Oslo Is a Dirty Word. If I Were Norwegian I Would Petition to Change My Capital's Name

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Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signing the historic Israel-PLO Oslo Accords with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Washington D.C., September 13, 1993.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signing the Israel-PLO Oslo Accords with Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Washington D.C., September 13, 1993Credit: J. DAVID AKE/AFP/ JD

Long before fake news became a regular part of our lives, along with its legal parent, Donald Trump, the reigning champion of the genre was “Oslo.” It was a synonym for concealing reality via false information and disseminating it through respected official channels. If I were Norwegian, I would start a petition to change the name of my capital.

And why don’t I simply propose a petition demanding that the name of the Norwegian capital be removed from the unofficial but common name of the agreements Israel signed with the PLO from 1993 on? Because given Israel’s enormous global power, no such petition would have a chance to be heard.

It’s very convenient for Israel that its calculated measures to destroy the Palestinians’ geographic space and wear down Palestinian society to the point of suicidal thoughts and dreams of emigration should forever remain wrapped in the mantle of cool, blond, Scandinavian respectability.

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My obsession with “Oslo” as a code word for Israeli deceit and malice stems from my almost daily involvement with the bureaucracy these agreements created, in my role as correspondent for imperial affairs. Take, for instance, the story of the biscuits and other snacks produced by the company Sarayo al Wadiyeh in the Gaza Strip.

Before the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza in 2007, this factory sold roughly 80 percent of its production in Israel and the West Bank. Chocolate-covered marshmallows and wafers aren’t exactly my thing, but supermarket shelves in Ramallah and Bethlehem, which are laden with such products, show that the company’s owners aren’t exaggerating when they say there’s demand for its goods in the West Bank.

The blockade was eased a bit in 2010, and since November 2014, Gazans have been able to export agricultural products, furniture and textiles. But the number of trucks carrying Gaza merchandise outside the territory’s borders is still only 20 percent of the level before 2007.

The arrangements for moving wares through the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel (long waits, security inspections, the transfer of goods from one truck to another) also damage the merchandise. Still, producers of these wares belong to a happy, approved minority that doesn’t include makers of processed foods.

This is so even though until 2007, about a third of all Gaza merchandise sold in the West Bank consisted of processed foods such as biscuits, juices, chocolate-covered marshmallow snacks and canned goods. It’s an old, traditional industry, labor-intensive rather than high-tech, and not very profitable. And after every military attack or hermetic closure, it tries to recover.

Sarayo al Wadiyeh’s owners thus tried to resume selling its products in the West Bank. With help from the rights group Gisha, they tried to figure out how they could return their products to West Bank stores, because alone they hadn’t managed to do so.

Even before the blockade, the Oslo Accords created a complex system of Israeli-Palestinian bureaucracy. It requires a lot of patience and intervention by human rights groups to extract permits just to move a small quantity of people and goods.

Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said that in principle, there’s no ban on selling nonagricultural products from Gaza outside the Strip, and that selling Gaza products in the West Bank is an internal Palestinian matter in which Israel plays no role. Congratulations, the end of days has arrived! The Palestinian Authority is the one that makes the decisions, COGAT said, so if there are problems, complain to it.

But despite what COGAT claims, without knowing Israel’s regulations, without a signature and a permit from an Israeli official, and without explanations on how to move goods through the crossing Israel controls, Palestinian officials can’t move. They can’t make decisions, offer recommendations or provide explanations.

The factory’s owners and Gisha tried their luck at the High Court of Justice. But Justice Uzi Vogelman accepted the state’s assertion that the problem was a Palestinian one, and that everything would be okay if the company just submitted its request to market biscuits in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.

So here’s a reminder: If there’s one place where fake news is accepted as truth – even before Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked began threatening the justices – it’s at Israel’s highest court.

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