It's another one of history's wrinkles: Exactly 10 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the government of Israel has decided in principle to expel Yasser Arafat from the territory of the Palestinian Authority, which was created as a result of Oslo. Such expulsion would close this chapter of history. The government run by Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom spearheaded opposition to the attempt at rapprochement with the Palestinian people, has given an order designed to vaporize a vision of peace promoted by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
The number of explanations given to account for the failure of the Oslo process is no less than the number of people who were involved in the peace effort. From the start, Benny Begin believed that the source of the evil was the illusion of peace that bedeviled Rabin and his associates and dazed their eyes so that they were unable to discern Arafat's fraudulent attitude toward Oslo. Begin piled up evidence, trying to prove that the Palestinian leader did not really intend to forge a peace settlement with Israel. Instead, Begin argued, Arafat viewed Oslo as a Trojan horse from which warriors would one day emerge to redeem the vision of a Greater Palestine. Today, most of Israel's security establishment concurs with Begin's interpretation.
Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo agreement, has argued in retrospect that Netanyahu deliberately dissolved it during his three-year term as prime minister. Gilad Sher, prime minister Ehud Barak's top aide and a major player in the effort to convert talks with the Palestinians into a full-blown peace accord at the Camp David summit, puts the blame on Arafat's weakness as a leader. Uri Savir, Israel's chief negotiator at Oslo, puts the onus on "fundamentalist elements on the two sides."
No doubt, Oslo's frustrating result derives from a complex process that is riddled by internal contradictions, an accord forged by individuals and forces harboring an array of motives. Nonetheless, as we view the decade in retrospect, it is crucial to identify the role Israel played in Oslo's demise.
In fact, the reason for Israel's contribution to the failure is not hard to find: it boils down to Israel's refusal to leave the territories. The Palestinians' responsibility for the rupture is no less important - but they can do their own moral reckoning, in their own newspapers.
Expressing Israel's official readiness to recognize the national rights of the Palestinian people, the Oslo agreement constituted an historic turning point. In this respect, it will in the future remain a milestone in the fashioning of relations between the two sides. However, the agreement did not give birth to a true internal readiness, both reasoned and an emotional readiness, for the necessity of leaving the territories so the Palestinian people could establish a state there. Without such readiness, there is no prospect of forging a settlement.
Whether the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is rooted in religious hostility, or whether it is based on a national feeling of injustice, or whether it is a direct consequence of the conquest of the territories, there can be no solution to it without Israel's withdrawal to the Green Line border of pre-1967. Whoever insists on the continuation of Israeli occupation in the territories consigns the sides to an eternal dispute. This is because no Palestinian leader will ever be able to secure his people's assent to the conquest.
Since September 1993, this elementary truth has eluded all of Israel's prime ministers. Those who might have grasped the truth recoiled from translating it into practical policy. Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak and Sharon have played a two-sided game: with one hand, they conducted negotiations with the Palestinians for the application of an agreement whose design would seemingly enable them to establish a state of their own; with the other hand, they authorized the expansion of Israel's presence in territories set out for the Palestinian state. This approach created, or created a pretext for, indiscriminate Palestinian terror, and the use or abuse to which Arafat has put such terror; and the approach now has Israel mired in a multi-dimensional crisis that threatens the future of the Zionist enterprise.
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