Stop apologizing for the Oslo accord

Now that I’ve had my glorious first cup of coffee after Yom Kippur (I’m an extreme case of coffee addiction, so I have to go off coffee a week before the fast…agony, but worth it for the prayers and singing in the choir)…I can share with you my article that replies to all the whining and groaning about the Oslo accord, signed 25 years ago with a goal of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s on the Jewish Week website. Editor Gary Rosenblatt calls it a “fresh take on a tired subject.”

It looks nicer on the Jewish Week site, but if you’d rather read it here…here it is…

Stop beating your breast over the Oslo “sin”

By Mark Lavie

Oslo is Israel’s most successful failure.

Oslo, the nickname of the peace process that began with the secret negotiation of an interim accord with the PLO in the Norwegian capital in 1993, was supposed to bring about the coveted two-state solution—Israel living side by side in peace with a Palestinian state—within five years.

It failed. Marking the accord’s 25th anniversary, many people are wailing and whining about that.

Under the accord, Israeli forces withdrew from the main Palestinian population centers in the West Bank and Gaza, handing over control to veteran terrorist Yasser Arafat.

Instead of working for peace, Arafat set up a corrupt, incompetent, and violence-centric Palestinian Authority in Gaza and about 40 percent of the West Bank, where more than 90 percent of the territory’s Palestinians live.

All 25 years of the Oslo process have been accompanied by violence and terrorism, not peace. More than a thousand Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks. Palestinian leaders whip up anti-Israel frenzy, leading to more and more attacks. Palestinian media broadcast the most outrageous lies, charging Israel with poisoning their water, drugging their children, targeting their babies. Palestinian textbook maps do not show Israel at all.

So where’s the success?

Simply put—the success is the very first step. Israeli soldiers are no longer posted inside Palestinian cities and towns. They no longer patrol the casbah of Nablus or the streets of Ramallah. They no longer have a base inside the huge, poor, violent Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza.

To look at what that means, first we have to take off our nostalgically ideological rose-colored glasses and examine what the situation was like before.

Take Gaza. The Oslo withdrawals from population centers led to Israel’s total pullout in 2005.

The settlers who were evacuated have faced hardships and trauma. But to paint their lives in Gaza before the pullout as bucolic, peaceful, and idyllic is a distortion of reality at best, and a politically motivated lie at worst.

I was walking our dog in the early 2000s while talking on the phone to my son, who was on army reserve duty in Gaza. He could hear firecrackers going off near me, and I reminded him that it’s Purim, not gunfire. “Abba,” he laughed, “down here, every day is Purim.”

Settlers complained bitterly about their conditions, as mortar shells and rockets rained down. I remember riding in a “bus” with settlers from the village of Netzarim in northern Gaza. The “bus” was a truck with thick cement walls. A conventional bus would have been an easy target for Palestinian gunfire.

The army tried to stop the attacks with repeated operations and airstrikes, all to no avail.

The West Bank isn’t much different. As a radio reporter, I spent several days a week in the West Bank in the days before Oslo. Sometimes I went with soldiers as they patrolled the streets of Ramallah, Nablus, and refugee camps.

The hatred from the Palestinians and the nervousness of the young soldiers was obvious. Even though attacks drew quick, painful retaliation, Palestinians targeted soldiers. Sixty soldiers were killed between 1987, when the first Palestinian uprising erupted, and 1993, when the Oslo accord was signed. Another 332 were killed in the second uprising, from 2000 to 2008, when soldiers were sent back into Palestinian population centers to try to put down a deadly wave of attacks, including suicide bombings, which killed more than 700 Israeli civilians.

Then Israel retreated behind its new security barrier, built after a major military operation in 2002, and let the Palestinian Authority, with all its faults, handle day-to-day security—with the help of Israeli intelligence.

That’s the background for this foray into counterfactual history:

If there had been no Oslo accord, there would be no security barrier. There would have been no withdrawal from Gaza City, Jabaliya, Nablus, or Ramallah. Israeli soldiers would still be stationed in the most volatile, crowded hotbeds of violent Palestinian hatred. The soldiers would be easy targets for Palestinian snipers and bombers—just as they were in Gaza before the 2005 pullout.

It’s not unreasonable to conclude that some weeks, 10 soldiers would be killed. Some weeks, “only” five.

There would be tearful, angry funerals practically every day. The people would demand action. The army would be sent in to battle armed Palestinians, killing many of them, but taking dozens of casualties itself.

More funerals, more tears, more anger. More military operations.

And what about the settlements? The ones in Gaza would be shelled constantly—and the settlements in the West Bank would become targets, as well. Infiltrations, gunfire—how long would it be until the same concrete Gaza “buses” would be used in the West Bank?

And then what?

We haven’t even weighed the dire diplomatic fallout from all this, but let’s stop there. The lesson is clear.

If we assess the actual security situation in the West Bank and Gaza before and after Oslo, it is clear that the failed accord at least got Israeli soldiers out of the main lines of fire in the West Bank and Gaza. So Oslo saved the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soldiers. There’s only one word for that.


—   —   —

Foreign correspondent MARK LAVIE has covered Israel, the Palestinian areas, and the rest of the region since 1972.






Unrest in Iran: careful what you wish for

Why do we assume that regime change in Iran (or anywhere else) will automatically lead to an enlightened. democratic government? So far in the Mideast, the opposite has been the case. Iran is no different.

But those who mistakenly pushed for the cancellation of the Iran nuclear deal and welcome the unrest on the streets of Tehran and elsewhere are licking their chops at the possibility that the Ayatollahs might be replaced by Western-oriented, English-speaking liberals.

Come back to earth, folks. This well-reasoned argument from Israel’s best political-strategic think tank puts the hopes and dreams in perspective. Don’t have time to read a well-reasoned, academic article? First of all, shame on you. Second, its conclusion is that regime change in Iran is unlikely, and if it does occur, it’s likely to yield a populist, possibly fascist, dictatorship of another kind.

So are we really accomplishing anything by driving the Iranian economy further and further down? In fact, yes, we are. We’re empowering the extremists and driving more and more Iranians into their arms. We should be smarter than this.

My very first demonstration–against police detaining rabbis

No to police detaining rabbis, yes to Jewish pluralism in Israel!

This was my first-ever demonstration as a participant (I was a journalist and didn’t ever demonstrate…now I’m retired, so the restrictions are off.)

Several hundred people came to Haifa from all over the country to protest the brief police detention of HaifademodubiRabbi Dov Hiyun to be questioned for the “crime” of marrying a couple the Chief Rabbinate would not marry. Never mind that the Rabbinate eventually lifted its objections–in my country, I never want to see a rabbi arrested again, whether he or she is Orthodox, Conservative or Reform.

HaifademoThere is room for all of us here, and if people have problems with some forms of Judaism and the validity of their ceremonies, let them deal with their problems within their own communities and leave the rest of us to pray as we are drawn to prayer. If it makes any difference, I’m an Orthodox Jew, so I’m part of the “ruling class” when it comes to Judaism in Israel–but I’m concerned with justice, peace, and lessons of the past.

Is this the issue to choose for my first demonstration? Absolutely. This goes to the heart of how Israel sees itself, how it welcomes or rejects many Jews. We’ve been here before. In Haifa we were praying on Tisha B’Av, mourning the day the biblical Temples were destroyed, partly for “Sinat Hinam,” baseless hatred. Do we really need to go though that again?

Who needs a Jewish State law?

That was the heading of an article I wrote about the Jewish State law in 2014. Here it is–nothing has changed. And now that the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, has passed the law–still nothing has changed. In this interview with BBC Scotland, I explain how the law just describes a situation that already exists. So why was it passed in the first place?


Just look how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gushed in response. “We enshrined in law the basic principle of our existence. Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, that respects the individual rights of all its citizens. This is our state — the Jewish state. In recent years there have been some who have attempted to put this in doubt, to undercut the core of our being. Today we made it law: This is our nation, language and flag.”

Nonsense. There is no credible threat to Israel as the Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people. Sure, a few noisy extremists would like to see it otherwise, but that doesn’t make it an actual threat.

This is simply the way Netanyahu stays in power–scaring the people with an overblown threat and then solving the crisis to the cheers of his adoring voter base. He dd it most notably with the Iran nuclear accord, and he’s still playing that card.

And what about the opposition? Arab members of the Israeli parliament called the law “racist,” a “crime against humanity,” and “the end of Israeli democracy,”

Nonsense. It changes exactly nothing. Relatively sensible heads took out clauses that could have been stretched to mean something along those lines, but the watered-down, two-page law just takes a picture of the current situation. No more. No less. Arabs and other minorities still have the vote, their language, their rights, their benefits, and most of the obligations (not all) that Jewish citizens have. Is there discrimination? Are Israeli Arabs less well off than Israeli Jews? Yes, of course. The new law does nothing to make that worse, or to make that better.

Does anyone seriously dispute that Israel is a Jewish nation with protected minorities? That Jerusalem is the capital? Of course the law says that means all of Jerusalem, including the part the Palestinians claim, but that’s been Israeli law since 1967.  Again, nothing has changed. Negotiations would change that.

Jerusalem has been  Israel’s capital since the state was created in 1948, and it needs no one’s recognition–despite the implied threats of doom and gloom wafting from the prime minister’s overdone celebrations every time some small nation hints it might follow the US and move its embassy to Jerusalem.  The implication is that we must have this foreign recognition, or else, well, something bad will happen. We don’t. Maybe we did 50 years ago, but we don’t now. I’m working on getting my book on that subject published.

So do we need this law? No. Is it harmful? Not really, except for the fact that it will give your favorite Israel bashers another reason to climb onto the antisocial media train and level all kinds of outlandish, false charges about what the law might do.

But even if they do that–they do not make up a credible threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish nation. That has been determined and solidified by seven decades of positive action, not by two sheets of meaningless paper.


So now I’m a propagandist? Just ask Facebook

Facebook refused to let me promote my latest article, about the Trump-Kim summit, unless I agreed to label it a “political ad.” Well, you can imagine my reaction to that.

Turns out I’m not alone. You have to read all the way to the bottom of this Columbia Journalism Review article to get an action recommendation–stop advertising on Facebook. the problem is, it seems that Facebook is still the best tool for getting the word out, which is what we book-writing types try to do…any suggestions?

Backlash continues over Facebook decision to lump news with ads
By Mathew Ingram

Even as Facebook tries to solve one problem—namely, accusations that it isn’t transparent enough about the ads it runs on the platform—it seems to have created another one. Publishers are up in arms over the fact that the social network plans to treat certain promoted news stories as though they are political ads, and they’ve made their feelings known in a number of ways. A group of media organizations have sent Facebook a letter expressing their dissatisfaction, and New York Times CEO Mark Thompson vented on the subject at an event organized by Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism on Tuesday in Washington, DC.

The furor came to a head last month, when Facebook made it clear that ads for news stories involving political themes would be included in a public database it recently launched. The database, which is designed to be a central location where anyone can see who pays for individual ads, is a key part of the company’s attempt to deal with criticism that its ad platform was used by Russian trolls during the 2016 election. The News Media Alliance sent a letter saying the move could lead to a (further) loss of trust in the press.

On Monday, seven media organizations—including the NMA, the American Society of News Editors, the European Publishers Council, and the Society of Professional Journalists—sent another strongly worded letter to Facebook with similar complaints, writing: “Placing news ads in an archive designed to capture political advertising [is] another step toward furthering a false and dangerous narrative that blurs the lines between real reporting from the professional media and propaganda.”

In a speech at the Washington event, co-sponsored by the Tow Center and the Open Markets Institute, Times CEO Thompson echoed this criticism, saying: “When it comes to news, Facebook still doesn’t get it. In its efforts to clear up one bad mess, it seems set on joining those who want blur the line between reality-based journalism and propaganda.” Tow Center Director Emily Bell called the decision to classify promoted stories as ads “a disastrous misstep for [Facebook’s] relationship with publishers.”

In their letter, the seven news organizations said the company should exempt certain high-quality publishers from the decision. But it doesn’t sound like Facebook has any intention of doing so, judging by comments from Head of News Campbell Brown at the event. Brown said that, after criticism from publishers, the company plans to put promoted news stories in their own database, separate from traditional ads, but that being exempted from the plan altogether was not an option. Any publishers who don’t want their stories to be categorized in such a way, she said, should stop advertising on Facebook.

What explains the North Korea summit fiasco? “Obama Bad”

How is North Korea more trustworthy than Iran? That’s the most puzzling aspect of the US-North Korea, um, words fail me. Agreement? Negotiation? Bromance? No, not bromance, let’s not trivialize this more than it’s already been trivialized.

It can all be summed up in two words: Obama Bad.

Here’s a US president who campaigned against the Iran nuclear agreement, the “worst deal ever,” and then hands North Korea, which actually HAS nuclear weapons, everything it wants–and all that without even an iron-clad pledge to get rid of its nuclear weapons, much less its ability to produce them. Here’s an assessment from the sober-sided Foreign Affairs magazine that tries really hard to be even-handed, but fails.

Of course the two situations are not comparable at this point, because the Iran deal was carefully negotiated over two years of multilateral talks, and the North Korea deal is not yet in place–that process is just beginning. Let’s stipulate that whatever we think of all this, negotiations are always better than open warfare, but it’s still important to examine the framework of the negotiations.

So let’s look at the starting points. The goal with Iran was to prevent it from making nuclear weapons. The end result of the negotiations was a detailed accord with pages and pages of restrictions and inspections to ensure that this would be accomplished. Are the terms perfect, a guarantee? Of course not. The very term “deal” means that neither side got everything it wanted. After the deal was signed, there was supposed to be progress in the form of international relations and commerce–a way of ensuring that Iran would have no interest in producing nuclear weapons and muck the whole thing up again. To all out detriment, that never happened.

So let’s say that the starting points are the same. Why would an accord with North Korea, known for its non-compliance with previous accords, an aggressive stance against its neighbors, and human rights abuses against its own people and foreigners, be better than an accord with Iran, which has a spotty record on just about everything but still better than North Korea? What would make a deal with North Korea better than “the worst deal ever” with Iran?

But the starting points are nowhere near similar. The world negotiated the deal with Iran. The US is dealing with North Korea unilaterally, allowing Kim to play powers off against each other. The goal in the Iran talks was to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons and dismantle its ability to do that. The goal with North Korea is “denuclearization,” an artificial and nebulous term that everyone knows means one thing to the West and something else entirely, much less, to Kim. And all the steps apply not just to North Korea but to the “Korean peninsula,” a moral equivalency that suddenly downgrades the US-South Korea alliance. Coupled with his dissing of NATO, does that give any pause to Trump’s many supporters in Israel about his reliability when it comes to long-standing alliances?

Keep in mind that North Korea is a giant step ahead of where Iran was–it has already tested nuclear bombs. Iran never built one. And the critics of the Iran deal, especially Trump, wailed long and loud about the fact that it didn’t include restrictions on Iran’s missile program. North Korea is far ahead of Iran on that, too–yet guess what’s missing from the stated parameters of the negotiations that will supposedly follow this summit?

So what’s going through the minds of the Trump administration and its millions of supporters who cheered as the Iran deal was cancelled and cheered again over their leader’s TV-triumphant but superficial and results-light meeting with Kim?

Obama Bad.

It all boils down to that. From the day the Senate Republican leader said straight out that his only goal was to torpedo any move President Obama wanted to make, and then did his best to accomplish that goal–the “policy” was in place. Undoing the “Obama legacy” has been the main thrust of the Trump government in all its branches. Just as Senate Republicans voted against their own proposals as soon as Obama supported them, so every Obama move is inherently evil to them and must be cancelled.

The utter bankruptcy of such a philosophy, if one can insult the concept of philosophy by calling it that, is obvious. And in case it isn’t, consider this:

The best way to approach North Korea would have been to start with a working Iran model in place. Not the Libya model, not the Pakistan model. An Iran model. (That would have required the US to actually try to implement the accord in good faith, which it demonstrably did not.) Then the US could have teamed up with its partners from the Iran negotiations and move on to North Korea.

Look what we have instead. The US going it alone, dissing its allies, embracing despots, and doing photo ops while giving away the ranch. And all that for Obama Bad.