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OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

The lessons of Oslo

There is a national consensus in Israel today that the 30-year attempt to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians has failed.

Thousands of Israelis in Jerusalem protest against the Oslo Accords, Oct. 5, 1995. Photo by Flash90.
Thousands of Israelis in Jerusalem protest against the Oslo Accords, Oct. 5, 1995. Photo by Flash90.
Efraim Inbar

Failures can be costly but instructive.

The Oslo Accords assumed that a fundamental change had taken place in the attitude of the Palestinian national movement toward the State of Israel. Nevertheless, to this day, recognition of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has not been granted.

Moreover, Palestinians continue to use violence against Israel. Indeed, according to public opinion polls among the Palestinians, the use of force against Jews receives considerable support. Even if part of the Palestinian population is tired of the conflict and wants peace and prosperity, the price of the continuous confrontation with Israel has not discouraged Palestinian groups animated by the concept of violent resistance—muqawama—to the Zionist entity.

Under the Oslo Accords, Israel transferred territories to the exclusive control of the Palestinians, hoping the newly established Palestinian Authority would become a good neighbor and prevent terrorism. That did not happen, and the P.A. is having difficulties functioning as a state.

Among the defining characteristics of a state is a monopoly on the use of force. The Ramallah government lost control of the Gaza Strip to a rival armed militia, Hamas, in 2007. The P.A. recently lost control of northern Samaria, and the refugee camps there have become strongholds of armed organizations that do not obey the P.A.

The inability to maintain a monopoly on the use of force characterizes many Arab entities. Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen are countries in name only because their central governments lack the power to control armed groups. That does not bode well for the region’s prevailing political culture and the possibility of reaching stable, peaceful relations with our neighbors.

Unfortunately, Israel lives in a region where peace between countries does not prevail, and where force is regularly used to resolve conflicts between neighbors. In contrast to zones of peace (North America, for example), the use of force in the Middle East is an acceptable policy for political entities.

Israel must internalize that it will have to live by the sword for a long time yet.

Its security needs require military control of the entire territory of the Land of Israel—from the river to the sea. That means Israel will continue to monitor the area where many Palestinians live. Israel has no choice but to explain to itself and the world that the Palestinians are hostile to Israel and that Palestinian groups act violently against the Jewish state.

Moreover, the Palestinian political system cannot prevent terrorism against Israel even if it wanted to. If there is no change in the Palestinian education system, which teaches antisemitic and anti-Israeli content, if the P.A. continues to pay terrorists, and as long as its media persists in broadcasting despicable antisemitic messages—there will be no peace. And “occupation” will continue to characterize relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Today, there is a national consensus in Israel that the 30-year attempt to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians has failed, and that a resolution to the 150-year conflict will remain elusive. However, Israel’s policy of managing the conflict has its roots in the Oslo process, and has gradually permeated the international community as well. Conflict management requires reducing friction with the Palestinians by cautious use of military power and selective settlement (only to places of security importance, such as around Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley).

While the Palestinian issue has not been resolved, it is clear today that this conflict is not “the key” to stability in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the region is riddled with conflicts and a myriad of socio-economic problems in which the Jews have no part. Furthermore, the Palestinian issue does not prevent Arab countries from maintaining public diplomatic relations and mutually beneficial relations with Israel. In 1979, Egypt defied the widespread assumption that the Palestinians had veto power over improving ties with Israel. The Abraham Accords of 2020 underscored this lesson.

However, Israel should not fall under the illusion that its acceptance in ever-growing circles in the Arab world is a one-way process. The Palestinian issue still reverberates in the classrooms and government corridors of the Arab world. Under certain circumstances, Israel could find itself isolated and threatened by Arab countries again. Therefore, Israel needs to continue investing in a strong military, which is its only true guarantee with regard to the security of the country and its citizens.

It is a pity that the learning process required the bloodshed of Israelis. At first, the terrorists’ victims were called by Oslo supporters “victims of peace.” Over time, it was recognized that the casualties resulted from Palestinian terrorism motivated by abysmal hatred of the Jewish state. Abundant Jewish blood was needed to awaken from a beautiful but unrealistic dream.

Apparently, nations learn slowly.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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