One mistake after another
At the Oslo accords, and again in Barak's era, rash decisions brought on international praise for Israel. The Gaza pullout could be the next in the series.
Author and columnist Hillel Halkin, who initially had not been critical of the Oslo accords, writes in the September issue of Commentary: "It has long been obvious to all but the incurably or willfully blind that the 1993 agreement signed in Oslo between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization was a horrendous blunder on Israel's part. Rarely in history has a country so foolishly opened its gates to a Trojan horse as Israel did when it welcomed Yasser Arafat and his PLO brigades, handed over to them most of the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank, and gave them the arms to impose their rule on the local inhabitants. How could such a mistake have been made by experienced political and military leaders?"
This probably expresses the view of most Israelis today - those who saw the Oslo accords as a major error right from the start, as well as those who supported them at the time they were signed.
After 45 years of war, belligerency and terror, and after the first intifada, one could perhaps excuse the impatience the Yitzhak Rabin government displayed with the ongoing and seemingly endless conflict - an impatience that led to caution being thrown to the wind, and the subsequent haste and disorderly process that led to the Oslo accords. The enthusiasm with which the agreement with Yasser Arafat was greeted throughout the world, together with the Nobel peace prize awarded to Rabin, Shimon Peres and Arafat, were seen by many as confirmation that the Israeli government under Rabin's leadership had finally taken a bold and courageous step toward the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It took Arafat's erratic behavior, his dictatorial and corrupt rule over the Palestinians under his control, and a quantum leap in the level of Palestinian terror directed against the population of Israel for most Israelis to begin to come to a more sober assessment of these ill-fated accords.
Seven years after the Oslo accords, then prime minister Ehud Barak announced he was going to put an end to the intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This time, under the watchful eye of the president of the United States at Camp David, and by now presumably knowing full well with whom he was dealing, Barak made Arafat an offer he thought Arafat would not be able to refuse. Arafat was offered major concessions, which had never even been discussed in public, in return for an agreement that would "end the conflict once and for all."
When Arafat, nevertheless, turned down Barak's offer, the latter did not call it quits. With his government by now in tatters and having no mandate for the concessions he had offered, and with an election in the offing, Barak delegated his ministers to offer further concessions in a desperate attempt to reach an agreement before Israelis went to the polls. It didn't work - and not only did it fail, it turned out to be the prelude to Palestinian acts of terror against the Israeli population that set new heights in violence and brutality. It was a major blunder that, in history, will no doubt take its place alongside the Oslo accords. And again, one might ask the question: How could an experienced military leader like Barak commit such foolishness?
But, as is well known, Israelis do not give up easily. If we cannot reach an agreement with the Palestinians, we are just going to solve the problem ourselves - unilaterally. We are going to put some space between us and the Palestinians or, in other words, disengage - even if creating that space means pulling Israeli citizens out of their homes by force. It is almost incomprehensible that this ludicrous idea - that in this tiny country, in which Jews and Arabs live cheek by jowl, we can separate the peoples so as to avoid all contact - has been promoted by another experienced military man and politician, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and has seized the imagination of many Israelis.
The fortuitous demise of Arafat, the arrival of Mahmoud Abbas as elected leader of the Palestinians, has given another boost to this idea, now embellishing it with the anticipation that disengagement will not only get Jews and Palestinians out of each others' hair, but will actually lead to peace between Israel and a Palestinian state.
As happened after the Oslo adventure, and again at the time of Barak's egregious offers to Arafat at Camp David, Sharon's disengagement plan is being praised as a bold and courageous move in much of the world, and the Nobel peace price committee is probably already preparing next year's award. But if, as seems likely at the moment, the Palestinian mini-state in Gaza turns out to be a nest of terrorist activity against Israel, the Noble prize will have to be mothballed and Israel, sobered up for the nth time, will have to go back to meeting the challenge of handing the Palestinian terrorists a decisive defeat, in the realization that this is the necessary condition for progress toward peace in the area.