Refusing to Give Up the Ghost of Oslo

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There is a complete industry that has grown up around the Oslo Accords that has kept many people employed for two decades now, inside the Beltway, far removed from the daily reality of the knifings and vehicular deaths that the people in Israel have to endure on a daily basis. Pundits, analysts, and self-proclaimed “experts” refuse to acknowledge that the Oslo paradigm has been an abysmal failure, and has only served to empower a group whose leaders daily inculcate their people towards hatred of Israelis and Jews and who harbor and encourage maximalist fantasies of what a final solution will look like.

A prominent Washington think tank held a seminar last week with former Labor Party Member of the Knesset, Einat Wilf, and Ghaith Al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute and the former Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine. Al-Omari previously held various positions within the Palestinian Authority, including advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team during the 1999-2001 permanent-status talks.

Ms. Wilf candidly opened up her remarks with this statement: “I want to start by saying, often, when I am asked by diplomats, ‘How can I help? What can I do for peace?’ Actually my answer is always, ‘If we were left alone it would be best. Because we do not benefit by having this conflict constantly played out on the world’s stage.’”

Yet, she proceeded to outline just how it is that the Western powers could interfere. She acknowledged that there is a growing discourse over the one-state paradigm, and that the negotiations have failed to lead to the desired outcome. She also honestly acknowledged that there has been a “privilege for the process over the outcome,” that negotiations have failed to achieve the desired outcome, and that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has recently called for an end of all negotiations.

Ms. Wilf stated that “negotiations have not yielded peace, and not yielded anything close to peace,” but then repeated the oft-heard maxim, “We all know what peace looks like.” She then described what might happen given this combination of frustration with negotiations and the sense that the two-state solution is in jeopardy, if left up to the Western powers.

She proceeded to outline what she calls Western “preferences” which includes the following four elements: 1.) The establishment of an Arab-Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel; 2.) Recognized borders that separate the State based on the 1967 borders or the 1949 armistice lines, with equivalent land in Israel in exchange for some blocks that Israel cannot give up; 3.) Jerusalem as the capitol of both states with Western Jerusalem as the Capitol of Israel, and residential Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as the Capitol of Palestine, and a special status for “the Holy Basin” to ensure religious freedom for all; 4.) An agreed right of return of people with refugee status from Palestine, (now numbered 5 million by UNRWA and 7 million by the Palestinians), with Israel accepting a certain number of refugees and their descendants numbering several thousand; this will be “an end to all claims.”

It should be understood here that each of these ‘preferences’ are fraught with potentially explosive issues that if left unresolved are almost direct prescriptions for a continuation or even an intensification of the conflict.

I found Ms. Wilf’s presentation to be an honest and open analysis of what the Western powers want, and Ms. Wilf adeptly protects herself with a cover, by saying that “she does not look at these policies as prescriptive.” However, she basically says that Israel should concede on many of these points, so that there is a “realism in objectives.” Then she completely misuses the Nobel prize winning research of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s “Prospect Theory,” which says the risks of loss is greater for most than the risk of maximizing their benefits, and turns it on its head by saying Israel should take these risks because it gives up all the advantages that were kept as bargaining chips with no expectation of return.

Yet, “Prospect Theory” in fact, would argue the exact antithesis, because the inherent pitfalls and risks implicit in each of these for “preferences” is far greater than the benefits.

What bothers me about Ms. Einat’s address to an international, Western audience, so remote from the conflict, is that she is, actually, not following her own advice of leaving the international powers out of the dispute, and is trying to breathe new life into a moribund process that has simply been empirically proven not to work. Theoretically, perhaps it can work within in the cushy think tanks and corridors of power in Washington, but it does not work with the Palestinian people, because they have been inculcated with a diet of incitement and hate.

It is about time for some intellectual honesty. At what point does one have enough of this rare commodity to lead him to acknowledge that this experiment is not working, and it is time to go back to the drawing board? Any objective scientist would say that by now, we have reached the null hypothesis. Somewhere along the line, one has to acknowledge the culture of the people that have been raised since the Oslo Accords and how they have been fed maximalist dreams of one state of Palestine, that is completely “Judenrein” (free of Jews).

On October 28, 2015, President Mahmoud Abbas spoke before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. In his remarks, Mr. Abbas stated that all of Israel is “occupied,” and Palestinian land. He was not talking about 1967 here, but about the founding of Israel in 1948.

And earlier this month, in a much vaunted Haaretz-sponsored conference about Israeli-Palestinian peace in New York, longtime Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat refused to speak unless Israeli flags were removed from the premises, again an obnoxious act symbolically abrogating the existence of Israel — all of Israel. The organizers of the conference were quick to obey this disgusting demand; which again, symbolically gave validity to the idea that the existence of the State of Israel and the symbols of that State are ephemeral.

You might be forgiven for asking yourself, “How it is that Israel can be expected to make peace with a people that do not even recognize its existence?”

A similar stunt was recently pulled by Ayman Odeh, an Israeli-Arab Member of the Knesset, who was scheduled to speak at the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations when he noticed that the Jewish Agency, which promotes Aliyah to Israel, had an office within the suite of the Conference of Presidents. He therefore refused to enter the building and asked to have the meeting moved. However, Chairman of the Conference, Malcolm Honlein, demonstrated some vertebrae, which is a rare commodity these days among American Jewish leaders, when he refused to move the place of the meeting.

Secretary of State John Kerry has also injected his two cents into this discussion, blaming the recent wave of violence on settlement growth. Mr. Kerry said on October 13th, while speaking at Harvard:

“So here’s the deal. What’s happening is that unless we get going, a two-state solution could conceivably be stolen from everybody. And there’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years. Now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing, and a frustration among Israelis who don’t see any movement. So I look at that and I say if that did explode — and I pray and hope it won’t and I think there are options to prevent that — but we would inevitably be — at some point we’re going to have to be engaged in working through those kinds of difficulties. So better to try to find the ways to deal with it before that happens than later.”

We keep hearing the same formulation among the chattering classes; Israel should give up settlements, and then there will be peace.  This completely ignores the spirit and the words of the letter that President George W. Bush had penned to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in the wake of the Gaza withdrawal, as well as the true language of UN Security Resolution 242.

This Bush letter specifically states that “As part of a final peace settlement Israel must have secured and recognized borders, which should emerge from UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground including already existing major populations centers, [italics added], it is unrealistic to  expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, all previous efforts to negotiate  two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”

UNSC Resolution 242 never speaks of the giving up of all territories that were captured in Israel’s defensive wars of 1967 and 1973. Article I, section ii of Resolution 242 calls for the “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries, free from threats or acts of force.” [Italics added]. According to Resolution 242, Israel is, in no way called upon to withdraw to the armistice lines of 1949, nor to the lines of before the outbreak of the June 4, 1967 war.

Many people in academia and in government for years have made the Israeli-Palestinian peace process the lynchpin on peace in the entire Middle East, and have a knee jerk analysis as to why there is still no peace. The settlements are almost uniformly and exclusively to blame.

But what does the average Palestinian want?

According to the latest Shikaki poll from the Palestinian Center of Policy and Survey Research, taken from December 10th -12th, 2015, a growing majority, 60% of Palestinians support returning to an armed intifada, and 67% support the use of knives in the current confrontations with Israel.

Why is this? On September 16th, Mahmoud Abbas enflamed his population by saying, we will not allow Jews, with their “filthy feet” to “defile our Al Aqsa mosque,” and “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem… Every martyr will reach paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah.”

This is the very same inflammatory rhetoric that was used to whip up the Arab population responsible for the Hebron massacre of 1929. And is merely a small sample of the sort of rhetoric that has been marinating the minds of the Palestinian people for over two decades.

As John F. Kennedy said, “Peace does not just exist in signed agreements and documents alone, but in the hearts and minds of the people.”

There is a complete disconnect between what is among the chattering classes in Washington and in New York, who refuse to look at the cultural reality on the ground within the Palestinian population and what 22 years of incubation in constant and daily incitement to hate and to kill has wrought. By now, an entire generation of people has been created that will not easily abandon their maximalist fantasies for a one-state solution called “Palestine,” that is entirely devoid of, what has taken shape in their minds as those despised and wretched Jews.

Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, EMET, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

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Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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