There is something about September and the Middle East conflict.
On September 13, 1993, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn as the Oslo I agreement was signed under the watchful eyes of Bill Clinton.
Seven years later, on September 28, 2000, Arafat instigated a four year, five month terror war against Israel: the second intifada.
And now, 20 years later, on September 15, Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed a peace accord and declaration.
What this trajectory shows is the abject failure of Palestinian leadership.
Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza were understandably angry if they were watching the ceremony on Tuesday: it must have been like watching your family going on a European vacation, and leaving you at home.
But their anger – anger expressed in rockets fired from Gaza to Ashkelon – is misplaced if directed at the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel or the United States. This anger should be directed at their own leadership, a leadership which has not changed the guard significantly since 1993, and which has led the Palestinians down one dead end after the next.
Arafat went to the White House in 1993 after he realized that the terror campaign his Palestinian Liberation Organization had waged against Israel since the early 1960s, before the 1967 Six Day War, only got him so far.
Killing athletes at the Munich Olympics, hijacking airplanes, a six year violent uprising in the West Bank and Gaza that began in 1987 placed the Palestinian cause on the international agenda, but did not bring the Palestinians closer to the PLO’s goals of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
So in 1993 Arafat changed tactics. His goal of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, or in its place, was no where near realization, so he embarked on negotiation with Israel. That was the Oslo process.
The two sides negotiated and negotiated and negotiated until July 2000, at Camp David, when Arafat realized that the most he could get from a left wing Israeli prime minister – Ehud Barak – did not meet his minimum requirements. He was at a crossroads. He could either adjust his goals, or change tactics. Arafat, who will not go down as the great compromiser, was not about to compromise on his goals, but rather opted to change tactics: he ignited the second intifada.
Israel eventually defeated the second intifada, but the violence cost some 1,053 Israeli dead, and some 3,200 Palestinians. Arafat died in November of 2004, and his deputy – Mahmoud Abbas – became the new president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas shared Arafat’s goals, but realized that the terror tactic had failed. Rather than compromising on the goals, he too opted to merely shift tactics.
If negotiations didn’t work, and terror didn’t work, then perhaps the Palestinians could get the world – first Europe, then the United States – to pressure Israel into conceding to their demands. Isolate Israel, turn it into a pariah state, an international leper, and that would get the Israelis to give in to Palestinian demands. That was Abbas’s signature tactic.
Tuesday’s signing on the White House lawn of agreements normalizing relations between Israel and two important Arab states in the Persian Gulf shows the degree to which that tactic has also turned out to be a complete failure.
Yes, the Palestinians have a right to be angry at the ceremony in Washington. But their anger should be directed at Abbas, and negotiators such as Saeb Erekat who stunningly have been around and making the decisions for the Palestinian people for some three decades.
Watching the ceremony in Washington it was difficult not to consider that the Second Intifada – which has so much impact on Israeli society – erupted exactly 20 years ago this month. Look at where Israel is today, and where the Palestinians are. It is simply stunning that so many of the same Palestinian leaders are still calling the shots for their people.
The Palestinians have a right to be angry – but that anger should be directed at their leaders for roads not taken, decisions not made, and golden opportunities squandered.
The UAE and Bahrain emphatically and publicly said on Tuesday they no longer want to be a part of it.