On Sept. 13, 1993, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook the hand of the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, head Yasser Arafat on the south lawn of the White House. The handshake between the two men launched the Oslo Accords and provided what several commentators called a “day of hope.”
That day, however, was short-lived. And 25 years later, many Western press outlets and a new film, titled The Oslo Diaries, still fail to note why. Indeed, the movie—billed as an “original documentary” for HBO—rewrites and misremembers the Oslo process, leaving facts on the cutting-room floor.
The distortions are most evident with what the “documentary” decides not to tell viewers. Astonishingly for a movie that purports to provide the history of the “peace process,” U.S. and Israeli offers for a Palestinian state aren’t even mentioned by the filmmakers. Acknowledging that these offers occurred, apparently, would undercut the film’s Israel-blaming narrative.
In 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference, Palestinian leaders rejected, without so much as a counter-offer, offers that would have given them a state with a capital in eastern Jerusalem.
In his 2005 autobiography, President Bill Clinton, whose team was deeply involved in the years of negotiations that followed the White House ceremony, called Arafat’s rejection of the 2000 and 2001 offers a “colossal mistake” and “an error of historic proportions.” One has to wonder why a “historical documentary,” which interviewed several U.S. and Israeli negotiators, omitted them.
Indeed, in a Sept. 12, 2018 viewing of the film at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a D.C.-based think tank, Joel Singer, an Israeli negotiator who features prominently in it, told the audience that the movie’s “editing made the collapse of the Oslo process seem like it was all Israel’s fault.” The Oslo Diaries, he said, told some of the truth, but “didn’t tell all of the truth.”
Instead, the movie presents the Nov. 4, 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an American-born Israeli, Yigal Amir, as ending the peace process.
That premise, while frequently repeated in the media, is ahistorical. In reality, negotiations continued, along with phased Israeli withdrawals, including from the ancient Jewish city of Hebron. While the so-called “settlers” of that ancient Jewish community serve, along with Benjamin Netanyahu, as the film’s villains, the filmmakers leave out that it was actually under Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister (1996-1999) that the Hebron withdrawal occurred, as stipulated by the 1997 Hebron Agreement.
The movie notes that Rabin was “more pessimistic than ever” before his assassination. It does not, however, explain why: Palestinian anti-Jewish violence had increased post-Oslo, and this occurred despite Arafat’s signed commitment four days before the White House ceremony pledging that the PLO renounced the “use of terrorism and other acts of violence.”
Instead, the “documentary” only briefly alludes to the increase in Palestinian terrorism, and to the extent that it is shown, it is portrayed as emanating purely from Hamas and other “hardline” Palestinian factions. Arafat is presented as a reformed terrorist turned peacemaker. The facts say otherwise.
As the historian and psychiatrist Kenneth Levin, author of The Oslo Syndrome, pointed out in a Sept. 10, 2018 FrontPage magazine op-ed: “On the evening of the White House ceremony, Arafat broadcast a speech on Jordanian television assuring Palestinians, and the Arab world more broadly, that they should understand Oslo in terms of the Palestine National Council’s 1974 decision.” This, Levin noted, was a reference to the so-called “plan of phases,” according to which the PLO “would acquire whatever territory it could by negotiations, then use that land as a base for pursuing Israel’s annihilation.”
Indeed, in a May 10, 1994 speech in South Africa—and in another one on Aug. 21, 1995 at Al-Azhar University in Cairo—Arafat compared his decision to participate in the Oslo process to deceptions that the Prophet Muhammad engaged in against rival tribes. Its purpose was for Arafat and the PLO—severely weakened by the fall of chief sponsor the Soviet Union—to rebuild, consolidate and then resume work towards Israel’s destruction. As he stated in a 1996 speech in Stockholm: “We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. … We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem.”
The Oslo Diaries omits the PLO’s deceptions. Indeed, as the historian Efraim Karsh has noted, PLO official Faisal al-Husseini, who is briefly depicted in the movie, referred to Oslo in a June 24, 2000 interview as a Trojan horse “designed to promote the organization’s strategic goal: ‘Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea’—that is, a Palestine in place of the state of Israel.”
As Karsh wrote in his 2003 book Arafat’s War, Abu Ala—whose “diary” plays a key role in the “documentary” that depicts him sympathetically—said of Oslo: “We did not sign a peace treaty with Israel, but interim agreements that had been imposed on us.” At a public rally in Ramallah in 1997, Karsh noted, “Abu Ala demonstratively stepped over the remains of an Israeli flag that had been set on fire.”
In the movie, Arafat is even shown at the signing of the Gaza-Jericho agreement in military garb, with a patch on his left arm that depicts all of Israel as “Palestine.” But the filmmakers fail to ruminate on this.
Instead, those watching The Oslo Diaries are presented with superficial history and images, such as Arafat’s July 1994 triumphal return to Gaza, a consequence of the accords. The Palestinian leader is shown leaning out the windows of his motorcade smiling and waving. The filmmakers want viewers to think it is a moment imbued with hope and promise. But no mention is made of the destruction that Arafat was bringing with him. As Karsh noted, “Arafat returned with Mamduh Nawfal, mastermind of the 1974 Ma’alot atrocity in which twenty-seven [Israeli] children were murdered, hidden in the trunk of his car.”
Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.