“Oslo has failed, it’s finished, it’s dead,” concluded Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Danny Danon (Likud) while speaking from Israel online to a Washington, DC, audience at the law offices of Jones Day.
Danon spoke as part of the Oct. 3, 2013, Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) panel “20 Years since Oslo: Time to Reassess Paradigms” offering an expert, sober anniversary postmortem of the failed Arab-Israeli Oslo peace process begun on Sept. 13, 1993, and its lessons for the future.
Although “it is very hard to tell people the truth,” Danon saw no “viable partner for peace” among Palestinian leaders. Further “land for peace” Israeli territorial concessions to the Palestinians were thus pointless. Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria/West Bank, for example, would simply “copy and paste” the aggression faced by Israel from Hamas since its 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip onto territory even closer to Israel’s population centers.
In discussing Israel’s Oslo negotiating partner, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), former Israeli ambassador Yoram Ettinger in person at Jones Day stated that “leopards do not change spots,” but rather “they change tactics.”
Muslim Arabs like Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas have an understanding of the entire region including Israel as a “waqf…divinely ordained to be a Muslim area.” For such Muslims “it has never been the size, but the existence of Israel” ruled by the “infidel Jew” that is a source of conflict. This intransigence manifested itself in a “constant and steady stream of incitement” of hatred and terrorism against Israel from Palestinian media, EMET founder and President Sarah Stern noted.
Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes qualified former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s statement about the necessity of making “peace with one’s enemy.” Pipes clarified that peace is only possible with “with one’s former enemy.” After all, “no one was talking peace with Adolf Hitler in 1942.” In the Oslo process, by contrast, the “Israelis thought they could finesse winning” and sought to appease the Palestinians who still have a “live aspiration” to destroy Israel. Yet “Israeli concessions inflamed Palestinian hostility” and “reduced the Palestinian awe of Israel.”
Commentary editor Jonathan Tobin, assessed that Israel “traded land for terror” given the “completely unfounded” assumption that Palestinians wanted peace. “In theory a two-state solution would be a good idea,” Tobin judged, but under present circumstances such ideas are “all just commentary.”
“People who wish to spoil the party” must truthfully say that no easy “2+2 = 4 solution” exists and “avoid magical thinking.”
Pipes described a “death cult” taking root among the Palestinians during the Oslo years, with more Israelis dying in the five years following the Oslo accords than in the previous 15 years. Palestinians also suffered from this mayhem while they had enjoyed previously under Israeli occupation rule of law, a growing economy, functioning schools, university establishments, a society without checkpoints, and open access to Israel. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami’s “silver lining” in the Oslo failure that the “world has now seen who wants peace” was not convincing to Tobin. Global opinion today is more hostile than ever towards Israel and even “talk of a one-state solution” has emerged that would abolish the Jewish state.
Contrary to earlier representations of the Oslo process having an “element of reversibility” described by Stern, Tobin noted that Israeli concessions are “never coming back.” This irreversibility included the “colossal disaster” of the 2005 Israeli Gaza withdrawal leading to “Hamastan.” Despite the peace process’ failure therefore, “we are still living in the Oslo world.”
Panel participants like Ettinger criticized in the Oslo process and other Arab-Israeli peace initiatives the influence of “Palestinian firsters” among global policymakers. Israel appeared a “peripheral” matter in the Middle East to Pipes as “Egypt is on the precipice,” “centrifuges are whirring” in Iran, and “Syria is in flames.” American and international efforts devoted an Arab-Israeli peace were for Tobin a “waste of resources” taken from “what is important to what is not important.”
Contrary to the Oslo accords, the panelists were optimistic about the state of Israel itself. Ettinger saw Israel’s “demographic security” in a birthrate higher than that of any Arab state except for Jordan and Yemen, where fertility was declining as well. Pipes as well noted that Israel’s birthrate of 2.65 children per woman was above the population replacement lever of 2.1 and above the birthrate of the next most fertile developed country, France with 2.08.
Jewish fertility called into question for Ettinger the necessity of territorial concessions for maintaining Israel as a Jewish democracy. While Jews were only a 55 percent majority in the Israel foreseen by the United Nations 1947 Palestine Mandate partition plan, Jews were now 66 percent of the population in the former mandate excluding the Gaza Strip. Israel’s population was not only fertile, but prosperous; since 2008, Israel has had 14.5 percent growth compared to Australia with 9 percent, the United States with 2.9 percent, and the Eurozone with -.4 percent, Pipes noted.
Such Israeli strength seemed to justify the independent Israeli policies advocated by the panel. Ettinger, for example, urged Israel “not to waste time” on adverse international reaction to a future Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin ignored in 1981 with no lasting effect American opposition to Israel striking Iraq’s nuclear weapons program even though his advisers warned against damaging American-Israeli relations “beyond repair.”
Ettinger foresaw Israel being “privy to thank you notes” from around the world, including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, following a successful Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Tobin, though, questioned whether Israel could unilaterally conduct such a strike and certainly considered an American strike more promising. “There are some jobs you can’t outsource,” Tobin said.
Review of the Oslo peace process and other matters made Ettinger advocate that Israel like Nancy Reagan “just say no” sometimes to the United States. This entails “short term tension, but long term respect.” “Israel,” Tobin concurred, “doesn’t always have to say ‘yes.’”
Feature Photo Credit: Menhaem Kahana /AFP/Getty Images
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