15 November 2013 |

The Oslo Accords, 20 years of a worsening humanitarian situation, time for a creative rethink?

“All options are open” was the latest response of Palestinian chief negotiator and Oslo Accords veteran Saeb Erekat to Israel’s announcement of the construction of settlement units in Palestine this week, illegal under international law, before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went on to freeze the plan. But what exactly are the options Saeb Erekat was referring to?


The challenges of the expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, and the forced displacement of Palestinians that they trigger, were not central to the discussion in the Oslo Accords negotiations back in 1993. At the time, the Oslo Accords were intended to lead to a final negotiated arrangement between the parties within a period of five years, while permanent issues such as the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, security arrangements, international borders, and the rights of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) were left to be resolved at a later stage.

Today, the lack of progress on these issues has become an obstacle to ensuring the fundamental rights of Palestinians and has increased the fragmentation of Palestine. Some have argued that Israel has benefitted from the Oslo Accords framework, which was supposed to be an interim. Israel’s focus on the process rather than the substance has allowed them to continue to change the territorial, demographic, legal and socio-economic situation in Palestine, leading to a new reality on the ground while perpetuating the illusion of maintaining the status quo.

The Oslo Accords: a viable basis for the administration of Palestine, or an obstacle to improving the lives of Palestinians?

The twenty years of peace process have seen more discriminatory planning policies and settlement construction than the thirty years preceding it, leading to a dramatic increase in displacement and movement restrictions.

Today, there are 250,000 more settlers than there were in 1993, and over 15,000 Palestinian structures have been demolished, including homes, water systems, agricultural facilities and other vital property often built with the support of EU funding. This trend is on the rise. This year there has been a significant increase in the numbers of demolitions and people displaced in East Jerusalem, even as peace talks have been ongoing. The number of people newly displaced in East Jerusalem this year is over 200, by far the highest number since 2009 and more than the combined total number of people displaced in East Jerusalem in all of 2011 and 2012.

It is estimated that 90,000 Palestinians are currently at risk of displacement because they are living in homes built without Israeli-issued permits, which are notoriously difficult for Palestinians to obtain. Communities most at risk include those in East Jerusalem; those in Area C of the West Bank, particularly Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, Bedouin communities, those in “seam zones” between the Green Line and the Separation Wall; and people living in or near the extended buffer zone separating the Gaza Strip from Israel.

The current humanitarian operation in Palestine is one of the largest in the world, with the European Union alone giving € 670 million since 2000. Yet despite decades of humanitarian assistance, today nearly 57 per cent of the Palestinians in Gaza are food insecure while unemployment levels across Palestine remain high, perpetuating an increasing dependency on humanitarian aid. Further, administrative and security arrangements have at times obstructed the delivery of assistance and reduced theeffectiveness and sustainability of aid efforts.

For example, while communities in the West Bank are some of the most vulnerable in Palestine, humanitarian organisations have faced obstacles in responding to their needs. This is due in part to Israel’s designation of 18 per cent of the West Bank as ‘firing zones,’ which are in principle military training zones closed to Palestinians, thus significantly reducing the amount land available for them to build homes and livelihoods. Indeed, while Israel’s economy has boomed since the Oslo Accords, Palestine’s economy in many parts of the territory has all but collapsed.

Upcoming symposium promises creative solutions

Several “peace processes” later and solutions remain elusive, inspiring ‘outside the box’ thinking in order to address innate elements that drive this conflict. As US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to re-launch peace negotiations through Palestinian economic revitalisation plays out in the coming months, it is imperative that talks are not used to provide cover forworsening humanitarian conditions. Rather, creative solutions should be considered such as that brought forward by Oslo Accords veteran Yossi Beilin, who recently suggested in the New York Times to link settlement evacuation with Palestinian refugee returns, which would create reciprocal empirical concessions and mutual recognition.

In the spirit of using the greatest minds to explore alternative solutions, IDMC’s parent organisation, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), will join the Centre for European Policy Studies to co-host a symposium in Brussels on Friday 22 November 2013, bringing together key policy-makers – including those involved in the creation of the Oslo Accords 20 years ago, NRC’s Secretary General Jan Egeland among them –  EU representatives and humanitarian professionals for a discussion which will explore the link between policy and practitioner expertise.

The event will be an opportunity for the international community and Europe in particular—as both a major aid provider to Palestine and key political player in the peace process—to ask if the Oslo Accords are still a viable basis for the administration of Palestine, or indeed a barrier to protecting the rights of Palestinians. How can external actors engage practically in improving the quality of day-to-day life in Palestine? Have recent actions by European stakeholders been effective in improving the humanitarian situation and what are some new ideas for ways forward?

Tune in for IDMC live blogging and tweeting in Brussels from the conference on Friday 22 November 2013. Click below to follow:

Follow IDMC and Emilie Arnaud, IDMC’s Assistant Country Analyst for Middle East and North Africa on Twitter

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