The Oslo Accords – struck in 1993 after discreet negotiations between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the Israelis – still affect the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank.
The Accords transformed relations between the PLO and Israel. But instead of a move toward statehood, day-to-day cooperation in Ramallah has left freedom further away three decades on, not least due to the leaders there.
The Accords are not the sole factor defining everyday life in a complex situation. There are also internal, local, global, Arab, and Islamic currents at play.
While these contemporary forces are strong, the Oslo Accords also continue to influence prominent Palestinian figures. By recognising this, we can change things to forge a brighter future. But it will depend on better leadership.
In its July issue, the US-based international magazine Foreign Affairs profiled Hussein Al-Sheikh — the PLO’s executive committee secretary. It was an in-depth piece on the man likely to succeed Mahmoud Abbas, leading the PLO and Palestinian Authority — the institutions formally representing the Palestinian people.
The report portrays Al-Sheikh as an opportunistic figure, who eagerly anticipated his rise to power. It implies that he used his current position to engage in corrupt activities with Israel, which he sees as a partner, not an adversary.
It is well-known that Al-Sheikh’s rise began in the PLO’s Preventive Security wing — an internal intelligence agency set up to counter opposition to its peace agreements with Israel. He worked there under Jibril Rajoub, before leading it and moving on to other positions, up to his appointment as the minister of Civil Affairs in the Palestinian Authority.
This ministry coordinates with the Israelis on transfers and employment. It also covers the trade relations officially carried out by the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, despite that being beyond the jurisdiction of the Ramallah Authority.
Al-Sheikh and his associates have exploited the Civil Affairs ministry to bolster their influence, often at the expense of ordinary Palestinians, who are forced to seek employment opportunities in Israel or travel to Jordan and beyond for better prospects.
Al-Sheikh is an ambiguous figure who lacks a clear ideological stance on any defined project. In this way, he is much like Mahmoud Abbas.
But Abbas was a founding member of the Fatah movement and a leader within the PLO. And he had a vision – for a Palestinian state – seemingly at any cost. It gave him a clear goal. And all his efforts work toward that, even as it seems evident that a Palestinian state will not materialise.
While the Palestinian Authority wields certain powers in “Area A” regions, it is unlikely ever to make progress. Essentially, it controls Palestinians in the West Bank on behalf of the Israelis.