Opinion

The Real Oslo Criminals

A new documentary shows quite well how Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were the heroes of Oslo but also its criminals: Their missed opportunity, rooted chiefly in their cowardice, is unforgivable

Israeli FM Shimon Peres signs the historic Israel-PLO Oslo Accords in a ceremony as Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, US President Bill Clinton and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat look on, September 1993
J. DAVID AKE/AFP

We should adopt the conceit of the right: the Oslo criminals. The pejorative should be attached, of course, to Benjamin Netanyahu and the savage incitement that he and the settlers perpetrate; but the heroes of the peace, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, are also worthy of the title. Their missed opportunity, rooted chiefly in their cowardice, is unforgivable.

A new documentary shows this quite well. “The Oslo Diaries,” directed by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan, which was screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival, is a moving and important film that many Israelis will see.

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Oslo Accords 25 years.

When it was over, a woman sitting in front of me got up and tried in vain to hold back her tears. It was the chairwoman of Meretz, MK Tamar Zandberg. It was touching to see a politician crying over a missed opportunity, but a similar discomfort, to heavy to bear, filled the entire hall. The film proves how, despite all the wariness toward the Oslo Accords, they still represented an opportunity — and this is what Rabin and Peres missed. This missed opportunity was not only fateful, it was also irreparable.

“The Oslo Diaries” reflects the spirit of the times. Netanyahu, still with his unkempt hair, looks like a crazy man at the right-wing rallies, his eyes spinning round, different from his relatively level-headed image of today, and the fascist and violent atmosphere of the street as never seen before in Israel. But the film deals with the peacemakers, and the picture that arises from them too is worrying. They are the explanation for the failure, most of which can be placed on their shoulders.

Oslo Accords - 25 years on

Faltering from the beginning: Yair Hirschfeld preaches morality with characteristic haughtiness and threatens Ahmed Qureia for daring to mention the Nazi occupation of Norway and to compare it to the Israeli occupation, which has lasted 10 times longer and exacted many more victims. A few of the other members of the Israeli delegation are tainted by the same arrogance toward the Palestinians — particularly legal adviser Joel Singer, who is exposed in the film as an especially repulsive and arrogant individual.

Standing out from them is the innocent and benevolent figure of Ron Pundak, and above all of them shines Yossi Beilin, one of a rare breed of diplomats who can set his ego aside, always behind the scenes and focused on the goal rather than on getting credit. Beilin has never received his due honor: Oslo is Beilin, Beilin is Oslo. The missed opportunity belongs to those above him, Rabin and Peres. They are the heroes of Oslo, and its criminals.

They began the negotiations with the intention of manipulating the Palestinians as far as possible. There is not a moment of equality or fairness in the negotiations. When agreement is reached on an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in the second stage, they insisted on only 2 percent. Only they had “misgivings” about sitting with the PLO. They, who never shed a drop of blood, found it so difficult to speak with the bloodthirsty terrorists from Tunis. They, who did not exile hundreds of thousands in 1948 and did not establish the occupation enterprise in 1967, suffered so much from speaking with terrorists.

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The theatrical feeling of disgust they showed, and Rabin in particular, from shaking hands with Yasser Arafat demonstrated their true attitude toward the Palestinians. Rabin of the expulsion of Ramle and the massacre in Lod, Rabin of “break their bones,” recoiled so much from defiling his pure hands with Arafat’s bloody hands. And he took the trouble to show it, too. This is not how you make peace. If anyone should have recoiled it was Arafat, who was forced to shake the hand of someone who occupied and disinherited him. Arafat wanted to start a new chapter more than Rabin did.

But the main guilt is in the missed opportunity. There were at least two, one for Rabin and one for Peres. Rabin, who gave Beilin the impression that he was about to remove the Jewish community of Hebron after the Baruch Goldstein massacre, became frightened and did not keep his word, and in doing so determined the future of the relations, possibly forever.

At the end of the 40 days of mourning, the suicide bombing attacks began. It is not difficult to imagine what would have happened had Rabin removed the obstacle of the settlement in Hebron. Peres, who in the movie is seen giving one of his peace speeches, one of the most courageous and hair-raising ever heard here, rejected as prime minister the draft of the permanent agreement reached by Beilin and Mahmoud Abbas, out of fear of the coming elections. This was the second moment of missed opportunity. Everyone knows what happened next, and it makes one despair.