WEST BANK: 18 years after Oslo, Palestinians try a new tack
On Sept. 13, 1993, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and current Israeli President Shimon Peres signed at the While House the so-called Oslo Accords, ushering in a new era and hopes of peace in the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The agreement was signed in the presence of President Bill Clinton, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
At a news conference in Ramallah in the West Bank on Tuesday to talk about the Palestinians' latest U.N. statehood bid, Palestinian Authority negotiator Muhammad Shtayeh made reference to that agreement.
“The Oslo Accords was an interim agreement that should have reached a conclusion on May 4, 1999,” he said. “It was supposed to bring results through bilateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.”
However, 18 years later, as the Israeli occupation that was supposed to end more than 10 years ago remains in place and an independent Palestinian state is far from being a reality, the Palestinian Authority decided to try another course of action, asking the United Nations' 193 member states to recognize “Palestine” as member No. 194, based on the 1967 borders.
“The bilateral arrangement of Oslo is now taking us to the multilateral road, which is the U.N.,” said Shtayeh.
Whether the Palestinians will succeed in changing their fate remains to be seen when the Palestinian Authority formally asks the U.N. Security Council for recognition in a couple of weeks.
But as the date for submitting that application gets closer, Palestinians are coming under intense direct and indirect pressure from the U.S. and Europe to withdraw their initiative.
Well informed sources said the pressure seems to have made headway with at least some Arab countries upon which the Palestinians were counting for support in their bid.
Abbas traveled to Cairo on Monday to ask Arab foreign ministers meeting there for their support for the Palestinian application. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was also there for the exact opposite goal: to ask the Arabs to dissuade the Palestinians from proceeding with their move.
According to the sources, the U.S. and European pressure have persuaded some allies to discourage Abbas from proceeding with his U.N. adventure.
At his last news conference in Ramallah before traveling to New York to join the Palestinian delegation there to prepare the final documents for the statehood application, Shtayeh denied what he called “rumors” that the Palestinian Authority was backing down under Arab pressure.
He insisted that the plan was still on, and with the Security Council, not the General Assembly. He said Abbas was going to submit the application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a couple of days before speaks before the General Assembly on Sept. 23. In that speech, said Shtayeh, Abbas would "ask the member states to recognize Palestine as a state on the 1967 borders."
However, as the U.S. has already announced that it would veto such a proposal if it comes up for discussion at the Security Council, Shtayeh said that this initiative was not a one-time effort. The Palestinians may resubmit the application a second, third or tenth time until it finally succeeds, he said.
That process, as in Oslo, may take years.
-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank