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Oslo: Ten Years Later

Oslo: Ten Years Later

Why Oslo's hopes turned to dust.


Ten years later, it is embarrassing to recall the elation and soaring expectations.

President Bill Clinton lauded it as a "great occasion of history." Secretary of State Warren Christopher ruminated on how "the impossible is within our reach." Yasser Arafat called it an "historic event, inaugurating a new epoch." Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel discerned in it "the outline of peace in the Middle East."

The press hyped it, providing saturation coverage on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines. Pundits like Anthony Lewis of The New York Times called it "ingeniously built" and "stunning."

The date was Sept. 13, 1993, and the occasion was the signing of the Oslo accords on the White House lawn. Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's prime minister, and Arafat, the Palestinian leader, stood by President Bill Clinton and shook hands. For years afterward, "The Handshake" (as it was known) served as the symbol of successful peacemaking.

The agreement they signed, the "Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements" (to use its formal name) inspired widespread optimism that the Arab-Israeli conflict was at last about to be resolved. Other than a hardy band of skeptics, the world saw in the Oslo accords a brilliant solution whereby each side would achieve what it most wanted: dignity and autonomy for the Palestinians, recognition and security for the Israelis.

Instead, Oslo brought the Palestinians poverty, corruption, a cult of death, suicide factories and militant Islamic radicalization. The Israelis have mainly suffered from terrorism's toll of 854 murders and 5,051 injuries, plus assorted economic and diplomatic losses.

This Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of Sept. 13, 1993. By now, the name "Oslo" is mud among Palestinians and Israelis alike, with no one anymore seeing it "inaugurating a new epoch" -- except for the worse.

What went wrong?

The deal rested on a faulty Israeli premise that Palestinians had given up their hope of destroying the Jewish state.

Many things, but most important was that the deal rested on a faulty Israeli premise that Palestinians had given up their hope of destroying the Jewish state. This led to the expectation that if Israel offered sufficient financial and political incentives, the Palestinians would formally recognize the Jewish state and close down the conflict.

Israelis therefore pushed themselves to make an array of concessions, in the futile hope that flexibility, restraint and generosity would win Palestinian goodwill. In fact, these steps made matters worse by sending signals of apparent demoralization and weakness. Each concession further reduced Palestinian awe of Israeli might, made Israel seem more vulnerable and incited irredentist dreams of annihilating it.

The result was a radicalized and mobilized Palestinian body politic. In speech and actions, via claims to the entire land of Israel and the murder of Israelis, the hope of destroying Israel acquired ever-more traction.

Thus did the muted Palestinian mood at Oslo's start in 1993 turn into the enraged ambition evident today.

When intermittent Palestinian violence turned in September 2000 into all-out war, Israelis finally awoke from seven years of wishful thinking and acknowledged Oslo's disastrous handiwork. But they have not yet figured with what to replace it. Likewise, the U.S. government, with the collapse of its Mahmoud Abbas gambit last week, finds its "road map" diplomacy in disarray, and it now too needs new thinking.

In the spirit of Oslo's 10th anniversary, I propose a radically different approach for the next decade:

  • Acknowledge the faulty presumption that underlay both Oslo and the road map (Palestinian acceptance of Israel's existence).
  • Resolve not to repeat the same mistake.
  • Understand that diplomacy aiming to close down the Arab-Israeli conflict is premature until Palestinians give up their anti-Zionist fantasy.
  • Make Palestinian acceptance of Israel's existence the primary goal.
  • Impress on Palestinians that the sooner they accept Israel, the better off they will be. Conversely, so long they pursue their horrid goal of extermination, diplomacy will remain moribund and they will receive no financial aid, arms or recognition as a state.
  • Give Israel license not just to defend itself but to impress on the Palestinians the hopelessness of their cause.

When, over a long period of time and with complete consistency, the Palestinians prove they accept Israel, negotiations can be re-opened and the issues of the past decade -- borders, resources, armaments, sanctities, residential rights -- be taken up anew. The sooner we adopt the right policies, the sooner that will be.

September 13, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Y. Friedman, September 29, 2003 12:00 AM

Will Never Happen

The Palestinians will never change their attitude towards Israel. They nor their fellow Arabs will never accept Israel. This conflict goes back to Yitzchok and Yishmael. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai summed it up: "Eisav Sonai L'Yaakov." Eisav (this includes Yishmael; they intermarried) despises Yaakov. The only way there will be peace is if our fellow Jews make peace with each other. Whether we are Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Litvish, Chassidic, FFB, BT, or totally not religious, we must unite and accept and love each other. No more baseless hatred (sinas chinam); this strategy will bring us lasting peace bacause then we will be truly deserving of G-d's protection against all our enemies. Sounds simplistic? It is - but it is the simple truth!

(3) Andrew Levin, September 18, 2003 12:00 AM

cultural incompatibility

The mistaken belief that attempts at conciliation and a willingness of Israel to compromise would be interpreted by the Palestinians as an historic opportunity for peace stems from a basic incomatibility of the two cultures. Israel looks upon a willingness to compromise as an opportunity to settle differences peacefully. The Palestinians look upon it as a display of weakness to be exploited. Israel has a culture based on democratic ideals, a love of life and a desire to make the world a better place. The Palestinians have a culture of corrupt despotism, death and destruction. The only solution is a complete physical separation of these two diametrically opposed ways of life.

(2) k. thumbi, September 18, 2003 12:00 AM

media biased

Very true but whenever we read the papers they are only potraying Israel as the agressors! this is unfair!we only see pictures of arabs suffering when Israel retaliates.more often we dont see the israel side. kindly send as many articles like this one to BBC, AP,REUTERS AND TO MEDIA HOUSES OF AFRICA!

(1) Naghi Astanei, September 15, 2003 12:00 AM

Really, does Palestinian have any representatives?

Dear Mr. Daniel Pipes:
I do agree with all parts of this article and its 15 valid issues. Before to make my points, I have to mention that regarding to terror they could and should be no compromise. However, I have one issue or maybe question, even problem. You and I do know that Palestinians have no real represtatives (they had been betrayed by other Arab countries as well by Arafat, Yaseen,..). .

Is there a way for Isrealis and other peace loving nations and individuals to reach to Palestinian people directly? Say, to bring some simple questions to Palestinian's attention. Such as who killed more Palestinians: Arabs or Israelis? Or how it is possible that in "evil" Israel some people(even MKs) do demonstrate against Sharon and in favore of Arafat,but in "angel" PA no one can show any tendency toward Israel(of course such a person would be killed)? Or if Israel to Arabs is ,as it is claimed, same a Nazi to Jews, then how come Arab population in Israel keep increasing while Jews population decreased by 6 million, at NAZi's era. And lots of other simple questions.Say, how Israelis in order to build their nation, they said "yes" to each and every opportunity that came to them. Equally, Arafat, Yaseen, .. claime that they want to have a Palestinian State, yet how is it that they says "no" to every opportunity that knocked on their doors?
Next to defeating terrorism, I think Israelis should reach Palestinian people directly in order to help them to reach Israeli people directly. Then and just then we could happily say that "Arafar is irrelevent".

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