Are the Oslo Accords synonymous with a diplomatic-political crime and malpractice by Israeli statesmen or were they just a naïve attempt by non-Israeli intellectuals to make peace between two enemies?
J.T. Rogers’s play, “Oslo,” has come to Beit Lessin Theater in Tel Aviv, produced by director Ilan Ronen. Rogers made a fictional account of the secret negotiations that led to the accords, resulting in a play on enemies pretending they are friends in repeated negotiating sessions, only to part ways as enemies again.
When I went to see the play, the hall was packed with mainly older theater-goers, for whom Oslo is not just a brand of beer but a rather grim chapter in our modern history. Before arriving in Israel, “Oslo” was produced on Broadway, American audiences could get another glimpse of yet another event in the troubled Middle East, on another event that they heard of in the media and yawned about.
The chronicles of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict create many triggers. The Israeli production of the play has drawn interest because we, as Israelis, know the negotiations that began in the Norwegian capital were another layer in the shoddy structure that was designed to solve the peace process but ultimately collapsed. The negotiations were, in fact, a prelude to more and more terrorists that killed hundreds of Israelis.
The play tries to remind us who the main protagonists in the negotiations were. First, there were absent-minded Israeli professors who engaged Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat’s proxies, who tried to extract concessions without giving anything in return. The Israelis appear a bit flustered every time the ball lands in their court. During the play, many draft papers are thrown in the air after being discarded because the sides could not agree on the wording. It serves as yet another proof of the unbridgeable gap between the two sides that still exists today.
The playwright did his homework, but he failed to capture the character of some of the Israeli negotiators.
Then director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Uri Savir, who is generally regarded as a reserved individual, is portrayed as unruly and restless. Israeli-Arab actor Ghassan Abbas plays the chief Palestinian negotiator at the time Ahmed Qurei (Abu Alaa). But rather than morph into his character, he plays himself and puts his views on display. But Qurei is indeed portrayed is as an authentic proxy of his boss in Tunis, Arafat. Qurei doesn’t make a single move without Arafat’s green light; every word in the agreement, verbal or written, is run by Arafat.
“I need to ask Tunis,” is the most common refrain Qurei makes. But Abbas also blurs the line between artistic license and the actual portrayal of reality, portraying Qurei as confident and stubborn.
The reality is indeed unsolvable. This is successfully captured by the playwright. On stage, as was the case in Oslo, the Israeli side is inferior. The play forces Israelis to look in the mirror, offers us a fresh perspective and makes the complex reality more accessible.
As they say, life is not theater. Not in Israel at least.
Yaakov Ahimeir is a senior Israeli journalist, and a television and radio personality.