Making Peace by Hook or by Crook

It’s time to learn from the long line of failed peace attempts by leaders who didn’t have the support of an Israeli majority.

Twenty years ago, on September 13, 1993, Israel signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The handshake on the White House lawn between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, dressed in a military uniform of his own design, is unforgettable. It earned them both (along with Shimon Peres) the Nobel Peace prize.

But, as we have learned, Nobel Peace prizes can be deceiving – peace between Israel and the Palestinians is still in abeyance. The agreement brought Arafat and his cohorts from Tunis to Gaza and then to Ramallah and Jerusalem. The man some maintain is responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed since World War II was anointed by Israel as a partner for peace. All appeared to be forgiven, if not forgotten.

Ten days later the Knesset debated the agreement signed in Washington. The no-confidence motion proposed by the opposition was defeated by a vote of 61-50 with eight abstentions. On September 19, 1993 the Labor party daily, Davar, headlined that day’s issue as follows: “The Labor government cooked up a deal to postpone the trial of Aryeh Deri in exchange for the support of Shas for the Oslo agreement.”

Then, on October 9, 1995 the Knesset also approved the agreement known as Oslo II, by a vote of 61-59, after three members of the Tsomet faction were enticed to defect from their party and support the agreement. A Mitsubishi car for one of its members seemed to have played a part in these shenanigans.

It is highly questionable whether a bare majority and the methods that were used to obtain it, in particular, can be considered sufficient to ratify so far-reaching an agreement. It may be legal, but it is hardly legitimate. The standard set by the U.S. Constitution for the ratification of international agreements is a two-thirds majority. But the supporters of the Oslo Accords were determined to arrange for their passage “by hook or by crook,” bypassing democratic niceties. The end justified the means. The people of Israel were to be force-fed peace.

Next in line was Ehud Barak. He feverishly began his quest for peace after assuming the office of prime minister in the 1999 election. He first directed his attention to Hafez Assad, the Syrian dictator. Even though he involved U.S. President Bill Clinton and was prepared to turn the Golan Heights over to Syria, no agreement was reached -- fortunately.

Then he turned his attention to Yasser Arafat. At Camp David in 2000, under Clinton’s auspices, intent on ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all, Barak offered concessions that went beyond anything Rabin envisioned. But his government was on its last legs. He lost the majority support in the Knesset and then even majority support in his own cabinet.

Disregarding the fact that the Knesset had already initiated legislation for early elections, and that the polls indicated he was going to lose by a wide margin, Barak soldiered on offering Arafat concession after concession. Facing certain defeat in the upcoming vote, Barak had no moral right to offer these concessions on behalf of Israel. But his supporters insisted that he had every right to do so. It may have been legal, but it was certainly not legitimate. And the concessions were not enough to satisfy Arafat.

Then came Ehud Olmert’s turn. Starting with a pretty solid coalition, which included Shas and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, he embarked on his quest for peace at the Annapolis conference in November 2007. No sooner than he made it clear he was prepared to divide Jerusalem, Shas left the coalition. When Olmert continued negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, letting it be known that he was prepared for major territorial concessions and the return of some Palestinian refugees to Israel, his coalition fell apart.

While his coalition crumbed around him and he disregarded calls for his resignation and early elections, Olmert obstinately continued negotiating and finally presented Abbas with a map defining his proposal for Israeli territorial concessions before he was forced to resign. He wanted to force peace down the throat of the Israeli people no matter what.

This is no way to make peace. Only if a solid majority of Israelis back the concessions the government is prepared to offer can the peace process proceed. Manipulative political tactics and sleight of hand will only lead to frustrations on both sides, and possibly unleash renewed violence. Hopefully Benjamin Netanyahu understands that.