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.

Success.

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