They said it was dead and buried. Books and studies have been written and published about its passing and burial. Few mourned it. The prevailing wisdom depicted it as a failure of historic dimensions, as a national folly that resulted from a combination of naivete and poor judgment on one side, and murderous plotting and terror by the other, which caused the deaths of thousands.
But when the fighting calmed down and the sides began speaking to each other again, they discovered the Oslo process had been reborn. And maybe it never had ceased and just was waiting on the sidelines until the intifada calmed down. The same logic that propelled Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat in 1993 now leads Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas: a gradual handover of the territories, authority and national symbols to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for promises that the terror against Israel will be restrained.
The attack near the Tel Aviv promenade on Friday night only made tangible the return of the "spirit of Oslo." The government refrained from a military reaction and chose to apply "diplomatic pressure" on Abbas and to suspend a few channels of dialogue with him while distancing the blame to Syria. It was just like Peres' sorry attempt to blame Iran for the wave of bombings in 1996 that brought him down.
The prime minister won't like the idea that he is following Rabin, whom he attacked vehemently for the Oslo process. In recent years Sharon has claimed that Oslo no longer exists, but his government, even in its rightist formation, has not declared it null and void and in many areas follows it diligently.
It's true that not all the Oslo articles have been implemented. Far from it. The Palestinian terror and the armed militias in the territories are ongoing violations. The Israeli side ignored the timetable for withdrawals and articles like the "safe passage" between Gaza and the West Bank.
The Declaration of Principles and the Interim Agreement failed at preventing war, and that was their disaster. But the sides have not found a more practical formula for living together, and the logic of Oslo has been revealed to be much stronger than was thought. Sharon's unilateral moves, meant to shape reality without asking the Palestinians, did not distance him from the spirit of Oslo. The first separation fence was put up by Matan Vilnai, as the major general of the Southern Command on the eve of the 1994 withdrawal from Gaza. He insisted on putting it on the Green Line and in retrospect appears to have thus decreed the fate of the settlements left beyond the fence, now designated for evacuation.
The disengagement plan, the height of Sharon's initiative, does not deviate from the Interim Agreement. According to authoritative legal interpretations, the withdrawal will be the fulfillment of Oslo's "third redeployment" in which Israel was supposed to withdraw from territories without anything in exchange from the Palestinians. Gush Katif and the northern West Bank will be handed over to the same PA that received Areas A and B in its day.
Oslo was not the "peace of the brave" but an agreement by cowards who took into consideration the domestic limits on each of the sides, preferring small, measured steps over "painful concessions."
The hard decisions were diced up into a tiny salad of promises and counter-promises, which doomed the sides to a tiresome, bleeding journey with an unclear ending. The national symbols were not harmed: Israel continues to hold onto most of the territory and the settlements, and the Palestinians are sticking to the right of return for the refugees. Nonetheless, there apparently was no alternative. Ehud Barak tried a shortcut to the final status agreement and crashed. President Bush's road map went back to the Olso concept of the staged procession to an agreement.
The same Sharon who wanted to smash Oslo is now imprisoned by its ropes and praying it won't come to an end. Like Rabin, Sharon is afraid of steps that move too quickly and is not anticipating any "end to the conflict." He continues now from the place where the process stopped before the intifada, and is hoping to withstand the mounting international pressure to end the conflict, once and for all.
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