Comment: The signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 seemed to mark an historic moment in the Arab-Israeli peace process. But twenty-four years on, little has changed, writes Rami Almeghari.
The famous handshake on the White House lawn back on September 13, 1993, was a remarkable moment in history.
The late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, along with the late Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the late Israeli president, Shimon Peres, signed the Declaration of Principles, known as the Oslo Accords, in an attempt to put an end to decades of Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
In 1999, Palestinians and Israelis were supposed to embark on final status talks that would bring an end to the interim situation across the occupied Palestinian territories - the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem. The talks kicked off in the year 2000, in Washington, under the patronage of the United States, the "patron of peace" between Palestinians and Israelis.
Shortly after the failure of the President Bill Clinton-sponsored Camp David II talks, violence erupted in the Palestinian territories and chances of peace faded, with Israel cracking down on the Palestinian popular uprising and Palestinians resuming their armed struggle against the Israeli military occupation in both Gaza and the West Bank.
What we first need is that Palestinians themselves have peace among themselves. You see how the situation is now desperate, with high rates of unemployment and poverty and with a political divide
"What we first need is that Palestinians themselves have peace among themselves," said Um Mahmoud Jum'a, a housewife in Gaza.
"You see how the situation is now desperate, with high rates of unemployment and poverty and with a political divide. Me, as a mother of four grown children, I only want peace and prosperity for the new generation. Both Fatah and Hamas parties should reunite and, by then, they will be able to claim the national rights of the Palestinian people," concluded the 52-year-old in the marketplace.
Akram Attallah, a Gaza-based political analyst, suggests that the peace process known as Oslo has so far failed to bring about any meaningful change.
The failure is due to Israeli tactics in the wake of the second Palestinian uprising of 2000, he said.
"Israel had taken the Palestinian use of armed struggle during the intifada as a pretext to undermine the dream of Palestinian nation-building," he told The New Arab.
"Though the intifada was a natural outcome of the failure of the Camp David peace talks, I believe that Palestinians were mistaken by embarking on the intifada. They should have been cleverer, administering lives under the Israeli occupation. However, I know this has been difficult under the Israeli occupation."
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Attallah sees no solution on the horizon, with Israel accelerating settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and Washington blindly adopting an Israeli interpretation of facts on the ground.
"I believe that Palestinians should start the first step, which is finding a consensus on a political agenda. Elections should bring about a certain political platform and therefore, the whole world should understand and respect the Palestinian people's choice and will."
Back in 2003, the US proposed security reforms within the Palestinian Authority. The position of prime minister was created, with Mahmoud Abbas, one of the architects of the Oslo peace accords, taking the post.
I believe that Palestinians were mistaken by embarking on the intifada. They should have been cleverer, administering lives under the Israeli occupation. However, I know this has been difficult under the Israeli occupation
The suggested reforms included disarming Palestinian factions and preventing militant attacks against Israel.
Abbas' mission failed just 52 days later, when Israel assassinated Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shannab, deemed a moderate voice who had opposed suicide bombings and called for a long-term truce with Israel.
In 2005, a year after the death of Yasser Arafat, who had been under siege by Israeli troops surrounding his Ramallah compound for two years, Israel declared its unilateral disengagement from Gaza - dismantling 17 settlements and pulling troops out from the occupied coastal territory.
Israel continued to control Gaza's border crossings, airspace and coastline.
In 2006, Mahmoud Abbas, elected as president of the PA following the death of Arafat, announced general elections in both Gaza and the West Bank. The elections, deemed to be fair and democratic by prestigious institutes worldwide, brought the Islamist Hamas party to power.
Hamas has long been a fierce opponent of the Oslo accords, carrying out militant attacks against Israel between 2000 and 2006.
Following Hamas' landslide victory, the international community including the United States, European Union, United Nations and Israel, shunned Hamas and demanded the party accept three demands to win international recognition - accepting past-signed agreements [Oslo], recognising Israel and renouncing violence.
Mahmoud Abbas became President of the PA in 2006 [AFP]
Would Hamas be ready for fresh elections held now?
Abdellatif Alqanou, Hamas' spokesperson in Gaza, said his party was supporting a national consensus by means of elections.
"We do respect and believe in elections and we have engaged recently in municipal elections in the West Bank. As for the resistance weapons, it is the weapon of the Palestinian people and meant to protect the Palestinian people themselves, against the occupying Israeli forces," he told The New Arab.
"The Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas itself cannot renounce resistance against Israel. No one can ever give up their resistance weapon. This weapon is the one that defended Gaza, in times of military attacks. The resistance's weapons are a red line that should not be crossed."
Aside from "the armed struggle", Hamas recognises other forms of resistance against the Israeli occupation.
"We cannot deny the significance of other forms of resistance, especially the popular non-violent resistance that proved effective during the al-Aqsa mosque standoff several weeks ago. We honour the boycott of Israel, we do honour non-violent resistance at flashpoints... All such forms are applicable, as long as Israel does not comply with the international legitimacy resolutions, pertaining to the Palestinian cause," said Alqanou, referring to the dozens of UN resolutions condemning Israel.
Consecutive US administrations have failed to forge peace in the region. Most recently, the administration of President Donald Trump has appeared willing to bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiations table, with the aim of reaching a peaceful solution.
Washington long ago believed in a two-state solution, and agreed Palestinians should have a state of their own along the 1967 border lines; Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In the meantime, Israel has been constructing new settlements and expanding existing ones inside the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, creating new "facts on the ground" that hamper the creation of a Palestinian state.
Palestinians continue to reject returning to bilateral talks until Israel halts all settlement activities, dubbed illegal under international law. The situation for Palestinians keeps getting worse as the geopolitical stalemate continues. The resolution hinted at in the Oslo accords is still nowhere to be seen.
Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.