September 1, 2023 – ט״ו אֱלוּל תשפ”ג
Each of us has a ‘where-were-you-when?’ moment. For my parents’ generation, many vividly remember the assassination of JFK in 1963, the assassination of Dr. King in 1968, and the historic landing on the moon in 1969 (and we could list many more). For me, and many in my generation, the September 13, 1993, historic handshake on the White House lawn with President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Chairman Yasser Arafat is seared in my memory as a formative moment of hope, nostalgia, and then disappointment watching during our formative years the prospects of peace grow and then fail. On August 30, 1993, 30 years ago from this past Wednesday, the Government of Israel, after lengthy discussion and great hesitation, ended up approving the draft Declaration of Principles [known as the Oslo Accords] with the Palestinians. On Tuesday of this week, the State Archive released the minutes of that meeting, some of which remain censored.
“I want to start by saying, this is not an easy agreement,” Prime Minister Rabin said as the government meeting opened. “Obviously, had we negotiated with ourselves, I’m sure the wording would have been far better. The text also includes unpleasant wording. I’m couching my words cautiously,” he added. However, he emphasized, “We must look much more comprehensively at all the different components.”
The minutes of the meeting reveal what many who followed closely probably already knew, a fascinating and telling discussion and debate among the cabinet ministers surrounding the opportunities the accords present, and the risks of not pursuing them. Foreign Affairs Minister, Shimon Peres, warned of a failed outcome:
“I must say it’s possible that the entire deal with the PLO will fall apart and there will be a Hamas-like Iran here,” he cautioned. “We also have to be careful. There’s no certainty it will last through all the revolts, all the begging, all the pressure, and everything else. I say this is a very serious matter. I simply don’t see an alternative in the Arab street.”
Reading through the released meeting protocol was like watching the movie “Titanic.” We now know in hindsight that the ship was going to sink and that PM Rabin would pay with his life. Nonetheless, we are riveted by the story. I found myself fondly wishing for the success of the impending agreement and deeply believing that we were entering into an era of peace.
Thirty years has been both an eternity and a blip on the historic timeline. In the past thirty years, we learned two truths:
- The Left has been vindicated in arguing that keeping one’s proverbial boot on the neck of another will only lead to violent outcomes. In short, we cannot continue to maintain military rule over another people and maintain an occupation (now 56 years) and think that this “status quo” will not turn into a violent uprising.
- The Right is not wrong in saying that we were mistaken to believe that we could sign a Western-style peace agreement with the Palestinians and that they would both recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and sheath their swords (or more accurately, suicide bombs, rockets, guns, knives, etc…) proclaiming an End of Conflict.
Both are correct, but Israeli society has shifted in the three decades since this historic agreement. Many of us do not realize the depth of trauma in Israeli society stemming from the post-Oslo years of violence during the Second Intifada (2000-2005). The threat of random murder on Israeli streets, buses, supermarkets, and Pesach Seders led to a great disillusionment of the Left and eventually paved the way for what we are seeing now, the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history.
Over the course of the last three decades, there were attempts to revive the negotiations. One took place in the weeks and months after the failed Camp David talks in 2000, and then a serious attempt at reaching an agreement between then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008-09. Another took place in 2013-2014 led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry but also failed. Since then, Israel has maintained close security coordination with the PA. former Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Abbas, but no negotiations have taken place.
This week, however, historic attempts to bridge the gap took place with MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Labor Party.
“Yesterday I visited Ramallah for a meeting with various parties in the Palestinian Authority organized by the Geneva Initiative and the Palestinian Peace Coalition,” wrote Kariv on Wednesday.
“It is clear to all of us that the situation in the territories and our relationship with the Palestinian Authority is difficult and complex, but there is one simple truth that we must insist on affirming – that the weakening of the Palestinian Authority is a gift for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Whoever does not sustain continuous political discourse with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority will end up negotiating with the Islamist terrorist organizations and strengthening them. This is no longer a theory but a fact.”
While we resolutely fight the judicial overhaul and are fully committed to continuing this struggle, we must remember that the government of Netanyahu, Smotrich, and Ben Gvir is leading another revolution that poses a significant threat to the future of the State of Israel and the Zionist enterprise: the de facto annexation revolution. This revolution intensifies the bloody conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, harms critical security coordination, weakens the Palestinian Authority, and poses real obstacles to any future progress to renew political negotiations and promote a solution to the conflict.
In the face of the messianic and nationalist conduct of the government, a clear political and security vision must be presented of striving for separation between us and the Palestinians, the renewal of the political negotiations, and keeping the two-state solution on the table as the only practical solution to the conflict.
Our role as elected officials is to reiterate that conflicts do not govern. Either we strive to solve them, even if the road is bumpy and difficult, or they manage us, and we become enslaved to them. As we see in the last political decade, sitting on the fence and ignoring the conflict and the situation in the territories only puts wind in the sails of those who wish for us forever to live by our swords.”
Many questions remain from this period:
- Where do the Palestinians fit in with the judicial overhaul proposed by the current government?
- Is a vision of a Jewish State living side-by-side with a Palestinian State completely delusional or just a matter of negotiations and a realization that there is no better alternative?
- Can the Palestinians ever recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state and not harbor hopes of one day seeing its destruction?
- Can Israel come to the painful conclusion that it must prevent annexation of the West Bank (also called by its Biblical names – Judea and Samaria) in order to prevent what Shimon Peres warned would happen 30 years ago?
- What role can the Saudis and other Gulf States play in bringing the Palestinians to the negotiation table to affect two states for two peoples resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
The answers to these questions, I know that we cannot ignore them as we continue to fight for Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
More to come next week.