I was privileged to be there, on the White House lawn, on September 13, 1993, as the Haaretz correspondent in Washington. Without shame, I will admit that the rivulets of sweat the ran down my face were mixed with tears of joy. I believed that the dream of a lifetime was coming true before my eyes. The peace process, about which I had written tens of thousands of words, had suddenly turned from being a worn-out turn of phrase to a tangible picture: the prime minister of Israel and the leader of the Palestinian people shaking hands on the White House lawn. To this day I feel chills when I remember that moment.
When I returned home I told my wife, Dorit, a social worker, that we should prepare for the “conflict” to yield its top position on the Israeli agenda to social issues. I even asked her to recommend a reading list.
I’ve been asked to imagine what Israel would be like today had the negotiations that began at Oslo ended in success — that is, had Yitzhak Rabin completed the task of bringing peace and Yasser Arafat, instead of riding the tiger of terrorism, fought terrorism. The Gaza Strip would not be controlled by Hamas and Israel would not be led by a radical right-wing government. There would be no more than 120,000 settlers in the occupied territories, most of them in large settlement blocs. Scofflaws would not have been allowed to erect 104 outposts on private Palestinian land. Organizations of the nationalist right wouldn’t have penetrated the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. And the occupant of the White House would be a balanced president, not one who one day closes the issue of Jerusalem and the refugees with a chance remark, and the next day says Israelis will soon wake up to a prime minister named Mohammed.
Based on these guidelines, one can paint the following picture without being accused of harboring delusions. On both sides of the June 4, 1967 lines, there are two independent states living side by side in peace, maintaining economic and security cooperation. The settlement blocs along the Green Line and in the northern Gaza Strip are annexed to Israel (rather than evacuating the latter unilaterally). Some 5,000 to 6,000 families living in isolated settlements are resettled within the Green Line. The issue of right of return is closed with the reunion of several thousand Palestinian refugees with their families in Israel. Most of the refugee camp residents are absorbed in Palestine, rehabilitated in their host countries or moved to third countries.
To describe a reality without the occupation, it is worth revisiting the short period between the closure of the military government in the Galilee and the Triangle in 1966 and the opening of the military administration in the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 war. The state had begun to wean itself from its hostility and fear towards the Arab minority. On the other hand, Arab citizens began to adapt to their Israeli identity and feel blessed that they were not destined to raise their children in refugee camps. The Knesset did not need to pass divisive nation-state laws to express the superiority of the Jewish people. Ending control over millions of Palestinians would have freed Israel from the “demographic demon,” from having to choose between a democratic father and a Jewish mother, and between a binational state and an apartheid regime.
The signing of a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in 1999, as called for by the Oslo Accords (Declaration of Principles), would have freed boys and girls who have since been born of the need to defend Jewish vandals. Shortening compulsory service (which was lengthened following the Six-Day War) would have enabled them to integrate earlier into higher education or the workforce. The savings in securing the settlements beyond the Green Line and the special budgets allocated for the development of the settlement enterprise and the struggle against the boycott of Israel could have been allocated to increased allowances for the disabled and the elderly, and higher salaries for teachers and social workers.
A definitive peace agreement would also have dismantled the agents of fear and hatred. Had the two sides adhered to Rabin’s approach — “We will fight terrorism as if there is no peace, and we will make peace as if there is no terrorism” — the Oslo opponents would not have been carried to the top of the hate pyramids in Jerusalem and Gaza by Muslim and Jewish jihadists.
The economic prosperity of liberated Palestine would have reduced the motivation of young people to join terrorist organizations and increased the Palestinians’ purchasing power from Israeli manufacturers. The peace treaty with the Palestinians would have opened the gates of the Arab League countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and North African countries, to Israeli tourists and products. The Islamic countries, headed by Indonesia and Malaysia, would have realized their decision to adopt the 2002 Arab peace initiative, and opened embassies in Jerusalem after the United Nations recognized it as the joint capital of Israel and Palestine. And Shi’ite Iran would have been pushed into a corner where it would have been forced to choose between total isolation and accepting the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
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In the absence of tension between the left and the right regarding the territories, the major parties would have formed a coalition to separate religion and state, maintain equality among the diverse streams of Judaism, narrow social gaps and liberate society and the economy from the poison of crony capitalism and media manipulation. If Oslo had been translated in time from a general agreement of principles to a reality of a fair peace, this is how the coalition would have appeared today: the Israeli Camp party (the name of the Labor Party): 43 seats. Meretz: 12 seats. Hadash-Ra’am-Ta’al: 10 seats.
The Knesset speaker would be Amir Peretz and across from him would sit Prime Minister Yossi Beilin. Next to him, Defense Minister Zehava Galon. The education minister would be Dr. Ze’ev Degani; along with Foreign Minister Dan Meridor; Finance Minister Avi Gabbay, Public Security Minister Ayman Odeh; Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Social Affairs Minister Ilan Gilon; Health Minister Dr. Ahmad Tibi; Culture Minister Merav Michaeli and Communications Minister Tamar Zandberg.
You may say that all this is the imagination of a delusional leftist who refuses to admit that the Oslo Accords were a mistake. I have no way of proving that the implementation of the agreement from 25 years ago would have made Israel a better place in 2018. But reality shows that torpedoing it has made it a worse place.
Akiva Eldar is the diplomatic correspondent for Al-Monitor.