A group of 20 Palestinian protesters disrupted a joint Palestinian-Israeli conference Wednesday at east Jerusalem’s American Colony Hotel marking the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords just as former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council Ziad AbuZayyad began to speak.
The conference marked the launch of a special issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal, which is co-edited by AbuZayyad and Hillel Schenker.
Shouting slogans in Arabic, the demonstrators – all of university age – initially congregated in the hotels’ courtyard beneath the conference room. Their combined voices drowned out AbuZayyad. Still shouting, the demonstrators stormed the second floor conference room, where foreign journalists, diplomats and left-wing Israeli activists were sitting with representatives of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, which co-sponsored the conference together with the Palestine-Israel Journal.
The leader of the group ordered everyone out, saying no one present was authorized to speak in the name of Palestinians.
Saying he could understand their anger and frustration, AbuZayyad tried to explain to the demonstrators the conference was being held to protest the failure to implement principles laid down in the Oslo Accords. But the activists wouldn’t listen, and insisted the audience disperse.
Almost everyone, including Norwegian Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer, left immediately, presumably out of concern that the protest escalate into violence.
Only minutes earlier, Schenker in a welcome address singled out Bauer as the representative of the country which had facilitated the Oslo Accords.
Prof. Galia Golan, one of the conference moderators, recalled that 25 years ago, in the very room in which the conference was taking place, she had sat together with Israelis and Palestinians who were euphoric and had uncorked a bottle of champagne.
Notwithstanding their clamor, the protesters caused minimal violence. One scattered the papers on the head table and smashed a glass on the floor.
Before the disruption, attorney Gilead Sher – who served as chief of staff and policy coordinator to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and who was one of the senior peace negotiators at the Camp David Summit in 2000, the Taba Talks in 2001 and an extensive round of negotiations with the Palestinians – said, “There is no realistic alternative to Oslo.”
“The legacy of Oslo, whichever way you look at it, is to separate Israel and the Palestinians into two separate entities,” he said. Over the past 40 years, he added, five Israeli prime ministers have recognized the imperative of two states for two peoples.
Sher noted the 40th anniversary of the Camp David Accords which led to peace between Egypt and Israel will be marked on September 17. He underscored the accords were a framework for peace in the Middle East, and offered a permanent solution to the status of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Sher, who is today head of the Center for Applied Negotiations at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, declared there is a need to change the approach and revise the process with regard to a final settlement.
Expectations for a comprehensive settlement must be lowered, he said, and a gradual, transitional process must be accommodated.
He also emphasized the need for a regional dialogue and for constructive independent steps to complement the negotiations.
Sher stressed that consensus building in both Israeli and Palestinian societies was a must to create conditions for an eventual two-state solution, with interim agreements to counter violence, terrorism and incitement.
The formula of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” must be replaced, he insisted, because under such conditions, there is no agreement.
Both Schenker and AbuZayyad referred to the cover of the Oslo issue of their quarterly journal featuring two photographs. Schenker said the top picture – of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands with PLO leader Yasser Arafat while US President Bill Clinton looking on – was a symbol of hope, while the lower photo – of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Donald Trump – speaks of the current stalemate. AbuZayyad said the two photographs symbolize the American role in the Middle East.
He presented a series of reasons for the Oslo accords’ failure, but stated the main reason was “there was no real strategy on the Israeli side to create a Palestinian state. While Israel was negotiating, it was doing everything possible to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.”