The Oslo Accords’ Calamities

On the eve of the September 1993 Oslo agreements, just before responsibilities were transferred from Israeli hands to the Palestinian Authority, five percent of Gaza's residents did not have access to running water.

Twenty years later, the United Nations estimates that more than 80 mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>of Gazans buy bottled drinking water either because they are not connected to water supply or because the water they receive is undrinkable. The water crisis in the Gaza Strip is just one concrete manifestation of Oslo's legacy.

Surveying the contemporary Palestinian landscape, everywhere one looks calamities meet the eye. During the first 27 years of occupation (1967-1993), Israel killed an estimated 1,850 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. By contrast, during the 20 years since Oslo it has killed more than 7,100. Following the implementation of Oslo's so-called separation principle – best captured through Ehud Barak's slogan "us here, them there" – the average number of annual Palestinian deaths actually increased fivefold.

Along similar lines, the peace accords have increased the economic fragility of the Palestinians. GDP per capita in the West Bank and Gaza has risen from $1,320 in 1994 to $2,489 in 2011, not much more than a $1,000 increase in 18 years. In Gaza, where people now need to buy bottled water, the per capita GDP has risen by less than $300 in two decades, amounting to $1,534 in 2011. Moreover, this minute increase is an outcome of foreign aid and has nothing to do with an improvement of the productive capacity of these two regions. Twenty years after Oslo, Palestinian society is completely dependent on humanitarian assistance.

Just to gain some perspective, during the same period the GDP per capita in Israel rose from $16,029 to $32,123. Thus, the per capita GDP disparity between Israelis and Palestinians increased from $15,000 to a staggering $30,000. Israelis, in other words, have not suffered from the occupation and, indeed, have experienced economic well-being since that dramatic day in Washington, DC.

While there is no causal relation between Israel's impressive GDP growth and the Jewish settlement project, it too has experienced a dramatic surge. During the past two decades the number of settlers in the West Bank has increased by about a quarter of a million people, from 111,600 settlers in 1993 to more than 350,000 in 2013. If one includes East Jerusalem, then well over half a million Jews now live in the territories from which Israel promised – back in September 1993 – that it would withdraw. Yinon Cohen from Columbia University shows that during periods of negotiations more Jews migrated to the West Bank. The protracted negotiations, in other words, have only bolstered the settlement project.

Finally, two decades after Oslo, Palestinian society is divided, with the Hamas government in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank suffering from an acute legitimacy crisis. font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
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Restructuring Palestinian spaceJohn Torpey has called the "legitimate means of movement". line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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Intricately tied to the restructuring of Palestinian space was the reorganisation of power, which was carried out in three distinct spheres: the civil institutions, economy, and law enforcement. The overarching logic informing the different agreements is straightforward: Transfer all responsibilities (but not all authority) relating to the management of the population to the Palestinians themselves while preserving Israeli control of Palestinian space and resources.

Following the memorable ceremony on the White House lawn, the changes on the ground were rapid. By August 1994, the Palestinian Authority assumed full responsibility for the Palestinian education system and the dilapidated health institutions as well as social welfare organisations. Full responsibility meant funding and running them, but did not entail full authority. 10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>

This has had far-reaching implications, since the economy serves as the source of revenue for all the civil institutions employed to manage and administer the population, such as the health-care, education and welfare systems. If they do not function properly then a crisis of governance is likely to emerge.

This is one of the reasons why in the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – also known as Oslo II – a relatively large section was dedicated to the Palestinian police force. The agreement expanded the police force, transforming the West Bank and Gaza Strip into zones where the ratio of police to civilians was among the highest in the world. The creation of a strong Palestinian police force was crucial not only because it allowed the Israeli military to shed many of its former policing responsibilities, but also because such a force empowered the new governing body, which had taken upon itself a huge amount of civil responsibility with very few of the tools necessary to provide the services it promised to supply.

A bloated police force was the Oslo response to the increasing loss of legitimacy of both the Oslo process and the Palestinian Authority; its goal was to repress internal opposition.


All this, it is important to emphasise, is not a matter of interpretation, but rather written in black letters in the Oslo agreements. This is why when Israeli friends ask me why I am not more critical of the Palestinian Authority, I am not eager to the lay the blame on its shoulders. Much criticism is no doubt warranted, but targeting the Palestinian Authority assumes that this governing body is a free agent. The truth, however, is that the Palestinian Authority is a product of Oslo, an Israeli subsidiary of sorts that is confined by structures much greater than it can ever overcome in the current reality.

Reading the agreements carefully it becomes clear how Oslo created the Palestinian Authority as an Israeli subcontractor, and how it transferred to this fledgling body weak civil institutions and a totally dependent economy that could not support the institutions. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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The distribution of water bottles also reflects the type of solutions leaders have offered to the Oslo predicament. Instead of political solutions, they advance neoliberal ones: namely, you don't have drinkable running water, so why not buy bottles? font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
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Neve Gordon is the author ofhis website. 

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