When I first learned about the initial signing of the Oslo Accords, I was quite taken aback and thought that the leaked news was nothing but rumors. At the time, I was the director of tenders and supplies at Birzeit University, which was and still is the meeting ground of the Palestinian intelligentsia and the barometer of Palestinian sentiment. I did not believe the news which stated that the official signing would take place in a few days in Washington, DC, and that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would sign the agreement in the presence of U.S. President Bill Clinton. I recall this sentiment vividly, since just one day before the news about the Oslo Accords broke, Faisal Al-Husseini visited me in my office at Birzeit University and we had coffee together while he waited for the president of the university, Dr. Gabi Baramki.
We spoke about the cessation of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in Washington following the Madrid Conference. “The Israelis are very stubborn and do not want to give us anything,” Al-Husseini told me. As we chatted, he repeatedly expressed his pessimism, which was only interrupted when Dr. Baramki arrived and escorted Faisal to his office.
I used to point out to anyone who assured me that there was an agreement that it was illogical! I would say that Faisal al-Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi, Gabi Baramki, Nabil Qassis, Ghassan Khatib, Albert Aghazerian and even Dr. Haider Abdul-Shafi, who were at that time members of the Palestinian negotiating delegation in Washington, were physically present in the country. I’d seen them all just a couple of days ago, and they’d known nothing about any secret agreement being woven behind their backs!!!
Within a few days, the mist started to dissipate. Nobody knew much about the details of the secret talks in Oslo. They used to say Gaza and Jericho first, and it sounded to us like a joke and we started coming up with various sarcastic comments.... Later, when the deal was confirmed, I saw Israeli military vehicles driving in the streets of Ramallah and Arab youths offering roses to the Israeli soldiers!!! Such a scene distressed and bewildered me. How did our youths, who not long ago were throwing stones at the Israeli military vehicles which used to chase them and try to arrest them, end up handing flowers to Zionist soldiers!!!
Now, a quarter of a century after the signing of the Oslo Accords, I feel that the Israelis deceived and betrayed us. They presented us with a meaningless and worthless autonomy. They released themselves from managing some of the mundane work that cost them so much and awarded us these tasks to do on their behalf. They kept for themselves the job of watching over us while we ran our own affairs so as to interfere in case our decisions harmed, or even distressed, them.
They invade our Palestinian cities and villages with their military might whenever they desire, they arrest and kill our own, they demolish our houses, and no one can stop them. They intensified their settlement expansion, and invented the classification of areas A, B and C. They became more proficient and innovative in modern colonization and encouraged settlers to occupy more lands in Area C — to the extent that the number of settlers in these areas outnumbers us. Israel has been successful in fragmenting the West Bank to isolated Bantustans or cantons separated from one another by Jewish settlements and roads, which makes the creation of a Palestinian state impossible.
They have intensified the Judaization of Jerusalem while we are still waiting and hoping for a final resolution and solutions to the issues deferred to the final stage of negotiations — the same stage of negotiations which they did not want to embark on in the first place, while simultaneously and continuously reaffirming a stance of no compliance to the provisions of the Oslo Accords and the dates inscribed within them.
They have brought us to a point where we are now fighting among ourselves, and a point where the Palestinian homeland is divided into two fragmented homelands, both realistically and administratively. There has been no peace but continued wars and raids which kill the people of Gaza and destroy their properties, and settlers tampering with the lands of the West Bank while being protected by Israeli soldiers and their state-of-theart weapons!
I have never felt, during the past twenty-five years, the existence of peace, whether real or figurative. I am a Jerusalemite, born and raised in the Holy City, but today I am lacking a clear identity. I do not know whether I am a Palestinian, a Jordanian or an Israeli! When I pass through Israeli checkpoints and crossings, while the racist segregation wall looms over me, and while I witness racist treatment executed by those who rule over and occupy me, I cannot push away this searing fear for al-Aqsa Mosque, which is only intensifying with each passing day…. My mother tongue, Arabic, is being threatened in Jerusalem; a sense of ever-present loss accompanies me, and the deep desire to live a free, dignified and honorable life on the land I own and which I belong to, has become a dream.
Last but not least, I write these words (on the evening of July 22, 2018) while watching Israeli warplanes and artillery send wave after wave of bombs on our people in the Gaza Strip. I cannot but stop and attempt to fathom the contrast between the image of the young men handing over roses to Israeli soldiers 25 years ago and the images of death and destruction occurring today. What happened to the hope originally brought forth by Oslo? The Oslo delusion has ended up being Israel’s best magic trick, and our worst nightmare.