There were no celebrations this week to mark the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords—the deal that was supposed to do away with war and terrorism. Twenty-five years after the signing ceremony on the White House lawn, the anniversary was marked only by media debates and the release of a documentary that revealed nothing.
An opinion piece by former Israeli Labor Minister Haim Ramon encapsulated what Oslo has come to represent for Israelis.
“It is important to make it clear that the Second Intifada was not a result of the Oslo Accords. Two prime ministers are to blame for its outbreak: Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, especially the latter,” Ramon wrote.
There is no need to read Ramon’s piece any further. By choosing not to assign any blame to Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat for the terrorist campaign launched on Rosh Hashanah 2000, Ramon has demonstrated that the Israeli left and right have their own set of facts and look at the world through different prisms, and hence cannot hold a proper debate.
The article by Ramon, once one of the leading figures on the left, is important only because it allows us to learn the right lessons. His general views are not that important or interesting, because the ideological fault lines have shifted since 1993. In today’s politics, Ramon would be considered right-wing: He is a Zionist and supports the idea of having a Jewish state.
Another indication of just how much Israeli society has shifted can be found in a letter sent by recently deceased former Knesset member and noted peace activist Uri Avnery to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin back in the 1970s. Avnery wrote the letter shortly after meeting senior PLO representative in London, Said Hammami.
“Even though I am well aware of your extreme and negative view of the idea of having a Palestinian state and talking with the PLO, I believe you would be well served by hearing my account firsthand, as this would at the very least help you re-evaluate your position and update it based on the changing circumstances,” he wrote.
In his book My Friend, the Enemy, Avnery writes of the meetings he had with Rabin after each encounter with a PLO official. These meetings were designed to retroactively legitimize Avnery’s meetings with PLO officials.
After Labor lost power in 1977, it began searching for a new ideological and socio-economic identity, and soon began to embrace the idea of negotiating with the PLO to fill the void. Thus, 18 years after Avnery met with Hammami, Labor’s 180-degree turn was complete.
There is only one lingering question. What would have happened had Rabin stood firm after he expelled 415 Hamas terrorists to Lebanon in 1992? As you may recall, it was Avnery who led the campaign against the deportation and it was Bill Clinton, the future godfather of the Oslo Accords, who forced Rabin to let the terrorists back in.
Eventually, Rabin buckled under the pressure and a compromise was struck that let some 100 senior terrorists back within a year and the rest later on. This means that several months after the Oslo process began, the terrorist infrastructure in the territories received a major boost and senior Hamas officials were welcomed there as heroes.
Jacques Neria, Rabin’s adviser at the time, recently said that when Arafat was allowed into the Gaza Strip in 1994 he brought terrorists with him, a major breach of the agreements with Israel. When the GOC Southern Command asked Rabin what he should do about it, Rabin responded: “Do what you think is right.”
Thus, already in the year following the Oslo signing, Israel had adopted a pattern of concessions and compromises that only encouraged Arafat to double down on his deception. Arafat went on to test Israel’s flexibility and discovered that it was willing to accept every breach.
Even after Arafat said, in a speech in South Africa in 1994, that the Oslo Accords were nothing more than a modern version of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah—namely, a ploy aimed at buying time and eventually defeating Israel the way the Prophet Muhammad had crushed the infidels—the Israeli left remained in a state of denial. Not only that, then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and his Oslo cronies lashed out against those who exposed Arafat’s incendiary comments, primarily Likud MK Benny Begin.
Peres even wrote to Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jørgen Holst vowing not to shut down Palestinian institutions in eastern Jerusalem. Above all, the Israeli leadership (especially the national security apparatus) showed that it was not overly concerned by the PLO’s ideology.
Rabin saw the peace process as a means of establishing nothing more than Palestinian autonomy. But his very willingness to sign a deal with the PLO unleashed all the demons: the Palestinian “right of return,” refugees, Jerusalem, and the armed struggle against Israel.
The modern Palestinian identity formed following the Six-Day War and coalesced around terrorism and armed struggle. Did anyone really expect the Palestinian Authority, formed by the PLO, to turn its back on the roots of the Palestinian nationalist revolution?
Even today, some Israeli security officials, especially on the left, refuse to accept that the Palestinians are playing the long game against Israel. Some have referred to this as a phased plan that combines diplomacy with terrorism, but that is no longer a suitable term. It would be more appropriate to describe the P.A.’s approach as a consistent policy that combines terrorism, diplomatic warfare, psychological propaganda and no less important, legal warfare.
Israel, and especially the left, gave the PLO international legitimacy.
Just as no one in 1993 thought the Gaza Strip would become a hub for missiles and suicide bombers, no one thought the PLO would be in a position of being able to deny Israel its international legitimacy.
A quarter of a century later, it has become apparent that a coalition of terrorist groups has managed to create a major internal schism within Israeli society.
Amnon Lord, is an Israeli journalist with the daily newspaper Makor Rishon. His articles and essays about media, film and politics have been published in The Jerusalem Post, Mida, Azure, Nativ and Achshav.