Last month, Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and secretary-general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, passed away at the age of 65. His death has been seen by some Palestinians as a metaphor for the end of the Oslo era and its twisted logic.
Erekat and many Palestinian political functionaries of his generation have firmly stood by the so-called two-state solution, insisting that the Palestinians will be able to strike a fair deal with the Israelis and their American patrons to establish an independent Palestinian state on parts of historic Palestine.
The accords with Israel signed by Egypt in 1978 at Camp David, by the Palestinians in 1993 in Oslo and Jordan in 1994 in Wadi Araba were supposed to be necessary steps towards Palestinian self-determination and towards “peace” in the Middle East in general.
But all these agreements ignored the existence of the Palestinian people as a people and their basic rights, including the right of return of Palestinian refugees and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Instead of insisting on those fundamental rights and following the example of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, which mobilised international civil society around the idea of one person, one vote and the establishment of a secular democratic, non-racial, non-sectarian state, the Palestinian political leadership reduced the Palestinian people to only those living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
This resulted in the formation of a Palestinian Bantustan of incongruous territories, where Palestinians live under the constant terror of a military occupation and where the Palestinian Authority does not actually exercise full authority.
The insistence on continuing down the Oslo path towards an illusory two-state solution has persisted even after Israel passed a Nation-State law, in which it explicitly declared the right to self-determination in “the Land of Israel” to be “unique to the Jewish People” – i.e. according to the Israeli state, the Palestinians cannot enjoy that right. And it has persisted even as Arab states have pressed forward with normalisation with Israel without any concessions along the formula “peace for land” and as the United States has put forward yet another “peace deal” in which it offers the Palestinians nothing more than humiliating subsistence.
Oslo and its derivative processes ignore the elephant in the room – the apartheid regime which Israel has effectively imposed on historic Palestine. They also do not pay attention to the consciousness of sumud that has emerged out of the Palestinian struggle. Nor do they take into account the long Palestinian legacy of civil and political resistance.
Over the years, many Palestinians have come to see Oslo for what it is and have opted to draw alternative paths to secure Palestinian rights.
In 2001, just a year after the Second Intifada erupted, the NGO forum of the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) was held in Durban, South Africa. It offered a very clear diagnosis of the nature of the Zionist project and paved the way for a much more practical but also progressive path to a new intersectional cooperation between the oppressed Palestinians and other marginalised groups.
In 2005, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement was created and two years later the BDS National Committee was formed to map its forward trajectory. BDS, along with the establishment of the One Democratic State Campaign and the Great March of Return – to give but a few examples – all represent the beginning of a process of de-Osloisation of the Palestinian mind. And in this process, Gaza has played a central role.
Most events that have taken place in the strip since the 2006 legislative elections represent an outright rejection of the Oslo Accords and their consequences. When we bear in mind that 75-80 percent of Gaza residents are refugees, the anti-colonial and anti-Oslo context of the election results becomes that much clearer.
In the following years, the calls for an alternative paradigm that divorces itself from the fiction of the “two-prison solution” intensified. It is a paradigm that takes the sacrifices of the people of Gaza as a turning point in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, one that builds on the growing global anti-apartheid movement that has been given an impetus by the 2009, 2012, 2014 onslaughts on Gaza and by the Great March of Return.
The de-Osloisation of Palestine, for most Palestinian activists, has become a precondition for the creation of peace with justice. That requires a redefinition of the Palestinian cause as an anti-colonial struggle against a system of settler-colonialism and apartheid, and reunification of the three components of the Palestinian people, namely, Gaza and the West Bank residents, refugees, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The first steps of this process were taken in Durban in 2001. The WCAR declaration, in a very peculiar way, demanded from Palestinians to offer guidance to the most effective tool of international solidarity with their struggle to end apartheid in historic Palestine. The language used in the declaration was clear, diagnostic, strong, and – most importantly – uncompromising on basic human rights:
“We declare Israel as a racist, apartheid state in which Israel’s brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity has been characterized by separation and segregation, dispossession, restricted land access, denationalization, ‘bantustanization’ and inhumane acts.”
And this has, to all of us in Palestine, been the beginning of our South African moment, a step in our long walk to freedom, equality and justice.