Abbas CLinton and Netanyahu
Netanyahu, left, and Abbas shaking hands at U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s relaunch of direct negotiations in Washington last year. Photo by AP
Text size

On September 13, 1993, when I reported on the moving handshake between Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton in the Oslo Accords signing ceremony on the White House lawn, it seemed that the countdown to the end of the Israeli-Arab conflict had begun.

18 years on, do you think the Oslo Accords are still relevant? Visit Haaretz.com on Facebook and answer our poll.

Eighteen years later, a new countdown is beginning. This time it's supposed to happen in New York, with no handshakes between Israelis and Palestinians. Nor are the Americans likely to serve refreshments this time.

Rabin's chair is now occupied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who as opposition head promised to put an end to the Oslo agreement.

He kept his promise. But he will live to miss that agreement.

According to an intelligence evaluation Haaretz published yesterday about the link between the freeze in the peace process and the rupture in relations with Turkey and the violent incident at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, he should be missing it already.

Yitzhak Shamir, Netanyahu's predecessor as Likud leader, used to calm down doomsayers who warned of the uprising in the territories and of international isolation, saying "they'll get used to it." Indeed, for many years it seemed "the world" and even the Palestinians, not to mention the Israelis, became used to the occupation.

In most of the years that have elapsed since the signing of the principal agreement in September 1993 and the interim agreement that ensued, the "peace process" has served as a cover for the settlement process. The number of settlers in the West Bank has risen from 110,000 to 320,000.

Dozens of illegal outposts have popped up on the hills, and 60 percent of the area (area C) has been de facto annexed to Israel.

But once negotiations over a final-status agreement were on the table, even Netanyahu could not maintain the status quo of a Palestinian Authority together with permission to build settlements.

After Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert accepted the June 4, 1967, lines and agreed territory swaps as the negotiations' starting point, the way to talks on the lines of the Jordan Valley-Ariel-Mishor Adumim was blocked.

The Bar-Ilan speech, in which Netanyahu first spoke of the two-state solution, seems today more like a satirical play than a "historic speech." Some 140 states have already promised to vote in the UN General Assembly to accept Palestine within the '67 lines as a non-member state.

This will pave the way to filing lawsuits against Israel Defense Forces soldiers and settlers in the International Criminal Court and to Palestine's acceptance into international organizations such as UNESCO.

In the next few days the Palestinian leadership is due to decide whether to go to the UN Security Council first and force President Barack Obama to choose what is more important - ingratiating himself with Israel's friends in the Jewish world and annoying the United States' friends in the Arab world, or vice versa.

Major European states, including France and Spain, as well as Russia and the UN secretary-general, are refusing to toe Obama's line.

Their leaders have noticed something has happened in the Arab world this past spring. They are not eager to pull their ambassadors out of Arab capitals.

An article - more accurately, a warning letter - published by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal in The New York Times yesterday, says that Obama doesn't have the option of sitting on the fence without ripping his trousers.

A former director of Saudi Arabia's intelligence services and a former Saudi ambassador to London and Washington, al-Faisal warns the American president that vetoing the proposal to recognize Palestine in the Security Council would cause substantial damage to American-Saudi relations.

He threatens that Saudi Arabia would turn its back on the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The prince proposes turning the Oslo paradigm into a regional peace, on the basis of the Saudi peace initiative that became the Arab peace initiative.

The Israeli intelligence community assesses that progress in the peace process is the best remedy for Israel's cooling relations with its neighbors. Similarly, al-Faisal writes that an American veto would empower Iran and threaten regional stability and America's interests in the Middle East.

Two of the forum of eight senior cabinet ministers, Defense Minister Barak and Minister Dan Meridor, are familiar with the gloomy forecast by al-Faisal, who chairs the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (a cover for anti-Global Jihad activity).

They know that opening immediate negotiations over a final-status agreement with the Palestinian state as part of a regional process is the only responsible, realistic and sane alternative to the Oslo Accords. One wonders - how do these two sleep at night?