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July 24, 2019 9:06 am

An Israeli Liberal Says That Palestinians Killed Oslo and the Hope for Peace

avatar by Mitchell Bard


The signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington, DC, Sept. 13, 1993. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the two original architects of the Oslo Accords, Yair Hirschfeld, performed a fascinating autopsy in Fathom to explain the failure of the agreements. He wrote his piece in response to the blame-Israel-first book, Preventing Palestine: A Political History From Camp David to Oslo by Seth Anziska

Hirshfeld, for those who don’t know, is a secular left-wing academic sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and a believer in the two-state solution, which makes his analysis especially trenchant.

Like the Palestinians and so many of their apologists, Anziska believes peace can be achieved if Israel ends the “occupation.” The response of Palestinians to this idea is likely one you have never heard before. According to Hirschfeld, when he, Shimon Peres, and Yossi Beilin asked Palestinians whether Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, they were told, “We Palestinians will first kill each other, and then we will start to kill you.” This is what many Jews believe, and a major reason for Israel’s reluctance to offer the Palestinians additional territorial concessions, which also explains their pessimism about the prospects for peace.

I have long argued that the Palestinians were foolish to reject Menachem Begin’s autonomy offer at Camp David, because it would have put them on an almost certain path to statehood and stymied the settlement movement. Hirschfeld says that Peres made this point to the Palestinians. “‘You would obtain a veto [he later changed the word to ‘vote’ on the transcript] on what we do in the West Bank and Gaza,’” he said, which would have prevented the number of settlers from growing from 6,000 to 450,000 today (Hirschfeld says 600,000, apparently counting East Jerusalem Jews as settlers).

Hirschfeld relates that Israel and Jordan feared the creation of an irredentist Palestine state that would be influenced by jihadists. Interestingly, he quotes Peres’ statement from his memoir, Battling for Peace, where the dreamer had a rather apocalyptic vision that he largely ignored in the 1990s:

In our view, a Palestinian state, though demilitarized at first, would over time inevitably strive to build up a military strength of its own, and the international community, depending upon massive Second and Third World support at the United Nations, would do nothing to stop it. That army, eventually, would be deployed at the very gates of Jerusalem and down the entire, narrow length of Israel. It would pose a constant threat to our security and to the peace and stability of the region.

Read that paragraph again.

It exposes one of the major fallacies of the advocates of a Palestinian state — namely, that it can be demilitarized, and, consequently, pose no threat to Israel. I’ve always found this talking point preposterous. The Zionists would have never accepted demilitarization; in fact, they didn’t in the 1940s, and the Palestinians should not be expected to do so either. Regardless, they cannot be prevented from arming themselves as we’ve seen from Israel’s inability to disarm Hamas.

Hirschfeld argued that it was necessary “to break the vicious circle of violence,” which he proposed to do by creating a Middle Eastern Security Organization and a Middle Eastern Economic Community for Water, Energy, and Trade, which he said were necessary before solving the core issues of the conflict.

Sounds a lot like the logic behind the much-maligned Peace to Prosperity plan that the Trump administration presented in Bahrain, doesn’t it?

According to Hirschfeld:

We believed that in order to attract foreign investment, develop a flourishing economy, and establish the necessary state institutions, the Palestinian people have a vested self-interest to give up armed resistance, marginalize militant forces within the Palestinian political system, and build a functioning working relationship with all neighbors, including of course, Israel.

A natural response would be that this approach failed during Oslo, so why should Trump expect it to work now?

Hirschfeld listed a series of reasons for the failure of Oslo:

  1. Arafat undermined the “local” leadership that was creating the political infrastructure for statehood.
  2. Decades before the antisemitic BDS movement was created, the Palestinians adopted the policy of “anti-normalization.”
  3. The Palestinians disowned the Beilin-Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) agreement, which offered a solution to the status of Jerusalem by proposing that the Palestinian capital be established in the suburb of Abu Dis (where the Palestinians subsequently built a parliament building that stands empty today).
  4. The economic development plan failed in part because it was co-opted by Yasser Arafat, who undermined the efforts of other Palestinians and ultimately stole hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid.
  5. Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinians were supposed to cooperate to provide security that would give Israel the confidence to withdraw from the West Bank; however, the Palestinians balked.
  6. After President Clinton and Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state in roughly 98 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza, Arafat rejected the deal.
  7. The second intifada resulted in more than 1,000 Israeli deaths, devastated the economy, traumatized the public, and “destroyed the fabric of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.”
  8. The Palestinians wasted the opportunity to build the infrastructure for a state following the disengagement from Gaza. Hirschfeld leaves out the impact of the violence that followed, as terror and rocket attacks escalated from Gaza, and the extremists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad seized control of the area from the Palestinian Authority. This marked the death of the land for peace formula, and shifted the Israeli electorate to the right, bringing about the collapse of the political left and the ascendancy of Benjamin Netanyahu.
  9. In 2008, Ehud Olmert met with Abbas numerous times and offered him a deal like the one proposed to Arafat in 2000. Abbas rejected it by never giving an answer. Hirschfeld fails to mention that this was at least the eighth time the Palestinians had rejected an offer of statehood.
  10. The Palestinians have never accepted any American peace initiative and, during the Obama administration, Abbas refused to negotiate with Netanyahu. Hirschfeld points out that Abbas rejected proposals floated by John Kerry and the Quartet, and declared his opposition to Trump’s “ultimate deal” before seeing it.

As Hirschfeld notes, the entire territorial conflict is limited to just 10 percent of the West Bank. Deciding its fate should not be impossible. He concludes, however, that “the main task of establishing the State of Palestine falls upon the Palestinian leadership and people. Saying ‘no’ to every Israeli proposal or engaging in violence does not build a state. It has only caused tragedies and repeated setbacks.”

Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library.

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