Delays that made history repeat itself in West Bank

Ambiguities in the Oslo accords have allowed extremists to flourish, writes Patrick Cockburn

It has happened before. Two years ago, Baruch Goldstein, an army reserve captain from the Israeli settlement at Kiryat Arba overlooking Hebron killed 29 Palestinians as they prayed in the al-Ibrahimi mosque in the city. This week, Noam Friedman, another West Bank settler serving in the army, opened fire in Hebron's vegetable market 300 yards from where Goldstein carried out his massacre.

The Oslo accord, purportedly an agreement designed to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, made such atrocities inevitable. It left more than 100,000 settlers in place on the West Bank, the hard core of whom said from the beginning that they would do everything they could to prevent Israeli withdrawal from any part of what they regarded as the land God gave to the Jews.

Oslo also encouraged attacks because it envisaged a long time-frame for its implementation - six years from its signing in 1993 to the end of final status negotiations in 1999. The justification for this was that resistance to such radical change would be less if it took place in stages. In practice, it gave plenty of time for opponents of Oslo, both Israeli and Palestinian, to derail it by bomb or bullet.

The nine months' delay in the implementation of the so-called interim agreement or Oslo II signed by Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, and the previous Israeli government last year, has been portrayed as being largely about the Israeli withdrawal from Hebron. This has not happened by accident. Mr Netanyahu wants to focus on the withdrawal, which is really a partition of the city, and not on the rest of the interim agreement, which would see an end to Israeli predominance in the West Bank.

The redeployment of Israeli troops in Hebron alone will not transform the balance of power on the West Bank. This will happen only when Israel carries out its three-stage withdrawal from rural areas as it is pledged to do under Oslo II. It is this which Mr Netanyahu has been striving to avoid.

The Palestinian population of the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, is 1.3 million. Of these, around 300,000 passed from Israeli security control when its forces withdrew from six towns at the end of 1995.

An Israeli redeployment in Hebron will mean a further 100,000 Palestinians will gain autonomy. The real change comes when Israeli forces withdraw from the Palestinian villages in rural areas where a further 900,000 Palestinians live. Under Oslo II this was meant to occur earlier this year. Until this happens, Israel will still be in a position to isolate each of the autonomous towns, creating the cantons Palestinians have always feared.

Professor Khalil Shikaki, a leading Palestinian political scientist, says: "Following the three further redeployments, the Israelis should be out of every part of the West Bank except Jerusalem as defined by its municipal boundaries, settlements as defined by their current areas and specific military locations". In other words, around 85 to 90 per cent of the West Bank would be in Palestinian hands. The interim agreement also opens up a right of passage between the 800,000 Palestinians in Gaza and those of the West Bank.

The addition of Hebron to the six other autonomous towns is important for Palestinians but not the central reason why they signed the interim agreement. The economic life of each can be strangled by an internal closure by Israel, which often means no more than putting checkpoints on the main access roads. The Palestinians also fear that if Mr Netanyahu persuades the US and the rest of the world that he has made major concessions over Hebron, international pressure on Israel to implement Oslo will relax.

Not everything can be blamed on Mr Netanyahu and his government. Mr Rabin was ambivalent about Oslo. He signed an agreement withdrawing Israeli troops from populated areas, but at the same time pushed ahead with the construction of a system of "by-pass" roads, designed to rivet the West Bank more closely to Israel.

The ambiguities in Oslo, designed to marginalise opposition, ended up offending everyone. The settlers saw an end to their dreams of taking over the Biblical land of Israel, Palestinians found themselves forced into impoverished ghettos. In a world of disappointed hopes, gunmen like Friedman were bound to flourish.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power