Just in time for next week’s 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, the minutes of a cabinet meeting two weeks before the signing have exposed what its architects were thinking—and help us understand where the accords went wrong.
The 80-page, newly declassified transcript is an account of a cabinet discussion held on Aug. 30, 1993. It includes some fascinating remarks by then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the army’s chief of staff, Ehud Barak. In public, both men were champions of Oslo. But in private, they seem to have been filled with doubts as to whether Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian Arab leaders could be trusted.
But one particular remark made by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the meeting stands out: Rabin characterized the upcoming Israel withdrawal from most of the Gaza Strip as “a test” of Arafat’s intentions and abilities.
The Israelis had agreed to first give up Gaza (except for the Jewish communities there), as well as the city of Jericho. Gaza and Jericho were handed to Arafat in May 1994. The major areas where Palestinian Arabs reside in Judea and Samaria would be given to the Palestinian Authority only the following year; in the meantime, Israel would be able to see what Arafat did with Gaza.
Rabin understood that it was a gamble. On the one hand, he didn’t want to continue occupying the Palestinian Arabs. But on the other hand, he knew that permitting them to create a sovereign state would gravely endanger Israel. So, the Oslo agreement was, as he told the cabinet, a “test” of Arafat—a middle ground of self-rule that would enable the PLO/PA to demonstrate whether or not it was genuinely interested in peace with Israel.
The P.A.’s governance of Gaza would reveal “the ability of those who support peace and support the PLO to deal with Hamas,” Rabin said.
Soon enough, it became obvious that Arafat and the PLO/PA were unwilling to “deal with” Hamas. Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks from Gaza, and Judea and Samaria, continued. Some of the terror was perpetrated by Hamas and some by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Some of it was carried out by Arafat’s own Fatah movement, using cover names such as “Hawks” and “Tanzim” (and, later, the “Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade”). Their victims, such as my daughter Alisa, were called “casualties of the peace.”
Nevertheless, Rabin decided to gamble again. In September 1995, he signed Oslo II and withdrew Israel’s forces from the areas in Judea and Samaria where 98% of the Palestinian Arabs reside.
Sadly, that gamble, too, failed to pay off. While Israel carried out its Oslo obligations to withdraw from those territories, the P.A. refused to honor its own Oslo obligations.
The P.A. never used its American-armed and American-trained security force to arrest or disarm terrorists. It never outlawed Hamas or other terrorist groups. Eventually, Hamas booted the P.A. out of Gaza, took over complete control of Gaza and turned it into a de facto terror state.
Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, never even expelled terrorist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine from the ranks of the P.A. and the PLO. Today, the PFLP and DFLP are still members in good standing of both bodies.
The P.A. never honored Israel’s dozens of requests for the extradition of terrorists.
The P.A. never halted its relentless anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement in its media, schools and summer camps. Even Hilary Clinton, a champion of the Oslo agreements, said that the P.A.’s indoctrination of Palestinian Arab children is “child abuse.”
The P.A. never fulfilled its obligation to protect Jewish holy sites and to ensure free Jewish access to them. The Tomb of Joseph and the Tomb of Rachel have been the targets of constant Palestinian Arab violence while the P.A. security forces stand idly by.
And to this day, the P.A. still has not produced a copy of the much-ballyhooed amended version of the Palestine National Covenant. You know, the revised version that was supposed to have deleted all the old passages calling for violence and the destruction of Israel.
So, Rabin was right. It was indeed a test. And the result of the test was an “F.”
Crush terrorists, suppress rocket-launchings
When a student fails a test, he or she looks it over to figure out where they went wrong. Looking back over the 30 years since the Oslo Accords were signed, it’s obvious what went wrong.
First, the basic assumption behind the accords was flawed. The assumption was that the Palestinian Arabs had sincerely given up terrorism and anti-Israel hatred, and were ready to live in peace with a Jewish state. That was false.
Second, when the P.A. began violating its Oslo obligations, the international community refused to hold it accountable. Billions of dollars in foreign aid continued to flow to its coffers. The United States continued to arm and train P.A. security forces. The Clinton administration—and its successors—continued to provide the P.A. with diplomatic support and continued to press for creation of a Palestinian state.
So today, Israel is stuck with a post-Oslo reality in which it has to periodically send its troops into P.A. cities to crush terrorists and periodically launch airstrikes in Gaza to suppress rocket-launchings.
That’s not a great situation to be in. But it’s a lot better than the alternative—a deadly State of Palestine along Israel’s old nine-miles-wide borders, right next to Israel’s major cities, with terrorists firing rockets at every plane that lands or takes off from Ben-Gurion International Airport.