Twenty five years since Oslo - a story of faded hopes

The naysayers were silenced, if not pilloried and deplored -you had to believe that Arafat was another Mandela to be allowed to speak.

Rabbi Berel Wein, | updated: 07:20

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
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A most controversial anniversary was marked here in Israel this month. A quarter of a century ago Israel signed the Oslo agreements establishing the Palestinian Authority and giving it control over millions of people and a large swath of territory in the land of Israel. This anniversary was marked in almost complete silence here in Israel.

The hopes and optimism engendered by the Oslo agreements and the handshake between Arafat and Rabin have long faded in the face of the realities of terrorism and duplicity. Israel hoped that Arafat would somehow turn into Nelson Mandela bringing reconciliation and peace to a very troubled and frustrated society. Instead Arafat embarked on a program of terrorism, with extreme and unachievable demands and goals, and sowed the seeds of generational hatred within the Palestinian society.

I remember how hopeful and happy many Jews were when the Oslo agreements were signed and publicized. The naysayers were silenced, if not even pilloried and deplored. The Oslo agreements split the Israeli public and Israeli politics for decades. Only through a shameful public bribe of appointing a member of Knesset as a minister were the agreements ratified by the Israeli legislature with basically a one vote majority.


Israel is no longer convinced that signing pieces of paper and having ceremonies at the Rose Garden of the White House is really in its best long-term interest.
In perfect hindsight I am certain that if the Oslo agreements were again to be brought for a vote by the Israeli Knesset, a substantial majority would reject the entire matter. The experience of a quarter century of unremitting tension and bloodshed has certainly sobered Israeli public opinion. Basically, Israel is no longer convinced that signing pieces of paper and having ceremonies at the Rose Garden of the White House is really in its best long-term interest.

The basic fallacy of Oslo was that we listened to what Arafat said in English and willfully ignored what he was saying in Arabic. It was the classic example of whistling past the graveyard, hoping somehow that our adversaries were reciprocating our good intentions. After bitter wars in Lebanon and Gaza and unprecedented terrorist attacks and Intafadas within Israel itself, it has become quite clear that the vision of Oslo was at best very naïve and premature if not even downright foolish and self-destructive.

Unfortunately, Rabin was becoming quite aware of the weakness of the Oslo agreements when he was assassinated, and Israel was plunged into a terrible and bitter political divide, which persists even until today. Neither of those who supported Rabin on the question of Oslo nor those who opposed him, have truly forgiven the other side for their attitudes and behavior in this matter.

Aside from the external difficulties that the Oslo Agreements have caused Israel, the internal damage to Israeli society and politics has also been enormous and most painful. However, it must be said that most Israelis today place little trust not only in the Oslo Agreements but are very wary of any new types of proposals that may be offered to arrive at a peaceful accommodation with our Palestinian neighbors. This has created a diplomatic paralysis that undoubtedly cannot exist forever.

There are many proposals being offered to facilitate the long-term or even short-term arrangement between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. The fact that the Palestinians are bitterly divided between Fatah and Hamas certainly complicates the matter. It seems obvious that even if there is any reconciliation between the two Palestinian groups, it is unlikely that Palestine will be ruled as one united country.

Israel, for its part, seems more than satisfied to arrive at a short-term arrangement that would achieve relative security and tranquility for its immediate future. A great change of mindset must occur both in Israel and amongst the Palestinians in order to achieve a long-term modus vivendi between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be the challenge of the educational systems, the media and the political leaders of both societies to help create the general atmosphere that would allow for sincere negotiations and eventual agreements.

As of this writing unfortunately few if any are willing to undertake this challenge. As Oslo proved, the devil is always in the details. No amount of high sounding slogans or soothing words can hide the fact that dealing with the details of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is extremely complex. I do not think that they can be solved in one fell swoop, by one grand agreement.

The words of the rabbis of the Talmud, that trying to grab too much will means that one grabs not at all, certainly apply to this situation. Let us hope in the new year that somehow progress will be made towards achieving a just and lasting agreement.


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