Editorial: Wasted years, dashed hopes — 15 years after Oslo, peace continues to elude ME

IT is truly incredible that 15 years after the Oslo peace accords were signed, the Palestinians and Israelis are no closer to reaching an agreement than before they shook hands on the lawns of the White House. During the interim period, several peace project offshoots were introduced, all of which came to naught. Though the leaders of Palestine, Israel and the US changed, the basic problems did not. A bloody intifada erupted; a Palestinian state was not established; refugees did not return because there is no state to return to; a wall of separation and a serious, steady pace in the erection of Jewish settlements further downsized the area where such a state should be; and the Palestinians now find themselves in two rival (Hamas and Fatah) camps.

The one supposed bright side, the Israeli pullout from Gaza, was to be followed by a horrific Israeli siege of Gaza the following year.

And now Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced what so many already knew — that an agreement will most likely not be reached by the end of the year, throwing completely off schedule the deadline US President George W. Bush is supposed to have set in Annapolis in November last year.

To prevent the ship from sinking entirely, and despite official denials, the Palestinian Authority and Israel appear to be formulating a “shelf agreement” which both sides will consider the basis of further negotiations to be resumed in 2009. This means the PA will keep indulging in talks with Israel indefinitely if only to maintain the fiction of some movement or progress in the search for peace.

In other words, the PA is effectively surrendering to the American concept that the “process” must continue regardless of the outcome. The talks are no longer meant to achieve an end; they are becoming an end in themselves.

The talking will continue when Abbas travels to Washington later this month to discuss with President Bush the “progress” that has been made in the peace talks with Israel. Bush is expected to ask Abbas to stay the course, even if time, and Bush’s presidency, run out. And most Palestinians expect Abbas to comply, though they know no amount of talking will achieve anything as long as Israel continues its expansionist policies and the US continues to support such policies.

Meanwhile, everyone is waiting to see the results of the Kadima party elections and whether Ehud Olmert’s successor will be able to keep the ruling coalition in Israel together. In addition, everyone in the Middle East, as elsewhere, is waiting to see whom the US presidential elections will bring in as Bush’s successor. It is little wonder, therefore, that whatever actions the various parties are taking at present are little more than tactical maneuvers as they position themselves on the Middle East chessboard in anticipation of the outcome of the Israeli and US polls.

Oslo brought much hope of a historic breakthrough but 15 years on the headlines read as if time has stood still. Over the weekend, Israeli troops fatally shot a Palestinian teenager during a clash near Bethlehem, while Jewish settlers angered by a stabbing rampaged through another West Bank village and wounded six Palestinians. To say that peace talks between Palestinians and Israel have failed to reach any breakthrough despite nine months of negotiations is not completely correct. The starting point is more accurately September 1993.

Ref: Arab news

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