Middle East Quarterly
I have written over 300 pieces on the Arab-Israeli conflict and have been crafting the essay offered below for about a decade. At just over 2,500 words in length, it provides a distillation of my thinking on this topic.
When Barack Obama announced in June 2009 about Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, "I'm confident that if we stick with it, having started early, that we can make some serious progress this year," he displayed a touching, if naïve optimism.
Indeed, his determination fits a well-established pattern of determination by politicians to "solve" the Arab-Israeli conflict; there were fourteen U.S. government initiatives just during the two George W. Bush administrations. Might this time be different? Will trying harder or being more clever end the conflict?
No, there is no chance whatever of this effort working.
Without looking at the specifics of the Obama approach — which are in themselves problematic — I shall argue three points: that past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed; that their failure resulted from an Israeli illusion about avoiding war; and that Washington should urge Jerusalem to forego negotiations and return instead to its earlier and more successful policy of fighting for victory.
I. Reviewing the "Peace Process"
President Bill Clinton hosted the ceremony and lauded the deal as a "great occasion of history." Secretary of State Warren Christopherconcluded that "the impossible is within our reach." Yasir Arafat called the signing an "historic event, inaugurating a new epoch." Israel's foreign minister Shimon Peres said one could see in it "the outline of peace in the Middle East."
The press displayed similar expectations. Anthony Lewis, a New York Times columnist, deemed the agreement "stunning" and "ingeniously built." Time magazine made Arafat and Rabin two of its "men of the year" for 1993. To cap it off, Arafat, Rabin, and Peres jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1994.
As the accords led to a deterioration of conditions for Palestinians and Israelis, rather than the expected improvement, these heady anticipations quickly dissipated.
When Palestinians still lived under Israeli control, pre-Oslo accords, they had benefited from the rule of law and a growing economy, independent of international welfare. They enjoyed functioning schools and hospitals; they traveled without checkpoints and had free access to Israeli territory. They even founded several universities. Terrorism declined as acceptance of Israel increased. Oslo then brought Palestinians not peace and prosperity, but tyranny, failed institutions, poverty, corruption, a death cult, suicide factories, and Islamist radicalization. Yasir Arafat had promised to build his new dominion into a Middle Eastern Singapore, but the reality he ruled became a nightmare of dependence, inhumanity, and loathing, more akin to Liberia or the Congo.
As for Israelis, they watched as Palestinian rage spiraled upward, inflicting unprecedented violence on them; theIsraeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that more Israelis were killed by Palestinian terrorists in the five years after the Oslo accords than in the fifteen years preceding it. If the two hands in the Rabin-Arafat handshake symbolized Oslo's early hopes, the two bloody handsof a young Palestinian male who had just lynched Israeli reservists in Ramallah in October 2000 represented its dismal end. In addition, Oslo did great damage to Israel's standing internationally, resurrecting questions about the very existence of a sovereign Jewish state, especially on the Left, and spawning moral perversions such as the U.N. World Conference against Racism in Durban. From Israel's perspective, the seven years of Oslo diplomacy, 1993-2000, largely undid forty-five years of success in warfare.
Palestinians and Israelis agree on little, but with a near universality they concur that the Oslo accords failed. What is called the "peace process" should rather be called the "war process."