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Among the Palestinians, the agreement caused immense euphoria. I was an eyewitness to the explosion of joy on the day of signing. Attacks in Israel stopped for a long time. The Palestinians were convinced that in return for their major concessions the Palestinian state would soon come into being in all the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.
When I hear right-wing Israelis shout “Indict the Oslo Criminals!” I shudder. Not because of the inherent falsification, but because of the sound of the words.
This slogan is a virtual (and perhaps conscious) copy of the slogan used by the Nazis in their successful campaign to undermine the Weimar republic. Their throats were hoarse from shouting “Indict the November Criminals!”
The “November Criminals” were the German statesmen who, in November 1918, signed the armistice that ended World War I. After four years of valiant fighting, the German army was exhausted. The Kaiser had fled. The vaunted General Staff was in despair. The generals begged the statesmen to sign the capitulation, in order to save what could be saved.
But according to Nazi legend, the very opposite had happened. The statesmen who had signed the armistice were traitors. They had stuck a knife into the back of the victorious army. The Nazi propaganda wizard, Joseph Goebbels, taught his pupils that by constant repetition one can turn a lie into truth, and the bigger the lie, the easier it is to get it accepted.
The incitement against the “Novemberverbrecher” (November criminals) succeeded. They were murdered, and the Nazis became a democratically elected government.
The campaign against the “Oslo Criminals” was successful, too. Rabin was murdered and the incitement assumes ever-growing dimensions. By this means, the extreme rightwing and the settlers hope to take over the state.
According to the well-known recipe, they repeat the historic lie endlessly, so that by now it is widely accepted as gospel truth. The media repeat it as a self-evident fact. The “left”, or what is left of the “left”, looks on as if hypnotized, unable to respond.
The historic truth is, of course, that it’s not the creators of the Oslo agreement who have caused a historic disaster, but its murderers. If there are “Oslo criminals”’ they are the people who have undermined the agreement from its inception, prevented its implementation and, by a stubborn sabotage campaign, succeeded in derailing it.
As a basis for peace, the Oslo agreement was not a good agreement. It could not be good, because the objective circumstances were bad. The balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians was something like 1000:1.
According to all criteria - political, military, economic, technological and what not - Israel enjoyed an immense superiority. The success of the first intifada did somewhat redress the imbalance and make a compromise easier, but the situation was still far from a reasonable balance. Arafat was not so wrong when he told his people that this was “the best agreement possible in the worst circumstances.”
Considering this, the Oslo agreement was better than it might have been. It enabled an enormous achievement: the recognition of the State of Israel by the Palestinian people, and the recognition of the Palestinian people and its liberation organization by the State of Israel. Until then, each side had denied the very existence of the other. This mutual recognition is an irreversible historical fact.
There is no need to enumerate the faults of the agreement, headed by the default to define its final aim. It outlined a set of interim stages without stipulating where they would lead. It set a time-table that was much too long.
The commitments of the two sides were formulated vaguely. These faults were not the result of carelessness, as many (especially Palestinians) believe, but were put into the agreement quite intentionally, especially by the Israeli army officers who, by request of Rabin, changed many paragraphs at the last moment.
In the Israeli peace camp, many saw the faults clearly, but after a heated internal debate, most of us decided to support the agreement in spite of them. Our main argument was that after the historic mutual recognition, an irreversible peace dynamic would drive the process forward.
I am convinced even today that if things had been pushed forward rapidly, the Oslo agreement would have led to peace. At the time, we asked Rabin to heed the warning of former British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George who had said (about the Irish problem) that one cannot cross an abyss in two jumps.
Rabin, a decent but hesitant person, was afraid to rush things. He himself drove the first nail into the coffin of Oslo by declaring that “there are no sacred dates”. By doing so he justified the first violations of the agreement and allowed the antagonistic forces in Israel time to regroup for the counter-attack.
Among the Palestinians, the agreement caused immense euphoria. I was an eyewitness to the explosion of joy on the day of signing. Attacks in Israel stopped for a long time. The Palestinians were convinced that in return for their major concessions (in Oslo, the Palestinians officially gave up 78% of mandatory Palestine) the Palestinian state would soon come into being in all the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.
It did not happen. One after another, successive Israeli governments refused to carry out their obligations, arguing that the other side, too, had violated the agreement. Israel has still not implemented the third withdrawal, which should have liberated almost all the West Bank (Area C) three years ago.
Until today, the four promised “safe passages” between Gaza and the West Bank have not been opened. Settlement activity has continued on an ever-increasing scale. The economic and human situation in the territories has got worse daily. (For example: before Oslo, every Palestinian could travel freely in Israel proper and between Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem. Oslo put an end to that.)
On the Palestinian side, disappointment has created a dangerous situation. On the Israeli side, opposition turned aggressive and violent. The murder of Rabin, the deed of an individual expressing the will of a large camp, was the beginning of the murder of Oslo. The enemies of Oslo have come to power in Israel, and they are still running our state.
All the Oslo processes have been turned on their head, and no other solution has taken their place. The bloody cycle of attack-retaliation-suicide-assassination has started again.
When the logic of peace gave way to the logic of war, all the achievements of Oslo assumed an opposite character. For example: the 40 thousand armed Palestinians, who were allowed to enter the Palestinian territories in order to serve as a solid foundation for the Palestinian state and safeguard peace and security, turned into an arm of the uprising against the continuing occupation. The Palestinian Authority, which was meant to be the nucleus of the state-in-the-making, became the center of the intifada.
All this would have been avoided, and peace between the two states would have become a reality long ago, had we moved forward quickly and resolutely on the Oslo road. The murderers of Oslo have prevented this - and they are mostly on the Israeli side, because we are the stronger party.
The slogan “Indict the Oslo Criminals” should be turned against them.
Copyright © Uri Avnery 2002. For fair use only
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