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Oslo Remembered — and Forgotten?!

By Ralph Seliger

The initial Oslo agreement was famously signed on the White House Lawn 25 years ago, on Sept. 13, 1993.  Originally, I was intending to write about a conference I attended at New York University on March 25th (“Oslo: 25 Years Later“), but was waiting until this September’s anniversary (forgive my tardiness).

An alternative title for this post could be “Oslo didn’t fail, it was murdered.”  Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination eliminated the leader most likely to have succeeded in bringing peace.  (See my Nov. 2015 piece in Jewish Currents, “Yitzhak Rabin: The Indispensable Man?,” written for the twentieth anniversary of his murder; see also my review of “Rabin’s Last Day,” a powerful Israeli film on the lapses in security and rightwing political machinations that brought about that fateful day.)   

It’s remarkable how agonizingly close Israel came to forging peace with the Palestinians, only to be undone repeatedly by extremist elements on both sides.  I can’t recount all of this history here, but it’s important to consider that avoidable bad turns undermined the Oslo peace process.

The first major blow was Baruch Goldstein’s murder of 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron in Feb. 2004.  A wave of Palestinian terror attacks in 1996 and the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 directly led to the electoral defeat of two Israeli governments oriented (albeit imperfectly) toward a negotiated end to the conflict.  Israel’s right has always benefited electorally from the hostile rhetoric and periodic violence emanating from Hamas and other Palestinians, while never paying a proper price for its own malicious behavior.  

The NYU conference filled in for me that pivotal moment just after Yossi Beilin, a key Oslo operative, had negotiated a framework agreement for peace with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas’s alias when he served as Arafat’s righthand man), which envisioned a swap of territories between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, enabling most West Bank settlers to remain within the “settlement blocs” near the pre-June 1967 boundaries, but also allowing for the contiguity and viability of Palestinian rule over most of the West Bank.  Beilin spoke at the conference about having personally received a promise from Rabin to meet within the next week to fully discuss this agreement.  Alas, Rabin was pressed for time and could not meet immediately; he never did because of his murder days later.  

Nevertheless, a piece by Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum, written in September, critiques a New Yorker article, The Maps of Israeli Settlements That Shocked Barack Obama.”  Koplow argues cogently that a two-state solution is still viable:

. . .  There’s no question from looking at the maps that settlements are growing at a rapid pace. The State Department data list 385,900 settlers through 2015, with 104,000 of those settlers coming since 2009 [when Netanyahu returned to power]. More striking is … the explosion of illegal outposts, and in particular what the Israeli government is doing about them.  . . .

What these maps and data demonstrate is that any notion of a singular rule of law in the West Bank is farcical, and why the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is corrosive and damaging not only to the Palestinians who live under it but to Israel itself. Area C, which is under Israeli security and administrative control, is intended to be a zone where both Israelis and Palestinians are able to live and build homes, yet this process is encouraged and facilitated for the former while the latter are obstructed at every turn and every stage of the process. . . .

. . .  [But] a deeper dive into some of the more unsettling maps – the ones that show growth of actual settlements and the settler population over the past decade – expose a counterintuitively less depressing picture. The settlement growth taking place is overwhelmingly west of the security barrier and in the blocs that will be retained by Israel in a final agreement.  .  . .

About Those State Department Maps” by Michael Koplow 

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