"Israel's New Future Revisited: Shattered Dreams and Harsh Realities, Twenty Years after the First Oslo Accords"
Question: A few months after the September 13,1993 Oslo agreements were signed, your book "Israel’s New Future: Interviews" was published. It consisted of 16 interviews with prominent Israelis about their expectations after the Oslo Accords. The book has now been republished with your new introduction about Israel’s current prospects. Its new title is "Israel’s New Future Revisited". What made you write the original book?
Manfred Gerstenfeld: After the Oslo Accords, almost everyone was confused about what the future would bring. I wanted to get a number of detailed opinions in writing about what to expect. That would project as if it were a photograph of the mood and thoughts of that period. It could serve both as a contemporary guide for readers and as a future reference as the situation developed further. Eight of the interviews concerned the external situation, the other eight dealt with the internal situation.
Question: Why republish the book now?
MG: My publisher Rene van Praag of RVP Press read the book a few months ago and suggested that he re-publish it. On 13 September it will be twenty years since the Oslo agreements and he suggested that it would be instructive and interesting to compare Israel’s current reality with the expectations of twenty years ago
As time went by, I saw that contrary to almost all of my other books, this one became more useful. It highlighted major discrepancies between what the original expectations were, and what actually happened after the Oslo accords. I also found that the way one judged the interviewees’ forecasts varied greatly depending upon the moment in time one re-read them.
Question: What is the greatest difference you found between Israel’s situation then and today’s reality?
MG: The greatest change is that the situation in the Middle East and its impact on Israel are far more dynamic today than they were twenty years ago. However much Israel’s internal state of affairs has changed, the external situation has changed even more.
I sent my new 12,000 word introduction to my publisher at the end of July, a few weeks after Egypt’s anti-Semitic President Mohamed Morsi was deposed and the power and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood were drastically reduced.
A month earlier, I would have probably written that President Morsi and his government would increasingly try to harm Israel. That is not necessarily true of the present rulers. Yet we have no clue as to how long they will last and who may replace them.
MG: The major difference would probably have been that I would have judged Turkey’s future differently. At the time, that country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a major anti-Israel hate-monger – and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), seemed to have everything going for them. It also seemed that Erdogan could do whatever he wanted, including publicly supporting Hamas terrorists.
Since then he has faced substantial unrest at home, mainly in Istanbul. Morsi was his ally, yet current Egyptian rulers consider him largely as a troublemaker. The civil war in Syria gives Turkey many sleepless nights and it had to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees on its territory. No one knows how long they will stay there.
Question: You finished the new introduction about six weeks ago. Are there already things you would write differently today?
MG: Assad’s use of chemical weapons makes America’s military involvement in Syria much more probable. That would make greater future chaos in Syria more probable too. Any intervention by the United States and some allies is likely also to further accentuate tensions between the U.S and Russia.
All of these are major developments in short time periods and prove once again how dynamics in the Arab world have accelerated since what was incorrectly labeled “the Arab Spring.” The latter has led to about 150,000 dead, many more injured and millions of refugees since its beginning in December 2010. The series of protests, demonstrations, riots and civil wars seems far from ending.
Question: What has changed in Israel’s relations with the Western world in the past twenty years?
MG: Under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the reality and image of a powerful America has gradually declined. The current daily bloodshed in post-war (sic) Iraq and continued problems the U.S and its allies face in Afghanistan, have played a major role here.
This causes problems for Israel, as the United States is our main ally. Our problems with Europe are much bigger than they were twenty years ago. At least 150 million out of 400 million adult citizens of the European Union have an absurd demonic view of Israel. They consider Israel a Nazi state, or as a country which is exterminating the Palestinians. I analyze this in detail in my other recent book, "Demonizing Israel and the Jews".
Question: What have we learned about the Palestinians since the Oslo agreements were signed?
MG: When I wrote my book’s introduction twenty years ago, I said that events after the Oslo Accords should be judged by whether they lead to the further killing of Israelis by Arabs. I also wrote that terror attacks on Israelis will only hamper the peace process. They indeed did.
I also wrote, “Some people viewed the September 1993 Israel-PLO Agreement with messianic hope. Others saw it as the beginning of the end [for Israel].”
Question: How do you see these issues now?
MG: In the introduction for the re-published book I write, “Israeli optimists who believed in the Oslo Accords with messianic enthusiasm, were radically wrong. The Palestinians have not turned themselves into reformed democrats.
The political concept of ‘land for peace’ can also be considered a failure after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and its takeover by Hamas in 2007.
A fashionable new expression is ‘one makes peace with one’s enemy,’ to which one could answer, ‘but not with those who consider a peace agreement as a step on the road toward Israel’s extermination.’
Regarding the pessimists who saw the Oslo Accords as ‘the beginning of the end of Israel,’ the jury is still out.”
To that one may add how false today’s ‘Give peace a chance’ slogan is, in view of all the “goodwill gestures” which Israel had to offer the Palestinians for these new negotiations, including the unjustified release of Palestinian murderers.
President Shimon Peres has repeated an absurd remark several times. He told the New York Times in January 2013, “There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes — love and peace.”
I hope for us and for him that he will never have to defend that irresponsible statement before a commission of inquiry. He would have to explain why one should close one’s eyes to the facts, instead of taking all relevant information into account when negotiating with the Palestinian Authority segment of the Palestinian enemies.
Question: What other major things have we learned about the Palestinians in the past 20 years?
MG: The Oslo Accords have given the Palestinian leadership an opportunity to operate from their own territory. They have educated Palestinian children to the systematic hatred of Israel and glorified murderers of Israeli civilians. One can find many extreme examples of this on both the Palestinian Media Watch and Memri websites.
They have also organized a huge campaign presenting Israel as a demonic state.
While the PLO and Arafat were in exile, they didn’t have the infrastructure to promote hate on such a large scale as the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have done since. Yet now they have been able to organize their Muslim and Western supporters in non-stop campaigns of delegitimizing Israel. Through this incitement, the Palestinians aim to reach their political goals, which they have thus far failed to reach through military means.
Israel has undoubtedly received some benefits from the Oslo Accords, e.g., diplomatic relations with many more countries. Yet in the long run, the negative consequences of the anti-Israel incitement may far exceed whatever benefits Israel has gained from the accords.
This is the more so, as the Israeli government has failed to effectively counter the global delegitimization campaigns. It has neither invested the necessary financial resources, nor the human brains in fighting this major propaganda war Israel is facing.
Question: You said you mainly give attention to external developments concerning Israel in the introduction of the new book. Still, can you say something about the internal developments?
MG: First there is the political aspect. There have been major challenges which Israel has met while keeping its democracy intact. One tragic event which comes to mind is the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. The second intifada was a major challenge for Israel. It withstood that without having to dilute its democratic values.
The political scene has undergone substantial changes too. We have seen the successes and subsequent decline or total demise of parties like Shinui, the Pensioners Party and Kadima. The Labor Party has become just one of a series of mid-size parties.
There have also been significant developments in demographics. At the end of 1993, the Israeli population stood at 5.3 million. Presently, it is 8.1 million. Economically, Israel has advanced well with a GDP of about 248 billion dollars in 2012. Israel’s unemployment figures are lower than those of many member states in the European Union.
Question: Can we conclude with some remarks about Israel’s technological and scientific advancements?
MG: There has been outstanding technological progress in Israel. The number of Israeli companies on the NASDAC exchange is exceeded only by the United States and China. Several Israeli or Israeli-owned companies have been sold to foreign investors since 2000 for amounts approaching or exceeding 1 billion dollars. In 2012 alone, Israeli start-ups were sold for a combined 5.5 billion dollars.
And finally: Israel won six Nobel prizes in Chemistry and Economics since 2000, including the first Nobel prize awarded to an Israeli female scientist.
A7 Interviewer:Thank you very much, Dr. Gerstenfeld.
Israel’s New Future Revisited can be purchased on www.Amazon.com.
"Israel’s New Future, Revisited" provides a refreshing reassessment of how Israel should maneuver cautiously to maintain military safety, internal social stability, and a growing economy. All this, while several of its neighbors face decay and internal unrest.
The original edition of this book was published in 1994. Not long after the first Oslo Accords were signed, Manfred Gerstenfeld interviewed sixteen prominent Israelis, including Abba Eban, Moshe Arens, and Abraham B. Yehoshua, about their prognoses and hopes for the Jewish State. Where was their country heading in this new era? It is fascinating to (re-)read these assessments from twenty years ago. As the Middle East remains in a permanent flux, accurate predictions are quite rare—naïve dreams more common.
In his extensive introduction to this second edition, Gerstenfeld provides an enlightening description of how the Middle East has developed into an even more unstable region in recent years, with constant new challenges for Israel to tackle.