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"Tra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la happy birthday sweet 16," Neil Sedaka crooned his way to pop-culture immortality in those antediluvian days of 1961. Sixteen years are indeed a milestone. Any girl born this week in 1993 is, to borrow from yesteryear's hit-song lyrics, "not a baby anymore." She might well have "turned into the prettiest girl" and into "just a teenage dream."
But not all birthdays are sweet at 16. Some stick painfully in the craw. Sometimes what grew up before our very eyes is nothing less than a teenage nightmare, certainly nothing to rejoice about.
Such is the pitiless pseudo-peace conceived clandestinely in Oslo, imposed undemocratically on hapless Israelis and launched festively on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993.
Worst of all, this misshapen 16-year-old grotesque has changed our circumstances forever. The cataclysmic chain reaction it set off rages still. Thus far nobody has possessed the pluck to snuff the monstrosity. Even those who once pronounced it dead, like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, now make nice and vow to nurture it.
NEARLY NINE years ago, when campaigning for seeming superhawk Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu declared that "Oslo is dead. The Palestinians quashed the deal they themselves signed." On that occasion he set three conditions for restarting talks: "an absolute cease-fire, a fundamental revamp of the message broadcast by the Palestinian leadership to its people, and testing these conditions over a prolonged period - not just two or three weeks."
He stressed that "no real coexistence can emerge from a situation in which Palestinians speak war and Israelis speak peace. Only after thorough and unambiguous overhauls of Palestinian intentions and behavior can we return to a clean negotiating table."
In actual fact, however, rather than being unceremoniously disposed of and buried, the Oslo ghoul mushroomed hideously from atrocity to atrocity. After two intifadas, nearly 2,000 Israeli dead, the attendant betrayal and folly of disengagement, the Hamas takeover of Gaza (which resulted from disengagement) and an ever-burgeoning series of egregious Israeli concessions (all of which the Palestinians disdainfully rebuffed), it can be confidently concluded that our geopolitical situation has never been this bad.
We mechanically move, as if mesmerized, from debilitating delusion to devastating weakness.
Given everything that transpired, it's hard to recall how much better things were in the summer of 1993, before the Oslo newborn was underhandedly unleashed on unsuspecting us.
The first intifada had been quelled. The PLO was down and out, crumbling and deprecated even in the Arab milieu. Yasser Arafat and 50,000 of his henchmen hadn't yet been imported here to set up their corrupt latifundia. The Palestinian state was a chimera. "Family reunions" hadn't yet added 150,000 Arabs to Israel's population.
Our deterrent was unshaken. Israel controlled all terror breeding grounds from south Lebanon to Gaza and all Judea and Samaria nooks. Islamofascist suicide bombings and unilateral Israeli retreats weren't the vogue. No sane overseas democracy considered a full Israeli withdrawal to the untenable 1949 armistice lines a feasible realistic probability. No foreign government seriously assumed that halting all settlement construction is an acceptable proposition for Israel. None presented settlements as the conflict's underlying root-evil.
Israel's very right to exist wasn't challenged in respectable society. Israeli academics weren't ostracized as they are these days. Campuses worldwide weren't off-limits to pro-Israel opinion. Israel wasn't lustily demonized in what appear to be pluralist liberal environments. The Jewish state wasn't the universally reviled pariah. To be sure, it was never the international community's favorite child, but nothing approached the current isolation, venom and delegitimization.
A READER identified only as Ariadne responded to my Tack on the organ-snatching canard in Sweden by extolling that country's religious tolerance (as if Jews are merely a religious sect): "You can be Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan or have no religion at all. All we care about is if you are good people. We do dislike bombs and white phosphorous used on innocent people, and we don't like countries that can't take criticism for their actions."
Behind the facade of broad-mindedness and denial of bias are insinuations that we aren't "good people." Ariadne accepts as gospel charges that we fight dirty, that our enemies are "innocent people" and that our objection to blood libel makes us a country "that can't take criticism."
In Ariadne's above few sentences is encapsulated Western Europe's widespread anti-Israel discourse and much of what we are likewise likely to hear in supposedly erudite American university communities. It almost doesn't matter what Israel does or how it behaves. It has a priori been accused, judged and resoundingly found guilty with abhorrence unparalleled since the omnipresent anti-Semitic ambiance of the 1930s.
We have indeed come very far from pre-Oslo days; and it was steeply downhill all the time and all the way. Concomitantly, emboldened Palestinians rose to bask in bountiful limelight on the international stage. Those blood-soaked spates of mass homicide that assorted Palestinians sponsor only uplift them farther. Even the initially shunned Hamas is gaining recognition and sympathy.
The dejecting bottom line is that the most extreme Arab terrorist outfit, spouting the most outspoken genocidal hate, cannot set a foot wrong. Even the softest, most yielding Israeli administration - i.e. Ehud Barak's, Ariel Sharon's or Ehud Olmert's - cannot set a foot right, according to damning world opinion. Oslo put the Palestinians on a win-win course and Israel on a lose-lose track.
Every Israeli pullback only escalated terror, which perforce triggered Israeli self-defense, which in the end served to tarnish our reputation even more. Every Israeli concession, even if merely proposed and eventually spitefully refused, only whetted Arab appetites for more. The more that was squeezed from Israel's eminently squeezable leaders, the more unsustainable our security status became. Yet even ultra-minimalist Israeli red lines - effectively adhering to what the exceptionally dovish Abba Eban dubbed "the Auschwitz borders" - are castigated as proof of Israeli intransigence.
The international community doesn't denounce all-or-nothing PA rejectionism. It doesn't question the premise that the PA's honorable sole aim is to gain self-determination side-by-side with the Jewish state and that it sincerely strives for a historic-territorial reconciliation with Zionist Israel, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
This Oslo-generated dynamic is the most compelling disincentive for the Palestinians to compromise. They see US President Barack Obama's unrelenting pressure on Israel even vis-a-vis Jerusalem and they see nothing but a steady erosion of Israel's positions. Even Netanyahu now hums a different tune, acquiesces to a Palestinian state (albeit with preconditions which are, alas, destined for oblivion) and de facto freezes Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria.
He may argue that it's temporary and tactical. Yet nothing in this land is more permanent than the temporary. Moreover, all the clever tactical maneuvers Oslo inspired over 16 ghastly maddening years only drove Israel into a deeper, stickier, stinkier morass.
What an unhappy birthday, a bitter 16th.