This collection of essays analyses the 1993 agreement between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It was published originally in 2013 as an e-book to mark the 20th anniversary of the Accords. Although hailed at the time as a historic milestone in the Palestinian bid for statehood, the 22 essays in the volume offer a critical examination of the famous deal by some of the leading authorities on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Contributions from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappé, Richard Falk and others from the worlds of politics, academia, activism, journalism and law offer readers a wide range of analysis. The book traces the long struggle for Palestinian statehood and neatly summarises the political context preceding the signing of the Accords on the White House lawn in 1993. It includes details of the various declarations of principals within the original and subsequent (1995) Accords known as Oslo Two, and then examines the consequences of the agreement.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s foreword prompts serious questions on the challenges of building peace and the dangers of “dogma”. Reaching into his own experiences from South Africa, the veteran anti-apartheid campaigner says that “making peace is in many respects much harder than waging war.” He makes an appeal to all parties to demonstrate “magnanimity” because, he says, “it is to the peace process what oxygen is to people.”
Readers are offered well-argued explanations for why Oslo has been such a miserable failure for the Palestinians. They point out that in the twenty years of the Accords, Israel has entrenched its occupation of Palestine in violation of international law, erected walls and built settlements that have made it virtually impossible for Palestinians to have a viable independent state.
The editors suggest that Oslo has been a “curse” while Ilan Pappé writes that the chief aim of the Accords was to deny Palestinians their own state. Professor Pappé explains that the “peace process historically has been a strategy for the settler colonialist state” and that when it was conceived in 1967, “it was part of the settler colonial state’s attempt to reconcile Israel’s wish to remain demographically a Jewish state and its desire to expand geographically without losing its pretence of being a democratic state.” He claims that the process through which a Palestinian state will emerge is under the control of Israeli politicians who have maintained the façade of a “peace process” to continue their brutal occupation under the watchful eye of the international community.
Continuing with the theme of why the Accords have failed, Professor Richard Falk uses his legal background to pour over the documents and principles that formed the basis of the agreement. He writes that the “historic breakthrough” was in actual fact “an insidious roadblock that diverted the Palestinian struggle for self-determination while granting time for Israel to expand its territorial claim and virtually extinguish any realistic prospect of realising a Palestinian state in the near future.”
While the book includes many good essays and the main arguments contained in it will remain salient for understanding the obstacles to a Palestinian state, some feel outdated for no other reason than that events on the ground have moved so fast over the past four years since they were first published.
Oslo and the peace process that leads to a two state solution are still on the lips of most actors except for the party that is most important, Israel. It has no intention of allowing the creation of a Palestinian state and seeks more than ever before to expropriate even more — probably all — of Palestine.
Furthermore, the quality of the publication has been somewhat undermined by the fact that there is a lack of consistency and continuity in the essays. There doesn’t appear to have been much thought given to the order of the articles within the book and, judging by the extremely short length of some essays — just two pages in one case — one questions the logic of including them in the first place. The book would have been better served if the 22 essays were arranged under three or four main headings, which would have enabled readers to navigate through the volume more easily.