Oslo is one of Europe''s historic cities, having begun about the time William sailed to England. And a cool and damp respite from Jerusalem''s summer, where midday is only for mad dogs and Englishmen. This trip is part of my on-going project to compare other old cities with Jerusalem in their treatment of iconic sites.
Oslo has scenery and architecture, but nothing to match Jerusalem''s sacred sites. It also brings up 1993.
Convention is that the Oslo Accords of that year, between Israel and the PLO, were a failure.
I''ll emphasize their success.
Sure, they did not bring a formal peace. Since then, there has been a bloody intifada and an even bloodier invasion of Gaza brought on by attacks against Israeli civilians. The Hamas rulers of Gaza will not talk with Israelis. The Fatah rulers of the West Bank and the Israeli government have been posturing for more than three years about whether to negotiate.
The enormously important "however" is that Israel no longer has responsibility for major Palestinian settlements.
Israel as well as the Palestinians enjoy the autonomy granted to the Palestinians. Palestinians are mostly on their own, even while lacking the panoply and prestige of a "state," with a formal vote in the United Nations and all that goes with having a real place in the world. Israel lacks the headaches of having to police, educate, and provide other services to a hostile population.
Differentials in power provide the Israelis with the capacity to enter Palestinian areas in order to assure its own security. That occurred regularly and massively once the intafada of 2000 got underway, even more emphatically in Gaza during 2009, and sporadically in recent times of relative quiet.
The Palestinian leadership also benefits from its amorphous status. They have a flag (or two depending on how one views the Islamic banner of Hamas), and representatives with the rank of "ambassador" in a number of countries. Depending on the internal politics, international organizations grant them membership or observer status.
Of greater practical importance, the de facto suspension of the timetables included in the Oslo Accords and the moribund nature of the peace process provide the Palestinians with their beggar''s cup. Their tales of misery at the hands of Israel produces what may be the world''s most lavish record of living off of donations from governments, churches, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. The United Nations recognizes them and their descendants as unsettled refugees more than six decades after acquiring that status. A recent report of the World Bank notes that the Palestine Authority''s reliance on donations is so heavy, and its self-taxing and financial management so weak as to render them unqualified for statehood.
Explanations for the largess mention the voting bloc of Muslim states in international organizations, and the facile way in which vocal support for "Palestine" unites a cluster of countries whose governments disagree on so much else. The bloc not only gives the Palestinian cause weight in the deliberation of those international organizations, but makes other governments susceptible to Palestinian appeals in order to appease Muslim countries on issues that arise outside of the international organizations.
It also helps the Palestinian cause that the Holy Land is the focus of their claims. Christian churches and the governments of countries whose populations are mostly Christian can feel attracted to what is claimed to be misery in the place of Christ''s birth and crucifixion. In the process they have to overlook the substantial evidence of Muslim persecution of Christians and the virtual disappearance of Christians from locales they once dominated in the Holy Land. It helps to have Jews in the stories of who is responsible.
One of my Palestinian students, an intense nationalist and non-religious Muslim, said that his people truly would be miserable and forgotten if they were not alongside of Jews in the Promised Land.
Can the present continue?
Jews with a more recent European or Middle Eastern family experiences than most Jews of North America are aware of having lived peacefully for years alongside of Christians or Muslims, with sporadic outbursts, That has also been the history of Jews in Palestine then Israel from the early 20th century to the present. The Jews of Israel have the IDF rather than the option of hiding in the cellar or with especially good non-Jewish neighbors. The weight of Israel and the moderation of its governments have provided it with favorable treatment, even by governments that vote with Muslim countries on symbolic expressions of Palestinan claims.
It will last as long as it lasts. Israel''s military, economic, and political capacities have continued to grow despite routine expressions by the Israeli left, overseas Jews and non-Jews claiming to be concerned about our welfare, and saying that only major concessions will save Israel from an inevitable disaster.
So far, concessions offered by Israeli officials who thought they were major, along with their endorsements by western governments, have never been enough for the Palestinian leadership. Apparently it is easier for the Palestinians to stay with their beggar''s cup rather than making the hard decisions of telling their people they cannot have all of their demands, and putting their finances on a setting more suitable to governing than the enrichment of those able to benefit personally from overseas donations.
Currently Arab Spring has becoe chaos in Syria, concerns about stability in Tunis, Egypt, and Libya, a tense quiet in Jordan, who knows what beyond the coverage of international media in Yemen and Bahrain, and much less than the ideal in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan.
It will be a while before we have to worry about a united Muslim army marching on Jerusalem.
Those of us an urban bus ride from the Prime Minister''s Office do not know Israel''s intentions about Iran. For the time being, however, we are aligned with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in being concerned about Iran. Along with those energy producers, we may actually get the United States and Europeans to do something in our behalf. Israel may act alone.
Norway has acquired a reputation as being anti-Israel. I stumbled across roots of that in the late 1970s, when lecturing above the Arctic Circle at the University of Tromso. My hosts guided me through three meter-high canons of snow to reach my venue, and said that some of their colleagues were staying away in protest against an Israeli lecturer.
The weather has been damp and cool, something like Jerusalem on a mild day in mid-winter. Once poor and an exporter of surplus population to places like Wisconsin, oil has made Norway one of the richest of countries on a per capita basis, but with an emphasis on middle class equality distinguishing it from those other oil exporting places. Georgraphy and architecture, and a good national art museum make it an attractive place to visit. Among the striking differences from Jerusalem, an abundance of statuary intead of our concern for graven images.