Today we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords. Many of us look back fondly and remember that historic moment and the, albeit, evanescent surge of hope it gave us.Many of us, including myself, were moved to tears by the speeches on the White House Lawn. On that glorious, warm September day, everyone was buoyant with optimism; pregnant with the promise of a new life for my people in Israel and their children, and for the Palestinians and theirs.
President Bill Clinton’s words were particularly moving, saying, “The United States is committed to insuring that the people who are affected by the agreement will be made more secure by it. Above all, let us dedicate ourselves today to your region’s next generation. In this entire assembly, no one is more important than the group of Israeli and Arab children who are seated here with us today.”
What has happened in the two decades that have ensued since then? Have these accords and all of the subsequent withdrawals that the Israelis have made since then resulted in a more secure, peaceful future? Have they brought us any closer to that ephemeral goal of peace?
And if not, when is it finally time to go back to the drawing board, and with the objectivity, intellectual honesty and moral clarity of a scientist, examine the premises of this hypothesis, declared it null and void?
Sadly, we all know the answer. Everyone, with very few exceptions, from the far left of the political spectrum to the far right, has by now acknowledged Oslo as the colossal failure it is. Even Aaron David Miller, one of the principal proponents of the Oslo Accords, who had spent twenty five years at the State Department, said at a forum held at the National Press Club in Washington this week, “ The reason for the failure of Oslo is that I failed to see the world as it was. I saw the world as I wanted it to be.”
That is just one of many reasons. The fact is that the Oslophile crowd clung to their illusions at the expense of reality the way a religious fanatic clings to his belief in the face of crushing evidence.
A sort of cognitive dissonance sets in. Wishful thinking overtakes reality. The more the evidence mounts, the more fervently one pushes aside the nasty, discordant facts to one’s belief system, and the more one is willing to label those who do not buy into your belief with malicious attacks.
In the two decades since that fateful day, we have watched as this hope has been eroded. It has been eroded primarily by the daily, constant and incessant messages, meticulously documented by Palestinian Media Watch, emanating directly from the Palestinian Authority . They have taken those beautiful Palestinian children, once sitting on the White house Lawn and filled their minds with vile hatred. They have used every means available, including newspapers, textbooks, radio and television speeches, ceremonies, posters, lessons in summer camps and in schools, sermons from imams, to vilify, and to incite their people to kill the Jew, to extoll suicide bombers and martyrs.
And they constantly signal their honest intention to the entire world, using one simple symbol : the familiar map of Israel, in its entirety. This map is ubiquitous throughout the area controlled P.A: from text books, to the walls of the UNWRA schools, to the logo on P.A. stationary, to the walls that Western negotiators and diplomats sit under in official P.A. offices Ramallah, which is adorned by this familiar map, labeled “Palestine.”
And where will be the place of Jews in the new state of Palestine? After yet another round of negotiations that began this summer, Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas said to a group of mainly Egyptian journalists, as reported by Reuters, “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli-civilian or soldier-in our lands.”
The truth is that if there were to be a withdrawal, there would not be a single remaining Israeli, because the army, sworn to protect Jewish civilian life, would forcibly remove them, just as they did in Gaza. Because they know what fate would soon befall any remaining Jew.
What was hoped for 20 years ago was peace. What we have received is the very antithesis. We have watched as our people have been living with terror, murder and death. We have seen the empirical results of the Gaza withdrawal. We know the inordinate sacrifices Israel has made on the altar of peace. We saw the country divided, writhing in pain; people torn from their homes, their livelihoods, their very life’s work.
And in return, we have watched over 10,000 missiles that have been launched from Gaza to southern Israel. We learned of or children’s nightmares, bedwetting and post traumatic stress syndrome.
One of the main casualties of Oslo has been the Judeo-Christian value of the sanctity of life. In the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Accords, the news was replete with the name of “Nachshum Waxman” Nachshum was the first fatality of Oslo, kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists.
By now, there have been so many thousands, they have been reduced to nameless statistics.
I have witnessed, in the name of this hallowed “peace” an erosion of American credibility and prestige. I have watched people that I wanted to believe in and respect, ignore evidence that does not fit neatly into their paradigm, and whitewash over the consequent deaths.
In 2004, I was at a Washington forum with Dennis Ross and Madeline Albright, and I asked them why it was that I had been so informed about the constant Palestinian incitement to hate and kill from my suburban Washington home, and why they, while in the State Department had not been. I quoted President John F. Kennedy when he had said, “Peace is not what exists in signed documents and treaties, but in the hearts and minds of people.”
To which Ambassador Ross responded, “My only regret is that we were not paying more attention to what was being said on the ground.” And Secretary of State Albright added, “Yes. We tended to coddle the entire Arab world much too much, in those days”.
This rare moment of honesty from two of the most major proponents Oslo was 9 years ago. Yet, we are still cling to this faulty illusion, and sweep under the rug the evidence of the failure, including the incitement to hate and to kill and the consequent Israeli and America civilians killed by Palestinian terrorists, whose bodies we have swept under the rug, and fail to get justice for
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, more than 72 Americans have been killed by Palestinian terrorists. I have devoted several decades of my life pursue justice for these American families. Yet, the same forces that are so invested in propping up the Palestinian Authority as a peace partner, have allowed the Palestinians to get away, literally, with the murder of American citizens. All in the holy name of “peace.”
And now, one would think, with the Arab and Muslim world imploding all around the tiny state of Israel, with over 110,000 dead in the internecine civil war in Syria, now, one might think that now America would no longer invest our credibility and prestige in a fundamentally flawed process. Now, one would try to focus on real issues of war and peace, and not whittle down our one, tiny fellow democracy ally in the Middle East to indefensible borders.
We have worked to empower our enemy, and have willfully blinded ourselves to the increasing evidence of it. And it is not only America’s credibility that has eroded, but so has the state of Israel’s. Israel is now more demonized throughout Europe and the Muslim and Arab world and in the polite halls of academia than it was before the Oslo Accords were signed.
But after 20 years, the resistance to openly and honestly examining the premises underlying Oslo, of “land for peace” and whether or not that assumption actually works in a region such as the Middle East has only gotten greater. Far too much ego, far too much prestige, emanating from some very powerful political forces, has been invested in this process. It is this ossified, institutional ego that stands in the way of an open, honest careful examination.
So on this anniversary, I tear my cloth and mourn the thousands of anonymous innocent civilians that have been wounded and killed in the name of this phony peace, and for the American values of honesty, integrity and equal justice under the law , that I once so firmly believed in.
Sarah N. Stern is the Founder and President of EMET, an unabashedly pro-American and pro-Israel think tank and policy shop in Washington, DC.