Five and-a-half years have passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords, on May 4, 1999, the date stipulated in the accord as the expiry date of the interim phase. Throughout more than five years of negotiations, implementation and negotiations over implementation, the Oslo process ended in a solid impasse which, according to some people, was a predicted result. Now, it has become clear that this process, with its lame pillars and internal contradictions, is not the path to achieve peace and stability in the region. In fact, it is not even the path for achieving national rights for the Palestinian people. Outcomes of the Oslo process are negative in all aspects: settlement activities have not come to a halt, rather, they have accelerated at a high pace; the rate of usurpation of lands has doubled and the process of judaizing Jerusalem has peaked to the level of systematic ethnic cleansing. The security situation for our people has deteriorated, including collective punishment measures such as, closure, siege, abuse, administrative detentions, the denial of labor rights, freedom of travel and movement, imposed by the occupation. The measures against our people have escalated to horrific levels. Concerning the promises to end economic sufferings, they all have evaporated: individual income has dropped to half while unemployment has risen to astronomical figures. The rosy dream of the Singapore of the Middle East has been converted into a nightmare with a heavy burden on the shoulders of the people.
There are no prospects on finding a way out of the current stalemate which the Oslo process has ended in. Even if the current negotiations conducted on the basis of the US initiative succeed in achieving a solution to some of the suspended issues of the interim phase, they will perhaps only achieve a temporary relief. However, (for reasons we shall deal with later in this paper) they will not succeed in solving the unresolved impasse, but rather move to a new complicated and difficult level.
In all cases, even the most optimistic among us do not see any possibility of reaching an agreement with the Netanyahu government over issues of final-status during the remaining time before the supposed expiry date of the interim phase on May 4, 1999.
This issue raises the important question: What will take place after May 4, 1999 and what are the available options for facing this critical obligation This question is posed to all the Palestinian political forces. Definitely, it is a question posed to the Authority which chose the Oslo path and bears its consequences. Also it is posed to the opposition forces which are unable, if they are to behave according to national responsibility, to turn their backs to this obligation or to deal with it with the logic that the Oslo signatories should uproot their own thorns. Oslo thorns hurt the feet of all of our people.
The danger of this obligation is instigated from the fact that any extension of the interim phase, whether agreed upon by the two parties or due to reality, entails the threat of transforming the interim phase, which is based on autonomy, into a final solution. The extension means surrendering, implicitly or openly, that transitional measures stipulated in the Oslo Accord, which specifies its five-year time period, will remain in existence with all of its subsequent constraints and arbitrary conditions, until, through negotiations, an agreement is reached over final status. Through this compliance, Israel will be able to delay the negotiations for an unlimited extent and maintain arrangements of autonomy which are supposed to be transitional, in order to convert them into realities of the permanent arrangements.
Subsequent dangers to the option of extension, dictate the need to adhere to the date of May 4, 1999. This date should be sacred, and different from the other dates included in the timeline for the implementation of the agreement. This suggests the need to shape a Palestinian national alternative to the option of extension and yielding to reality. This option should be based on overcoming the division resulting from the Oslo Accords, reconstructing national consensus and activating the popular movement to confront the reality of Israeli expansion which is imposed through the force, violence and aggression of the occupation. This is through a Palestinian reality, which is based on the right supported by the international legitimacy and with the power of the Palestinian popular struggle. The real way out of the impasse is get out of the Oslo vertigo and to overcome its aggressive conditions and be liberated from its constraints and dictates.
What does that mean in practical action Rejecting the option of extending the interim phase in absence of the possibility of agreeing on the final status, puts us in front of the only option of proclaiming a Palestinian sovereign state on Palestinian lands occupied by Israel on 1967, or West Bank - including Jerusalem - and Gaza Strip within the boundaries of June 4, 1967. It is the land recognized by the international community as occupied Palestinian lands, according to UN Security Council resolutions which have been unanimously ratified after 1967. We give notice here that we are talking about the declaration of sovereignty and not of state. The state was proclaimed on November 15, 1988. Since then, it was recognized by more than 100 countries. The UN officially gave acknowledgment of this declaration through several UN General Assembly resolutions, the last of which was the resolution which was adopted a few weeks ago to upgrade the status of Palestine. The resolution was approved by the overwhelming majority of countries including the EU. The resolution was opposed by four countries only, including Israel and the United States. Then there is the danger of continuous talk of a state, since it may suggest renewing international recognition of it, a thing that we do not need. We are now on the brink of declaring sovereignty of our state (the state which was announced by the Palestinian National Council in November, 1988) on land internationally recognized for its Palestinian identity. This is what, for example, the Russian confederacy when it decided to dismantle the Soviet Union. It did not issue a declaration of independence or of establishing a Russian confederate state. It rather issued what was known as the declaration of sovereignty in which it declared regaining sovereignty which it mandated to the Soviet Union. There is a legal peculiarity confirming that the declaration of state from our part will be considered as the regaining of sovereignty which we never mandated to anybody but which was obstructed by the oppressive conditions which were beyond our people s will.
Undoubtedly, the step of declaring sovereignty of the state of Palestine may entail several dangers. Some believe that the main danger is the fact that the declaration would be a prelude for adapting to the reality of occupation, by converting the state into a hat fit on a reality close to autonomy; or through Israel s voluntary acceptance to a state in Gaza in exchange for the cost of its final-status agreement with the Palestinians in which they will give into its expansion desires in Jerusalem and the rest of West Bank! Israel will not be satisfied with an implicit agreement on such a deal, since that means that it would be giving a free concession in recognizing a Palestinian state in Gaza or it would remain quite regarding its establishment. Meanwhile, the door will remain open to renew the conflict over the status of Jerusalem and the rest of West Bank lands. Consequently, it is possible that Israel will insist on a final peace agreement where Palestinians will officially accept conceding Jerusalem and the division of labor in the West Bank as a price for Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian state in Gaza. The question raised now is: Can the Palestinian negotiating party, within the current leadership structure of the PLO and the balance of power in it, accept this deal and all it entails of official concessions to Jerusalem and sovereignty over the West Bank If we suppose that it is possible, the danger in this case does not come from the step of declaring sovereignty of the Palestinian state itself, yet, from readiness to accept what is less than complete sovereignty over Jerusalem and the rest of the Palestinian territories within the June 4, 1967 boundaries. Based on this willingness to concede, the opposition and those in rejection, should not be focused on the declaration of sovereignty as a step in itself, especially if this declaration includes a clear specification of lands over which the fledgling state demands sovereignty, which should include all the lands occupied by Israel in 1967. In this case, we have demonstrated that any willingness to accept the deal of a state in Gaza in exchange for division of labor in the West Bank, is a critical concession to the declaration of sovereignty and not the implementation of it. Moreover, it is a concession that violates the proclamation of sovereignty which we call for and not a natural result of it.
As for the fear that the state will be a hat covering up the reality of self-rule, it ignores the political implication of the declaration of sovereignty. The mere issuance of this declaration means that the party which issued it or participated in issuing it, proclaims that it is no longer obligated to any restraints, pledges or commitments which minimizes this sovereignty, including the overbearing constraints imposed by the agreements on the authority of self-rule. In fact, the proclamation of sovereignty, is a declaration of liberation from commitments to these restrictions and obligations to the extent that they take away from the state s sovereignty over its land. These constraints may remain, in practical terms, Israeli control over crossings, borders, roads, air space, water and important areas of land. However, there is a big difference. In the wake of a self-rule agreement, the Palestinians accept the constraints and obligations and promise to honor them. Consequently, the Palestinians give them a certain legitimacy even if only temporarily. However, in the case of declaring sovereignty, where the control of the occupation and all it imposes of usurping sovereignty by force still remains, will cause the loss of the legitimacy of sovereignty and take the occupation back to its natural state as a strange occupying force existing on the land of a sovereign state.
No doubt, there is a big difference between declaring sovereignty and between practicing real sovereignty on the ground. Yet, the declaration of sovereignty is a declaration of determination to resume the struggle to drive out the occupiers and settlers in order to enable the newly-born state to actually practice its sovereignty on its land.
The realization of this political implication for the declaration of sovereignty, answers those who sometimes pose the question: What is new in all of this We have declared our state in 1988, so what new event could take place if we renew this declaration in May, 1999. If we attentively review the issue, we will find that there is something new. It is true that we declared the state in 1988, yet, after this declaration came the Oslo Accords. In fact, the Oslo Accords are a suspension to putting into effect the declaration of independence to the extent of applying the accords to the West Bank and Gaza. According to the Oslo Accords, the PLO leadership (or in fact its official leadership) accepted that its presence in the Palestinian territories during the interim phase is to be in the form of an autonomous authority and not in the form of a Palestinian independent state. According to the Oslo Accords, the lands which were taken over by Israel during the 1967 aggression, or at least part of them, became disputed lands and not occupied lands, and their future to be decided through negotiations between both parties. The declaration of sovereignty means that the PLO - in absence of the possibility to achieve a permanent solution by the end of the interim phase - will announce that it is no longer committed to this obligation. In doing so, it will announce the end of suspending the declaration of independence and will go back to considering its applicability on West Bank lands including Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. In other words, this land will regain it status as occupied lands belonging to a sovereign state after it was converted by the Oslo Accords into disputed lands.
Thus, without dwarfing the importance of these dangers, forewarnings and dangers entailed in this step of declaring sovereignty do not stem from the possibility that Israel will lean towards living with this declaration. It is the subsequent assumption to the mentioned fears. On the contrary, the step of declaring Palestinian sovereignty over the 1967 boundaries is an overcoming of the rigid conditions imposed by Oslo and a prelude to liberation from its restrictions and dictation. Consequently, the declaration is a renewal of the political and resistance clash with the Israeli occupation. In the absence of diplomacy, we can say that it is actually a renewal of the state of war. Most likely, the Israeli response will be the declaration of war on the fledgling state and not coexistence with it. Israel has a package of aggressive options in its hands that it can resort to in responding to the declaration of sovereignty. Some of these reactions are, annexing the West Bank, annexing lands in Zone C which are under full Israeli control according to the agreement, economic closure or siege on the West Bank and Gaza, segmenting West Bank connections by surrounding and isolating Zone A areas, halting the transfer of due money to the Palestinian Authority which are collected through Israeli channels; in some extreme situations, cutting water or electricity services to Zone A areas, and finally the military invasion of these areas or of strategic parts of them.
Because of the expected Israeli responses, and due to Israeli possession of lethal weapons which may be used to bury the fledgling state, some people fear that the declaration of sovereignty may bring a catastrophe onto our people. This group of people can be divided into two types: one is of the parasitic and compradore category which has established a network of close beneficial ties with Israelis. Protecting the interests of this group depends on maintaining the status quo and the avoidance of any wide range clashes with Israel that may destroy or paralyze their interests. In fact, this category fears a disaster which will affect its narrow interests and not the interests of the people and their national cause. The second category is of some opposition groups who doubt the intentions and practices of the Authority. This legitimate doubt leaves this group in a confused state, hesitating over the suggested step (the step of declaring sovereignty).
Undoubtedly, the declaration of sovereignty will be faced by Israeli aggressive responses that may lead to a wide clash with the occupation, and may entail great sufferings and catastrophes to our people, costing them many sacrifices.
The vast popular fear that the failure of such a step will bring catastrophe, is undoubtedly lesser. What we should conclude, is the need to seriously focus on insuring the requirements of success for this national option and providing the requirements for a popular steadfastness in a way that minimizes the magnitude of possible difficulties, sufferings and sacrifices. In our opinion, this is where the main focus and concerns of the opposition should be, without hesitating in the least over the importance and necessity of declaring sovereignty as the only national option available for confronting the obligation of the 4 th of May, 1999. If there are those who fear that the declaration may lead to a catastrophe, they should remember that the bigger catastrophe that may fall upon our people and our national cause is reinforcing the current status quo and extending the interim self-rule arrangements and all they entail of the danger of converting it into a permanent situation and final solution imposed by the fact on the ground.
· Member of Politburo of the Democratic Front the Liberation of Palestine
· Note: the article was written before May 4 th 1999, however, the expressed views are 7worth publishing.
Source: ATF Shu‘un Tanmawyyeh Issue 20