OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Oslo failed because it never started

Prominent Israeli peace activist Haim Shur's haunting words are a reminder of the depth of Palestinian rejectionism.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton and PLO head Yasser Arafat at the signing of the Oslo Accords, Sept. 13, 1993. Photo by Vince Musi/The White House.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton and PLO head Yasser Arafat at the signing of the Oslo Accords, Sept. 13, 1993. Photo by Vince Musi/The White House.
Judea Pearl. Credit: DanielPearl.org.
Judea Pearl

September 2023 marks 30 years since the signing of the Oslo Peace Agreement between Israel and the PLO. Dozens of pundits are authoring scholarly articles on “Why the Oslo Peace Process failed to bring peace.” To these I would like to add my own opinion: It failed because the Palestinians never intended to follow the agreement, and certainly not to pursue a process toward peace.

A 2001 interview with a top Palestinian negotiator made this quite clear. Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs, explicitly stated in an interview by Al-Arabi in 2001 that, “The Oslo Accords were a Trojan Horse; the strategic goal is the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea.”

However, on this anniversary of the Oslo agreement, I would like to draw attention to another, almost forgotten but perhaps more significant interview, which describes the actual steps Palestinians took to sabotage the idea of peace. I am referring to an interview with Haim Shur (Maariv, June 6, 2001) a prominent leader of Israel’s peace camp, excerpts of which are included below:

Shur: The Palestinians deceived me personally and the entire Israeli left as well.  They lied to us, they scammed us, maneuvered and manipulated us. Personally, I will never forgive them for this.

A genuine man of the left is a man who should accept the reality for what it is, and not see it the way he wishes to. They [the Palestinians] are not yet ripe for peace, and my duty as a man of the left is to realize this truth. The left is not a synonym for deceit.

Interviewer: In what way did the Palestinians deceive you personally?

Shur: I had countless meetings with Palestinians. If someone conducted a study on the top 10 Israelis who visited Palestinians most frequently, I am sure I would be among them. [I met with Palestinians] more frequently than Shimon Peres, chief Oslo negotiator Yossi Beilin and Oslo Agreement architect Ron Pundak did. During all of my meetings with them, the Palestinians said that we will find a mutually accepted formula regarding the right of return, but the truth is that this never happened.

Interviewer: What do you mean by that?

Shur: They never tried to reach a mutually accepted formula.  Everything they said was just a part of the phased plan. I was one of those who opened the American doors for the PLO. When we organized an Israeli-Palestinian conference in Washington in 1987, the State Department refused to give them entry visas. We took it upon ourselves [to take care of all the necessary details] so that they could get the visas.  And then they entered the U.S. and took it by storm with our assistance.  This is what they wanted, that was the target, to capture the good will of the American Jewish left. I personally invited them to social gatherings at the homes of Jewish Americans. Their success was owed to our help.  Without our assistance they would never succeed.

Interviewer: Was that a mistake?

Shur: Not only that this was a mistake, but merely two or three years following [our meetings with the Palestinians in the United States,] Nabil Sha’ath [an adviser to Yasser Arafat and a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Oslo talk] appeared in front of an audience in Gaza and told them that [their meetings with us] were just a tactical move. [Sha’ath explained to his audience in Gaza that] the Palestinian plan is to make piecemeal gains for the ultimate goal of conquering the entire State of Israel. It became clear to me that the speeches made by Nabil Sha’ath—the same person who was my best friend in America and who came to hug me and kiss me following my pro-peace speeches—were worthless. He did not mean anything he said.

Interviewer: Does this lack of trust represent a shift for a man of the left such as yourself?

Shur: There is one thing that no one will ever be able to take away from me, and that is my [commitment to the] truth.

Interviewer: When you said they deceived me, did you refer to all of them?

Shur: I referred to an entire group of people, who do not care about anyone or anything, who deceived me. The fact that Nabil Sha’ath is an opportunist is clear to me. The fact that Ziad Abu Zayyad is an opportunist is also clear to me. [The answer to the question of] whether Hanna Seniora is also one? It is not clear to me. [The answer to the question] whether these professors I met in the U.S. are the same? That I don’t know.  I don’t know if they disagree with Yasser Arafat; I do know I have never heard them [say it].

Interviewer: The Israeli right is blaming the left for misleading the nation, for orchestrating some kind of a messianic peace movement. Do you accept the charges?

Shur: To a certain degree, yes. We wished for peace so much that we ended up turning our wishes into factual reality.

Shur’s interview was quite traumatic to us Israelis in 2001, a year after the outbreak of the Second Intifada. But it has since disappeared from public conversation. On this 30th anniversary of the “Oslo Agreement” I feel compelled to bring it back to the limelight.

Shur’s confession gave Israelis a rare glimpse at the core issue fueling the conflict with their neighbors—a profound and inherent Palestinian rejection of the very idea of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine.

It was a very short glimpse because it immediately got overshadowed by debates over pressing, albeit peripheral, matters. The Israeli right blamed the left for ignoring Palestinian terrorism, internal corruption and overt antisemitism, while the left blamed the right for Rabin’s assassination, settlement expansion and harsh conditions under occupation. Westerners, with hardly any exception, have taken Palestinian rejectionism to be a negotiation tactic, a form of rhetoric, perhaps a rallying point, but not a foundational principle. Shur’s haunting words, “They never tried to reach a mutually accepted formula,” remind us today of the depth of Palestinian rejectionism, and illustrate why Oslo never had a chance.

Originally published by the Jewish Journal.

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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