The day after Oslo

For Netanyahu, the formal repeal of the Oslo process is a political opportunity he cannot afford to forsake.

PA President Abbas gives letter to Ban Ki-moon 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
PA President Abbas gives letter to Ban Ki-moon 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
It has been a few weeks since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s powerful speech to the United Nations General Assembly, and Israelis are still wondering: Where do we go from here? In the aftermath of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s unilateral declaration of statehood, the bilateral framework between Israel and the PA is in tatters, with negotiations no longer a credible avenue. Those who advocate the continuation of this framework must contend with the incontrovertible truth that Palestinian interlocutors, leaders and popular consensus are incapable of coming to terms with basic Jewish national rights.
There is an old political adage that if you can’t get the cart out of the ditch, be thankful you can still ride the horse home. Unfortunately Israel has neither. As millions watched the leader of the PA brazenly wave in the air a unilateral declaration for Palestinian statehood, scant attention was given to the fact that this act was in gross violation of the Oslo Accords, which have undergone slow erosion since their signing. Oslo, which enshrined bilateral talks as the avenue for a just settlement, was utterly repudiated; the real declaration made at the UN was that Oslo is categorically over.
Oslo and Oslo II were envisaged as a framework for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a negotiated settlement. In the preamble of these accords, one reads that the sides committed themselves “reaffirming their desire to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process.”
On this basis, Israel would transfer portions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to an elected Palestinian Authority. This authority was obligated to fight terrorism and provide for its own internal security.
Buffered by joint economic development projects, Oslo was geared to generate confidence-building measures and create the necessary trust to proceed with negotiations on a “final status” to end hostilities permanently.
IT IS worth remembering that the Knesset ratified those accords by the slimmest of margins (one vote). Still, Israel played its role as a partner for peace. There were the Rabin-Clinton-Arafat signatures of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995, Netanyahu’s Wye River agreement, Yasser Arafat’s rebuff at Camp David in 2000, Ariel Sharon’s road map after the second intifada, the Olmert-Livni shelf agreement at Annapolis in 2007 and most recently Netanyahu’s 10- month settlement freeze last year.
Israel has more than fulfilled its side of the bargain. Observed in this light, Abba Eban’s famous critique of the Palestinians becomes even more prescient: “They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
The problem with this oft-spoken quip is that it presupposes there will always be opportunities available for the Palestinians to squander.
The Palestinian’s irreparable breach of Oslo is the logical conclusion of years of handshakes, summits and commitments, which sought to maintain a doomed policy but instead merely continued a pageantry, which that suggested Oslo was alive and kicking. Oslo’s survival up until now, at least in name, speaks volumes to the power the international spotlight has had on this conflict.
ANYONE PAYING attention knows that Oslo has been over for quite some time. The second intifada defamed it, disengagement exposed it, Annapolis was in spite of it and now Abbas has renounced it.
Inevitably, the reality Oslo hoped to create could not keep up with onthe- ground realities. What makes Abbas’s repudiation of Oslo so significant is that he did the one thing that cannot be reversed – he went public. Why would the “moderate” Abbas/Fayyad administration take the step that Arafat would not? An answer can be found in Arafat’s 1974 negotiation strategy, known as the “piece plan.” It was a tactic to grab whatever he could through dubious diplomacy. More famously known as the “phased plan,” it continues to be embraced, engraved momentously in the PLO Covenant, which to this day has not been revoked. This scheme states plainly its aim to “adopt a political solution of establishing a National Authority over any territory from which the occupation withdraws,” buttressed with a negotiation to extract as much as possible by simply taking “the ceiling of the last negotiation as the floor for the next.
It is no wonder that Abbas’s declaration makes no concrete reference to actual borders, resources and neighbors. The reason is now obvious; the Palestinians are not interested in compromise with Israel because they want to supplant Israel. They intend to do this through refugees, demanding indefensible borders and perpetuating attrition-styled conflict on Israel’s population. If the current bid at the UN should fail, we can presume that the strategy will continue with the “Quartet” to try to get a large international power to impose Palestinian terms on Israel. Whatever the outcome of this gambit, the breach of Oslo is irreversible, trust severed and the bilateral framework no longer a viable option.
DESPITE THIS, many of Israel’s brightest thinkers cling warily to the two-state solution, neglecting an clear reality that exposes the absence of a credible negotiating partner. Israel, schooled in the art of pragmatism since its inception, has sustained a Palestinian status quo undeserving of being so dutifully propped up. Even Netanyahu continues to operate as if what happened at the UN created just another stalemate.
For Israel to adopt policies that are consistent with reality, Netanyahu is obligated to reframe the national conversation under the assumption that the Palestinians still refuse to recognize basic Jewish sovereignty on its historic land. Moreover, it is incumbent upon Netanyahu to take the commensurate step to repeal Oslo – and subsequent agreements ratified by the Knesset. Repealing Oslo is not only strategically sound, it is now a matter of principle for the government he represents, which has acted throughout in good faith only to be humiliated, cheated and bamboozled by the Palestinians.
For Netanyahu to continue at the helm of Likud – a party that wrestled with Oslo from the beginning – this repeal is a political opportunity he cannot afford to forsake. He must act on his UN speech, which maintained that Israel would no longer be the party always expected to recognize the rights of others. Instead, the Jewish state’s rights must be recognized.
Those that do not will be identified publicly. Repealing Oslo is the first step in shifting this process to a more leveled diplomatic exchange between Israel and its neighbors and toward a new era in international relations.
Israel should expect some considerable international backlash, in repealing this defunct accord.
However, this official act is the only one that can provide the sort of closure the people of Israel desperately need. Here Netanyahu should not follow the Palestinians in squandering opportunities. By closing this chapter, there is the promise of a new one. Netanyahu use the Jewish year of 5772 to institute a cathartic acceptance of a sad reality, repeal its mistakes and begin the healing process. This is a prerequisite, if Israel is to discover a new path forward.
The writer is co-founder of the JNI (Jewish National Initiative).