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Expert Opinion

No safe passage: the 20 year legacy of the Oslo Accords

Officially titled “declaration of principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements,” the Oslo Accords established the Palestine National Authority (PA) and split the West Bank administratively into three distinct areas, with the expected outcome of an official state status for Palestine.

Due to stalled peace negotiations, the spirit of the agreement has eroded over time, leading to violations of the fundamental rights of Palestinians, and the increased fragmentation of Palestine. This has led to far-reaching consequences for the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.

Today, the administrative system set out 20 years ago is having a negative impact on almost every aspect of Palestinian life, from hindered access to land, water and basic services, to restricted freedom of movement, stalled economic development and family separation. This has resulted in an increased risk of displacement and dependence on humanitarian aid.

Divided and displaced in areas under direct Israeli control

Under the Oslo Agreements, out of the three administrative areas, Areas A, B, and C, three distinct systems were created: in Area A, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has security and civilian control; in Area B, Israel maintains control of security issues and the PA has control over civil issues; and in Area C, Israel has full control, including  on civilian and security matters.  

Area C, the area under complete Israeli control and where the largest numbers of people in the Palestinian territory have been displaced, comprises 62% of the West Bank and is crucial for the economic development of the Palestinian state as well as maintaining  the land connection of the, as well as the Palestinians’ right to determine their own future. However, Israeli policies result in the increased fragmentation of Palestinian land and are threatening the presence of approximately 150,000 Palestinians in Area C. 70% of Area C has been allocated for Israeli settlements or other military and civilian purposes.

Of the remaining 30% of Area C, only 1% is actually available for Palestinians to build homes and infrastructure; much of that is already built-up. Every year several hundred Palestinians are forcibly displaced and dispossessed from their homes  as a result of demolitions. Israel argues that it demolishes houses built illegally, but Israeli-issued building permits are notoriously difficult to attain. Israeli settlements however, which are illegal under international law, have continued to expand.

In East Jerusalem Palestinians are hindered from registering their land due to the lengthy and complicated registration  and proof-of-land ownership requirement. As ownership is insufficiently documented for many, they risk losing their property if their claims are questioned and so tend to avoid registering their property as a consequence.

In parallel,  the Jerusalem Municipality is implementing discriminatory zoning and planning policies so as to maintain a ‘demographic balance,’ as stated in official municipal planning policy documents. The Municipality aims to maintain a demographic balance of approximately 70% Jews to 30% Palestinians within the city of Jerusalem. Similar to Area C, only a small percentage of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction and much of this area is already developed, leaving little space for future Palestinians. In comparison, 35% is zoned for Israeli settlements.  

No ‘safe passage’ between the Palestinian territory: the case of Gaza

The negotiators of the Oslo Accords envisioned political, social, economic and cultural integration between Gaza and the West Bank. But safe passage between them has not been granted by Israel since the Palestinian uprising that broke out in 2000, known as the Second Intifada, further fragmenting the Palestinian people.

To complicate matters further, on-going Palestinian political divisions are an addition hindrance to building a normal life. When Hamas was elected to Parliament in 2006 by a majority of voting Palestinians, the PA, backed by the international community, refused to cede power. The PA now controls the West Bank, while Hamas controls Gaza resulting in tighter and widespread restrictions on the movement of people and goods into, out of the strip.

The profound effects of the numerous issues have left three-quarters of the 1.6 million people in Gaza – half of whom are children – dependent on humanitarian assistance.  They face significant unemployment and have serious humanitarian needs, along with chronic water, electricity, fuel and medicine shortages.

The 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords is an opportunity for world leaders to reflect on a stalled process that has implications far beyond Israel and Palestine, and to ask: is justice in the Middle East possible, if injustice is ignored in Palestine?

Learn more about displacement in Palestine