My Word: It’s not normal

From the start I had my doubts about any agreement with Arafat, let alone one called at the time “Jericho and Gaza First.”

By
September 19, 2013 23:00
Abbas talks against backdrop of Arafat image

arafat abbas 521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Look who’s not talking. A colleague who recently attended one of the many events marking 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed was upset by the noticeable absence of Palestinian attendees. Two decades on, there is not much to celebrate – on either side – but one of the saddest aspects of the failures of the peace process is that in many ways instead of making progress relations have in many spheres worsened.

And among the worst offenders are those who most trumpet the peace cause while championing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and what the Arab world calls “anti-normalization.”

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Unfortunately, I have been to too many events touting dialogue which have descended into a prolonged Israel-bashing farce. Participants on both sides usually carry emotional baggage that seems to become exposed the minute they pass their belongings through the security X-ray machine at the entrance to the convention hall.

That is, of course, if they come at all. The ever-growing anti-normalization trend means that even this limited contact is gradually disappearing.

A couple of years ago, I met a group of Israeli teenagers from the missile-hit South involved in a project to help prevent them developing feelings of hatred as a result of the constant attacks. The only problem was that their Palestinian peers from Gaza were not allowed to participate in the program.

It was not IDF checkpoints that kept them out, it was their local leaders who obviously feared that the project might indeed succeed and a generation of local youths might grow up not demonizing each other.

The first time I noticed a non showing by Palestinians was, surprisingly enough, at the initial signing of the Oslo Accords in prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s office. Rabin did not seem comfortable and Yasser Arafat’s very absence made it clear that this was no Anwar Sadat putting an end to hostilities with a visit to Jerusalem.

This is the event where the press picked up on the fact that a reluctant- looking Rabin put his name to the document with a very ordinary Pilot pen in a ceremony that lacked flair and fanfare. The real show was reserved for the gathering on the White House lawn a few days later, by which time the first Oslo-related Palestinian terror attacks, not coincidentally, were taking place.

I was not happy to attend the Jerusalem ceremony, although it was clear that, for better or for worse, this was a historic event.

From the start I had my doubts about any agreement with Arafat, let alone one called at the time “Jericho and Gaza First.”

My concerns about what would be “second” and “third” – and my fears that the Golan Heights and Jerusalem were not that many beats away – only worsened during the ceremony when the Norwegian officials spoke about the need to continue to break the consensus.

Twenty years is enough time to grant a certain amount of perspective.

Hindsight, however, is no guarantee of an accurate picture.

“Indeed, Oslo opened to us the road to the Arab world,” wrote Uri Savir, one of the accords’ architects, in this paper last week.

I remember it differently.

At the end of April 1994, I traveled with an Israeli delegation to the Sultanate of Oman to cover talks on water. The Israeli team was led by then-deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin, another creator of Oslo. The historic gathering was under the auspices of the multilateral talks established by the Madrid Conference in October 1991. One of Oslo’s biggest “sins,” in my opinion, is that it irrevocably killed the peace process started by Yitzhak Shamir in which the Palestinian track was combined with the Jordanian one.

(Indeed, for all its enthusiasm, Jericho and Gaza First not only failed to bring about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it also could not bring about a reconciliation between the residents of the West Bank and those of Gaza, the former having a stronger affiliation to Jordan while the latter was more closely tied to Egypt. Neither country, it should be noted, made any move to grant the Palestinians an independent state when they controlled those areas between 1948 and 1967.) True, the nature of the multilateral talks was probably positively influenced by the Oslo Declaration of Principles, but it possibly set back relations with Jordan more than it aided them. The Hashemite Kingdom felt directly threatened by the secret negotiations and recognition of the Palestinians.

Peace with Jordan, which I also covered in 1994, came about despite Oslo, not because of it.

While the atmosphere at the water talks in Oman’s capital, Muscat, was festive, most members of the Israeli delegation were monitoring the news in case there were more bus bombings of the type that took a lethal toll in the days before our departure for the Persian Gulf.

Even back then, by the way, the Omanis, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis and UAE citizens I met were more concerned with the threats from everradicalizing Iran, so much closer and more dangerous than the Jewish state. They also were more welcoming to members of the Israeli delegation than to the Palestinians. Palestinian support of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the First Gulf War was still very much on their minds.

After Oslo II was signed in 1995, I mentioned to Beilin that I had come across families who lived in Gush Etzion who were sounding out friends and relatives in Jerusalem about possible refuge if they were expelled from their homes. Beilin, taken aback, dismissed their fears, stressing nobody was talking about evacuating the Etzion bloc.

I was only partly reassured. If the Jewish residents had gained the impression they could be ousted from their homes, surely the Palestinian leadership had gained a similar impression. I had also seen by then the often haphazard way that maps were drawn up.

OSLO SUPPORTERS maintain that it was the assassination of Rabin in November 1995 that killed the peace process. “The accords were better than their implementation, especially when an anti-Oslo prime minister came to power in 1996 to implement an agreement he objected to vehemently,” wrote Savir in his Jerusalem Post op-ed last week. This is one way of looking at it, but not necessarily the correct way.

Rabin’s assassination was a tragedy, but that was not what brought Benjamin Netanyahu to power. Netanyahu was elected after Palestinian suicide bombings began to hit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and central Israel, and more and more ordinary citizens lost their sense of personal security and felt that Shimon Peres’s dream of a “new Middle East” was turning into a nightmare. If anything, it was implementing Oslo-dictated pullbacks amid the continued terror attacks that cost Netanyahu his first term in office.

Who can say whether Rabin – nicknamed Mr. Security – would not at some point have said “enough is enough.” Peace accords accompanied by a campaign of terror are not worthy of their title.

Neither is peace possible against a background of constant demonization of Israel and efforts to delegitimize it in world opinion.

Whether or not our leaders manage to reach a workable peace agreement, we, Israelis and Palestinians, are going to have to continue living together side by side.

It’s time to admit once and for all that Oslo failed, but ignoring the Palestinians won’t make them go away, and boycotting Israel certainly won’t bring about peace.

The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.


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