The lost generation of Palestinians

At the end of the day, it is up to the Palestinians to produce their peace-seeking representatives. No one can do it for them.

July 8, 2018 21:42
4 minute read.
Oslo Accords

Slain Israeli Prime Minister Rabin with former US President Bill Clinton and former PLO President Yasser Arafat after signing the Oslo Accords at the White House on September 13, 1993. . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Had Barbara Tuchman been able to add a chapter to her March of Folly classic, she would surely have chosen a long one on the Oslo Accords. In her celebrated 1984 book, the brilliant historian provided a fascinating account of past cases that were a paragon of political foolhardiness and reckless policy.

Tuchman defined policy folly as the continuous pursuit by successive governments of policies that are contrary to their countries’ interests, despite the availability of feasible alternatives. The Oslo Accords, which will soon be marking the 25th anniversary of their ill-conceived signing, fit that bill perfectly. So much so, that “Oslo” has long since been absorbed into the cultural parlance in Israel as the ultimate four-letter word, not to be mentioned favorably by any serious politician seeking office. The United States acknowledged the Oslo process as a dead-end policy, and the Palestinians withdrew from it long ago – actually before it ever began.

Aside from the thousands of lives lost, bodies maimed and money wasted, the most tragic aspect of the Oslo folly is the lost generation of potential Palestinian leadership. Authentic leadership that may have existed or developed a generation ago – the likes of Said Hammami or Issam Sartawi – is no more. Chaos, corruption and terror remain. With the original sin of importing Yasser Arafat and his cronies who thrived on terror and corruption from the PLO’s erstwhile headquarters in Tunisia to a land they had no real right to or genuine interest in advancing, an entire generation of possible peacemakers and nation-builders was lost. Instead, Palestinians in general and their political actors in particular became more radical, as a perception that terrorism pays off was validated by the Oslo Accords.

With the soon-expected exit of Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, there will be a short-lived vacuum. That brief interval will be an opportunity for a “reset” in order to create a truly tangible “New Middle East” that should unconditionally seek peace and prosperity for the people of the region. Such a successful foundation will depend primarily on the region’s leaders, with the tacit support of the US.

Reset process: 2018 to 2020
Unlike a computer reset, a geopolitical “reset” that enables a genuine peace process will require significant time and effort. Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner can surely attest to that. All efforts for change in the Middle East face suspicion and skepticism. That is understandable after more than a century of conflict and dozens of superpower-sponsored master plans that fill history’s waste basket. Nevertheless, we are amid truly unique times for change and opportunity.

For the first time in a very long time – perhaps ever – the US president and his key administrators see eye to eye with their Israeli, Saudi, Egyptian and other key Sunni counterparts on the strategic issues of the day.

It is fully agreed by these leaders that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable and that its tyranny and deleterious effect on the region must be stopped. There is reason to believe that the Russians may also acknowledge this under the right conditions. It is now also tacitly recognized – for the first time – that Israel is not the obstacle to peace but rather a key component for its realization.

Not all is agreed upon, but the core issues are, and the rest can be resolved or managed. One such issue is the Palestinian predicament. Clearly, the Palestinians are entitled to self-determination and land that they can call their own. It is also clear that they will need to compromise.

A “grand deal” in the region and a “historic compromise” between Israel and the Palestinians will require not only Israeli concessions but bold Palestinian leadership and a real contribution by all the stakeholders. If Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders really want a solution to the problem they will also need to give real estate along with their call for others to do so. Small parts of Sinai and of (68% Palestinian-populated) Jordan can go a long way. The islands given recently to Saudi Arabia by Egypt in return for financial support may serve as a model.

New generation to be found: 2020 to 2045
Most of Oslo’s architects and their associates are either dead or have been booted from public service, the result of a natural process and a form of “crowd wisdom.” A prodigious optimist or patronizing visionary would say that Israel – known for developing new-generation technologies – and the US, along with the strong support of the international community and its well-funded agencies will need to develop a new generation of Palestinian leaders.

That will not happen.

At the end of the day, it is up to the Palestinians to produce their peace-seeking representatives. No one can do it for them. That leadership will need to educate its constituency for peace based on facts and reality, not on fantasy and conspiracy, and certainly not on hate or incitement to violence. It will need to build an economy based on free-market principles rather than on stagnating handouts.

Once the new Palestinian leadership stands up, it will quickly become clear whether that leadership will be motivated by a true interest in peace and a respected place among the nations, or whether the they once again prove the long-standing adage that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Ophir Falk is a visiting scholar at Georgetown University. Yaron Schwartz is a senior analyst at Alcyon Risk. The opinions expressed here are their own.

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