After Oslo

by tuftsigl
Nov 18

Written by Jeremy Zelinger, IGL Teammember


Mouin Rabbani, an independent writer and analyst specializing in Palestinian affairs, and Saed Atshan, a Lecturer in Peace and Justice Studies at Tufts University, presented contrasting visions for the future of Palestinian nationalism on October 16 in a public lecture open to the Tufts community. 


As Israel and the Palestinian Authority once again re-enter negotiations under American tutelage, many Palestinians doubt whether the talks will bear fruit. Nearly twenty years after the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, the Palestinians remain stateless, while Israel has achieved a tolerable, though fragile, sense of security.  Although the majority of Palestinians agree that Oslo has failed, there is no consensus for what should replace it. Rabbani and Atshan made drastically different suggestions Wednesday night.


Atshan, whose doctoral research explores the politics of international aid provision in the Palestinian Territories, argued for a binational one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which all people between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea would live as equal citizens of the same country. Rabbani, an EPIIC alum of 1985, argued instead that the two state solution remained the only feasible option but would not be achieved until the Palestinians abandoned the Oslo framework in favor of a comprehensive international campaign to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.


Hugh Roberts, the Edward Keller Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History at Tufts University, moderated the discussion.


“Now there are between 500,000 and 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank,” Atshan said. “So what Palestinians are witnessing on the ground is that, if I could show you the maps, the Palestinian territories with time are shrinking and shrinking and now its this Swiss cheese reality in which so much of the land has been taken away and is continuing to be taken away.”


Atshan offered an analogy of two sides negotiating over a pizza. One side, the Palestinians agreed to accept only two slices while the other side, Israel, received eight. But then, during negotiations, Israel started nibbling away at the Palestinians remaining two slices, and now only one slice remains.


“I personally am not interested in the crumbs of that pizza. I will no longer accept the crumbs of my ancestral homeland as a fake state or statehood. So what I believe in is a one-state solution,” Atshan declared.


Atshan argued that a one state solution is important for Israel as well because the West Bank is religiously significant for Jews. Only the one state solution, according to Atshan, allows religious Jews to continue living near religiously significant sites in the West Bank.


Atshan described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a civil rights struggle. At several points in the discussion he compared Palestinian nationalism to the anti-apartheid movement.


“The de-facto reality is a reality of a one state; Israel is the ultimate sovereign and controls all the subjects from the river to the sea and the challenge for us now is how do we transform that one state reality from one in which an ethno-religious group is privileged and has rights over other groups to one where we provide equal rights to all regardless of ethno-religious affiliation,” Atshan said.


Rabbani, whose edited volume Aborted State: The UN Initiative and New Palestinian Juntures recently reached publication, began his remarks by reminiscing about his days as an anti-apartheid student activist at Tufts. When he turned his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, he downplayed the role of civil disobedience in achieving Palestinian statehood and rejected outright the feasibility of a one state outcome.


“I think the burden is on [supporters of a one state solution] to come up with a strategy. Under the current reality it’s quite clear that the only path toward a one state solution is to defeat and dismantle the State of Israel. Its very nice to think of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luth King and people marching in the streets for equal rights but I think the idea that that is somehow going to dismantle Zionism from within is a pipe dream,” he said.


“Having listening to Saed, I feel we were treated to a brilliant indictment of Oslo and the Oslo process rather than what I would consider to be a coherent indictment of the two state framework for settling the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Rabbani added.


Rabbani argued that the one state versus two state debate is premature because it assumes Palestinians have a choice, when in reality, they are being denied all of the above.


“It reminds me of a condemned man spending the night before his execution agonizing over whether to spend his next summer on the French or Italian Riviera,” Rabanni said.


Instead, Rabbani suggested that Palestinians focus on local, regional, and international realities to determine feasible goals and create coherent strategies to achieve them.  He specifically advocated for Palestinian reconciliation and internationalizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Palestinian society is split both geographically and politically between West Bank and Gaza, where the competing political parties Fatah and Hamas rule respectively.


“[There’s] a question over the continued existence of the Palestinian people as a coherent national political entity,” Rabbani lamented. “The real challenge is to revive that reality so that the Palestinian people exist not just as a demographic fact but as a meaningful political reality as well.”


Regarding the conflict with Israel, Rabbani opined that the Palestinians should withdraw immediately from the Oslo process, which he said is designed to maintain the occupation rather than remove it.


“[Palestinians] should go back to the international community with a more purposeful agenda and move forward on this basis,” he said.  

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