Israel: Twenty years after Oslo
By MANFRED GERSTENFELD
Damage caused by the massive Palestinian and Arab incitement may far exceed whatever benefits Israel gained from the Oslo agreements.
Mahmoud Abbas with a visiting group of Meretz MKs in Ramallah, August 22, 2013. Photo: Courtesy Palestinian Authority
On September 13, it will be 20 years since the Oslo agreements were signed. Today’s political situation in the Middle East is far from the one Abba Eban perceived when I interviewed him a few months later. He said at the time, “Never have Israelis and Arabs been meeting in so many ways in Washington, Tokyo, Moscow, Ottawa, Rome and our region. Militarily, the Arabs have been very unsuccessful against Israel. Now they want to be free of the traumas of defeat.”
Eban’s interview was one among 16 with prominent Israelis for my book Israel’s New Future, published in early 1994. It dealt with both internal and external Israeli perspectives after Oslo. However greatly Israel’s internal situation has changed, the present reality of the outside world is even more different than it was 20 years ago.
Israel’s current position in the Middle East is more complex than it has been for a long time. For many decades, Israel’s relations were good or at least correct with one or more of the three powers dominating the area – Turkey, Iran and Egypt. This is no longer the case. Relations with Iran, Israel’s ally under the Shah, have been abysmal since ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. Yet at the time of the Oslo agreements, there were no significant signs of the country’s leadership’s genocidal intentions.
Had this article been written before the overthrow of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, it would have been clear that on his agenda, increasing hostility against Israel was given a prominent role. The situation with Egypt’s current temporary government can best be described as puzzling.
Israel’s relations with previous Turkish governments were usually good. However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has aimed at weakening Turkish-Israeli relations for many years.
Already in 2004, he falsely accused Israel of state terrorism.
Steven Merley, who specializes in the study of political extremism, uncovered facts which showed that the Turkish government was heavily involved in many aspects of the preparation of the Gaza 2010 flotilla.
Another important change compared to 1993 is that Israel’s standing in European public opinion has greatly eroded in this new century. Concessions made by Israel to the Palestinians in the Oslo Accords, as well as its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, are long forgotten there. Studies show that at least 150 million citizens of the European Union who are 16 years and older hold a demonic view of Israel. They agree with the statement: “Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians.” In Norway, 38 percent of the adult population believes that Israel behaves toward the Palestinians like the Nazis behaved toward the Jews.
In the original book’s insightful interview with political scientist Dan Segre titled “Can Israel ever Trust Europe?” he said that Europe didn’t seem to have renounced some aspects of its “Shylock policy.”
“It wants from Israel a pound of flesh in territorial concessions without paying attention to the damage these may cause to the whole body as far as the defense capabilities of Israel are concerned.” Segre added that Israel “has shown in the 45 years of its history, how an undeveloped country can modernize, whereas many of the foreign European colonies are collapsing.” This marked success where Europe had failed was frustrating for many Europeans, he argued.
Already 20 years ago, it was clear that many of Israel’s political, military, cultural and economic experiences were precursors to what would later take place in the Western world. In other words, to a certain extent, Israel was functioning as a “laboratory for the West.”
To this one can now add that Israel has assumed a new role. It has increasingly become an indicator of the state of mind of the Western world, as well as the latter’s dubious morality.
Looking back 20 years, a major issue unnoticed by the interviewees was that the way the Palestinian Authority educates its children was a key indicator of its true intentions. The inability of the prominent Israelis interviewed at the time to foresee the importance of this should be cause for deep concern regarding the accuracy of current forecasts on important issues.
Yet another decisive development in the past 20 years has been the huge ongoing incitement against Israel by Palestinian sources. While the PLO and Arafat were in exile, they could not promote hate against Israel on a massive scale as both the PA and Hamas have done since. The Palestinians have gained many allies from this incitement.
Israel has received some benefits from the Oslo Accords, such as diplomatic relations with more countries. In the long run, however, damage caused by the massive Palestinian and Arab incitement may far exceed whatever benefits Israel gained from the agreements.
The author is emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has published more than 20 books. Recently, his book Israel’s New Future has been republished with a new introduction as Israel’s New Future Revisited.