Shimon Peres funeral, 27 Elul, the day the Oslo Accords were signed
Two weeks ago, on September 13th 2016, Shimon Peres suffered a fatal stroke culminating in his death two weeks later. Peres will be buried on Friday in the presence of many foreign leaders including Bill Clinton, who together with him and Yitzchak Rabin initiated the Oslo peace process with the signing of the peace agreement on September 13th 1993, exactly 23 years ago. The Hebrew date on Friday is 27 Elul. A quick check reveals that in 1993, 27 Elul was the very day, September 13, when the Oslo accords were signed.
This cannot be a coincidence. More than any of his considerable life achievements, Shimon Peres was proud of the fact that he succeeded in turning the PLO from a mortal enemy of Israel into a partner for peace. Peres believed that making peace with the Palestinians would ultimately lead all the surrounding Arab countries to lay down their arms and initiate peace with Israel.
The core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian problem and the refugee issue could only be resolved in his view by negotiations with a Palestinian leadership. When such a leadership did not present itself, Israel endeavored to negotiate first with King Hussein of Jordan and then the more dovish elements in Israeli politics, spearheaded by Yossi Beilin but aided by the older and more prestigious Peres, decided to break the taboo against dealing with terrorist organizations and to negotiate with the PLO over the future of the West Bank.
The mere idea of negotiating with the Tunis-based terrorist leadership seemed utterly incomprehensible to many. The PLO had fought Israel since 1964, well before the Six Day War returned Israel to Judea and Samaria. It was a sworn enemy of Israel with clauses in its charter calling for the destruction of Israel and creation of a Palestinian state between the Jordan and the sea. In 1982, after a protracted campaign in Lebanon, Israel had succeeded in ousting the terror group from South Lebanon, where it had disrupted normal life in the Galilee for a decade.
Yassir Arafat and his henchmen were dispatched to Tunis where it was hoped they would not trouble Israel again too soon. To make overtures to such murderous enemies seemed to add insult to the significant injury they had already caused Israel.
Yet Peres and his advisors felt that the first intifada had demonstrated the futility of achieving a modus vivendi with the indigenous Arab population of Judea and Samaria. They naively assumed that just as giving a schoolboy troublemaker a position of authority may cause an improvement in his churlish behavior, a long shot at best, bringing the PLO to prominence in the ‘West Bank’ might reform its attitude to Israel and even transform the erstwhile terrorists into lawmakers and policemen.
The accords were signed in 1993 and after huge public protests arose in Israel, the Knesset ratified the accords by a single vote – that of Alex Goldfarb who was presented with a Mitsubishi in honor of his crossing party lines to approve the accords.
Peres and Rabin ignored the opposition and even mocked them at times. They ridiculed the notion that terror might erupt in Gaza, that rockets might fall in Ashkelon and that the ‘West Bank’ might serve as a platform for attacks on the center of Israel.
The first signs that things were not going to go as planned were visible in 1994, the year Peres and Arafat received the Nobel peace prize for their efforts. Arafat’s PLO refused to abrogate or even modify their charter, meaning that their signatures on the peace treaty were not an assertion of Israel’s right to exist but merely a hudna, a tactical treaty designed to enable the Palestinian Arabs to establish themselves in Judea and Samaria before continuing their offensive against Israel.
Arafat may have mouthed condemnations of violence to the foreign press but he made no attempt to stop incitement against Israel in the Palestinian Authority media, nor did he try to curb extremist groups from performing attacks on Israelis unless they challenged his authority. Moreover he made no secret of the fact that Jewish settlement in the entire Judea and Samaria was illegal in his eyes and therefore the settlers were legitimate targets for indiscriminate terror attacks even from the ranks of his own Fatah organization. These attacks were met with little political criticism from the ranks of the ruling party, despite the fact that the Oslo accords did not make settlement illegitimate and left decisions on future withdrawals contingent on final status talks.
At this juncture the Oslo accords required the Israeli authorities to arm the Palestinian Authority police set up by Arafat. Huge protests arose in Israel at the anomaly of Israel providing weaponry to people still openly hostile to large segments of Israeli society. Notwithstanding the fact that policemen are responsible for maintaining the peace and not for fighting wars, the policemen were outfitted with rifles.
In the ensuing years, these weapons would be turned on Israelis, who unwittingly would pay for their own deaths by providing their killers with the means to murder them. The poetic injustice however was lost on the Oslo designers who still continued to maintain their whimsical dream of a lasting peace being achieved.
That dream was rudely shattered in the spring of 1996, ironically while Peres himself was prime minister after Rabin’s assassination. In the wake of the assassination of Yihya Ayyash, mastermind of many of the dastardly bus bombings which had rocked Israel during the years after the Oslo accords, a new spate of suicide bombings drove public opinion against Oslo and its chief architect Peres and despite the shock of Rabin’s murder half a year previously, Peres was driven from power.
The Oslo process received its death knell five years later. After Ehud Barak offered by far the most generous concessions ever presented by an Israeli premier and Arafat had soundly rejected them, it became clear that even the most moderate Palestinian Arabs were not peace partners for Israel, much as Peres still wanted to believe they were. The second intifada killed off any hopes that the Palestinian Authority would do anything to prevent terror activity in Judea and Samaria, while many Fatah members actively participated in attacks on Jews.
The educational materials being disseminated in the Palestinian Authority as well as their media and clergy constantly incited against Israel. The voice of peace and conciliation was only heard on the Israeli side, while no moderate voices emerged among the Palestinian Arabs. Peres’ dream of a New Middle East was rapidly crumbling.
With the Gaza disengagement and the rise of Hamas as the vibrant political force there, it has become increasingly clear that there is no partner capable of negotiating any kind of peace agreement with Israel. In Lebanon, Hizbullah exploited the vacuum left by Israel to expand their terrorist base and rocket system. In Gaza Hamas dig tunnels and prepare rockets to shoot much further than Ashkelon. Syria, riven by a bloody civil war, is in no condition to make peace. And the feckless Palestinian Authority has neither the will not the capability to contain more radical elements.
In his lifetime Peres knew many resounding successes. He was responsible for Israel’s military rearmament after the War of Independence, as well as establishing Israel’s nuclear capability and had a part in directing the incredible Entebbe operation. But when he is called to give his final account on Friday, 27 Elul, he will be forced for the first time to acknowledge the resounding failure of the 23-year Oslo experiment.