Opinion – Oslo’s legacy: Biden’s opportunity to “Build Back Better” Palestine


Israel-Palestine handshake symbol

Miranda Franklin-Wall, Contributor

Oslo’s Legacy: Biden’s Opportunity to “Build Back Better” Palestine

Joe Biden’s campaign slogan, “build back better,” need not only apply to domestic issues. The Trump administration withdrew Palestinian aid and signed away billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, as well as unilaterally declared Jerusalem Israel’s capital and condoned its settlements. The Biden administration has a unique opportunity to restore relations with Palestinian leaders, and confront the needs of both Palestinians and Israelis if it avoids past mistakes.

For decades, the U.S. has maintained the same approach to managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.S. policy has incentivized Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return to the negotiating table with aid. The most promising result was the Oslo Accords, the collection of agreements that emerged from the Oslo peace process. Although the Oslo peace process unraveled, the U.S. consistently uses it as a baseline for peace talks. If the U.S. continues to support and refer to the failed agreement, it will continue to cost the U.S. billions of aid dollars from perpetual conflict in the region.

Institutional Destabilizing Factors 

The Oslo Accords do not address mechanisms to ensure free and fair Palestinian elections or involve consensus-building leaders.

The last presidential elections occurred in 2005 when Mahmoud Abbas was elected for a 4-year term. The last major elections occurred in 2006 in which Fatah’s rival party, Hamas, won Palestinian Legislative Council seats.  After an attempt to form a unity government collapsed into violent conflict, Hamas has become the de facto government in Gaza and Abbas’s Fatah party remains the head of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.

Along with the PA, the Oslo Accords established a Palestinian security force with a mandate to cooperate with Israeli national security interests. The security force serves to quiet dissidents who threaten the agreement between PA officials and Israel, as well as those who threaten the PA’s hold on power.

Economic Destabilizing Factors 

The Oslo Accords offer the PA territorial jurisdiction that includes “land, subsoil, and territorial waters”  in the West Bank and Gaza. However, Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, did not negotiate details on land or water rights, which the Israeli government has taken advantage of.

In 2015, Israel applied its Absentee Property Law, which allows the government to seize property vacated by refugees of war, to Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

Israel also controls the water supply. As documented in law professor John Quigley’s The Case for Palestine, in 2005, while only consisting of 3% of the population in the West Bank, Israelis consumed 20% of the water.  The Israeli government controls the water supply by restricting Palestinian water consumption to domestic purposes only, forbidding its use for farming.

Israel also forbids the transfer of fresh water from the West Bank to Gaza, which has a water supply that is 90-95% contaminated, according to Amnesty International.

Security Factors 

A weak economy can lead to destabilizing factors, such as lack of job opportunities and food scarcity. Gaps in the Oslo Accords have enabled Israel to stymie the Palestinian economy, which increases Israel’s national security and defense needs.

The Oslo Accord II states: “In order to carry out Israel’s responsibility for external security and for internal security and public order of Settlements and Israelis, Israel shall, concurrently with the withdrawal, redeploy its remaining military forces to the Settlements.”  Today, the Israel Defense Forces have jurisdiction of 42% of the West Bank and 86% of East Jerusalem due to settlement growth, according to Al Jazeera. As the settlements continue to expand, Israel can use this clause to increase control over Palestinian territory.

Monetary Implications 

Since the U.S. cut funding to UNRWA, U.N. officials predict that it will have devastating effects on food stability, education, and health care, which are all destabilizing factors. Meanwhile, the U.S. consistently provides Israel with more military assistance than any other state since World War II.  The U.S.’s support for the Oslo Accords and withdrawal of Palestinian aid will only increase the need for military aid to Israel in the long run. These destabilizing factors will cost the U.S. $38 billion dollars in military aid to Israel over the next 10 years, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. This spending could be decreased with improved policies in the region.

The ambiguity of the Oslo Accords left gaps that have allowed Palestinian leadership to monopolize power and the Israeli government to grab more land in Palestinian territories. Therefore, a new peace plan with no room for ambiguity is needed. Moreover, U.S. aid should be contingent upon free and fair elections in Palestine, and concessions and cessation of settlement building from the Israeli government. Though it will be harder to “build back better,” any chance for stability in the region is worth taking.


Miranda Franklin-Wall holds a Master’s in Conflict Studies from Tel Aviv University where she was inspired to study Arabic in order to dig deeper into the Middle East’s conflagrations. She studies Arabic at California University of Pennsylvania and recently gave a lecture on Libya at City College of San Francisco. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.