Oslo and Israel’s red lines

Since Oslo two decades ago, every single one of our red lines was crossed.

Palestinian troops loyal to Hamas on patrol 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian troops loyal to Hamas on patrol 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This week, we will mark 20 years since the signing of the Oslo Accord. Twenty years after this agreement was signed, we must admit that it has been a historic failure.
The Oslo vision stated that in the New Middle East, there would be no more wars, that the conflict was not about the existence of Israel, but about territory. It claimed that if we would just give the Palestinians a state, there would be peace.
We took Arafat the terrorist and transformed him into a partner for peace. The Palestinians are no longer our enemies who want to kill us, but our neighbors. And terrorists became “freedom fighters” who were protesting the “occupation,” the cause of their terror. The Israeli people were told that a peace agreement would bring security, instead of security bringing peace. And above all, if no agreement was reached, then we would be the guilty party because we did not give up enough. We were promised a day of celebration, but instead it turned out to be a day of mourning. Instead of sanctifying life, we’ve buried our dead and cared for our crippled and injured.
In retrospect, the Oslo Accord does not reflect political wisdom or even a calculated risk. It was simply a dangerous gamble.
Since it was signed, we have been subjected to forceful barrages of attacks carried out by terrorists.
Bombs have exploded on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, on buses and in commercial centers.
More than 1,000 people were murdered and the thousands of people who have been injured were witness to this terrible mistake.
These victims were quickly dubbed by the Oslo Accord architect, “victims of peace” instead of “victims of terror.”
These semantics have not succeeded in making these people less dead and have not brought us any closer to peace. All they have done is bolster terrorism. The idea that concessions would bring about peace has had disastrous results in the short term and bodes poorly for Israel’s long-term strategy.
Israel has made many concessions: It withdrew from numerous territories in accordance with the Oslo Accord; it allowed the PLO to relocate from Tunis to the West Bank; it unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon; it made deals in which hundreds of terrorists were released from prison; it made ridiculous roadmap concessions; and it unilaterally disengaged from Gaza.
These actions have not been perceived by the enemy as benevolent, but as an expression of weakness, and have resulted in a barrage of rockets being aimed at Sderot and the communities surrounding Gaza.
I cannot, however, recall any concessions from the Palestinian side.
In addition to the upsurge in terrorism, Israel has also paid a heavy economic price. As the internal security minister from 2001 to 2003 (years of intense terrorism) I witnessed first-hand how terrorism negatively affected business, hotels, places of entertainment, entrepreneurship and investments.
Now, as tourism minister, I see the imprint that years of terrorism have left on tourism in Israel, which is now slowly being revived.
Oslo has also been the cause of heavy damage to Israel’s image worldwide.
IN THE years before the Oslo Accord was signed, Israelis knew what they were fighting for. Israel spoke about and fought in the name of justice and against terrorism. The historical justice of the Zionist enterprise was not just an important cause that we were following, but a bitter war against terrorism, a fight for our very existence.
The famous picture of the prime minister shaking hands with Arafat at the signing sent a message to the world that we no longer consider Arafat a terrorist, that in fact he is now a legitimate partner. Yes, he did murder thousands of innocent people, and yes, he does brazenly and openly undermine the existence of the State of Israel, but let’s put these facts aside for the moment and turn him into a legitimate partner. And by turning a terrorist into a legitimate partner, we also gave his goals legitimacy.
And wonder of wonders: Arafat did not change his ways one bit, but they became more and more legitimate in world public opinion.
“Terrorists” became “freedom fighters,” and the Palestinian Charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, was never amended. The number of suicide bombers grew and peace became an idea that was left lying on the lawn at Camp David, farther away from us than ever.
And so it came to pass that Israel, the only country in the Middle East that provided equal rights for all minorities by law, became known as an apartheid state.
The Oslo Accord also put Israel at a disadvantage in future negotiations.
Since Oslo, blackmail has become the norm in our relationship with the Palestinians, where Palestinians require one-sided concessions as a prerequisite for negotiations. And even after we give in, if talks do not take place, we are always the one blamed.
Even during the most recent round of talks, we made far-reaching concessions: We released more than 100 despicable security prisoners with blood on their hands. I cannot recall any concession from the Palestinian side.
Another disastrous outcome of the Oslo Accord has been the blurring of our red lines. The red lines mark where our vital interests are at stake.
We fight for the red lines at any price with all our might.
Before the Oslo Accord, the public was united behind indisputable red lines: we would not give up the Golan Heights or the Jordan Valley or move the 1967 Green Line.
Jerusalem and the return of refugees were not even up for discussion. Nor was negotiating with terrorists.
And yet every single one of these red lines was crossed over the last two decades; the debate centered instead on how high a price we would be willing to pay for each one.
At this point, since we cannot go back in time, we are bound to slide down this slippery slope.
Negotiations are currently being held between Israeli and Palestinian representatives. We must learn from our disastrous mistakes at Oslo and implement the lessons we learned.
Firstly, concessions should never be made without getting something in return; there are no free lunches.
It’s time for the Palestinians to make concessions, too.
Secondly, we need to carefully examine the partner sitting across from us at the negotiating table: Is he truly interested in peace? What kind of authority does he have? If an agreement is reached by a leader who lacks a real mandate, it would just be broken. And if the partner has backing, but calls for the destruction of Israel – under no circumstances should we sit with him at the negotiation table. It was Shimon Peres who once said, “The number of agreements that have been violated by the Arabs is the same as the number of agreements that have been signed.”
Thirdly, we should begin a process of returning to the red lines that are vital to our security and our future: the refugee issue and division of Jerusalem should not even appear on the agenda. Returning to the 1967 Green Line is also not an option – we would not be able to defend ourselves from that line. The same goes for the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley.
We must go back to using terms such as the Zionist enterprise’s historical justice. We are building all over Jerusalem because this has been our capital since the days of King David, and has never been the capital of any other nation; and throughout Judea and Samaria – since they are also part of our homeland, which is in accordance with the spirit of the League of Nations’ decision regarding the British Mandate.
Fourthly, let’s be realistic: There is no “New Middle East.” It is still the same old Middle East it’s always been. And in the Middle East, the radical Islamic elements are raising their heads. Here there is no mercy for the weak and therefore we should not give up land that serves as a security barrier under any circumstances.
And lastly, a Palestinian state should not be allowed to be formed under the current circumstances.
Nation-states in the region are crumbling before our eyes. There have been bloody civil wars and cruel mass murders that no one could have imagined in their worst nightmares.
In such a situation, where we don’t know what the world will look like tomorrow, or who will be in power, no path exists that could lead to a true peace. Anyone who talks about peace in the Middle East in these troubled times is either living a pipe dream or is a charlatan.
The best-case scenario would be if we could reach an interim long-term agreement that would allow the Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side and address any security problems and implement any necessary economic improvements. Such an agreement could pave the road for a real peace agreement in the future.
An interim agreement would also be based on facts on the ground, which is quite different from the way the Oslo Accord was worded.
Now, as we celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days, we need to take a good look at these last few years and make a true reckoning.
The writer is tourism minister. In the past he served as internal security minister, national infrastructure minister, as well as the minister responsible for critiquing intelligence and strategic dialogue between the US and Israel.
Translated by Hannah Hochner