Excerpts from “Mayday for Oslo”, as published in The National Interest, Spring
By Joel Singer, former Foreign Ministry Legal Adviser under Rabin and
Peres and one of the architects of the Oslo Accords
A unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood would change the West
Bank and Gaza’s status and thus constitute a flagrant violation of the Oslo
Agreements. This would indeed, as the Israelis argue, entitle Israel to
take countermeasures such as the annexation to Israel of parts of the West
Bank and Gaza.
Since it is difficult for Arafat to make a convincing legal case for UDI
[unilateral declaration of independence] within the Oslo framework, he
might justify such a course in a different way, as a rejection of the
process and its earlier agreements.
But even this action would not validate a unilateral Palestinian
declaration of independence.
One of the recognized conditions for establishing a state is freedom from
foreign control, but Israel clearly continues to exercise control over the entire
West Bank and Gaza. The Oslo Agreements recognize Israel’s supreme
authority over these areas, even in those parts where local autonomy has been
transferred in full to the Palestinians, such as in most of Gaza and the big cities
of the West Bank.
In fact, if Arafat terminates the Oslo Agreements, Israel can make a strong legal
argument that, with the expiration of these agreements, the West Bank and
Gaza’s status would return to the status quo ante; in other words, all the
authority currently exercised by the Palestinians should revert to Israel rather
than being retained by the Palestinians, because the agreements transferred this
authority for five years only.
Moreover, while Israel has long asserted a claim to sovereignty over the
West Bank and Gaza, it decided not to effectuate it unilaterally, but
rather to negotiate the West Bank and Gaza’s status with Jordan and Egypt,
from which Israel conquered these areas.
In Camp David, Egypt abstained from asserting any sovereignty claims
over Gaza, but Israel committed to a negotiated solution to the West Bank and
Gaza. In its Treaty of Peace with Israel, Jordan too did not require the return of
the West Bank, leaving its future to be resolved between Israel and the
Palestinians per the Oslo Agreements.
In the Oslo Agreements, Israel renewed its commitment to a negotiated solution
for the West Bank and Gaza and undertook not to change the West Bank and
Gaza’s status pending the conclusion of the permanent status negotiations.
However, if the Palestinians themselves terminate the Oslo Agreements,
Israel might effectuate its claim for sovereignty, free of any commitment to the
contrary to Egypt, Jordan or the Palestinians.