GAZA: Three decades after a historic handshake on the White House lawn that capped months of secret Zionist-Palestinian talks, disillusioned young Gazans face the consequences and failed promises of the once-celebrated Oslo Accords. The agreements inked in the early 1990s were meant to lead to an independent Palestinian state, but years of stalled negotiations and bloody violence have left any peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict a distant dream.
In the blockaded Gaza Strip, “the Oslo Accords … destroyed our dreams, future and ambitions,” said 20-year-old student Iman Hassouna. She was not born when Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat returned to Gaza from exile months after the September 13, 1993 signing ceremony in Washington. The interim accords granted the nascent Palestinian Authority some level of self-government but never expanded into a lasting solution, which “has had a negative effect on the future of my generation”, according to 22-year-old Adham Abdullah.
Fellow student Ahmed al-Abadila, 20, said what remains of the accords is “nothing but ink on paper”. Mustafa al-Sununu arrived in Gaza alongside Arafat in July 1994 and was subsequently named captain of the Palestinian presidential guard. “We thought the country would become like Singapore: open roads, work opportunities for our children, a government, an airport, a port and a passport”, Sununu, now 47, told AFP. “We thought the state was within reach.”
Gaza, a narrow coastal enclave, is now home to some 2.3 million people, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Daily struggles in the impoverished territory have been exacerbated by a crippling Zionist-led blockade since Hamas Islamists took control in 2007, two years after Zionist withdrew troops and settlers. Unemployment is rife with about 70 percent of young people without a job in Gaza, where residents regularly suffer power cuts and inadequate access to clean water.
“All countries have airports, border posts, ports … while our airport was destroyed and our borders have been closed,” said Israa Murad. “We’re in prison,” according to the 21-year-old who studies journalism at Gaza City’s Al-Aqsa University. Palestinians celebrated the opening of Gaza’s first airport in late 1998, but it was destroyed by Zionist forces in 2001 during the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada. Since then, the Oslo Accords have become irrelevant for many. “I’m not interested in that,” said the student Hassouna. “We young people are looking for work and a better future.”
‘No chance for peace’
Sununu, the former presidential guard chief, went into early retirement in 2008, like thousands of others employed by the security services of the Palestinian Authority (PA), based in the occupied West Bank. It was the result of persistent rivalry between Hamas and its rival, Fatah — the party of Arafat and his successor Mahmud Abbas, which dominates the PA. Two months ago, the retired officer opened a fast-food restaurant near the old presidential palace in Gaza City’s Al-Rimal district.
“We had high hopes,” he recalled of the days of the Oslo Accords. But “the dream of a state has been broken.” Gaza has seen four major outbreaks of fighting between Zionist and Palestinian militants since 2008 which have left thousands dead, most of them Palestinians, and ravaged the territory’s infrastructure. “We have lived through four wars and other tragedies and sorrows,” said Murad. “How could we just forget all our past… How can we stand hand in hand with our occupiers and seek peace?”
To her, “there is no chance for peace between the Palestinians and Zionists. What has been taken by force can only be taken back by force.” Former Palestinian negotiator Hassan Asfour, who now lives in Egypt, accused extremists “of conspiring to thwart the Oslo Accords”, which many Palestinians and Zionists would agree has largely succeeded. Speaking to AFP by phone, he said Palestinians should “leave Oslo” and forge a new path towards the future. – AFP