Hazem Saghieh

How Did the PLO Arrive in Oslo?

Some phenomena and events cannot be interpreted in themselves, not in as much as they can through what precedes them, and sometimes what succeeds them. The Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords, which was signed on this day thirty years ago, is one of them.
Those who find fault in Arafat and his comrades for having “betrayed the Palestinian cause” and “squandered it away” by signing the Oslo Accords, could have found many grave faults in the Palestinian leader, but this was not one of them. However, they were pushed to paint him as a traitor, in part, from their ignorance of two actualities that had preceded the accords and paved the way for them.

The first one is the inherent weakness of a cause whose victory had, for a long time, been staked on military action taken outside of Palestine. This vision, which the Palestinian revolution manifested and clung to until 1982, is akin to an epic poem written by little children. Indeed, the idea that the nations of the Arab world, and perhaps the Islamic masses along with them, would rise and join a liberational mission to defeat "the Zionist entity" overlooks the fact that these peoples have settled down in states and societies which are not merely calamities that have befallen their populations, calamities they are intent on ridding themselves of at the earliest opportunity.

Rather, the new nations were fundamentally beneficial to their populations and gateways to engaging with the modern world; despite their many shortcomings and the many legitimate criticisms directed against them. Moreover, these states and societies are founded on balances that armament and engaging in combat would do nothing but shatter. Countries would thus be split into an armed faction that dominates, reinforced by some communal consciousness and solidarity, and an unarmed faction that either acquiesces and becomes subjugated or resists subjugation, relying on a different communal consciousness and solidarity. Instead of both sides uniting to "liberate Palestine" like the myth claims they would, they split up and fought to "liberate" their country from one another.

Indeed, what the opponents of Arafat called “the Oslo capitulation” was not, like an earthquake, difficult to foresee ahead of time. It crowned the very path of the revolution from outside the country that it had been hoped the revolution would liberate.
What happened in Jordan between 1970 and 1971, and then in Lebanon between 1975 and 1989, clearly demonstrates that the "masses rallying around the Palestinian revolution" turned into a conflict between Palestinian and East Jordanian loyalties, Palestinian and Christian loyalties, and then Palestinian and Shiite loyalties. In the face of this hard reality, talking of "the sacrosanct cause" and the "central cause" has become parroting whose volume rises higher the lower actual commitment to that cause becomes.

As for those betting on Arab armies being a tool for liberation, the October 1973 war was clearly, to the more rational among them, the classical war that would end classical Arab-Israeli wars; they realized that what the armies had done then was the most they could ever do. Indeed, under Anwar Sadat, Egypt began, four years later, the process that would end the state of war, and there were strong doubts that any war would be fought without Egypt. As for Syria, under the rule of Hafez al-Assad, it closed off its borders with the "Zionist enemy", replacing the conflict with its engagement in the "Lebanese arena" and a great deal of rhetorical bombardment of the Jewish state.

Against this grim backdrop, the Palestinian cause and the theory of liberation from without were on course to be fated not to have strength as one of their qualities. The Israelis took up the task of ensuring they met this fate with their invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Since Gulf financial support was one of the requisites of this theory of liberation, whatever had been left of its validity was wiped out after the Palestine Liberation Organization welcomed Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.
As for the second actuality that explains the Oslo Accords and their concessions, it was Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's mission to ''discipline" the Palestinians, which finished the job that the Israeli invasion had begun. Imposing a split within Fatah and his painful military strikes that the Syrian regime hit the PLO in Lebanon with, in the Beqaa and Tripoli, and through the War of the Camps, as well as the assassinations on foreign soil that Assad, Saddam, and the Israelis shared in, all came together to overwhelm the PLO, making it realize that only the gates of hell were the only ones not shut to them. All of this came in parallel with Assad's continuous attempts to seize what Arafat referred to as the "independent national decision" of the Palestinians.

By the time the Madrid Conference was held in 1991 and the Oslo Accords followed two years later, it had become clear that there was no balance of power to reinforce demands for a fairer settlement for the Palestinians, who had had their teeth and nails pulled out. Rather, it was evident that the worst the PLO could get would be better than what the existing balance of power had been getting them. As for rejecting the offer and continuing the fight, it posed questions with obvious answers, like: Where? How? And with whom? And of course, there was nothing to suggest that Syria's rhetoric would be reflected on the Syrian front and that it would become open for the "liberation of Palestine".

What was and remains astonishing is that Assad, the plane that took Arafat to Oslo, was nonetheless among the harshest critics of Arafat's "heedless squander" in Oslo, criticism that became a profession to many of his subordinates.
As for what happened after that agreement, what was done by Syrians, Iranians, Israelis, and Palestinians as well, it was one of the most horrific and atrocious chapters in this book of horrors and atrocities