The Oslo Accords, formally known as the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, were signed on 13 September 1993 – over 12 years ago. These accords, which were meant to put in motion a process of implementation of UN resolutions 242 and 338 (which call for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the  conflict” (ie, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights)) and set in motion a lasting peace process, constituted an extraordinary compromise on the part of the Palestinian people, effectively relinquishing Palestinian claim to 78 percent of the land that was taken from them – first by the UN partition plan (1947) and then in the Arab-Israeli war (1948-49) and the Six Day War (1967). The Palestinians officially accepted a future based on a two-state solution, with the Palestinian state restricted to Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the Israeli state, forced to the negotiating table by the power of the Palestinian armed resistance (Intifada) of 1987-1993, agreed to give up power over the occupied territories in return for peace.
Despite the numerous ceasefires and compromises offered by the Palestinians over the ensuing 12 years, the Oslo Accords were, ultimately, betrayed by successive Israeli governments, who responded to each ceasefire and compromise with provocation in the form of ‘targeted assassinations’ or raids on alleged ‘bomb factories’, each time blaming the Palestinians for Israeli violence.
It cannot be denied that Israel is in a difficult position. The persistence and effectiveness of the Palestinian armed struggle for self-determination has generated an overwhelming desire amongst ordinary Israelis to come to a mutually acceptable settlement with the Palestinians. This public opinion is given all the more force in light of the fact that the Palestinians are prepared to accept a portion of their land constituting only 22 percent of what was stolen from them (and which, furthermore, is populated almost exclusively by Palestinians already, with the exception of a few thousand ultra-zionist fascists in settler outposts). The problem for the Israeli state is not the giving up of the idea of eretz (greater) Israel; the problem is the likely nature of their society after the establishment of a Palestinian state. With the ‘Arab question’ finally settled, Israel’s focus would of necessity be turned to its own acute class contradictions and feeble economy. Without the uniting factor of ‘what to do about the Palestinians’, Israel could very well collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions.
However, the Palestinian population cannot be expected to sacrifice its own freedom and independence in order that its oppressors may enjoy a simple and happy future.
In the 14 months since the death of Yasser Arafat (whose extraordinary ability to combine diplomacy and militancy has rarely been matched in recent decades), Israel has shown a decided lack of interest in any ‘peace process’ the terms of which are not entirely dictated by Israeli needs. The goalposts have been moving from ‘Palestinian state based on the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem’ to ‘loosely-connected handful of Palestinian ghettoes separated by large and highly militarised Israeli settlements’.
Meanwhile, the post-Arafat Palestinian Authority has not proven equal to the task of balancing negotiations and armed struggle (or the threat of it) in order to further the Palestinian cause – or at least prevent the deterioration of the Palestinians’ position.
The Palestinian people went to the polls on 25 January to elect their new parliament. Much to the surprise of the world, the main Islamic group, Hamas, were swept to power, gaining 76 seats, while Fatah, the secular party that launched the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and which has dominated Palestinian politics for half a century, gained only 43.
This surprise victory for a party that has, as yet, refused to negotiate under any circumstances with Israel, and which does not formally accept the Israeli state, is a reflection of the dissatisfaction and frustration of the Palestinians with the seemingly endless cycle of ceasefires, negotiations and unbearable Israeli atrocities. As Carl Bildt and Ana Palacio wrote in the Financial Times: “Fatah’s inability to secure order and deliver results in the peace process were undoubtedly factors in the outcome, as was discontent with the daily injustices of life under occupation.” (‘We must respect the choice of Palestinian voters’, 26 January 2006)
Hamas has wide respect among the Palestinian population, in no small part due to its disproportionate contribution to the current Intifada.
An end to the peace process?
Having whined incessantly about supposed lack of Palestinian democracy, Israel and its imperialist backers were quick to denounce the results of an election in which 78 percent of the population voted and which was universally described as being extremely fairly run. George W Bush, yet again playing the irony card, announced: “A political party, in order to be viable, is one that professes peace, in my judgment, in order that it will keep the peace. And so you’re getting a sense of how I’m going to deal with Hamas if they end up in positions of responsibility. And the answer is not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you.” (AFP, 26 January)
The Israeli government, itself no stranger to irony, immediately announced that it would not do business with any group that advocated the use of violence. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated: “The state of Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian administration if even part of it is an armed terrorist organisation calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.” Both the US Congress and the EU have threatened to put a stop to Palestinian Authority funds. We are glad to say that Hamas has publicly refused to be swayed by these blackmail tactics.
The international media are keen to convince us that the Palestinian territories will soon fall into complete crisis, with Hamas beginning a bid to establish an Islamic state. However, it should be pointed out that Hamas has proved itself to be both flexible and pragmatic. Indeed, it has stuck to the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire for over 11 months – something that certainly cannot be said of the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force. According to the Financial Times of 26 January, “Khaled Meshal, the top Hamas leader in exile in Damascus, said the group was open to political partnerships and would extend a truce if Israel reciprocated.” (‘Victory met with alarm in the west’) It is likely that Fatah people will continue to occupy a number of positions in the administration, whether as a parliamentary opposition or as members of a coalition (as Hamas seem to be offering). Mahmoud Abbas, elected last year as president, will most likely continue in his post. The immediate effect of Hamas’s election will almost certainly be a considerably tougher diplomatic stance taken by the Palestinians, with a blunt refusal to stand for Israel’s dirty tricks.
Speaking in an interview with Jonathan Steele, reported in The Guardian of 27 January, Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar said: “Israeli attitudes show they don’t intend to make any agreement. They’re going to take many unilateral steps … In this bad unbalanced situation and with the interference of the West in the affairs of every Arab country, especially Syria and Lebanon, we can live without any agreement and have a ‘calm’ for a long time. We’re in favour of a long-term truce without recognition of Israel, provided Sharon is also looking for a truce. Everything will change in 10 or 20 years …There will be no contradiction between the Palestine legislative council and the president. We will be the safeguard, and the safety valve, against any betrayal.”
BBC News Online of 28 January reported that Hamas was considering putting together a Palestinian army. The article quotes Khaled Meshal as saying: “As long as we are under occupation then resistance is our right.” Further, he said that Hamas was ready to “unify the weapons of Palestinian factions, with Palestinian consensus, and form an army like any independent state … an army that protects our people against aggression”. At the same time, he said that current agreements with Israel would still hold, “as long as it is in the interest of our people”.
Furthermore, despite the ‘fierce’ rhetoric of the Israeli government and its imperialist backers, an opinion poll published in an Israeli newspaper on 27 January showed that 48 percent of Israelis favour negotiations with a Hamas-led Palestinian government, while just 43 percent currently oppose them.
We consider that the popular voice of Palestinian society represents a correct understanding on the part of the Palestinian population that the peace process in its current form is leading them nowhere and that only a return, or at least the very real threat of a return, to armed resistance will win them their goal of a truly independent Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders.