In 1993, when relations between Israel and the Palestinians had reached an all-time low, negotiators from both sides met in secret in Oslo, Norway, in an effort to resolve their dispute over settlements, land rights and borders. These meetings took place over three years and produced agreements known as the Oslo Accords.
Although this promising step in the peace process was ultimately derailed, its lessons are still relevant 25 years later. Through archival footage, participants’ journals and interviews — including the last video conversation with former Israeli President Shimon Peres — Israeli filmmakers Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan document the story of these historic efforts and what went wrong in “The Oslo Diaries,” premiering Sept. 13 on HBO.
“If you want to understand why peace failed and what happened, you have to look at these three years of the Oslo Accords,” Loushy said in an interview with the Journal following the film’s world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. “We wanted to understand it, and when we started researching, we understood everything that is happening in the Middle East happened in Oslo.”
“The conflict is not about being Jewish or Arab or Muslim,” Sivan said. “It is about this small piece of land. People are trying to find a solution in order to live here together. People say Oslo failed, but Oslo was never implemented. [Former Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin was assassinated before it was ever implemented and people in Israel voted for a government that [wanted] to stop the peace process.
“[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu single-handedly destroyed the peace process,” he continued. “I think he is destroying our economy and the welfare of Israel, but I do not blame him for the assassination of Rabin.
“You had these two sworn enemies, Rabin and [Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser] Arafat, and they succeeded in coming together and making this peace treaty,” Sivan continued, adding that he believes it’s still possible for Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Authority and Netanyahu to come together and make a deal.
“Jerusalem will be divided,” Sivan said. “Some settlements will have to be evacuated. We will have to live in the 1967 borders. Controlling another people with military force, it is just a matter of time [before] we have another war, more terror attacks and more dead.”
However, Sivan said he believes that eventually the two sides will be able to coexist. “We will have peace, I am sure of it. The question is, will it come in 10 years, 50 years or 100 years? And how many people will die before we have this peaceful solution?”
Sivan said he is grateful for the United States’ support and that “no president ever has sanctioned Israel in any way. Throughout his whole administration, [former President Barack] Obama did not cut our funds. He did not sanction us for building more settlements in the West Bank. He hated Netanyahu, but he still didn’t do anything to harm Israel.”
Loushy added, “I do think the agreement should be more balanced, to give and take much more and to be willing to [make] compromises and to trust each other. The U.S. can play a major role in balancing this,” she said. “I’m sure [President Donald] Trump won’t do it, but maybe after, we’ll see.”
Sivan believes that it’s “the obligation [of] American Jews to support this peace process. “You must never mistake supporting Israelis with supporting the government,” he said.
Loushy emphasized the documentary’s message: “Oslo was not a failure,” she said. “We can reach this again, and it’s OK to hope for a different leader that will take us to the road that has not been written yet — to the road of peace.”
“The Oslo Diaries” premieres at 10 p.m. Sept. 13 on HBO.