Within the next week, the government of Israel will decide whether or not to implement a part of the Trump “Peace to Prosperity” plan by extending sovereignty over 30 percent of Judea and Samaria, and the Jordan Valley. This represents a significant paradigm shift away from the Oslo Accords.
Paradigms are difficult things to break from. For the last 27 years, an elaborate crystal palace chiseled from Oslo was erected and has taken firm root in the brains of many well-intentioned people. Since its signing on Sept. 13, 1993, the agreement has caused an enormous industry of professional “peace processors” to spring up. These folks stand a lot to gain—and everything to lose—both financially and in terms of their own personal reputations by looking squarely at the facts on the ground of what has transpired since that time.
“Two states for two people” and “land for peace” are lovely aphorisms, and make for nice bumper stickers. Responsible foreign policy, however, entails delving into the sobering reality and looking at the facts, as vexing as they might be.
The night after signing the Oslo Accords, PLO chief Yasser Arafat went on Jordanian television and said that this was “the peace of the brave”—words many in the West immediately embraced and interpreted to mean Arafat displayed the courage to finally make peace with the Israelis. However, he then added that this was “like the prophet Mohammad signed with the tribe of Koresh.”
Such is the selective editing of many of us in the West, who tend to think with our cardiac organs and not our cranial ones. A “group think” mentality subsequently set in. We therefore sleep well at night, safe on this side of the Atlantic and far from having to deal with the bloody consequences of these monumental decisions.
The Oslo Accords were first introduced to the world as an interim agreement with a staged plan. This was done in order to build trust between the two parties. After the initial years of “confidence-building measures,” the parties were then to have addressed the more difficult issues of borders, refugees and security.
This was originally presented with an element of reversibility built into it. As an Israeli embassy official said to me at the time, rather dismissively, “It’s only Gaza and Jericho first. If it doesn’t work, we can always reclaim it.”
I knew in my gut, then, retrieving any territory given to the Palestinians would entail the further shedding of Jewish blood. You would do well to ask who in his right mind would want to go into Gaza now. Every house is booby-trapped, and the hearts and minds of the people have been continuously poisoned to hate the Israeli and the Jew.
There was also a promise made of reciprocity.
When Israel went through the painful process of land withdrawals, the country gave up something real and tangible—land. The land they had gained in two defensive wars in exchange for something vague and intangible—promises.
Throughout consecutive governments since Oslo, many other variations set along the same basic themes have been offered: Oslo II, the Hebron Accords, the Wye River Memorandum, the “road map for peace,” to name a few. The same set of conditions was continuously placed upon the Palestinians, all almost entirely ignored, though the most essential was the Palestinian promise to stop the incitement and the terrorism.
What became of those commitments?
Palestinian media, textbooks, summer camps and religious sermons have created a ubiquitous environment of glorifying terrorism. It is difficult for a young Palestinian growing up under those circumstances to overcome the layers of hatred towards Jews. Jew-hatred is in the very oxygen that they breathe.
The tragic result has been the blood of more than 2,000 innocent Israeli and American Jewish civilians since the signing of the Oslo Accords.
All promises of reversibility and reciprocity were forgotten.
However, the greatest deficiency of the Oslo paradigm is that the very generous Clinton parameters that were offered by Ehud Barak to Arafat at Camp David have been used as a baseline.
I remember being in the audience of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on July 25, 2000, when Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein came to address the group. His exact words were: “We went as far as any responsible Israeli government could go.”
“In fact,” he murmured, “some would argue that we were not being responsible.”
“What we offered was all of Gaza, plus at least 91 percent of Judea and Samaria, shared sovereignty of Jerusalem and the right of return of 100,000 refugees.” He continued, “There are people on their way back to Dulles Airport in their limousines, crying now. We felt that if we just offered Arafat an offer he couldn’t refuse, he wouldn’t.”
Arafat did not say yes. He did not say no. The response came approximately one month later in the form of a renewed intifada.
These talks were followed by even more generous offers at Taba in January of 2001, in which all of the Jordan Valley settlements were to be given up, and then by even more generous offers by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas in September of 2008.
A cycle was established of continuously upping the ante, and each time, the talks broke down and were met by further acts of violence.
In 2005, there was the internally divisive and gut-wrenching withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in which every remnant of a Jewish presence was destroyed, including economy-boosting greenhouses left intact and then destroyed by the enclave’s new residents. This land has since been used as a base for thousands of rockets, missiles, kites and balloon bouquets with which to terrorize Gaza’s Israelis neighbors.
The Israeli people have gone to the polls no less than three times in the past year and have overwhelmingly voted for a Likud government, have long come to the conclusion that no real peace partner exists. It is up to the democratically elected government of the State of Israel to determine what is in the best national security interests of their people.
The Trump vision is the first plan that does not reward this cycle of Palestinian intransigence and violence, and puts some agency on the Palestinians for their behavior.
Abandoning existing paradigms is no easy matter. As the late James Rosenau once wrote, “Students of world politics, like politicians, are prisoners of their paradigms, unwilling or unable to escape their premises, and constantly cling to their assumptions.”
Those who think with their brains—and not just their hearts—and base their observations on reality, rather than on wishful thinking, are doomed to be left outside in the cold. Our voices are not welcome in the carefully crafted Oslo castle, built upon the fragile glass of unexamined premises and where truth is often bent and refracted like the colorful illusions of a prism.
It is, ultimately, up to the people of Israel and their elected representatives to make the decision that awaits them next week, even if it might mean shattering some of these beautifully constructed glass prisms. They, after all, have to live with the reality on the ground.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.