Have the Lessons of Oslo Been Forgotten?

When the Oslo accords collapsed three years ago with the Palestinian Arabs’ launching of mass violence against Israel, numerous American Jewish leaders publicly admitted that they had been wrong all along about Oslo — wrong to believe the Palestinian Arabs wanted peace, wrong to ignore Palestinian Arab violations of the accords, such as anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement, and wrong to sit by silently as the U.S. pressured Israel to make more one-sided concessions.

Yet today, many American Jewish leaders are making that terrible mistake once again.

The words that disillusioned Jewish leaders wrote or spoke in late 2000 and early 2001 make for fascinating — and tragic — reading today.

The American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) took out a full-page ad in The New York Times (Nov. 12, 2000) headlined: “It takes a big organization to admit it was wrong.” The text read, in part: “We were persuaded that despite [Yasser Arafat’s] history of terrorism, he had chosen the path to peace. Perhaps we wanted to be persuaded.”

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, then-president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), said in his keynote address to the UAHC convention on June 1, 2001: “I have been wrong, and I believe our Reform movement has been wrong about a number of things. We misjudged Palestinian intentions and misread Palestinian society…. We did not pay nearly enough attention to the culture of hatred created and nourished by Palestinian leaders … the growing use of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi language in the Palestinian media.”

Rabbi Martin Weiner, president of the Central Conference of American (Reform) Rabbis, put it this way: “Many of us who have supported the Oslo process for the last decade must admit to ourselves that the Palestinians really do not want peace…” (Jerusalem Post, March 7, 2002). His colleague, Rabbi Amiel Hirsch, director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, was blunt: “I think there is reason to re-evaluate the underlying thesis of Oslo” (Forward, Oct. 13, 2000).

Leonard Cole, chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said that in order for there to be peace, there would have to be “a demonstrated effort by the Palestinians by way of what they teach their children, by way of the textbooks, the maps that are shown, that shows that they, too, are partners [for peace].” (Jerusalem Post, Oct. 27, 2000).

Yet, incredibly, many Jewish leaders are now making the exact same mistake about Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas that they made about Arafat. And now it’s even worse — because while Arafat publicly made commitments but did not fulfill them, Abbas says openly, “I have no intention to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad” and declares that the PA police “will not go house to house in search of weapons.”

Perhaps in another year or two, a major Jewish organization will take out yet another ad headlined, “It takes a big organization to admit it was wrong.” But how many more Israelis will die in the meantime? How many more one-sided concessions will be squeezed out of Israel? How many more terrorists will Israel be pressured into setting free?

In 1993, Arafat insisted that he wanted to live in peace with Israel. Just like Abbas says today. When he signed the Oslo accords, Arafat pledged to stop all violence against Israel and, for a time, there was, indeed, a reduction in terrorist attacks, just as Abbas did for seven weeks before a bus exploded in Jerusalem on Tuesday, killing 20 and wounding about 100.

Arafat’s words were pleasant sounding, like Abbas.’ People “wanted to be persuaded,” as the AJCongress newspaper ad put it. Today, too, people want to be persuaded. But to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Oslo years, we need to compare Abbas’ words to Abbas’ deeds.

Just like Arafat, Abbas is required to stop the vicious anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement that appears every day in the official P.A. media, school books, speeches and religious sermons. And just like Arafat, he refuses to stop it.

Just like Arafat, Abbas is required to treat Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terrorists, as enemies. And just like Arafat, he treats them as brothers and comrades, shelters them from Israeli arrest, demands that Israel free their imprisoned members, calls them “heroes” and “martyrs” and names streets and summer camps after them.

Ironically, while Jewish leaders and the Bush administration are championing Abbas as the “moderate” alternative to Arafat, Abbas makes it clear that he is as loyal to Arafat as ever.

Abbas co-founded the Fatah terrorist movement and was Arafat’s second in command for 40 years. He has said he makes no decisions without Arafat’s approval.

Abbas does not represent a “new” Palestinian Arab leadership, “not compromised by terror” — the condition that President Bush set in his June 2002 speech but subsequently ignored. Abbas is a terrorist who is temporarily using diplomacy to gain territory, Western funding and, perhaps, even a sovereign state.

The only difference between Abbas and Arafat is the suit and the shave.

Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Foolishness and Foll

By now anyone can understand what is happening in the Middle East.

The spectacle of military dictatorships being exposed

to the light of day is bracing, but now Europe, the United Nations and some in our own government want to return to business as usual. The president is basking in the deserved glory of our nation’s victory, while some in his administration want to publish a road map that would reward one of the worst terrorist gangs in the world with a state of their own.

Democrats and Republicans seem to agree with this policy. The only question is, why? Now that the nations of the Middle East have been seen for what they are, why make any concessions to them? Now that CNN and the other media have been shown to be liars and cheats, why bail them out?

Some point to the Iraqi oil fields, saying this was the one and only reason we toppled the Saddam dictatorship. But administration officials have insisted that they were fighting terrorism, the scourge of the last half-century. If this is so, why make more concessions to Yasser Arafat and his handpicked "prime minister?" Doesn’t it mean anything to the "peace at any price" people that Arafat refuses to hold elections, that he has carried on a war against defenseless civilians for three years? Doesn’t it mean anything that he broke each and every agreement he made with the gullible Israelis, including the basic one agreed to at Oslo that force would not be used to achieve political aims?

Secretary of State Colin Powell and others in the government aren’t answering these questions; presumably they think that Syria, which finances terror groups in the Palestinian territories and on the Lebanese border and Iran — which also finances terror against Israel — will have a change of heart. They think that a "prime minister" chosen by the arch terrorist Arafat is something to cheer about. It’s wonderful, they say.

Wonderful for whom? They certainly can’t mean the Israelis, who have made unbelievable concessions for peace over the last 30 years, giving back land for a peace that always eluded them. Nor can they mean the Arab people of the Middle East who live under dictatorial tyrannies that are seldom mentioned by the human rights groups at the United Nations and elsewhere. Against everything in international law, our government is punishing our allies and rewarding those who were against us. They are reaching out to those who hate us, offering more concessions from Israel as their olive branch.

Offer more concessions to whom? And why? No one bothers to answer these sort of questions; neither do they justify or explain the resurgent anti-Semitism being spewed by these hateful Arab dictators. And the media seem to be in their pocket, too. They prefer to castigate the one democracy in the Middle East while turning a blind eye to the vicious dictators and rulers of modern day Araby. CBS and CNN adopted a policy of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" about the Saddam regime, while telling American audiences they were reporting "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." A media that speaks with almost universal agreement, and is so obviously caught in lies and deception should be investigated and exposed to the American people. But no one is doing that, nor are they planning to do that. Most people in government want to get back to business as usual, as do the members of the European Union and the United Nations.

The foolishness and folly of our Middle East policies suggests that interests that no longer understand their own best interests are still in control of governmental policy. These people, seeking only to "keep the oil flowing," have made pacts with the devil in the past, and want to do so again. But blinding oneself to the unpleasant realities of the Middle East has not been a good way to win friends for America or improve living conditions in the Levant. Nor is it a sensible way to make policy, even in the short term. The road to a peaceful Middle East does not lie with the dictators who have ruled there for the last century and more. A government and media that thinks so is deluded, at best. At worst, one has to question its logic and "interests."

Stanley William Rothstein is professor emeritus at Cal State Fullerton.

Will He or Won’t He?

As the Palestinians move forward with the confirmation of a
new prime minister, many are looking to the White House to see when President
Bush will unveil the “road map” toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.

They may be waiting a while.

Administration officials and analysts say that Mahmoud
Abbas, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s choice for prime
minister, will need to show that he has significant authority before Bush takes
the next step.

“He needs to appoint his cabinet, get them approved by the
legislative council and then he can say ‘dayenu’ [it would have been
sufficient] and take the road map,” said Stephen Cohen, national scholar for
the Israel Policy Forum.

One State Department official said Abbas will need to show
“he has real authority and is truly independent from forces who practice
violence and terror.”

And the question remains as to whether the road map
presented to the parties will be up for negotiations or will be considered a
final draft. Bush caught many off guard earlier this month when, just days
before the war against Iraq began, he announced that the road map would be
submitted to the parties after a prime minister with “real authority” was

While Jewish leaders were concerned with the timing of the
announcement, and the perceived motive of aiding embattled British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, they were pleased that the controversial road map would
still be open to negotiation, according to Bush.

The Israelis have been concerned that the road map requires
Israel to make concessions without a full cessation of violence, and places too
much emphasis on the role of the diplomatic “Quartet” — the United States,
United Nations, European Union and Russia — that drafted the road map. For that
reason, they had requested — and received — several delays of the release of
the road map, first until after Israel’s January elections and then until Prime
Minster Ariel Sharon had formed a new government.

Even now that Bush has expressed his interest in expediting
the road map, many continue to believe it will not be placed at the top of the
administration’s agenda. Officially, the State Department says release of the
document will not need to wait for the war’s end.

“He wants to release it soon,” one State Department official
said of the president, “once the new Palestinian prime minister is confirmed
and it appears we have moved on the path to creating a new dynamic in the
Palestinian leadership.”

To that end, the CIA is creating a mechanism to monitor
progress on the conditions of the road map. CIA Director George Tenet created a
cease-fire plan in 2001 that was not implemented, and it is believed that the
CIA will play a role in the road map. However, it’s unclear how deep that role
will be, given the CIA’s expanded portfolio of work in combating terrorism. But
many believe Bush’s won’t present the road map until after significant progress
has been made on his main objective in the Middle East, regime change in Iraq.

Edward Abington, a former consul general to Jerusalem who
now serves as a political consultant to the Palestinian Authority, said there
is much skepticism in the Arab world about Bush’s commitment to the road map.

“They’re not stupid,” Abington said. “They see that the road
map announcement was made to help Tony Blair.”

The Palestinians believe that when it is released, the road
map should be a final text, with discussion focused only on implementation.

“They think the Israeli objective is to so condition the
road map that it never goes anywhere,” Abington said.

Some in the State Department agree, if spokesman Richard
Boucher’s comments last week are any indication.

“The document will be released as the road map, that is the
road map and that will be the road map,” Boucher said last week. “We’ll expect
comments, we’ll expect discussion of how to implement it.”

But others have said there will be more time for
consultation. That also was suggested to Jewish leaders who met with National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice after Bush made his road map speech.

“We’ve always looked upon the road map as a living document
and not ironclad,” the State Department official said. “We hope they will not
be renegotiating it in its entirety.”

Cohen said the road map text has become “much refried

“It’s a text that has been around for a long time, digested,
chewed up and spit out,” he said. “They are not going to refry it again before
it is put on the plate.”

Cohen said it’s not necessary for the sides to agree to all
of the plan’s parameters before moving forward with it. Unlike the tight
timetables of the Oslo accords — which few people in the Bush administration
want to replicate — the vagueness of the road map would mean that the two sides
would have to agree before moving from one stage to the next.

The advantage of the road map is that it gets Israelis and
Palestinians back on a path of negotiations toward a defined goal, even if
every step of the way isn’t clear, Cohen said.  

The Good Fence

Secretary of State Colin Powell spent a week in the Middle East and managed to extract from Israeli and Arab leaders concessions that were promising and far-reaching — for 1991.

That was when another Republican secretary of state, James Baker, flexed the muscle that another President Bush had built up in waging a war against Arabs, and convened a Middle East peace conference in Madrid.

Is this a case of, as our friends the French would have it, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, or is it more like a bad meal coming back up on you?

While Powell was finessing "progress" toward a solution, the Israeli body politic, according to polls, had already decided on one.

It’s called a fence.

According to a recent poll published by Ma’ariv, over 70 percent of Israelis support putting up a fortified electronic barrier between the West Bank and Israel. The fence would follow the contours of borders largely agreed to by both sides in previous negotiations.

The Israelis would be on one side of the fence, Palestinians on the other. That means Israel would have to evacuate Jewish settlements that are not largely contiguous with the Green Line — meaning about 40,000-60,000 settlers.

It also means Palestinians could do what they want on their side. They could declare a state and organize it and eventually negotiate with their neighbor. Or they could declare holy war and hit targets outside Israel, risking more retaliation. Given Yasser Arafat’s track record, he might just choose to do both simultaneously.

Supporters say the fence would put an end to the suicide attacks that have debilitated Israel’s economy and morale.

There is just such a fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and since it was erected not a single suicide bomber has passed over the border from Gaza. To most Israelis, that alone is a winning argument.

Hundreds of former Israeli army officers have signed a resolution in support of the fence. From a security standpoint, they say, the fence is the best interim solution, until the sides can reach a political settlement.

Who opposes the idea? The hard right and the far left — which may be as good an indication as any of the plan’s quality.

The right doesn’t want to give up on settlements. Its view is that Jews have a right, going back to the Bible, to the lands of Judea and Samaria. But the cold facts are that the only way Israel can retain Gaza, Judea and Samaria and remain a Jewish state, is to banish the 3 million Palestinians who live there, or create an apartheid-like regime.

The right also says that Israel without Judea and Samaria would create a fragile, narrow-waisted country. A Palestinian army with Iranian-supplied weapons could muster in Tulkaram, some 7 miles from Netanya. This is correct, but it’s also true that Israeli forces would destroy that army long before the threat became a reality.

The generals who signed on to the fence idea know it is much easier to protect a country contained within secure borders than one spread out on both sides of a porous border.

The far left sees the fence as a barbed wire garrote around the Oslo dove. It would indicate that, at least for now, Shimon Peres’ new Middle East vision of regional trade and travel is a pipe dream.

True, as both Peres and Ariel Sharon point out, you can’t build a fence high enough to keep out mortars or Scuds. But that is what Merkava tanks and F-16s are designed to do. What they can’t do is keep 16-year-old Palestinians girls with backpacks full of explosives out of Israel. A fence can do that.

The most convincing argument against a fence is that the Palestinians would see any pullback, even of settlements that never should have been built in the first place, as a sign of weakness. Emboldened by this "victory," the Palestinians would press their terror campaign even harder.

Proponents of the fence argue that the terror campaign would come to a full stop at the new border. The separation could lead to a nasty divorce or a good-faith mediation, but at least it would be a separation.

It may not be the perfect answer, it may not be the only one, but it is worth serious exploration. As we rally for Israel on April 21 at Woodley Park, let’s hope the Israeli government spokesmen who address us there go beyond vague calls for support, and speak to the specifics of this promising first step.