Palestinians May Cancel Oslo Accords With Israel, Says Top Negotiator

Saeb Erekat says Israel has sabotaged all attempts to revive the peace process, forcing the Palestinian Authority to consider withdrawing from the 1993 agreements.

The Palestinian leadership is considering canceling the Oslo Accords signed in September 1993 between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, said Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Tuesday.

According to Erekat, Israel has sabotaged all attempts to revive the peace process, and by doing so has forced the PA to consider withdrawing from the agreements. "Such a step would not be an easy decision," he said Tuesday in Ramallah.

Erekat's statements echo those made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership. According to reports, Abbas raised the idea of "canceling the Oslo Agreement as well as the associated economic and security arrangements."

The Oslo Accords detailed the principles upon which relations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were to be based during a five-year interim period of Palestinian self-governance in the territories, meant to lead to final status negotiations and a peace agreement.

What seems to have prompted the Palestinians to consider canceling the agreement is the 1994 Paris Protocol, the part of the Oslo Accords that deals with economic relations between Israel and the PLO.

The Paris Agreement established that there was no commercial border between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and set up a joint customs system controlled by Israel that collects taxes for the Palestinians. The agreement imposes severe restrictions on trade between the Palestinians and the rest of the world and requires the Palestinians to depend on Israeli economic bodies.It also compels the PA to set gas prices roughly comparable to those in Israel.

At the time, the Palestinians objected to the agreement, preferring that economic relations with Israel be arranged as part of a free trade zone. The Palestinians only signed the agreement after Israel promised to allow Palestinians to continue working in Israel. Over the past decade, the number of Palestinians working in Israel has dropped to a minimum.

Last week, after days of protests in the West Bank against the high cost of living, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad pledged the PA will decrease fuel prices. The protests prompted the Palestinian leaders to meet and discuss ways of easing the economic hardships. Fayyad told a news conference that he will cancel a recent hike in fuel prices and fund the subsidy with the money he will cut from the salaries of government ministers and other top officials.

The decision was tinged with politics: The salary cuts will affect top officials in the dominant Fatah Party.

The Palestinian leadership could demand changes in the Paris Protocol, without calling for the annulment of the entire Oslo Accords. Last week, PA Civil Affairs Minister, Hussein al-Sheikh, delivered a letter to Israel demanding that the Paris Protocol be revisited.

But Israeli security officials say that they have received no explicit demand calling for the nullification of the Paris agreement.

The protests in the West Bank have put substantial pressure on PA and PLO leaders, who are concerned that the social ferment could spin out of control.

A poll conducted last week in the Palestinian territories by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (in collaboration with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung) found for the first time since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, that most Palestinians believe that living standards in Gaza are better than those in the West Bank. Support for the Abbas-Fayyad government on the West Bank is diminishing. Nevertheless, more residents of Gaza (42 percent of respondents there) expressed a desire to leave their home than did respondents in the West Bank (29 percent).

The World Bank will release a new report on Wednesday, ahead of meetings of donor nations scheduled for next Sunday in New York, warning of the worsening fiscal crisis faced by the PA. The crisis makes it difficult for the PA to pay wages, and has helped fuel the protests in the West Bank, says the report.

The World Bank demands that the Israeli government grant Palestinians immediate access to Area C, regions in the West Bank that are controlled by Israel. Such access, the bank believes, would encourage private sector investment. Area C regions constitute some 60 percent of the West Bank and include agricultural land as well as natural resources.