Oslo's nine lives
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
At first glance, it appears that the recent Palestinian violence has had a profound impact on the Israeli psyche.
The Left has acknowledged its disarray, shocked by the actions of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians. Amos Oz, the famed author, spoke for many when he admitted being "somewhat shaken" in his old assumption that the Palestinians "are as eager as we are to reach" a solution to the conflict.
Others put it more strongly. "Complete failure" is how Sarah Ozacky-Lazar, co-director of the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace at Givat Haviva, dismisses her own multi-year efforts at Palestinian-Israeli conciliation.
Along similar lines, the Barak government has engaged in some unusually public soul-searching. Rarely does an official so candidly - and promptly - confess the error of his government's ways as did Nahman Shai, the government spokesman. Speaking about Arafat in the aftermath of the Arab summit in Cairo, Shai said: "For the past seven years he was the partner for peace. We were absolutely sure and convinced he was going to make peace with us. But in a few weeks everything collapsed, everything was brought down by him."
But what does this all amount to? The logical implication of this grand mea culpa would be a turnabout in policy, interpreting the past month's violence as part of a long-term effort to eliminate Israel. It would mean giving up on Arafat and the Palestinians as Israel's "partner for peace," at least for this generation.
There are some signs of this: Prime Minister Ehud Barak has said "you have to be blind, both in diplomacy and security, in order to continue the negotiations as if nothing happened."
But the true meaning of October's violence appears, in fact, not to have sunk in. Israeli leaders and voters are not yet willing to draw the necessary conclusions.
Read the fine print: Barak has by no means given up on negotiation with Arafat, only called for a "time-out... to reassess the peace process in response to the events of recent weeks." Translation: once the Palestinians stop the violence, the prime minister is still ready to resume bargaining with them. Confirming that the "time-out" is intended to assuage Israeli anger, not to signal a serious change in policy, the prime minister is continuing to permit the transfer of about $10 million a month in tax payments to the Palestinian Authority, as well as millions of cubic meters of water and all of its electricity.
Other Labor Party leaders are indignant at even this symbolic "time-out." Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami retorted that "life does not take a time-out," and wants to resume negotiations where they left off in July at Camp David. Regional Cooperation Minister Shimon Peres, Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, and other ministers also joined in the opposition.
Nor is it only the political class that clutches at the illusion that more concessions will win Palestinian cooperation. A poll of Israelis published on October 13 found that 63 percent of the electorate still wants negotiations with the Palestinians to go on - a number not much lower than at the height of the peace process euphoria.
Israel suffers from a wide array of assaults - stone-throwing kids, gun-shooting "policemen," lynched and abducted soldiers, vicious antisemitic rhetoric, and Jewish institutions under siege on four continents - and responds with a mock ultimatum accompanied by pleas that everyone return to the bargaining table.
The errors begun at Oslo live on. Like a cat, Oslo has nine lives, with several of them still remaining. The Israeli fatalities of the past month have not been enough to wake the country from its stupor. How many more deaths, will it take?
The bad news is that Oslo actively harms Israel, eroding its deterrence capabilities, and making it ever-more difficult for its government to defend the country's interests. Unprovoked violence, political disrespect, and surging ambitions among its enemies will continue, perhaps increase, as long as the illusion endures that the goodwill of the Palestinians can be bought.
The good news is that Israel's mood of accommodation and weakness cannot endure. As things continue to get worse, even the most thick-headed politician will see that fortitude, as opposed to begging for the chance to make more unilateral concessions, is the country's only sensible strategy. Democratic states are notoriously slow to stand up for themselves, but when they do, watch out.
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