Oslo Revisited

“I don’t like making comparisons with Germany, but if it’s another Munich, we’re the Germans and the Palestinians are the Czechs.”

— SHLOMO GAZIT, former head of Israeli military intelligence, November 17, 1993

It is two months shy of 20 years since Shlomo Gazit made that telling comment after a near hysterical member of San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Shalom ran down an aisle towards him, shouting, “Munich!, Munich!,” implying that he and the Israeli government had participated in a Munich-type sellout by signing the Oslo Agreement with the Palestinians two months earlier.

It was a tacit admission by the former Israeli intelligence chief that the Declaration of Principles signed by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was an article of surrender, as the latter’s critics then charged. That instead of signaling the first step towards genuine Palestine independence, the Oslo agreement was designed, in fact, to consolidate Israel’s control over the Occupied Territories, which the subsequent “Cairo accords” clearly reaffirmed.

Gazit spoke as an “insider,” having been one of the Israelis who met with PLO representatives in Oslo to plan the “interim security” arrangements that would come into effect with the implementation of the Gaza-Jericho agreement.

His role in the negotiations was described in a press release issued that September by the “Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information,” a relatively obscure Jerusalem-based organization better known by its acronym, IPCRI.

I first became aware of IPCRI’s existence when it initiated and co-sponsored a “peace conference” between Israelis and Palestinians near Palo Alto in July, 1992, an event from which local Palestinian leaders were excluded as well as uninformed.

The document they produced —  “Framework for a Public Peace Process; Toward a Peaceful Israeli-Palestinian Relationship”— was an agreement for a two-state solution that had been  “negotiated” between 10 visiting Israelis and Palestinians.

They included Nabeel Sha‘ath, Yasser Arafat’s top advisor on International Relations, Hanna Siniora, editor of the then defunct Al-Fajr newspaper on the Palestinian side and Retired Brig. General Giora Ram Furman, former deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli Air Force and Peace Now spokesperson, and Moshe Ma’oz, former advisor on Arab Affairs to Prime Minister Shimon Peres on the Israeli  negotiating team.

Some months later, the international directors of IPCRI, Zakaria al Qaq on the Palestinian side and Gershon Baskin on the Israeli side, toured the United States, publicizing the Palo Alto agreement and preaching the virtues of mutual recognition and the “two-state solution.”

That agreement was far more beneficial to the Palestinian side than what it would receive in Oslo, but since the Israelis did not “officially” represent their government, it might be viewed as having been meaningless. To understand its significance, however, it is necessary to look elsewhere.

A good place to start is the IPCRI news release, dated September 10, 1993. At the top of the page was a large bold-face headline declaring that “IPCRI WAS THERE!!!”

Where had it been? I quote:

“Israel Deputy Defense Minister Motta [Mordechai] Gur announced yesterday that the process of formal recognition between Israel and the PLO began following a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian security experts sponsored by IPCRI.

“Following the IPCRI meeting in October, 1992, General (res.) Shlomo Gazit and Yossi Alpher (director of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies and former senior Mossad official) who participated in the IPCRI meeting, presented a full report to Prime Minister Rabin on the contacts between them and PLO security personnel regarding internal security arrangements during the interim period. (Emphasis added)

“The meeting was declared a huge success.”

In other words, even as Israel’s brutal crackdown in Gaza and the West Bank was intensifying in its violence, PLO representatives were meeting with high level former Israeli intelligence officials to discuss the manner in which Palestinian security personnel would undertake to suppress continued resistance to Israeli occupation, all of this under the auspices of IPCRI.

Further down the page, IPCRI described itself as “a cooperative Israel-Palestinian think-tank concerned with the peace process and the development of public policy.  The object is to enable the two sides to understand one another’s hopes and aspirations and to jointly examine, analyze and propose constructive ideas for the promotion of peace and coexistence.”

May I be so cynical to suggest that the so-called “peace negotiations” in Palo Alto and indeed, the very existence of IPCRI were all part of a clever con game that self-styled “friends of Palestinian statehood,” with their deceptively soft-core Zionist agenda, had been running for years, and which would ultimately display its bitter fruit on the White House lawn?

That con game succeeded in getting Palestinians and Arab-Americans “dialoging” and joining in coalitions with American and Israeli Jews on the assumption that winning support of American Jewry was a prerequisite for Palestinians achieving their rights (which, of course, did not include the right of those expelled to return). As a result, addressing the one issue that might have brought a different conclusion to the conflict –namely, Congress’ annual $4 to $5 billion dollar appropriation to Israel –was never seriously raised before the American public.  In case readers have not noticed, that situation hasn’t changed.

By calling for “mutual recognition” and making a mantra of the “two state solution,” liberal Zionist activists were able to disguise the reality; that from the moment it took control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel has been, de facto, one apartheid state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.

Prior to Oslo, with support of Yasser Arafat at its lowest level ever in the Occupied Territories, Israel reached out to save him, reasoning that, despite his tarnished reputation, he was the only Palestinian capable of signing an agreement that would be accepted by the majority of the Palestinian population even if, for all practical purposes, it legitimized Israel’s permanent presence in the West Bank.

Of course, the Palestinians were not aware of that because they were denied access to an Arabic version of the agreement. Furthermore, to make sure that the arrangements with the Israelis went smoothly, Arafat included not a single lawyer in the Palestinian delegation which was headed by none other than Mahmoud Abbas, the un-elected president of the Palestinian Authority.

It should not be forgotten that every communiqué issued from the leadership of the Intifada from its beginning in Gaza in December, 1987, carried as a banner across the top of the page: “No Voice Above the Voice of the Uprising!” which was as much an unmistakable message to Arafat, headquartered in Tunis, as it was to the government of Israel.

Following the signing at Oslo, which effectively brought an end to the Intifada and restored Arafat’s position, a Jerusalem Post cartoonist captured the situation perfectly when he depicted Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres carrying a stretcher on which, a sitting up, smiling Arafat, was giving the “V” sign.

Arafat’s Nobel Prize winning performance was extraordinary. On the White House lawn, in a single gesture, he legitimized Israeli occupation and delegitimized resistance to that occupation.

Then he reached out to shake the hand of the man who had authored the “Iron Fist policy” that called for “the breaking of bones” of young Palestinian stone throwers, referring to him as “another DeGaulle.” In his euphoria, he even referred to Bill Clinton, the most pro-Israel president yet, as “our friend in the White House.”

For those who still romanticize Arafat’s role in the Palestinian liberation struggle, it is well to recall how the late, irreplaceable Edward Said, eloquently described it:

“The fashion-show vulgarities of the White House ceremony, the degrading spectacle of Yasser Arafat thanking everyone for the suspension of most of his people’s rights, and the fatuous solemnity of Bill Clinton’s performance, like a 20th-century Roman emperor shepherding two vassal kings through rituals of reconciliation and obeisance: all these only temporarily obscure the truly astonishing proportions of the Palestinian capitulation.

“So … let us call the agreement by its real name: an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles.”  (London Review of Books, Oct. 21, 1993)

From Gazit’s description of Oslo as Munich for the Palestinians and Said’s depiction of it as another Versailles, there is not a whit of difference.

Arafat’s “seal of approval” provided other benefits for the Israelis. Countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America that had broken off or greatly reduced political and economic relations with Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, resumed those relations within the days and weeks that followed while the situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza deteriorated.

Then, in Cairo, he signed an additional agreement which affirmed Israel’s continuing control over Palestinians wishing to enter or leave the territories.

In the Arabic press and in the Nation (Feb. 14, 1994), Edward Said issued a call for the Palestinian people to come together both in the still Occupied Territories and the diaspora to take control of their destiny from those in leadership who had abandoned it.  The Second Intifada turned out to be a poorly led attempt at that which had devastating results and put the Palestinians on the path to what today is arguably the worst situation they have faced since 1948.

Not only are they physically divided between the West Bank and Gaza, there appears to be nothing resembling responsible leadership in either area although Israel’s siege of Gaza makes the situation there more challenging than in the West Bank.

As agreed to in Oslo, the Palestinian Authority, created by those accords, operates a US-trained and armed militia in the West Bank which works in conjunction with the Israeli military to suppress legitimate Palestinian resistance to the ongoing ethnic cleansing and settlement construction.

At the same time it does absolutely nothing to protect Palestinians from the routine raids on refugee camps, towns and villages, or from the targeted assassinations and house demolitions, carried out by Israel’s occupying army.

This is the same Palestinian Authority that is, once again, at the urging of Washington, pretending to negotiate with its Israeli masters,  doing its part in what must be the longest running soap-opera in modern history, the so-called “peace process” which, if it didn’t mask one of the world’s great injustices, would be a ready subject for satirical comedy.

Readers may wonder what became of “Palestine,” welcomed on November 29, 2012, as a “non-member observer state” by the UN General Assembly by a 138-9 vote.  The answer is “nothing.” Ten months later, no one ever mentions it.

It is reasonable to conclude that the statehood gesture was only a ruse to restore the deteriorating position of Abbas, the last elected president of the Palestinian Authority, among West Bank and diaspora Palestinians and to woo the support of those in Gaza under Hamas’s rule.

Abbas’s term in office expired in 2009 and was extended indefinitely by the PLO Central Committee despite his open collaboration with the Netanyahu government. If nothing else, the PLO’s decision exemplifies the political and moral bankruptcy of what once was considered “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” That, too, is the legacy of Oslo.

Jeffrey Blankfort is a journalist and radio host currently living in Northern California. He can be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net


Jeffrey Blankfort is a radio host and journalist in Northern California and can be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net.