Into the Fray: How urban legends become ‘universal truths’

Oslo brought virtually no benefit to Israel and inflicted massive and lasting – or at least, long-term – damage. Even in areas where benefits did allegedly accrue, closer examination will show that these were largely illusionary or, at best, transitory.

oslo accords 88 (photo credit: )
oslo accords 88
(photo credit: )
The nightmare tales of the Likud are well-known. They promised us rockets from Gaza. For a year already the Gaza Strip is for the most part under the Palestinian Authority; there hasn’t been a rocket, and there won’t be a single one... All this [empty] talk. The Likud is scared to death of peace. Cowards afraid of peace. That is the Likud of today.
– Yitzhak Rabin, June 25, 1995
I spent several previous columns discussing how control of the political discourse by left-wing elites determines political realities in Israel. I argued that this discourse determines decision-makers’ perceptions of constraints acting on them and possibilities available to them – and hence has a defining influence on the parameters of their policy choices.
Fortuitous happenstance
As it happens, by “happy” circumstance, I recently came across a starkly graphic example of how this process is conducted; how the media accepts unquestioningly wildly fictitious claims to support and sustain the myths of Left-leaning elites as to the inevitability/desirability of their political perspectives – thus aiding and abetting their propagation; and how vulnerable even potentially unsympathetic publics are to these machinations.
This was provided by an interview in The Times of Israel, conducted by its editor David Horovitz, with Eitan Haber.
Haber was billed as “Yitzhak Rabin’s closest aide” and can be indisputably categorized as belonging to the Oslophilic elites.
After all, he is a longstanding apologist for that ill-conceived process – which he frequently defends in his regular column in the widely read Hebrew daily, Yediot Aharanot, and in his numerous appearances in the mainstream media, to which he has ready access.
In the interview, titled “When they become PM, they realize how utterly dependent Israel is on the US,” Haber provided his assessment of “the 20 years since that White House handshake...”
Fabric of fabrications
Virtually everything Haber conveyed throughout the interview was – demonstrably – either illogical or inaccurate.
Even more regrettably, he was not challenged, even once, on any of his not infrequent non sequiturs and misrepresentations – leaving readers with the impression that they were being provided with a reasonably accurate account of events by an authoritative, well-connected individual.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The major points Haber attempts to make is that not only was the Oslo process enormously beneficial to Israel, it was made inevitable by US pressure on Rabin, something that Binyamin Netanyahu did not grasp when he castigated him for adopting it.
According to Haber, no one really understands the pressures on Israel until he/she becomes prime minister, and Israeli prime ministers actually have no freedom of choice to make independent policy.
Even though he acknowledges that “the accords had holes, that is true... and even though it did not lead to the hoped-for end-of-conflict...” Haber alleges that “Israel benefited immensely from the Oslo process,” asserting that “... the accords brought the State of Israel a considerable benefit.”
He continues, “Netanyahu opposed Rabin when he didn’t know anything...and what is it that the Likud leader didn’t know 20 years ago, that he does know as prime minister today? That only when you make it to the Prime Minister’s Office... do you understand the extent to which Israel ‘is dependent on America...We are in America’s little pocket.’”
Perpetuating poppycock
Of course, when it comes to Oslo, this is perfect poppycock. The Haber interview is wildly misleading on every count.
Oslo brought virtually no benefit to Israel and inflicted massive and lasting – or at least, long-term – damage. Even in areas where benefits did allegedly accrue, closer examination will show that these were largely illusionary or, at best, transitory.
Moreover, where they did entail substance, these were in fact attributable to factors other than the Oslo process.
Thus, for example, the much-vaunted diplomatic fruits and economic bonanza that supposedly resulted from the agreements were largely a matter of “smoke and mirrors” – as will soon become apparent.
Moreover, the Oslo Accords were never the product of US pressure on Israeli decision- makers. Quite the opposite – they were entirely an Israeli concocted initiative – as was the disastrous disengagement from Gaza. In both cases, the real pressures were domestic, traceable to Israeli civil society elites – albeit in differing configurations and contexts in the respective cases.
Rabin, it will be recalled, had pledged in the 1993 elections that he would reach an agreement on autonomy with the Palestinians within nine months. When it became clear that this would not be achieved, he was left with a stark choice: admit failure and by implication concede that his political adversaries were right, or adopt the more concessionary policy covertly prepared by left-wing advocates in the Norwegian capital.
As the former alternative was entirely inadmissible for Rabin’s political, and more important, societal, peer groups in his Labor party, he felt compelled to risk the latter – despite his grave misgivings.
The Oslo Accords, which clearly cut against every fiber in Rabin’s being, reflected a triumph of his aversion – and that of his societal milieu – towards his political adversaries (i.e. the Likud) over his allegiance to the wider national interest.
Distorting the diplomatic record
Despite the prevailing hype as to the diplomatic benefits that the Oslo Accords brought, the truth is that whatever payoffs there may have been, their value, if any, has proved no more than superficial, short-term cosmetics.
Today Israel is far more reviled and ostracized in far wider circles than in the days of the recalcitrant “rejectionist,” Yitzhak Shamir. In this regard, it is eminently plausible that this deterioration in Israel’s status is due to international disappointment that the unrealistic expectations it gave rise to were not – and never could be – fulfilled.
But whatever the reason might be, the rapidly expanding Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions drive is a post-Oslo phenomenon, not a pre-Oslo one. Likewise, the increasingly overt and strident specter of punitive measures by the EU that have become commonplace in the post-Oslo era, were never a feature in the pre-Oslo political realities.
With nostalgic fervor, Haber coos: “Dozens of countries... recognized the State of Israel. The prime minister traveled, for the very first time, to various Arab states, to Oman for example, to Morocco and a few other countries. No one realizes that the prime minister of the State of Israel had not, until then, ever been to Russia, or China, Japan, Korea. All of those countries opened up to us...
This of course is a gross distortion of the diplomatic record. For while it is true that there was a brief spurt of benign enthusiasm displayed towards Israel immediately following the accords, it was largely confined to pomp and ceremony, and soon receded, with several countries, such as Oman and Morocco, severing relations only a few years later.
Distorting (cont.)
Contrary to prevailing urban legend, one would be hard pressed to find any state of substantial international standing that set up diplomatic relations with Israel after the conclusion of the Oslo Accords in September 1993 – and, as mentioned, any of those that might have been of some significance, rapidly revoked them.
However, in the pre-Oslo period there were resounding diplomatic triumphs. For example China, India and the USSR (later Russia), which together comprise almost 40 percent of humanity, and had long avoided diplomatic ties with Israel, opened embassies roughly two years prior to Oslo. Similarly, South Korea approved the reopening of its embassy, which closed in 1978, as early as November 1991. Japan has maintained diplomatic ties with Israel since the 1950s.
By contrast, the vast majority of nations that established official contacts with Israel in the wake of the Oslo initiative were hardly of crucial importance to its international stature – with all due respect to exotic locations such as Andorra, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Burundi, Cape Verde, Croatia, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macedonia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Montenegro, Namibia, Nauru, Rwanda, San Marino, Sao Tome & Principe, Vanuatu and Zimbabwe – which make up the overwhelming bulk of the post-Oslo additions to countries maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel, and which Haber brandishes so proudly.
Economic facts, figures and fictions
With effusive, if somewhat misleading, enthusiasm Haber gushes, “Close to 200 international companies came to Israel – McDonald’s, even McDonald’s... And national growth was 7.4%...”
Quite apart from the fact that the appearance of a fast-food chain is hardly the defining hallmark of economic success (after all, McDonald’s is listed as having branches in over 120 countries including Cuba, Brunei and New Caledonia), Haber appears entirely unaware of the real data as to the economic impact of Oslo.
Average economic growth in the three years that immediately preceded Oslo (1990-2) was higher (6.6%) than the average in the three years (1994-6) that immediately succeeded it (6.1%). Moreover, in the wake of Oslo II (1995), growth plummeted (due to the Oslo-induced Palestinian violence that erupted in the 1990s).
Accordingly, in the period from 1996 to the end of the decade, the average growth rate had halved to 3.4%. Post-Oslo growth (1994-99) was lower (4.9%) than the average for the decade as a whole, which was 5.1%.
Thus, again contrary to urban legend, Oslo proved to be an impediment, not an accelerant, for the economy.
Why I wrote this article
Sadly these are only a small sampling of Haber’s cavalier disregard for the truth and his penchant for elite-compliant myth. It would take a series of columns to catalogue and analyze the full range of his defective and deceptive – and regrettably unchallenged – account of events in the Times of Israel interview.
But I must move on to the principle reason for writing this article.
After reading the interview, a like-minded friend with a widely read blog contacted me. He asked whether Haber’s account of US pressure on Israeli prime ministers, in general, and on Rabin, in particular, did not imply that my contention that political realities in Israel are determined by the left-leaning elites via their control of the political discourse was “perhaps... wrong or partially wrong.”
Of course, quite the opposite is true. The Haber interview is a prime example of how unrestrained access to the media is used to create the public impression that a policy of territorial withdrawal and political appeasement is not only beneficial, but unavoidable.
His claim that Israeli prime ministers have no option but to do the bidding of the US president – and that this realization only dawns once one takes office – is patently ludicrous.
This is not to say there is no outside pressure on Israeli decision-makers, but it only produces results when there is Israeli willingness – if not eagerness – to submit to it, as was the case both with Oslo and the disengagement.
After all, America is far more than the White House. Israel has huge pools of support in Congress and the American public, where it enjoys a 4-to-1 advantage over the Palestinians. Yet none of this has been leveraged into political clout to make pressure for perilous Israeli concessions a politically toxic policy for any administration – precisely because Israeli foreign policy is dominated by PC (Palestinian-compliant) elites.
From urban legend to universal truths
The Haber interview is an instructive example of how control of the discourse is harnessed to fashion urban legend into widely accepted “universal truths.”
In October 2009, Haber wrote an opinion piece in which he articulated – frequently verbatim – the very same unfounded assertions that appear in his recent interview.
In responding to his 2009 piece I wrote, “Haber’s recent article... can only be described as an appallingly disingenuous piece of journalism. It constituted scandalous abuse of his unfettered access to public media in order to convey a patently mendacious message – apparently banking on his readers’ short-term memories and large-scale ignorance to prevent exposure of what he has the brazen audacity to call ‘the truth.’”
It seems nothing has changed.
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.(