Israel loves anniversaries. The media fill up with revelations about and
memories of the event, eyewitnesses recite their stories for the umpteenth time,
old photos flood the newspapers and TV screens. The Oslo agreement was signed on
September 13, 1993. Yet it has been almost expunged from the national
Actually, for me the historic date is September 10. On that day,
Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat exchanged letters of mutual recognition. The
State of Israel recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as the
representative of the Palestinian people, and the PLO recognized the State of
Israel. It is one of the historic achievements of Oslo that today nobody can
possibly grasp the immensity of this recognition.
The Zionist movement
aimed officially at the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in
Unofficially, it wanted to turn Palestine – all of it – into a
Jewish state. And here was the prime minister of Israel signing a document that
recognized the existence of the Palestinian people, demolishing a central pillar
of Zionism after almost a hundred years.
Arafat’s declaration was no less
For every Palestinian, it was a fundamental truth that the
Zionist state was the illegitimate child of Western imperialism. Palestine was
an Arab land, inhabited by Arabs for many centuries, until a bunch of foreign
settlers took it over by force and guile, expelled half its population and
terrorized the rest. And here was the founder and leader of the Palestinian
liberation movement accepting Israel as a legitimate state! Recognition of this
kind cannot be taken back. It is a fact in the minds of millions of Israelis and
Palestinians, and of the world at large. This is the basic change forged in
FOR THE vast majority of Israelis, Oslo is dead. Their story is
quite simple: we signed a generous agreement, and the Arabs broke it, as they
always do. We did everything possible for peace, we let the devious Arafat come
back into the country, we even gave arms to his security forces – and what did
we get? Not peace. Just terrorist attacks. Suicide bombers.
The Arabs don’t want peace. They want to throw us into the sea. As Yitzhak
Shamir put it so succinctly: “The Arabs are still the same Arabs, and the sea is
still the same sea.”
For many Palestinians, of course, the lesson is the
very reverse. The Oslo agreement was a cunning Zionist trick to continue the
occupation in another form. Indeed, the situation of the Palestinians under
occupation became much worse. Before Oslo, Palestinians could move freely
throughout the country from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, from
Nablus to Gaza, from Haifa to Jericho, from everywhere to Jerusalem. After Oslo,
this became impossible.
So what is the truth? Is Oslo dead?
The most important creation of the Oslo agreement, the Palestinian
Authority, is very much alive, though not kicking. One may think about the PA
what one wants, good or bad, but it certainly is there. It is recognized by the
international community as a state in the making, attracting donations and
capital. It is the visible embodiment of the Palestinian national
In spite of the all-pervading oppression by the military
occupation regime, there is a dynamic, vital, self-governing Palestinian society
in both the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, enjoying wide international
support. On the other hand, peace seems far, far away.
the signing of the agreement (called the “Declaration of Principles”) on the
White House lawn, we convened a large meeting in Tel Aviv for the peace forces
to discuss its merits. None of us had any illusions. It was a bad
SOME OF us proposed condemning the agreement outright. Others,
including myself, proposed accepting it conditionally.
paragraphs are less important,” I said, “The main thing is the peace dynamic set
Today I am not certain that I was right, but neither am I
sure that I was wrong.
The jury is still out.
The main fault in
the agreement was that its ultimate aim was not stated.
While it seemed
obvious to the Palestinians (and to many Israelis) that the aim was to pave the
way to peace between the State of Israel and the soon-to-be-established State of
Palestine, this was not clear at all to the Israeli leadership.
It was an
interim agreement – but interim to what? If you want to go from Berlin to Paris,
the interim stations are quite different from those you pass on the way from
Berlin to Moscow.
Without agreement on the final destination, a quarrel
was bound to break out about every single station on the way. The mood of
reconciliation quickly changed into distrust on both sides.
It went sour
almost right from the beginning.
One can compare Rabin to a general who
succeeded in breaking through the lines of his opponent. A general in such a
situation should not stop to think things over. He should rush forward and throw
everything he has got into the breach. But Rabin did stop, allowing all the
forces of opposition in Israel to gather, regroup and start a fatal
By nature, Rabin was no revolutionary, he was a rather
conservative type, a military man with not much imagination.
arrived at the conclusion that it was in the best interest of Israel to make
peace with the Palestinians (a conclusion I had arrived at 44 years earlier,
treading the same path).
But once there, he hesitated. As the Germans
say, he had angst at his own courage.
So who broke the agreement first? I
would blame my own side.
It was Rabin who proclaimed that “there are no
sacred dates!” (To which I responded “I wish he would convince my bank manager
of that.”) The timetable for starting the serious negotiations for final peace
was ignored, and so of course was the date set for the conclusion: 1999. By that
time, nobody was even thinking about Oslo any longer.
violation was the failure to set up the “four safe passages” between the West
Bank and the Gaza strip. The result of this became apparent only much later,
when Hamas assumed power in the isolated Gaza Strip, while Fatah clung to in the
In the agreements following Oslo, the occupied West Bank was
divided into temporary zones, A, B and C. Area C was to remain for the time
being under complete Israeli control. Israeli military planners had devised the
map carefully: Area C included all the main roads and the sites earmarked for
The people who devised all these things did not have
peace on their mind.
The picture is not altogether
During the Oslo period Palestinian armed attacks on Israelis
did not cease. Arafat did not initiate them, but neither did he go out of his
way to prevent them. He probably thought that they would needle the Israelis
into going ahead with implementing the agreement. They had the opposite
The assassinations of Rabin and Arafat put an end to Oslo for all
practical purposes. But reality has not changed. The considerations which led
Arafat by the end of 1973 to conclude that he must negotiate with Israel, and
which led Rabin in 1993 to talk with the Palestinians, have not
There are two nations in this country, and they must choose: to
live together or to die together. I hope they choose life.
public squares in Tel Aviv and Ramallah will be named for this agreement. And in
Oslo, too, of course.
The author is a journalist, former Knesset member
and founding member of Gush Shalom.
This is a shortened version of the