Tears for Oslo?

Oslo died its death, but Israel should do whatever it can to ensure its spirit lives on.

By
September 16, 2011 17:08
Oslo

Oslo 521. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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THE OSLO Agreement marked its 18th anniversary this week with not even a murmur. Not that the peace camp had any reason to celebrate it. To those on the Right, it’s dead and buried so deep that there’s no reason to bring it up at all. As far as I know, it wasn’t even the subject of an academic autopsy. The only time Oslo merits any attention these days is when people on the Likud Right propose formally rescinding it if the Palestinians go through with their statehood plans. But even they don’t take it seriously: It’s a rite of political exorcism.

Along with the Charge of the Light Brigade, Marxism, the Munich Agreement and (so it seems) The Audacity of Hope, Oslo has been locked away in the great filing cabinet of historical misadventures. For most of us, it started with great hope. But even back then the now iconic handshake between prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat against the backdrop of the White House left many of us with a deep sense of unease. Rabin had the security credential and toughness that inspired confidence that he could guide the Israeli side through the tough negotiations ahead, but after all – as his murderer Yigal Amir demonstrated two year later – he was only human. Arafat made no effort to shed his revolutionary aura and at least adopt the appearance or the vision of a statesman. His appearance wasn’t deceiving.

Of course, it all ended in an orgy of violence and recrimination, but Israel is better off today for Oslo and the larger peace process it has come to symbolize. The events of the last several weeks – the blow-up with Turkey, tensions with Egypt, the losing diplomatic battle over Palestinian statehood – are all manifestations of a world without Oslo – or its antecedent in the Madrid talks. It’s not a very happy world for Israel and threatens only to become more dangerous.

Let’s look at the typical Oslo-loathing Israeli. He leaves for work in his Toyota (a car unavailable in Israel due to the boycott in the pre-peace process days). While stuck in traffic (a function of the country’s rising standard of living over the last two decades of which the peace process was a critical factor), he arrives at his job at a company that sources its components from China (a country that didn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel before 1992) and is financed by a syndicate of foreign banks (which would have in the past refrained from doing business with Israel). Not long ago, before things began to unravel in the region, he would have been contemplating a holiday in Turkey (with whom Israel had a close military and economic partnership because of the peace process) in an office whose electricity was powered by clean, low-cost Egyptian natural gas.

OF COURSE, Oslo and the larger peace process weren’t the only factors in Israel’s rising prosperity. There were the Russian aliya, privatization and deregulation and the global telecommunications revolution in the 1990s that gave rise to new opportunities in hi-tech. But Israel is a small, open economy that depends on the world not just for political support but for access to export markets, for sourcing the inputs businesses need to make their wares competitively, for low-priced consumer goods and for tourism. Even the gas bonanza depends on peace to ensure security and export markets. The peace process – with an emphasis on the word “process,” the idea that Israel makes a credible case that it wants peace with its neighbors – is a critical element of this.

The idea that Israel can go it alone or that security is defined by how much territory we control and how many terrorists have been killed or arrested or how many rockets have been intercepted is simplistic; perhaps fatally so.

Israel is still a part of the world community. We were admitted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we still enjoy access to European Union scientific programs and we still draw large amounts of foreign investment in the forms of capital and mergers and acquisitions. The international boycott movement hasn’t gotten any traction. But to a large extent this is because Israel is living on a credit card called Oslo. In the past, every time we came close to maxing out, we would get a government that would push the process forward a little bit, in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s case with a speech and gesture that retained our credibility as a peace partner for a little longer.

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The summer of 2011 was a summer of navel-gazing.

Instead of worrying about our increasing isolation or the threat of war, the masses constructed tent cities and gathered at Hamedina Square to complain about their standard of living. The seasons are rapidly changing to an autumn that is already reminding us that we are a small country in a precarious position reliant on the goodwill of the world. How will all the settlements, Iron Domes and foreign minister’s bellicose statements on preserving national honor repair our relations with Turkey and Egypt? How will they block the Palestinian independence drive? How will they ensure that the US, the one solid ally Israel has left, is a reliable partner during each and every presidential administration? It’s funny, no one thought of calling a settler for help when the embassy in Cairo was under attack, or when Avigdor Lieberman insulted the Egyptians, or inviting an official to Jerusalem to sit on a low chair and be taught a lesson. The US was expected to provide – and provided – the solution.

Oslo died its death, but Israel should do whatever it can to ensure its spirit lives on.

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