The Oslo process greatly augmented this ruinous pattern.
Today, Israel is under pressure from the Obama administration to freeze all settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and to proceed with the creation of a Palestinian state. Most ominously, the auguries are that the US will do little to nothing to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons if Israel doesn’t cooperate with dictates such as these.
Such pressure, misguided and hostile as it is, has its origin in Israel’s own errors. In return for having legitimized Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement in 1993, logic and prudence dictated that Israel obtain strict Palestinian adherence to the Oslo agreements, protest violations as these occurred, and even break off negotiations if compliance was not forthcoming.
YET BIG gambles often lead to further gambles and matters proceeded very differently. Although the late Yitzhak Rabin spoke of rolling back the Palestinian Authority if it violated the trust Israel had placed in it, this proved an empty resolution. Once Oslo had been signed, Israeli governments preferred not to notice the fact that the PA was building up terrorist militias and radicalizing the Palestinian public for jihad. Merely to point this out was to earn official umbrage as an opponent of peace.
The truth, of course, was diametrically opposite: The only possibility of peace lay with the Palestinians fulfilling their agreements, not ignoring their violations of them.
Supporters of Oslo often contended that it would improve Israel’s standing in the world. The opposite has been true. Even before Oslo’s collapse in 2000, Western governments ended up accepting the logic implicit in dealing with the Arafat-controlled PA: that the Palestinians must be seeking just ends like statehood alongside Israel, not Israel’s elimination, and that concessions from Israel were therefore the key to peace.
As a result, rather than ostracizing the PA in 2000 for its resort to a war after it rebuffed president Bill Clinton’s peace proposals, much of the world merely concluded that Israel had not offered enough. Anti-Israel boycotts and divestment campaigns became commonplace, especially at universities raising tomorrow’s leaders. Anti-Semitic activity in Europe has risen steeply since 1993, according to all statistical data.
Ariel Sharon was elected in 2001 after Oslo had foundered in bloodshed and produced a new Palestinian terror wave. He spoke frequently of the PA as not warranting Israeli concessions due to its continued promotion of terrorism and incitement.
Yet he too ended up recommencing talks with Mahmoud Abbas and agreeing to the 2003 road map, without the PA having done anything to justify those huge steps.
Previously, Palestinian compliance had been theoretically necessary, but practically ignored: Each new agreement simply reiterated Palestinians obligations that had been dishonored since the last signing ceremony.
Now, the road map discarded even the need for the appearance of compliance. It called for major Israeli concessions in advance of Palestinian compliance with past agreements.
Israel accepted the road map with 14 reservations relating, among other things, to unfulfilled Palestinian obligations, but the US never seriously took note of these. Again, the conclusion was drawn: If Israel was prepared to negotiate with the PA, it should make further concessions. In other words, continued negotiations undercut Israel’s ability to insist on Palestinian compliance.
PEACE NOW pioneer Amos Oz had once prophesied that Oslo would make Israel justifiably tough on all Palestinian violations. This too was a delusion: PA atlases and textbooks continue to pretend that Israel doesn’t exist, and Fatah’s constitution remains unchanged in its call for Israel’s destruction and the use of terrorism. Terrorists like George Habash and Samir Kuntar were personally lauded by Abbas; and terror acts like the slaughter of eight students in a Jerusalem seminary in March 2008 were considered acts of martyrdom, the perpetrators praised in Abbas’s publications.
The result of ignoring Palestinian malfeasance has been that today, the unreconstructed PA continues to get handouts from the international community (more than $900 million this year from the US alone), while Israel comes under relentless pressure to make concessions in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Palestinians regard this as happy division of labor: Recently, Abbas told The Washington Post that “I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements… Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality… the people are living a normal life.” That much of the world, including the Obama administration, ignores Palestinian incitement, terror and rejection of Israel while blaming Jews living in the West Bank and Jerusalem as the cause of the impasse was not inevitable. Oslo – which no one imposed on Israel – paved the way.
The writer is a fellow in history at Melbourne University, director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (London: Routledge, 2004).