The EU Signed as a Witness to Uphold the Oslo Accords
Recent policy decisions by the European Union regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute indicate profound contradictions, double standards, and hypocrisy.
Being signatories as witnesses to the 1991-3 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, together with the United States, Russia, Norway, and Egypt, the EU took upon itself a responsibility to encourage the parties to observe the obligations and commitments encapsulated in the Accords and ensure that they would be duly honored and followed by the parties.
By the same logic, one would expect that those witnesses, all highly involved and active stakeholders in the Middle East peace process, would meticulously ensure that they honor the agreements and refrain from any action that could undermine or frustrate them. The significance of such expectation would be that a witness would seek to assist the parties to fulfill their respective commitments pursuant to the Accords and not encourage one of the parties to violate such commitments.
This would be the obvious responsibility of a witness to such a vital international instrument. Otherwise, why would the EU or any of the other witnesses have added their signatures to the Accords?
Witnesses should refrain from actively seeking to undermine and frustrate the Accords by urging the Palestinian leadership to summarily violate their obligations and thereby hinder the viability and integrity of the Accords.
Even if the EU takes issue with the manner in which Israel or the Palestinian leadership implements or fails to implement the Accords, the EU, as a party seeking to help advance the peace process, should act with the parties to assist in settling any dispute rather than encourage that party to openly and blatantly work to defy the Accords.
Regrettably, this is precisely what the EU is doing in assisting the Palestinian leadership to violate the Oslo Accords by encouraging and financing unauthorized development projects and building in that part of the West Bank area of Judea and Samaria under the control and jurisdiction of Israel.
The Oslo Accords Map of the West Bank, 1995
(Area C is in Grey)
The Governance of Area C
In the 1993-5 Oslo Accords, the PLO and Israel agreed to divide the governance of the territories pending the outcome of negotiations on their permanent status.
They agreed that the parts of the territory highly populated by Palestinians – denominated as Areas A and B – would be under the jurisdiction and control of a “Palestinian Authority” established by the parties for that purpose. They also agreed that the remaining parts of the territory, containing Israeli population centers and military installations – denominated as Area C – would be under the exclusive military and civilian control and jurisdiction of Israel.
They agreed that in their respective areas of control and jurisdiction, each party would legislate and govern according to its own procedures, laws, regulations, and orders including the areas of planning, zoning, and construction.1
Accordingly, EU projects dedicated to development, agricultural, and other forms of assistance intended to contribute to “Area C and Palestinian state-building” and the 2021 Oxfam initiative financed and sponsored by the EU – “Promotion of Inclusive Agricultural Growth to Ensure Improved Living Standards and Resilience of Vulnerable Communities in Area C of the West Bank”2 – can only be pursued with the agreement of and in coordination with the Israeli Civil Administration, which, pending any further agreement between the parties, is the agreed-upon governing authority in Area C.
By the same token, EU initiatives for roads, water, and infrastructure, municipal, educational, and medical projects in the area must be coordinated with Israel.
In light of the responsibilities of the EU as a witness to the Oslo Accords, any official directive by the EU to mobilize and activate “national and international stakeholders through ad-hoc influencing actions on land rights to challenge the Israeli planning and permit regime in Area C” clearly and openly seeks to undermine and violate the agreed-upon responsibilities and jurisdiction by Israel in Area C.3
If the EU entertains genuine concerns about Israel’s planning and permit policies in the area or about the manner in which Israel governs the area, including Israel’s policies with regard to building Israeli communities, the EU has the prerogative, as a witness to the Oslo Accords, to actively raise such concerns with Israel and to express its views.
However, deliberately encouraging the Palestinians to defy and undermine Israel’s authority in Area C runs counter to the spirit and word of the Oslo Accords and violates the EU’s status as witness to the Accords.
EU Policy Regarding the Territories including Area C
Official EU policy as set out in policy papers dated April 2013 issued by the EU Directorate-General for External Policies4 and in January 2019 determines that “Area C is part of the occupied Palestinian territory and part of any viable future Palestinian state. All EU activity in the West Bank is fully in line with international law.”5
Here again, the EU is at variance with its obligations as a witness to the Oslo Accords.
By determining that the territory, or any part thereof, is “occupied Palestinian territory,” the EU is prejudging the outcome of the agreed negotiation process between Israel and the PLO set out in the Oslo Accords on the issue of the permanent status of the territory. The question as to the outcome of the permanent status negotiations, including whether there will be one, two, or three states, or a federation or confederation, will be ultimately determined through negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians, and not through unilateral political determinations by the EU and others regarding a “two-state solution” or any other outcome.
Since the Palestinian leadership is committed to negotiate this issue, any unilateral EU determination as to the status of the territory being Palestinian is premature and ill-advised. It indicates that the EU has taken a partisan position on an open negotiating issue in violation of its moral commitment as a witness to the Accords.
The oft-repeated EU mantra regarding the “illegality” of Israeli settlements in the West Bank under international law represents a further example of the EU’s misrepresentation of the legal situation and its undermining of the Oslo Accords.
The regime governing the division of governance of the territories pending the outcome of the negotiations on permanent status, as agreed between Israel and the PLO in the 1993-5 Oslo Accords, replaced any previous legal regime acknowledged by the EU and others, based on the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.
In the same context of the Oslo Accords, the issue of settlements was agreed upon as a permanent status negotiating issue between the Palestinians and Israel.
By repeatedly criticizing and misrepresenting Israel’s policy, the EU is taking a partisan position on an issue that is an agreed negotiating issue between the parties.
While the EU has the prerogative to criticize and express political opinions as to Israel’s policies, its status as a witness to the Oslo Accords obligates it to maintain a bipartisan position on issues that are on the negotiating table between the parties.
The EU cannot maintain the status of “witness” to the Oslo Accords while at the same time systematically undermining those Accords and encouraging the Palestinians to violate them.
The EU is acting with unclean hands and must determine whether it is in a position to continue to be a stakeholder in the Middle East peace negotiations or whether it has become a partisan element undermining the negotiation process.
If such is the case, it is incumbent upon the EU to withdraw itself from the status of witness to the Accords.
Rather than encourage the Palestinians to violate the Accords, the EU might prefer to encourage them to return to the negotiating table.
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2 https://darpe.me/darpe-entries/promotion-of-inclusive-agricultural-growth-to-ensure-improved-living-standards-and-resilience-of-vulnerable-communities-in-area-c-of-the-west-bank-2/. See also World Bank publication 2014 entitled “Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy.” https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/257131468140639464/pdf/Area-C-and-the-future-of-the-Palestinian-economy.pdf
5 See note 2.