September is a somber month for Palestinians, who for years have commemorated the failed military confrontation in Jordan in 1970, and the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982 in Lebanon.
Another sad milestone this month is the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, which were supposed to usher in a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, made possible by changes in the geopolitical situation after the Cold War.
Two decades later, Palestinians have next to nothing to show for the Oslo process. Only a cynic would focus on the perverse “bonus” that finally emerged: The Palestinians now have two political entities, not one, with all of the disastrous consequences this has meant for their struggle for sovereignty.
In the wake of Oslo, the Palestinians welcomed the return of their political leaders, while their homeland shrank and was emasculated. Successive Israeli governments built thousands upon thousands of new, illegal housing units on land meant for a future Palestinian state, while Palestinian leaders proved unable to do anything meaningful in response, except launch a Second Intifada, which itself sputtered out.
Several years later, the weakness of the Palestinians was dramatically demonstrated when the Hamas Movement consolidated its control over the Gaza Strip, forcing its rival Fatah to content itself with control over the West Bank. The Israelis first supported the emergence of Hamas in the late 1980s as a counterweight to the Palestine Liberation Organization, and 20 years later, the fruits of this policy finally emerged, dividing the Palestinians into two hostile camps.
In the half-dozen years that followed, nothing has either shamed or encouraged the two sides to get their act together so that they can together defend the Palestinian cause and produce the single negotiating team the Israelis always claim to be on the lookout for.
The Palestinians should remember the latest uptick in international interest in their struggle. Earlier this summer, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that a long-awaited resumption of peace talks was in the offing. Naturally, Israel pressed ahead with even more settlement activity, putting a damper on the effort. But Palestinian officials should note that after this small-scale jump in activity on the “peace front,” Kerry and Washington’s attention quickly shifted away, very dramatically, in the direction of Syria.
At a time of popular unrest in the Arab world and intensive interest in countries such as Egypt and Syria, the Palestinian issue looks likely to recede further into the distance. The expectations of September 1993, viewed in this light, serve only to remind Palestinians how far they have regressed in the meantime.