September 19, 2019

The Legacy of Oslo

“It’s 27 years since the Oslo Accords, but their memory lives on. Most famously in recent years, their 25th anniversary was celebrated with an imperious drama at Lincoln Center riveted on the summit’s original movers: Terje Rod-Larsen, a Norwegian diplomat, and his wife, Mona Juul, later state secretary in that country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Historically, Rod-Larsen’s and Juul’s Oslo venture was a failure, the first of many such diplomatic zeroes, but theatrically Oslo has been a hit—so it fits that Marc Platt, the producer of La La Land (no kidding!) will bring Oslo to the big screen, carrying on the forced narrative of brave peaceniks out to heal a broken land.

All this artistic hype isn’t accidental: A quarter century back, against all the available evidence, the Oslo “achievement” was already being hyped by European diplomats, by adjuncts to then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, by the cortege of Yasser Arafat, and by the confection of rationalist policymakers and commentators that elite American universities had just started to produce. In hindsight, their haughty insistence on the ideal over the reality was an early sign of things to come.

That insistence was one I never bought into. I was invited to the Clinton White House for the Oslo fest in 1993 but I did not go. Thirty years of seeing Arafat in action—the trampling on civilians’ rights in Lebanon, the lobbing of rockets into Israel, the reliance on terror, the chokehold over decaying Palestinian institutions—had persuaded me that he was the wrong person, actually an impossible person, for peace. I began to ponder whether any of the top Palestinian leadership were candidates for a settlement with the Jewish state. Even during the heightened festivities I realized that some of the Israeli principals secretly agreed with me: Hard-headed Yitzhak Rabin saw the event for what it was and left after the ceremony; saintly Peres believed the hype and stayed around after for the photo shoots. And yet for years even after the failure of Oslo and of the 2000 summit at Camp David, D.C. notables and even some prominent Zionists had photos with Arafat displayed on their credenzas. “

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