Roadmap to Gaza peace may run through Oslo

Salam Fayyad (left) in conversation with Tarek Masoud (Harvard Photograph by Niles Singer)

Alvin Powell
MIT, Boston, USA, March 30, 2024

Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said that strengthening the execution of the 1993 accords could lead to a two-state solution.

He highlighted a proposed path to peace in the Middle East built around a commitment to nonviolence, unification of factions under an expanded PLO, and, eventually, a state in Gaza and the West Bank.

Fayyad, who spoke with Professor Tarek Masoud at a Harvard Kennedy School event on March 26, 2024 said he believes that Israel’s stated goals in the Gaza Strip, which include eradicating Hamas, “range from the impossible to the highly unattainable.”

He said that any workable future involves re-unifying Gaza and the West Bank under a single ‘polity.’ Hamas has ruled Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has overseen the West Bank since 2007.

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The Promise of the 1993 Pact

He said that It is up to the Palestinians to realise the promise of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which outlined a process giving them greater autonomy but stopped short of creating a separate state. The Agreement has turned out to be lopsidedly in Israel’s favour, a major factor in its rejection by several Palestinian factions and the unrest that has roiled the region since.

Fayyad is a Visiting Professor at Princeton University and a Senior Fellow at HKS’s Middle East Initiative. He served as the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister from 2007 until 2013. The discussion was the fourth instalment of the Initiative’s Middle East Dialogues, organised by Masoud, the Group’s Faculty Chair and the Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance.

Masoud said that few could offer a “more vital perspective” on the situation than Fayyad.

The former PA official said that Oslo had in many ways turned out to be something of “a trap,” allowing delay and inaction, but its framework has so entwined itself into Palestinian life that it would be difficult to undo. Instead, he said that it is up to the Palestinians to do what is necessary to strengthen the Agreement’s execution and bring a state into being.

Commitment to Non-Violence

Fayyad envisioned a path that begins with a commitment to nonviolence on the part of all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, and the expansion of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), considered the official representative of the Palestinian people in the international arena, to encompass all groups at the table. After that, there would be a peaceful transition period leading to elections.

“I think that the only sensible solution that is before us is to actually strengthen the Oslo Agreement. If it was meant to be weak so that it would not turn into a state by design and would end up being an instrument of disempowerment, we should rebel against that not by dismantling it, but by actually strengthening it to prove that it can actually transform itself into a state,” he said.

While some may call that process unrealistic, Fayyad said that it provides a clear alternative to the massive death and destruction currently occurring in Gaza, where nearly 32,000 have been killed and 74,000 injured.

The sufferings in Gaza

Fayyad, who decried Hamas’ initial attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 that killed 1200, said that the scale of Israel’s attack and its associated horrors quickly escalated past any reasonable definition of a response into what can be seen as a war of aggression.

“Our people in Gaza are suffering the most, but for the rest of us, myself included, it is that deep sense of helplessness, that deep sense of guilt that will stay with us. It is the kind of thing that will stay with us for many, many generations to come,” he said.

The 90-minute session featured Fayyad answering questions from first Masoud and then members of the audience. In his responses, he said that in assigning blame for the lack of progress toward a state, Palestinians should first look at the factionalism rife within their own politics, which has prevented the emergence of a unified voice that might move things forward.

Fayyad said that criticism does not absolve Israel of blame, however.

He questioned whether Israel ever really wanted a Palestinian state to emerge, pointing to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the Oslo Accords and more specifically, a time during Fayyad’s term as Prime Minister when an extended period of peace did not lead to the expected, and requested, replacement of Israeli troops by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, a step that might have been seen as hopeful progress toward a Palestinian state.

Importance of Israel’s security

“Israel projects its security as paramount but Israelis who insist on making that point without looking at the other side of the equation would be hard-pressed to explain why it is that when security conditions in the West Bank improved markedly for four to five years; they did nothing to change their security policy in West Bank. They resisted any conversation,” Fayyad said.

Masoud questioned his inclusion of Hamas in his proposal, saying that many, including many Israelis, would say that the Oslo process failed directly because of terror attacks by Hamas and other factions.

Fayyad responded by saying that Hamas is a part of the Palestinian political landscape and, like the PLO before it, has the ability to change.

“We know it happened before; so whether or not it would happen again is something else. But then, as a practical matter, we look at what is doable. To start the conversation by saying we need to eliminate these forces and factions, they are spoilers,” Fayyad said.

Efforts to dictate who can be at the table even before negotiations start to obstruct progress, he noted.

“When we are talking about ideologies and political movements, I think that it is just totally wrong to speak in those terms to begin with. Hamas is a political movement. It is an ideology, so therefore it cannot be destroyed. You cannot destroy ideologies, but you can defeat them with a competitive ideology,” Fayyad said.

Alvin Powell is a Staff Writer at the Harvard Gazette at Harvard University, Boston, USA. The above article has been published with gratitude.

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