Monday, September 16, 2013

After twenty years, Oslo defender changes his mind

[Originally posted at NOW]

It was twenty years to the day Friday since Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn to mark the signing of the first Oslo Accord, and while the politically correct opinion may continue to be that this was a genuine, if short-lived, high point for humanity, many who were enthusiastic at the time have come to take a considerably dimmer view in retrospect.

Take Avi Shlaim, the eminent Iraqi-born Israeli historian who wrote in The Guardian last Thursday of his disillusionment with the initiative he had defended in an October 1993 issue of the London Review of Books against the scathing criticisms of Edward Said. “20 years on, it is clear that Said was right in his analysis and I was wrong,” he now concedes.

Shlaim pins the bulk of the blame on Netanyahu, who “spent his first three years as PM in a largely successful attempt to arrest, undermine, and subvert the accords concluded by his Labor predecessors,” particularly with regard to the settlements. We know this is certainly the case – indeed, Netanyahu later boasted that “I stopped the Oslo Accords” by signing the lesser-known 1997 Hebron Agreement with the PLO, indefinitely legitimizing continued Israeli occupation of vaguely-defined “military locations” inside the West Bank. “Nobody said what defined military zones were […] as far as I’m concerned, the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone. Go argue,” as he tactfully spelled out.

Yet, as Said saw clearly in his ‘93 essay, the accords were always going to fail, with or without Netanyahu’s sabotage. Inequity and injustice were their very foundations. Re-reading the piece today, it’s impossible not to be struck by how handsomely it’s aged.

He saw – as surely anyone could have seen – that the humanitarian nightmare facing the scattered hundreds of thousands of refugees would only compound in agony. He accurately predicted the ruinous corruption and authoritarianism that would come to characterize the PLO, and the encouragement Israel would give in both respects. In a particularly prescient passage, he foresaw the manner in which the basis for territorial negotiations would shift from the pre-1967 border, as envisaged in UNSC Resolution 242, to a vague approximation of the Green Line adjusted by what are presently euphemized as ‘mutually agreed-upon land swaps’ – that is, pre-1967 Israel plus a significant proportion of the existing West Bank settlements:

“[B]y accepting that questions of land and sovereignty are being postponed till ‘final Status negotiations’, the Palestinians have in effect discounted their unilateral and internationally acknowledged claim to the West Bank and Gaza: these have now become ‘disputed territories’. Thus with Palestinian assistance Israel has been awarded at least an equal claim to them.”

Perhaps most arrestingly, he guessed then what far too few of us are able to face even now – that the entire ‘peace process’ has much more to do with the theatre of the ‘process’ than the actual attainment of any ‘peace’:

“[O]n the matter of how, by what specific mechanism, to get from an interim status to a later one, the document is purposefully silent. Does this mean, ominously, that the interim stage may be the final one?”

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