Jew's Muse Israel Needs Another Panel of Inquiry - Into the Oslo Accord

Uzi Silber
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Uzi Silber

I hate to say it, but it's time for another Israeli official state commission of inquiry.

Over the years there have been many: the Lavon Affair in '54, the USS Liberty attack in '67; the Yom Kippur War in '73, the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in '83, the Tomb of the Patriarchs carnage in '94, and the Yitzhak Rabin assassination a year later. The most recent panel looked into the snafus of the Second Lebanon War of 2006.

But I'm thinking of the single most important panel that was mysteriously never convened: the commission examining the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords and their aftermath.

Why now? Because doing so may prevent the next intifada, which Palestinian leaders have recently threatened to unleash.

First some background: the Oslo Accords - or simply Oslo - were the brainchild of onetime Labor Party leader Shimon Peres and his advisors, Yossi Beilin and Uri Savir chief among them; Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister at the time was only belatedly brought in.

An agreement was secretly negotiated in Oslo with the PLO leadership to end the century long conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, culminating in the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in territories conquered by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. The agreement was famously signed by the parties and witnessed by President Bill Clinton on the White House lawn in September 1993.

Why was Israel motivated to undertake such concessions? The gruelling first intifada ('87-'92) caused a severe case of war fatigue in Israel. And like their colleagues in the West, Israel's leaders and thinkers believed a new era had dawned in wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the ideological triumph of western democratic capitalism over Soviet communism - a development Francis Fukuyama dubbed "The End of History". The new optimism fueled hoped for comprehensive peace and prosperity in the Middle East.

And after many years in Tunisian exile and the loss of Soviet support, Yasser Arafat was thought eager to negotiate an agreement with Israel.

At the same time, the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism made striking a deal with the relatively secular if odious Arafat seem both pragmatic and urgent.

Yet the months following the momentous signing at the White House revealed that the lofty aspirations of Israeli voters and their leaders - to bring about the end of the century long conflict - didn't dovetail with those of the PLO and many Palestinians, who rather than laying down their arms to build a state, proceeded to murder more Israelis in the 30 months following the signing of Oslo than in the decade that preceded it.

Israel's puzzling insistence on proceeding with Oslo despite the terror onslaught it faced struck Arafat and many other Arabs as clear evidence of Israeli demoralization and vulnerability.

The frantic departure of the Israeli Army from Lebanon in May 2000 further convinced Arafat that the time had come to launch a war of annihilation against Israel - the second intifada - which obviously didn't destroy Israel as planned but did manage to kill and maim thousands of Jews and shatter their families, not to mention many thousands of Palestinians. Israel's power deterrence was another casualty.

Nevertheless the ideology of Oslo trumped bloody reality: paraphrasing David Ben Gurion, Rabin had pledged to fight terror as if there were no negotiations and negotiate as if there was no terror. This was an absurd proposition: if negotiations proceed despite the terror, there was no incentive for Palestinians to cease the terror.

But why go to the trouble of forming a state commission now?

Because the lessons of Oslo need to be remembered and internalized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government: with Palestinians threatening a third intifada and Lebanese and Gazan missiles pointed at Israel, it is vital to review and analyze the process of mistaken decisions, faulty assumptions, and foggy motives of Israel's Oslo era leaders whose fateful negligence almost led to their country's destruction.

The surviving key players would be invited to respond to questions they've never answered: why were weapons provided to hardened PLO terrorists? Why didn't Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres and Ehud Barak insist that the Palestinian Authority remove rampant and violent Jew hate from its school curriculum, newspapers and airwaves?

Why did Oslo proceed apace despite the massive escalation of Arab terrorism that immediately followed? Why wasn't the agreement suspended when it was clear that Arafat and his PLO were not good faith partners? After all, Oslo's architects had originally promised to terminate the agreement if Arafat and his cohorts were found to be reneging on their solemn commitments.

And how were so many seasoned Israeli leaders and policy makers duped? Was it hubris, delusion, inertia, stupidity, intellectual rigidity, wishful thinking, gross misjudgment or maybe even a sense of destiny? I'm inclined to reply 'all of the above'.

Personally I'd also like to ask Peres about his proclivity for parading hand-in-hand with Arafat - just as the latter's Fatah terrorists were busy murdering Jews; yet somehow I doubt this touchy subject would be broached by my hoped-for commission.

Oh yes, there may have been another motive to Oslo: money. Well-placed Israelis invested heavily in the ill-fated Jericho casino, and in a remarkable display of treachery and cynicism there were Israelis close to the leadership who actually helped Arafat smuggle money to Europe during the height of the second intifada - for a commission. Such individuals were never confronted, never mind punished.

Understanding how and why the Oslo debacle transpired is the best way for Israel to prepare for the grim challenges to come - or better yet, prevent them.

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