo Accords and all of its subsequent iterations were created to avoid. Will the failure to deliver on this one crucial matter of interest to Israel finally drive the nail in the coffin of a one-sided agreement that has borne nothing but bitter fruit for Palestinians in 29 years?

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